Victim Support

By Janet Olearski

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They’re at home, Leah and her father. They’re sitting in the kitchen and they hear someone pushing at the door of the flat. There’s a faint knocking too. They look at each other.

‘What’s that?’ says her father.

‘I don’t know,’ she says.

He gets up and goes to the door to look. She hears him say something like, ‘Who do you want?’ He sounds suspicious, but not alarmed. She follows him to look. There is a boy on the staircase, a teenager. He is already off down the stairs, saying he is sorry, he has made a mistake. He is not sorry. He has not made a mistake.

Looking down the stairs to the bathroom on the landing, Leah sees that the curtains, which are normally closed, are open.

She says to her father: ‘Did you open the curtains?’

‘No.’ He looks bewildered.

‘Well, neither did I.’

The blind is rolled up, the window catch is unlocked, the bathroom cabinet is open. The boy thought he might get into the flat across the roof. No if’s or but’s, or benefits of the doubt.

Leah calls the police.

They send a small efficient policewoman with a blotchy red birthmark on her face to listen to their troubles and to write a report in her black-leather-covered notebook. She wears a white shirt with short sleeves, and a cute little police hat that you would expect to fall off but that stays in place while she scribbles down the details in large curvy writing. The policewoman’s writing is the sort that Leah once produced herself: her writing is grown-up now.

Her father keeps interrupting with irrelevant facts. Leah tries to bring the discussion back to observations that are of significance. The policewoman is business-like, but she’s also compassionate. She listens.

‘It’s only happened once before in thirty-five years,’ Leah tells the policewoman, who writes it all down in her book.

‘We’ve been here thirty-five years,’ says her father. He is being helpful.

Leah looks at her father and thinks, ‘That much she has grasped.’

‘As long as that!’ says the policewoman.

They tell her a story of times past. Who else will they tell it to?

‘A boy – another boy – came up the stairs,’ says Leah. ‘The door was unlocked. It was always unlocked. We live on the top floor. Who would come up here? The boy pushed the door open. My father saw the shadow. But not the light. He had been having himself a slice of bread and butter. My father, not the boy. The carving knife was on the table. My father picked up the knife and went to the door.’ The boy met a man with a carving knife at the top of the staircase. Should she be telling this story to a police officer? ‘The boy said he had made a mistake and flew away down the stairs.’

Leah’s father smiles at the retelling of the tale, but there’s uncertainty in his eyes. He is hearing it for the first time. He knows it must be true, but he cannot remember any of it. Not even the carving knife.

‘He never came back,’ says Leah.

The policewoman says she will send the fingerprint man. Her father will make him welcome, she is sure. A robbery, even just an attempted one, is an opportunity for much brewing of tea.

They’re living at the scene of a crime. Most of the day’s conversation revolves around what should have happened and what could have happened.

Leah goes out later for a walk to clear her head. When she is away on her holiday, she wonders if the flat will be burgled in her absence. Her father might be stolen. What would it be like without him?

She stops by the dry cleaner’s to tell Siobhan the story.

‘And what if your father had been on his own?’ says Siobhan. What if, indeed? Siobhan says she thinks she saw two boys hanging about around midday.

‘A tall one,’ says Siobhan, ‘and a short one. When I saw them, I thought to myself, I wonder what they’re up to?’

Another part of the jigsaw for Inspector Whoever. They’re on the case. They need all the help they can get. Dry cleaner watch.

Every time Leah thinks she should be moving ahead towards something new, covering fresh ground, she finds she is stuck. There are ends to tie up, letters to write, matters of business to be seen to. There is always something else, something to be dealt with, so much to do that she does not know where to start. The days seem short. She is going on holiday. She does not have much time. She will have to leave him alone and there are thieves about. She has to sort out her clothes for the trip, and tell him she is going, and sort out who is going to keep an eye on the car, and who is going to keep an eye on him. And on and on.

People ask him if he is all right. He is the victim of a crime: a break-in, an attempted crime, if nothing else.

‘How are you feeling?’ they say. ‘It hasn’t upset you, has it?’

He looks concerned. Yes, he thinks he is all right. He will manage. But he is amazed at the fellow’s nerve. ‘I mean… coming up the stairs like that, having a story ready…’

Yes, he is all right. But Leah is not. She needs help.

She is eating her pre-packed salad with the Thousand Islands dressing. She has the brochure open in front of her. She says to her father, ‘What do you think about where I’m going for my holiday?’ He looks at her, horrified.

