Dermot Hayes, on Postcard from a Pigeon, invited me to join a story challenge this week. Check out his blog for the story behind his project, and to see the flash-fictions it has inspired others to write.
Below is mine:
Maxine tests for the freedom of the road.
Maxi is at the locked side-gate of Cherry Close, a private housing complex. She’s been there ten minutes in the hot sunshine, with a parcel for S Jenkins, number eight. The gateman, seated on the other side of an open window, has checked his computer, and Jenkins is in, but he’s not answering his buzzer.
‘Come back in an hour,’ the gateman suggests.
‘Then I’ll be late finishing. It’s my first day, and this is the last drop. Can’t you just take the parcel?’ Maxi smiles, trying to feel friendly towards this lump in a crisp blue shirt who’s leaning back on a swivel chair, basking in the breeze of a large fan. ‘I really need this job.’
The gateman shakes his head and looks Maxi up and down. ‘Show us some ID.’
The Courier badge she hands him is plastic, and has the company logo, and her name. He glances at it and waves it away. ‘How do I know this is you?’
It’s a fair point, she doesn’t have a high-vis jacket, or a van with a logo, just a pushbike. She’s wearing the tidiest clothes she owns, but it’s hot, even without cycling four miles in the last two hours, through heavy traffic. Her black tee-shirt is sticking to her back, and her trainers are scuffed. Maxi pushes her fingers through her shorn scalp. The feather-cut was supposed to look cool and efficient, but the sun is burning the back of her neck, and her reflection in the side window shows flattened helmet hair.
‘Look,’ she says to the gateman, lifting up the brown paper parcel that feels like a small book. ‘There’s his name, and that’s the address. Could you just sign and give it him later?’
The gateman shakes his head. ‘Can’t do that,’ he says. ‘It’s not legal, accepting someone else’s post.’
Course it is. ‘What’s not legal is opening it.’
The gateman sucks in a deep breath. ‘What company is it you say you work for?’ he says. ‘I’ll ring them and check you out.’
‘I’m supposed to be proving I can do this,’ says Maxi. ‘Give us a break, can’t you?’ She looks through the bars at the semi-circle of identical doorways across the paved courtyard. Andy had said don’t bring anything back on the first day. Leave it with a neighbour, even if there’s no instructions. Get it delivered.
Fine, but she can’t even get to the neighbours. What’s she supposed to do, climb over the gate? Get in.
She points at a door. ‘Is that eight? I can run across and ring the bell.’
He snorts. ‘More than my job’s worth.’
‘I won’t even be out of sight.’
The gateman creaks sideways on his chair, he’s reaching for the window. ‘My job is to keep people like you out,’ he says as he slides the glass window across, then he gets up and walks away, through a door into the back.
Maxi’s head is starting to throb. People like her?
She turns the parcel over. What if she just stuffed it through the gate and left, what would he do, the moronic gateman? Surely he’d have to take it then. But what if he returned it to the office? He would, she could tell he was that kind of bloke. Her hand clenches round the parcel. She’d like to fling it right through his bloody window, except it isn’t heavy enough to hurt. If only there were something else lying about.
She rams the parcel into her backpack, and hears paper creasing, tearing. Tough, serves the stupid git right if it’s damaged. The houses are small, how could S Jenkins not have heard the buzzer? He was ignoring it. That was it, he was sitting behind those blinds, too bloody idle and selfish to think about what his indifference meant.
Because Maxi is stuffed. Whether she takes a parcel back or she’s late, she’s failed. Andy can’t help any further than this. He got her the trial. ‘Don’t blow it Maxi.’ Well she hasn’t bloody Jenkins has. A book, a soddin’ book, she’s sure that’s what it is.
She sits on the curb by her bike and tips the bag up. Shakes it. The parcel and her receipt list board fall into the gutter. It’s a clean gutter. No dust, or litter. Not even leaves from the trees on the other side of the street.
There’s a small rip along one corner of the brown parcel. It is a book. There’s a cartoon of two kids and a dog. She tears the paper off: poems. It’s not even important. Not something to lose a job over. She’s put weeks into getting this trial, saving for the bike, fixing it up, learning the A-Z, taking her test, talking Andy into putting her name on the list. Everything was going right. Everything was good.
This is not fair. She rams the book back into her backpack, gathers up the wrapper, and her receipt board.
The list is crumpled now. All the care she’d taken to keep it neat, noting the time, writing each surname carefully. She smooths the paper. The signatures are just squiggles. Not even pretending to look right. Most didn’t even hold the pen properly. Anyone could have written them, anyone.
It’s a position of trust, that’s what Andy said.