I wrote this for the flash slam at Charleston last week. The title was given so I had to go with it. Needless to say, since the competition I’ve had half a dozen better ideas for shovel-themed stories. But I haven’t been writing much recently – I’ve been reading. Anyway, here you are.
I had the most pure moment of my life on that staircase. I’m not entirely sure what I mean by that. But I know it’s true. If she were here now I know she’d tell it better than I can. But she’s not. So I’ll try.
Tuesdays were double science last thing. Bates – smelly breath, a tendency to burp mid-sentence. And her beside me – brown hair, thick, heavy, looked like it would run over the heel of my hand. And I spent every stuttering second of the classroom clock imagining how I might tell her. I got an E in science – in the end – but that really didn’t matter as much as the staircase – the staircase and the shovel.
November. Tuesday November 12th. I’d missed the deadline for the coursework and Bates had kept me back to say what a pity. What a pity I would never be anything worth being. She was outside the door. I thought she was waiting to see him for some reason. But no. She took my hand and led me down the long corridor, latticed with flexes from the cleaners hoovers, dotted with mop buckets. To the main staircase. No-one was about up here – just us in the failing grey light.
She was taking the stairs two at a time and I was tripping, asking half-questions, trying not to lose her hand. On the bend in the staircase the trophy cabinet was draped with a white dust sheet. They were doing some repair work – flimsy, plastic strip to mark off the danger zone – one of those creepy baths to mix cement in. And a heavy shovel, dotted with clumps of dry cement – the wooden handle black from years of sweating palms.
She reached for it, handed it to me, pulled the white sheet from the trophy cabinet. The glass was very clean, clear, like someone had wiped it down before they covered it up. Inside, the deep cups, the shields like breastplates of armour – gleaming achievement. I bobbed the shovel in the air as she nodded, slow and sure. I swung and she gasped – a proper loud gasp that I picked out from the thumping in my head, in the tiny moment before the shovel hit.