CaBloWriMo: Two feet in front of me

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I could not see more than two feet in front of me, which was hardly any great loss. The action was all right here, hot metal hissing angrily at spattering rain, the dull tang of sodden diesel fuel pressing about the sinuses and clutching at lungs, the irate and incessant blaring of horns.

To go forward is to live. To stand still is to die. Time is money, and you are in my way.

To my right is the yawning gutter, last resting place of the careless, the overly cautious, and those too poor for a knock-off diesel-powered knock-off Chinese Honda. To my left is the roaring knock-off diesel elite of the new Viet Nam, bearing livestock, live bees, gas cylinders and family members lashed lazily to rusting back racks, a perpetual motion comedy disaster perpetually waiting to happen.

In the middle is me. I ride a bicycle, but am conspicuously too white to be poor. If I am not poor, it follows that I must be crazy. All Tay are crazy. You should see the prices we will pay for vegetables. Clearly wrong in the head. I am not insane enough to ride without a helmet, however. I value my head over my hairstyle.

I do not want to meet my end in the gutter, yet with every breath I feel diesel knife through my face mask and facial membranes, subtracting days from my life span, every second in this toxic embrace costing me minutes out of my time at my destination: that sweet new cafe with the beautiful bittersweet ca phe sua da and the roof terrace with the breathable air, and the quiet.

I jink left through the tiniest of gaps and surge forward, into the the boiling bloodstream of the city. Nothing keeps this Tay from her ca phe; not even you, Ha Noi.

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CaBloWriMo: Still and cold and clear

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Everything was still and cold and clear. I let my breath out slowly, feeling the warmth around my teeth and lips, the catch in my lungs, unaccustomed to such stillness. When it seemed there was no more breath to breathe, I forced the last traces out through my nose. All gone.

Before my eyes, moisture shivered, shimmered, and evaporated, then that too was gone. Time to go.

Four bags were waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs. One by one I had manhandled them down the narrow, twisting steps, stumbling over doormats and scuffing whitewash, smearing myself and mine with tenement warpaint. If they hadn’t disappeared, it was because there wasn’t much worth taking. Everybody round here knew that.

First up was the blue army surplus rucksack with its creaky metal tube frame and catch fasteners held on with yellowing Sellotape. From an era long before ergonomic design was invented, it cut into my ribs when overfilled; if I hoisted it up off my shoulders every minute or so, I could take on just enough oxygen to keep going.

That went on first, and diagonally over that a smaller rucksack with some money, a depleted and insistently bleating phone, and a notebook – the kind made of paper – with maps and addresses and numbers and the like, kept in front of my face and so within easy reach for me and less easy reach for sharp-eyed opportunists.

That left one hand each for the purple “Calvin Kien” wheely suitcase that had lost three of its four wheels and both its zips, and the leather suitcase I’d been given when I first left home, which was a piece of family history, and as such should have been in a museum dedicated to the inconvenience and discomfort of a bye-gone age.

All it took to set myself in motion was to gently shift the combined weight forwards, and gravity would do the rest. And remember to breathe, I thought, just remember how to breathe.

(By Andrew Kudrin from Novosibirsk, Russia, via Wikimedia Commons)

(By Andrew Kudrin from Novosibirsk, Russia, via Wikimedia Commons)

CaBloWriMo: My Real Name

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My real name is Caroline, tongue coiling back in the mouth as the growl flows around it, r, not sleeping but poised to leap at the palate, llll.

But it’s not important. My name has travelled. Through broad Celtic vowels and the burr of the rolling rrr – Caralyn. That’s not my name, but I have answered to it.

Then there were those who spoke through the nose, their lascivious pronunciation as close to romance as my Paris got. Carohleen. Not my name, but I have answered to it.

Consonants were harder behind the iron curtain, and as warm as its winter. There’s something of the tsarina about Tsarolina; although not my name, I have answered to it.

My mother once told me that she chose a name nobody could make a nickname out of. Mother, forgive me. I am far from home and unpronounceable. Please, everyone, call me Kyaro.

