All Stories, General Fiction

Of Empty and Sliding by Thao Nguyen

You tap left but the phone doesn’t register. Touchscreen gloves aren’t so touchy after all. Instead, the story slides onto the next one, the one on the right, which glowed orange and black like hot molten metal. There’s a silhouette of a kangaroo.

“Australia’s ablaze. Every donation helps.” So is America, you think. And the Amazon. You think setting things on fire is also a political statement. You don’t have enough money to help all of them. You don’t have enough heart to later hear that your donation won’t really amount to much. What’s burnt is, well – burnt.

You tap left again, hoping this time it’ll work. It does and you give the street a cursory glance, even though you know it’s empty. It’s Sunday morning so even as the sun’s up in the sky, the streets are pleasantly and uninterruptedly yours. People get to enjoy their mornings in, and you get to enjoy your solitude.

There’s a petit breakfast café down the street that you want to visit – they make the best avocado toast you can find within walking distance, and they always open early. It’ll go beautifully with a flat white.

You’re hungry today, and you’ve decided to forget about the 16/8 diet. It’s part of your new year’s resolution – embrace enjoyment. Eat what you feel like when you feel like it – the only check you need is the opinion of your stomach. If it growls and is genuinely hungry – eat. If it’s quiet and your mouth just wants something to chew on – maybe don’t eat. Then again, maybe do, because then you’ll feel good. You haven’t really figured it out yet.

That reminds you, you should probably shop. You know it’s not difficult to make your own avocado toast and flat white at home – there are so many recipes that you’ve saved, you’ve just never gotten around to buying all four or five of the ingredients that are required. It’s just you don’t know when else you’ll use chili flakes.

This is the story. It’s empty and pitch black, save for an emotionless white smile in the centre. No nose, just blank eyes and a stretched mouth. There’s nothing for you to even examine, which is good, because that’s the other resolution that you have for this year. You’re not here to read between the lines, at least not forever. You’re not here to wait for some signs. You got tired of waiting so you broke it off.

You keep walking, but deserted streets are all the same. Every turn takes you back to another hollow lane, every swipe takes you to a story already told. It’s either black, a Billie Eilish song, someone bidding animal products adieu to save the planet, or things ablaze. Like these crisscrossing ghostly streets, through which you just keep drifting. You let the stories slide by until the last one, and the screen drops.

At which point, the phone is already on the ground and you’re eerily accompanied. Someone’s headlight had crashed against your thigh. You look up as the buildings and streets slide sideways; it’s as if the car hit the world and not you. Just now, out of the corner of your eye, you saw the frayed threads of your unhemmed trousers sweep themselves forwards, like damsels in distress. You feel cold – a little too late. There’s this restlessness, because your bones are collapsing into your stomach, and to untangle yourself you have to do something. Something like pacing around a room, or crying, aloud. You probably want to verify that there’s still some sense, since your eardrums have been mangled by the echo of a screech. You feel deaf – a little too late.

There isn’t really any pain, just a host of other emotions. You’re hungry, but all you can taste is bitter burnt toast; you’re inexplicably awake, so wide awake that your eyes are leaking water – maybe you don’t need that flat white after all. Isn’t it an awfully lonely day – probably because the streets are empty? But then again, this one is not empty, because now there’s a car on you. The story’s slid by, it’s passed – you’re under the car and on the street, a little like hummus slathered under ripe tomato slices and on multigrain toast. Next to you, the screen of your phone blinks with a video on how to make vegan mac and cheese. Non-dairy cheese doesn’t sound very convincing to you, but you suppose it doesn’t really matter now.


Thao Nguyen

Image by Matvevna from Pixabay

5 thoughts on “Of Empty and Sliding by Thao Nguyen”

  1. The day began well, but quickly slid into trouble. Indeed, the fires in Australia are bad, world issues vs. immediate issues like crossing the street. I like the black humour style ending.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Thao,
    I think it takes a brave writer to take on anything bleak.
    Harrison has already mentioned the ending and I did enjoy the idea of what was there didn’t really matter.
    There was an excellent tone all the way through this and the voice was constant.

    Liked by 1 person

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