Marking Time

Marking Time
By Ryan Molinero

Day seven; God’s not resting. God doesn’t live here anymore. If ever He did. I will not rest. I cannot rest. For now, asleep is no better than awake, when at least the horrors are not imagined.

Another spray-painted tally mark, the red line shocking against the granitic pall of the new world. I move to the next car, methodically spray a line next to the six adorning the tire already. All my own; their uniformity a droplet of order in an ocean of chaos.

I back off. Remove my surgical mask and replace it with a fresh one from an inside pocket in my jacket that contains several more.

Finding a cleanish piece of sleeve to wipe my brow, I try to remember what the air felt like before the ash and the fear and despair and the hurt and the loss.

I can’t. The stench that suppresses my nose and my throat and my pores seems to mute every shard of recollection.

I count the cars. 81. Same as yesterday. Same as the day before that. Seven empty bays. Cars claimed in the chaos of the first two days – not by survivors – but by ash-clad specters searching for something to cling to, something to hope for. Something.

The carpet of ash muffles the footsteps behind me.

“Can you help me?” hopefully.

I curse and apologise.

“Can you help me?” hopelessly.

I turn to look at her, scarf fashioned across her nose and mouth to keep the world at bay. The absurdity almost makes me laugh. Eyes pleading.

“Please help me.”

“I’ll try,” and I do.

I ask her which car; she says it’s black. They’re grey, I tell her. She’s not listening. Can’t listen.

“What kind of car is it?” I ask her.

“My husband’s,” her voice disintegrating.

“I’m sorry,” I say.


I don’t answer. I can’t answer. But my eyes answer.

“Why are you saying sorry to me?” her voice grows, her fear grows. “Don’t say sorry to me. He might be alright; he might come back. Don’t say sorry to me!”

“I’m sorry,” I offer. “What kind of car is it?”

“It’s a Toyota,” her eyes scan the lot, praying not to find what she is looking for.

But she does. She crumbles. Clutches at the ash for something to hold on to. I try to help her up, soothe her. She resists.

“He might come back. The roads…closed. Networks are down. Hospital…” already it’s a lament. “He might come back.”

“He’s not coming back,” the gravity of my words lost in the tainted air.

She looks up at me. Through me. Her sobs preclude her spitting grief at me. Her eyes glisten incongruously, sucking a little more life out of the new world.

“No-one’s come back,” I take a knee beside her. “Seven like you. But no-one who was there.”

“But he might –“ she can’t even finish. Does not have to.

I help her up. Walk her towards the car, faltering steps of the convicted. Life without life.

She stops. Eyes fixed on the marked tires.

“Why are you marking the cars?”

“I don’t know.” My turn to look away.

“Do you work here?” A concoction of anger and confusion coat her words.

“I did.”

“Why are you still here? Why do you mark the tires?”

I don’t answer. Take another step towards the Toyota. Hoping she’ll follow. She follows.

“Why do you mark the tires?” her curiosity deflecting her grief. Delaying the need to deal with it. For now.

“Someone has to,” I tell her. Her silence implores me to continue. “At some point, these cars will be taken away, life will start again. Whoever does this should know how long the cars have been here. To help with records. To help.”

Her glare softens to a gaze. Despite herself, she looks almost sorry for me.

“Do you have a key?” I ask. We’re standing behind the Toyota.

She doesn’t answer. Her breaths become shallow as she fishes in her pocket for the key. She finds it. Removes it from her pocket. Offers it to me.

I look at her. Want to cry for her. Want to cry with her. I don’t take the key.

I look away. Survey the sight of the parking lot’s inhabitants, dormant but for the seven red lines on each tire. Like convicts counting down the days to their

“I can’t –,” she says, forcing the key into my hand and my eyes back to hers. “Please.”

I click the button to unlock. Nothing. Nothing works anymore. I look at the redundant key. I look back. I don’t see a person. I see sinews – threads of hope, despair, life and death – masquerading as a woman.

“I can smash the window?”

An almost imperceptible nod. I pick up a chunk of rubble. Shards of glass dance briefly in the air before the enveloping dust claims them on the ground.

I hand her back the key and retreat. No words shared. None needed. None matter.

She climbs into the car and across to the driver’s seat. Turns the key. The engine’s bronchial riposte shatters the oppressive silence of the parking lot and the flurry of the wiper blades creates a brief phalanx of ash silhouettes around the car.

I perch on the bonnet of an old Caddy. The open window of the Toyota betrays the intensifying grief from inside the car as it crawls from its bay. The woman turns on the lights in a forlorn bid to guide her through the gloom. A column of thick dust mocks the pale beams with a harrowing dance.

I watch the car and its trail leave the lot. I try desperately to hold the image of the woman’s face in my mind but already it is fading. The fleeting exchange of shared silence, of hope, of despair, of implicit understanding will become part of the old world. They already have.

I stare at the empty bay. 80 cars. Eight empty bays. I try to stop myself but I can’t.

My eyes fill. Knowing. I turn my head and see my car. Our car. Silent tears welcomed by the ground.

I wish the bay were empty. Wish I wasn’t here. Wish she were.

I gather myself. Pick up my spray can and walk outside.

Nobody comes back. Not now.

I’ll come back tomorrow.



Ryan Molinero is a 31-year-old former journalist who now teaches English Literature at a secondary school in Scotland. His background is in sports writing but he has recently turned his hand to writing fiction, with “Marking Time” being his debut short story.


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