1

Stranger Daise


I'm not so indifferent – it's just a trick of the light.

Like how blades are always possible to find,

in sharp words and time.

I've spent twenty-six years with no progress to tell.

For you I showed I was staying –

and I meant it as well.


Consciousness came slowly, a gradual awakening of each individual sense as sleep receded from the daylight.

In that semi-awake state sensations are registered, but not understood. There was a wet snuffling sound repeating in the background, and an odd cascading noise followed each of his ungainly movements. He was sure he wasn't in his bed, nor was he in a pose of full recline. For some reason his left arm hurt, and his neck was unusually stiff.

As the functions of his brain were slowly restored to full power, he reasoned that he must have fallen asleep in his beanbag chair like the idiot he was. It certainly wouldn't be the first time he had done so, and it would explain his sitting position and the rustling. It did not, however, account for the stabbing pain in his left arm or the snuffling. Reluctantly, he decided that his best course of action would be to open his eyes, usually a last resort on the chance he was hungover.

Sunbeams from the window stabbed into the back of his brain as his eyelids slid apart, but he bravely pressed onward and allowed his eyes to focus. Though his vision was blurred by sleep he still managed to identify his familiar surroundings. He was, as he had correctly surmised, in his beanbag chair, slumped in front of the television. Now all he had to do was look to his left and figure out the rest of the mystery.

His neck gave a tremendous crack when he turned it to look down at his left arm and he winced. He felt like he had just lost a vertebrae – the beanbag chair had not been kind to his body. His gaze travelled downwards, and the sight that greeted him brought the events of the previous day crashing back through his mind.

In the course of forty-eight hours he had nearly lost his flat and his closest friends. It had been a near thing to snatch victory from the gaping maw of defeat, but they had done it. True, he had lost yet another girlfriend, (a fact that had kept any real feeling of contentment from coming back over him) but what he had gained was the sense that everything was going to work out. If that was all he had to show for the frenzied efforts of yesterday, then it was more than good enough. It was too early to say whether things were going to get even better. He'd settle for the re-establishment of the status quo.

The amount of drool Daisy was depositing on the front of his shirt hinted that they safely back on the path to normalcy.

Carefully, he extracted his arm from behind her limp figure and bit the inside of his cheek as sensation returned to the limb in the form of stabbing pain. He flexed his fingers, trying to restore the blood flow. Daisy snorted loudly into his chest but didn't wake. He didn't begrudge anyone their sleep, but he really needed to stretch out and change his shirt.

"Daisy," he murmured to her, gripping her shoulder and shaking her gently. "Daise."

"Wha-?" Daisy gurgled, jerking upright.

"We fell asleep in front of the telly," he told her. "Sorry to wake you, but I couldn't feel my arm."

"Oh, Tim," Daisy said, wiping her mouth. She looked around, blinking as she came fully awake. "What time is it?"

Tim looked up at the clock over Daisy's shoulder. "About eleven."

There was a moment of awkward silence as they both took stock of how different the current morning was from the previous. A sudden reversal of fortune had turned back the time and left them where they had started. In retrospect, it all seemed a bit unreal. They met each other's eyes.

"All right?" Tim said slowly.

"All right," Daisy replied.

"You sleep well?"

"Fine," Daisy nodded, and then chuckled a little uncomfortably. "Had some weird dreams – thought I was back at the station for some reason, you know. Weird."

"Yeah, weird." Tim eyed her. "Any regrets?"

"Well, I'll probably miss the money," Daisy said thoughtfully, "but I'd miss living here even more. It's almost scary how much everything nearly changed, isn't it?"

"Yeah, well, not everything is the same as it was." Tim grunted as he pushed himself out of the beanbag and stood on wobbly legs.

"Is Sophie gone, then?" Daisy asked carefully.

"She's in America by now."

"Oh." Daisy said nothing for a long few seconds before letting out a hesitant, "I'm sorry..."

"It's all right." Tim shrugged dismissively, as if it were that easy. He walked over towards his bedroom. "I'll get over it, like I did before."

Tim pushed open the door to his bedroom, and, as he stepped inside, he heard Daisy say something that sounded a lot like, "I hope not like you did before."

