Giant

Here is the next installment of the Hiraeth collection: a story I wrote in a frenzy during the good old simple days of Lockdown One.

It was easy forget the fragility of it all, but the fishermen knew.

The people and their world: small, transient, breakable.

The fishermen needed no reminders.

Like true crepuscular beings, they thrived in the tiniest hours. The fishermen pitied the normal people, for they would never see what they saw.

All stoic, taciturn men, their backs were covered without declaration, their work completed without congratulation. Theirs was a line of work born into with no other entry point. They would have it no other way.

Four thirty am was the usual summertime departure. The team prepared and fuelled their vehicle under the pinkness of dawn. Gulls circled overhead, cawing for scraps.

At sixty-three, the grey-haired captain had at least a few decades on the rest of his team, his distant children. On the morning the world would change, he puffed on a hand-rolled cigarette, watching his team work sedulously. When the final checks were completed, the team sailed out to the rich waters, just off the dramatic green shorelines of Rhossili bay, South Wales.

There was important work to be done, living things to hunt, millions to be fed. There was no conversation. There was only the breathing in and the breathing out.

They had only trundled along the water for a few hundred yards before one of the men noticed the sound. A faint, distant grumbling, like a motor engine, only deeper, more visceral, more disturbing. The man, a baby, was not long out of school and relatively new on the boat; he was still mastering the codes of silence, so chose to say nothing.

It was when they cast down the first net that the others noticed it. A guttural hum, gradually getting closer, louder. The urgency of the waves rising. They shared troubled, quizzical looks. An oncoming storm: that was their obvious answer; but the air was windless, and the sky, their old friend, was clear.

The captain had just finished rolling his next cigarette when he too became aware of the large underwater murmur, of the eerie presence in the crisp air, and of the disquieting effect it was having on his men. He lit his cigarette, inhaled meaningfully, and looked over the side of the boat, into the dark body of water.

None vocalised their fear as to do so would make it real. 

They gave gentle shrugs and half grins, until the grumbling grew ineluctably greater, more immediate, demanding. Something was happening. It could not be ignored. It was almost as if something incredibly large – far larger than any known sea animal – was stirring beneath the surface. Several of the men shared this thought though none said it out loud as the notion seemed too absurd. They tried their best impressions at casual dismissive shrugs again, but this time all that was visible on their faces was their unrest.

The boat began to yaw, caught in a nautical quake.

The men tried to keep their balance, hold their nerve. The captain took another drag, then stubbed his cigarette out under his shoe. His men looked to him, with the whitened faces of those trying to rationalise something irrational. He remembered the whisperings he’d heard recently, navy submariners reporting similar sensations over the last week or so; unexplained tremors in the water, sounds as if made by the stomping feet of an angered underwater beast.

He’d ignored them. Everyone had.

As the men grabbed hold of the ledges to steady themselves, the rumbling unexpectedly subsided and a dense, ominous quiet took over, long enough for the men to breathe, to share more looks, looks of worry searching for relief.

For the most ephemeral of moments, it seemed the panic was over.

Then the sound returned, hundredfold. A great submerged roar rising from the depths. What looked like a great land mass emerged from the waters and formed in front of their eyes – but this was something alive.

The fishermen might have screamed, might have shouted for help or rescue, but before they had a chance, before they could even cry out for their mothers, their boat was toppled, capsized and wrecked. Just before they were tossed aside, and their heads went under, their widened eyes were pulled towards it.

That great thing which eclipsed the inchoate sun.

***

The breakfast news show was extended by three full hours that morning. The presenters tried to hide their shock and remain professional as they told the country that a giant man had walked out from the sea and was staring down on them, but even the least perceptive viewer of the news could pick up on the tension in their voices and in their posture; it was obvious their calves and fists were clenched as they took choreographed turns in delivering punchy cued sentences, the silent one doing their best to smile and look composed in the eye of the camera while the other spoke.

The studio was inundated with calls from viewers incensed at the nerve of the producers to think they could lure everyone in with such a flagrant false story, but as the moving images of the giant standing over the Welsh coast continued to stream – an old giant, with strands of greyed hair over his wrinkly head, dressed in a beige dressing down with a pipe in the breast pocket – and reaction from around the world grew, it slowly crept up on the outraged members of public: this was not senseless scaremongering, nor was there a madman holding the producers hostage with a hand grenade and demands to read anything he told them to.

This was real.

The programme raised and did not answer all sorts of questions. What did this mean? Was the giant a friend, or a fearful monster who would attack and kill everyone? If it was the latter, what was it waiting for? Should we all panic, and if so, to what extent? Was this a signal of the apocalypse? Was this god himself, finally? Or was this all a big fuss over nothing?

They flew in experts and guest speakers: a marine biologist whose specialty was deep sea creatures, the archbishop, the army general, an outspoken internet commentator with a reputation for inflammatory remarks, a spokesperson for the Prime Minister, a celebrity chef, and a beloved children’s entertainer.

The marine biologist was clear: this was a national, potentially global threat to security, but caution was necessary. The authorities needed to begin by recognising that at this point, they knew nothing about the giant. Attacking the problem head on could and likely would only cause more problems than it would solve. What if they didn’t finish the giant off, only angered it? What damage could it do then? And what evidence was there to show that there was only one giant? There could be hundreds, thousands, unidentified, hiding in the depths. The top strategic minds in the country would need to be called upon to co-operate and formulate a thorough tactical plan, there was no question about it.

The internet commentator, who was not actually scheduled to speak next but couldn’t wait his turn, was outraged. He believed the leftist “woke” minded people were going to try and use this in some way to push their liberal agenda, most likely to try and claim that if the giant were to hurt people, it would target ethnic minorities and LGBTQ community members, and that the giant was clearly the embodiment of the white patriarchy*. He also recommended that viewers of the news, which that morning was just about everybody, check out his YouTube channel, and not forget to smash like and subscribe.

*Though he was not actually white; he was more a shade of yellowish.

The Archbishop argued that nowhere in the bible does it mention anything about giants in dressing gowns – at least he was ninety-nine per cent sure – and some perspective was needed from the opiated masses. He went onto say that anyone looking to politicise, exploit or “cash in” on this crisis was a reprehensible scoundrel, but before he could get any further with his argument, he was interrupted by the outraged internet commentator, and the broadcast descended into a personal match between the two men, until the programme was temporarily cut off for a fifteen-minute info-advert about a new memory foam mattress, which, like the giant, truly was a miracle to behold.

