Fiction by Rebecca Gransden


I drove through the drive thru five times because I fell asleep at the wheel and dreamed I was being indecisive on a roundabout. In the dream the sat navigation voice, set to Mel Gibson, asked me what could he get for me today. When I woke up someone handed me a green drink. I drank it but I’ve still no idea what flavour it was.

Over the next few days I kept getting the feeling that sat navigation Mel Gibson’s question was rhetorical.

School children dressed as wolves suck bubblegum vodka from cracks in pavement slabs as their bus sails past, the driver cranes his neck and his blank gaze runs down his cheek to a tattooed tear, freshly scabbed. He’s tired of wet crying.

I’m trapped in the driver’s seat, chin perpendicular to my cranial melt.

There is a plaster cast covering my torso and my left arm, my right arm and shoulder free but weirdly suntanned. I doubt what day it is until I see an elderly man shaking spit out of a nine year old life coach. Then I doubt what week it is.

Much can be made of the discovery of a complete neanderthal skull underneath the abandoned portable toilet, visible from the bit part actor’s balcony. He preens between detangled Swiss cheese plants, his phone set to violate.

I tiptoe beneath his balcony, which is made difficult with a cast, the tiptoe movement forcing muscular convulsive exaggeration beyond my powers of forethought. The spasm on the staircase cradles hurt in my paralysis, a windy exhalation quavers, and I sound like a disingenuous flute. My prayers tessellate the inner side of my mind, and the bit part actor does not hear me.

Hours later it is nearly dark and there are lights and music from the top of the house. He’s playing Joe Cocker. I’ve got to get out of here.

I roll, and roll, and tip in a straining effort to right myself, the cast makes cracking noises, if it fails I’m in a universe of pain and inevitable undignified black out. Drool, the works.

Wriggling gets me counterintuitively up the stairs. Most of my body is still numb but my shoulders and neck are waking up. The bit part actor’s shadow bounces around the shadowed landing space, suggesting the upper floor isn’t partitioned by walls, or they are glass. There is a funny patterning to being captured by involuntary paroxysms on the verge of spilling over into full-blown non-possession of bodily functioning. I fear that in order to regain control I’ll have to surrender to impotence and flail about as if electrified in a wind tunnel. Grit sees me hold onto my stair position. I will not go higher, to the upper floor and the dancing bit part actor. Everything I know about myself tells me I’m not ready for that.

I fall asleep.

I wake up.

I fall asleep.

A bug wakes me up. I say ahhhhhh’ in a low but very whiny way because I become unlocked from the position my body has been in on the stairs. At some point in time alternating parts of my body have regained their feeling without me knowing. Now my whole self moves in a soft ballet of pain. My eyes are closed while I’m doing this, through agony.

At last the ballet tension drops which is a relief in a way, but after the suspense comes extra super pain, as relaxing all the muscles everywhere has sent them into a shaking, shuddering duel with my bones and sense of self. I make a noise that sounds like uhghuahugheahgha’ and the hardness of the shiny wooden step makes itself known wherever my weight touches it. I think I’ve got to get off this fucking stair so I blink little white lights out of my vision and drag myself up the steps, one at a time, which isn’t many to the top as I’m nearly at the upper floor anyway.

I raise my head like the world should get down on its knees and thank me, but before it can the bit part actor stands on the landing, barefooted, looking down at me. Something makes me think he’s been there for a long time. He’s wearing a t-shirt with a man sitting at a desk on it. The man is old, bent over, intently staring at a computer monitor. He’s in a small room, overcrowded with studious ephemera, the organised mess of a failed academician. There is a window that looks out on a blazing sunny day, scorched lawned grass into a wild distance filled with blanched deciduous trees.

A severed finger revolves in scanned image on the monitor screen. He tells me that it pointed at him once. Sun from the window covers his face, his worn hands. One hand twitches a mouse on an apple shaped mousepad around but he doesn’t appear to be doing anything to the image of the severed finger. There is dust on his glasses that looks like the bursting death light of elementary particles.

Outside, the streets procedurally generate into evening and we wind up scouring a district near the docks for the back entrance to a bar he once knew. A red grimy door halfway along a brown alley seems good enough he says. His beard is gone and his glasses not prescription.

Inside, a plump kid skips towards a tall barman. The barman has a nose like a crow’s wing and wants to ignore the whirling kid, but the kid tumbles over and stiffens up, faking a seizure. All the air in the place stays in place and people breathe silently until the kid gives up and walks off in a huff heading out the back of the place through a beaten up old green painted door.

We take a seat and the guy beside me, freshly younger, asks the barman about the severed finger. Taking a lean on the bar, the barman says we are too early, perhaps wait a while. Do we want a drink while we wait? Yes, we do. The guy makes me near puke with his slurping but he is sad and in the middle of a puzzle so I don’t let it show.

