One Sunday morning, Sarah had made herself some absolutely perfect scrambled tofu – with fried potatoes, beans and mushrooms – and was now reading White Teeth on her narrowboat, a fresh oat-milky cuppa by her side.
Sarah, 33 years old, had identified as vegan for the last 7 years. She’d grown up a vegetarian and her mind had been boggled when she found out that it would actually be more ethical to cut out dairy and start eating meat than to remain vegetarian. But full vegan she went, well prepared for her meat-eating friends (all such fans of cats and dogs and when otters hold hands) to dial up their well-worn nonsensical arguments against her diet. She was, however, shocked by her vegetarian sister and friend, who had both reacted surprisingly
offended by her personal choice. They were the goodies, they always had been. Their sacrifices all these years – the Quorn sausages in the oven at barbeques, the portabello mushroom ‘burgers’ in pubs, the ‘just a large fries’ at McDonalds – couldn’t have been for nothing. Veganism was just too far.
These reactions, along with carefully curated tropes still woven within society’s collective consciousness (vegans being aggressive, only talking about veganism and having tasteless food), had made Sarah decide a while back that it was easier to just keep her mouth shut about it in most situations. She occasionally wondered what the point was, really, in her going through all this when most other people couldn’t be arsed.
A fly had squeezed through a small opening in one of her windows and had immediately decided to get up in her grill, buzzing around her like a bird in a cartoon, as if she had just knocked her head. She didn’t believe that flies deserved to be swatted dead, but that didn’t mean she had to like them. They were pretty bloody annoying, to be honest. Probably in the top five things she got irrationally pissed off about, along with slow walkers, wet shower curtains touching her leg, people using the word ‘amazeballs’ and self-adhesive photo albums being more available than slip-in ones.
A glass and a piece of paper had easily managed to humanely capture the buzzing lunatic as it became distracted by continually bashing its face into the window pane, just several inches below where it could have flown straight out to freedom. She carried the temporary passenger, bouncing around like a ball in a pinball machine, to the bow of her boat, a small outside space in which she was able to release the fly into the wide world. She imagined it happening in slow motion, romantic and profound like releasing a dove from a cage. She was, however, surprised to see the fly immediately go into freefall and land in the murky water of the canal. There was no audible sound but she imagined a sharp and short comical ‘plop’. Leaning over the boat’s side, she frantically reached out for it, but her clumsy attempts to rescue the poor fly were to no avail. Her reflection stared back up at her and she felt a little judged. Why would a fly not fly, she wondered, as she pulled herself back up and grabbed the glass. That’s when she saw it. A dismembered wing on the glass’s rim. It was her fault. The
fly was dead simply because she’d found it a bit annoying. Well, extremely annoying, but still. Not cool.
Sarah did not, at this stage, fall into a deep depression about the fly. She didn’t conduct a memorial service or construct a shrine. It was just a fly after all. Even though she did feel a pang of guilt for thinking this way, she was soon drinking her tea and reading her book again, her window now firmly closed.
Later that day, following a short trip to the shop, Sarah noticed a weak bee crawling around on the towpath near her boat. This was her chance to redeem herself! She skipped up onto her boat and into the kitchen, where she grabbed a teaspoon, a glass of water and some sugar. Outside, she carefully placed the spoon near the bee and added the water, then the sugar. It wasn’t long before the poor creature turned its attention to it. Sarah stood up, grinning, and hopped back onto her boat stern.
A few mallards were floating towards her, parents and babies, so she took out the bird seed she’d just purchased and proceeded to throw some into the water for the appreciative ducks. She’d once seen a guy, with his kid, feeding ducks on the towpath, and she had politely told him that he shouldn’t be giving them bread because it was bad for them. It was quite a surprise to be rhetorically asked why she ruined everything and then told to fuck off.
The cute chirping of one of the ducklings had suddenly turned into a much more worrying noise. The poor thing seemed to be choking on her bird feed! She jumped off the boat onto the towpath, wondering how she could possibly adapt the heimlich manoeuvre for a duckling, and heard a clanking sound beneath her. Metal against concrete. Slowly lifting her foot, she saw that the spoon was now free of sugar water and contained a very squished bee. She bowed her head and then turned to the canal. The male and female mallards quacked
melancholically at their duckling, upside down and unmoving upon the calm, inky water.
Without a destination in mind, she marched down the towpath to try and clear her head. Eventually finding herself on a nearby street, lined with student-filled terraced houses, she heard a shrill meow. The source was a cat in a skip, seemingly trapped under the detritus within it. Despite cutting and scratching her hands and forearms against destroyed IKEA furniture parts, she was eventually able to rescue the feline. However, skittish and ungrateful, it jumped out in front of a car and was instantly killed.
With fresh cat blood spotted on her face, Sarah fell to her knees and shouted into the sky: ‘What is the fucking point in trying to be fucking ethical in this mad, cruel fucking world in which no-one fucking else gives a fucking flying fuck?!’
This was the last thing she remembered before waking up in hospital.
She had apparently ended up at Robinson Farm, some miles from the skip. Once there, she’d honed in on the cattle, calmly grazing in a small field, and jumped on the back of one of the (understandably surprised) cows before attempting to bite chunks out of its flesh.
In the hospital, she watched a clip of farmer Geoff Robinson speaking to a local news channel: ‘Who would take a bite out of cow flesh? Truly bizarre stuff, that, never seen anything like it in my life. Thankfully, Betsy’s injuries weren’t life-threatening but the poor girl is pretty shaken up I tell you. We’ve delayed her slaughter by a couple of weeks, just to let her calm down a bit, bless her.’
Sarah had fractured her wrist falling off Betsy. A plaster cast had been applied and she was soon shooed home after suggesting better vegan options for the hospital menu. As she walked back along the towpath, she made plans to re-download that meditation app. It took her some time, walking uncharacteristically slowly as she scrutinised the path ahead of her like Francis of Assisi, looking out for anything she might accidentally kill with her big clumsy human feet.
Harry Wilding writes in Nottingham, where he fantasises about elaborate heists that steal from the rich and give to the poor. He has had work published by the likes of Popshot, Flash Magazine and Ink, Sweat & Tears.