This is a bit longer than I usually post, but it’s the final section of ‘Mitigating Circumstances’, which is a story that has evolved over the last few weeks. I thought I’d post this up today after WordPress very kindly featured the second part of the story – After The Fall – in their Editors’ Picks today. I’m trying to be all cool about that, but really I’m like a kid at Christmas 🙂 Anyway, I hope you enjoy part three. Click here for Part 1.
I walk back down the 86 flights of steps and look for Tyke in the basement of Tower One. Tyke’s name isn’t really Tyke, but he’s from Yorkshire and I can barely understand a word he says. He’s carved out a niche in this Brave New World by acquiring knowledge, a precious commodity. He knows everything, specifically where is safe this week. He points me towards the abandoned Morrisons.
‘There’s nothing left to steal there, so it’s pretty safe. Safe as you’ll get anyway,’ he says, looking me up and down. So I go sleep with the Outcasts in the abandoned Morrisons, thinking, well, at least I’ve got a job.
Derek fires me the next day. He says he has no choice; Clive somehow found out about little Jacob’s crushed torso. Derek swears it wasn’t him, asks if Clive could have found out any other way. I imagine Evie curled up on Clive’s sofa telling him aaalllllllll about me, laughing while running her finger around the rim of her wine glass. I shake my head, then Derek’s hand and walk out. I have nowhere else to go but back to Morrisons so I find a spot in the baby aisle to make my own.
That night, I’m guessing around four, one of the Outcasts shakes me awake. He tells me his name is Norris and warns me there are some bad people in this Morrisons who will make my life Hell if I don’t do as they ask. I tell him my life isn’t exactly a bowl of cherries right now anyway and he says that doesn’t matter, I will need protection. I say thanks for the advice and say next time don’t bother waking me unless I am on fire.
Norris, who says he used to sleep in the Foods of the World aisle ‘until it got a bit ethnic’ then lays down next to me and puts his arm over me, whispers that it’s nice to see a new face around here, at which point I get up and walk out of the abandoned Morrisons. I steal a sleeping Outcast’s coat on the way out. It’s nearly sunrise; at least it would be if we ever saw the sun.
‘Nice coat Truman.’
I spin around. Evie is staring at me, smiling. She reaches out to feel the sleeve.
‘It’s very, purple.’
‘I feel like Grace Jones. I found it in a skip,’ I lie.
‘How are you doing?’
‘I haven’t been sexually harassed for 11 hours.’ Evie nods, non-committal. ‘I mean, that’s a good thing. It’s progress.’
‘Good. Well… good.’
She avoids eye-contact, but it’s really on her to end this humiliation. She can at least pretend she has somewhere to be, even if it is Clive’s bed.
‘Actually, I’m glad I bumped into you’, she says finally.
I look at her cheekbones and the two dimples that appear when she smiles a genuine smile. It’s her tell.
‘Oh,’ I say, trying to sound hopeful.
‘Yes, there’s a job going with the Agency and Clive mentioned you might want to apply for it, if you’re interested.’
People make all sorts of decisions all the time. It was difficult before The Fall because there was a moral code imposed by societal expectations. There were certain things you couldn’t and shouldn’t do, but since everything went south, it seems to me that some people are finding life a whole lot easier without that burden. I don’t mean killing people, although there are plenty of opportunists doing just that, I just mean being a dick, like not holding the door open for someone carrying firewood and some water from the river. They’re not big things, but the little things add up to the big things.
Basically what I’m saying is it’s become a lot easier to not do the right thing these days and I was pretty good at that before. Like when Joe was born, right before all this started. He was a good kid, but he was boring. Little kids are boring and I’d do anything to avoid playing trains with him, because he’d make me do the same thing over and over and over again and I didn’t mind it for a while, but Christ kid, let’s mix it up a bit. But what was I doing instead? Just looking at shit on my phone mainly, and now phones don’t exist and neither does Joe, so all I have are memories of me trying to ignore my son.
So when Evie smiles at me and offers me a way out of another night with Norris in the baby aisle, something inside stops me from saying yes.
Instead I say: ‘Great, thanks. I’ll think about it.’ Evie looks me up and down and snorts. I pull my coat up around my neck. ‘What?’
‘Well, I’m not sure what you’ve got think about.’
‘We always have choices, Evie.’
There is another of those charged silences we have become so good at.
‘Fine, do whatever you want. I said I’d ask,’ she says eventually. ‘Your funeral though. You won’t last five minutes.’ She walks away.
Morrisons isn’t so bad. Norris is clean at least, and each time he touches me I get to say sorry to my son.