When the programme returned, only the Prime Minister’s spokesperson remained, and what he said was brief but firm. It seemed highly likely at this stage that the country, and then perhaps the rest of the world, would have to go into lockdown. Everyone would have to stay at home until the government had ample time to pettily and personally argue over this and then reach a consensus and formulate an effective strategy in dealing with crisis, and, more importantly, a catchy slogan to summarise that strategy, which could be printed and branded on newspapers, billboards and screens all over.

Now was the time for solidarity.

The presenters, after asking for several refills on their glasses of water which were usually only used as props, uncomfortably moved the show on to the next section, where they interviewed the country’s most famous and foremost billionaire entrepreneur, who, while laughing an unnatural amount, proposed the idea of turning the giant into a global attraction, the eighth, ninth, wonder of the world, whatever number it was on, charge high prices to visitors from all over, boost the economy, create jobs and prosperity and wealth, for the people. He also quickly mentioned that due to the inevitable interference with air traffic caused by the giant’s presence, he would be cancelling many of his airline’s flights, laying off thousands of staff members, and was heading to his own island in the Caribbean until all this nonsense blew over.

The next section of the show allowed audience members to phone in and voice their opinions. Some seemed certain this was the end of days:

– We’ve been messing up the place for the last few centuries and now God’s finally had enough. He’s saying “Alright, people, come on now. Seriously. That’s enough. There’s a point where it goes too far. I’m a reasonable guy, but this is ridiculous.” And, you know, he’s right, we deserve it. I hope the giant tramples all of us.

But others seemed to think this was a false harbinger of doom. It was only a large creature; the sea was full of them, many of which humanity knew nothing about, and all the giant seemed to be doing was standing still, bending down, watching, with an almost friendly curiosity. There was an appropriate level of response, and widespread panic was only going to cause more damage.

– The supermarkets have already been raided. People are starving other people out because they’re scared! People are building bunkers, shelters, moving their furniture, beds and TV into their basements, or buying tickets the hell out of this country, and it’s all because of you people in the media! That giant hasn’t hurt anybody!

The news presenters debated the topic: why did some people seem to be affected by the giant and not others? They of course reached no conclusion.

Next, they cut to an aerial shot of a gathering on the beach; a gathering of all ages and races. They were building what appeared to be a church and had made impressive progress in such a short space of time. They held up signs bearing claims that the lord had finally returned, and only those who worshipped Him in the right way would find salvation.

And finally a celebrity pop singer came on to sing a song about raising awareness of the giant and also her new album and new tour and new Instagram account, and it was all watched by millions, including Sarah Phillips, who, unlike most of the other viewers, usually did little else but stay at home and watch television during the mornings anyway, because her life consisted of alternating between her bed, sofa and windowsill, where she slept fitfully, worked as a remote web designer, and chain smoked with a similar intent to self-harm, respectively.

The idea of lockdown wasn’t new and disturbing to her, or at least not new; she was already locked away in her city tower box apartment, in her isolating job, in her self-made prison, in her head.

When she tried, though she didn’t much anymore, she could dimly recall a time when she was part of a social circle, her computer science nerd cohort, before the joy of spending time in each other’s company faded on all sides, as the group of failing and semi-failing millennials, her old university friends, began to find Sarah’s complaints about her troubled mental state repetitive and irksome, thus forming their own complaints about her complaints, creating a poisoned atmosphere around the routine sessions in pubs on weekends, where on several occasions Sarah was given the famous Einstein line about the definition of insanity, and all she could think of in response was to point out the amusing happenstance: weren’t they the mad ones for telling her the same thing over and over and expecting her to suddenly listen? But if she thought this was witty or observant, they thought it was stubborn and deflective, and soon the invitations to the pubs were less sincere and less frequent and then deceased altogether.

These days, Sarah, now in her late twenties, only left her house for two things. One thing was food, which she bought and consumed in bulk and preferred to be colourless and uninspiring. The other was to see her counsellor, Dr. Gumph.

After watching the extended news show, and a sad attempt at calisthenics during which her buxom shape made he feel comical and pathetic, she combed her strawberry blonde hair in the mirror for much too long a time, then left her box and headed to her therapy session.

She began feeling the early signs of an episode: the twitching spot on her forehead which if allowed to form into a full bead of sweat could rapidly expand and leave her needing to change clothes; the thickening of breath; the fear of even acknowledging to herself that she was in trouble and needed relief, and the even bigger choking fear that any strategy for relief or escape from herself and her constant mental crisis would fail, and she was profoundly stuck this way; always followed by the intense desire to just switch off, not to inflict pain on herself or others or cry for help or create a dramatic and gruesome scene, just to quietly close her eyes and click her fingers and switch off and let go.

She knew the warning signs well enough to identify them by now, but still had not fully mastered the controlling of their coming or going. She was hopeful for praise from Dr. Gumph for her work in identifying the symptoms of her attacks, the way she’d always sought praise her whole life.

She knew what’d started it: the images on the television. She lived in Cardiff, a distance from the coast where the giant had appeared, but still it had evoked something inside her.

She wondered if the whole thing was real, if it was a conspiracy to commence a mass psychological experiment, or just an April fool’s joke. But it was June. Maybe that was the real prank?

Either way it wasn’t helping her anxiety. Her episodes had been more frequent lately. Duller in comparison to her worst attacks, but more frequent. They always passed, but there was always the underlying fear that they could come back, and they always did. It was all fragile; she needed to stay humble.

She caught the bus to the clinic, eight stops away from her tower block.

Seated next to her on the bench was a father and daughter with a magazine splayed out between them, open on the page of a crossword puzzle they were conquering together, and with that Sarah was reminded of why she’d found the images of the giant man so emotive, though now it seemed like it should have been obvious to her the whole time.

The girl was eight or nine, in a blue dress and classic black school shoes, and though to an outsider it may have looked like the father was giving her a chance to find the answers for herself when he’d already got them, the truth was she was an equal partner in the undertaking and he struggled with the cryptic nature of the clues without her.

Sarah couldn’t help but wonder in her darker mind if the father would grow uncomfortable around his daughter when she grew to be a teenager, when she developed in the way teenage girls do, if the sight of her as a woman would poison his love for her; or if it was only her father who could sit a child on his knee and serenade her with old romance songs, then watch her grow and grimace at the sight of her, then make the repeated “accident” of walking in on her in the bathroom, and then disappear altogether.

