canal, cold, flash fiction, frozen, ice, Neil Campbell, old, path, routine, shopping, short stories, trolley, winter
by Neil Campbell
Twice a week, Mary wheeled her trolley down the hill, over the railway crossing and along the canal to the big Tesco in Whaley Bridge. She said hello to the people she saw sitting on their narrow boats, and waved at the horses in the fields next to the sewage plant. She never liked the idea of living on a narrow boat, especially in winter, when the frozen water encased your home in ice. You could only ever go anywhere slowly and there would be all the locks to navigate. She continued along the towpath and under another footbridge giving access to Bridgemont and with a sign on it advertising a beer festival. At the canal junction near Whaley Basin she had to struggle across a little metal footbridge going over the water, and then down a small hill and through the car park.
Coming home was even more tiring because of the weight of the trolley and the walking already done. In all weathers of the High Peak she walked the towpath there and back to go shopping. She felt that it kept her strong. She could have got on the 199 with her bus pass, but that’s how stubborn she was about getting her exercise. And the buses were full of old people and she hated talking to old people because all they ever talked about was being old.
The last time she went shopping the canal was frozen solid as she struggled along the towpath. The wheels of her trolley stuck time and again in the wind sculpted piles of snow. She struggled a final time at the trolley and fell face forward. At first, she tried to get up but then she decided to stay there. After twenty-three years as a widow she could make that decision for herself.
The snow continued and started coming down more heavily, so that by nightfall Mary and her trolley were fully covered over in thick snow. The temperature dropped sharply that night, encasing her in a frosted tomb. In the afternoon, a couple of teenagers who’d been cycling down the towpath started jumping over the hump in the sunlight. Over and over they jumped, turning around, coming back and jumping again, until grey hair appeared through the melting snow.
Neil Campbell is from Manchester. His debut novel, Sky Hooks, is out now. A collection of flash fiction, Fog Lane, is forthcoming from Bridge House Publishing.