Today's Reading

Shona made her way to the street outside. The air was cool and the sky was still a cloudless blue over the Scott Monument and the rise of the Old Town to the Castle. The old city glittered under a vast sky. She passed the pub that Ned and half the newspaper were now inside. Another wake, she thought. The newspaper was dying, and Ned leaving was another blow to its life. She could not wish him well, or celebrate his exit: the paper needed journalists like him to stay. And she needed the newspaper for her life to stay as it was.

She felt a sink of sorrow as she walked, her stick clipping on the stone streets. Ned had loved her once, probably. A long time ago. She pushed the thought away from her mind. Back into the shadows.

Shona took her bus, and the city moved past in a blur of light and shadow, its hills and peaks, its ruins and boulevards, ready to be lost into the night. To be sunk into a darkness, as if it were underwater.

Her keys battered against the old scratched lock of her flat, but she entered quietly enough. Her father was asleep on the couch, in front of the football. Hugh Sandison, snoring into his chest, and she was glad he was asleep.

She took a blanket and laid it over him, pressing it under his shoulders to keep it in place. He smelled of mud and sweat—he had been gardening all day. There was dirt under his nails, and a smear of green across his stubbled cheek. She took the half-drunk cup of tea from his lap, turned the noise of the TV down and left him to his sleep.

Shona walked slowly to her dark room and sat on the edge of her bed, her side aching again. She pulled off her black trainers and placed them by her wardrobe before lying down on her bed. She thought of the past: her memories, and whether they were the same as other people's memories. She saw green mountains, ruins on the high ground, and the endless dark sea: a long weekend in Ireland with Ned. Before things had got complicated. Before he felt he had to leave.

Shona turned onto her good side and, before long, she fell into a pit of sleep.

Suddenly, her eyes were flashing with a cold blue light.

A flickering and a persistent dull buzz.

"Dad?" she said, still half-asleep. She sat up. The splinters of a dream slithered from her mind—there had been a city in ruins, great fires, a strange boy with eyes like spun galaxies, a floating dog. She shook it from her mind, and it drifted into nothingness. Forgotten forever.

The light strobed again. It was her mobile phone, which was on the floor. She was still dressed. It was dark outside.

"Jesus fuck," she said.

Her phone continued to ring, buzzing and shaking on the bare floorboards. She grabbed it and put it to her ear. She looked under her bedroom door, but the hall light was off. Her father must still be asleep.

"Shona Sandison. Who is this?" she whispered as loudly as she could.

"Hey, Shona, it's me," a voice said.

3 a.m.

You never answer this bloody phone number. It is me again. Yes, another message to delete. To ignore and erase.

And do you even get these messages? The words leave my mouth and disappear somewhere. I assume this is being recorded. Are you even listening?

Maybe you order transcripts, so this is all set down, justified and printed in italics.

You know, the last time I saw you, you turned your back. You did not even wave.

Tomorrow, I take another step on this new path. But if they find out, I am finished. And this time, for good.

Anyone can lose their balance.

I know—I suspect—you helped cover it all up. Got me this post here. That would be just like you: just cleaning things up, making things nice and tidy, and empty, and then leaving—but leaving no traces.

I hope you did. Because I could not.

Sons disappoint their fathers, and fathers disappoint their sons. And the world keeps turning.

And so to bed, in this strange new place. I cannot sleep, of course.

Every life ends with death, I once read. And every day with sleep.


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