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The Roundabout

R. D. Stevens

‘Do you ever feel like everything you do and say and think has been done and said and thought before? Like, at some point someone somewhere thought the same random stuff that you think — even this?’

Rosa sighed. ‘I dunno. Maybe,’ she replied, breathing out firmly as she touched up her lip gloss in the reflection of her phone.

‘You don’t think they have? I reckon they have,’ Celine carried on, taking a chance and edging forward on the park bench. ‘I mean, most people think about the same kind of stuff, right?’

‘Apart from you,’ snorted Rosa.

Celine chewed her top lip and frowned. ‘Come on, you know what I mean! We’re basically all just living out the same lives that pretty much everyone else does — so why wouldn’t we be thinking and saying the same crap too? Don’t you ever wonder about that?’

She sucked on her vape and winced at the taste of bubblegum and chemicals before breathing out and watching the white plume disappear into the air.

‘I guess. Look, can you shut up about this now, they’re gonna be here soon and I don’t want them to arrive in the middle of your bullshit and think we’re weird, okay?’

Celine stared up at the sky and carried on, oblivious to Rosa’s request. ‘I mean, do you think you could ever do anything that was completely original? Like, is it even possible? Sometimes I picture myself at school standing up, tipping my desk over and telling Mr Parsons to go fuck himself in the middle of our French lesson, but even if I did that, wouldn’t that just be me repeating the whole teenage rebellion thing that’s been done to death since forever?’

‘I don’t think anyone’s ever said that to Mr Parsons!’ Rosa replied, laughing. ‘And there’s no way you would either!’

‘Yeah, but even if I did the whole thing would just be a repetition of some other kid who did the same thing to some other teacher somewhere else before. It’s like you get handed a life and it’s a kind of faded copy of a copy of a copy of other people’s lives and you can’t escape it.’ Celine turned to Rosa, the orange of the setting sun lighting up her hopeful face. ‘Do you know what I mean?’

Rosa checked her phone hurriedly after a notification appeared. ‘Not really, no. They’re walking over now — just stop talking about this shit, okay? I don’t know why you’re choosing to do this now but…’

‘Someone probably thought that already too, you know…’

‘Celine! Come on! Just act normal!’ Rosa pleaded.

‘Okay, okay. I was only joking,’ replied Celine, pulling her cardigan tight around her middle with another frown.

‘Shh! Look — they’re here!’ Rosa stood up too quickly and almost fell over, grabbing hold of Celine so as to regain her balance. She pulled her long, wavy brown hair over her shoulders and began to play with it as the boys approached.

‘Hey, beautiful!’ said Charlie, looking at Rosa and smiling his best smile, ‘how’s it going?’

Rosa giggled. She looked Charlie up and down and smiled back. ‘Not bad,’ she replied. ‘Things took a turn for the worse now you’re here, though...’

‘Hey!’ Charlie pushed her shoulder. ‘We both know that’s not true! Listen, I brought a couple of guys with me, hope that’s cool. Their mums are friends of my mum and they’re staying with us — it’s complicated. Anyway, this is Eli and that’s Artur.’ The two nodded at Rosa — Eli grinning widely and Artur looking at his shoes. Neither of them looked at Celine. ‘They’re the life of the party,’ he winked, pulling a bottle of peach schnapps out from inside his jacket, ‘just don’t ask Artur any questions ‘cos he might come up with some random bollocks that’ll lowkey leave you depressed. He doesn’t get out much — ain’t that right, Artur?’

Charlie punched him in the arm and Artur smiled because he had to before looking back down at his Converse.

‘Well, no shit,’ exclaimed Rosa. ‘Celine is like that too! Aren’t you, Celine?’

Rosa laughed as she turned to look at Celine but stopped when she saw the glare that was angled back at her.

‘Oh yes,’ said Celine, deadpan. ‘I always make everyone depressed by simply not talking enough about hair and makeup.’ She rolled her eyes before playing with a flower-shaped button on her cardigan.

