Sharkskin


I’m on the train on my way to my psychotherapy appointment. Most of the people entering and leaving the carriage glide past each other soundlessly like fish; ghostly shapes in the glass box of the train window. One woman catches my eye because she stumbles on five-inch heels. She has giant silver earrings and jangles like a Christmas tree. She must enjoy attention.

She retrieves a fancy cloth-covered notebook and a pen from her handbag and starts to write. I can't see what she is writing, even after I crane my neck conspicuously in every direction possible.

I’m jealous. I haven’t been able to write anything for months. I'm starting to feel like one of those childless women who obsess about babies. Every time I see someone writing, I seethe like a bucket of snakes.

I blame the therapy for my writer’s block. It’s making me too happy. Last night I dreamt that I was a marine biologist, swimming with serene, jewel-coloured fish.

The woman is probably just writing a shopping list or something equally mundane, I tell myself. Then her phone rings, one of those jarring tones that teenagers have, and she starts talking about passports. It's a very boring conversation. 

She lets her notebook fall onto the red velveteen of the seat next to her and I can see that the pages are densely covered with tiny cursive script.

I get up to get off the train, but it’s too soon. It jolts and halts in a tunnel. With the jolt I stumble back a step and catch sight of a line in the woman's notebook: 

"Sometimes my world crumbles, and everything falls into place."

In that second I make a decision: I'm not going to therapy anymore. I don't care how much they say I need it.

When the train finally lets me out, I go to a payphone. The floor of the phone box is covered, practically stuffed, with Islamist propaganda leaflets. The words that catch my eye are: 

"The Muslim loves death and strives for martyrdom."

I stare at the jumbled pile of black and white fliers and let my eyes sag until they blur into an amorphous grey shape. It looks like a shark in a Rorschach blot kind of way. What caused the extremist to lose his inspiration and dump them all here? Maybe he was weighed down by a world that didn't match him.

I have another moment of clarity; I have to find this disillusioned man. He’s perfect for me - I can't write, and he evidently can’t complete his mission either. I imagine that we’re kindred spirits.

The black text on one of the leaflets swims into focus, a web address for the Islamist organization; that’s a good place to start. But first I pick up the phone to cancel my appointment.


by Liz Barnes

Comments

  1. @Liz Barnes - you are a genius - I love it and want to hear more. It's very intriguing and I feel like saying - ''don't go there, don't find this disillusioned man''...you have managed to spark my interest and created pathos tinged with expectation.

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  2. Good one Liz, kinda dark, still loved it, keep writing

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  3. I really like this, the character feels so real

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