Okay, he thought while he changed his clothes, so maybe he hadn't handled the breakup with Sarah as well as he might have. But he was a little older now (just a little!) and, with any luck, slightly wiser. Being single wasn't such a burden. He still had all of his friends, after all, and, taking the whole damn mess into account, he could have been in a far worse situation.

He tried to think, 'be happy for what you have' but nearly gagged on the platitude, feeling a kind of natural revulsion towards cliché that brought to mind an unwelcome memory of Daisy snogging the paper boy (he had a brace). Some things were just too stupid to swallow. He'd accept the mellow mood he was in and leave it at that.

When he stepped out of his room, Daisy's door was closed, so he moved towards the kitchen area with the intent of finding something to eat. Rummaging through the cupboards turned up a few stale bags of crisps and a box of toaster pastries that were probably still good. If not, he might or might not live to regret eating them. He pushed aside the crisps and caught a glimpse of reflected light from the dim back corners of the storage space. All this time later and he was still finding pieces of fucking tin foil, shiny remnants of a failed house warming party.

Still... Instead of annoying him, he took an odd comfort in the crinkled metal bits. They were a beacon to a time when Daisy was still simply a friend, barely more than an acquaintance. The Tim of that party didn't know the relationship he had embarked on. And if he were honest with himself, maybe he still didn't.

He shook off his contemplations and popped a couple of pastries into the toaster. Leaning against the counter, he waited for them to be done. A knock at the door pulled him from his forthcoming food, and he went to answer it.

Outside in the hallway Mike stood in full camouflage regalia, cradling a large assault rifle in his arms. "Morning, Tim," he greeted Tim cheerfully.

"Oh, Christ," Tim sighed, looking down at the rifle. There was one immediate explanation that popped into mind as to why Mike was in such a good mood. "What or who did you shoot? Did you apologise?"

"No one today," Mike immediately reassured him. "The safety is on and the magazine is unloaded – unless I loaded it in my sleep. I could check, but I don't want to wake Marsha. She had a late night."

"Of course. What is it?"

"This, my friend, is an Israeli Galil AR. It chambers the 7.62 millimetre standard NATO round, fires at 650 rounds per minute, has an effective range of 600 meters, and is one sweet piece."

"Fantastic. Why do you have it?"

"Well, I was feeling a bit rubbish this morning, so I thought it might cheer me up."

"And did it?"

Mike squinted thoughtfully for a moment, before fondling the grip of the weapon and sighing, "Yeah…"

"Stand it in the corner," Tim told him, moving aside to let Mike into the flat. "Have you eaten yet?"

Mike left his rifle in the corner behind the door and sat at the table. "I'm still working through those scones I baked." He looked around the flat. "Is Daisy in?"

"In her room," Tim said, indicating the closed door behind Mike. "How's Marsha?"

"She seems okay. We talked a bit, and though she would have liked the money, she likes having all of us here even more."

"That's almost exactly what Daisy said." Tim retrieved his pastries from the toaster, dropped them onto a plate, and sat down across from Mike. "So, when you gave Sophie my letter…"

"She took it pretty well. She hugged me."

Tim took a bite of his pastry. "What did you do?"

"I patted her on the back."

"Hard, or…?"

"Sort of a… soft tap, with a slight rubbing motion."

"Friendly comfort with just a hint of soothing empathy," Tim diagnosed.

"Yes, that was it."

"Well," Tim said, swallowing, "at least she probably doesn't hate me. I prefer ending on a high note, rather than what happened last time."

Mike's eyes widened slightly behind his aviator glasses. "You're not going to keep seeing her?"

"It might be a bit difficult with an ocean in the way, Mike."

"You could still have sex on the internet," Mike pointed out.

Tim shook his head. "I've been over this."

"You're not even going to write her?"

"Maybe sometimes, but not like that. Really, I've been thinking maybe it's better that we quit while we were ahead, you know, before she started sleeping with her boss."

Mike reached out to slap Tim across the face, but his target ducked to the side and knocked his hand away. "That was a joke, you moron! I'm doing my best to get over this and slapping me around isn't going to work this time! Probably!"

"I just want to help, Tim."

"I know, Mike," Tim sighed, "but this is something I have to get a handle on myself. I'm already feeling a lot better about it than I thought I was going to, so let's not chance ruining that, all right? Maybe Daisy's Zen rubbed off on me a little, I don't know. I really think I'm going to be fine."

