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FICTION on the WEB short stories by Charlie Fish

Cul de Sac
by Damien Patton

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The hall carpet was littered with wood shavings and dirty scraps of paper. This ragged stream stretched to the front door, where a big blue bin stood impeding free exit. Within it, mangled remains of chairs, stereos, and tables were pressed and packed tightly: above, grey clouds hung low, and a misty autumn daylight effaced what remained of their redundant colour.

He had stopped, gazing out at the immobile sky, seeking flecks of rain, with some damp-smelling bric-a-brac in his arms. He didn't feel the increasing pain of the weight. He just stood and thought - an empty kind of thinking; an empty, whirring washing-machine kind of thought. He didn't know what to think about exactly. Nothing profound came to mind. He just knew this was a moment to stop and look and think. He smelled the bleach from the open bathroom door beside him; and the fridge continued to hum behind him, pining, with no food...

The bulk shook his arms, dragging his posture incrementally lower. With a strained, guttural sigh in delayed response, he moved again, flexing his clenched fingers like a pierced crab around the awkward boxes, and feeling the pain congealed within his tired body rebound against its tenderest places.

As he approached the door, a man's massive form emerged from the living room and slipped out. Frightened, he paused again, uncomfortable with his meagre catch, and watched the bin's load being jostled from the side; his brother-in-law's powerful arms plunging unseen into its depths, to forge new space. Heavy breathing preceded his re-entry, and from somewhere underneath this noise his voice was sent to the young man - "Come on" - as he brushed past him into the kitchen and started the hoover.

Behind the door, encased in noise; he relaxed and walked quickly to the bin, hoisting the box onto the nearest decline he could find. He knew they would be reordered. He shivered and touched the sweat under his hair-line.

"This has got to be done by tomorrow."

"Yep."

His brother-in-law walked outside again, brushing the raindrops from the bushes as he passed, this time towards his car. The younger man arched his head around the door-frame to see if he would drive off or was just getting more tools. The car started, droned and skimmed its way across the puddles and out of the estate. He breathed a sigh of relief and looked about him, casually closing the front door with a kick. The bottom step of the stairs, sprinkled with bits of battered plaster, seemed inviting: he tried to resist the temptation to sit down, but it sung to him like the brink of sleep. He knew without looking that his dog watched him from above, and would shuffle down sideways - a quirk of his - as soon as his back arched.

Instead, the bare sitting room pleading for attention, he walked across the hall and felt oddly dizzy in what was still a small space. Most of the stuff was packed now - except bits and pieces he didn't know what to do with. They hung precariously from the height of nostalgia currently rising to fill his mind, and sting his chest: cornered in the room and awaiting judgement. Some cards were left on the mantelpiece, dedicated to a time long gone and a family broken up. Two brass camels faced each other from either end, he couldn't remember a time when they hadn't, so he left them to it. A force external, authoritative, told him to throw them all away and make the room neat. Another, within, sought hard, and reclaimed their dusky worth, conscious only of its rival's dogged grip.

A song seeped sluggishly into the young manís mind, and he forgot them - no sir no dancing today I don't feel like dancing dancing, ogdifdo nogdnnno doooo donít feel like dancing dancing dsoisoidj foajdisjoid when Iím not in the mood, donít feel like dancing dancing osjdiosmmdmo ad foijaimoi msom something yoowhohooo... he really wanted to go to sleep. He called down to his dog to lie beside him on the couch (saved only because it didn't belong to them) but, after failing to hear the clamorous patter of paws in thrilled response to his voice, he trudged up the stairs, and entered his mother's room.

A comb with a few blonde hairs, empty boxes of medication, and some dirty-pink makeup was all that was left. The closets gaped. Her clothes were in black bags on the landing. They weren't going into the bin. The curtains were down and the light seemed intrusive; cobwebs bulged slowly in the corners of the ceiling, and black marks were revealed skidded on the skirting boards where sticky cupboards had been removed. He walked across to the sideboard and picked up the comb by its longest hair. He felt the weight grow and slip between his fingers; the sensation was infantile and enjoyable. A smell came from his hand. He sent his nose forward, eyes closed, but the hair snapped and the brush fell to the wooden floor with an unnerving, hollow clatter. The dog fled and tumbled headlong down the stairs. The man kicked the brush against the wardrobe door, embracing the hollowness, and cursed that chicken-shit dog. On his way out he saw a hair-dryer hidden behind the door but ignored it.

He got his duvet and went downstairs.

When darkness settled, and the streetlights glared through the blinds, the dog finally made a noise from behind the couch and came out timidly. He moved his body along the side of the cushion, avoiding the borders of a table not there anymore. His eyes glowed orange as he stared up. The wind rushed around outside, bending the trees, spattering rain across the windows, and occasionally brushing violently against them as if to put a final, volatile touch to the abstract canvas - which caused the dog to prick his ears and straighten his hind-legs. Sometimes, with particularly strong gusts, the doors jumped in their frames, or shuddered in anticipation. After three consecutive bursts of this, the dog moved away and slid himself back behind the couch. A brief pause of noisy silence, and his hind leg scratched the carpet in instinctive relief. His owner lay and stared at the orange glare, watching its spikes expand and contract between his heavy eyelids, and noting the sounds of cars on the main road when he could.

He enjoyed this weather; his body prickled in response, pressed tightly into the creases of the couch, and seemed snug and eternally comfortable within the familiar disorder. That chicken-shit dog.

Thoughts came to him then, fled to him, under the cover of night. It was a whirlwind, out there. It surrounded the house. It brooded, coveting the near-empty space, as a vulture circles a fallen animal. But it had to wait, and got angry: the heart still fluttered within this particular creature; imperceptibly these two souls kept it beating. But soon they would be gone, and then the wind would truly obliterate the house, sweeping away its memories, and devouring its heart.

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