The Jigsaw Floor – chapter 5

‘Are you glad you looked? Are you? Now you’re lying on the floor, crying like a baby! I wish you’d had the guts to step foot in that shabby old Picture House, then we wouldn’t be here. Are you happy? You daft old bastard.’

Harper said nothing.

Anders walked around the small cell. The walls were made of an unidentifiable but perfect metal.

‘I’m sorry,’ Harper said.

‘Finally! An apology. About bloody time. I told you not to look. You didn’t listen, and now I’m paying for your stupid arrogance.’

‘For asking her to go with me.’

Anders glared at Harper.

‘You mention her one more time and I’ll punch you in the teeth. You swore. You swore to me – the one condition of our renewed friendship, and you’re intent on breaking it.’

‘We’re going to die. I want to get it off my chest.’

‘Stubborn. You’ve always been stubborn. Too damn stubborn.’

‘She looked so pretty when I first saw her. Dancing on stage. She told you, right? That’s how we met,’ Harper’s eyes glassed over as he remembered that night.

He’d been drinking in the only town that still had bars, that still stood, that still had people. A ramshackle shanty settlement, built on the fly after the bombs fell, it didn’t have a name, it was just ‘town’. Town was where the men went to drink, and the girls went to dance. She’d caught his eye while they were both excelling at the respective new roles the civil war had carved out for them.

‘She moved like silk in the wind.’

‘We never spoke about you,’ Anders said, ‘in much the same way that we should never speak of her.’

‘Not too much makeup. Some of the other girls looked like circus clowns. Her gown flowed around her hips, and made me forget. For the first time since it all went to hell.’

Anders sighed. ‘I will kill you, you know.’

He’d bought her a drink, and fallen in love that very evening. But she knew his type, and therefore his game.

‘Go home with you? You have to be kidding. I’ll let you escort me to my home and, if you behave like the gentleman you claim to be, I’ll think about arranging to meet with you again.’

And so he did. And so she did. And that’s how it should have started.

If only he hadn’t…

‘Three things I regret, Anders,’ Harper said, through snot and tears, and tendrils of dehydrated saliva.

‘Go on, tell me. I bet I can guess them anyway. That bloody Picture House…’

‘Screw the Picture House!’

Anders’ old head snapped up at the first sign of anger in his friend.

‘I regret meeting her.’ A loud, heavy clap as he banged his open hand on the floor.

‘I regret ever introducing her to you.’ Another slam.

Harper stood up, his fists clenched and his eyes wide with madness.

‘Now neither of us will ever know happiness.’

Anders was scared, he’d rarely seen Harper loose his temper, and now he was sure he’d lost his mind.

‘What’s the third thing?’ he asked hesitantly.

Harper launched at Anders, hands wrapped around his neck, blood vessels instantly bursting at the sudden violence.

‘That we didn’t both die with her when it all happened. When they bombed the shit out of us. That we’re not buried under that goddamned floor as well.’

Anders tried to apologise for his part in all of this, but his throat was crushed closed, and the sounds he made were indecipherable.

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David Baillie is a freelance writer and artist. Born almost thirty years ago in Scotland, he now lives and works in the East End of London.

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