After – by Ian


Crows. Always crows. I can hear them from beyond the fog that obscures their roosts. Two of the birds pick over the long stripped human skeleton that lies just beyond my garden fence. Crows, my never ending companions.

I finish my ersatz coffee and a hunk of stale rye bread. I usually soften the bread in my drink but today decide to mix it up. I take a bite, risking my teeth, then fill my mouth with the hot, brown liquid. The joy, I think that’s the word, that small adjustments to my routine bring after such time.
Having shaken my wrist I look at the self winding watch my father gave me on my 21st birthday. I know, because he was forever telling me, that I don’t need to shake it. However, someways, I feel a necessity to do it in the morning, after it has been at my bedside overnight. It’s about time for the second of my rituals, a wash and clean my teeth. I walk to the pail containing water pulled yesterday from the brook at the end of my back garden and pull a chew stick from a small faggot that forms part of my stockpile. It is important to stay healthy. Washing well and dental hygiene are integral part of that.

The air is brisk and, despite it being just after ten and the sunlight brightening, the fog hangs heavy. I stand at the threshold of my small cottage, stick my arms out, in crucifixion, and take large, deep breaths before drawing silent and listening. In between the call of the crows I can hear wildlife rustle in the hedges that line the sides of my garden. Today, that’s it. Nothing more.
Next, I embark on checking my estate, as I laughingly call it. The wires and moving parts of my early warning system and booby traps need to remain functional. It is the only way I can keep some peace of mind, maintain my mental health. All seems in order, including the electronic fuse that is connected to the jerry rigged land mines some distance from my fence.
The rear garden is walled, one solid gate enables access to the stream and beyond. As I can only open the portal from inside my defences the garden is only accessible through the house. I wipe my feet, before traipsing through the rooms that have become my world. Out back I carry on checking the inventory. Half way round the more elaborate defence systems that protect the back of the cottage I pause at the rough mound of earth with a crudely hewn cross placed at its head.

Despite time passed, the tears come. I have only ever loved once.

I blow her a kiss and carry on the survey before stopping by the window of the dining room. I pull up a green tarpaulin, grab a round iron ring and shift a heavy, wooden door upwards to reveal my generator. It still startles me that the Heath Robinson contraption, with its DIY muffler, has stayed working. I check the dip stick before pouring some of my precious fuel supply into the tank. After firing it up I replace the door in a way that helps reduce the sound but enables ventilation.
Nearly 11 o’clock. I know it needn’t take me an hour but I pace myself in checking around the cottage. I only run the generator for half an hour a day and use the electricity for those chores that require it. They are inevitably short but I keep the generator running for the rest of time in order to undertake the one concession to my plight.
Upstairs, in the main bedroom, I open the wardrobe doors, reach past the items stored on its floor and remove the cover from my radio. I pull out the wire for the aerial and connect it to the socket in the wall. The radio’s range is limited as I had to cut down the antenna so that the chimney, now, conceals most of it. However, I spend twenty minutes each day scanning the air waves to see who is out there, who can help.
Five minutes of power left and the continuous white noise is broken, as it has every day since this began, by two high pitched blasts of a horn. The now familiar bass voice of the broadcaster starts. I have never been successful in picking up anything but this broadcast. The familiarity is both a comfort and an irritation.

‘Good morning everyone. How are you all out there?’
The voice pauses.
‘That’s great, it’s sooo good to hear you are all that well – considering.’
He laughs, as always, at his little joke. This never changes.
When I first started to listen I thought it was the same recording being played each time. However, after listening for some time the little differences on each broadcast began to tell. I now make a note of the nuances and look for patterns, messages, any morsel of hope to cling on to.

‘So I hope it’s lovely where you are because later today it will rain, rain, rain. When I say later I predict from 2pm onwards. This will only last for an hour but it will be persistent. you won’t miss it happening.’ He laughs.

This bit is accurate, it rains every day. The rest of the broadcast seems to be pure fantasy, but then I am assuming I am meant to be the only recipient.

‘The rain will bring new growth. Please remember to be wary of the fog, you don’t know what lurks out there. Please be careful, as I want you listening tomorrow. My ratings are my fortune.
So, after the rain, the wind will pick up and there might be a slight cooling in the temperature. I think you’ll agree that this heat is just a little too much. Almost beach ready.’
The broadcaster descends into an array of chuckles at this pun about the temperature, as it never seems to warm up, before pulling himself together.
I sit listening intently, scribble down something I hear that is different and wait for his never changing finale.

‘So it’s been lovely to speak to you all. I hope you are keeping well and that the weather where you are is what you need. That only leaves one more thing for me to say.’
Some cheesy music plays and the man starts to sing.

‘If you’re feeling down
And I am not around
Hold in there
and don’t let go

Because we always know
Your future is tomorrow
As it will bring
You every thing

Everything, to see
Everything to be
It is key
For you and me

wrapped in
Sunshine and Rainbows’

369 fucking days. The same shit for 369 days.
I pull my pistol and aim it at the radio as ‘Sunshine and Rainbows’ is repeated. My tears fall again and I put the barrel of the gun in my mouth.

369 days. 369 days of ever present grief, fear and monotony.

Tomorrow will come, without fear or favour. It will come, without the respite I so desperately seek.

2 Replies to “After – by Ian”

  1. Hi I thought the story line was Good. It def. set a picture of place and happenings, which could of developed into a larger piece. I had to look up ersatz, i thought it may be a brand. I was not sure on the lines (mix it up) modern and (I blow her a kiss) ?depth…the generator back story

    O’Level 🙂

  2. Thank you Helen, really appreciate your comments. One of my friends raised the use of ersatz the other day. I took it from an author we both used to read as kids where the German soldiers we’re described as eating black bread aNd drinking ersatz coffee. Stuck with me.

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