Quick Fiction: “Timeshare”

The sales floor reeked of sweat and anticipation. ‘Unit Prospects’ huddled together under the glare of fluorescent lighting. Salesmen flashed their fillings and flared their nostrils, sniffing out commission. On one of the tables, an ‘UP’ did not look well.

‘My client’s about to pass out,’ said the saleswoman, capturing the attention of the boss as he slithered towards her table. ‘She’s diabetic and she’s turning grey. They’re telling me they’re interested, but look at her… they can’t stay much longer. Can we go into button-up next?’

Button-up. The last phase of the selling A-Z. Time for the big dogs. Another set of yellow teeth would soon gnash down on a broken biro in between crocodile smiles.

‘Where’s your T.O.?’ queried the boss, nonchalantly.

‘He’s on another table.’

‘Speak to your T.O.’

The T.O. – the “Take Over” – was indeed preoccupied with publically berating a salesman on the neighbouring table. His clients didn’t want to buy. The Scottish T.O. was down to his last gram. It simply wasn’t on.

‘I need help now,’ pleaded the saleswomen. ‘She’s on the brink of collapse.’

‘It’s not my problem if your T.O. can’t handle his tables,’ mumbled the boss with a shrug.

‘I know, but my client,’ the saleswoman pushed on, ‘she needs an injection or something.’

‘Not my problem.’

The interchange continued as the Unit Prospect in question – a woman in her late 60s – started gasping for breath. Veins protruded from her temple. She wasn’t a pretty sight but the boss was far too concerned about the deposit they might not be capable of paying. Despite her descent into the realm of unconsciousness, this diabetic wasn’t his priority. As the female UP continued to wheeze, the paperwork was prepared. The injection would have to wait.

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Day Three in Alta, Tromsø & an Aurora Camp.

The best thing about Best Western Nordlys Hotell…? The breakfast waffles; each of which was the size of my face. I got three. I devoured them. (They weren’t actually part of the ‘free’ breakfast offering but if you whimper and quiver your bottom lip, the nice waitress might slide you a plate of them anyway – I have a very effective puppy face. Boom). The waffle-wolfing was justified; we both needed our strength for the adventure ahead.  

Another suitcase, another hall, another airport, another flight… and up in the air, we got to revel in the beauty of the land.

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We arrived back in Tromsø, popped into Kaia Bar & Restaurant and shared an omelette (our budget was dwindling by this point) as we perved on the port.

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Ten minutes later…

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For those wondering if I’m telling porkie pies about the sunrise / sunset times… here’s proof:

ImageThen it was time to wander around the centre until the party bus arrived. For those thinking about embarking on a ‘Northern Lights Adventure’, Tromsø Villmarkssenter has a reception desk at the Radisson Blu Hotel and the staff are very friendly and helpful. We booked our ‘Aurora Camp and Dogsledding’ trip back in the UK and I think it’s fair to say that this was the highlight of the holiday… (it cost a pretty penny / mortgage but in return we got an adventure of a lifetime).

We arrived at the aurora camp and were immediately instructed to up the ante with the thermal wear (they provide a snow suit and boots) – you’ll be as snug as a bug in a reindeer skin. Then we left our bags in the big common sami tent and went off to explore the camp.

(IMPORTANT NOTE: if you so choose, you WILL be able to effortlessly smuggle alcohol into the tent. It says not to… but as long as you don’t set fire to the tent, yourself or fellow campers, I’m sure nobody would give a flying husky).

(ANOTHER IMPORTANT NOTE: do not – REPEAT – do not attempt to smuggle a husky out of there. They like to howl: you will not get away with it).

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After playing with the puppies (before you ‘aaw’, they’re big enough to knock you over and out), we headed back to the tent, huddled around the fire and ate out dinner. They served us bidos (reindeer meat with vegetables). However, I just got a hunk of bone and some slop. So I would advise you to pack Pringles or other snacky goodness, because it turns out that reindeer-bone stew is not exactly filling… or nice. On the plus side, there was cake. Lots of cake. As long as you get your blood sugar levels up, you shouldn’t die or anything.

Then it was time to wander into the ice wilderness, lie down on a reindeer skin, and hope the Northern Lights would come out and play.  And play they did!

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Oh and we saw a shooting star (it might have been a meteorite)!! We were very, very lucky. We were told the NL should be treated as a gift from the universe – it’s not guaranteed, and if you don’t hit the jackpot, you can still enjoy the arctic atmosphere. Who am I kidding? If the lights don’t come out, you’re screwed… (it would not be the same, nor would the cost be worth it, but obviously it’s no fault of the staff / company if they’re a no show)… but you take your chances, you place your bets.