(by DimiTalen, via Wikimedia Commons)

CaBloWriMo: Mr Nobody

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It was maddening, he always seemed to know exactly what to say in every situation. It made her feel so plodding, so deer-in-the-headlights, naive and wide-eyed as he ducked and dodged and dissembled, and each time came up smelling of nothing at all.

This was a man who left no trace, who made no mark, whose words slipped through the brain so easily they left no more meaning behind than smoke slipping through an air vent. And that was why he had survived in this business, a dissembler so professional few could hold him in mind long enough to be impressed by him or offer him a promotion.

And so they had found themselves on the same team, him fifteen years older with (she sometimes thought for the merest of instances when she glanced over at his desk when he probably thought nobody else was looking) something of a slump about his shoulders. And then, with a strange little reptilian shimmer, it was gone, the glitch repaired, the gash already healed.

She tried not to hate him, which was infuriating in itself, because she was pretty sure he’d never hated anyone or tried not to hate anyone, or gotten stressed or-. God! Here she was feeling hot blood pound her temples, over a man who to all intents and purposes didn’t even have blood pressure. Or a pulse. Who was clinically dead. Bastard.

A sound brought her back to right now, and she swiveled her chair to face his. Crack, came his head again, down upon his desk. Crack, crack, crack. She felt her stomach go hard and her tailbone burrow into the chair. This couldn’t be happening. She must be losing it.

 

Silhouette of a suited man

(By Darmyn Jean-Louis (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons)

Prompt: Stop procrastinating

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Facebook login page

And procrastinate. It’s really helpful on that front (via Pixabay)

“Stop procrastinating,” she said. He knew she was right, but every time he even thought of getting up and going he was pinned to the ground by the heavy empty that had sprawled itself across the foot of his gut like an unwelcome welcome mat before a door that you knew you really ought to go through, but which was squinting at you all ornery, its knots all furrowed so you just knew it was going to scrape and scritch and clutch at the door frame like some kind of hell-Velcro, so you’d push with all your paltry, unconvinced might while all the while wishing you’d stuck to your guns and stayed snuggled in your comfy chair, one eye on Facebook and the other on Candy Crush, a gentle smile on your face, procrastinating.

Prompt: There was a crispness in the air

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There was a crispness in the air and a feeling in the wind, and she felt her face break into a smile as she was suddenly overwhelmed with a sense of incredible lightness. It had been years since she had been outside, freed from the brushed chrome and the oh-so-tastefully understated furniture. Free to breathe.

And breathe she did, again and again, drinking it in like she’d fallen upon an oasis in the desert. The air felt cleaner and clearer than any she could remember, and it probably was. There was nothing here to make it otherwise, if they were to be believed.

They’d lied to her about other things, clearly. The air outside wasn’t instantly fatal. You could survive outside the PopCap, at least for a while. And god only knows you could never really live in it, save in a stasis where every day is the same. Where every day you wait until the moment where your reason for living walks through the door and eviscerates you for leaving a mug on the breakfast counter.

There was a crispness in the air (image by Timeastor)

Prompt: This would be her last meal with them

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Empty wine glass

Welp, that didn’t go sho bad…

This would be her last meal with them. It didn’t take a genius to realise that. Mr and Mrs Hamish – her with her squeaky-white pearls and blue rinse and he in his three-piece suit, more mustache than face, both sat up so ramrod straight they probably wouldn’t bat an eyelid if you inserted a pole up each of their arses – they hadn’t exactly warmed to her. She didn’t entirely blame them.

No, she blamed Hamish, the man himself, currently attempting to burrow himself into his ridiculous pseudo-artsy cravat before either party could decapitate him. What a coward. What a wretched, craven, sexy, sexy coward. There was no way he would ever wrap his sexy, sexy coward’s body around hers again.

“Och well, might as well make the most of a bad joke”, she thought, reaching across to where they’d parked the frightfully expensive Chateau de Collapso and pouring herself as generous a measure as physics would permit. Mr Hamish had earlier pronounced it “really rather splendid”, before – and she swore she hadn’t even touched a drop by this point – whinnying to himself.

She looked up, laughing to herself, and froze. The entire table was staring back, except Mr Hamish, whose eyes had become unfortunately fixated on the squid captured in mid ink splooge tattooed between her breasts as she’d swooped on the vino.

“Did I say that out loud?”