Written for the Shuffle Flash Fiction Challenge at Terrible Minds. When I hit shuffle, I got We Rise Above, by Arcana.
“You are in detention.” The exercise book slapped onto Martin’s desk. Looking at the page it was open to, he saw the big red F at the top of the page, and the littering of angry red comments all the way down. He looked up at his teacher, whose nostrils were flaring. He found himself fascinated by them; their cavernous, fleshy depths.
“An absolutely horrific story! I want to see you after school to discuss this.” His teacher swept away, and Martin heard the giggles of the other students. He shrugged to himself, and pulled the book towards him. He frowned at his story, and then packed the exercise book back into his bag.
The bell sounded, tinny and harsh. Voices rose, giggles turned to laughter, gossip ripped through the ranks of students, chairs screeched across the cheap floor and the students became an amorphous creature that swelled into the corridors of the school. Martin watched them dreamily, the black jumpers and trousers blending into a wave of darkness punctuated by hands and faces.
Martin stood up slowly, aware of his teacher watching him from the front of the classroom. He picked up his bag and navigated his way into the rushing creature that tore through the school. Where yellow corridor intersected with blue corridor the creature split, some heading towards the canteen, with it’s offer of chips, beans and watery cabbage, while others sped towards the outside tables beyond the glass doors at the end of blue corridor.
Martin stood at the intersection of blue and yellow, suddenly hesitant. The creature had split, and it’s single thought no longer guided him. He had no money and no packed lunch. He thought of a tupperware container, a ham sandwich with the crusts cut off, a square carton of juice with the foil that you could break to drink from it. Someone ran into the back of him. “Get out of the way!” a hard push, sending him staggering five steps sideways and almost into the wall. He saw Norman rush past, his rucksack dangling from one strap.
“Hi Norman,” he said to the boys back. Norman disappeared without replying. Martin hunched his shoulders and headed for the outside tables. The sun was out, and a flock of starlings circled in the sky. Martin sat on the grass, his back to a stunted, spindly tree, and watched the starlings.
A group of girls walked past, one of them dropped her crisp packet and it fluttered to land at Martin’s feet. Martin reached forward, picked it up, and scrunched it into the pocket on the side of his bag. The girls carried on without noticing. Martin closed his eyes, felt the heat of the day on his exposed skin. It felt good to sit outside for a minute.
Water sprayed across him and he jerked upright. Norman and two of his friends laughed, and Norman sent another stream of water at Martin’s head. Martin spluttered as it caught him, then wiped a hand across his face and managed to smile. “Hi Norman.”
Norman laughed and walked away. Martin adjusted his short collar, which was now soaked and sticking to his neck. A flash of anger ignited in his stomach. He would be itchy all afternoon. His fingers found the name tag, stitched carefully into the collar. He expelled the anger with a sigh.
Her eyes had been wide, defenceless and pale without eyelashes. She had been unable to touch him, strapped to tubes as she was. He hadn’t dared to come close enough, not sure if the skinny, hairless wormlike woman curled into hospital sheets was really who they said. She had studied him with those wide eyes. “My Martin. My beautiful little boy.”
He had wanted to run then. She hadn’t called him that for a long time. Not since the trips to the hospital had begun. He had watched her fly from angry, tearful, screaming rages to mute apathy, lying on the sofa and staring at the side lamp for hours. Martin crept about the house, angry and scared in turns.
“My beautiful boy.” She had winced, pushed ineffectively against the bed to try and sit up, then given up. “I wanted to be with you. Through everything. Don’t forget that.”
He didn’t reply.
“It’s going to be hard,” she had said. “But it will pass. That’s what I have to tell you. That’s what will get you through. It will pass, whatever it is. The broken heart. The loneliness. Bullying, by your friends, by your boss, whoever. All the pain, all the terror. Get through it. Rise above it. Don’t let it get to you.” She struggled for words, her eyes darting across his face. He can tell this is rehearsed, her voice strives to deepen, to emphasise, although the effort makes her cough.
“Rise above it,” she repeated, and then her eyes slid away from his face and she sank back into the confused fog.
The bell rang, harsh and tinny. Martin opened his eyes, found the flock of starlings still wheeling across the sky. A smile brushed his lips, and he stood up, adjusted his wet collar, and went back into the school.