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Short Story Competition: Moments


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It was like a scene from an overly cheesy film. The A27 had never looked so pretty, glossed out in all those delicate shades of shimmering grey. The gravely groans of the afternoon traffic was for once, the sweetest music of them all, and the heavily worn, lumpy cloth of his severely beaten Vauxhall Corsa suddenly felt as if it had been woven together by Jesus himself. 

Of course, everything feels perfect when you're in love, and for that one sharp and fleeting moment parked wonkily on the hard shoulder just outside of Portsmouth, Tom felt it. It was as if his entire comprehension of life, the universe and everything in it had been scribbled out and replaced with nothing more than a crudely drawn love heart, doodled haplessly in pink. For that brief second, his entire body grinned. 

She tasted how roses smelled, with a smattering of sweetness that seemed to linger conveniently as his head drew away; the artificial tang of lemon squash lifting his brain awake to the moment. Time had slowed to the crawl of a garden snail, raindrops circling her head seemingly frozen on the car's glass. Her eye-line remained glued to his own, those piercing galaxies of green like a never ending forest of possibility; the whispering strands of hair that brushed across his chin smooth and dewy like a freshly-formed leaf. The mugginess of the car's heater had apparently been lifted too, replaced with a feeling of total weightlessness. Trapped in a sense of suspended animation, she was all that was, is, and ever will be. 

And then just like that, the second drifted from existence. Well, not so much drifted as dropped. Like a grand piano smashing into the pavement and separating into a million tiny pieces. All that lived in that moment broke apart in an instant. The lingering tang of her lips; the limitless greenery of her eyes; the frozen second melted back into the rest of time, dragging his heavy-hearted romanticism with it. 

After all, he had already done it. Tom had achieved every young boy's fantasy: save the world, get the girl. And there she was, right in front of his very eyes, all that he had ever longed for in this world: a glimmering beauty, dripping wet and gazing lovingly back at him. But the moment had now very much passed, and creeping gradually back into the frame of his mind were the ever multiplying suitcases that together made up the hefty emotional baggage of reality. That rosy-eyed lens had been scrubbed clean; the crudely drawn love heart now smudged and trampled. 

It obviously wasn't intentional. If it were up to Tom he would've lived in that one single moment forever. Blinded by love, gradually starved of air until his soul simply slipped away, smiling all the way through the clouds. They would kiss and the screen would freeze. Fade out. Credits. There would be no next. No serious conversations about where to go, who to tell or what to do. The kiss would be it. But sadly as Tom soon found, moments pass more quickly than you or me or anyone could possibly imagine, and once they do, you're quite often left feeling rather gormless. 

That's how she would come to describe him anyway. That extended mouth fly-catcher look, where the chin hangs low and little beads of drool start to drip down across the arches of the lips. He stayed like that for several seconds, bereft of any real ideas of where to go from here. Her foot began to gently tap against the peeling footwell of the passenger seat. Tom's mouth, if anything, hung even lower. 

"So... where to?" She tried to sound enthused by the prospect of running off with him, but the doubt in her voice was impossible to shake, and although Tom had by this point awoken from his fear-induced trance, he could feel himself slowly slipping back. 

"I have... absolutely... no idea." The silence lingered longer and more awkwardly than either of them ever thought possible. Her eye-line was suddenly impossible to catch hold of, spontaneously flipping from side to side, meeting every mark except his own. Her fingers, those delicate little straws, began to wander across the heating console, finding the radio nob and gently nudging it. Nothing happened. She drifted across the neighbouring buttons, before returning to the nob and giving it an even harder shove. The speakers remained silent. 

"It's broken." Tom could by this point, only state fact. She didn't even answer, just squeezed out the tiniest smile possible and shuffled her knees back level with the dashboard. 

Tom had quite often enjoyed silence when it was held in the right context. It was a sign of a comfortable co-existence, when two people could occupy the same space without feeling the urge to mindlessly blurt out nonsense to fill the air. But this, now rather bizarrely, had come to form the very anthesis of such an ideal. Every wandering tick of his water-logged watch seemed to signal another moment lost. He felt compelled to cover the gaping void with something, anything to disguise the crushing reality of the situation which gradually, second-by-second, was beginning to edge more clearly into view. 

