Short Stories, Writing

Women’s Own

She was reading a yellowed magazine in her doctor’s waiting room. It was filled with stock photos of people sitting in front of unpaid bills or windows smeared with rain, staring contemplatively into space. The people would look vacantly or despairingly at the piles of paper, through the glass, into the abyss. It bought out an odd feeling in her. Like she had missed out. It made her feel alienated or uninvited in a schoolyard kind of way.

Later on they couldn’t decide on a film to watch. They were wasting the allocated relaxing time trying to choose. They eventually settled on something they both thought sounded puerile, and nestled down in his red couch. The disgusting red couch. Half way through the main character told his panic stricken younger cohort to shut up, he needed to think and he needed to do it real fast. There was imminent danger and time pressure, and both real and imaginary structures were in danger. She was only half watching at this point, she had been thinking about her foot resting on his foot, and whether his feet were too big for his body. She didn’t know if this was a problem yet.

She focused on the screen long enough to watch the hero work through the problem and defuse the bomb. She felt the oddness again, slimy and kicking in her stomach. She thought to herself, I never do that; I never deliberate step by step. Or deliberate at all.

She tried to put it into words the next morning. She was having breakfast with a friend in a café an equal distance from both their houses. They were waiting for their shared order, one vegetarian special and one meat. She told her friend about the pictures and the protagonist, how they made her feel, what they made her realize. All the thoughtfulness within the imagery.

“But I don’t really do that,” she said. “I don’t sit and just think very often…”

The waitress came over with their pot of coffee, and she became itchy and self-aware.

What a blasé and vague statement, she thought, I should have some kind of self-deprecating follow up to protect against the inevitable internal conclusion by my friend that this, was no surprise.

But she decided to press on.

“Who attacks problems practically?” She asked. Although it sounded rhetorical she wanted to know, she wanted a list of names, and their successes too.

The waitress brought over their breakfasts, but they hadn’t delegated who would have what, and there was some confusion. The waitress hovered whilst they waited for the other to decide, the stagnation at the roundabout, the stalemate of three cars. They eventually settled it by placing the meals side by side on the table.

“What are your problems?” Her friend asked, cutting into her poached egg.

She shrugged, the smell of the leaking yolk was making her nauseous, and she wasn’t sure how to answer that without missing the point. She didn’t know what her point was, but it wasn’t that.

In bed that night she tried to explain it to her partner. They had been together long enough to know the correct spellings of each other’s tricky middle names, but not long enough to put forth their strong opinions over film choice. But she decided to risk it all.

“I feel like I’ve been doing something wrong all these years. Maybe I should have been staring at the living room wall, searching the confines of my brain for the answer to the question? And the question is always the first question I wake up to, which is never the same question. It depends on the year, on the day, on the weather. Sometimes it’s a question of time, what to do with it? The remainder of my time that day, that week, the rest of my life, and whether time spent trying to think past practical time constraints is pointless. Sometimes the question is why do I care so much if T Mobile like me? They hate me. I know it.”

He pulled her close, told her she worried too much; they would pick a better film next time.

She decided to try out the method in the pictures. She desperately feared she was missing out on an important technique for correct living. She wasn’t sleeping.

She went to the park and attempted to sit and shift through her thoughts. She started with her problems over her health, it was nothing serious, but she suspected she had a dairy allergy. It brought her out in hives. Her doctors weren’t sure, uttered things about more tests and told her to avoid yogurt. She didn’t really feel fulfilled, but that seemed normal. But maybe there was something else she was missing.

She hunkered down and refused to move until she came to a solution about the unease that occasionally unsettled her.

She figured when feigning contemplative thoughts it is best to go for the powered down android look, underneath she knew there was no activity-taking place, but her glassy eyes told a different story to the nearby dog walkers.

She sat for three hours. Her legs cramped and died, and she felt the grass grow over her fingers.

She didn’t solve much that day, instead, she found herself lost in the corridors of the false narrative, randomly traversing through memories and piecing together interweaving thoughts and ideas in a haphazard matter in an attempt to file things away in her brain. She still couldn’t work out how to put her skill set into everyday action or get over her fear of being locked in a train carriage. She kept going back to his feet. His too big feet. They padded, they smacked the wooden flooring in her apartment when he left in the morning. He wasn’t even funny.

They went to a bar near his home, and she asked him what he did when he had a problem.

“It depends on the problem,” he said.  They sat on high stools that soon became uncomfortable but made them look picturesque to the casual voyeur at the bar. The thirty-something couple who share a bottle of wine, but one is beginning to suspect the other, whilst the other suspects one of them is too serious.

“Say you have a financial problem,” she hypothesized.

“Ok,” he said. “I don’t.”

“And you need to work it out. Do you ever do this?” She asked, selecting a cutting from the growing series she kept stashed in her bag.

It showed a man with glasses on holding a calculator in one hand, a pen in the other, and tipping his head to the side as he gazed at his piles of bills, mentally working through his monthly outgoings.

Her partner laughed and held it away from him like a repellent child. Embarrassed she crumbled up the picture, put it back in her bag and feigned a headache.

She walked home and wondered if she should travel to isolated mountains or fields, or hold her breath at the bottom of swimming pool and reflect. She wondered if her friend thought she was stupid, or he thought she was trying to be smart, or if it’s best to just wait for the solution to come to you after all. She heard your brain works things out best when you aren’t looking, and that every single singular task is, in fact, a multi-task as your subconscious whittles away at the conundrum before presenting you with the solution.

Later he rang her, and he asked if she wanted to get away for a while, meet his parents or get a dog together.

She said yes. She would never presume to understand how anyone else’s brained worked again.

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