She caught herself digging another of those tunnels for herself, forging a pathway to another mental prison, the type which she seemed to almost masochistically enjoy putting herself in, then struggle to handle the shame and pressure of when it was too late.

During those moments her thoughts went immediately to escape routes; how she could get out, change her environment, get some air, get some perspective, and when this option was taken out of her control, such as right then when she was on a moving bus surrounded by strangers who would watch her and judge her if her episode got really bad and she started wheezing and buckled over, and who just by being there both increased the chances of the episode happening and it being fifty times worse when it did; or any other public place where the doors were locked until someone else decided, that was when the walls really started closing in.

The little girl laughed as she got an answer right and the father smiled. Sarah pictured him watching her change clothes through a crack in the door, then hurrying away the second she sensed the lingering presence of someone and abruptly turned around. The girl picked her nose as she read the next clue aloud, the father nodded along. Sarah pictured him staring at the chests of her school friends when she invited them for a sleepover. Then the giant flashed back into her mind, standing there, feet in the water, bent down with his crooked old giant back, watching, always watching. A giant erection, with veins the width of estate cars. She stayed on that image for a while, until she noticed she was drooling.

Her tunnel brightened a little as she came to within one of her stop and the father and daughter folded up their magazine and skipped off together hand in hand, probably to go feed ducks in the park or fly kites to learn to ride bikes and for the father to wonder sometimes who’s really raising who.

Sarah took a restorative, cold breath which felt like a glass of liquid water in her lungs, and some of the colour returned to her cheeks. The episode had passed, for now. Another would surely come, but she told herself to try and enjoy the time before it did.

All fragile. Stay humble.

She looked around at the other commuters’ faces.

Everyone on board was talking about the same thing, sharing their theories. To Sarah, most of them seemed excited, as if the emergence of the giant was some signal that life as everyone knew it was over. They were probably right.

– . . . Its like . . . When I’m having an episode, it gets better if I face it straight on. If I don’t try to hide, don’t try to tell myself: everything’s okay, you’re okay, nothing to worry about, relax, you’re fine, you know? Hiding from it, denying it, that just makes it worse. It’s better if I just stand up and go toe to toe with it, you know, look it in the eye, all like, yeah, what’s up? Yeah, that’s right. I know I’m going to die someday, that I didn’t choose to be born and be put here and have to face that. I know I’m trapped in the small little confined space of my skull for as long as I exist, I know that no matter where I travel to, what experiences I have, this is the only place I will ever be, in this little box, the best I can do is transport the box, and the only way out of it is final. Yeah, I know this now, bitch, and so what? Bring it on! I’m not afraid! . . . Maybe it’s all an act, but it seems to help me get through the episodes. You know?

Dr. Gumph nodded and smiled.

– That’s a very rational, brave way of looking at it, Sarah.

– Thank you.

Sarah’s heart sang inside.

– What else is going on with you?

– . . . Well, I guess you saw about the giant.

– Yes. Remarkable.

– Do you think he symbolises my father?

Dr. Gumph took a moment before responding, the way she usually did when her client’s questions made her want to laugh out loud. She did not think the giant symbolised anything, she thought it was a giant, a big old giant, plain and simple, and they needed to send in helicopters with guns and bombs and take the thing down, and she wanted to shout that anyone who looked to it for clues to their own existential crises was a narcissist.

But what she said was:

– Do you think the giant symbolises your father?

– . . . I haven’t talked to him in years.

 – Why do you think that is?

– . . .

***

– We just need to settle on the opening line here, gentlemen.

– The rest will write itself.

– I love it when that happens.

– Few things excite me more than blocks of text.

– Just to clarify, chaps, article 2.5 in the current draft of the press release states that if –

– Which draft are we on again? Draft ten, was it? Chumwell?

– Uh . . . *The sound of papers shuffling under the air-conditioner, the sound of a throat clearing not to be cleared but to buy time; the difference is audible.* . . . Well as you may remember actually we’d voted to scrap the old drafting system as it was too confusing. At one point there was a draft seven, a draft C, and a draft nine AB. And they were all identical.

– So, which one are we on now?

– . . . Uh, let me get back to you on that.

– Very well. And article 2.5 in whatever the current draft is clearly in no uncertain or deliberately ambiguous terms states what?

– Chiefly, that any attack or signal of intent to attack on the giant, from any other foreign power, will be considered an “act of war”.

– Ah yes, that sounds familiar.

– Very good phrasing, that ought to scare them off. Christ, I love my job.

– Glad we’re agreed. Let’s keep that. And the next article?

– Uh . . . *more hurried shuffling of papers followed by a pointless chuckle * . . . That manpower in the Gower area, the surrounding counties of Swansea and Glamorgan, and well yes rather indeed all of Wales and the southern half of England if necessary, should be prioritised to deal with the herds of camera wielders, worshippers, pilgrims, hippies, extremists, and the overly curious.

– Herds, very apt, is that our official use of language?

– How about a diversion? A cattle grid?

– Excellent idea Wigglins I’ll make a note of it.

– Thank you, sir.

– Might I make a suggestion, boys?

– Has it gone through the proper suggestion box channels?

– I thought we scrapped that a long way back.

– We made the suggestion of scrapping the suggestion box but we hadn’t yet got round to reviewing that suggestion as there were many other suggestions in the suggestion box queue before it.

– Oh yes.

– Please, forgive me, do go on, Mr. Prime Minister, wow us.

– I mean . . . It’s all rather dystopian, isn’t it? There’ll be the inevitable backlash from the social commentators. How about we remove some of their ammo?

– You’re intriguing me now sir and did I mention how devilishly cheeky you look today?

– We could perhaps show a little leniency.

– Leniency?

– Leniency.

– Leniency?

– Just like you said. The herds will plod their way towards it, waving their cameraphones and shouting their catchy slogans. We could either exhaust our manpower by trying to enforce it . . . Or . . .

– It’s here that the cattle grid solution really shows its true value, if I may say so, did we make a note of that idea? With my name next to it?

– We could show a little leniency.

– Leniency?

– Look gentlemen, at this point, a lot is unknown. We don’t know how the giant will react to swarms of people –

– Oh, swarms, if it’s swarms we’re talking about, how about a pesticide spray?

– Maybe the travelling masses will intimidate it, send it into a frenzied rage in which it rampages and crushes everything in its path.

– Did we make a note of the pesticide spray? With my name –

– Or maybe it will take kindly to being gawped at by the mouthbreathers; the simple fact gentlemen is that at this precise moment in time we just don’t know.

