Stoplight – a story

(revised for length, from the Cashier World collection, and submitted to today’s Flash Fiction competition at Ether Books, this story is sort of on topic (today’s theme is TIME) but it was originally written about living with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome)


When he woke up, he was somewhere else. Where am I this time? He wondered. Around him were some vaguely familiar landmarks; a building under construction on a corner he remembered as a vacant lot, a row of newspaper boxes, a statue of the Virgin Mary in the courtyard of a church. A rose in her stony hand. I’ve been here before, he told himself, and he almost recalled the name of this place, but couldn’t quite. He was waiting for the light to change so he could cross the street. He didn’t know why.

There was other activity in his brain; the bass line from an old blues song was bouncing around, some kind of anxiety was in there too, unspecified. He thought he might be in a hurry. Am I late for something? Where am I going? Also the feeling that he and a certain other person had been dogs in a dream together recently. Suddenly it seemed so clear that he was jolted by the sharp pitched beeping of the walk sign. He crossed the street. It was difficult to move. He couldn’t keep his eyes open all the way across. It won’t matter, he thought, if I just sit down for a minute on that bench.

When he woke up, it was something else. What is it this time? He wondered. The traffic was proceeding steadily, but there were brake lights up ahead. Always this time of day. What time of day? The clock on the dashboard blinked the transition from fourteen to fifteen after. Slowing down.

On the radio the news was about something that happened to somebody somewhere. On the radio at the same time were other stations making different sounds. .

When he woke up he was someone else. Who am I this time? He wondered. Sitting in front of the television with its dark green emptiness. The lights were on in the kitchen. Some kind of noise in there – a crunching, like footsteps on gravel. Later he realized it was the cat, eating its food.

The weight was on his eyes. Little activity in the brain cells now. Gearing down. We made it this far. Got him home. Time to check out. It won’t hurt if I sleep a little now. The hard part now was to move from the sitting to the lying down position. It seemed like a hundred thousand miles away.

A bit of a blues loop in the background, bass line. Splashing sound of car on slick tar road outside. Hum of sixty cycles per second. Light bulb. Crunching. Cat. Ten thousand pounds of echoes reverberating to the lowest reaches of the mind. Pressure of the mere idea of thinking. Slipping away. Every little thing a long distance effort, too far, too hard, too slow. Saw it coming. Didn’t see it come.

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