Creative Writing, Venue

I Remember Cruelty


She began the slow shuffle to the counter. Her timid feet dragged beneath her. Hands clawed in silent pain, she forced a meek smile over gritted teeth. 

“Yes, hello dear, I’ve come to… I’m here to…I’m terribly sorry, I can’t seem to remember why I came here. I…”

“This is a post office, not a dementia ward. You’re holding up the queue. Next!” With a dejected “oh”, she made for the exit. As she stood in the doorway, a cold winter breeze biting at her narrow ankles, her brow furrowed, and her eyes closed for a brief moment. 

Her silk robes billowed as she marched down the aisle. Her shoes, catching the light of the chandelier above, beat a war-drum rhythm as she walked. She came to a stop by a small wooden desk, covered in files. Shoulders reaching for the room’s tall ceiling, she snapped her head to the solitary figure before her. 

“Apologies for my delay, your Honour. The press outside were simply rabid. I am ready to begin.” In turn, the man before her dipped his head slowly, his lips curled in a knowing smile. This was the dance they had perfected over several court cases. The dramatic entry, her first words a proud lie, and his tacit approval. But the dance was over, and the court case was to begin. “We are gathered here today…”

A car blasted its horn, and the fleeting scene gave way to the present. Under darkened skies, galloping pedestrians dodged the oncoming squalls by diving into nearby shops. As one sped past her, their swinging satchel caught her hip. Her body was flung backwards, twisting towards the counter. She staggered, then caught herself. Her knee exploded into scalding agony, her mouth smarting into a grimace. She made for the counter, eyes glaring over the golden rims of her spectacles. 

“I’m with a customer right now…” A caustic smirk rippled across his gaunt face, chin tilted forwards in unbridled contempt. With a loud sigh, his eyes rolled mockingly. 

“Well, to be frank, dear, I don’t give a shit”. The silence, once clinging to every surface like a film of thick dust, scattered into the dark recesses of the shop. The shop filled with a conspiratorial mumble. 

“Excuse me, who do you think…” His voice had risen to a nasal shriek. As the Perspex partition steamed up with his nervous breathing, she put her purse down neatly, then brought her half-closed fists down on the counter. Though he would later claim it was the chair, everyone in the queue knew the high-pitched squeak was his. 

“No, I still don’t remember why I came here. But I’ll tell you what I do remember.” She took in a sharp breath, and continued. “I remember a life well lived. I remember friendships, even if the faces and names escape me. I remember pride and joy, the fleeting visits of celebration. I remember landscapes and smells and random melodies. But do you want to know what else I remember?” His lips parted in an attempt to reply, cut short by a glimpse of her glare. “I remember cruelty. I have lived long enough to know it’s not just in the law courts or shackled in the cells. It’s in the small things too. It’s in everyday gestures. The unreturned smile, the avoided eye contact, the unsent invitation, a lonely Christmas. And you have been rather cruel. Now, I will return soon. When I do, I hope you’ll afford me patience over cruelty. Otherwise we’ll have to have another of these conversations. Perhaps I’ll ask your manager to join us.”

Snatching her purse, she turned effortlessly on her heels and marched past the crowd of customers. The raindrops collected like small jewels on the steamed lenses of her glasses. Her coat, once limp as it hung from her stopped frame, danced in the wind behind her. Whether she remembered this tomorrow or not, she did not care. Today was enough. 

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July 2021
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