Arts Fiction

Out of time

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(Image by Ketut Subiyant | Pexels)

This short story is an *IA Writing Competition (creative work category) entry.

He paused the podcast on The Essence of Well-being on his mobile phone, unclipped his cleats and dismounted the bicycle to check his workout on the Strava app: a 33.87-kilometre ride with an elevation gain of 98.1 metres, an average pace of 23 min/km and an energy burn of 1159.1 kilocalories.

He had shaved 12 seconds off his personal best and his heart recovery rate was well within the set limit. He nodded to himself and sent the results to his training peers, noting, as usual, that he was the first to complete the predawn cycling session.

Changed and ready to swim, he closed his eyes and stretched his upper body as the bright orange upper lip of the morning sun slowly opened on the horizon, fading the "morning star" – Venus – and slowly repainting the sea an emerging blue.

He checked his watch and noted the sunrise was on time as he entered the gently crashing surf and methodically swam across the cove and back. With his back to the now open-mouthed yellow smile of the sun, he exited the ocean, checked in the swim on his phone, sent the results and closed his eyes for three minutes of deep breathing and speed meditation.

He checked his watch and pursed his lips.

Showered, shaved and suited up, he sat before his measured portion of organic muesli topped with half a sliced banana,  20 fresh blueberries and 200 mls of skimmed milk — all portions entered into the wellness app.

With the early morning sun now twirling oranges and yellows amongst the clouds and streaking silver over the ocean, he consumed his breakfast on the balcony and studied the overnight movements on Wall Street from his laptop.

After flashing to his own share portfolio, he noted a 3% gain in his personally researched, selected speculative small-cap stock and increased the holding by 4%. He took in a deep breath of the fresh morning and smugly noted he was outperforming the Standard and Poor's 500 Index by 1.3%.

He checked the reliability of the blue sky and generous warmth of the morning sun against the weather app and decided against his hand-knitted cashmere pullover. Taking the 73 steps at a moderate pace to his car, he decided that to enter this effort on his exercise app would be excessive.

With the satellite navigation set for the coffee shop – and with a focus on traffic updates – he pressed play on his selected topics newsfeed, filtered from Facebook and momentarily contemplated the issues of his world.

He texted ahead his order of a skimmed-milk regular latte and a piece of wholemeal toast with Vegemite by voice command, thus avoiding the congestion on Reality Road. He arrived two minutes late to his preferred park, 22 metres from the coffee shop.

He flashed his phone for payment, sat down, studied his screen and tapped out three texts before the order arrived.

Reassured his coffee was served in his prearranged keep-cup for matching environmental and expediency reasons, he scraped the Vegemite to the edges of the toast, opened his laptop and dealt with the emails.

To his left, he had his iPad opened at the sudoku and completed it in record time. He could now focus on the cryptic crossword, vainglorious in the knowledge both puzzles kept his mind sharp for his busy schedule.

He checked his watch again and sighed.

His phone buzzed and in a machine-gun-fire voice, he dealt with the problem in earshot of all cafe patrons.

He crossed to the laptop, now late to the Zoom meeting. He made his apologies and issued random orders. He sipped his coffee. His phone beeped and he flicked off another text message and returned to the crossword.

His 11.00 am appointment arrived at 11.10 am.

The usual greetings.

‘I’m very busy.' 

How busy?' she inquired.

‘Like, really busy. I haven’t stopped.’

They both flashed up graphs on their laptops. 

'I seem to be always busy,' he said to no one in particular.

Oh, before we start. This last clue in this cryptic crossword has me stumped: an eight-letter word, the clue is "cranium on a Richard" and it starts with "D".

She caught his reflection in the side window and raised an eyebrow.

He stated:

‘Aahhhh... too obscure. I’m out of time anyway.' 

His phone rang and his iPad beeped.

John Longhurst is a former industrial advocate and political adviser. He currently works as an English and History teacher on the South Coast of NSW.

* Full IA Writing Competition details HERE.

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This short story is an *IA Writing Competition (creative work category) entry.  
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