I clock out and sit in the car, smoke a cigarette with the window down, waiting for the five o’clock wave of traffic to ease. There’s only one way out of the industrial estate and it bottlenecks every time. We’re bumper to bumper all the way to the motorway which pulls us like a slow tide; sluggishly we flow into the first lane, some try to break out into the middle, I wait, my indicator clicking in sync with the windscreen wipers as the first flecks of rain fall. The matrix sign flashes up 40 and we grimace at the irony. There must be a hundred people here, together, alone together in our worlds, eyes forward, inching slowly on. Maybe even listening to the same song, the same station, both synced and separate. It’s then that I see them, the gulls, circling high up to the East, a half mile from the barrier, above something of interest behind high walls. Probably a land fill site. They circle and caw, pull and lift, swirling like a whirlpool in the grey of the sky, it’s a scruffy kind of beauty, like scratches in tin. They are held together by something, an invisible tether, and I wonder what holds them, draws them, spins them in this cloud. Like us, inching through our own existence, alone together. Now and then the sun that has already set throws dying rays like an afterthought this way. There will be a rainbow somewhere, I should look for it in the mirrors. A red hue seeps across the clouds and now and then a yellow flash paints the underwing of the birds, gilding them, they shimmer like pearl as they spin, a shoal, and I wonder if they have ever seen the sea.
Ian O’Brien writes and teaches in Manchester, UK. His fiction can be found online and in print in magazines such as Fictive Dream, Prole, Neon, Flash Fiction Magazine and Storgy. You can find him on Twitter at @OB1Ian
Image via Pixabay