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Welcome to GR Online, a series of short-form articles that take aim at the moving target of contemporary culture as it’s whisked along the guide rails of innovations in digital media, globalisation and late-stage capitalism.

Everything you could possibly imagine

Joseph was one of the only patients I’d truly enjoyed interacting with, which for the weeks since his arrival had helped me cope with the ward’s sense of monotony. His beard was like a cartoon lumberjack’s, descending into a fine point and thick enough to hold objects if they were stuck into it – which, of course, we’d tried. His eyebrows erupted like old-­growth forest across his forehead, almost demanding to be touched – which, of course, I hadn’t.

Lincoln Wimbley writes a story at 37,000 feet

Then last week, in that bar. Lincoln never a big bar guy. But Professor Tim suggested, ‘Get out in the world!’ Somewhere all new. So, a bar. The bartender asked, ‘A beer?’ Lincoln hated cans. Hated bottles. Hated beer. But asked for something on draft. On tap. Explained why he was there, a first-­timer, hunting for a story. Bartender laughed. Said elsewhere’s probably best. ‘None of the sad sacks here come with a happy ending.’

The Orcanauts

The drylanders call me White Gladis, the devil fish of Gibraltar. Since the war began, my pod and I have sunk three of their vessels and damaged a hundred more. We have yet to devour any of the invaders, but we will. Only last week a foolish drylander tacked his yacht away from the coast to avoid our territory. Our sentries spotted him, alone upon the waves. I gripped the rudder of his boat between my teeth and forced him to change direction towards the calves. I have been training them in battle tactics. The human tried to wrench back control of his vessel. Knowing his puny hands were on the wheel, I tugged the rudder violently, causing him to lose his grip and stagger. He almost fell over the side.

Terrified, he collected himself and switched on the engine. This enraged me further. I commanded the first strike team of calves to ram the hull. Their snouts were unable to penetrate the fibreglass. Under full engine power and aided by the wind, the drylander fled towards the shallows. We let him go, singing to him of empires fallen, as a warning.

Bonfire

It was a loud dinner. Everything was loud. The murmuring soundtrack of free jazz seemed to emphasise laughs and guffaws. He grew drunker and drunker and toyed with his food, which no one even noticed. Normally, he would wolf down everything they cooked, but he twisted his fork in the spaghetti and just kept twisting. As he was on serving duty, he cleared it up without anyone even registering he’d barely taken a bite.

Survey

But I have long lost my personal thread to this place, I realise, and thinking of this loss I almost feel mournful for a former life I see now as though in the third person, a life belonging to an altogether different man. Perhaps it is for the best that those old threads are cut, for it means I am free of them.

The kiss 

With ears plugged and eyes closed, she felt safer. The sensations that did reach her were muted: the melodic ring of the seatbelt light being switched off, the rattle of the dinner trolley, the smell of food being warmed in microwave ovens – a heady aroma reminiscent of canned soup and sausage rolls. But above it all she heard something else. The rumble of a voice – low, male, foreign.American. 

The green gold grassy hills

I’d missed her fiftieth birthday party the year before due to the usual restrictions of time and money. But as I stood at the window scrubbing vegetables, I wondered what had been so important that I hadn’t been able to make an exception for someone to whom a year could be a lifetime. Under-eights soccer game? Kids’ sleepover? But my partner could have done that on their own, couldn’t they?

Lost decade

We were given a list of verified addresses that we could pick from: Leonardo DiCaprio, Quentin Tarantino, Taylor Swift. I began my tours at Las Palmas hotel, where Richard Gere climbs the fire escape in Pretty Woman. Then I drove up Highland, past the church where Sister Act was filmed, and into the hills. The passengers were sunscreened and hopeful, leaning to the windows. My passengers, I reminded myself. I hadn’t even seen Pretty Woman then.

Apocalypse, then?

Writing took almost everything from me. Most afternoons, I’d arrive home from teaching classrooms of uninterested students, have a little Henry time, defrost a ready-to-eat supermarket meal, open a bottle of shiraz and write until midnight. Most weekends, I’d start writing once the hangover wore off, break for lunch, and then write again until dinner. It wasn’t just punishing on my physical health, it ruined my relationships, most recently with Greg, who said I’d die miserable and alone if I maintained my grim routine. And for what? The occasional acceptance from an obscure journal read by twelve other short-story writers?

Fish

He hasn’t caught one in twelve years or more, not since just before Ritchie – Hayley’s oldest – was born. The deboning alone can take half a morning and you have to strip that tail to its cartilage very carefully because there’s a layer of green resin, bitter. In small doses it ruins the meat; poisonous if you eat too much.

Mother of pearls

But we are more animal now than we’ve ever been. We read the water that leaps into our pools; we filter all kingdoms of life through our gills. We understand that the tendrils connecting one life form to another run much longer and deeper than you might expect. And we can entertain the notion that our strange tasks were like the fateful beats of a butterfly’s wings, and maybe the witch was a rare genius, able to perceive how the purloined dog, the pawned bird or the swapped cats would, in the mysterious rippling of the universe, lead to our deepest desires coming to pass. 

Etc.

Together we were drawn mechanically across the road, boredom/fate reeling us in. The lawn sprawled over the grey-brick kerb. The house was painted green. Sellotaped to the windows were rows of pressed aster. The feeling of something too large to explain was heavy in the air. The door squeaked, swinging open, the main door ajar behind it, and through the gap we glimpsed a white hallway, a pile of discarded shoes on one side.

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