Inherent to the fragrant backwash of the bar is the overwhelming sense that I have not been here before. The guy thanks me for coming with him, but confesses he is at a loss for how we met and asks me, genuinely, if we are engaged. I dither around searching for a response to that and he puts up a hand saying I need not try.

Next thing he knows the guy is face down on a hard floor, a bathroom tiled aroma, no mistaking. He achingly turns his head, scraping blood across tile with the tip of his nose, and loses strength again, his cheek pressing flat on the cold rank surface. Bleary eyes detect a pink blob inches away from his face and sharpening faculties bring into focus the rounded tip of a finger, so near as to see the curved ridges ready to give its print. The lone finger points at him, he sees nothing but the point, and passes out.

The plump kid ejects from a stall, his right hand clutching his bloodied left hand, red oozing from between the mess of all his remaining fingers. Wild-eyed, he leans over and addresses the unconscious guy, saying that he has cut off a finger because of the pain all his future women have inflicted on his future self, and the worst thing is, there aren’t that many! As he heads towards the green painted door he nudges the severed finger into the dead-looking face of the unconscious man, so that when he wakes he’ll be shocked all over again by the severed finger.

Out, and through the bar, the kid whirls his hand and projects blood splatters from his pumping ex-finger stump, drops raining over the bar, barman, collected bar stools, tables, wooden panelling and lastly a few choice dollops on the bar’s front window. The barman shouts at the kid but by now he’s through the bar door and striding along pavement, re-clutched hand held close to his chest, red seeping into the cloth of his top. He walks in a glide through city streets and then out to a semi-feral neighbourhood that all of a sudden emerges on the outskirts, made up of mock rural dwellings held together by ship ropes, overgrown grasses, sickened trees, and corrugated iron.

The sozzled father sits on a rolled up length of fencing, stolen years ago, never installed. His arms drape down and his face is out of view hanging between his knees. He’s semi awake because he’s incoherently making moaning sounds that alternate between sounding pained and amused.

With the blood of his collected hours the kid washes a track of red down the centre of his old man’s bald dome, and then finishes by drawing another line, horizontal, to make a scarlet cross kiss the top of his head.

Out front of the house scraggly chickens scrape barren ground, searching for a meagre meal. The kid circumvents the main structure and walks to an uneasy pickup truck, parked to one side of the property, half buried in vines and dead roots. Taking his father’s handgun from the glove box, he goes to a broken down deck at the back door of the house, reclines in a mouldy picnic chair and fires all remaining bullets into the sun. The chickens fly like they don’t know they still can.

There are prickles in the brown chicken’s feathers. It falls over, mid-air, and emits a preemptive cluck, before alighting on a weatherbeaten fence that marks the boundary between one property and the next. Hopping from boundary to boundary, the chicken covers miles, breathlessly retracting its previous commitment to seed induced hedonism, content in the obsessive clumsiness of motion.

Deep into the sun-drenched afternoon the rows of ramshackle lowlife homes ends and the chicken walks dirt roads as crickets die and car horns honk the soundtrack to the wasted lives of wannabe plastic surgery statistics. There is a hole in its beak and it whistles when it breathes, sometimes the sound resembles the theme tune to a nature documentary about ant society.

Dusty tracks lead to wider flats and the roadside grasses grow in endless summers. As the chicken walks it blinks wide eyes, looking side to side, and thinks wow.

Growth slows and the chicken is on track. It hops on the pavement, concrete warm on its weary feet, and toddles along. In the city an emerald-eyed woman in a grey sagging jump-suit claims a wide street corner. Traffic hustles by, caught up in its own predicament, sun glare radiating for a brilliant flicker as glass and metal turns and runs. She is making lunges that resemble the poses of a Vegas era Elvis.

A group of pre-hipster youths slow their city progress and decide to respond to the woman’s movements with ninja poses. The chicken narrowly misses the wayward foot of a kid in a t-shirt with a low res mushroom cloud on it.

Bored, the youths ninja walk into the crowd of pedestrians. The woman sees the chicken, postpones her moves, and takes a walk with the bird.

On the walk she tells the chicken about her life, all her secrets, dreams, hopes, mistakes, and desires. It is too noisy for the chicken to hear, not that it could comprehend anyway.

Back at her flat she places the chicken on her windowsill so it can look out at the busy city and have something to keep it occupied while she gets ready for work.

Her uniform squeezes her more than it used to but she likes that. She imagines it to be the enveloping touch of the death of her hopes and the liberation that will follow. Red and yellow cloth that has covered her body almost every day for two years. In that time she has passed on the processed nutrition craved by lost vagabonds, confused by citizenry.

On the way to work she pauses at every intersection to lunge and pose, mock gunning the traffic lanes, flicking her head like a victory quiff.

At the drive thru the woman takes the order. Emerald glows.

I take the order and drink up. My favourite flavour.

Rebecca Gransden

Twitter: @rlgransden
IG: @rebeccagransden
Bluesky: @rgransden.bsky.social

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