Mists and mellow fruitfulness
The days are growing shorter, leaves are falling and seasonal melancholy fills the air. Walking my neighbour’s fat dog has given me the opportunity to see the best of autumn in one of our local parks. The maple tree opposite my office window has put on its autumn suit – maple leaves become a glorious colour at this time of year, before they fall victim to wind and frost and block the local drains – and it’s indirectly influenced one item in my recent spate of short story writing, albeit with an urban not rural setting…
The Fall of a Jam Sandwich
The raspberry jam sandwich flew from the window of the seventeenth floor of the tower block and accelerated downwards. Clamour arose from its point of takeoff: voices raised in altercation, impacts of fists and hard objects on soft flesh, cries of protest.
Martha stared across the grey cityscape from her fifteenth floor window, curlers and headscarf in place, unlit end of rollup cigarette absorbing her cherry lipstick. The jam sandwich, she noted, was different from the usual run of passing objects – pigeons, rubbish, suicides – and in consequence more interesting. Its course was vertically downwards, in which regard it resembled suicides and rubbish, but it belonged to neither category: it hadn’t made a voluntary decision to leap into space and it wasn’t intended for the bin.
“Warburton’s Danish bread,” she decided, “white sliced.” Her eye for detail was sharp. “Probably from the Co-op. But from what I can see of the raspberry jam it’s more upmarket. Marks and Spencer, or Waitrose? I’d need a closer look.”
However, before Martha could investigate, the sandwich passed below her field of view, so she relit her cigarette and resumed her study of clouds. The sunlit array of cirrocumulus was a delight to the knowing eye, and to Martha’s.
Alf looked out of his grimy thirteenth-floor window and felt unlucky. A perfectly edible-looking jam sandwich was passing him by. Why did good fortune always elude him? Why didn’t it fall into his lap, the way it did to rich people? But then, he reflected, if a jam sandwich fell into his lap it would make a mess of the designer jeans he’d stolen from Hanif’s clothes shop six weeks earlier and had been wearing night and day ever since, and that would never do. On reflection, the sandwich was better left to its fate.
From the eleventh floor, Abdul gazed out upon the foetid morning. As was his wont he’d been counting the numbers of stabbings and car thefts per hour within his range of vision, recording the data in his stolen notebook. He was less curious than his more elevated neighbours about the falling jam sandwich’s fate or the provenance of its constituents, but he was intrigued by its aerodynamics. Assuming that the butty had fallen far enough to reach terminal velocity, assuming negligible air currents and negligible changes of mass caused by evaporation from the jam, and using the accepted value for the acceleration due to gravity close to sea level, he scribbled a calculation on the back of his new red gas bill, derived a value for the air resistance of the plummeting snack, and wrote it down. It was a surprisingly high number. Abdul began to speculate on the possibility of fabricating parachutes from jam sandwiches, but another stabbing in an alley far below caught his attention and he added the incident to his collection: date, time, location, number and type of assailants, and apparent age, colour and sex of victim. By the time he returned to his thoughts about parachutes the sandwich was below his line of vision, air resistance notwithstanding.
On the ninth floor, Horace the gastronome polished his spectacles and glared at the passing sandwich. Someone, he observed, had used Lurpak butter instead of margarine derived from sunflower oil, and to compound the felony they’d spread it unevenly between soggy slices of white bread and added a sugar-rich filling. Some people knew nothing of essential unsaturated fatty acids, he reflected, or of taste. And why was the sandwich in mid air? Shouldn’t it be on a plate? Horace watched a disorderly regiment of herring gulls tear open the black bin bags beside the car park and fly away with tasty morsels of garbage. He shook his head and returned to his critical scrutiny of daytime television.
Jasper’s kids, aged seven, six, five, four, three and two, huddling in various states of undress beside their seventh floor window, erupted into squeals of grubby excitement and unhygienic dancing. “Pa!” they yelled. “Pa, look, a jam sandwich! There’s a jam sandwich going past! Can we have it?” Their joy and exaltation awakened Jasper from his alcoholic slumber, and voicing pain and fury he stumbled from his tangle of unwashed bedding and proceeded to batter his progeny with his tattooed fists. His intention was to silence them, but in this regard he failed. He was sure he was a good father, but his offspring had been out of control ever since their mother had died of the overdose and the kicking.
Down on the third floor, Dorabella was more certain than Martha about the source of the jam: assuredly Waitrose. She asked herself who would spread Waitrose raspberry jam on cheap white bread from the Co-op that had already been smeared with even cheaper margarine, or maybe soft easy-to-spread butter, and under what circumstances they might do so, and why they’d thrown the resulting sandwich out of the window. She supplied no answers. Instead, she deployed spoon, flame and needle and settled down to enjoy her latest tenner deal from Abdul. Abdul had many customers in the tower.
Gabriel stared from his window on the first floor, saw the falling sandwich and burst out laughing. Then he started to cry. He’d laughed and cried at almost everything for eight weeks, ever since the gang had stabbed his wife to death in the car park. He knew a jam sandwich wasn’t worth crying over but he couldn’t stop himself.
On the path beneath the tower block, Satan the pit bull terrier asked no questions, offered no observations or conjectures, didn’t laugh and didn’t cry. But he looked, saw and reacted. The raspberry jam sandwich didn’t reach the ground.
One for reciting at open mic sessions rather than sending to a magazine, I think, but we shall see. The other four stories I’ve written recently are very different – from this one, and from each other. Maybe it’s something about the time of year, but it’s almost twelve months since I was last in the frame of mind for short-story-writing; and maybe, as I suggested earlier, it was falling leaves that turned my mind to the image of a falling sandwich and generated a story in which the protagonist is a city tower block.
Different, I suppose.