– We don’t know! You’re right!

– Genius.

– So that’s the official statement? “We don’t know?”

– It has a ring to it, for certain. I like it.

– I’m saying it could be useful to . . . Allow the public to . . . Hmm . . . Shall we say . . . Shed some light on things, if we are speaking the same language here gentlemen and I do hope indeed that we are.

– About time the people did their bit, instead of complaining.

– I think I understand sir. If the people want to poke the giant with a stick to see what happens, we’re saying let’s let them. This isn’t a totalitarian state. We’re telling the people, “God, let’s just chill out, yeah?” They’ll like that.

– So we’re scrapping the current draft of the press release? Starting anew?

– What draft were we on?

– Well, I believe we were about to start using hieroglyphic numerals, or we were seriously considering the idea, I believe I’d put it in the suggestion box.

– I’ll make a note of that.

– In the official notebook?

– Along with the cattle grids and pesticide spray? With my name next to it?

– And who is going to pay for this stick? Taxpayers? Shall we agree on that?

– Might I make a suggestion, sir?

– Put it in the box.

– I rather thought the box was metaphorical.

– Can I just interject here to clarify that article 6-b# of the now discarded draft of the press release relates to the importance of people staying indoors and being cold and distant to each other?

– For heaven’s sake. We’ve been over that.

– Yes, yes it does, people must stay at home and only communicate, if necessary, through their letterboxes.

– Very good. That’s what I thought. Let’s keep that.

– And let’s not use the term lockdown. Can we think of something else?

– . . . Lockup, sir?

– The term just sounds so . . . Dystopian. To use that word again, but it is a good one. Rather makes one think of the colour grey, does it not?

– An abstract yet poignant observation, sir, and speaking of colour did I mention how that shade of colour tie really compliments your eyes?

– So what are we calling it?

– The Big Sleepover?

– The Indoor Party Bash of the Century.

– Home is Where the Heart is.

– For heaven’s sake. What happened to people who just did what they were told without all this feeling?

– It’s the internet, sir. Everyone feels compelled to have some sort of personality, some individuality. It’s considered becoming and dare I say “cool” these days to criticise the government, even when one knows next to nothing about governmental procedures.

– I always knew the internet would be our downfall. In fact I put it in the suggestion box if I’m not mistaken, why did no one check it?

– So can I just clarify that article Q/£ of the old draft states that –

– For heaven’s sake.

– They all read one paragraph of some mainstream political novel and think they’ve formed a complete cutting ideology.

– Makes me sick, sir and did I mention how your shirt is looking particularly well pressed today?

– It’s easy to look informed and anti-establishment nowadays, all one has to do is paste an Orwell quote over a picture of a burning building and all of a sudden they’re the next bloody whatever his name is or whatever, for heaven’s sake, now I’m sweating, Chunwell, where are the tissues?

– I thought we voted and agreed to have the tissues removed as they were making some people uncomfortable.

– The only thing worse than an educated public is a public who thinks they’re educated.

– You make me feel so much sometimes, sir and did I mention your features while perhaps not classically handsome are still quietly arresting?

– So what are we calling this thing then? This emotional distancing. The Stay Home Marathon?

– Yes, they love a competitive element. Offer prizes to the one that can go without sunlight for the longest.

– Might I make a suggestion, boys?

– The box.

– The news these days. With so many things crowding each other out, competing for the attention of the public, it would be not incredibly difficult to . . . Let this announcement pass them by . . . At least some of them.

– I’ve got shivers.

– Take it home.

– Oh yes.

– Here it is, give it to us, sir, give it to us good and hard.

– People don’t have the stamina they used to. Their attention spans are shot; they’re like a starved cat with a laser pointer held by a withdrawing alcoholic. Overload the news with misery, they’ll soon get fatigued and tune out. Those who do pay attention, they’ll be the outcasts, the crackpot theorists, and no one listens to them.

– Might I ask a question at this point?

– Have you filled out and stamped the official question form?

– What’s the point of announcing lockdown if –

– Not lockdown. Family Time.

– What’s the point of announcing it we’re not going to announce it?

– Is that some kind of riddle?

– Excellent, I like riddles. Let’s delegate the next three hours to solving it.

– But we are announcing it. Just not in a way that people will hear or understand it.

– Ah.

– What about the borders?

– Well I rather thought that was a no-brainer.

– Close them? Call it Tucking Ourselves In? The Great Snuggle Buggle?

– I think it’s a good idea and like all good ideas it must be scrutinized and debated for at least six long weeks before it’s put into action.

– So just to clarify article Omega –

– You’re fired.

– We’re clearly going to need more time here, gentlemen. Lock the doors.

– I thought we’d agreed to not call it locking anymore sir?

– Might I just –

***

The smell coming from apartment 12B had gotten so bad that Sarah felt compelled to call her landlord, and she hated calling her landlord. In truth she hated calling anybody.

She’d hardly even known her neighbour in all the years they’d been sharing the experience of living in a box in a tower together; all she knew was that she was a lady likely between the ages of forty and fifty who ordered scented candles from Amazon a lot and seemingly never had any visitors beside the building maintenance team and the pigeons who shat on the balconies.

Those people trapped in their towers, they had it worse than anybody now the government had announced/not announced lockdown. They’d all come together and agreed to hand Sarah her own personal nightmare: being trapped.

Like the rest of society, she was in the process of accepting that the fiction they all binged on was becoming or already had become a reality and the best way to play it was to pretend you’d become a character in a piece of entertainment.

It seemed most people did that anyway.

The landlord turned up the next day. Sarah watched from her peephole as she knocked on and then unlocked the door. The instant grimace. The covering of the mouth with the sleeve. The look of the disturbed.

Shortly thereafter, the body was removed from the apartment in a white bag, and Sarah was officially neighbourless, at least for a little while.

She slumped to the floor, right there in front of her apartment door, and stared into the white nothingness of her linoleum tiles, for hours, wondering if she might soon follow the lonely old lady with the scented candles to whatever place she’d gone to. It might not have been a better one, but it couldn’t have been much worse.

If Sarah was envious of one thing it was certainly the quiet, noble conviction with which her neighbour had found the surest way out. Her struggles had never pushed her fully in any direction. They’d only weighed her down, held her in the same place.

These were strange times and her deceased neighbour was not the only who couldn’t cope with it.

