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by Paul Thompson

Packing a suitcase is easy. Keeping to the essentials, less so.

Until now. A fresh start.

He begins with his winter wardrobe. Numerous jumpers and waterproof layers, packed as a precaution. The forecast is good, the time for overthinking behind him. He removes them from the case, along with the gloves and hat, unable to recall why he ever packed them. A hand-knitted safety net, an overkill of wool.

Seven days away. A well-deserved break. Doctor’s orders.

Seven days away and fourteen t-shirts packed. Two per day, in case of an emergency. A lack of washing facilities or a mid-day mood change.

All unnecessary worries. Packing for what might be, ignoring the moment.

He removes seven of the t-shirts. The bravest thing he has ever done. Out go the jeans and heavy trousers. He pulls them by the legs, churning everything in the case, dropping them in a heap behind him. Some come out with a flourish, like a magician pulling out the impossible.

Next is the cables. A tangle of charging and gadgets, designed to distract him from real experiences. He places them carefully on the floor, still mindful of their delicate nature. A bag of emergency items is next. He tips them out onto the floor, sprays and medication rolling across the concourse.

It feels good, liberating. Exactly as it should be. The people grumbling behind him have no idea.

Last in the case is his favourite t-shirt, kept separate from the others. His holiday companion. A faded logo of an obsolete band. A colour combination no longer fashionable. A fit far too tight. He takes it out, revealing the photos at the bottom of the case. The ones he takes everywhere, the baggage he carries. He scoops them up and throws them high into the air, the passengers behind him swatting at them like insects.

Airport security guards approach as he pulls on the t-shirt. It smells of a first date. It no longer flatters. There are holes around the belt area, made by multiple buckles over the years. When he steps into the empty case a panel on the desk reads maximum baggage allowance exceeded.

Possibly, he thinks, pulling the lid shut down over him, weightless in the dark.

Paul Thompson lives and works in Sheffield. His stories have appeared in Spelk Fiction, Ellipsis Zine and The Cabinet of Heed. His work also recently appeared in the National Flash Fiction Day anthology 2019.