“Degrees of Separation” – published in the summer of 2018
We are all connected. There are invisible threads that joins each of us, everyone to everyone else.
“Degrees of Separation” is a series of short stories, each connected to the next it via one of its characters. The book’s invisible thread weaves its way across geography and time until the circle is made complete when a character from the first story appears again in the final one.
But each story is also a narrative about separation in its own right; a wife from a husband, a son from a father, a friend from a friend. “Degrees of Separation” explores what it means to be apart, and considers the things that can divide us – or potentially keep us together.
It was a cursory glance; the kind of sweeping, superficial look designed to absorb as much as possible in one movement, as if the most critical thing was to use one’s eyes efficiently. He established the approximate size and scale of the room, its tone, an overall sense of feeling. The walls were part-panelled and painted a shade of brown that had been abandoned with a lost generation. Above the panelling, they were an uninspiring cream punctuated with blocks of colour gifted from a number of large poster-sized displays. In the far wall, a painted wooden door of the same cream colour with no indication as to where it might lead; in front of him a tall free-standing wire rack – the kind that rotated with an uneven squeak – adorned with small postcard-sized leaflets.
The warmth surprised him. Outside the bitterness of the wind had whipped through his coat, and even the extra layer he’d debated needing had proven to be not entirely adequate. He missed the source of the heat in his initial sweep, not that he looked for it. Automatically his hand pulled the woollen beanie from his head, loosed his scarf, and eased the zip on his fleece down a little, freeing his neck.
“Are you waiting for a train?”
Her voice startled him. In a sudden moment of recalibration, his eyes absorbed the room again. She was standing facing one of the posters, her head turned his way. Slightly panicked, he checked the Waiting Room again to see what else he had missed – and then saw the dark, pew-like bench down to his right, and the rucksack that rested there, its predominance of orange somewhat at odds with the room overall.
She was a relatively small woman, with short curly hair mainly gone to grey. Her thick coat belied a frame that – from her size – was probably slight. In spite of her age – in that instant he placed her anywhere between fifty and mid-sixties – he guessed that she was probably more healthy than most of her peers: the walking boots, the rucksack, that slightly ruddy tone to her cheeks – though that might just have been the extremes of heat and cold.
“No,” he said, still slightly off-kilter with her sudden intrusion into his reality.
Although he had been to America a number of times, he struggled to place her accent. American it clearly was, but it lacked the harshness or distinctiveness of the more obvious locations: New York, California, the deep South. It struck him – for no obvious reason – as something of a hybrid, a mongrel of an accent that might be the result of a partially nomadic existence, within the US if not further afield. He glanced at the rucksack again. It was well-travelled.