‘OK, whatever, I guess. Nice to see you again, Celine…,’ Charlie paused, glancing at Rosa with eyebrows raised and his mouth turned down. Rosa tried to cover another giggle. ‘Look,’ he continued, ‘why don’t you have a fascinating chat with Eli and Artur whilst I talk to my girl, okay?’

Everyone knew this wasn’t really a question, including Rosa, who took Charlie’s hand and pulled him over to the swings. Celine ambled over to the roundabout and, pulling out a bottle of cider from a plastic bag, set the bars gently in motion before climbing on. She was secretly glad that there was someone else to talk to this time — usually, she had to sit on her own whilst Rosa and Charlie flirted and kissed and ignored her. Rosa didn’t want her parents to know about Charlie so she needed someone to pretend to go to the park with Celine lived next door so was always on hand if Rosa couldn’t find anyone else. Real friends help each other with this stuff, Rosa always said.

Eli reached into his pocket to check his phone, and Artur kicked around a few wood chips.

‘You two coming on?’ asked Celine, as if she didn’t care. Eli smiled and hopped on straight away, but Artur took a couple of paces towards the roundabout before stopping.

‘Come on, mate! Don’t be a pussy!’ barked Eli, pulling rank now that Charlie wasn’t there.

Celine spun round in front of Artur and held out the cider for him as she wheeled past. Artur grabbed it and put the bottle to his nose for a sniff before grimacing and taking a swig.

‘Aren’t you going to come on?’ she asked as she passed him again on another rotation. He handed back the bottle on the pass and replied, ‘No. If I go on that thing I’ll be sick. I can’t handle spinning like that.’

Eli, looking at Celine, laughed and said, ‘We’re barely moving, mate! Come on, man up!’ He was expecting Celine to laugh too but when she didn’t, he stopped. Celine dragged her feet in the wood chips until the roundabout came to a halt.

‘You should have said… You having more of that cider or can I have some now?’ she asked, reaching her hand out towards him.

Artur took another big gulp and then passed it back. Celine wiped the top with her sleeve before taking a draw and waving it in front of Eli, but he was distracted looking over at Rosa and Charlie. They were sitting on the same swing, Charlie playing with Rosa’s necklace and whispering in her ear. When Eli noticed the cider he took it from Celine, carefully examining her as he did so.

‘I love your earrings,’ he said before tilting his head back and pouring the cheap booze down his throat.

Celine pulled on her vape and exhaled slowly before replying. ‘You do?’

‘Yeah, they’re very pretty.’ Eli replied, drinking more.

‘Um, thanks, I guess’ she said, twirling the button on her cardigan between her thumb and forefinger.

‘So, what are you into?’ Eli asked, doing his best to sound confident.

‘Not much,’ replied Celine. ‘This and that.’

‘Oh… that’s cool,’ replied Eli, playing with something in his pockets.

The air in the park was warm and the sun was slowly edging its way past the horizon. A cool breeze blew in and, as the three of them sat there saying nothing, Celine could hear the sound of crickets coming from the long grass at the side of the park. Eli’s phone vibrated and he quickly put it to his ear with relief. ‘Alright mate,’ he said before covering the microphone with his hand and looking at Celine. ‘I’ve got to take this,’ he said, stepping off the roundabout as fast as he could and shuffling away into the distance.

Celine took another big gulp as an owl sounded out from somewhere in the trees. Thin, wisps of white cloud stretched out across the sky above her head. She broke off a handful of wood chips and picked through them one by one.

‘Do you ever wonder if you’ve drunk milk from the same cow twice?’ she asked without looking up.

Artur rubbed a hand across the back of his head. ‘I don’t drink dairy,’ he replied.

‘Huh,’ mumbled Celine. ‘Is that a dietary thing or, like, an ethical thing…?’ her question trailed off into the breeze.

