This is the latest draft of ‘Today’, a story I uploaded a little while ago. You can see the original here. I’m going to send this to a short story competition, though I don’t know which one yet.
Let me know what you think, and if you’ve read the first version then let I’d love to know if you think this one is an improvement!
Today [Version 2]
‘You know, this morning has been weird,’ Don says, sitting at the bar.
‘Yeah? How so?’ the barman asks.
‘Seeing all these places I know. They look different today.’ Don smiles as if he has a secret he wants to tell.
‘Right. You’re in a good mood,’ the barman says.
‘Oh I am. I’ll tell you why‒’
‘Can I get you anything first?’
‘Yeah. Wait, what’s the time?’ Don checks his watch. ‘Eleven. Bit early for a drink. Anyway.’ Don doesn’t speak for a moment. ‘Do you know what the date is?’
‘Saturday the 21st of May.’
‘I thought so. It’s hard to keep track of the days sometimes.’
The barman looks down the length of the bar but there’s no-one to serve. There’s only one other person in the bar.
‘I woke up at seven and thought, I’ve just wasted seven hours of my day. I mean, why didn’t I stay up all night?’
‘You should go out and have a good time,’ the barman says. ‘Wake up with a hangover and a hot girl in your bed.’
‘Ha! I’m a bit old for that, son. In any case, there’s no point moping about wasted time.’
‘I’m Don by the way.’ He offers his hand. The barman shakes it.
‘Paul,’ he says.
‘Have you read the Bible, Paul?’
Ah. ‘No, I haven’t.’
‘Oh well. I can’t remember whether it says something about not eating pork or not, because I had a bacon sandwich this morning. It’s probably one of the bits that don’t matter, though.’
‘Mm.’ Don doesn’t smell like he’s drunk. He seems to have run out of conversation for the moment, though. The bar is silent except for the sniffling of the woman nursing a half-pint and a hangover.
‘Are you sure I can’t get you something?’ Paul asks.
‘No, I don’t need anything, thanks. I have sunshine, happiness and all that.’
‘True, but how about a drink?’
Don waves his hand. ‘Don’t tempt me. Let me tell you more about today. You don’t mind, do you? If you don’t want to hear me, Paul, I’m more than happy to leave.’
Paul glances round the bar for an excuse. The tables are clean. The woman’s glass isn’t empty. The bar is at an acceptable level of stickiness.
‘No, I don’t mind.’
‘Cheers. Today is my day off. No washing up or work or anything.’
‘That’s great,’ Paul says while scraping a spot from a glass with his nail.
‘Of course, I don’t want to get lazy today. Laziness is a sin and you don’t need the Bible to know that. Then again, surely God wants us to enjoy our time on Earth, and what’s more enjoyable than relaxation?’
Paul nods his head. He’s run out of glasses to pretend to clean so he goes down to the other end of the bar to look for more.
‘Do you want a TV?’ Don asks.
‘What?’ Paul says.
‘Do you want a TV? I’m giving away some stuff.’
‘No thanks. I’ve got one.’
‘Oh but this one’s pretty good. Flat screen and so many inches and everything. If you want it go round to 34 Peddle Street. You know where that is?’
‘Yeah I do.’ Paul comes back down the length of the bar.
‘I left the door open, so help yourself.’
‘You’re very trusting.’
‘Well what do I have to steal? The TV, which I don’t want anyway, some books, my wife’s photo albums. I have a bottle of 25-year-old malt whisky but I didn’t even feel like a drink this morning. It took a lot of willpower to save it for as long as I did and then it turns out to be a waste of money. Though money unspent isn’t much use, is it?’
‘I guess not.’ Paul wonders how much this guy paid for the malt. ‘Sure you don’t want a drink? This is a bar, after all.’
‘No thanks. Not because I’m abstaining or anything. Who cares if I have a drink today? My wife will forgive me.’
‘Yeah it’s your day off after all. Look, I can’t really let you stay if you don’t buy anything.’ He doesn’t look at Don and begins wiping down the bar.
‘Oh, fair enough. I’ll have something, then.’
‘We have some good whisky.’
‘Orange juice will do, thanks. Did you see those fellows in the street? Preachers. Pretty brave of them.’
‘Uh-huh.’ Paul hands Don a menu. ‘We serve food, too.’
‘Thanks. Do you enjoy working here?’
‘Yeah. You meet interesting people.’ Paul is searching the fridge and Don can’t see his face.
‘Are you working all day?’ Don asks.
‘Until five.’ Paul says. He’s found the orange juice now.
‘How are you going to spend today when you finish?’
Paul smiles and shrugs.
‘Sorry,’ Don says. He grabs Paul’s hand when it strays within reach. ‘Sorry if you don’t want to talk to me, but hear me out.’
