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Colliding Galaxies

by Cliff Hanger 

Posted: 13 September 2016
Word Count: 897
Summary: Hope cross-generational communication counts.

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Colliding Galaxies

‘What do you think you’re doing son?’
 She smarted at the word son although she was often mistaken for a boy with her little grey duffle coat and razor short hair. She was usually skilled at opening bags without people noticing. ‘Not doing nuffin. Got in a bit of a muddle that’s all.  Anyway I’m no sonny.’  She noticed a line of clear spittle running slowly down the man’s chin. He knew it but it was beyond his control.  ‘Never seen you on this bus.’ 
‘I’ve come to the city for a re-union.’  He was surprised at how easy the words came out. He’d been on his own so long now that conversing at all was a challenge never mind with a teenager. He noticed the tattoos on her knuckles.  Many of his old navy friends had the same homemade pin-pricked badges that faded but never wore off. 
‘What’s one of them?’
  How extraordinary to be so close to the past that you don’t need to meet it coming around again. ‘It’s to meet up with old comrades but there are fewer of us every year.’  She looked at him blankly.  The girl smiled and he remembered how it was to be young.  What it felt like to attempt stupid things because you could and because you had no need to think things through. The bell dinged ‘Gettin off here. Enjoy.’  He watched her saunter away untouched by conscience.
His own had started to prick him back at the start of the unfamiliar journey. He’d known that the terrible thing would overpower him at some point today.    Had been waiting for it with a dull sense of inevitability. Like picking off a not quite ready scab it was almost a pleasurable thought.
He’d asked the driver, an obliging fellow with a happy go-lucky face, to let him know where to get off but when he called out through the plastic shield, ‘just about there mate,’ the familiar anxiety started up again. Would the bus kneel to the right angle to get off without a fuss?  His heartbeat calmed only when he’d managed to get on the next bus as planned.  The place he needed declared benignly ‘Please give up these seats for the elderly or disabled’ but the blank, disinterested stares of their occupants just said ‘give up.’  

‘Stalking us or what? Come here by me, mate.’ She was sprawled over the supposed priority seats, her beaming smile lighting up the dismal interior. He noticed how attractive she was. Not pretty at all but that old fashioned word ‘becoming’. He laughed at how he had assumed she was a boy.  They both knew she’d hopped off to avoid any awkward questioning. She looked him up and down, intrigued by the old man in his shabby but immaculately pressed clothes and the fact that he wasn’t telling her off.   

‘Come with me. I could pass you off as my granddaughter.’  She looked down at the floor for a split second looking tiny and vulnerable. ‘Got no family now. Kicked me out as soon as the social dried up.’
‘There’s some free sandwiches and drink in it, if you can bear my company.’  That smile again.  ‘You’re on’.
 It felt good to have someone to help him negotiate the bus and the kerb. They trundled through the cavernous hallway of the art gallery and were ushered into a sparsely populated back room. He couldn’t see anyone he recognised. A glass of tepid Cava later he wondered how long it took to make a story out of the realities of war. He could see the girl across the room stuffing as much food as she could down her gullet only stopping to gaze half interestedly at some of the paintings on the wall.  She came up to him, leaned down and whispered
‘This is all kind of boring. Still not sure what it’s all for’.
  Then it all poured out.  The things he’d never been able to tell another human being.  The acrid smoke, the expressions of the innocents. He held his hands over his nostrils as if to shield them from the memory of the burning flesh.  When he’d finished she looked at him and sniffed.
 ‘We’ve all done bad stuff no need to let them own you.  Anyways you didn’t do anything, just were nearby.’ That was the worst of it. He’d been screaming inside for it to stop but had stood back, seen them as collateral damage.
 ‘Can’t turn back the clock.’  She was right.  He’d let the terrible thing own him and it had soured everything. His marriage, his friendships, his love for his children. Her phone vibrated heralding an incoming message.
 ‘Time to go, granddad.’
 ‘What are you doing now?’  He hoped it didn’t involve thieving but couldn’t be sure. He wanted to say ‘you could do so much with your life’ but didn’t.  Lately, his only real friend, the tv, had been telling him a lot about astronomy. Two galaxies colliding could drive their evolution in time. He’d thought about that carefully, imagining enormous galaxies crashing into one another but perhaps galaxies existed outside of the stars, galaxies of age and experience. Inert galaxies sparked into reaction by the tiniest of impacts. He had no idea what would become of her but he knew she was someone he would never forget.

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Comments by other Members

Desormais at 16:19 on 13 September 2016  Report this post
Aww I really liked that.  Very finely drawn characteristion which highlighted each of the protagonist's neediness and the acceptance and solace they found in each other.  Well done and a great take on the prompt with some memorable lines in it.  I noticed the POV change in the opening paragraphs.  I'm not a big proponent of POV theory, there are many more accomplished writers than me who have happily driven a bus through those 'rules' time and time again, so it doesn't hinder my enjoyment of such stories. Great stuff!

TassieDevil at 10:10 on 17 September 2016  Report this post
Super communication piece.

 The place he needed declared benignly ‘Please give up these seats for the elderly or disabled’ but the blank, disinterested stares of their occupants just said ‘give up.’  

this line stood out . To me it said it all. Then to finish this brief encounter with such a wondrous metaphor of colliding galaxies was inspired. Well done. Lovely characterisation.

Bazz at 19:53 on 17 September 2016  Report this post
Hi jane, great characters here, a lovely piece about two very different lives colliding, and the impact they have. I thought the perspectives were a little muddled in the beginning, though, I wasn't sure whose pov we were following.
I really like the philosophical note at the end, I think this is a really affecting character piece, it would be interesting to read even more with these two characters, they're intriguing and really compliment each other.

Cliff Hanger at 10:53 on 18 September 2016  Report this post
Those two keep popping up in my notebook. I decided to bash them into one another for the challenge so that's probs why the pov is muddled (well that and the fact I'm a fraud who doesn't really know how to write, hah, hah).

Thanks for your comments, Bazz. I might experiment with expanding this and put it in critique.



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