April 28, 2014

The Anguish of Anxiety - A Swedish Short Story

The prompt for this one was unusual. We were given a list of characters/objects [a nervous teacher, a coal miner with twin daughters, a discredited physicist, an unused musical instrument, a kaleidoscope (etc.)] and a list of places [A broken-down playground, a small-town zoo, a box, a frozen foods factory, a secret underwater lab etc.] ... we had to pick 2 from each list and write a story based on that where Character A tells some sort of confession / conversation about their past to Character B. As usual, we have a 2 page cut-off [roughly 600 words]. 

I got some very confused responses as to where it was taking place- though I hoped it was obvious, in case you are not familiar with the cultural references (names, places, food, inclusion of fathers in assumptions of stay-at-home parenting, language, & even preferred mode of transportation ... I thought this would be enough clues to capture the cultural context but I guess not). It takes place in Sweden.  Enjoy! 

The Anguish of Anxiety
As I sit down at the blue picnic table in the schoolyard, a breeze begins to blow. It pushes against the rusty old swing-set and makes it creak eerily. I was already feeling anxious but the cries of the metal in the wind and the sight of the playground, normally so full of cheerful little bodies throwing balls, sharing secrets, and living without worries, all of it is gone right now. I am done for the day. 
The bell rang nearly an hour ago permitting the children to run into their mother’s and father’s open arms, waving their art projects about, vying for their parent’s attention and affection. By now they would probably be at home enjoying a warm plate of fish and knäckebröd- crispy rye crackers. Wherever they are, throughout the village, the children and their parents, they do not know what I do. They live with smiles and perfect contentment, never knowing the danger I have brought to their quiet little town. Yes, me, Ana Nelson, the local kindergarten teacher- the innocuous-looking, pale woman with thick blonde braids with a past darker than a winter night.
Today, like every day, I smiled, concealing my anguish, and waved to the other teachers as they mount their bikes and disperse in every direction. They don’t know either. Nobody knows but me and Mikel, the little kaleidoscope I keep in my pocket. 
            I reach my hand deep into the pocket of my heavy coat and produce him. As I wipe some smudges off his side I whisper to him softly “They’ll be coming for us.” Mikel does not respond. “I don’t know who will come first but they will definitely be coming.” And nobody will be safe.
            With one eye squeezed shut I peer into my friend and companion, little Mikel. He was a gift from Mormor, the mother of my mother, who told me it possessed both the deepest and simplest of all magic. In a sense this was not entirely untrue, Mikel, could brighten any day. As I look into the little metal tube, I give it a twist, trying to distract myself from my overwhelming thoughts. The tiny shapes dance around inside. It is beautiful and reminds me of the Northern Lights, but today it gives me no comfort so I set it down beside me on the children’s blue table.
            “I’m sorry, Mikel. This whole mess was my fault and now I’m dragging you into it too.” The wind blows and sends a shiver down my spine. “When I took that research job I thought we were going to Stockholm, maybe even London, or Prague. I had no idea there was even such a thing as aquatic subterranean research facilities.” The wind blows harder. Mikel moves across the table, silent and ignoring me, he even rolls over to face the opposite direction.
            Why were we even there? I thought it was just a tech-company. They are known for the controversial testing but what could be so secretive that the researchers themselves are forbidden from leaving on threat of death? Would they really kill me? Just for leaving?
            “Ignore me all you want, Mikel. When they find us I’ll make sure you end up as scrap metal” I tell the little metal object harshly. What if they come for me during class? When I am with the children? When I am sleeping? When I am in the grocery store? Or in the bathroom? Or doing dishes? Or folding laundry?... What about the people in town? Will they be safe? Oh, God! They don’t even know.

“Perhaps we should just go back.” Mikel shines in agreement. 

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