“Why did you come? With me, I mean.” At least this sentence had some sense of meaning to it. She wriggled uncomfortably, biting down on her bottom lip and leaving the smallest of dents in its place. 

“I had to get out of there, out of that life. And you, well you…” She stopped herself in an instant, hovering over the words and forming them with her tongue but failing to quite push them far enough out of her throat to make a noise. His eyes drooped noticeably. 

“I what? I was the shining knight that swept you off your feet?” He followed with a light chuckle to make absolutely sure she knew that it had been an attempt at awkward humour. He was never quite sure she understood. 

“I just…” Suddenly she was moving around in her seat, animated. Her fingers were sliding through clumps of own hair, forcing tides of it back against her scalp. She bit her lip even harder before continuing; “I just don’t -“

“-really know what you’re doing?” He cut her off, not a hundred percent on purpose, but now having done so he was kind of glad he had. Conversation was actually moving. 

“Well, no. I mean, do you?” It seemed sincere. Those green pools of whatever were finally back linear to his own. 

“Was this a mistake?” 

That was the deciding moment. When that last question was fired through Tom’s brain and flung from his lips it opened up a hypothetical crossroads between them both. He could see her eyeballs starting to vibrate in their sockets, flickering back and forth between the two eventualities: blissful ignorance for the price of potential oblivion, or sensible comfort at the risk of never-ending boredom. For once there was no right answer. His school and his teachers had lied. 

“I guess happily ever after isn’t real, Tom.” That’s what sealed it; she made the decision for the both of them, and a part of him was actually pleased that she had. A part of him though that was buried deep down in the pools of common sense, which had long been absent by this point in the evening. 

“You can’t live in that world forever. We can’t live in that world forever.” Her words, as well-reasoned and probably truthful as they were, still continued to cleave through Tom like he were nothing more than a soggy lump of butter. Underneath, in the deep recesses of whatever controlled  his hormonal teenage brain, he understood and accepted every word. Underneath he knew that every part of it: his plan of escape; his sweeping her off her feet; their eventual existence together; all of it was but a fantasy. A fantasy perpetuated by a desire to ignore a future he believed to be doomed by the apparent monotony of adult life. Tom knew all of this, he just chose to ignore it. 

“Please stop.” The tiny figures inside his head were shouting and screaming; jumping up and down in anger.

“What? Why? Surely you should know this by now Tom? Surely you must’ve picked up on how ridiculous this all is?” He froze for a second, staring into the frustration that now pooled deeply in her eyes. “Look at us! It’s pouring out, we have no clothes, no money. Where are we going to go?” He stared down at the soggy cloth lining of the passenger seat. 

“Anywhere. I don’t care.” By the time he had regained enough composure to look back up at her, she had begun to smile. But it wasn’t a toothy grin; a signal of barreling happiness. More of a knowing smirk, the strange, almost out of place reflex that came with an unpleasant realisation. 

“I’m sorry Tom.” Suddenly it was as if the two were years apart; as if the rules of time and space had once again shifted, leaving Tom staring into the positively docile reflection of someone significantly maturer than himself. 

“I thought I could but I can’t.” And just like that, her lips were wrapped around his again, but that pleasant tang that had crackled so fiercely had since died; the taste of her mouth now not unlike the bitterness of asphalt. He smothered his senses in her presence for that one final, fleeting moment before her heels clicked away along the pavement, the slam of the car door a muted thump. 

Once again, Tom was alone with himself, and as the rain continued to pound down upon his rickety roof, he felt the inner soundtrack of his mind descend into a slower, more melancholy tune. 


This is an entry to The National Student's short story competition. The text has been edited for grammar and punctuation only. 

The National Student's short story competition is in association with the Home Entertainment release of Mistress America. Mistress America is available on Digital HD in the UK on 7th December, courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. Watch the trailer below: 

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