Tag Archives: fiction


‘They saw the rain before they heard it and they heard it before they felt it and when it reached them it fell in hard sheets.’ You can read Second Lake now on Litro.

Litro are publishing another short story of mine, Second Lake.

I visited the titular second lake while travelling through Alberta, Canada. It was stunningly beautiful, its reflection so clear and crisp. It captured my imagination in such a way that I wrote a story about it later on my trip. I remember writing it in a hostel in Medellín, Colombia.

This was about two and a half years ago. I had almost forgotten about it, until Litro got in touch a few weeks back asking to publish it.

You can read it on Litro’s site here.


It’s been a long time since I’ve updated this site (Christ – nearly a year). In all honesty it comes pretty far down the list of my priorities now. I’m not even writing anywhere near as much as I would like, but I’m hoping to change that in the coming months.

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‘Can you remember exactly what you saw in the woods?’ You can read Lübeck now on Litro.

But I thought I’d pop by and mention that another piece of my work has been published online. Last week, Litro published a piece of my work (titled Lübeck) as part of their ‘Flash Friday’ updates. Litro are a well- respected publisher based in the UK, who focus on giving voices to great and original fiction. 

Lübeck is a (very) short and experimental piece of prose. It’s a scattered crime noir, from the stream of consciousness of a delirious paranoiac. Inspired loosely by Roberto Bolańo’s Antwerp, Lübeck is a very different style of writing for me, but I enjoyed writing it and I’m delighted that it has been picked up by Litro.

You can read it on Litro’s site here.


In January of this year my short story ‘Post Youth’ was published by Thoughtful Dog. Some months later I was contacted by Dorothy Reno, a senior editor and columnist for the Washington Independent Review of Books (you can find out more about Dorothy’s work here) who also had a story published by Thoughtful Dog back in 2017, the powerful Hockey Stick Feminism. Dorothy enjoyed my story and asked if I would be willing to answer some questions about it. I was flattered and jumped at the opportunity to discuss the piece in more detail.

Unfortunately we couldn’t find a home for the interview, but I thought I would share the conversation here. I certainly enjoyed returning to this particular character and his troubled world, and I’d like to thank Dorothy for her time and her engaging, thought-provoking questions.

post youth

Dorothy Reno: Your story opens with a powerful dream sequence. The protagonist, Bill, is a war veteran and small-town mailman who journeys back in his psyche every night to visit the farmhouse where he grew up.

You write, ‘Youth was a grand farmhouse on a hill, surrounded by fields of long grass and crops that spread in every direction for miles around…’.

For Bill, it seems that youth represents an endless supply of opportunity, like those crops spreading out across the land. He wants to go back to a time before he harvested his hope and youthful energy. Why is he having so much difficulty recognising the opportunities in his life at present?

Nicholas J. Parr: Bill isn’t happy with his life right now, probably hasn’t been for quite some time. He went to fight in a war and he survived, but the experience undoubtedly changed him. For whatever reason he couldn’t handle life in the city, so he moved to a smaller town. This is where we encounter Bill. He seems settled in this new community, he enjoys his job, he has a local bar with at least one friend in Tom. Yet Bill still isn’t happy.

Even if the dreams are a recent manifestation, these constant thoughts to his youth have surely been on Bill’s mind for a while. If Bill hasn’t been truly happy since his childhood – those simpler times he recalls at the farmhouse – it’s easy to see why these memories might dominate his present-day thoughts, actions, and now dreams. Bill is stuck in the past.

The present hosts an abundance of new challenges and difficulties for Bill, and it’s easier for him to go through the motions of his day-to-day life, almost on autopilot as he delivers the mail, not thinking about what happens next, instead continually looking backwards. That makes it incredibly difficult for him to move on and grasp these ‘opportunities’.

DR: The old farmhouse in Bill’s dream has the feel of being burglarized or left in a hurry by the occupants. You write that Bill is a ‘twilight wanderer shambling towards the house’. To me this conjured an image of Bill as a zombie and gave a sense of helplessness to his stumbling journey through the dream.

