distance fiction

Illuminated

New-found routines and unexpected distance – Kara Rennie's short story is about looking for escape, and what you might find instead.

She emerges from the shower with eyes stinging and hair dripping.

Drip-drop onto the bath mat. 

With her fingertips she smears the steamy mirror to reveal dark under-eyes and inky eyelashes. She rolls her eyes. Not again.

She tiptoes along the cold wooden floor to the warmth of her bedroom, the carpet soft between her toes. She unlocks her phone and makes a note to pick up makeup remover, as she separates her sticky lashes with her fingers.

An hour later, she wakes up confused to find herself curled up on the bed, still wrapped up in her bath towelfaded green that’s lost all softness, but she refuses to chuck out. Her pillow, now damp and her hair starting to frizz, she reaches for her pyjamas, flips the pillow, and calls it a night.

Lights out. 

The following morning, she walks to her new local coffee shop that she spotted on the day of the move. Maybe one day she’ll refer to it as her local and really mean it.

Breathing in the cool air and stretching her achy legs, she appreciates the quiet.

‘One latte and an almond croissant, please.’

‘To have in or to take away?’

‘Takeaway.’ 

She finds a lonely bench at the park just around the corner from her flat, almond flakes falling into her lap as lycra-clad figures jog past her.

The pavement is taking a beating from fluorescent trainers in every direction whilst the tap, tap, tap of delicate paws is a much more pleasing sound. She’s always wanted a dog. 

On the walk back to her flat she admires the multi-coloured buildings. A collective of Lego-like houses, all different shades of pink, reminded her of those paint card samplesso many different shades to test before committing to a colour.

She wonders how they’re furnished – the innards, whether the insides are just as dreamy as the outsides. People say a house is not really a home until you make it your own, until you enjoy being there, until you feel safe.

First impressions are important. Nice location? Check. Safe? Sure. Parking space? Yep. 

Tick, tick, tick.

Back at the flat, she’s greeted to boxes upon boxes of her belongings. Dozens of them containing parts of her life – the majority being books of course, perhaps a few hundred. There was no way she was going to give up those, despite the tuts from her mother and the sighs from the removal men, no siree! After all, a world without books is a world she doesn’t want to live in.

***

The insurance company rejected her refund request. The trip was booked 11 months ago and every month after payday, she treated herself to something warm, to prepare her for the icy conditions. She’d never owned so many thermals in her life.

She found it hard to accept that she would be doing the trip alone, after so many months of planning together.  

She’s a meticulously good packer, after many years of backpacking around the world in her late teens. Practice makes perfect.

The next morning, she rolls her suitcase to the kitchen to confirm its completion and studies her hand-luggage checklist.

Keys. Water. Sweatshirt, scented with her favourite perfume. Rose lip balm. Passport, battered and covered in ticket stubs. Reading material – six books, just to be safe. Phone charger. Jelly beans. Purse.

Arriving at the airport, she locates her closest pizza-eating establishment to de-stress post security checks. Pizza is good for the soul.

Now what?

She walks over to the departure board to find out whether the gate has been announced. The board is glowing yellow and white, holding all the answers to the impatient travellers below. What’s the gate number? How long will it take me to get to the gate? Will it be on time, delayed, cancelled? All that power.

Rome. Sydney. New York. Hong Kong. Oslo.  

“She thinks about the destinations and the people making the trips. Why did they pick that particular place? Is it for work? Pleasure? Will there be solo-travellers, like her, in similar situations, looking to escape it all?”

She thinks about the destinations and the people making the trips. Why did they pick that particular place? Is it for work? Pleasure? Will there be solo-travellers, like her, in similar situations, looking to escape it all?

She hovers for five minutes, sure that if she blinks she’ll miss the gate announcement. Growing tired, she walks aimlessly around in a childlike way, positive that people are staring at her, judging her.

There’s something about airports and the people in them. Up until you get to your destination, there’s a particular routine: depart for the airport, arrive, check-in, security, duty free. It’s repetitive. This moment, the waiting-around-for-the-gate-number moment should be the easiest. Not for her.

There’s too much time to think.

Airports are great for people-watching though.

Couples break off to pick up the flight ‘essentials’a new book, an oversized Toblerone (‘because it’s tradition’) and perhaps one of those overpriced travel pillows.

A child plays i-Spy with his sister: hat, pizza, mop, shoelaces, passport.

Some people pass the time with a glossy magazine, others wrap themselves around their belongings and try to sleep the wait away.  Others play scrabble  – ‘See I told you it would come in handy’ a husband proudly explains to his wife.

Bored, bored, bored.

‘Passengers for flight F1680 to Reykjavik are advised to make their way to gate 12 to begin boarding.’

Finally.

Moving walkway or regular walkway? Decisions, decisions.

Moving walkway every damn time. It’s like power-walking but without the effort.

Her row is called, and she breathes in as much regular air as possible before entering the airplane.  

She settles into her seat and sleeps.

***

The free hot chocolate leaves a powdery aftertaste on her tongue but the warm feeling in her belly is most welcome. Her tattered woollen mittens, a gift she received a few Christmases ago, were no longer doing their job – the holey hand warmers produced a chill on her fingertips. 

The blurred figures surrounding her were jigging around, doing their best not to freeze to death in the -12 conditions. ‘It’s a waiting game,’ the tour guide reassures them, sensing impatience. The coach door was opening and closing every few minutes as passengers shuffled on and off, attempting to keep as warm as possible. The mechanical sound it made was ringing in her ears. She could see silhouettes huddled together and thought about joining them. 

She imagines warm fires and her toasty bed and she even considers getting another hot chocolate but decides against the idea. Other coach tours were starting to leave, admitting defeat and heading back to the city, back to civilisation. Something needed to happen, and soon.

The sky was clear with just the faintest sight of street lights in the distance, most people tucked up in bed by now.

The fur of her hood was itchy on her face and each time she raised her hands, the strong scent of damp overwhelmed her. Her mittens needed to be replaced but that thought upset her. So many snowballs had been moulded and so many snowmen had been built using these mittens. The best mittens.

Suddenly, booted figures were rushing off the bus as the first sighting of green swirled in the sky. Blink and you’ll miss it.

Blink, blink, blink.

The different colours of winter hats and coats were briefly illuminated with every flicker of a camera, passengers desperate to capture the dancing lights.

Her eyes were watering and her nose was running but as every second passed, the lights became more vibrant, more beautiful. Words would be inadequate. This spectacle, these blazing lights swirling in the sky, it’s something you have to experience in person. Suddenly, they were gone, passing by for their eyes only and moving on to other locations. Norway, perhaps.

The next morning, reeling from the night of lights, she ticks it off her bucket list and makes her way out to the quiet streets of the city.

There were snowflakes falling over her, so intricate in detailshe had no idea that snowflakes like this were real. 

She joins a walking tour before realising that she’s forgotten her mittensher old friends. With raw hands, she marvels at the architecture around the city and hopes she passes a knitting shop to temporarily replace her mittens.

A kind-faced woman approaches her and offers her a pair of glovesthick, red, festive-looking. She thinks about it – they are an extra pair after all as locals know not to leave the house without at least two pairs of gloves. She takes the gloves and smiles, her eyes swelling slightly. 

‘I’m Daisy,’ she reaches her numb hand towards her.

It has been a while since she has felt such warmth.


Kara Rennie | @karajrennie Medium

Kara works in the book industry and coincidentally always has her head in a book. She’s a fan of film and television, travel and sampling the very best cakes. She’s forever searching for something. She writes things sometimes.

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