‘Let me introduce myself properly.’ Don doesn’t let go of Paul’s hand. ‘My name is Donald Taylor but call me Don. I worked in a roofing business until I hurt my back and retired early. That’s me.’ Paul nods and tries to free his hand, but Don holds on. ‘I won’t ask about you,’ Don says. ‘That might make you feel uncomfortable. You probably just think I’m some religious nutcase.’ He lets go of Paul’s hand.
Paul’s expression suggests that it’s not the ‘religious’ part of ‘religious nutcase’ that bothers him.
‘I think my story will change your mind. What if I said I’m hardly religious at all? I read the Bible once in school but I haven’t been to church in years. I don’t think that stuff matters. I picked up some religion from my wife but never understood its appeal. I have every reason to believe in it now, though.’
‘That’s one pound fifty, mate.’ Paul places Don’s glass on the bar.
‘I had a dream, you see,’ Don says.
Don fumbles around in his pockets for his wallet.
‘I had a dream where I was in a museum with lots of books on the walls.’ Don finds his wallet in the first pocket he checked and takes it out. Paul drums his fingers on the bar. ‘The calendar from my kitchen was there, too. And guess what?’
Paul looks away while Don fiddles with his change.
‘A word was written under the twenty-first of May 2011.’ Don can picture it in his head. He’d stared at the calendar so hard this morning that his vision had blurred, but the word had stayed as clear and important as if it were carved in stone for Moses to read.
Don takes some money from his wallet but Paul is looking out of the window and doesn’t notice.
‘Today we’ll all be taken to Heaven. That word was Rapture.’
Paul looks at Don. ‘That’s why you’re giving stuff away?’
‘That’s not the whole story. I came outside today and the streets were filled with other people who think it’s the Rapture. I dreamed that the Rapture was today without knowing that other people thought it too. Do you see?’
Don waves the hand clenching his money. Paul grabs it and Don lets go of the coins. Don keeps smiling and wishes Paul a good day, then walks out, leaving the orange juice and his change behind.
It’s an amazing day. Don isn’t surprised. He walks down the high street and admires everything. The sun feels good. Lots of people are out shopping. He passes a bookmaker but today isn’t the day for gambling. He wouldn’t be able to spend his winnings.
The people preaching about the Rapture are still there. Don admires them for spending their last day helping others. They aren’t getting much favourable attention, however, despite their enthusiasm. They’re encouraging people to go to church but Don doesn’t think that will help; there are no Sundays left. That’s a technicality that could leave some people disappointed.
He walks past the group and a man carrying a placard with ‘Judgement is Nigh’ written on it in fiery letters.
‘Have you repented?’ he asks passer-by. ‘Everyone has sinned in some way. Today is your last chance to repent or suffer eternally! The Lord doesn’t ask for much. All you must do is follow his Word and you will be saved.’
‘Yes, but there’s not much chance for that now, is there?’ Don says to him.
‘Your whole life has been a chance. Your entire life. All our generous Lord asks for is this one day of obedience.’
‘But what if I was ill today?’
‘It doesn’t matter,’ the man replies. ‘God is merciful. You only need to open your heart to the Lord and you will be saved. Do it now, for the Rapture could begin at any moment!’
‘No man knoweth the day nor the hour!’ someone shouts close by. The man with the placard turns to respond.
I do, Don thinks. Or the day at least. He assumes the Rapture will come at midnight to give people the chance to enjoy their last day, but it might not.
So what is he going to do?
Don goes to the park and walks up the hill that overlooks the city. Churches peek over the skyline. He sees the library, shops, lots of traffic and people. A billboard on the side of a building reads ‘Mankind: 4,000 BC–21st May 2011’. That makes him think. He’s pretty sure the Rapture is different from the end of the world, but the poster is probably close enough. He hopes that people who aren’t Raptured today don’t go to Hell. It’s funny that people over here are so enthusiastic about it, he thinks. Normally it’s more of an American thing.
The smell from a bakery drifts by and Don realises that he’s hungry. He’ll get something to eat and then… Well, who knows?
Don spends most of the day in the park, walking and sitting in the sun, watching people pass. He feeds the ducks and laughs. He feels like he’s in a film. Later on he watches the sunset. The bright colours in the sky fade to a soft red and then darkness.
He doesn’t want to go home after that, so he wanders around town. He might not go home at all. What is there at home? Whisky and photographs.
He finds himself outside the Queen’s Head and goes in. He sits next to a regular called Chris and tells him about the dream. Chris nods and offers to get Don a drink to celebrate the last night on Earth. Don takes up the offer and then buys a round himself.
After a while Don heads home. He still has a few hours left.
He reaches his house and all he can think about is how he wants another drink. He takes out his keys at the door but then remembers that he didn’t lock it. Someone has closed it, though. The bottle of 25-year-old malt is prominent in his mind as he goes inside.
Don expects to find all of his stuff taken but it’s still there, even the television. He goes into the kitchen and there are two guys, students by the look of it, helping themselves to his beer.