NJP: That’s a really interesting thought. The sense of helplessness in the dream, with your image of Bill as a zombie, mirrors Bill’s sense of helplessness in his life. I think Bill wants to see the farmhouse in his dream as the warm and welcoming home from his childhood, rather than the derelict and abandoned building he experiences. Even through the medium of his own dreams he is unable to change these details and is a passenger in his dreamworld. I see parallels with anxiety dreams, the kind of dreams where, as the dreamer, you find yourself in an uncomfortable or frightening situation where no matter what you try, you are unable to stop something from happening. For example, trying to get to a meeting that you are already late for, but in your path you find locked doors, dead-ended corridors, people giving you the wrong directions over and over again, that sort of thing. And like a shambling zombie that is mindless and unable to change its own fate, Bill shambles through his dream and his life with resigned acceptance.

DR: In the middle section of the story, Bill delivers mail to a home and finds the occupant in shock over his wife’s death. Bill assists the old man, but the next day the old man says he can’t bear to see him anymore. Bill is the (literal) messenger who gets ‘shot’, so to speak. Why do you suppose people reject their helpers?

NJP: I think there are a number of reasons. Some people can be proud, and would rather handle their problems alone, in their own time, in their own way. Others see accepting help as a sign of weakness. And rejecting help can also be a way of remaining in denial, because to accept such help would be an admission that something is wrong.

The latter could be the case here. We encounter the old man sat in the rain. He says his wife died yesterday yet he has done nothing as a reaction to this news – the dead woman is still sat in her chair. The old man is in shock, he doesn’t want to accept what has happened. So when Bill arrives and calls the ambulance, he is forced to face reality, that his wife is gone and he is alone now. Maybe he resents Bill for that.

Or it could simpler. The old man just doesn’t want to pay for the local paper anymore. Perhaps he never cared for it, only ordered it because his wife liked to do the crosswords. Either way, you do feel that Bill is hit hard by the old man’s request.

DR: It seems that Bill is looking for a connection that can’t be sustained. First, he wakes up from his dream right before the pivotal moment. Then, he’s turned away by the old man, followed by a passage where Bill realizes that he and his sister don’t share the same memories of childhood. In the final scene he wants to connect with his friend, Tom, but he can’t because he’s too drunk.

These broken connections feel like a dark commentary on adult life. But it’s not all bleak. You write, ‘There was still something beautiful to be gained in the isolation, something beautiful hidden in the desolate ruins’. Is it too late for Bill to find that beauty?

NJP: I don’t think it’s too late for Bill to find some kind of happiness, but all these disjointed and broken connections you point out don’t bode well for him. They only contribute further to his sense of isolation. At least towards the end of his drunken conversation at the bar with Tom, Bill seems to acknowledge that some action, some decision will be needed soon. And Bill actually appears to gain some clarity in that final scene. At the very least, he seems to weigh up his options and possible consequences: Revisiting his childhood home, tracking down lost and distant relatives, getting some form of closure there. Or, if not that, then speaking to someone about his troubled and fragmented memories, not in an inebriated state under bar lights but with his sister, or a counsellor or therapist?

It’s left ambiguous, but I wouldn’t be hopeful. Bill agrees to have one last drink with Tom. Both men admit that drinking is contributing to memory loss, and promises and resolutions conceived late at night after too much whisky don’t tend to come to fruition, if they are even remembered come the morning.

DR: Bill fears that ‘He is old, irrelevant and fading out of existence.’ Is this his greatest fear, or is it, in fact, his heart’s desire? There are so many instances where it feels like Bill is leaning towards obliteration.

NJP: That’s a great point. These visions and memories Bill has of his childhood, of his youth, are bittersweet. Because he does remember those days warmly, the feelings the farmhouse evokes, the sense of family, being together, being happy. But the memories are fading with age, distorting with time, resulting in the dreams that torment him every night. I think his biggest fear is of these memories continuing to distort until they become unrecognisable, or losing the memories entirely.

