Isle of Man

The world was all lapis lazuli and gold on the morning that I first thought of myself as a unit of production, a barcode. Of little more substance than the sickly smiling photopass that swung by a balding string from my belt. It was an epiphany, the first of many. I turned over possibilities in my mind. A strikingly handsome woman boarded my bus and sat down next to me. Her wild curly hair was the colour of fire and earth, her eyes exclamations. I half turned and scanned the empty seats to express an irritation I didn’t altogether feel.

“Georgie,” she said in a quiet low singsong that was either Scottish or Manx. She offered her hand. Her overalls, though they were white and spotlessly clean, stank roundly of sheep, unpleasant, but without the spiky acid highs of, say, a Roquefort cheese.

“Parsley,” I said. We shook hands. Her grip was warm. “My name is Douglas Parsley.” I showed her my pass by way of introduction. “Of the flat leaf variety, nowadays,” I said indicating the diminishing vigour of my hairline. “Though in my younger days, back when this likeness was captured in plastic you’ll notice I hailed from the curly side of the species.” I auto-laughed at my own joke, an infuriating high warble that I’d never managed to train despite countless hours of practice. “Ah, to be young and foolish again!” I added. She studied my pass, looked up at me.

“Interesting,” she said. “Do you always talk like that?”

“Like what?”

“As though discussion were a formula.” I frowned at that and considered sulking but I could see that no malice was intended. An uncomfortable silence ensued. The bus moved. Outside the windows life continued. I realised she expected an answer.

“I don’t think so,” I said.

“Oh good,” she said. She smiled brightly. I smiled back. She said “Do you have a job?” I raised an eyebrow and glanced again at my pass. Underneath my photograph and the insipid corporate logo was printed my name, the start date of my employment and the words, Credit Controller.

“I do,” I said.

“And what do you do?” She said.

“I work in credit control,” I said. “I’m a Credit Controller.”

“How lovely,” she said.

“You?”

“I farm.”

“Of course you do,” I said. I bestowed an oily smile.

“…I do,” she said.

“No, I mean, I know you do. It’s kind of obvious.”

“Oh,” she said. “The smell?” I hesitated, then nodded. She said, “Sorry. It’s the fat from their fleeces. The sheep. Gets everywhere. But I save a fortune in moisturiser.” We sat in silence for a while. I mulled this over, wondering if the zero sum effluvia of my world had permeated my pores and clothing so thoroughly. Formula?

“Nae bother,” I said. We looked out of the windows. I wanted to ask what a farmer was doing on a rush hour bus, or what would make her the happiest woman who ever lived. I wished I could ask why she had sat next to me, or even if she’d like to have dinner with me sometime. Instead I opened my mouth and bleated, “So, are sheep as stupid as everyone says?” Her look reconfigured me. Something light and unfathomable retreated beneath her shining skin. She stood and made her way to the door, turning before she stepped off of the bus and out of my life.

“No more than the rest of us,” she said.

At work I couldn’t settle.

The next day, a Friday, I deleted a cell from an important spreadsheet. It calmed me fleetingly.

At the weekend I filled my bicycle panniers with accumulated frippery, adornments, bits of junk and nonsense, and took them to the dump. When I got back I did it again, and later again. The calm space within me grew a little. On the following Thursday, a week after I met her, I amended a carefully crafted lookup on a suite of spreadsheets, rendering them all but useless. The next day I deleted the spreadsheets themselves, and then the backups. I donated my collection of novelty stress toys to my colleagues and quietly cleared my desk, dotting pens and packets of sticky notes in discrete caches around the office. Three weeks after Georgie I stopped going to work. I no longer had any work to do and besides, I needed the time to organise the sale of my furniture. It was another week before anyone noticed my absence. In the evenings I stripped my tiny flat of anything I could do without. I cut a dreary Kandinsky print from a frame and replaced it with my corporate pass, hanging it in pride of place above the empty fireplace. I sold my bed. A month after we met I could fit my belongings into a holdall. I felt lighter than air.

At night I left the windows wide open unafraid of burglars. When the last of my stuff was gone I curled up on the floor and slept undisturbed. It might have been days. When I awoke the world was all lapis lazuli and gold. I wondered briefly if I had died, and surprised myself that I wouldn’t mind if I had. But I must be alive, I thought. You’re only dead when you stop surprising yourself. I felt like walking and never looking back.

A knock at the front door got me to my feet. Through the open window drifted the wholesome stink of sheep. Behind the frosted glass sunlight sparkled on a cascade of flame red hair.


30 Responses to “Isle of Man”

  • marc nash Says:

    So many wonderful lines in this. Deleting a cell from the spreadsheet fleetingly calmed him – loved that. He ‘bleated’ while talking to a sheep farmer.

    Wonderful, playful fun. But I do hope as he reinvents himself, he also sorts out his patter with the ladies, cos he is rank cheesy man!

    marc

  • Deanna Schrayer Says:

    Epiphany indeed! Brilliant use of language Simon, and it flows so well, (unsurprisingly). Love that last line!

  • Jessica Rosen Says:

    “… her eyes exclamation points.” Gorgeous mastery of language, turns of phrase and voice. It’s always a pleasure to read your work. Such a gift. Thank you.

    Take care,
    Jess

  • mazzz_in_Leeds Says:

    Loved the deletion of the spreadsheets (and the backups too, wonderfully final!)

    “You’re only dead when you stop surprising yourself.” I love this. So true.

  • Laurita Says:

    skillfully and playfully written. This was my first of the day. I’m glad. It put me in just the right mood.

  • Laura Eno Says:

    Wonderful sentiments here and I always love your writing. I would like to follow in his footsteps. Maybe one day I will.

