Anniken was the 13th reader at Story Shop 2016, the daily Edinburgh International Book Festival showcase of up-and-coming writers living and working in Edinburgh today.

She was also the 150th Story Shopper to read a short story at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, since the City of Literature Trust invited Lin Anserson to read the very first one, all the way back in 2007. The occasion was marked by an introduction from the festival’s director Nick Barley.

Her appearance was on Thu 25th August 2016 at 3 pm in the Spiegeltent.

Story Shop performances take roughly ten minutes and are free and unticketed.
 

 

Anniken is Norwegian-born, but has lived in Edinburgh for rather a long time.

Her stories have appeared in Litro Magazine, Williwaw, An Anthology of the Marvellous and FlashFlood Journal.

She’s currently trying to assemble her first novel and can be followed on Twitter @obscureyarns.

You can hear the author read an extract of the story by clicking the play button on the photo above.
 

 

The Optimism of Clocks
a short story by Anniken Blomberg

I hope you’ll reach high enough for the sea not to catch you, but I worry, because after that first brutal surge the water continues to rise; slowly, incrementally, as if something under the sea bed is now unfolding after a violent awakening.

The boat heaves in the palm of the waves. We sit tightly packed. The floor of the boat is sticky with saltwater and sick. We’d all rather vomit from the edge into the sea, but for the unlucky who are trapped in the middle, there is no space to move. We try to aim for the narrow gap we manage to force open between our legs, to avoid splattering the people next to us. It’s touching this defiant respect for the all but void personal space of others. We still cling to the habits of gentler days.

I drift off, and my head comes to rest on the shoulder of the man next to me. He shows no reaction, so I let my head stay where it is.

Wherever you are, I hope you still occupy a space to move inside, unhindered.

 

On the day of the eruption the heat nibbled and swallowed our eyebrows and hair as we ran. The sea inhaled and withdrew behind us and you stopped and turned, transfixed. I pulled hard at your hands, squeezed your wrists; screamed about he inevitable regurgitation, the devouring onslaught of water we had coming.

You let yourself be pulled along at first, but then you stopped.

‘It hurts,’ you said, wrenched your hands free and pulled them to your chest. We looked at each-other for one long inhale and exhale and then you turned and walked away. I made a move to run after you, but stopped. I’d attempted to stave off this moment for a long time; now it had flared, consumed its content of seconds and gone out.

 

It has been a gradual process of losing. The islands in the archipelago are eroding. Some of them now barely able to lift a shoulder-blade out of the sea, while others still strive steep slopes against the sky. We lost our first house and the dog. And the baby. We never spoke about the baby. It was a scrawny piece of half-life that lingered for a few days before it stopped breathing. A life too short to get to know.

I can’t quite remember the first time you told me mirrors no longer reflected you in entirety. That one day you’d see only eyes; hovering free of their sockets in their usual position below your fringe, with the rest of your face blanked out. Another day your face would be a smooth expanse of skin, devoid of mouth, nose and eyes. And yet another there was only hair, fringing a void. You said you could see the details of the room behind you through the curtain of hair at the back of your head.

I took to tracing the features of your face in an effort put back your sense of flesh; the precipice of your nose, the arch of your eyebrows, the meandering loop of your mouth. Touch meant to establish you still extended in time; that all you needed to do was to hold on to the different parts. But you always trusted the truncated reflections more than my roaming fingers.

I don’t know how we became so out of step. You wanting to obliterate all projections of yourself — you’d have erased your shadow if you could, me trying to retain them.

The boat rocks violently and our bodies jerk to one side and then another like seaweed. Some of the people near the edge topple into the sea. I watch the highest point of the island as the boats pull further out. Two fingers of chipped stone still poke defiantly out of the water.

 

What will you do when the rising waters reach the ledge you are sitting on and gently lick the soles of your feet?

What will you do when you reach the highest point and can’t get any higher?

What will you miss most as time little by little let go? The once inevitable certainty of bead-strung days? The chance of further procrastination, of breaking and making up? The thrill of the uncompleted, the miracle of the process.

The salt-rime on windows and walls, the salt in your hair and on your hands. The push and pull of everything. Shadows lengthening towards evening and contracted by morning. The saltwater tides flooding the forests and the crops and then pulling back.

During those last hours, when the world is so vast and at the same time so small and you’re a sliver between sea and sky. Maybe then you’ll fuse, spool back. Maybe then you’ll be granted a complete reflection of yourself in the sea below your chin. You’ll bend forwards and look; the sun warming the back of your head as you merge with your reflection. Eye to eye, mouth to mouth.

 

We watch the settling sea from the slopes of one of the taller islands in the archipelago. The ground beneath us refuses to settle. We’re still caught inside the churn of the boat. The colours of our clothing mute and unite us in the crepuscular light. But everybody as to find their own way of waiting.

I try to fill the falling seconds, draw out the rhythm of my breath with moments from the past. I fall into a memory of you sitting motionless by the edge of the sea. It must have been just after we met, when the world still felt pliable. As it turned dark your flesh blended softly with the stone you were sitting on. The sea was the colour of silica, reflecting nothing certain or defined.

Maybe I then missed a chance to be someone else entirely. Not the busy fixer and assembler, but somebody trusting and accepting. Able to trust that you’d reemerge; that stone would return to flesh. To share the optimism of clocks.
 

(c) Anniken Blomberg, 2016