But heading towards obliteration, his eventual death? Bill is probably apathetic about that. He encountered death early during the war and has carried his mortality with him all his life. He will keep living until he dies, it’s as simple as that for Bill. He’s a fatalist, he doesn’t see one’s path through life as something that can be changed. But his memories – he values those over everything, even his life.

Bill considers the implications of a return to the farmhouse, and his possible death, at the bar (‘to spend the rest of eternity discussing the past with dead relatives’). That might sound like a vision of hell for most, but we know Bill has a desire to return to and explore the past. If this is Bill’s idea of what death might bring, maybe he is leaning towards it.

DR: Bill has trouble interpreting his dreams. It seems to me that he can’t interpret his life, either. Do you think that is his real problem? Not war trauma, but the inability to extract meaning from his life?

NJP: It’s difficult to know whether Bill’s emotional disconnect is something that has always been a problem, or something that was exacerbated after experiencing war. But you’re right in that he has little meaning in his life. The problem could lie in the fact that he has always followed orders. Throughout his life he’s been told what to do, during his childhood, his time spent in the army, now in this small town. ‘They asked him what he could do.… They gave him parcels and packages to deliver’. Bill’s profession is chosen for him. Now that he is living independently, he has more time for inner thought and self-reflection, and that’s going to be difficult for Bill to adjust to.

DR: Bill thinks about nothing, while his friend, Tom, has many ideas he would like to express. Neither man is happy. Does this come back to lack of connection?

NJP: These two men both have different outlooks and different experiences and different troubles, and yet they both find some kind of solace in each other. But I wonder if Tom genuinely sees Bill as a friend or merely a drinking partner; someone who just happens to be there more often than not. That’s a sad thought. Clearly, they’ve spent enough time with each other to know about certain aspects of the other’s life. From their fractured conversations we can see that these two might not entirely understand each other, but Bill probably sees his relationship with Tom as one of the strongest connections in his life. He’s far more honest with Tom than he is with his sister, and while that may have more to do with the amount of liquor consumed, I don’t think his sister knows the extent of Bill’s tortured existence.

DR: I have the feeling that Bill could be trapped in one of those Joy Williams death fugues. Like, if he really goes back to find the house of his youth, as Tom suggests, he’ll have to admit that he’s a ghost, and then move forward into the afterlife. But then I thought perhaps this is too literal an interpretation and it’s more that he’s emotionally numb (because of PTSD) and the ‘afterlife’ is simply the rest of his life – whatever he can manage to make of it.

NJP: I find dead narrators fascinating. Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Páramo is a wonderful novel that takes place in a literal ghost town, and Roberto Bolaño’s short story ‘The Return’ also deals with a character waking up ‘on the other side’. But in this story, no, I don’t think Bill is dead, not yet. Although something in Bill might die if he does return to the farmhouse.

Bill doesn’t know if the farmhouse still exists. Maybe it’s been demolished. Or it sits there on the hilltop, abandoned and derelict, just like he sees in his dreams. That would hit Bill the hardest, because it confirms that all he has left of his youth are the tortured memories that he knows can’t last forever, and will die with him. But what if Bill returns, and the farmhouse has been given new life, occupied by a new family, lived in by a new generation? How might that make Bill feel? Might the dreams finally stop? If life has continued at the farmhouse, maybe life can continue for Bill too.

For what it’s worth, I think Bill should return to the farmhouse. Take some time off work, get on a plane. See if he can rope his sister or Tom along for a road trip.

Good news! My short story ‘Post Youth’ was selected to be part of Thoughtful Dog’s latest issue. You can read it HERE.


‘Post Youth’ follows a man plagued by dreams of his youth as he struggles to move through difficult times in later life. It’s a story I wrote roughly two years ago and to be honest, I had nearly forgotten about it. It had been rejected a few times so I’m delighted to have the chance to share it.

