Issue #74

Spring 2020

Five Stories

by Ian Seed


We've been waiting for ages. The bus to the railway station must be late. The transparent plastic bag I have with me is full to the brim with souvenirs and gifts my daughter and I have bought from our trip up the mountain. I can't help worrying it will burst when I lift it onto the bus.

'When will the bus arrive?' my daughter wants to know.

'Soon,' I say, wondering now if we've missed it. To cheer her up, I point to the top of the mountain: 'Look, there's a patch of snow with the sun shining on it.'

'It'll be dark before long,' she murmurs.

A youth with a big grin walks across the road towards us. 'You've got a lot in your bag,' he says, and takes the Alpine hat sticking out of the top.

'Hey!' I say and reach out to snatch it back, but he's too quick for me.

A few yards down the pavement, he puts the hat on and eyes himself up in a shop window, tilting his head to one side.

'Yes, that'll do,' he says.



The professor taught me how to spot and collect different kinds of seaweed. I'd never realised just how beautiful and fascinating they were. My daughter felt the same way, but she kept her distance from the professor because she was worried he might exploit her interest to give her a series of experiments to carry out.

At the end of the beach were some elegant Victorian toilets. I was so overawed by the grandeur of the urinals that I found it impossible to take a piss. I stood there in silence, while the professor, muttering to himself, went into one of the enormous cubicles. I heard him undo his belt buckle, lower the toilet seat, and then the rustle of his trousers as he sat down.

Outside there were wreaths of mist over the barely-moving sea.

'Isn't it lovely!' I said to my daughter, while we waited for the professor. She nodded, a faraway look in her eye.



For the historical fiction workshop, one of my students brought in a prose poem. She'd also made a beef-and-radish sandwich for me to try, and wanted to know if it represented food of the era in which her poem was set. All the ingredients are genuine, I said, but I feel it needs a little more salt, or perhaps pepper, since that's the healthier option, but then again, I added, perhaps that's simply because my taste buds have become spoilt over time. The workshop always took place in an old, rather beautiful room, which had once been part of a vicarage. The students sat on chairs with folding tables set out in a horseshoe shape. The ceiling was so ancient that sometimes it leaked, and I would find myself talking to my students through the rain.



When the father dropped me off with my daughter's friend, I asked how much I owed towards petrol.

'Oh, nothing,' he muttered, hauling out my suitcase from the boot.

'Oh, come on,' I said, 'I must owe you something. I'm a father myself and know how much time and money can be spent giving my daughter and her friends lifts everywhere.'

'All right, let's say £7.50.' He was gruff and easy, the way a father should be, it occurred to me.

I counted out the change and gave it to him, but when I saw the coins in his open hand – which was so big my own hand could have easily fitted into it – I realised I had given him too much, yet it would have been churlish on my part to ask for some of it back, for he didn't even glance at the coins, but just closed his hand over them.

It struck me what a generous man he was, unlike his son, who had once worked with me in an office in Italy and had a reputation for being mean. But as I remembered this, I felt nostalgic for the son's company, and immediately regretted the meanness of my thought.

The father dropped us off at a place convenient for my daughter's friend, somewhere by a lake in the Italian Alps. In reality, I realised, I was no nearer home than I had been before the offer of a lift, and I had no idea in which direction to take my next step.



I ended up in Norway with my letter of petition. Years before I had suffered an injustice, which I had written about in great detail, though I could no longer remember how much of it was true, how much mere storytelling.

I arrived early at the Ministry of Justice, but there was already a long queue of people with their own petitions. By the end of the day it had hardly diminished. I was about to leave, when the woman behind me said she had happened to catch a glimpse of the first page of my letter and that my case was sure to get a lot of attention.

Perhaps she was only trying to take advantage of me, but looking at her, it occurred to me that the women of Norway were very beautiful. Yet no one ever talked about them back home – the women in Sweden were much more famous. But that was perhaps for other reasons and I preferred the softer, blurrier look of the Norwegians.

Author Bio

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Ian Seed is a regular contributor to The Cafe Irreal. His books of small fictions and prose poems include New York Hotel (2018), Identity Papers (2016) and Makers of Empty Dreams (2014), all from Shearsman. His long short stories include Italian Lessons (LikeThisPress, 2017) and Amore Mio (Flax, 2011). Work has appeared in a number of anthologies, including The Valley Press Anthology of Prose Poetry (2019), The Best Small Fictions 2017 (Braddock Avenue Books) and The Forward Book of Poetry 2017 (Faber & Faber). He lectures at the University of Chester in the UK.

Our commentary on the first two volumes of his trilogy -- Identity Papers and Makers of Empty Dreams -- was the final entry in Our 2018 Year of Reading at the Irreal Cafe.