We accidentally booked a hot tub experience. Ok, well we did it on purpose. But it soon transpired to be a big mistake, since the hot tub wasn’t… hot. And in -16°, the last thing you want is a bath OUTSIDE. Saying that, I’ve never been in a jacuzzi in the arctic before and I’m not the type to miss out on an opportunity. BUT it cost thirty odd quid and considering that it wasn’t hot and none of the staff knew how to make bubbles or increase the temperature… I wouldn’t recommend it. And then there’s the problem of getting dry and dressed. Vicki ran barefoot across the snow back to the changing area (she’s hardcore). I put my foot down on the snow, immediately regretted it, retracted my foot, hopped around semi-naked, attempted to dry my feet, failed, but thought ‘sod it’ and put the boots on anyway, and subsequently soaked them through. So I did a cheeky one and swapped boots without anyone noticing… BUT you’re not technically allowed to do that. You only get one pair of boots. Technically. So if you’re not as naughty as me, you’ll have to brace it barefoot on the snow. But, be warned, Vicki said it burned.

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We defrosted in the toilets and then headed back to our place by the fire and watched the lights dance across the sky for the best part of a couple of hours. They came out around 11pm and it was way after 1am when we made our way back to our beds.

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I should perhaps mention that you do get instructions regarding how to stay alive throughout the night. Part of that process is keeping the fire alight. The staff go home around 10pm so you’re alone and it’s down to you to not freeze to death. Don’t worry – the sleeping bag will protect you up to minus thirty degrees. But you can’t keep your face in it because your breath will make it wet and… gross. So I’d suggest wrapping a scarf around your face, because it’s as cold inside the tent as outside the tent. My lips swelled to resemble one of those dodgy blow-up dolls and Vicki’s face glowed in the dark (wind burn looks like sun burn). So yes. Brace yourself, Rodney, brace yourself.

Rat Slump

 

Sometimes I wonder whether I’m alive. I breathe. Obviously, I breathe. My chest rises and falls, and I can feel the air rush into my lungs. And my heart beats. I know that because occasionally I’ll put my two forefingers on my wrist and I’ll feel the pulse. It’s funny. My whole body is seething with life and yet I’m dead from the neck up. Funny, eh? Isn’t it funny?

Today is the last ‘just another’ day.

I stare at the same screen. Listen to the same ring tone. Witness the same bullshit. Attend the same meetings. I feel like I’m on a conveyor belt. I’m one of the prizes. The prize that nobody remembers or particularly pays attention to. The prize that’s never claimed. THEY ONLY EVER REMEMBER THE CUDDLY TOY!!! Whereas I just wind up collecting dust as I go round, and round, on the merry-go-round of bollocks. If I had an inner child, it would be the subject of torment. Poor bastard.

And another phone rings. And another ‘Hello, Marvey Reed, can I help you?’ 

There’s a whirlwind of apathy in this office. Meaningless words fly around in all directions, as the sound of yellowing teeth clamping down on pens floods the precious and rare moments of silence.

Bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla. TAT-TAT-TAT. Bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla. TAT-TAT-TAT.

I swear they only chew down on their pens as an alternative to their tongues. If we’re honest, we all want to rip our tongues out so blood pours and spurts into the air, instead of the lies we’re forced to spew out into the receivers.

The boss walks in. My stomach turns into a pit of snakes, writing and squirming, hissing ‘get out’. 

I resume breathing. I check my pulse. I catch my reflection on my screen, which is now black and bursting with shooting stars. I concentrate on this and try to believe I’m flying, flying through space, flying among the stars. The only problem is there’s no horizon, no final destination. I’m a lost lamb flying into an eternal sky, floating and rotating, in a state of euphoria – but getting nowhere. 

The manager shouts something. I snap out of my trance, click the mouse, and a database pops up full of records that no one gives a shit about. No people here, just numbers. We’re all just statistics. There is no ‘we’, ‘us’ or ‘them’.

“GET ON THE FUCKING PHONE, SIMMONS!!”

We work for eighty-four thousand and six hundred hours in a lifetime. I worked it out. There are eight thousand, seven hundred and thirty six hours in year; that’s five hundred, twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes. I know that because I’ve seen the musical. We work for a lot of years. We spend over five million minutes at a desk, as a corpse, waiting to be buried. PUT US IN THE GROUND ALREADY!!

Another phone rings.

It’s mine.

I pick up the receiver.

Hold it to the side of the face.

Rub the eyes.

Mutter a greeting.

Listen.

Talk.

Listen.

Talk.

Update the database.

Listen.

Make notes.

‘Goodbye.’

Replace handset. 

And then… and then I return my attention to the stars.

