Wednesday, 16 May 2012

'Umbrella' by Stephen Shieber

He stumbles to the door, hung-over and late. Outside, rain pelts the concrete. Turning his face to the sodden sky, he curses the day and receives a mouthful of water in answer. Something draws his eye to his neighbour's doorstep.  The answer to his prayers perches like a sulky crow on the white step.
They're a perfect fit, him and the umbrella. He allows himself a smug moment as he passes waterlogged joggers and dog owners.
Let him be sacked. He's worth more than his manager will ever admit.
He wants initiative? Here he is with the initiative to appropriate the umbrella, its shiny ferrule and generous canopy.
If necessary, he can find another job.
He's last to the bus stop and it almost leaves without him, while he wrestles the umbrella back into submission.  Finally folded, he tucks it under his arm, its metal ribs digging into his side.  At the back of the top deck he snarls at it to behave.
Wilting at his displeasure, the umbrella leaves him free to massage his temples and compose an appeal to his manager's better nature.
By the time they reach town, the deluge is no more than a gentle shower.  He decides to dawdle the two blocks to work without the umbrella's protection. The wretched thing has other ideas.
The canopy explodes from its restraint, almost taking his eye out.
Recovering, he spots a bin and decides to dump the thing, but he can't slip his wrist out of the constricting strap.
Arriving pink and breathless, he's buzzed straight up to his manager's office. On the way  he repeatedly thumbs the release button, but the umbrella ignores him.
He tries bluffing, but his manager takes one look at the insistent umbrella and fires him.
Fifteen minutes later, he's back where he started.  As he walks down the path of the flat he can no longer afford, the nylon strap releases him and he rubs his scuffed wrist.
He knocks on his neighbour's door, ready to confess his short-lived theft. This'll be the first time in six months that they've met.
The guy appears, unshaven, with haunted eyes. He reluctantly accepts the umbrella. 'You needn't have.'
'No, I really had to.'
A knowledgeable look passes between them.
'Unemployed?'
They nod to each other and look at the umbrella. Anyone sane would say it can't shrug, but both men swear it does.

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