“Time Out” by Nicola S. Heighton
We’d like to present a new Feature Story here at Metro Fiction. Please check the Metro Fiction page for more information about us.
Sometimes a time out can make a dramatic difference.
Please enjoy our Feature Story: “Time Out” by Nicola S. Heighton
It was probably the most beautiful mirror I’d ever seen. Enormous, tinted yellow and with a frame that looked like branches tangling around it from a tree at the bottom centre. I wanted it, of course. I may have only been a child at the time, but I knew beauty when I saw it. “Can we go and look over there?” My voice was lost in the general din.
“Who do we have left to buy for?” Mum had hold of my hand, while Dad stood on the other side of her, clicking a cigarette lighter that refused to work.
“Dozens of people,” he replied, his voice made lispy by the cigarette, “and the shops will be closed in an hour.”
Jimmy was screaming and shouting in his pram. The pram wheels sloshed through brown snow, throwing drops of freezing water at Mum’s legs and making her tights dirty.
I pulled the hem of her coat to stop her from walking. “Mum! Mum!”
“What is it, Dana?” She turned and pulled my hand away. Even then I knew how tired she was, but I was tired too. We had been walking around for hours.
“I want to look at the mirror in that shop.”
Dad started reading names off the list in his hand while he continued to click the lighter. They had lots of presents already. None of them were for me.
“I want it for Christmas,” I said, but they didn’t hear me. Even if they had they wouldn’t have listened. Mum started pointing at names on the list in Dad’s hand. Neither of them was watching me and I knew that they would be discussing the list for a few minutes at least. So I turned and ran for the shop across the road.
It was then that I heard it. It was a sound like the crash of cymbals and the hiss of radio static mixed together. Loud but a long way away. I turned back and found myself alone in the middle of the road. There was nobody else there at all. Mum and Dad were no longer there, nor was the newspaper stand. While the shops stood where they had been, their fronts were nameless, their windows empty. Only the hood of Jimmy’s pram remained as it had been. The pram and Jimmy had disappeared, leaving the hood floating in mid air. There was no snow, and only a faint whispering sound like hundreds of hushed voices. I felt like I could almost hear what they were saying, but the words were gibberish.
“Mum?” I said. My voice echoed back at me. I turned left and right and all around. “Mum?” There were more empty windows, more blank shop fronts, on the other side of the road. Only one object remained: the mirror. Except it was different. The trunk of the tree was wider, the branches had foliage where before they were bare. I caught sight of my reflection in its surface, but I stared back at myself with unblinking, empty eyes. My reflection’s smile was wide, like a school photo, but I wasn’t smiling.
I flinched and turned. There was a man standing beside me. He crouched down to be level with me and his whole face creased into a smile. I remember that he had a moustache and looked very old. Something about him reminded me of my dad, but it wasn’t him. My dad had blue eyes, while this man’s eyes were brown like mine. The same colour as my mum’s and Jimmy’s eyes.
I looked him up and down. “Who are you?” He was wearing a dark suit and a long coat that brushed the ground as he crouched. There was a smell around him, like the kitchen just after the floor had been cleaned.
“I’m not allowed to tell you,” he said, shaking his head. He stood up and looked around. “You know, I almost remember this place. Maybe I do remember it. Or perhaps it’s just the way it’s been described to me.” He shook his head and held his hand out to me.
I took it. I don’t know why I trusted him, but he was the only other person in the world and I had to trust someone. I wasn’t old enough to look after myself. He started walking me back to the side of the road that I’d come from.
“Where did everyone go?”
He chuckled. “I don’t think I remember them. I couldn’t see them, after all. Or maybe I’d be too tempted to change other things.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m only allowed to change one thing. Just one thing from a whole lifetime.” We reached the side of the road and he crouched down beside me again. “Do you know how difficult it is to choose just one thing, Dana?”
I shook my head as I sat on the curb.
“Shall I tell you a secret?” He grinned and I smiled back and nodded. “I don’t really remember choosing,” he said, “but I’m glad I chose this.”
I heard the noise again, the static and cymbals. People were all around me and Mum and Dad were shouting at a man in a car. He was shouting back and waving his arms and pointing at me. I looked all around but the man with the long coat and the moustache was gone. Jimmy was screaming in his pram and the snow was back on the ground and making me wet. The world was back to normal.
I didn’t mention the mirror again. I couldn’t shake the memory of myself staring back from its surface, more like a photograph than a reflection. For Christmas that year I got a guitar and some dresses, and although I never learnt to play the guitar, it became Jimmy’s lifelong passion after it was passed down.
I never saw the man with the long coat and the moustache again, or heard the noise that sounded like cymbals and static, but I remember the whole episode clearly to this day. Mum and Dad always said that my clumsiness saved my life. They said that it was only by chance that I slipped at the side of the road. But I know I didn’t slip.
Nicola S. Heighton lives in Cornwall, England, where she spends her days working as a mathematics tutor and her spare time telling stories to her friends and family. Her general thoughts about writing and links to her published work can be found on her personal blog.
Tags: metro fiction, nicola s. heighton, short stories