"It's not like you to let go so easily," Mike said suspiciously. "Not like you at all." His hand slowly began to move up underneath his jacket.

"Oh for fuck's sake," Tim rolled his eyes. "I'm me, you twat! When we were nine I accidentally shot you in the leg with an air rifle and you gave yourself a medal for bravery under fire. Satisfied?"

Mike's hand receded and he gave Tim a look of apology. "Sorry, Tim. Can't be too careful."

"Next you'll be seeing black helicopters again." Tim shook his head a second time, then returned to the original subject. "Maybe I'm turning over a new leaf."

Mike clasped his hands with a professorial air. "More likely you're just in delayed shock over another speedy breakup and you've yet to come to terms with it."

Tim didn't like hearing that. "Am I missing something here?" he half-shouted. "What exactly is your interest in this? You never liked it when I spent time with Sophie, you never liked her, and you threatened to kill her if she left me, which she did! Now she's gone and by all rights you should be ecstatic!"

Mike frowned. "You think I'm that petty?"

"You were petty enough not to like her." Tim glared at Mike.

"It wasn't so much not liking her as not liking you when you were around her," Mike said heavily, and pointed towards his Sergeant's chevrons.

"I said I was sorry," Tim said, his anger fading in the face of Mike's obvious hurt.

"It wouldn't have been so bad except you just fancied her. That made it worse, you know, to be second best to a new recruit in your life, one you didn't even love. Left in the rear echelon."

"It was a lot of fun, yeah… But I wasn't out trying to find anything else. I never meant to forget about you, or Daisy. I liked having a girlfriend again," Tim admitted. He made a dismissive hand gesture. "Look – Sophie's gone, and there's nothing I can do about it. You can't change the past, what's done is done, uh, ashes to ashes, whatever. Let's just move on, okay?"

"That's the spirit, Tim!" Mike said bracingly, and leaned across the table to give Tim a solid clap on the shoulder. "Stiff upper lip, eyes towards the front! A soldier must endure hardships without sacrificing his forward momentum."

"You've gotten over your rabbit then?"

"Of course," Mike told Tim, but blinked a little too rapidly when he said it.

"Anyway," Tim said, downing the last of his pastry, "you got work today?"

"No. You?"

"I have absolutely nothing to do."

Mike tugged at one end of his moustache thoughtfully. "Was there something you had in mind?"

"Nothing in particular… Just that we're both off work, I'm single again, we've just been to the edge of Hell and back in two days, and now I have every intention of sitting back down on that beanbag until my bladder revolts," Tim declared. "And I was wondering if you were going to be around to share in my rampant indolence."

"Sounds like a plan of action," Mike said agreeably. He stood from his seat and retrieved his rifle from the corner. "Let me take this old girl upstairs, and I'll come back down with something more suitable for sitting."

Tim didn't contradict his firearm-obsessed friend – Mike simply wasn't comfortable without a gun or guns on his person, and Tim had accepted that a long time ago. "A plan of inaction, anyway," Tim chuckled, standing and crossing the room to sit heavily on the couch. "We'll collapse in the beanbag with the Playstation and rock the Tony Hawk 2, after which in the evening we'll go down to the pub for some pints, and then stagger back here to rock the Tony Hawk 2 while pissed out of our heads."

"I like the way you think," Mike called back to Tim from the hallway. "Back in a minute."

It was a good plan, Tim silently agreed as he slouched lower on the sofa. He couldn't think of anything he wanted to do, so it was the perfect sort of day for doing nothing at all. Hadn't he earned it? He leaned his head back on the cushion behind him and tried to clear his mind of any and all productive thoughts.

Around the corner of the room, he could hear Daisy's door open, and her footsteps came closer as she entered the kitchen. "Was that Mike I just heard?" she asked, opening the refrigerator and peering inside.

"Yeah, he's just gone upstairs to change his guns," Tim said, closing his eyes.

"Oh." There was some rattling as Daisy moved several bottles around. "Are we out of juice?"

"Yes, but there's plenty of mayonnaise."

"Blech. Not really what I look for in a breakfast." Daisy sighed and sat down at the table. "I suppose we should go to the shop."

"We?"

