Destiny craved stillness, but it was the one thing she could never have. She had to move on. How could she not?
She stayed in guest houses when there was money, and on friends’ sofas when there wasn’t. Strangers’ floors, when there were no friends. She practised fugue states; an untethering of mind from body that let her rest, at least for a while. When she could get to the coast she would sleep on the beach, at least until she was discovered and made to move on once more.
“Watch the tide, love,” an old man advised her. He had natural white hair and artificial white teeth, and he smiled with abandon. “Sweep you away if you’re not watching, it will.”
But even when she closed her eyes, the waves never reached her.
She met a girl called Heather in a pub in Blackpool, or maybe Brighton, and fell in love.
Heather was seventeen and beautiful, full of fire. “I’m going to L.A,” she said. “Hollywood. That’s where you have to be, if you’re going to make it. And I am. I know that, sure as I know anything.”
Destiny hugged her, rested her cheek on warm brown skin and inhaled sweet citrus shampoo. It wasn’t going to happen, she knew. Sure as she knew anything, and she knew so much.
“They’re all beautiful in L.A,” she said. “They’re all full of fire. It burns too bright, too blinding, and no-one will see you. You’ll be left alone in the dark, lost. Failure tastes like heroin and the scurrying of rats.”
Heather cried, and Destiny fled in the middle of the night. She hadn’t meant to be cruel, but sometimes it happened that way.
She watched a band play fiercely in a tiny Soho nightclub, as if indifference could be fought with passion and volume. She told them her name was Tina and hitched a ride into a town she didn’t know.
She cut her hair with nail scissors and covered her skin with tattoos of serpents and secrets. She pretended she’d been born in 1977 and then wondered if she even knew how to lie. She loved the band like they were her brothers, and left them behind to save them from herself.
She met a mother in a supermarket and she was young, so impossibly young. Destiny wondered when it was that she’d got old, or if she’d always been that way and had simply never noticed.
The mother carried a newborn in her arms and panic in her eyes. “I’m so scared,” she said.
“We all are,” Destiny told her.
She fell in love with the child, unformed but impervious. “Don’t worry,” she told the mother. “You can’t get this wrong.”
“I wish I could believe you,” the mother said. “Can I ask, do you still talk to your mother? Do you see her? Do you love her?”
“All the time,” Destiny replied. “Would you like me to stay with you for a while? I can, if you want. Although you don’t need me.”
The mother clutched her hand. The baby cried, a peremptory squall. Destiny smiled. “They understand, at that age. It’s only later that it all gets forgotten.”
They walked out of the shop together, and Destiny carried the child. She helped the mother put him into a safety seat in a shiny scarlet mini.
“Do you want a lift?” the mother asked. “I can take you somewhere, if you’d like.”
“Thank you. That’s kind of you.”
Destiny got in the car. If she closed her eyes, it felt like the wheels weren’t moving at all.
“Where shall I drop you off?” the mother asked.
“It doesn’t matter,” Destiny said. “It never did.”
She got out of the car in the grounds of a hospital, sprawling but sturdy. She walked into the Accident and Emergency department and sat down on a vacant plastic chair.
“Have you registered?” an old man asked her. “You have to log yourself in with the boy at the front, or they won’t put you in the system. If they don’t put you in the system you can’t get anywhere.”
“It’s all right,” Destiny said. “I’m not in a hurry.”
The old man squinted at her. “Do I know you?”
“Yes. I think I loved you, once.”
He nodded. “I thought so.”
They sat together, watching people come and go. “Are we going to die?” he asked her.
She reached for his hand and squeezed. “We’re all going to die,” she said.
Michelle Ann King writes science fiction, fantasy and horror from her kitchen table in Essex, England. She has worked as a mortgage underwriter, supermarket cashier, makeup artist, tarot reader and insurance claims handler before having the good fortune to be able to write full-time. The first two volumes in her Transient Tales series of short stories are now available, and details can be found at www.transientcactus.co.uk.
This story is sponsored by
Nine Romantic Stories — Carla Sarett’s “well-crafted” and “witty” stories offer romance deconstructed, tinged with metaphysics and Hollywood-style charm. EDF Readers: use coupon BB76W for .99 price.