The Man from the Ministry of Fog

[For Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction challenge; title given by Joshua M. Neff]

On Tuesday it was sunny, and Edith Livingston dialled the Ministry at half-past nine to complain. She waited until the minute hand had struck precisely the half hour to place the call, and afterwards she went about the usual business of making breakfast, frying up bacon, spreading marmalade on toasted bread heels, and making coffee so strong one could probably chew the beans and get less flavour.

Due to this, there was also tea.

She made up two plates, of course. Edith Livingston was not the kind of heathen to call someone for a scolding without giving them something to eat.

The man from the Ministry came at a quarter to eleven, which was just another black dot on Edith’s list of things to complain about—at that point, the bacon was cold, and even the coffee had lost something. Instead she sat him down and gave him a sandwich.

“Now, it’s Tuesday,” she said, putting the kettle on for the second time that day, “and yet right outside my window the sun is shining like my granddaughter’s face. Is it Tuesday? I can’t possibly be mistaken on that, sir. Yesterday was Monday, and the fog was just right then. Thick as pea soup, sir, gray as a dead oyster’s shell. Couldn’t see my neighbours through it at all. So what’s gone wrong today?”

He wasn’t sure, the man from the Ministry said, but he would certainly be happy to check, ma’am. He picked up his hat and thanked her for the sandwich, then walked back outside. Edith huffed: he hadn’t actually touched his sandwich. That was always the way with these Ministry types—always putting you to pains, and not even appreciating it when you did. She gathered up her skirts and stepped out onto her porch to watch him work.

Inside the Ministry man’s vest  there were all kinds of instruments: one he held up to the sky, one he licked, and several he laid on the ground. Sunlight flashed off them and Edith had to hide her eyes. Ministry types never considered that sort of thing, did they? Nice to have flashy instruments on the taxpayer’s bill, oh, yes, but nary a thought for the danger of it. When she thought it safe to look again the man from the Ministry was already packing his things back into the pockets of his vest.

It seemed, he announced, that there was an atmospheric disturbance of the… and there was where Edith lost track of the words, as they were all long and complicated words that sounded to Edith’s ear as though they belonged in a book—not in the mouth of a real person. Then again, none of these Ministry types were particularly real, anyway. It would be fixed in a jiffy, anyway, two flicks of a rabbit’s tail, the sun would be gone by the time she could make another pot of tea. He tipped his hat to her and was off.

Edith shook her head. Ministry types never could be counted on to stick around—no doubt she’d have to dial again, and would they bill the Ministry for the phone bill? Certainly not, one could be sure of that.

By the time Edith had brewed another pot of tea—the number for the Ministry already partially dialed on her telephone—the fog pressed thick against her window, obscuring the neighbourhood and blanketing her house in a close little nest.

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