Part 1 is here
Gloria’s life could be measured in rituals. Her first was to get out of bed, throw on sweats and trainers, drink a cup of coffee and then hit the road. She ran to the bridge and back. It was a quiet stretch of road, and that time of the morning, no one was around. She lived out here precisely because there were vast stretches of silence that she could shout into and know that it was absorbed.
Perfect conditions for her writing.
She liked people, but was never sure that she could stand to be around them for any amount of time. She locked up, even though she knew that she didn’t have to. She had learned about that the hard way. She started to run, to get away from the memory.
Gloria had whittled herself down to sinew. She knew how far she could push herself, but always wanted to go further. The writing was the most sane application of that impulse and that would come later. At that time of day, though, she ran.
The mist clung to the road and a bank of cold air met her as she started her run, letting her body remember the pain, then the pleasure. She could not say which she preferred, if anyone asked her.
She went deeper inside herself with each mile, focusing on the deep engine of her breath and letting the quiet majesty of the trees work their magic upon her. It was her hundredth run without him.
He had gone to get groceries, cook them both breakfast because she had forgotten to pick up eggs and he had rolled his eyes, called her a goofball and put on his shoes. She had sidled up to him with one of those side way bump and grinds that she did, pushing her warm hip against the small of his back and said she would keep the bed warm for him.
In the washed out, grey days and nights afterwards, she slept on the couch to keep the warmth of him still in the sheets. She would try and write, but nothing came out of her. So she ran, went back and looked at the blank page, smooth and devoid of anything. She wanted to trade places with it so much that she could not bring herself to mark it.
She started to feel the dull ache beginning in her hips and hamstrings, which meant that she was close to the bridge, she would stop and walk off the lactic acid build up, then run back to the house, shower and eat breakfast.
The bridge had always been there. It had borne endless winters and humid, torrid summers without complaint. She would walk across it, holding her breath until she got to the other side, make a wish and still believe that it would come true. She would talk about the running until her voice gave out, but the truth of it was that she did all so that she could walk across the bridge and make a wish.
She turned the corner and saw the man stood there, waving to her with a cigarette burning between his fingers. She missed cigarettes but she had managed ten years without them, and the constant test of will had smoothed over the jagged peaks of her withdrawal. That was also when she had subsisted on a diet of coffee, cigarettes and diet cola to keep her skinny. The smell of it wandered over to her, and she shook her head, upset that someone had to be out here, an absurd anger at the cosmic coincidences of life that made her feel petulant and small inside.
She stopped. Her heartbeat fluttered with concern. She had dealt with convention crud, online reviews and all the forms of ugly compulsive interaction that a woman writing dealt with but this jangled her nerves. Her phone was back at the house, but out there there was nothing but the silence. It swallowed her cell phone signal as ably as her screams.
He finished his cigarette, stubbed it out on the heel of his shoe and pocketed it with a practised, smooth gesture. His smile faded, noting her apprehension and already moving to address it.
‘It’s okay, the last thing I’m here to do is cause you any trouble.’
She stood there, feeling the aches gathering together and telling her to run.
‘You don’t just walk up to people like that. I don’t know who the hell you are.’
He put his hands up and raised his eyebrows. He had dark-blond hair, streaked with charcoal and platinum and a crop of stubble that highlighted his angular, sharp features. She went dizzy when she saw the pointed ears peeking through the hair.
‘You probably wouldn’t believe me if I told you. But I know you, Gloria.’
He had jewellery on his fingers, twisted and burnished into spirals and knots at which sat gleaming precious stones. He wore an olive-green leather coat over a crumpled white shirt and blue jeans, faded at the knee over black polished shoes.
‘That’s not helping you, whoever the fuck you are.’
She could punch, aim for his eyes, the jewellery on his fingers would cut her if he was going to hit her.
‘I know that you’re thinking that if I hit you, these rings would do a lot of damage.’
He put his hands in front of him, started to chant and stare at a point on the road a few feet ahead of her.
The air sparked and seethed with an organic, ambient light like the luminescence of deep undersea creatures. It undulated and he splayed his fingers again.
Gloria desperately wished for a pen and a piece of paper, to commit this to memory. The energy began to coalesce into the shape of a small bird.
It held the shape well, but sacrificed the details of beak and feathers, for suggestions of the craft and the shifting, rainbow patterns of the matter that formed it. He stood back and swept his hands upwards. He grinned like a child and gazed into her eyes.
‘Tell me where it goes, Gloria.’
She sucked in a breath, watching it circle overhead.
‘It returns to the flaming forest, there is an egg that needs it’s attention and inside that egg lies the child who will grow to rule -‘
He tutted and shook his head.
‘Oi, no spoilers.’ He laughed with a confident chuckle and lowered his hands to his side.
Gloria shuddered. That phrase had been taunting her, afraid to leave the skull prison of her head and mark the page. She had not been able to even speak it, but here it had flowed from her lips like an unguarded criticism.
‘Who the fuck are you?’ she said. She sounded distant, subdued by this florid burst of insanity.
He watched the bird before clicking his fingers and on cue, it shot upwards into the sky, past the limits of her vision.
‘I’ve had a few names through the years. Bragi. Brahma. Manjushri. I like the way that the ‘bra’ sounds, but I’m just going by Manny today.’
Everything felt so far away and incredibly close at the same time. This was not insanity, this was like finding out that your whole life really was that cosmic joke that everyone else was in on but you.
‘What if I said that you writing again is the reason I came here?’
She put her hand over her mouth and started to giggle with hysteria.
‘Oh if Kelly’s put you up to this, you’re really really good.’
Manny shook his head and smiled.
‘Kelly has nothing to do with this. I’m here because some people need you to start writing again.’
Her laughter died in her throat and she stopped breathing.
‘Who are these people?’
Manny’s face looked pinched with concern.
TO BE CONTINUED.