‘You’re not serious, are you?’ he says.

‘Yes. I’m very serious,’ she says. She has been hinting at the holiday for weeks. He never believed for one moment that she was going. He is selfish for not wanting her to go. She is selfish for going. He thinks her selfish. He just wants her there and there and there.

‘All I ever seem to do is fill in forms,’ she says. She needs a holiday. ‘Insurance forms, Pension forms, Tax forms, Reader’s Digest forms.’ She’s a household form filler.

Leah takes her holiday clothes to the dry cleaner’s. She tells Siobhan she has been feeling very low since the ‘flu. Siobhan says she has been a bit low herself.

‘I don’t feel like speaking to anyone,’ says Siobhan.

‘I feel the same,’ Leah says. ‘Maybe I need a change.’

‘Yes, a holiday,’ says Siobhan.

The fingerprint man comes. He looks about eighteen and wears a business suit. He has a ponytail, rich chestnut hair with a tinge of ginger. He wears glasses and has very white skin. He carries a large silver case and the inside of the case is silver too, with little pockets for tubes and tubs and brushes, big silver soft-tufted brushes that he fluffs and twirls across their bathroom window, across the dust of ages that she jokes about.

‘It hasn’t been opened all winter,’ she says. She does not say which winter.

‘The print is fresh,’ he says. He peers at a smudge on a blotchy pane. Leah wonders if he wants to take her father’s prints, and she imagines him looking at her father’s yellow-stained fingertips.

‘No,’ he says, ‘old people lose definition.’

She always knew her father had lost definition. How long before she will too?

He looks at her fingers. Perhaps she is the thief. All will soon be revealed. He has her press her thumb into a soft damp pad of black ink.

‘No, too much,’ he says. ‘Oh, that’s too much,’ he says.

It was nice, she thought, in the black pad, like rolling about in therapeutic mud. She imprints slowly on his clipboard.

‘I should really get you to do this properly,’ he says. He takes her hand in his and he shows her how she must roll her black thumb across the page.

‘That’s better,’ he says and he scrutinises the whirls and twirls. He compares.

‘Is it the same?’ she asks.

‘No, it’s not yours.’ he says.

Leah wonders if it belongs to her dead mother. As if she had left them nothing but her thumb print.

Her mother would know what to do.

‘They didn’t want your prints,’ Leah says to her father when she goes back upstairs. He looks at her nonplussed.

She goes to collect her cleaning.

‘You’ll feel more secure now that you’ve had your prints done,’ says Siobhan.

‘Yes,’ says Leah, ‘I know now that at least one of us is above suspicion.

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‘Victim Support’ was first published in 2015 in Jotters United.

Janet Olearski is a London-born author and writing coach, who lives in Central Portugal. Her short fiction has appeared in Constellate, Sleet Magazine, The Commonline Journal, Wasafiri, and elsewhere. A graduate of the Manchester Writing School at MMU, Janet is the author of the story collection A Brief History of Several Boyfriends, and the founder of the Abu Dhabi Writers’ Workshop. Find her at http://www.janetolearski.com Twitter: @JanetOlearski

Evelyn’s Virtual Diary

By Janet Olearski

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My origination day is Forsday. I had almost forgotten. I strolled into the lounge with my bowl of Coco Pops (penultimate packet) and the entire AnimaDisk lit up. ‘Good morning, Evelyn,’ it said. ‘This is to advise you that your expiry approaches. Please select your date and time of processing.’

I need to think this through.

Twosday

When I go, I may take a few with me. What do I care? Frank will be top of my list. He dropped by yesterday morning with a large tube of decorative vitamites, and he saw the message. He said he hadn’t realised I was that old. I really didn’t look it and it was amazing what they could do these days.

He asked if I was going to throw a deletion party.

Threesday

I stepped out to gather a few vegetables from my patch – real food – and before I knew it, I had a gaggle of bloated little plastikids around me, tubby little stomachs, fat legs and double chins. I may be old but I can still walk and run, which is more than I can say for them.

Are they old enough to drive those SlipShoes?

Forsday

A circle of fluorescent flowers lit up the AnimaDisk this morning. The message read,

On this origination day,

With joyeous voice we say

‘Happy Hundreth, Evelyn!’

I nearly puked. Underneath, it said,

Congratulations!

Your processing is booked at Yoothanazium for 12 noon on Fivesday.

We hope you had a good life and we wish you a smooth departure.