  • John Wiswell Says:

    You certainly have the gift of illuminated lines.

  • Tony Noland Says:

    I think the fact that the guy felt it necessary to auto-laugh at his own joke was extremely telling.

    Free of all the shackles of his former life, he too can go off and smell of sheep.

    Beautiful and insightful piece, Simon.

  • Christian Bell Says:

    Well written! As others have indicated already, exceptional use of language.

  • Lou Says:

    Yes, yes, your use of language is always sublime. But it is what flows underneath that is even more impressive. You point to things in a way that makes me see with such clarity, and that is one of the many reasons I love your work.

    Here you have captured the abstraction of the abstractions of modern life so perfectly. The humor is a wonderful release valve, but then you are right back into the teeth of it. I fear for us if we don’t listen to stories like this, if we allow ourselves to become lost in objects and badges, if we forget what it is like to dig our hands into the dirt, to smell it and feel it, and maybe even plant a seed.

  • Lou Says:

    Sorry, me again. 😉

    I posted before adding that the line about surprising ourselves is so on the money. It always amazes me how many people are going through the motions day after day without even realizing how deep into the rut they have gotten.

  • Anne Tyler Lord Says:

    I loved so many lines, and also loved “you’re only dead when you stop surprising yourself.” Everything was so poetic, lyrical, magical, and beautifully written.

    I was really excited before I started reading because of the title – Isle of Man. That is where my father’s family lived for a few generations (after England and before immigrating to the US.)

    You are such a master – I’ve been amazed by your work since the first story I read!

  • Cascade Lily Says:

    Hehe. Loved the spreadsheet miscreance 🙂

    And the contrast with the sheep farmer and the credit controller. I have days where I realise what I work so hard on, year in, year out, is meaningless in the grand scheme of life. I would be better off growing vegetables and chickens – at least that’s productive!

    One small niggle? You could delete ‘that’ from the first line and it would flow more smoothly. But again, that niggle is meaningless in an otherwise smooth, lyrical story. Well done and thank you 🙂

  • Aislinn O'Connor Says:

    Beautiful – and set in a place I love, too! Delightfully understated, which lets the emotion shine through. OK, so I’m an unashamed romantic, but I so totally love the ending – this one’s made my day :–)

  • Linda Says:

    Wow. Everyone dreams of chucking it all for some higher purpose or higher person. So much to love here: the people as stupid as sheep, the rebellion of deleting an excel sheet, the flaming read hair, the courage in this man. Bravo. Peace…

  • Cathy Olliffe Says:

    She came to him because he had lost himself to a stultifying corporate culture. By freeing himself of all his ritual trappings, he was ready for her and she arrived. An angel in white overalls smelly strongly of sheep.
    Simon?
    Do you ever have an off week?

  • Virginia Moffatt Says:

    Lots of great images here, the colour of gold and lapis lazuli, the flaming red, repeated at the end. Love her “eyes exclamations” & “you’re only dead when you stop surprising yourself”.
    Also love the move from being a bar code through deleting spreadsheets, to being possessionless and ready for love.

    Great stuff as ever.

  • ~Tim Says:

    This is a beautiful mix of fantasy and dystopia. And apparently I need to ride the bus more.

  • danpowell Says:

    Lovely stuff as usual. I love the sense of him reclaiming himself by ditching the things that clutter his life.

  • Gracie Says:

    He escaped. There’s still hope for the rest of us. It’s the first piece of yours I’ve read, and it’s delightful. Makes me want to read more.
    Beautiful imagery and well written. Thanks for this.

  • PJ Kaiser Says:

    I’m on an endless quest to declutter and so this really hit home with me. It is incredibly freeing when you loosen your hold on possessions. It frees up your mind and spirit to focus on what matters. There were too many perfect lines in this piece to enumerate, so i’ll just say that i adored it 🙂

  • Marisa Birns Says:

    Even if not physically so, living a life without surprising oneself often is death – to the soul.

    You know you are a wordsmith and a wonderful storyteller.

    Put them together and you get a piece of writing as beautiful as this one.

  • Mark Kerstetter Says:

    I second the admiration shown for your skills, but all that is so much filler without the warmth of your humanity beneath.

  • Josie @safetycomfort Says:

    Loved this, Simon, thank you, and your language and descriptions, especially the contrasts in your first sentence. It’s beautifully crafted. I’m celebrating the escape, the return to nature, the shining spiritedness of Georgie, and the deletion of the one single cell as the beginning of the escape.

  • peggy Says:

    you transported me and made me jealous of someone that can let go.

    Loved the fantasy feel. Fantastic imagery too.

  • jane CUff Says:

    I loved this Simon!

    The simple, chance meeting. A connection between two strangers that normally ends, but on this occasion continues.
    What I love about your Flash fictions is that I can always imagine you turning them into a fantastic book.

  • GP Ching Says:

    I’m a big fan of the path less traveled and bucking the corporate machine. I read this one twice. Loved it. The writing was flawless as always.

  • DJ Kirkby Says:

    Totally beautiful, beyond words kind of beautiful. Loved the ending most of all. Perhaps I’m biased though as I am a female Douglas Parsley. Did you intend for Douglas to have so many Aspergian traits?

  • teresa Says:

    another inspiring and beautiful story Simon… I love the drama, that you narrate so gently and yet powerfully. One of my favourite bits – Instead I opened my mouth and bleated, “So, are sheep as stupid as everyone says?” Her look reconfigured me. Something light and unfathomable retreated beneath her shining skin. Comical and yet metaphysical at the same time. And thanks for a glorious ending!

  • Linda Says:

    Boy! Where ARE you? I know you’re doing this marathon/triathalon stuff, but I miss your words. Hope all is well. peace…

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