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November 13th by David Oakley

Flash Fiction

November 13th.

This morning I put on a coat I had not worn for a long time. In the left-hand pocket, I found a single euro piece and a shopping list, written in red crayon on the back of a grocery receipt. I know I must have been at home when I wrote the list, because the items were not the sort of thing you buy when abroad. I cannot work out where the euro came from. I went to Greece a few years ago, but it was hot and I certainly did not need a coat. I know it does not matter much, but I need to sort this out.

    Is it just a coincidence that I am writing this on the thirteenth of November, the same day that the narrator, Borges, relates the story of his obsession with the The Zahir, an Argentinian twenty centavo piece? After attending the wake of Clementina Villar, a socialite whose death had brought tears to his eyes, he tells of how he acquired the coin in a bar. The word ‘Zahir’ has many meanings but, in the context of the story, it is an object endowed with ’the terrible virtue of being unforgettable, and whose image eventually drives people mad’. He finds himself thinking about it constantly. He travels to a remote part of Buenos Aires and spends the coin, but to no avail. He is destined to a state of mental catatonia, needing to be fed and washed by others, while he thinks of nothing else.

    I read the shopping list. ‘Stamps; wine; sun cream; present for Sue.’ Who is Sue? Why would I buy her a present? Were the stamps for a birthday card? It is in my handwriting, the list. I imagine Sue lying on a richly floral beach-towel in the Tuscan sun. I flip the waiter a one-euro tip and pass a frosted glass of Trebbiano to the reclining Sue before embalming her shoulders in sun cream. She lies there, like Clementina Villar, rigid among the flowers. Only I have not been to Tuscany since I was a boy, and the receipt is dated four years ago.

    These are the incontrovertible facts. Four years ago, I went somewhere in Europe that was cold enough to need a coat. At some time before or after the trip I bought a present for Sue. I have no recollection of where I went, or the identity of Sue. I do not want to be fed and dressed by other people.


Over the last few nights I have come to the conclusion that someone deliberately put the coin in my pocket. They must have been thinking about it too much and wanted to get rid of it. Obviously they did not forge the shopping list, but at least the problem is now partially solved. I have checked over the coin in some detail. There is nothing out of the ordinary, and it is probably too late for fingerprints.

I went through all my contacts this morning, laptop and ‘phone. I was still at it, in bed, when the cleaner arrived. I shouted downstairs that I was unwell and was not to be disturbed. She is not called Sue, which would be an unusual name for a Polish lady anyway. There were two Susans in my contact lists. I don’t remember either of them.


In Borges’ story, his twenty centavo piece had NT 2 scratched on it with a penknife, he does not explain why. But I remember something else, now. When searching for Sue in my contacts I came across duplicate entries for Nigel Twigge. He is someone I met on holiday once. The first entry is dated four years ago. I have emailed a forensic computer outfit to see if they can recover my deleted messages.


I don’t get up until the afternoon these days. The forensic boys were helpful, but nothing too specific turned up. I can easily write my letters in bed. Twigge is a surprisingly common name. I am contacting the Susans too, so will need more stamps. It should be sorted out soon enough and then I can get on with my life.


On occasions I have a feeling that I am teetering on the event horizon of a spiritual black hole, from which the light of my personality will be unable to escape. I ask myself if my coin could be the Zahir. I hope so –  something  unforgettable would come in handy when memory fails –  a wormhole out of that compressed darkness.


Sometimes the nurse does my shopping and sometimes my cleaner. I’ve cleared all the bookshelves in my bedroom and the bottles of sun cream look very smart and colourful. They are all yellow, which is the colour of the sun. Most go on the shelves, but I have wrapped some of them up with brown paper and string. I cannot work out the postage, so I have put more stamps on them than they probably need. That way they shouldn’t incur any extra charge. I’ll post them when the addresses arrive.


    It is Tuesday today, which is my favourite. They let me have a glass of wine, and the nurse gives me a wash. She holds me forward with my left hand, so I put the coin in my right. It feels warm and strong. It clinks against the bedpan and the door to my wormhole opens wide. I look through it into another place and see a remote familiarity, a wild parade dancing past in the light of a million suns.

About the author

With a background in pure mathematics, David Oakley is a (very) mature graduate in creative writing from the Sheffield Hallam University’s masters course. He writes travelogue, memoir, monologues, a novel, and short stories (which have been published in Matter, Scribble, Bandit Fiction and Storgy). He writes about emotionally immature, obsessional and isolated people, but tries not to make it too gloomy.

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