‘Oh, sorry man, is this your house?’ one asks.
‘Yeah, but it won’t be for long,’ Don replies.
‘Sorry,’ the student continues, ‘we thought you’d be off getting Raptured. Hope you don’t mind that we had a few of your beers.’
‘Not at all,’ Don says. ‘Pass me one, would you?’
They go into the sitting room. The students stand while Don sits in his armchair, then he tells them to sit down, too. ‘What are your names, guys?’
‘I’m David,’ says the more talkative one.
‘John,’ says the other.
‘Ha! Bible names. Are you friends of Paul?’ Don asks.
‘Paul Barning? Yeah. He said you were giving some stuff away.’
‘That’s right. Want a TV?’
‘Um, no thank you,’ David says.
‘Did Paul chicken out?’
‘Ha. Yeah, pretty much.’
Don can’t think of what to do to make the students less nervous. They probably thought this Rapture business was a bit of a laugh and now that they’d found someone who was taking it seriously they didn’t know what to do. Or maybe they were just scared he’d call the police.
‘Help yourselves to another beer, guys.’
They do and after a few false starts Don manages to get a conversation going. They talk about football for a while.
‘So what do you do if the Rapture doesn’t happen?’ David asks. ‘You’re lucky you didn’t sell your house. I heard that some people did that.’
Don shrugs and finishes his beer. He goes to get another from the kitchen, leaving David and John to exchange glances behind his back. He comes back with his beer and points to a photo on the mantelpiece. ‘That’s my wife,’ he says.
‘Oh?’ John says.
‘She doesn’t approve of drinking but this is the one time she’ll forgive me, don’t you think?’
‘Sure she would.’
‘I had a dream about the Rapture,’ Don says, sitting down. He tells them what he told Paul and Chris earlier. The students nod and John stands up.
‘We had better go, but thanks for the beer,’ he says.
‘Wait,’ Don says. ‘How about a toast to our last day?’
‘Er, sure,’ David replies.
Don goes over to the cabinet in the corner of the room and takes out the 25-year-old scotch and three glasses. He pours a generous amount in each.
‘This looks like expensive stuff,’ John says, admiring the colour of the whisky. It glimmers a hopeful gold.
‘It is.’ Don raises his glass and the students do the same. ‘To our last chance,’ he says.
‘To our last chance,’ David and John say, and they all drink.
The students leave after that. ‘Are you sure you don’t want a TV?’ Don asks.
‘No thanks, really,’ they say, pity in their eyes.
Don is left alone. He leaves the front door open and pours the whisky from the students’ glasses into his own. Then he sits in his armchair and waits. He looks out of the window and at the photographs on the mantelpiece. The stars are clear outside. One of the photographs shows his wife holding a camera and smiling. There are a pile of her photograph albums in the corner of the room and more upstairs. Another photo shows her with Don on their wedding day, outside a local church.
Don sips his whisky and waits. It’s eleven o’clock. The whisky is good, well worth the money.
Don wonders what she thinks of this Rapture business. She won’t believe those people in the street. Apparently a guy in America made the prediction, but he’s been wrong before. The only religious fellow she really liked was that local priest, what was his name? Don thought he was alright; he went to the Queen’s Head sometimes.
What does she think of his dream? She trusts him. Aren’t there lots of prophetic dreams in the Bible?
It’s twenty-five past eleven. Don gets up. He refills his glass and puts the bottle on the table beside his chair, then turns out the light and sits back down. He doesn’t move for a while. Everything is still and dark. After a few minutes he goes into the kitchen. He turns on the light and looks at the calendar. ‘Rapture’ and today’s date.
It’s really happening. It’s really now. The last chance for everything. He takes a sip of whisky but doesn’t feel it. He feels unreal except for an overpowering anticipation. Oh God it’s really going to happen. He looks at his watch.
His hand is trembling. He sits back down but can’t stay still. He stops himself getting up even though he wants to turn off the kitchen light. It’s distracting. So is the breeze coming through the open front door.
He stands up and paces the room, whisky in hand. He realises that this is the last time he’ll see his house. He turns the lights on and walks round the other rooms. He looks at everything one last time: the untidy bathroom, the under-stocked kitchen, the bedroom, where the bed sheets are only rumpled on one side.
He sits on the bed and takes everything in. Her things and his. It’s overwhelming. He loses track of time. When he comes back to himself he looks at his watch.
He feels faint. Is it the right thing to do, to stake everything on one hope like this? One dream? He gets up and goes into the bathroom.
When he goes back into the sitting room he puts his last glass of whisky and a tumbler filled with round white pills on the table. He turns out the lights and waits for the ones in the sky to start. That’s how he imagines it happening.
Two minutes to go.
Whatever happens he’ll see her tonight.
He settles back in his chair and waits.
- Today (lemonmachine.wordpress.com)