When I’m really down, I allow my imagination to rue the day. I sit at my desk, next to my diverted phone, with my hands poised on the keypad. Even with closed eyes, the fluorescent ceiling lights have a way of keeping everything vivid… but it never takes long to sedate the mind. I inhale and breathe in the cloggy, air-conditioned air.  I exhale a colour – usually yellow – as I imagine I made different decisions.

I’m on stage. And before me is a vast audience. I’m performing to an auditorium of glow-worms. The spotlight’s on me and I can feel my blood heat up. Everywhere – rapt attention. In a stranger’s body, I recite a language full of beauty and truth, and savour each word. The world is mine and I’m home.

And now I’m in a foreign country, on another stage, in front of thousands, hundreds of thousands… and I look sexy as fuck… and my guitar is magnificent.

I once received a card that said; ‘never let anything stand in the way of your dreams’. HAHAHAHA!

I can’t help but ‘tut’ at those wankers who pretend or who are happy. I pass these jolly strangers, these ‘happy as Larry’ Larry’s – why’s Larry happy anyway? Such a stupid phrase… – and I try to smile but the cynicism in my veins buckles along the way, and bile collects in my gut, and if I smile at them, I won’t be able to keep it from spilling out of my mouth. So I don’t smile. I walk past and heave.

Today is the last ‘just another’ day.

Insomnia (a short fiction of 184 words)

Sometimes I practise your name so I can say it aloud. Between the tinnitus and the thoughts, it’s a miracle I ever sleep. Anyway. You would have made an excuse if you gave a damn. I don’t even like coffee. Not at home time; that’s wine time. You used to laugh when I said stuff like that. Now, as one step follows the other in the dark, tears stream down my face and I don’t hide them from the headlights.

I need the power back.

I bought ‘Seduction’ the other day. I smiled as I stood in the queue. ‘Cardamom, amber, patchouli, sweet vanilla, musk and amber’. It says ‘amber’ twice. What the hell is patchouli?

I keep meaning to grow a backbone, but then I’ll remember the consequences. When you’re on my mind, I lose myself, as if in a dream. The other night I was pregnant, single, and I lived in an RV – like the one in Breaking Bad – but without meth. In a forest somewhere in Essex. Are there even forests in Essex? Epping, ah yes. The baby bump was so small and disappointing. Disgusting. And then there was the shark. At least dreaming means I’ve slept, if only for a mere fraction of the night. The NightNurse gave up on me some time ago, the Nytol can go fuck itself, and dear old Diazapam turned his back when I needed him the most. The arsing GP refuses to prescribe me with anymore Zopliclone. No Z for ‘zzzz’s. Ha. And I can’t pretend I’m going on yet another long distance flight.

Tomorrow I’ll forget how pathetic I am. Tomorrow I’ll pretend you haven’t broken me.

Three little words.

I miss Valium.

Day Two in Norway (Tromsø / Alta)

We wake up at 8am. It’s still night time. We try Norwegian brown cheese. We dislike. Off we pop back to Tromsø airport (which will soon come to feel like a second home). We get on another plane (SAS Airline). It’s still night time. But as the plane-bus gathers speed down the runway, the sun follows suit and, with a surge of momentum, pops his cheeky face out. It’s around 11am at this point. He starts setting before we arrive in Alta and yet the journey has only taken an hour. (Definitely leave those sunnies at home).

We arrive at our new residence; namely Best Western Nordlys Hotell in Alta… which is around a 30 minute walk / 10 minute taxi from the centre (“sentrum”). However, we didn’t have much interest in exploring Alta, which is pretty much a concrete ice jungle… lots of factories… and modern yet aesthetically-challenged buildings… and not much else. But we didn’t care. We flew 250 miles for one thing and one thing only.

This:

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The Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel. A hotel made entirely out of… yes you guessed it… ICE! Nice, ice, baby. This year’s theme is Viking Kings and everything – REPEAT – everything is made of ice and compressed snow. Needless to say; wear warm clothes or bring a duvet with you because it is -7 ° INSIDE. Yes. Multiple BRRRRs. Ok so it’s £15 for entry alone. And a drink is £10. But it’s not really a drink. It’s a shot. A shot of some kind of berry infused vodka. But it’s cultural(ish) and it’s served in a glass…. yep… OF ICE! In a bar made entirely out of… (yes ok, I’m drilling the point now, I shall stop).

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Thirty minutes in, my fingers had gone numb but the berry-vodka was doing its funky thing and sweet-alcoholic-warmth began to spread through my insides. However, it was at this point that I seriously starting doubting how people could actually sleep there without waking up dead (I know you can’t wake up if you’re dead but you know what I mean).  Apparently you get a very warm sleeping bag. As if that’s comforting! If you go for it, be prepared to pay through the teeth and to lose various (and perhaps very important) limbs & things to frostbite. God (and lots of berry-vodka) be with you.