An online magazine, Thoughtful Dog publishes literary fiction and non-fiction inspired by the world around us. The current issue also contains fiction from Lauren Villa, Paul J. Laverty, and an interview with Leland Cheuk of 7.13 Books.

Please don’t hesitate to pass on any comments: I would love to hear any thoughts or feedback you might have.


Photograph by Marco Ferrarin, who captures a wonderful sense of space and being in his work. You can find more of Marco’s photography on his Flickr photostream here

He awakens – some realisation of consciousness, the beginnings of awareness of his surroundings and situation – at five thirty that morning, so says the clock on the wall. It’s exceptionally bright. A single, naked halogen bulb hangs from the ceiling and illuminates the white room, with white tiles and white walls and the small frame bed he climbs out of, withs its tangled sheets and covers, is white. Approaching the window and poking through the blinds, darkness still consumes the streets below. No moving vehicles, no street lamps, no slow rising sun, and only the white light of similar windows, bearing occupants rubbing weary eyes just like his, confirms he is still in the city and not banished in the night to a deserted, inhospitable moon.

The silence ebbs away in a series of subtle steps. First, the birds, singing. He hears them before he sees them. Not long after this the sky begins to turn a lighter shade of grey, with a dull orange glow to the east. This seems to signal activity within the building. Doors open and close, pipes and valves creak. He can hear running water in the room next to his. Voices and muffled laughter. The day appears to be picking up pace. He returns to the window and the streets are visible in the half-light of the morning. Far below large shapes drive through lanes and queue up on long pieces of concrete. Some begin to honk, a harsh, impatient tone, and the longer they wait the louder they honk. But they never go very far anyway.

He looks towards the clock. It is eight-thirty, which alarms him, without fully understanding why. He stands in front of a tall mirror. The hair on his head is tufted and needs washing, the hair on his face has grown and needs to be trimmed, he smells of sweat and he is still nude, so he walks into the bathroom and has a cold shower. The mirror now portrays him in a suit, hair slicked back, his face shaved and smooth. Before leaving he discovers a portable computer on his desk. A window informs him that he has received twenty seven emails overnight. He puts the computer into a case along with several other paper documents of varying importance, and walks out of his apartment.

The walk along the landing is a short one and he soon reaches the lobby of elevators, one of which will take him down to the ground floor. He is going to be late, he thinks, and is perspiring steadily, but is glad of a light breeze coming from above. Where did the morning go, he mutters to himself, as he punches the call button, and steps back to wait for the elevator’s ascension to his floor. But, that step back, that solitary step, rings out around the lobby, again and again, softly echoing away from him, further than he could have ever believed, as if he had dropped a stone down a well that had no bottom. What on earth, he wonders, and he looks upwards to what should be a low white ceiling.

Instead he discovers a void above him. A huge circular space with pulsating lights, flashing colours he has never seen before, leading ever upwards to a celestial platform. The incomprehensible scene defied all logic. Spatially it was impossible, and the colours and grandiose structure were at war with the white and traditional high-rise building he had thought he was standing in. The only concept of the void even remotely recognisable  was a staircase that wound up the inside of the chasm towards an unknown destination. Somewhere high above there was a churning, a low but powerful buzz that sounded like a generator, growled in trembling shudders that shook him to his core.

The elevator doors open with a chime. He looks around the lobby for anyone else who could bear witness to this, but he is alone. At eye level there was little perceptible different in the lobby, but he raised his eyes once more and the spiralling staircase lit up with foreign illuminations was still there. Gazing up in awe at the distant, surreal beauty of it, he stood for some time, several seconds or several hours, he couldn’t be sure. Something wanted him to ascend the staircase. The rhythmic pounding of the machinery above matched the beating of his own heart. He walked towards the beginning of a staircase, which fused perfectly to the tiles of the lobby. He grasped the banister – it was hot.

