Waiting for time to catch up by Rosie Garland

When he goes downstairs, his mother is not in the kitchen. She’s not in the bathroom or the yard. He stands on the kerb and calls her name. The noise echoes from the walls of the houses along the street. He shouts till he’s bored, but nobody comes to see what the fuss is about.

He walks to school, to laugh at his friends doing maths tests and getting told off by Mr Beedling. It doesn’t take as long as expected and he wonders why his mother drives him every day, considering she’s always in a snappy mood. The playground is empty, classrooms deserted.

He spends the day searching and finds no-one; not in houses, churches, shops, offices. He switches on his phone. The screen is a wash of static, as is his computer. He wonders where everyone’s gone. Wonders if he should be scared.

Millions of people, taken somewhere they can’t bother him.

At the local supermarket, he fills a basket with crisps and fizzy pop. Walks out without paying. There’s nobody to pay. He goes to bed when he feels like it, gets up when he feels like it. No-one shouts do your homework, wash your hands, brush your teeth, sit up straight.

In the mirror over the fireplace he sees his family. Waves, but they don’t notice. His mother comes close, fixing her makeup. He sticks out his tongue.

He doesn’t bother changing into clean clothes. He can’t work out the washing machine and that’s the excuse he’ll use when this is all over and his mother asks why he’s wearing the same filthy tee-shirt. He eats in front of the television. It fizzes white noise, but still. Whoever said crisps are fattening was stupid.

Every now and then, he catches a flicker of ghosts in a shop window. He doesn’t bother to turn. He knows they won’t be there.

The grandfather clock his dad’s so proud of ticks away the seconds. He spends more time looking into the mirror. His father grows a beard. His mother does something with her hair. A picture of himself appears in a gilt frame on the wall. That school photo he hated.

‘Am I dead?’ he asks the woman in the looking-glass. She can’t hear him.

He doesn’t feel dead. He wonders if he’s moved sideways, like Dr Who in the Tardis.

Something he used to call time passes. He writes down his name and those of his family and friends. There are gaps he can’t fill. He doesn’t grow out of his clothes. He wears the same body; the people in the mirror don’t. His father shaves off the beard, grows sideburns. The room changes: new sofa and carpet, walls painted a different colour. A cot appears in his bedroom. Some nights, the skin between worlds is so thin he can hear crying.

He never thought he’d get bored of biscuits.

One afternoon, he comes home from wandering the streets and finds the lounge stacked with boxes labelled kitchen, bathroom. His father points at the mirror as though saying Do you want to keep this old thing?

His mother presses her lips together, the way she does when making up her mind.

Writer and singer with post-punk band The March Violets, Rosie Garland’s work appears in Under the Radar, Spelk, The Rialto, Ellipsis, Butcher’s Dog, Longleaf Review, The North, and elsewhere. Forthcoming poetry collection What Girls do the Dark (Nine Arches Press) is out in October 2020. Latest novel The Night Brother was described as “a delight…with shades of Angela Carter.” (The Times) In 2019, Val McDermid named her one of the UK’s most compelling LGBT writers.

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