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Oh and DO NOT TOUCH THE ICE SCULPTURES. We didn’t know about this. But if you break it, they’ll break you (& your bank account). 

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Because we arranged for a taxi to take us there, wait an hour, and drop us back for a set price of £80 (it’s a 20/30 minute journey from Alta, and if you stay at the Best Western, they’ll arrange it for you), we could thankfully leave without losing face (literally and metaphorically).

We returned, limbs intact (despite the fact that, this time, Vicki fell down a hole), and celebrated our visit to the ice hotel by having a well deserved nap (yes, we’re old). By dinner time, we were ready to venture out into Alta Sentrum and – because we forgot to eat lunch – we treated ourselves to the BEST STEAK EVER in the history of steak. Check it:

Image(I didn’t turn the flash on for fear of being caught taking a picture of a steak). It was – in a word – DIVINE. So yes, I do recommend Du Verden Matbar. We even had dessert (well, we shared one). And not one, but two glasses of wine EACH…ooooh. The budget was torn up. To shreds.

Day two. Success. Hurrah. 

Day One in Norway (Tromsø)

This post should be short and sweet since we arrived at 9pm and didn’t have much time to go mad. Also, Tromsø central wasn’t exactly “banging” on this particular Tuesday night, despite syncing our arrival with the International Film Festival (more on this later). I did, however, fall down a hole – which some of you might find amusing.

Ok so we landed, got off the plane and muttered our first “oh my god it’s really cold” of the holiday. We probably should have expected that… being January ‘n all. But you can only prepare for a certain type of cold and you can’t prepare for the Arctic. Unless you have a walk-in freezer (and if so, I’d suggest walking around in it to get acclimatised). In a nutshell, it is CHILLY. You won’t need any sexy clothes or killer heels if you pop across the North Sea in the depths of winter (sorry lads). We spent the whole four days resembling Michelin [wo]men. Also, there’s not much point in taking sunglasses because the sun doesn’t always rise… & if it does, it’s a brief ‘hello’ and a hasty ‘goodbye’. The Norwegian sun is a big ole tease.

We popped in a taxi to the Sydspissen Hotel… which is about a 10 minute drive. And this cost us £20. “Welcome to Norway – we’re going to bleed you dry financially”. (I’m not moaning – REPEAT – not moaning, but I figure it’s my duty to pre-warn so it’s not a shock to the system). The Sydspissen is a cute little hotel in Strandvegen, which is a 30 minute walk (or a 10 minute cab) to the centre. It’s on the peak (check out Google maps) and apparently it’s the best place to get a glimpse of the aurora, if you’re not planning on venturing out into the wilderness that is (we did, more on this later).

We decided to walk to Tromsø central (“Sentrum”) and, within an hour of landing, spotted this on the way into town:

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(There’s a better photo of the NL later on…)

Lucky, eh?! We were pretty chuffed and bounded down the icy lanes with the grace of two women wearing snow boots and fifty layers. Our tummies took over and decided to grab some food at the Egon restaurant. This was a lovely little joint with quirky decor. And it was so, so warm and cosy. Once we figured out that a portion of chips cost £8.90 (that’s the standard there), we opted for a jacket potato (£11.70). We didn’t care how much the wine cost. (But for the record, it’s about £10 a glass).

Stomachs sated, we had a wonder around the centre and took a snap outside Tromsø cathedral… and then we posed in front of a sparkly tree. As one does.

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Then we ventured back to the hotel and, on the way, spotted some really cute little abodes. I decided to take a photo of the quaint and cosy apartments – the interiors of which seemed to be exact replicas of each other. In the process, I fell down a sneaky snow-covered hole and got my boot stuck in [what I can only assume was] a crevice in a rock. My “friend” couldn’t stop laughing and she needed a wee so wasn’t much help in setting me free, but once the panic subsided and once I realised that if I got it in there I could get it out… I managed to wriggle free, boot in toe… or on toe(s). This was perhaps a sign from the powers-that-be that you shouldn’t spy on people.  

After that little ordeal, we made it to the hotel. I got into my onesie and immediately regretted not packing lighter sleepwear. They’re not afraid of the central heating up there. I spent the night trying not to strip (there didn’t appear to be a thermostat) to spare us both a dose of awkwardness.

Day one in Norway:

–          We saw the Northen lights!!!

–          We survived the minus degrees.

–          I didn’t get stuck in a hole.

–          Vicki didn’t wee herself.

Day one – a success! Hurrah!

(Hmm, this wasn’t exactly short and sweet. Sorry, I got carried away…)