Indeed, this wasn’t the only suicide Sarah had heard of since the giant walked out of the sea. The news had reported on a number of self-hangings, slashed wrists, overdoses and gassed-out cars since what was now being referred to everywhere as G-Day. In fact, the news reports had been almost entirely about numbers. The numbers of people who believed the giant was god, who believed the giant was dangerous, who believed the giant was nothing to worry about, who believed the giant was here to steal British benefits and/or jobs, who believed the whole thing was all a conspiracy set up by the Chinese to expand their 5G network, the numbers of people who had quit their jobs, left their families and moved either away or towards the spectacle, the numbers of police struggling and failing to contain the migrations, the numbers of people suffering with increased depression and anxiety. The damaging effect this would all inevitably have on the economy. The likelihood, on a scale of zero to one, of armed conflict resulting from another depression. The likelihood of that armed conflict resulting in all-out war. The likelihood that the period of relative peace in civilisation was over. The likelihood that we should pray.

The numbers of the beach cult had also grown massively – now stretching into the hundreds – all self-assured souls who felt with certainty that they would be spared when the giant (GOD) decided to do something other than just stand there, which was, surely, any minute now. Images of their celebrations had been shared around the world, especially the long passion filled night-time orgies they indulged in right there on the beach, and those who pointed their cameras it and broadcast the videos online even swore that they could see the giant raising an eyebrow as it looked down on the writhing insects beneath him.

The government had vaguely talked about the idea of an attack plan, in the event of which the worshippers would likely have to be moved along – with force if necessary – but nothing had been decided yet and likely wouldn’t for a while, until all the numbers had been crunched and recrunched and digested and spat out and crunched again.

Sarah hated the numbers; she couldn’t trust any of them to be true. Everyone had something to gain. She’d heard statistics and then read articles telling her every statistic she’d heard until then was fake and that she should dismiss everything she thought she knew about everything because nothing was real and neither was she, but how could she know if the news calling the other news fake wasn’t indeed the fake news itself?

The water was too polluted, there was no way for her or anyone to see through it.

Though she loathed the meaningless speculation, the catastrophizing, the blame and the fear, she also found she couldn’t stay away from it. Like tonguing the ulcer, hoping to taste blood. Her morning routine was set and decided with or without her approval: wake up and blindly reach for her phone, flick through every news and social media page, lest she fall behind for a second. When each source was adequately farmed, then from her bed to her couch, for which she couldn’t be late, to drink cup after cup of extra strength coffee and stay rooted to the situation. Every update, every theory, every interview. It all made the big picture.

She’d stopped taking showers because she couldn’t get undressed without feeling the acute glare of the giant on her naked body, couldn’t help but picture him salivating and licking his horrible lips and reaching down to the gigantic bulge in his pants.

One morning, after the apartment next to hers was cleared out, deep cleaned and put back on the market, Sarah went through her routine, fought off an oncoming attack as she felt convinced she could feel the giant’s warm damp breath on the back of her neck, then sat and watched, numb, as a fresh update was delivered. The government, who were insisting that the public remain calm and stay inside and close their curtains and hide if possible in their cupboards, were now believed to be considering the strategic option of sending in a negotiation team to try and communicate with the giant, ask him what he wants, how they can in any way help. Of course, they were unsure what language the giant spoke, or if he spoke at all, and the slightest cultural gaffe could lead to the destruction of human life on earth, so they needed to be careful. They had enlisted the help of an expert in mythological studies to try and help them with the negotiation, but the professor, tenured at Cambridge, admitted he was out of his depth here and wanted nothing to do with the operation, then mysteriously vanished.

Sarah wondered how long it would take before the giant affected her personal circle. Before her own life fell upside down like so many others had; the tragedies of lives taken, families separated, small businesses dissolved, communities torn apart.

After another night spent on her floor, she saw the sun rise and knew what she had to do.

She called her brother, who lived alone in the Scottish mountains somewhere. She never called her brother. Sometimes she forgot she had a brother.

– I’ve been thinking . . . I need to go see dad.

There was no immediate response but Sarah felt sure she could sense her brother laughing silently behind his hand. – . . . Are you there?

– Sarah . . . Why would you want to go and do a thing like that?

– The giant! It must mean something, right?

– It’s just a giant, Sarah. You’re overreacting. The whole place is overreacting, all a great big fuss over nothing, I’m fed up.

– What if it’s all gone tomorrow?

– Don’t go see dad, go see your therapist, okay?

– Dr. Gumph says you never take me seriously and that’s why I have confidence issues.

– Take care, Sarah.

Her brother hung up.

Sarah didn’t care what he said, not really.

She knew what she had to do.

***

She heard the same phrases all the time: “During these unprecedented times” “Now more than ever” “The new normal” “What with all this going on” “Solidarity!” and “What a giant fuss, am I right?”, but there was one she hated most: “When all this is over”. Partly because it was said by sunny happy awful people with grand plans they were desperate to share and enact with their loved ones, plans of hug fests and garden parties and street parades, and partly because it implied that there was actually going to be an over, a point when everything went back to normal. Sarah liked to think herself as part of an elite group of people, those pragmatic and cold enough to see the true picture: nothing was ever going to be the same again.

They called her depressed; she called them blind.

In some ways there was a pride for her in this, in seeing herself as a soldier of reality, someone not idealistically dreaming of a fluffy sunny afterlife with grandma and all the pets that ever died; she accepted the grey truth. People said she had mental health issues but she argued (silently) that the health of her mind was sound, that she had in no way gotten her facts wrong, that she and everyone else she ever knew and everyone she didn’t know and everyone and everything that ever lived would die and rot, that all humans and animals are just skeletons who didn’t lose their skin yet.

All just skeletons, waiting.

They could call her a bummer, a Debbie downer, a misery guts; they could not call her mistaken. She almost perversely got off on sticking these lines to people, ruining their positive outlooks, stabbing them with her rod of bleakness.

She was even brave enough to be one of the few hundred or so people who had stayed in the city of Cardiff after the riots had started, after the looting and the burning and the stabbings and shootings and rapes. It didn’t take long after the government (poorly) executed their attack plan for the people to rise up and revolt. The deployed military aircraft had encircled the giant, fired their shots, but had barely made a scratch before being smashed with the extended outraged paw of a hurt beast, turned to dust right there in the sky. The soldiers that had survived the battle subsequently killed themselves shortly thereafter, unable to live with the storm they had surely awoken. Soon people from all over the world were toppling and burning government buildings, setting off bombs in shopping malls and religious buildings and schools, murdering each other on the streets. Entire regimes were overthrown overnight; too many revolutions to keep track of. The thing was that it was all dangling on the edge of a cliff, all of civilisation, and all it needed was a slight gust to knock it over.

