Core of Chaos – A short story by Bryony Brook


The Core of Chaos

“What are you doing?” hollered Fiona, giving a sharp look in Jack’s direction as he casually began to roll down the window before snapping her head back in front, adjusting the radio station and directing the heater control down towards her feet, the clock on the dashboard changed to 11.06am.

She was desperately trying to keep her eyes on the road as they headed towards the airport for their half-term break with their daughters: Jo a skinny dark haired, brown eyed youth and her younger sister Caitlin, a blonde blue eyed rather more curvaceous character, who had been arguing over which film to watch, who had bagged the most sweets, and generally jostling over the plethora of bags stuffed at their feet, her blood was boiling with the amount of traffic on the road and now this.

Jack hesitated, then totally disregarding Fiona, threw the apple core with force behind out of the window anyway, she always offered her opinion when it wasn’t needed “It’s biodegradable, it only takes a couple of months to break down”, he added with a smug composure “I googled it and it’s not exactly littering is it!”
On realising what he had done, Fiona unwittingly swerved the car momentarily over the white chevrons into the inside lane, narrowly missing an over enthusiastic Peugeot driver laterally gaining speed to undertake, “You complete idiot” She swiftly straightened the car up back into the middle lane “What if it hits a car? You drive me so mad, you can be so thoughtless” this wasn’t the only thing Jack did that annoyed her.

“It’ll be fine you worry too much” Jack shrugged and rolled his eyes as he closed the window and stared out of it. He imagined the type of week they were going to have one full of pointless arguments, false smiles and lack of sex, he was rudely shocked back into reality by Fiona’s high pitched shrilling directed at the girls in the back.

“Riiiiggghht…that’s it, if I hear another word from you two, you will lose that thing all together. I have had just about enough of the lot of you, I am doing everything to make sure we have a great time, packing, driving, remembering the passports, picking up the money….” Fiona continued to bark her inventory at everyone; Jack closed his eyes and imagined an ice cold beer, sun, and the ONE thing that was keeping him sane right now. Jo and Caitlin became silent they had put their earphones in to drown out the droning noise of their Mum; the Shepherd family continued their journey to Heathrow.

Earlier that same morning in the west country the Frost Family, Jessica a petite high street bank clerk, Lawrence a computer salesman and their twin children Sean and Lucy were packing their bags into the car ready for their trip to London. “Mind out, here I come” Sean pushed Lucy to the ground as he swung his bag and bashed her in the back. “Mum, tell him, he is always acting the retard, causing me endless pain” their argument fell on deaf ears as Jessica continued fetching items from the house “Are you wearing your sick bands, Lucy?” Jessica quizzed Lucy without waiting for a reply.

“They’re stupid, uncomfortable and don’t work, I told you to get those travelsick pills Sarah swears by them” Lucy answered haughtily picking herself up off the floor and brushing the dirt from her jeans.

“For pity’s sake Jessica are we ready yet, the idea was to miss all the airport traffic” Lawrence complained in a panic pacing up and down “Yes, yes everybody in”, She pushed the twins towards the car, sighed heavily turned and mouthed a mantra to herself “I will make this work, we are going to be happy, I will smile and pretend” She repeated it several times as She locked the door.

The twins piled into the back of the car, Jessica sat in the passenger seat and prepared to close her eyes for a bit, it had been a long tedious day already, and it had only just begun. She wondered what the point was of a family holiday; it was all effort and arguments with little in return. And then she smiled as her mind drifted to the ONE thing keeping her sane right now.

Lawrence wiped away the perspiration dripping down the back of his neck as he drove along the never ending monotony of the motorway, panic thoughts shot through his mind, they hadn’t set off early enough, he couldn’t sell the new tablet design it would never compete, he couldn’t think straight maybe he had a tumor, unrealistic targets he couldn’t meet, and now they were going to be stuck in the overflow traffic heading for Heathrow. His heart pounded, they barely spoke any more, he traveled further afield for work, Jessica seemed to be taking up new hobbies so she was always out when he was in, the stress, the stress, the stress was immense.

“Oh that’s just a bloody great piece of driving, where did you learn that the loony driving school for the mentally insane, what the hell….” Lawrence blurted out at random erratic drivers in the front.

“Why is it every time you get behind the wheel you have to swear”, Jessica lifted her sunglasses onto her head and adjusted her sleeves somehow she felt this action gave her an air of superiority helping her to remain calm and take control of the situation.

Sean piped up in the back sarcastically, “It’s not really a swear word Mum, chill out” “We use that all the time on Facebook.”
All of a sudden the rocking motion of the car had taken it’s toil on an already sensitive back seat traveler, Lucy began to retch “Mm mum, I don’t, f f feel well” She retched again finding it difficult to form the words anymore, Sean moved as far away as possible “Eugh that’s gross, it’s pukey Lucy”, “Stop the car” Jessica shrieked, Lawrence jumped to attention. In a state of shock he slammed his foot to the floor, over took the car on his inside before changing lanes and swerving into the hard shoulder, just in time for the door to swing open and Lucy to stumble out and throw up on the verge, mumbling to herself “I told you to get the sickness pills, you never listen”.

