Untitled, A Short Story by Jamie Neish
A Story of Realization and Internal Growth
It was warm in Tressle when dawn broke, the sun piercing through cracks in the bedroom curtains. Anaya lay half in, half out the covers, her left leg precariously dangling off the mattress as she snored. Her mobile phone, which had found its way onto the floor, began to vibrate before the ringtone kicked in, sending Anaya into a hazy frenzy as her hand finally found the device.
“Anaya, what happened to you last night? One minute you were find, the next you’d stormed off, nowhere to be seen?” the voice on the other end asked, concerned but calm.
Anaya didn’t answer. She’d heard the question, there was no doubt about that, but she couldn’t find the words to deliver a worthwhile answer. In retaliation to her own unsureness, she hung up the phone.
Last night was a haze to Anaya, let alone to someone else. It had started off so innocently as well. Anaya had taken the bus into town to meet a couple of friends for a meal. They’d laughed and joked, splitting a few bottles of wine in the process. It wasn’t until they moved on to a downtown bar that things had started to sour. Anaya, who often considered herself to be on the outside of her group of friends, disagreed with something Lisa had said, stormed off and found herself walking through Trades Park, a few feet down the road, whiskey bottle in hand, which she’d hastily grabbed from the off-license near the bar. The night was cold but still, no wind to speak off. Anaya had walked from the East entrance towards the West, where she figured she’d eventually clamber into a taxi and go home.
As Anaya reached the West entrance, however, her random mutterings and constant walking ceased altogether when out of the corner of her eye she caught the glimpse of something. At first, she figured it was her imagination playing tricks on her. She had, after all, had a lot to drink, and was already halfway through her whiskey. But as she focused her attention on a specific opening between a hedge and a yew tree, the object moved again, convincing her that she wasn’t merely seeing things. Cautiously, she decided to approach. Holding the bottle out in front of her, as if brandishing a far more dangerous weapon, twigs and leaves crunched under the footsteps of her high heels.
What did I see? Anaya thought to herself as she pulled on a pair of jeans. Her mind from this point was obscure. The curtains had been drawn back fully, revealing a beautifully sunny day beyond the windows of her second storey flat. There wasn’t much of view, but the nearby neighbourhood seemed bustling, particularly considering it was midday on a Monday morning. Anaya picked up her phone, which had become nestled between the sheets of her bed, checked it and slipped it into her pocket. Leaving the room, she grabbed a pink hoodie from the hook on the back of her door, unaware of the dark, muddy lines across the back.
Athletic but skinny nonetheless, Anaya was an ordinary girl with no immediately noticeable peculiarities. Her hair was a lightly amber shade of blonde, cut to a neat bob in a way that matched her soothed composure. The year before she’d graduated Tressle University with a First in English Literature and had been living on her own ever since moving out of shared accommodation when her closest friend Jaime had moved in with her long-term boyfriend.
“Shit!”, Anaya exclaimed. She was running late for work, her mind more occupied by the unexplained events of last night than on the here and now. Her work wasn’t far away, but she’d still be late, which was becoming a bit of a common occurrence, to the extent that her manager had called her into his office late last week in an attempt to iron out the rules and regulations she’d put her name to when she’d signed her employment contract a few months previously. It wouldn’t go down well if her manager caught her slipping into the office a few days later. It’s okay, she thought and picked up the phone and a few seconds later was explaining to the person on the other end that she wouldn’t be able to make it in today as she was feeling under the weather.
With that sorted, Anaya made tea – strong with milk and sugar – and sat on the sofa at the bottom of her bed, her feet curled under her bum, a position she favoured when she was unsure or worried. The events of last night were sure to come back to her eventually, but there was something about that figure mere feet away from her that made her feel it was necessary to piece together her memories sooner rather than later.
It was cold, she remembered. The night air was cold and she was pissed, both at her friends and at the hands of all the alcohol she’d hammered into her body. But beyond that, and the fact she was but a few feet from the West entrance where she was sure she’d stumbled out of, her mind was of no help. There was no one else there with her though, not that she was aware of any way. Her thoughts quickly turned to events that propelled her into the park. She had always struggled socially. All through university, she’d been more or less a lone wolf. In her third year, she’d struck up a friendship with three of the other people on her course. The relationship the four of them shared was weak at best, built on no real foundation other than the subject they’d all chosen to spend four years of their life studying. Since university sent them in differing directions a year ago, they’d met up only a handful of times. And through every visit, Anaya had felt increasingly like a spare part, until something silly – she knew it had to be silly, it always was – had sent her off in a temper.
