The Writers Voice
The World's Favourite Literary Website

The Switch Back


Brian Peters

Mandy Carson lay on her side with wide-open eyes, staring at the slender strip of moonlight gliding in through a subtle crack in the shutters. Her head rested gently upon her pillow as she burrowed deeper within the soft warmth of her favorite blanket. Through the screen of the open window, the frigid night air passed through and settled upon her face, cooling her with each heavy breath. Mandy dozed off and on but the thoughts of her troubled past zigzagged within her head like moths around a lamp lit room.

Once upon a time she was known as Amanda and had a princess perfect life with a princely boyfriend and friends they show on beer commercials. It was all hers; the expensive clothes; a prestigious job with a large computer software firm and weekends in far away castles. Amanda was a health nut who avoided caffeine, carbohydrates and cigarettes. She was a thirty-year-old hazel-eyed beauty from Toronto with flaxen hair and built like a marble statue - tight and long. She was sophisticated and sexy; a sort of thinking man's siren.

But the dream evaporated one rainy afternoon with a short poignant email from her suddenly not-so-princely boyfriend. She hoped he would change his mind but after a dozen unreturned phone calls and as many tear stained letters she surrendered to the reality. Her palisades crumbled. She ran away from the expensive apartment and its memories and trappings. She ran away from her fake friends and their cardboard cutout emotions but worst of all, she ran away from herself.

That life was over but the life she led now was far worse. The princess fell fast and far. She became Mandy in a different city, in a different career, alone and lost. She winced inside at the thought of the nights she spent alone, disillusioned with it all, a knife within easy reach.

She dreaded Monday mornings, not because they signaled the end of dreary, lonely weekends, but because they signaled the beginning of another gray and stormy week at the Blue Unicorn. Every part of her body cringed at the thought of facing another day.

Today would be different. Today she would take back her life and raise herself out of its icy grasp. She promised herself this day and now she was ready. She sprang out of bed, scattering the sleeping cats like popcorn. The fever of optimism burned deep within her.

She slipped into the shower to wash the thoughts of her past away. Her chestnut colored hair was now cut short like a boy's and her tired and puffy eyes glared above sunken cheekbones. She was still a beautiful woman when she wanted to be and would have been a hot commodity but she kept it to herself.

When she wasn't working, her shapely thin figure was camouflaged under bulky cotton shirts and baggy trousers but as she stood in front of the hallway mirror, she wiggled into the bar's standard uniform - a black cutoff T-shirt and mini-skirt. As she pushed and prodded the flesh around her eyes and mouth, she noted the extra wrinkles and laugh lines that aged her an extra five years. She sighed in defeat and left her Spartan apartment without eating.

It was March and a premature warm front brought hope for an early spring. The thick blanket of winter had melted; the runoff made shining puddles on the street and swirled along the curbing like tiny mountain streams. In the park, purple crocuses opened their faces to the sky. Sunlight shimmered on the slush-covered road and dressed the trees in a veil of bright light.

Mandy's shift at the Blue Unicorn did not start for another twenty minutes so she took her time to look in store windows along Jefferson Street, trying not to remember. She now hated this world with its cute and expensive things. She still did not know what she wanted out of life and it made her angry but only at herself. Her discontent was concealed behind a warm smile and quick 'how do you do's.

In the window of Monahan's Shoes, she smiled at her reflection. She had planned this day for the past week, rehearsing her speech over and over with Patches and Sherman. The cats' reassuring meows were her only indication that she was ready.

Mandy was the best bartender at the Blue Unicorn. If she didn't know it, the owner knew it and the other bartenders knew it. She didn't care. She just made screwdrivers, rusty nails and white Russians and ducked every slimy come-on and grating insult. The customers ranged from Armani to Goodwill and everywhere in between but the big tippers never seemed to return. Her boss, Barry Dunkin, was a self-centered prick who didn't care about her or any of the staff. He just made sure the liquor flowed and the barflys drank themselves into the stupor they craved. He worked her like a slave in the cotton fields but she didn't mind. It was better then sitting in a dark apartment eating Swansons and staring out the window like an old widow.

Mandy crushed out her cigarette and breezed through the door under the flashing sign and let her eyes adjust to the dimness. The bar was especially quiet for a Monday. The room was deserted except for a couple of regulars who chatted in muted tones. Troy stood in front of the huge mirrored bar wiping down the perfectly spotless bar counter. A lone player threw darts towards a dartboard in the far corner. Natalie was the only waitress she could spot, feigning interest in taking a drink order. Some grating song from a modern punk band blasted out of the sound system. She yelled at the bouncer, "Is Barry in yet?"

"Back room. Be careful, he's in a foul mood. Someone's pissed him off real good."

Mandy made a mental note and headed to the rear of the bar. Through the thin door of his office, she heard Barry yelling on the phone. When the receiver slammed down, she entered the room like a scolded puppy.

The place reeked of beer and rancid smoke of old cigars. Second hand furniture was scattered haphazardly on a stained and threadbare carpet. The walls, once painted black, were now faded and chipped. She squinted through a cloud of cigarette smoke, coughed and waited.

Barry looked up from the landfill that covered his desk; his smile as oily as any politician's. His eyes were dark and without expression and at some time or other his nose had been broken. Dark and tangled hair hung loose down to his shoulder. His shoulders slumped with a bitter weariness like a man who got to know the world and its inhabitants too well and didn't care for what he had found.

The pause drew out and to her satisfaction he broke first. "You're late. Where the hell you been?" he thundered.

The rush of fear set the blood pounding through her chest. Her palms grew wet and she nearly lost her nerve. "This is for you," she said passing over the envelope.

He read, his eyes uncomprehending. The man turned on Mandy with all the indignation of a pit bull, lips parted to display a row of ugly teeth. He looked up to say something but then he either lost his words or thought better of them because something in her face shut his mouth. She stood straighter; a bold gleam sparkled in her eyes and a smile of confidence spread across her face.

"I quit." Amanda said.

Critique this work

Click on the book to leave a comment about this work

All Authors (hi-speed)    All Authors (dialup)    Children    Columnists    Contact    Drama    Fiction    Grammar    Guest Book    Home    Humour    Links    Narratives    Novels    Poems    Published Authors    Reviews    September 11    Short Stories    Teen Writings    Submission Guidelines

Be sure to have a look at our Discussion Forum today to see what's
happening on The World's Favourite Literary Website.