No, he said. I must get to work. He released the banister and the growling upstairs intensified. But he ignored it, walked back to the elevator, which had patiently waited for him. He was thinking how he could possibly explain this to the boss as he stepped through the doors, and by the time he realised there was no floor, and no elevator waiting for him, it was too late. The lift shaft was dark, and as he plummeted down the machine at the top of the staircase quietened to little more than a purr. From the top of the high-rise, an elevator began to descend to the ground floor. It was nine o’clock and there was work to do.

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2017.

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The crew are excited. She’s in the building, she’s on her way up now. She’s somehow famous, although I’m not familiar with her work. The presenters meet her first, show her around the studio, take her to the sofas. On her way past our eyes meet. What must she think of me?

We begin. Welcome, it’s a pleasure to have you. Oh please, the pleasure’s all mine. For those of us who don’t know who you are, why don’t you tell us a little about yourself? Oh, she’s so humble. She talks with such grace. And look at them. Lapping it up. Am I the only one? The real world. Did I see her smoking outside earlier? No.

The questions are fluff, her answers trite. She shines under the studio lights and her smile is hungry and white.

We lose sound for a second. We’re out of sync. But the world kept spinning and now we’re trying to catch up. In my ear, the director screams. What the fuck happened? I fix it, I always do. But she knows. She’s smiling, and she flicks her hair, and that smile, the danger it holds, that hair, those eyes, that smile.

She looks for me. Blame the soundman. She doesn’t find me immediately but she knows she will, and she does. When our eyes meet again I shudder. She’s talking, she’s carrying on, but she’s staring at me.There is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. And one by one, heads turn, and now I’m stood in front of an audience, all eyes on me. But not the camera lens.

The questions are fluff, her answers trite. She shines under the studio lights and her smile is hungry and white.

Goodness, she’s perfect.


Photograph by Lolo_. See more of his work on his Flickr Photostream.

When I was a kid I did not believe the sun could blind me so I used to stare at her for a few seconds at a time, perhaps I was aware of the risk but continued to do so regardless, acting out of juvenile defiance, a childish rebellion, I don’t remember it hurting too bad, just the intense fight against an impulse to shut my eyes, and it made my eyes sore but it also warmed them to such an extent that when I did shut my eyelids I felt that fantastic warmth for hours, and a blinding light continued on behind the screens of my eyelids, and when I could bear to open them again, the sky was dark, the sun was black, and all the buildings had turned white with blood coloured roofs and the streets were filled with cars and people stuttering in animated motion like lost footage found on an old videotape.

Last week I saw a blind man get on the bus. He dressed smartly and composed himself well but when he sat down in front of me I could see his eyes behind the thick glasses. They moved fast and frenzied and each time somebody walked past him I saw his pupils darting around the whites of his eyes, a panicked struggling for perception before they were swallowed whole and disappeared entirely and it made want to cry, what’s wrong with me, I thought to myself, but then he got off the bus, two stops before mine, and when he walked off I couldn’t see his eyes behind his glasses, and he suddenly looked very strong, very confident, and I forgot about him and started to roll a cigarette and smoked it after I got off the bus, but later I saw the pupil in that great white sea again, when I crossed the street outside the library, again when I met up with her later, again as I paid the bill, again in the taxi, again ascending the stairs to her apartment, again and again, deathly drunk, shouting at shadows.

Yesterday I found Davey at the bar again, it wasn’t long past midday, I told him I was worried for him, that drinking on a stool in the dark was not a healthy place to be, to which Davey said, You’re a liar if not a hypocrite, he told me, You have these ideas in your head about doing things a certain way and how one should live their life, like yours, to abide by a set of rules, but you don’t even know the rules yet, made up rules that change daily, not written down or even notionally figured out in your head, but you continue to live by them, and you quote memorised poetry and ancient texts, out of context, out of time, and this undefinable philosophy is a farce and a falsehood. You are, Davey said to me, more religious than you would like to think. Of course you would say that, I told him, You – a frustrated man of God – you know only the rules written by some unknown hand, so don’t speak of my rules, and don’t speak of my poetry, I told him, my poetry had more relevance than the verses you continually recite, and Davey said that it wasn’t about the verses, it had never been about the verses, and the fact I kept referring to the verses proved his point entirely. I can’t remember how that conversation ended, but we fought like that for a long time.