Time wasted, hurry up, hurry up, the words pounded in Lawrence’s brain he was allowing the pressure to build up again, Jessica stroked Lucy’s back and handed her a bottle of water, she swilled her mouth out and drank several mouthfuls, the hard shoulder was a frightening place to stop, feeling unsafe Lucy clambered back into the car, they re- embarked on their journey. Lawrence settled back into his comfortable middle lane position and glanced at the clock on the dashboard 11.06am. Suddenly without warning a white object flew at speed towards the windscreen, causing Lawrence in a split second jerk reaction believing it to be a bird, slam on the brakes. This action sent the car spinning out of control clipping the central reservation it rebounded back like a pinball forcing the passenger door to take the full force of the collision as the car undertaking in the middle lane ploughed into it, followed by another and another. Everything happened so quickly yet in slow motion, Lawrence’s nails dug deep into the steering wheel, Sean and Lucy screamed while holding each other and Jessica, and Jessica, glass smashing and flying around her as the door buckled in the strength of the impact was remembering being 8 years old, her Father won the gold fish at the Blackheath Fair, they had stopped off on their way back from Yorkshire, along time before this godforsaken road the M25 ever existed, it was one of the happiest days of her life. Then images of her brother sitting on a seat attached to her Silver Cross pram drifted in, she began kicking him underneath, how could anyone see me lying here if he is the first thing they look at. Then she saw her Grandfather’s kind face as he held her babe in arms, then blackness. The sirens screamed relentlessly, as the police cars and fire engine pushed their way through the traffic that had accumulated, smoke, dust and debris blistered through the atmosphere.

“Can you hear me sir, you’ve been in an accident, can you move?” the fireman calm yet assertively spoke to Lawrence, who slowly opened his eyes congealed with blood dripping from his forehead, “We’ve got to get you out, can you move?” Lawrence began to move his arm and released the seatbelt, he could hear noises and shouting outside he didn’t know where he was, then it hit him like a bullet from a gun, Jessica, the twins, “My wife, children” “It’s alright sir we need to get you out, you need to cooperate and do as I ask” Lawrence began to drift in and out of consciousness. The next time he awoke he was in a hospital bed with beeps, drips, and a nurse changing his dressings.

He attempted to pull the sheet back to get out of the bed “It’s good to see you awake, welcome back, you have to stay still Mr Frost”, “My wife, my children, where are they, Jessica?” “I need to fetch the doctor, please stay calm you’ve been in a very serious accident.” It was a while before the nurse returned with a man stereotypically wearing a white coat and stethoscope, Lawrence struggled to listen or take anything in, believing reality to be one of those BBC Radio 4 plays.

“I am so sorry to have to tell you Mr Frost” Lawrence touched his cracked and sore mouth with his fingertips “Water!” the doctor handed him a cup from the side table before repeating “I am so sorry to have to tell you, Jessica your wife didn’t survive the accident, we did everything we could” Lawrence groaned, “No” he needed to block the pain, he had to protect his heart. “She died at the scene, your children are recovering on the ward, they are both fine, minor injuries saved by wearing their seatbelts.

“We’ll contact your family to tell them you’re awake, you’ll need support. We also have your wife’s personal belongings rescued from the wreckage of the car I will get them for you. You really must try and stay calm and rest”.
As the doctor left the room a tear fell from the corner of Lawrence’s eye.

The next few weeks were impossible for Lawrence to comprehend. His parents whilst supportive were not the most sensitive in times of crisis. They were a great help with the twins but constantly pushed him to fix a date for the funeral, he missed and loved her, he could barely look at the last possessions she had touched, but face it he knew he had to. Contact her friends, work colleagues, people she knew, that would want to pay their respects. He removed her mobile from the envelope, it needed charging, the battery was dead like his Jessica, he fought back the reality. As it charged and switched on, it began to continuously beep with messages, unanswered phone calls, text messages from the dentist, Kathy from the gym, Clare, Samantha worried why she hadn’t turned up at their get together. Then he saw repetitive phone calls from the same number named “J Work”, curiously he returned the call, no answer or recorded message, Lawrence left his own regarding the funeral and inviting whoever J was to attend.

The wake was a cathartic experience for Lawrence and the twins, seeing family and friends they hadn’t seen for years, although socialising without her was numbing. Lawrence noticed an unknown man in the corner and made his way over, “Thank you for coming I am sorry do I know you?” Jack welled up as he answered, Jessica had been the ONE thing “I knew her from the gym, we went to the same spin class, my name is Jack” Lawrence shook his hand, contemplating her private life he had been blissfully unaware of until now, was this the “J work”, he had called and who had so fervently tried to contact Jessica following the accident, he wondered. “She would have really appreciated you coming” Lawrence lied before being whisked away in a loving embrace by Clare, Jessica’s best friend, now wasn’t the time for questions.

Jack felt uncomfortable, he had outstayed his welcome, now was not the time for truths about their relationship, he loved her, she was gone, what would the truth solve other than more pain. He would grieve alone, and take solace that he had a chance to right wrongs in his own life, with Fiona. He made his way to the door, passing family members discussing the circumstances of the accident, “Lawrence is such a conscientious, sensible fellow, he would never take chances or drive recklessly, it is incredible to think” Jack exited the building ignorantly unaware,

“Something as harmless as an apple core could cause such tragic chaos in life”



apple core




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