Finding the tube empty, Frank said it wasn’t a good idea to down so many vitamites in one go. Colourful they may be, but they are not sweeties. Too true. They are, however, tempting to plastikids with fast shoes.

Fivesday

[Click here to enter your thoughts.]

“The desires of today are the errors of our tomorrow.”

Evelyn Coomber, 2061

HISTORICAL NOTES ON EVELYN’S VIRTUAL DIARY

Evelyn transferred her kreditz into powndz on the BlakMarkit. This enabled her to live out the rest of her days comfortably in Bermooda.

We understand that Evelyn reached the Bakovbeeyond under her own steam as it were, wearing a pair of SlipShooz, which she obtained from a plastikid through the barter of a large tube of multicoloured vitamites.

The government’s ‘Perfekt Children for All’ manifesto was rejected but the idea appealed to, and was supported by, the affluent middle klasses who subsequently reverted to the services of popular providers such as Optimal Offspring and ChildPerfekt.

Plastikids were intended as first generation origination improvements. Their facial features were to be corrected and re-calibrated at intervals of between one to five years. Teeth could be straightened at origination, while skin and feature defects could be could be controlled through painless sinthetik injections.

Plastikids were eventually discontinued. Initially, the government’s ‘No sport at skool’ policy, which had been designed with the aim of protecting plastikids from injury, had the effect of nurturing obesity. Later, due to a preponderance of law soots against teachers, home skooling through Interactive AnimaViz replaced regular skooling. However, long-term AnimaViz exposure resulted in a number of horrific melt-down incidents in plastikid subjects that had been treated with advanced sinthetiks.

It would seem that Evelyn used a RetroPC for the writing of her diary. There is no trace of this hardware but, miraculously, paypa hardcopy of her document survived and is now preserved in the Heritage Moozeyum.

Evelyn’s work came to light through research undertaken by the Society for the Preservation of Ritten Rekordz. The Society seeks to conserve our linguistic heritage and supports the reinstatement of ritten documentation, the skill of riting and an appreciation of “classical” speling. The Society advocates the standardisation of speling. (Note Ben: A number of critics/kritics have denounced the inconsistency of the Society’s own ritten output and akordingly efforts are being made to remedy this.)

The decline of the ritten word began with the rise in popularity of text messages, which we at the Society believe handicapped and de-skilled our young people. Around 2040, works of fiction submitted for the Booker Prize were limited to a maximum of 50,000 words per book. Publishers eventually applied this rule to all books, mainly for financial reasons. But the fact was that, increasingly, the general public was finding it a strain to read ‘long books’ on their book devices. It was only a question of time before official riting was limited to 250 words per communication (though this could be interpreted liberally).

Research revealed that the excessive use of sinthetikz was in fact affecting brain-eye coordination with the result that attention spans were declining steadily. University dissertations were rarely longer than 1,000 words. However, most educated people could not read more than 250 words at one sitting. The ‘man in the street’ could not manage even 250 words in a month… hence the return of oralkulture. It is highly probable that if you are able to read thus far, you will be a second generation klonak.

The practice of having oneself kloned and thus drawing on previously learned and arkival knowledge is common in the field of akademia. Certainly it does give akademics the edge both where their students and their unkloned colleagues are concerned. The only disadvantage with this procedure is that the subject must be deceased in order to undergo processing.

Evelyn’s neighbour and would-be suitor Frank was deleted by appointment at Yoothanazium in 2082.

Evelyn herself died peacefully in her sleep at the age of 152. A statue was erected in her honour in the grand foyer of the Heritage Moozeyum but, following requests from the public, this was later replaced by a plak engraved as follows:

Evelyn Coomber 1951-2103

A life prolonged is experience gained

In recognition of Evelyn’s heroic flight from deletion, the statue itself was transferred to the Moozeyum’s gardens so that Evelyn’s free spirit could gaze across the vast yellow plains of Bakovbeeyond.

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‘Evelyn’s Virtual Diary’ first appeared in the literary journal Beautiful Scruffiness in 2011.

Janet Olearski is from London and lives in Central Portugal. Her short fiction has appeared in Constellate, Sleet Magazine, The Commonline JournalWasafiri, and elsewhere. A graduate of the Manchester Writing School at MMU, Janet is the author of the story collection A Brief History of Several Boyfriends, and the founder of the Abu Dhabi Writers’ Workshop. Find her at http://www.janetolearski.com   Twitter: @JanetOlearski