It was a cold day in hell when the accident happened. A high-speed pursuit went out of control on the overpass, sending a police car screaming through the air into the unsuspecting traffic queuing below. Barry Goldman was again impatient on his long commute, grumbling at the radio and edging as close as possible to the cars sat motionless in front of him, when the missile struck. The news reported the accident as a sheer freak, bound to occur at some point, and many people around the country enjoyed a chuckle on behalf of the oblivious Barry’s incomparable bad luck. Being in a coma it seemed he was the only one who hadn’t heard the news, his mind filled with dreamscapes palpably real whilst the surgeons reconstructed his shattered features all around him.
He sat on a beach at sunset. The burning sky glittered in the breakers and silhouetted him against the obsidian sand. Factories spewed clouds of ash around him and to his left a wounded tanker dominated the beach, its oily innards staining the sand and stealing his shadow. A cold wind rolled across the despoiled tundra, whipping breaths of salty ocean and treacle black smoke into a viscous cocktail around his head. Barry Goldman stared out into the consuming horizon, losing himself in the churning solar flower.
Beside him was a radio. It hissed static across the empty beach in a vain attempt to cling on to a station. As the channels whirled by without definition it started to form a secret language in Barry’s head. The sun whispered with furious energy, the words indistinct but nonetheless powerful. It was calling him to come. He could feel the water kissing the soft foot of the land. He could sense the sweet caress of wind and smoke and cloud as it twirled in energetic dance uncaringly around the beach. Then the radio belched and caught the tail of a passing station, scattering his sensations into the oil-black sands as salsa music broke the silence. The rhythm filled the air and Barry’s face fell, the sensuous party atmosphere from the radio returned him to reality. He scowled at it momentarily before feeling himself slipping away. It was then that Barry Goldman regained consciousness, much to the surprise of the medical staff that swiftly sent him home before anyone asked about their plan to donate his vegetative carcass to science.
Upon arriving home Barry was surprised to find his wife, Minnie, in the arms of another man. His immediate reaction being a shrug of begrudging acceptance, it seemed the next most logical move would be to put the kettle on. He rattled around the cupboards of their Barratt house kitchen, recently refurbished, with a utilitarian sense of purpose. The radio hummed a faint salsa rhythm in the background as the teabags were lifted from their place next to the porcelain cat and the milk was plucked from the belly of the silver Smeg fridge. The preparations complete, Barry let out a long sigh. He had always preferred whole milk and here he was drinking skimmed on account of Minnie’s dieting. The least she could do was stay faithful, though he guessed she never really did think about his needs.
As the kettle reached boiling point and let out a satisfied click, a figure entered the room. He was tall and well built with beads of perspiration rolling around on his upper lip due to his heavy breathing. He offered Barry his hand and out of politeness he took it, mumbling awkwardly, “Hello, I’m Barry. You must be the guy from upstairs.”
“Yes, Donald Rumpton. I’m from your wife’s gym.”
As he smiled Barry noticed how white and straight his teeth were, they went well with his young-professional style suit. Barry offered him a cup of tea.
“Mm, that’d be nice thanks. Could do with some rehydration, its important after any intense exercise. Many people don’t consider sex exercise but in fact it’s probably the best way to keep in shape. Works the main muscle groups whilst simultaneously improving general health.”
By way of demonstration he thrust his sizeable package in the direction of Barry’s head that nodded in stunned acceptance.
“Oh, by the way, Barry was it? Sorry to hear about your accident.”
“You know, the car crash. You’ve been in a coma for two months. Look in the mirror, your face is a real mess.”
Walking to the mirror, Barry began to understand the strange goings on that surrounded what had seemed like the past day. None of the Doctors had bothered to explain to him that a two-ton lump of metal had flown into his vehicle, maiming him beyond recognition. Though they probably assumed it was the sort of thing you’d notice. The mirror told the tale for him. He had lost the majority of an ear and his face was a tapestry of crimson scarring. Barry peered quizzically down his jumper. Yes, a complete mess. The pit of his stomach dropped in disappointed realisation and he returned to making the tea with another fatalistic sigh.
Two days later Minnie looked out of the window to find the beech tree in the garden strung with what looked like toilet paper with oil poured over it. Hanging from the branches were oddly shaped birdhouses. It reminded her of the Christmas trees the gentiles put up in the neighbourhood around Hanukkah. Below the tree Barry was sitting in a deck chair topless, drinking a bottle of wine through a straw. She leaned out of the bedroom window and shouted down to him,
“What the hell are you doing, Barry?”
He looked up, unfazed by the question but shuddering slightly at the furious nasal voice, “I’m catching birds, dear.”
“Why the hell are you catching birds?” Her lip had a habit of curling when she was confused and angry, “And put your shirt on, no-one wants to see that big scab you call a body!”
Barry blinked vacantly up at her, raising his bottle of wine to indicate his point,
“But then I’d spill this on myself. You know my lips don’t work the way they should do after the accident”
“It’s always the bloody accident with you, isn’t it Barry! Why don’t you stop being a bloody victim!”
Minnie slammed the window and let him return to his stupid games. He never spent time with her any more, every Sunday it was something new but not once had she ever been invited to join him. Men were so unthoughtful.
That evening Barry walked into the house with a rustling, squawking sack slung over his shoulder. He paused in the corridor passing the living room; Minnie was sat on the sofa with the warm glow of Eastenders flashing in a kaleidoscope of colours across her face. It was times like this when Barry remembered why he had married Minnie. Her pale skin looked soft and inviting, like brushed marble, and she had a dainty drop of tea on the top of her nose from her little unconscious habit of turning the mug around in her hands whilst she drank. Quietly kicking off his boots, Barry remembered something and leaned in to the room where Minnie lay,
“Excuse me dear, but do you know where I put the garden shears?”
“Why?” Her eyes stayed locked on the screen but her lip flickered into a slight curl before Barry’s nervous eyes.
“Just wanted to do some pruning.”
“Well do it tomorrow, they’ll be out in the shed anyway. They always are.”
Barry began to turn back to his boots before leaning in once more to stare at Minnie’s dangerously concentrated face, “One more thing dear, I’m thinking of going to the beach tomorrow, would you like to come?”
Minnie breathed a nasal sigh of vast aggravation, her eyes not moving an inch from the screen. Why did she marry someone who knew her so little that he thought she’d enjoy a trip to the beach? She wasn’t ten. Anyway, if she did want to go to the beach she wouldn’t go with him just to have people staring at his freakish body and pointing at her thinking that she was married to him by choice. That was it; he was probably just doing it to spite her because of his stupid accident. Minnie turned her head away from the screen to deliver a swift put-down to Barry for his petulant tricks, only to find he had already left a few minutes earlier, so rude.
Minnie didn’t see Barry again after that. He had disappeared into the basement with his squawking sack, some glue and a pair of pruning shears. The next day he was arrested by the police after he was caught running around naked on the beach flapping a huge pair of wings on his arms. On closer inspection the wings were made of thousands of real bird’s wings held together by adhesives and the clotted blood that had clearly been shed in their retrieval. A ragged collection of wingless birds was spotted strolling along the Goldman’s Barratt estate later in the day with a glazed, far-away look in their eyes. Around the country people were telling each other the story all around their various office places. It was the second time Barry Goldman had been in the news this year.
Return to Short Stories