"What do you mean, 'we'? You think because I'm the woman it's my job to go for food?" Daisy questioned him indignantly, her voice rising. "Well let me tell you something, Tim Bisley – just because I happen to have tits does not make it my designated role to be your personal grocer!"

Another brief flashback: his reasoning of tit-related jealousy as a half-arsed consolation prize after Daisy's rejection from Flaps, inadvertently making him realise that Daisy not only did, in fact, have breasts, but that they were brilliant. "Yeah, I know, but I already had plans," Tim replied, keeping his eyes shut lest they were tempted to reinforce his past conclusion.

"Really? Anything fun?" Daisy asked curiously, her outburst quickly forgotten.

"I think so. Mike and I are going to play video games all day, get drunk in the evening, and then play video games while drunk."

"I hardly think that counts as plans, Tim," Daisy said heatedly. "I am not going to be stuck shopping by myself because you wanted to play games for twenty-four hours."

"Daisy, look," Tim said in annoyance, opening his eyes and sitting up straight. "After all that's happened recently I don't think it's too much to ask that we get a break, all right? I just want to relax for today. I don't want to go out. And besides, do you really want to get dressed and go buy anything? You'd have to find your shoes first."

"Oh, fuck it," Daisy grumbled, standing and striding back towards her room. "I'll just try to write something."

"We already got the house and Marsha back – I doubt we can expect any more miracles this week," Tim muttered snidely.

"I'm doing better, you know, I really am," Daisy told him sincerely. "I've been feeling very prolific, very inspired and dramatic! I've got a stories tell, Tim. So much has happened lately that I'm just brimming with concepts, and ideas, and, and visions!"

Tim closed his eyes again and lay his head back down. "Well good, great – don't waste them on me, then."

"Anything that doesn't involve guns, the FBI, or mutant bears would be wasted on you, Tim," Daisy retorted.

"Catching on, are you?"

Daisy must have been feeling sociable, because she hauled her enormous typewriter out of her room and set it on the table with a considerable clatter. She ran her fingers gently over the keys as if gaining insight by osmosis. "Right," she muttered to herself. "Vision. Depth. Scope. This is art."

She hesitantly reached down to tap her first letter when Mike came barging back in through the doorway, startling her and resulting in her entire palm being mashed against the keys.

"I couldn't find my .50 Deagle," Mike explained to Tim as he walked in, "so I grabbed the 1911. It should do in a pinch."

"Shit!" Daisy cursed.

"It's not so bad, Daisy," Mike comforted her. "The 1911 still has plenty of stopping power."

"Better leave her alone, Mike," Tim advised him. "She's summoning up a literary masterpiece. Grab a controller and let's grind some rails."

"Just keep it down," Daisy told them as she removed her now ruined sheet of paper and replaced it with a new one. "I need to be able to concentrate. I'm like a laser. I have to focus, laser-like."

"All right," Tim and Mike said together in a monotone.

"And don't yell when you win either, I don't want to be startled."

"All right."

"And don't press the buttons too hard, or they make that noise-"

"All right," Tim said loudly, turning to look at her. "Now are you actually going to bang something out or is this research for your pièce de résistance, 'How to Drive Your Flatmate Spare'?"

"Look, I'm writing," Daisy replied brusquely, tapping noisily at her keys. "See? See my laser-like focus?"

"Yes, great." Tim sank back into his beanbag and reverted his attention to the game.

Tim shook his head as Daisy continued to bang on her typewriter with more force than was necessary. It was the little conflicts like this, though, that he had to put up with because it was always worth it in the end. He liked (loved?) the flat that had become his true home, and he liked (loved?) living with Daisy in the same way that he liked (…loved?) her. Even their constant little rows were a part of what he had narrowly prevented from being lost forever.

He tried to keep that in mind as he relaxed further into his beanbag and focused his score.


Daisy lowered her head into her hands and tried to stop herself from screaming in frustration.

The bare paper mocked her with its emptiness. Her attempts to fill it had amounted to a few half-hearted words that didn't seem to relate to anything. It wasn't even so much that she couldn't find the prose to put down, but rather that her mind was as blank as the paper. There was a depressing lack of pressure in the back of her consciousness. It was like she was manifesting some lingering form of Zen exactly when she needed it the least. This wasn't writers block – there was nothing to be blocked.

