His body flushed with a familiar wave; heat, stress, his hackles rising in response to some unseen foe. He hadn’t got the job. That’s what he was told, in the same patronising voice he’d heard before, again and again. ‘Sorry, but on this occasion’. It all sounded so much like ‘sorry, if you got the wrong idea’. Being turned down for jobs, or by a girl, it all seemed the same. Simple, sardonic, severe.
He held the phone in his hand. He had enjoyed the moments preceding this one; had been high on the idea that he might escape this trap. Trapped by an employer lacking in empathy who lamented the lockdown that would lose him money, and who refused to lighten the load on his employees; overworked, overstretched, and over it.
When the lockdown had ended he had found light in the dawn of a world newly awake, and he basked in it. He would stand in the sun, released from his lockdown lethargy, and see the choices shining brightly. He saw his problems, and thought about leaving them, imagining them drift away like leaves in the stream. He hunted, and he hounded. He found posts, wrote applications, attended interviews. And it was a no, one after another.
He stood in the sun, still staring at the mobile phone in his hand. His willpower was spent. He sighed deeply, attempting to shrug over the stress still swimming through his veins. He forced his feet forward and fumbled his way through the people, to the park. He walked without aim, wondering willingly, trying to lose himself, disappearing from a world which had wronged him.
He watched his feet wind their way down paths, and past streams. Time ticked on, and his mind blurred as defeat was burdened by worry. But then he stopped, suddenly. His feet met with a barrier, an unfamiliar fence. He looked up to face it. He hadn’t seen something like it in the park, not before, not ever. He picked up his head and looked around him.
He was in a clearing, trees and shrubs surrounded a small, simple bench. He hesitated, what should he do? And in place of no better solution, he sat. He was still in his work suit and as he stared down at the ground he noticed the mud caked in his shoes, the dew damp on the trouser cuffs. In his hand he still held his phone, in his other, a paper bag with his lunch.
His phone was dead, he couldn’t think why. But like the fence, and the clearing, and the absence of the city noise, he chose not to observe the oddity. He sighed and looked around himself. He looked up. The sky was an azure blue, rich and vast, and above him sailed one small solitary cloud. An escapee from the pack, it swam across the sky, delighted.
He closed his eyes and imagined himself flying high above it all, a cool breeze buffeting him along. As his mind flickered into life, so did his problems. And the phone call, along with all the other denials, piled on his emerging mind. It had been one bad thing after another, knocking into each other like dominoes. His hope crushed.
He gave another small sigh. Weakened by worry or by lack of food, he looked to the paper bag still clenched in his hand. He took out the sandwich and slowly peeled away the supermarket wrapping. He ate slowly and methodically, as though he were just waking, his body only half remembering how it worked. When he finished, he put his head back to drain a bottle of its drink.
He looked up into the sky and there he saw, the cloud. Still there, floating above him. Strange as it seemed, he did not think to question. He did not know how the weather worked. He looked back down to the ground, his body had woken up and was beginning to whirl with thoughts of next steps. He would go back to work, he would go home, he would shake off the day. He didn’t know what he would do tomorrow.
He took his phone out of his pocket, of course, it was dead. No way of knowing what time it was. No knowing where he was. His solitude should have made him feel safe, but instead he felt sad. His face creased in a way he hadn’t experienced for quite some time, and as the first tear rolled down his cheek the sky opened up above him and the rain poured down.
The flood of water shocked him and he jumped to his feet, he ran under the trees for cover and watched as the rain ran down on the sun drenched glade. That wasn’t right. He looked out and up to the sky. There was just that one cloud in a sky as blue as a southerly sea, but still the rain poured. He walked, without thinking, into the middle of the clearing and stared up into the sky. He sat on the bench and let the warm water wash over him.
Then the rain stopped, as suddenly as it started. He opened his eyes to the blue sky, the cloud gone, drained. He felt an odd sensation, like a tickling on his hand. He looked down to see a ladybird walking along it. He relented and allowed himself to smile at the strangeness of what was happening. Another ladybird landed on his shoulder, then another, and another. They came lightly and without malice, gently crawling around him. And then, all at once, they flew away.
He followed their path with his eyes and turned to see them disappear through the fence. The fence he had forgotten. The fence that now seemed to glow golden with the sunlight that struck it. He stood up, turned, and walked up to face it. He touched it, unsure of what to expect. He drew his hand back and it dropped instinctively onto a waiting handle. A handle he hadn’t noticed before, belonging to a door he was sure hadn’t been there.
He wrapped his fingers around the handle and thought about what he should do next. He looked behind him, to the unfamiliar woods. He looked above him, to the blue sky without a cloud in it. He watched a lone ladybird crawl across his waiting hand. Finally, his mind turned to everything he had been through and everything that lay in store. He pulled the handle down and walked through the door. What he would see on the other side would change everything he was, and everything he would be.
This is part of my ‘Happy Endings Series’ where I write a story inspired by three words given to me by a friend and set within a genre of their choosing. The conditions of the series is that each story is only around 1000 words and that it has a happy ending. This story is for my friend Verity; a magical realism story inspired by the words: door, cloud and ladybird.