Yet here we are. Not friends, but not strangers, not tired of one another yet – but we are tired. David is slouched over the bar (he drinks a lot for a man of faith) and he begins to cry, and at the angle I was sitting I saw the whites of his eyes under the glimmer of tears, and I reach out to console him but I am further away than I had reckoned, and my hand feels detached and the room spins, all the while the waitress laughs at us and retreats into the kitchen to call us both a taxi home.

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2017.


Photograph by Branko Mikich. See more of his work on his Flickr Photostream.

Mostly the park looked the same. Patches of grass on wet dirt that captured loose plastic bags and sheets of old newspapers and the prints of its visitors. It was still found in the city centre on flat ground with a tall brick wall that ran along the entire perimeter, breaking only for rusted iron gates in each corner, ensuring the surrounding city did not encroach and swallow the space entirely. But the park seemed smaller than he remembered, and there were fewer trees now. Or maybe his memory had planted those trees, for now only one stood in their immediate vicinity, and it did not seem a native tree to him, and it looked unhealthy and rather grotesque, with leaves like wrinkled skin.

On every side of the park tall constructions dominated the skyline above the wall, concrete towers that rose up beyond and into the starless ceiling of cloud or smoke, and from that elevated position they observed the city-dwellers, the ambitious and the struggling, the violent and the meek, as if custodians of these people and in control of their ultimate fate. As dusk descended despairingly surreal scenes were taking place in the hundreds of windows, in the light of flickering television sets, the couple witnessed obscure art hanging on walls of peeling paper, couples kissing with passion and lust, athletic groups frozen in synchronised poses, and beyond balconies draped with items of clothing the silhouettes of rangy figures taking part in some ritualistic dance to the beat of unheard music.

She looked at his face and he was frowning. What’s wrong? she asked.
Nothing, he said. They walked slowly through the park together hand-in-hand, stopping occasionally to light a cigarette or take a photograph.
Is it how you remember?
He shrugged. It’s how I expected it but it’s not what I remember, no.
Did you live in one of these blocks?
No. Possibly. Most of them are new. But some were always here, they’ve just grown a little taller.
Do they think they can see us from up there?

The park became busier. A woman was throwing a ball for her dog to chase. A pair of students passed them on bicycles. Commuters, he assumed, given the time, were filtering through the gate nearest the station. At some point between afternoon and evening they realised it was brighter than it should have been. In each of the four corners of the park was a towering floodlight that spat a bright and artificial light across everything beneath. Because of the earlier rain the spotlights were creating a dazzling haze and everything beyond the walls seemed ethereal. The lights and the high-rise blocks had imprisoned the park and it no longer provided the escape it once had.

Do you think they can see us?
Yes, they can, if they want to, he replied, but I don’t think they are interested in what or who is down here.
I wonder what we look like to them?

Under these lights, everyone has four shadows. Look, she gestured, and walked in a circle. He watched, and where her feet touched the group, four shadows reached along the ground in different directions. It unsettled him. These floodlights, they are new, he told her. I find it too bright. When I was younger, they locked the park at night. He nearly told her why the park had been closed at night but it was not the right time and he kept that to himself.

What must we look like, he thought, as the dog, he wasn’t familiar with the breed, ran passed them, and as it did so it was limping heavily, and as it bounded after the ball it slipped and fell over in the dirt several times, and she chuckled to herself beside him and squeezed his arm tightly. Can we go? she whispered, I’m starting to get cold.

