Dylan woke with jackhammers pounding in his head and a tongue so furry it felt like it needed waxing. "Last time," he croaked, rolling onto his back and resolving to quit drinking again or, at least, to stop bingeing. He stared up at the low ceiling of his studio apartment and replayed the office drinks.
Mum's up first, though she doesn't like looking at her reflection nowadays. She splashes her face and turns away from me with a towel. Over her shoulder, I watch Mum gaze out the bathroom window. And when she turns back, Mum's wearing her pained expression again, like she's failed to solve the riddle of life.
Jennifer swivelled her chair away from the laptop and stared at the lights receding into the distance beyond the high-rise office window. Her eyes had welled up reading Stephen's unexpected emailed demand, and she reached for a tissue to dab at the tears. "Twenty years," Jennifer exhaled softly, wiping her eyes.
Handcuffed in the police car, I wished the lamp hadn't been magical. "That, sir, is a genuine antique," the stallholder had asserted when I'd stopped and inspected it at the secondhand market. The oil lamp looked like a prop from Disney's Aladdin. And I thought it would polish up and earn me a tidy profit.
Eighty is the new fifty, or so I'm told. But my back wasn't this dodgy when I was fifty, and my knees lasted longer than a circuit of the park with the dog before seizing up. And I wasn't caught short so often that I needed to memorise the location of the nearest public toilet for emergency pit stops!
"Are we there yet?" Milly whines from the back seat. "I'm bored," adds Tyler. "Oh, for goodness sake!" I snap, eyeballing the pair in the rear vision mirror. "It's only been two hours." Kids nowadays! The drive has been smooth and fast compared to the narrow, windy roads of my childhood family holidays.
I dread mornings like these when Facebook floods my timeline memories with posts and photos of Jas and the kids. On social media, we're still a happy family. And in the real world, I live alone and only see the kids on weekends. But that's not Facebook's fault. It's just an algorithm.
This story begins at the end. But my time spent observing your planet has taught me humans like to process events and information in an orderly, if not entirely predictable, sequence. So forget the first sentence, and I'll serve you a linear tale. Just don't skip to the end and spoil it.
You know what it's like when you lose something. It's always in the last place you look. So I write down all the possible places the lost thing could be and work through the list in reverse order. But how do you find a lost hour? It's not like it can slip down the back of a sofa like coins or keys!
It's 1997. I'm fifteen, and Dad's delivering another lecture on my poor prospects: "If you carry on like this, son, you'll end up in prison." I won't admit it, but he may have a point. Because today on the drive home after catching me shoplifting again, the local cop issued a "last warning".
I stare at the blank screen. The words aren't flowing onto the keyboard. Should I enter a working title? Or perhaps outline my plot and characters? Writer's block. Help! I tweet the writing community. "Take a break," is the first response. "We've all been there," reassures a published writer.