This was more than a gust.

The beach cult spewed their warnings of vengeance, of aeons of sin about to be punished, and pledged to propitiate their lord by giving the only thing worthy: their lives. At the next sunrise, they passed around and swallowed enough painkillers to kill all the pain in the world and slipped away into a better place, but their sounds were drowned out by the explosions and screams from all over the world.

And still, the giant stood and watched.

Sarah liked to tell people (herself) that she had stayed in the city instead of running for the woods because she was no coward, that running would solve nothing because everywhere was on fire or would be soon enough, but this was only a half-truth at best, the full truth being that she had enslaved herself to a life in the city and had nowhere else to go.

So maybe then the sudden itch to reconnect with her father was not purely emotional, familial, the treating of an old wound unhealed; maybe it was part of a deep covered up desire to have an alternative place to rest, some other roof, someone else to find shelter with during the end of days, which, despite the way it was depicted in the movies, was not a furious blast which wiped out everything in a flash; it was long, slow, boring, it was going to take a while and she would need to have some company and plenty of snacks.

While the world burned outside her window, she tried to remember.

The last time she saw her father she was fourteen years old.

From her childhood bedroom, she could hear the opening theme tune to the soap programme Heartbeat, a melody which filled her with dread, not because of how tiresome she found the programme itself (which she did) but because of what it signified: Sunday evening, back to school the next day. That was the worst time of the week, Sunday evening. Everything died on Sunday evening. Everyone else said the worst part was Monday morning but the truth about Monday was that it was never as bad as you feared, and once you were there, in school or work or wherever, you put your head down and got on with it, and it was fine, because people need purpose and that’s all they need, and when they’re at school or at work they have tasks and responsibilities and are functioning organisms as they should be, but Sunday evening, when there was nothing else to do but sit around in fearful waiting, while Heartbeat played on repeat mercilessly, while the light faded outside; that was the worst time to be alive.

She left her bedroom to go downstairs and stuff herself with digestive biscuits, a coping mechanism which had stayed with her through to adulthood. She passed the living room and glanced in.

Her mother, alone, in front of the TV but not watching it.

This was how Sarah mostly remembered her mother, in her own box which she refused to acknowledge or even try to break out of, and she stayed this way until she died a few years later, leaving Sarah orphaned a week before her A level exams, which she breezed through anyway because she never had to really try at anything and didn’t fully know how to, and then she got herself a place at university, which was pretty good timing because it meant she only had to survive a summer flitting between foster homes and a week on the streets when she got sick of the foster homes, then she got her student loan and a placement in the campus halls, where she met friends with whom she found a house to live in for the next two years, with whom she made the big and scary move to the city after graduation, with whom she slowly fell out with as they got sick of her sadness, her sickness, and even said it was less a sickness and more just a person’s refusal to change, because Jesus Christ Sarah it must be exhausting being this miserable all the time take a break please, and now here she was, a remote web designer, remote in more ways than one.

She passed her mother in her perpetual fugue state in the living room and went to the kitchen, to the bronze tin painted with Victorian ice skaters, where they kept the biscuits. Her father was sat at the dining table, reading a book, drinking a beer. When she entered, he looked up, and his breathing visibly altered, his chest tightened, his back seized up.

She had no idea what it was about her that made her father so uncomfortable, that made him tense and cough whenever she was around; she presumed it must be some deficiency in her as a human being, her very essence, something about her which filled him with shame and disappointment.

He shot up from his place at the dining table, closed the book, moved over to the kitchen window and pretended to busy himself by looking at something out the window. Sarah took two digestive biscuits from the tin, then three, then four. She snuck a glance at her father, to see if he’d noticed her taking liberties, and actually hoped he would shout at her for being greedy like he used to before puberty started and he grew to hate the sight of her, and she caught him, she caught him staring, staring intently at her body, for a split second, before his eyes turned back to the window and he pretended to be deeply interested in the empty fields behind their house.

She caught him.

She closed the biscuit tin and rushed upstairs to her room where she stayed all night and the next day, he was gone.

She hadn’t heard from him since and didn’t even know if he was alive.

If she was going to find him, if she was going to seek him out and seek answers, the most logical place to start was with the internet.

From a full day’s research, exhaustive Facebook profile investigations, pages and pages of Google search results turned purple and fruitless, all she learned was that there were actually rather a lot of people in the world who shared the same name as her father, but nothing else.

If she was going to find him, if she was going to address the thoughts in her head of the giant wearing her father’s dressing gown and ejaculating all over everyone, she’d have to get to him through someone else, someone on the technological grid.

Her brother, who was eight years older than her and therefore already on his feet and working at the time of their father’s disappearance and the resulting death of their mother; she’d already talked to him. His stance was clear. Plus he lived in the mountains in Scotland and had no intention of ever leaving. The lockdown and the riots had barely touched him. His life was still the same, going just fine. He lived in his own time, exempt from the madness. 

There were a few extant family members: her paternal uncle, maternal grandmother, a handful of distant cousins she guessed she must have met as a child, as the photograph album evidence suggested, but whose existence she had entirely misplaced.

She had vague threads, old names of family friends and neighbours and cousins, but the truth was becoming clearer: if Sarah had any chance of finding her father, she was going to have to get up, get up and move, revisit the town she left behind back when.

She didn’t know what she would find there, but she was ready to look.

Some residual clue.

Something.

The trains and coaches and also the planes were all cancelled indefinitely on account of the world having gone to utter shit, so Sarah called on an old friend, not a friend exactly but one of the faces who used to belong to her social circle but had since backed away, and asked him for a favour.

They (the friend not friend) kept an old, unserviced, untaxed and unloved red Ford Fiesta in a garage just outside the city, along with other heaps of metal and neglected rust. Sarah had no official driver’s licence but she had six months’ worth of driving lessons before her mother died, and she had an idea in her head and a will with which to execute it and Dr. Gumph’s office was closed due to the burning and the killing and the hysteria* so there was no one to try and talk her out of it.

She liked it this way.