Her anger, she felt, was unnecessary. They weren’t a big part of her life, and she wasn’t likely a big part of their lives either. No love lost, certainly not anything worth spending a great deal of time analyzing. But then, she wasn’t exactly a social butterfly. And this is why it annoyed her so much. Throughout her life, she’d always struggled to maintain friendships, more through her own awkwardness than anything else. To anyone else, no longer maintaining four friends from university likely wouldn’t be such a big deal, but for her – someone who didn’t have many friends at all – it felt bigger. Immediately, she felt like phoning Hannah back, apologizing for hanging up the phone earlier and storming off last night. Hannah was laid back, she’d understand. But something stopped her. Instead, she tossed her phone onto the chair onto her bed and lay down in the fetal position. The sun, bright earlier, had now subdued, the low light slowly taking hold off the room. Anaya’s eyes flittered, the concern drifting as she let the sound of her own deep breathing take over. The ticking off the alarm clock located on the other side of the room grew louder – tick tock, tick tock. Her arm twitched. Quickly, Anaya fell into a slumber.
It was late when Anaya wakened, her mouth dry and the room pitch black. It took her a while to ready her body to stand up, but moved steadily into the kitchen as soon as her legs let her. As the kettle boiled, she rummaged through the cupboard closest to the door. The kitchen was the smallest room of her studio flat, smaller even than the more sizeable bathroom. She hadn’t had long to find a new place to live and this was the first flat she viewed that seemed liveable. It was close to work and the rent was cheap, perhaps due to the fact it was on the bad end of town and above a row of takeaways. By the time the kettle had boiled, Anaya had emptied a packet of pasta into a saucepan and dropped a tea bag into a mug. She wasn’t in the mood for much, still bemused by how scarce her memories of last night were.
It wasn’t a characteristic of hers to be forgetful. That was saved for her mum, who constantly worried about early onset Alzheimer’s. It was a wonder to her that she’d managed to sleep at all. Usually if there was anything on her mind, she was kept up until she figured out a resolve, whatever that may be. She was good at that, finding ways to escape situations. Better than she was now, that’s for sure. And that was frustrating to her, not knowing the answers to the many questions she had. It’s not even like there’s someone she could call who could fill her in. She had been on her own in the park, save for whatever was lurking behind the shadowy opening.
Her phone was warm when she picked it up, her stomach filled up from the pasta. There were two messages and a missed call. The missed call was from work. Odd, she thought, as she’d followed the procedure to a tee when calling in sick. The messages were more intriguing to her. The first, from Jaime asking how she was and if she was still on for Saturday, their usual meet up day. The second, however, came from Hannah, who’d she’d hung up the phone to earlier. CALL ME BACK ASAP, the message read. Her heart started to race and a sense of unease washed over her, the kind you get right before dealt a bad blow.
It felt like an eternity had passed before Hannah voice crackled through.
“Hannah”, Anaya said hurriedly, “I’ve only just picked up your message. What’s wrong?”
“Oh, Anaya. There you are. I’ve been thinking about you all day. You left so quickly last night, and in such a bad temper, that I wanted to make sure you were okay.”
Like earlier, Anaya was lost for words. It was such an immature thing for her to do last night, running out because she felt left out. But she wasn’t used to Hannah being so attentive. It seemed somewhat out of sorts.
“I… I’m okay. I’m sorry about hanging up on you earlier and storming off last night. I had too much to drink and my emotions got the better of me.”
“Don’t worry about it. As long as you’re okay.”
“Not really”, Anaya admitted. She did it with a sigh, as if admitting to herself too that she had not been herself lately. Her motivation had slipped over the past few months and she was feeling tired a lot more than usual. “I went for a walk after I left the bar, in Trades Park. I was off my head, but I swear I saw something. I can’t for the life of me remember what, but I’ve been sitting here racking my brains all day trying to figure it out.”
“I wouldn’t think anything of it, it was probably nothing. As you said, you were drunk. My mind always plays tricks on me when I’m drunk. You should talk to someone though, Anaya. I think it would do you good.”
“Yeah”, Anaya replied, in a way that made it clear she’d lost interest of the conversation. She thought about faking interest, but couldn’t pluck up the energy.
And, as quickly as that, she’d hung up the phone and tossed the phone back onto bed.
Hannah’s words had hit hard. Maybe she should speak to someone. If she was one hundred percent truthful with herself, then she had a inkling that whatever she saw last night had been a figment of her imagination, something that had been conjured up through the awful mix of tiredness, alcohol and a feeling of unsureness in herself, in her thoughts and in her life. She’d not done a lot since graduating. Her job had started as a means to an end, but had sort of become her career. Her best friend was in a relationship – engaged even – and it had left her feeling put out. It’s not that she’d lost herself entirely, but she’d sort of coasted along for so long that she forgot she was coasting. What she saw last night was more of a wake up than anything else. She needed to look after herself more, find a new job and remove herself from the slump she’d so easily settled into. That was it, she thought, that was her new plan and nothing was going to stop her.