What must we look like to them, to the residents of the towers, to the commuters heading home, to the homeless, to the tourists, to other visitors like themselves. To the man sat by the main gate, asking for spare change, with a fentanyl patch on his arm and a severe opiate addiction. With his bloodshot eyes barely visible, the addict scratches at his facial hair, shuddering and shivering but continuing to smile, as he sees two barely human streaks on an otherwise bleak landscape approach him. One of them bends down to drop some coins into his hat, before walking out of the park without looking back.

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2017.


Image taken by Tyler Forest-Hauser, who captures stunning scenery in his native Canada. You can find more of Tyler’s work here.

“Whatever happened to the Italian girl you were with?”
“What Italian girl?”
“In Milan. After you broke up with Monica and left Paris – you told me about a girl you were seeing in Milan. Not for long, if I recall correctly.”
“Oh you mean Sofía. I met her in Milan but she was Colombian actually, and had lived in the South of France most of her life.”
“Oh I see. Did I meet her? I think I did. She had big brown eyes right?”
“She had brown eyes, but they weren’t particularly big. And you never visited me in Milan. You couldn’t get time off work. Or that’s the excuse you gave me. We last met briefly in New York before I came back here. Left or right?”
“Take a left. I swear I had been in Milan to see you. Must have been to see someone else, or for business. But then how did I know she had brown eyes?”
“I would have told you about her on the phone. Maybe I even sent you a photograph. I was pretty hot on her. I would have sent you something.”
“Maybe. Yes, I remember, you sent me a letter and there was a picture of her. She was hot, sure. So how long were you together for?”
“I don’t know. We were never really ‘together’ I guess. She was difficult to pin down. We spent a lot of time together, but she was still seeing other men.”
“And you weren’t seeing other women?”
“Well sure, I knew a couple of other girls out there, but with my writing I never had much time for the others. But I would always make time for Sofía.”
“So for how long?”
“It’s funny you thought she was Italian. Sofía was nothing like the Italian girls I spoke to. The Italian girls always seemed preoccupied with something else, whenever I tried to speak to them. They never kept eye contact.”
“Maybe they found you boring?”
“I thought that. I really did. But I’m not so sure.”
“Easy, I was joking man. Keep your eyes on the road.”
“No but I found something different about the Italian girls. And some of the other girls in Europe. Even with Monica, I never felt that close to her. Sofía was different. After knowing her I became aware of the stagnancy and decay in the city, and the misery of the people living there, whereas she, she was fresh. Sofía wasn’t afraid to stare at me.”
“So how long were you seeing her?”
“I guess two months. A little longer I suppose. I met her in my first week in the city. She was at a bar where I was reading some of my poetry. It was a Thursday night and there weren’t many people around. She came with a friend who had heard of me, had read my work.”
“And Sofía, was she a fan of yours? Is that how it started?”
“Not exactly. She approached me at the end of the night and said she wasn’t a big reader and she certainly didn’t know much about poetry, but she enjoyed what I had read and would like to hear more. I never really found out if she was really interested in my poetry or was just flirting.”
“Did you mind?”
“About what?”
“Keep your eyes on the road, man. About whether she was interested in your poetry or not.”
“No. Maybe she did like my work on that night, or maybe she just used it to start a conversation. I never asked – after a few dates I did not care.”
“Did she put out straight away?”
“She invited me back to her apartment after our second date. But I wasn’t chasing sex with her. I just wanted to spend more time with her. I wanted to know more about her. She had a knack of captivating me, of holding my attention, without really saying much. She would tell me about her work, her friends, her thoughts on films and music, and to anybody listening in on our conversations they might think them normal discussions – normal questions and normal answers. But it was what she chose not to say – what she chose to leave out – that fascinated me. Like there was something going on behind the scenes. Do you know what I mean?”
“Not really. You thought she was hiding something from you?”
“No, no. Nothing like that. Or perhaps a little.”
“You were in love with this girl weren’t you?”
“I don’t know. Can you fall in love with someone you don’t fully understand? The more I tried the more distant she would get. She didn’t sleep much and sometimes I would wake up in the night and the glare of the television would be flickering in the living room, and I would get up and she would be sat there watching late night shows with the sound off. I never asked her why she did that. I decided I didn’t want to know.”
“You haven’t changed. You just ramble. This is why I don’t read your poetry.”
“You can’t read any poetry.”
“Fuck off. So? What happened between the two of you?”
“She went cold. Or missing. Just disappeared. She wasn’t at her apartment anymore, she had moved out when I asked her neighbour, and she wouldn’t answer her phone. I used to try every day, then I tried every week, then every other week. Then I just kind of gave up.”
“Strange. Sorry, man. ”
“Don’t be. It was easier that way. She arrived in a fog and she left in a fog. Any other exit would not have suited her. And besides, we barely knew each other, so what do I have to moan about? This place looks familiar. Are we close?”
“Oh yeah. we’re pretty much here. Slow down, it’s just around this bend.”

