Perpetual Motion Excerpt

As the plane settled into its descent Maretta felt her palms start to ache with anxiety. The tough old woman next to her noticed her clenching her fists. “Ah, it’ll be all right,” she said, nodding encouragingly. Maretta smiled uneasily. The ground reared up, but the landing wasn’t troubling her; it was the horror of returning home. She’d gone to university in Aberdeen to get as far away from home as possible, and had stayed on for almost a year after finishing her finals to put off this moment. The plane touched down heavily, roared, and slowed to a crawl. Maretta swallowed. The inevitable was drawing closer.

Her mother was waiting for her at the airport. Maretta saw her straightaway, and despite her nerves, felt herself smiling widely. Heather beamed, too, but they were too far apart just to keep looking at each other and smiling, so Maretta kept looking down then up again as she pushed her trolley along the arrivals corridor. When she finally got through the doors they hugged, only for a second. It was their family way: the Kallinski style of embrace was to bend forward from the waist and graze cheeks like ships nudging gunwales. Afterwards Maretta watched Heather look her up and down and decide not to comment on how thin she was, or at least to postpone the remark. Heather seemed just the same, but Maretta didn’t examine too closely. She didn’t like the idea that Heather might have changed, that her fair hair might have been greyer or her face more lined. Her nervousness was intense enough already: she didn’t want to start feeling guilty about how long she’d been away. Simultaneously they noticed the silence had gone on for a fraction too long, and they both moved to pick up bags and talk about where the van was parked, and Maretta was suddenly home.

On the way to the car-park she and Heather said the usual things. They talked about food on planes and how ridiculous it was that you had to pay for it nowadays and whether it had been too cold in Aberdeen, not bad for March, considering, and you look well, you too, and thank you for the emails, you managed, then? You read them? On the screen and everything? And yes I did, thank you very much miss, I can work a stupid typewriter box, and Did Peter then? No, I printed them out for your father, and he lost them, and I printed them out again, you know how he is. Maretta nodded. She knew.

They reached the van. As ever, it looked far too big to fit into a multi-storey car park. It was wide and comfortable and purple. Maretta put her hand against its rusted flank and felt her past seep back into her. The van was half as old as she was. She’d learned to drive in it – in fact, it was still the only thing she’d ever driven. She levered open the door, hauled herself inside, sat down, got up, removed a half-empty packet of cigarettes, tissues, two chocolate wrappers and some extra-strong mints, and sat down again.

She looked firmly out of the window. Heather was turning the key in the ignition, and the van was rumbling, mulling over whether or not to start. Every one of these actions was taking Maretta closer to home. She took a deep breath. Time to put her plan in motion. Ever since she bought the plane ticket, she’d been working out how to secure a room out in the hotel. Coming back to the Riviera at all was bad enough – there was no way she was moving back into her parents’ flat. That would be a failure too abject to contemplate.



The homecoming was almost upon her. They slammed the van doors, echoing in the narrow yard, and Heather wrestled with the private door. Around them rubbish bags were clamped in the jaws of huge dustbins, and the air smelt of flies and sour milk. Eventually Heather pushed open the door against a tide of papers.

“Go on, then,” she said, standing back. “He’ll be waiting to see you.” Maretta nodded dumbly, and began to wade inside, Heather following. Magazines and unopened letters slithered around their knees. After a few yards of difficult progress, Peter sprang beaming from his study.

“Well, then,” he said, smiling hugely. “Well, now, then, Maretta.” There was a fence of cardboard boxes between them. Maretta leaned over it and they nuzzled cheeks again. Peter clutched her arms, as if he would lift her bodily over the obstruction, and then released her. “You look well,” he said; and then, as if he had just noticed the boxes, “Oh, hang on a minute, let me just…”

He picked one up and disappeared. Maretta flexed her aching palms, and remembered to breathe. This was no time to lose her resolve.



Junk mail had overwhelmed her parents’ flat for as long as Maretta could remember – Peter shed unopened envelopes like giant flakes of skin. And it wasn’t just paper. Growing up, Maretta often had to bulldoze past a variety of obstacles to reach her room. Parchment-yellow sheets, stiff with starch; damp towels at an uncertain stage of the laundry process; crates containing miniature packets of long-life milk (for which Peter charged money on an individual basis, to Heather’s disgust). Usually the skeletal outline of a chair or lamp would loom from the wreckage. Peter had a theory that nothing old and broken was waste, but instead a resource: genetic material from which to breed a new race of furnishings.

Since she was quite small, this rising sea of detritus had filled Maretta was a kind of daily, continuous panic. She started to hate the stuff; and because she couldn’t blame Peter or Heather for it, since she might have started to hate them too, she blamed the hotel instead. She imbued it with malevolent consciousness. It was attempting to eradicate her existence: to smother her room with matter. Spores of junk lodged in corners, threw out tentacles, took hold. Tins of apricots six years past their date grew in stacks. Beneath her bed ancient lime-scarred shampoo bottles peeked out through thickets of coat-hangers. The hotel, malicious and cunning, even started placing traps. An innocent pile of pillow-cases on the way to her room would mask light-bulbs in flimsy cases, ready to shatter. Loose-lidded tins of paint, primed and ready, tottered over stacks of folded curtains.

University had been her escape. When she first arrived in halls, she marvelled at the clear echo of empty rooms; the dauntless ring of heels on wooden floors. Her ears felt hollow, like they’d been syringed of a decade’s wax, and she tasted the clean air of freedom. Breathing deeply, she swore a solemn vow. She would honour her father and her mother, but she would never live in their home again.

Maretta grimaced wryly at the memory. So much for wooden floors. Now she stood on – or rather, amidst – a deep carpet in beetroot and aubergine, which was slowly being revealed by Peter’s labour. She stared down at the abyss of foliage, oxidised by a thick coating of dust. Goodness knew how much dead skin had sunk to the bottom of the shag – perhaps enough to construct a golem Maretta. From somewhere amid the clunking leaden metabolism of the hotel, she was sure she could hear a wheezy chuckle.

Will le Fleming is a novelist. His debut, Central Reservation, is published by Xelsion and available now. Read more...

On a grey Thursday morning Holly lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, and wished her sister would die. Five hours later her wish came true. Read more...

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