* Despite Sarah calling the clinic and leaving messages about how she would kill herself if the practice temporarily closed, which she admitted now in hindsight was rash and extreme but she’d been cooped up in her box for too long and her mind had gone to the dark places it went to, like when she struggled to fit in all the terrible things about the world in the small space in her head and wanted to collapse, things like global warming, deforestation, racial prejudice, police brutality, homophobia, sexism and the glass ceiling and the gender pay gap, domestic violence, factory farming, vivisection, the palm oil industry, child poverty, child sex trafficking, anal rape, crystal methamphetamine addiction, AIDS, every disease and every moment of suffering, and how other people seemed to have no trouble dumping this stuff from their heads and walking around and existing, how she was overwhelmed all the time and longed for a big dreamless sleep, to finally get some fucking rest, and – 

It couldn’t possibly be all that difficult. It was only a two-hour drive to her small Mid Wales town, along mostly deserted roads. There would be little to no traffic. The police force were tied up in controlling the nationwide violence and waiting on standby for the inevitable retaliation of the giant which surely was coming any second surely he’d stop just standing there any second now damn; they would have no time to apprehend a solitary small hatchback car trundling anonymously down the motorway, breaking the lockdown rules.

Her friend not friend had left the keys for her on top of the front left tyre of the shitty car in the scrapyard. She collected them and snuck her way out of the residential districts onto the big open road, along which at some point the feeling of freedom got to her and she started crying and laughing like a maniac, singing pop songs from her childhood at the top of her lungs.

The supermarket where her father worked for all her childhood wasn’t there anymore; the building had been trampled and replaced with office blocks. A few other buildings had been torn down and built back up as something else, but besides that, very little else had changed in her quiet Mid Wales hometown. While this could have been crushingly dull, she actually found comfort in it: some places were still going on as normal.

Most of the people she knew from school were still there, married with kids and cars and jobs and going to the same pubs every weekend and getting into the same fistfights with the same people. Sarah both pitied and envied them for the plodding simplicity of their lives. They’d found their place to rest.

Her childhood home had been renovated by whatever happy family lived there now. The front lawn, which she remembered as tatty and overgrown, had been paved over and decorated with garden gnomes and statues. Looking up to the window of her brother’s old bedroom, she saw a figure inside, a young girl, staring vacantly at a computer screen. She wondered if that young girl’s face was blank in that way because she was numb, wondered if her father rooted through her underwear draw in secret, wondered if she sometimes had trouble sleeping because she could sense her father’s presence at her bedroom door at night and the sense wouldn’t go away even after she’d risen from bed and checked and found the hallway empty and ghostly, wondered if she’d tried broaching her mother with the subject and got nothing back but a dismissive shake of the head and a glazed look in the eyes; but it was likely that this young girl had gone through none of these things, and her face was that way because she was anaesthetized by the multifarious forms of entertainment available to her, or it just was, for no significant reason other than the boredom of being.

In the parked car, Sarah wondered what the hell she was actually doing. This was the behaviour of a desperate person. She considered driving back to Cardiff and doing her best to forget it all, and then Mrs. Owens emerged from her house with a watering can. Age had got to her; her back was arched, her hands shook slightly, her once grey hair now white.

Sarah watched her old neighbour watering the flowers in her garden for a while, until she felt brave enough to step outside the little red Ford Fiesta and say –

– Mrs. Owens!

The old lady nearly dropped her watering can. With her hand to her chest, she looked up, strained her eyes; and then her face turned into a gentle smile.

– Goodness me, Sandra!

– Sarah!

– Sarah!

– It’s me! And it’s you!

– You must come in for a cup of tea.

As Sarah sat on the beige sofa with a warm mug in her hands, she waited expectantly for Mrs. Owens to comment on how much she’d grown, how much she’d changed and how time flies, but when Mrs. Owens sat down across from her what she said was:

-You haven’t changed a bit.

It wasn’t easy to tell if this was a criticism or something pleasing to the old lady who’d lived next door to her for all her childhood, who was there when she grazed her knee on the pavement, who was there when Socks the cat went missing, who was there when her father walked out one day and never came back.

They obviously talked about the giant; conversations couldn’t be had those days without at least some passing mention of it. All the adverts on television centred around it, with executives looking for ways to use and exploit what seemed at first to be a disadvantage, turn into a marketing strategy. They all delivered the same message: There’s a monster by the sea and the world is screaming so shop with us to make it better.

Mrs. Owens thought it was a load of fuss over nothing, a giant fuss is actually what she said, and Sarah did her utmost to refrain from telling her that she couldn’t stop picturing the giant standing over her bed at night, slowly and deliberately pulling down his clothes and touching himself.

– Such a shame, your mother’s passing. Much too young.

Sarah shifted uncomfortably and downed her tea, burning her mouth in the process. She had to ask:

– I don’t suppose you ever heard from my father?

– Oh . . . He was always such a nice man. Very polite.

Sarah nodded her little head. They sat in a soft silence for a little while, the ticking of the clock their company. Then Mrs. Owens said.

– It’s good of you to visit, dear. The time goes slowly in here.

– . . . Do you ever feel like you’re trapped?

– Oh, maybe, sometimes. But then I think, if I’m here, I’m here, so I might as well get comfortable.

Mrs. Owens laughed for no reason, and in that instant Sarah saw everything in a new and total definition.

She was who she was, and she wasn’t going to change.

The giant, her father, the connections she’d made in her mind: clutching at invisible threads.

There was no finding a person who didn’t want to be found, not without far greater resources than she had, and bothering a sweet old lady was going to get her nowhere.

The only thing she needed to do was live her life.

***

Sarah sat on her couch, while Dr. Gumph listened. Hers was one of only a few practices in the country offering digital online therapeutic sessions to clients, and interestingly this was actually Sarah’s idea, who’d called with the proposal no fewer than five times before Dr. Gumph conceded, and decided to host sessions for three hours a day. There were many whose lives had been torn apart since the giant, but hers wasn’t one of them. She didn’t need the money. She’d been enjoying a surprise extended holiday, doing the sorts of things she never normally had time to do: playing piano, learning Italian, cooking, walking at night, reading for pleasure. Though she felt sympathy for those who’d lost their jobs or lost family members, she was glad this whole thing had happened. It had given everyone some much needed perspective.

Her most loquacious patient wanted to share something with her that just couldn’t wait.

– So, I’ve been wanting to tell you. I tried to contact my father. I tried to track him down; searched online, called up people, but I got nothing. I even went to my hometown. I don’t really know what I was expecting to find, it just felt like a journey I needed to take. But the thing is . . .

Dr. Gumph waited for her patient to continue, while just out of the camera’s gaze, she tackled a sudoku puzzle.