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2017.



Photography by Andrea Di Giola, an Italian photographer who achieves a wonderful sense of scale in his work. Find more of his work on his Facebook page, and his Flickr page

“I write for a new age spiritual magazine. Spiritual”, I emphasised, “not religious. Although honestly there isn’t a great deal of difference anymore. Change through positive thinking and all that bullshit. We cover similar themes, probably target the same demographic.”
“Is there still appeal for that kind of thing?” She spoke with interest but her eyes were looking elsewhere.
“I don’t really care. I get paid either way.”

The fog in the town was bizarre. It arrived the day before I did. There was no wind to shift it and no temperature change to dissipate it, but to linger for the time it did was puzzling. When I recall that first week, I remember uncertainty and a vague apprehension; all life muffled and still, a vacuum. There was nothing to talk about but there was nothing else to talk about. I held a few token, informal interviews with locals at bars, in shops, but they gave me little – all amicable, all distracted – I could get nothing out of them. Studying maps of the town and reading articles on the internet I put together a file. But after a few days I grew bored and began walking the town, unable to see further than three feet in front of me. Cars rolled past slowly with full beams gliding through. In the mist it could have been anywhere in the world.

“I can’t make an objective judgement of this place while it is covered. I’ll stay until the fog clears. They say it can’t stick around for much longer; it’s a meteorological anomaly.”
“Your article. Will it be ready?” Far away the editor spoke.
“It’ll be done when it’s done. Besides no one is waiting for it.” But the call cut out and I’m not sure he heard me.

The days grew long or the nights short, under dull illumination of street lights that appeared miles above the sidewalks like uninterested stationary spacecraft. A disillusioned creator observing a malfunctioning purgatory. I saw little to suggest there was anything wrong with this town, but looking back, the fog was the only thing I and the people of the town spoke about in those initial weeks. It’s all we saw. Looking out of every window would yield the exact same view. A grey wall in slow but constant motion, motives unknown.

Nothing rose above the blanket of fog but for the tallest fir trees, and the spire of the Catholic church on the hill. The spire invisible to those on the ground, those on the ground invisible to the spire. Forgotten or otherwise gone. The fog had simply masked the problems of the town, because nothing could continue until it left. The usual problems with the drugs, the unemployment, the high crime, the social tensions, all of these things were put on hold. As if for a time they were all the same, the townsfolk, all in the same standing, one of shared uncertainty.

One night in the spire at the top of the church I stood with the reverend and we conversed about religion and the fading influence of the church in present times. He was tired and spoke with little enthusiasm and told me that it was not so much that the church was weaker, but that the faith of the people, in these trying times, was at an all time low. Lacking faith in the economy, faith in justice, faith in political manifestos. Faith in one another.

We looked out across a grey sea and I saw the stars for the first time in months. Beneath the veil, headlights from speeding cars outlined the routes in and out of the town. Sometimes it looked like all the cars were travelling in the same direction, out and away, escaping from the town as the centre around us became darker.
I asked him when he believed the fog would clear.
“What makes you think it ever will?”

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2016