In a manic fit she grabbed the sides of her typewriter and squeezed as hard as she could, as if she could juice some fiction out of the machine, but all she got for her trouble were sore hands. Taking a depth breath, she gingerly laid her fingers back onto the keys.

She tried to force out something creative – a brief story, an editorial column, a short poem, a couplet, a dirty limerick, anything. Her fingers stubbornly remained at rest. An aborted scream still hung in the back of her throat, but she allowed herself a piteous moan and slumped forward onto the typewriter, pillowing her face in her arms. It just wasn't fair. She knew she was a good writer. All she needed was some inspiration… Or possibly some sympathy.

She opened one eyelid and peeked over her arms. Tim remained oblivious to her performance.

That bastard! Here she was in literary purgatory, in artistic agony, and he had the unmitigated gall to ignore her. Just because he could draw pictures on demand didn't mean everyone had that kind of commercial proclivity. She was an artiste, with a fancy E on the end, not some best-selling purveyor of mainstream, demographically targeted rubbish! Her work might not come easily, but it had meaning.

None of those confidence-bolstering thoughts were helping. The paper remained pristine, free of any ink or brilliance.

"You see that?" Tim crowed to Mike. "That right that there is the sublime skill that brings home the gold medal every time, mate."

Mike looked puzzled. "Why didn't I get a medal?"

"You have to win them, Mike."

"But I'm participating..."

Daisy eagerly raised her head. Tim had provided her with the perfect distraction. "Tim," she said reprovingly. "I'm really trying to work!"

"Looked to me like you were trying to sleep," Tim replied, unaffected by her remonstrance.

"Is that what you think I'm doing? Sleeping?" Daisy questioned him stridently. "I told you I was going to be trying to write this morning!"

"Trying being the operative word."

"Tim!"

"We're not being loud, Daisy, what more do you want?"

"I just want to be able to concentrate without any distractions," she said in what she thought was a reasonable tone of voice.

"And we said we'd keep it down, all right? If it bothers you that much why don't you go write in your room?"

"I shouldn't have to leave!" Daisy said stubbornly. "This is just as much my room as yours!"

"Yeah, and I never said it wasn't!" Tim paused his game and turned to look at Daisy askance. "What is this all about?"

"Nothing," Daisy told him unconvincingly. "I'm just trying to work."

"If you're so set on working, then why are you having a go at me for no reason?"

"I'm not having a go at you-"

"Yes, you are!" Tim contradicted her. "I said one thing to Mike and you're all over me!"

"I am not!" Daisy insisted. "I just don't think it's too much to ask to be able to focus on my work in my own home!"

"I never said otherwise. All I did was suggest you write in your room and you're making a scene like I was trying to chuck you out!"

"Oh, that's easy for you to say! You're the one who wanted to move out," Daisy accused him.

Tim dropped his controller and stared at her. "Daisy, what the fuck does that have to do with anything?"

She wasn't sure, but it felt important. A slew of feelings were bubbling up from dormancy. "Well, that's just it, isn't it? You always, always making fun of my writing, never wanting to spend time with me, ignoring me about Sarah, ignoring me for Sophie; you don't want to live with me! You never have!"

Every unrelated fear and pent up accusation had tumbled out of her without rhyme or reason. Mike averted his gaze from the pair of them uncomfortably while Tim still stared at her, aghast.

"What are you-, for fuck's sa-, I can't even- bleh-," Tim started and aborted at least four sentences as he struggled to answer her wild charges. "Daisy, what the bloody hell are you on about?!"

"I've always been second best for you, Tim-"

"That is not true!"

"-All you've ever cared about is the flat-"

"What?! What about all the good times?"

"-Which you used me to get-"

"IT WAS YOUR IDEA!" Tim shouted at her in incredulous anger.

"I should go," Mike mumbled, standing quickly and moving towards the door.

"What? Mike, no," Tim protested. "What about our game? You're our friend, it's all right if you hear this-"

"I'm sure I'll still be able to hear you upstairs," Mike said, and disappeared into the hall, shutting the door behind him.

Tim rounded on Daisy as soon as Mike had gone. "Oh, thanks, Daisy, nice work" he said sarcastically. "I don't suppose you want to take his place?"

Daisy burst into tears.