– . . . I learned something there. That chasing him down, asking for explanations . . . It would achieve nothing. I’m almost thirty now; it’s been basically half my life since he’s been gone. He’s not a part of my life, there’s no need for me to work things out with him. Myself, that’s who I should be working things out with. I’m me, and I’ll always be me, so like if I’m stuck in my head, I may as well make a bed there and get comfy. Does that make sense?

Dr. Gumph dimly nodded. Sarah couldn’t be sure if she was fully attentive, or even awake, if she didn’t just have eyes painted on her closed lids and a tape recorder playing occasional generalised reaction soundbites. She went on anyway.

– I mean . . . Well now I guess I’m surprised. We’re all surprised, aren’t we? They attacked him, and he’s still there. The giant, I mean. Still just standing, just watching us. Seems like he’s not going to do anything. Everyone’s on edge, waiting for him to go crazy and start grinding us to bones, but, I don’t know, he just looks kind of . . . Disappointed . . . Sad . . . Kind of makes you feel bad.

Dr. Gumph absently nodded again. She’d just completed the sevens.

– But I mean like you know don’t you at least think it’s a little bit creepy? A little bit rude? Like, who just shows up one day and starts staring? I feel uncomfortable getting undressed at night . . . Maybe that’s what this has all been about . . . The feeling of being watched does things to me . . . Oh yeah and did you hear about the mass suicide on the beach? Crazy, huh?

Dr. Gumph nodded again like she was in some faraway place, and Sarah decided she didn’t care if she had her full attention; this was her hour, it belonged to her, she’d paid for it and claimed ownership of it and she was going to use it to say all the things she wanted to say, all the great amusing interesting observant self-reflective shrewd things she’d built up in her head during this whole ridiculous mess when there’d been no one around to listen.

She reasoned the doctor was going through her own personal battles, like everyone else was.

– That made me mad. I mean, who do you think you are? What do you think you’re achieving by dying on the beach? You just made a great big mess. Can you imagine being the person who has to come and clean that up? Sweep away a pile of rotting dead bodies? Just so you could have a moment of attention? How selfish can you get?

The expectant pause left at the end shifted Dr. Gumph from her pursuit of completing the nines and finishing the puzzle; she sensed this was not a rhetorical question despite it sounding like one.

– . . . You’re very angry, Sarah.

– Yeah I’m angry. Like, yeah, I know, life is hard, and then a giant shows up, but we’ve all got to deal with it. I’m still here; you think I like it here? You think I don’t want it all to be over, so I can relax for once? And another thing –

She rambled on, way over her scheduled hour, but she was happy to be charged for it and it was not like Dr. Gumph had any other patients waiting. When it was over, Sarah felt much better. She’d often had trouble believing the axiom that talking made things better; she’d always agreed that while she was talking she felt momentarily freer, lighter, but when the talking was over, nothing ever changed.

But this time it was different, like all she needed was approbation from her beloved Dr. Gumph that she was right to let go of her shit with her father. She would likely never see his face again and that was fine.

She closed her laptop and turned on the television, to the news, like always. Presently a health expert was giving her opinion on the hot topic of “Is oversnacking normal in Giant Times?” An obese woman wept by her side while a building burned outside the window.

Then someone came on to warn people to not get suckered into the many scams which had popped up, the most notorious being the giant protection insurance scheme, which sharks had been selling to people worried about their families.

The prime minister was next. He delivered a stirring speech with no fewer than seven Churchill quotes while an army general stood next to him with a blank face, nodding at what looked like choreographed moments. He thanked those who had traded their lives for protecting the country, and that the whole of the armed forces, the navy and the air force would be on standby to deal with the beast should it decide to retaliate, though that seemed unlikely at this moment, as it was still just standing there, just watching.

Then the presenter came back on and spoke.

– Stirring stuff from our prime minister. Also God Save the Queen. And now, we remember the names of those fanatical religious members who tragically took their own lives, in the name of their cause . . .

The names, faces and former occupations of the beach cult appeared, one by one. Sarah sighed with disgust. A former reverend. A schoolteacher. A banker. A retired actress. An accountant. A supermarket manager.

Then Sarah dropped her glass of wine on the floor. She sat upright and leaned forward.

Her father was looking back at her.

One of those who tragically took their own lives.

The photograph they’d used was from his wedding day, before Sarah was born; she’d seen it somewhere before during her childhood. It was him. Underneath his name, two dates, the beginning and end. Another one of the deceased.

She’d wondered when the giant would affect her personal circle. Here it was.

She got a cloth and knelt down to wipe up the spilled wine. She felt like she should cry, but she felt nothing. A perfect, hardened nothing. She realised, in most ways, it was no different.

Her father was gone anyway, even before he was dead.

She stayed stuck like that for a while, numbed, and strangely relieved, and then the presenter appeared back on the screen with widened eyes.

– We have to interrupt here, to bring breaking news. Huge news. The giant is turning away. The giant is turning away!

The screen cut to a shot of the now world-famous Welsh shoreline. The giant was turning around, heading back to the depths of wherever it came from.

The camera caught the giant’s face as it turned away; he looked upset, tired. 

Slowly, but with thunderous movements, he walked back into the sea. His head sunk lower and lower, until he was gone. A few bubbles rose to the surface.

Then he was gone. That was it.

The quiet that followed was absolute, all-consuming.

Sarah still knelt on the floor, cloth in hand, frozen.

– People, this is it, this is the end, the giant has gone! It’s over! Once again, I repeat, the giant has gone. It’s over!

Now the news reporter seemed to look directly at Sarah, though in the weeks that followed, most of the viewers around the country, and the whole world, would claim the same thing.

– Yes, we can relax now, back to normal, at last . . . until the next time something comes along that reminds us how fragile we are and how all the systems and institutions we’ve put in place over centuries to safeguard our species; they can all come crashing down in a second . . . But yes, until then, back to normal! This is the nine o’clock news, reporting live. The giant has gone, people. It’s over. Tune in tomorrow for all the coverage, all the reaction, all the over-analysis, plus an exclusive interview with the prime minister, who will be celebrating the victory of his great plan and awaiting his much-deserved knighthood, followed by Countryfile.

Sarah stayed in that position on the floor for a while, in a trance.

When her knee started bleeding, she rose, rinsed the cloth and poured herself a new glass of wine. Then she did something truly astounding.

She changed the TV channel.

On the other side was an old sitcom from the 70s, one she and her father used to watch when she was a little girl.

Sarah smiled.

This would do for now.

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