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The Future of the Past

The Future of the Past

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Published by Paul Vincent
Winner of the Open College of the Arts' short story competition, July 2013.
Winner of the Open College of the Arts' short story competition, July 2013.

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Published by: Paul Vincent on Jul 25, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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The future of the past
 The room is everything you expected it to be, all except thelong windows. You didn’t think there’d be windows in a prison. There is an orange glow from the street outside and you canstill hear the snap and crack of stone hitting shields. The chantshave got louder since you were first hauled in here. Theirvoices scream and crumble against the prison walls and yousee their cheap homemade cardboard signs in your mind.Sergeant Cartwright walks into the room, he’s carryingsomething big and flat and it’s getting in his way. A womanfollows in behind him; she’s carrying a black briefcase, allofficial. There is a red badge in the shape of a sun dial pinnedto her blouse. She’s a regressive judge. You’ve heard aboutthese. Your stomach churns and you feel a cold sweat trickleover your forehead.She stays close to Cartwright, peering around his shoulders toget her first look at you.“Mr Stoakes, this is Melanie Taylor...” Says Cartwright,gesturing to the small woman at his side. She attempts a smile. You notice her thick waxy lipstick and how it runs too wide overher mouth. You say hi. This seems to comfort her, she nods andsits.Cartwright lifts the flat object onto the table and slides ittowards you. You look down upon it. It's the painting from yourliving room, the one you paid five pounds for at that auction,years ago.
“You recognise this?” asks Cartwright, his voice alreadyconfident of your answer. You look over the smooth surface of the water colour. A mansits upon his grey horse high above a soft green pasture.Cigarette smoke twists into the air in front of him or at leastthat’s what you always thought it was. You were never sure if itwas a cigarette or just a piece of wheat he held between hislips. But it was the cigarette and the blue coast and square hatthat had always made him look so very French. Behind him ared horse follows on reigns, its glossy coat shimmers despitethe cloud cover. It was the reason you bought the painting. Thegreat red horse reminded you so much of Hazel, the pony yourmother kept when you were just a child.“Yes.” You shrug, wondering what the painting has anything todo with anything. The woman starts nodding, agreeing with no one in particular.“There is some link, you know. When you bought this paintingyou probably chose it subconsciously”. She says. You take a deep breath as she leans down and picks up herbriefcase. She places it on the table. You can’t stop your handsshaking. Any moment now they will show you what you didn’twant to know. What you fought so hard to escape from whilethe world pushed against you as you ran against the flow. You catch your breath.“Please…” You beg, “I don’t want to see it. Just sentence meand let me do my time. I don’t need to know.”
 The woman places a red file on the table. You notice your nameon it, written below the sun dial emblem. She gives you a half smile, she seems genuinely sorry. You didn’t expect that of aregressive judge. You heard they were trained to be tough,unemotional and unforgiving.“I am sorry but it is the law. According to article 5 of the pastcrime act, you must be aware of all crimes and the evidence,committed by you in your last three generations”. She says,looking anywhere but at you.Suddenly there is a flash of light and a thud that echoesthroughout the stone room. The woman, Melanie, screams andcovers her head with her hands. Cartwright doesn’t flinch. Hesimply scrapes his chair across the floor and walks to thewindow that's just been hit.“Fire bomb.” He shrugs, looking down into the street. You see aslip, just a small change in his face. What is the expression? Heyanks down the blinds and you realise it was fear.As Cartwright sits back down, you hear the voices outsidegetting louder. There is a loud roar, screaming and thenspluttering. They must have brought out the water hose.Melanie is shaking now; you notice the pink hue of her eyelidsand the small watery smudge of her mascara. Emotional,scared. Not like a regressive judge at all.“Please go on, Miss Taylor”. Cartwright puts a hand on hershoulder. She struggles with a smile and picks up thepaperwork.

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