‘I can’t stand the thought of all those cows being artificially impregnated and then having their calves taken away,’ replied Artur. ‘So I guess it’s an ethical thing.’

'Ugh, that's gross. Do they really do that?'

Artur sat down on the stationary roundabout and reached for the cider. 'How else do you think they get them to keep producing milk?'

'I dunno. I never really thought about it.' Celine played with the bracelet on her wrist, turning it round and round as Artur examined the label on the cider bottle. The nursery rhyme chime of an ice cream van carried on the wind across the park.

'Do you ever wonder what a thought is?' she asked, turning to Artur with nervous, wide eyes.

'How do you mean?' he replied, looking back.

Celine smiled, buoyed by the reply. ‘I mean, we talk about thinking and what we think, and we do think, like, pretty much all the time, but I don’t think I actually know what a thought is, you know? Like, where are they? Or how does one even happen?’

Artur bit the skin off the side of one of his fingernails before looking up at the sky. The orange of the sun was fading into the purple-red of an early evening.

‘Sometimes I feel like there’s this conveyor belt of thoughts in my mind,’ he said without taking his eyes off the horizon, ‘and it’s as if they just appear and keep appearing and I don’t know where they come from and then they just fall off the edge and they’re gone. And some of them get saved as memories and some don’t and I don’t really seem to be in control of which is which…’ Artur twisted his feet away from Celine and kicked the wood chips again. ‘Anyway,’ he sighed, ‘my mum says I think too much. So, maybe Charlie was right.’

‘Well,’ she replied, pushing herself up in her seat, ‘when you meet the person who gets to decide what the right amount of thinking is then you let me know. Until then, I’m pretty sure that person isn’t Charlie or your mum — no offence.’ Celine raised her palms up before wrapping them back around her middle and taking a deep breath. There was a moment’s quiet and Artur’s shirt tugged in the breeze. ‘Maybe you’re doing just the right amount of thinking,’ she said softly.

Artur turned to see Celine and caught her eyes for the first time. They were a deep chestnut brown. ‘You think?’ he replied, smiling. Celine rolled her eyes before his smile jumped to her face and they both burst into laughter.

When the laughing stopped they leaned back into the roundabout, looking up at the sky, intertwined. The stars were starting to come out.

‘Do you ever feel like someone else is deciding everything for you?’ asked Celine. ‘And, like, it’s actually impossible to live your own life?’

‘You mean, like God?’

‘Not really; just other people or society or something like that.’

Artur scrunched up his nose and thought for a minute. ‘No,’ he said at last, shaking his head. ‘I don’t think so.’

‘I do. All the time. It feels like “they”’, she made the quotation marks in the air with her fingers, ‘are deciding pretty much everything about my life, and I don’t even know who “they” are. Like, my parents have a lot to say, obviously, but even they are just living out a life they’ve been given — marriage, a job, kids and a mortgage and all that bullshit. What if I reject all those things? Maybe I don’t want to live the life they expect me to, but… but I’m not sure that’s possible.’ Celine scratched her elbow. ‘Rosa usually tells me to shut up right about now, so feel free to do the same…’

Artur picked up the cider and took another big gulp. ‘I’m not going to tell you to shut up,’ he said. ‘I would never do that.’

Celine risked a quick glance over at Artur whilst he wasn’t looking. He had floppy blond hair and freckles and was taller than he seemed.

‘I think that we’re free to make our own choices,’ he announced calmly, ‘no matter how much pressure we feel we are under — you can always say no. We can’t escape being free in a way, which is kind of annoying because that means there’s no actual excuses for anything.’

‘What do you mean, we can’t escape being free?’

‘I mean, you’ve ultimately got nothing to blame when you do make a choice. If you do something, then you have to own it because nothing will take away the responsibility you hold for it.’ He turned to Celine and shrugged. ‘You don’t want to get married? Have kids? You don’t want to get a job? Then don’t. You don’t have to.’

‘It kind of feels like I do…’

‘Because of what, though? There’s no, like, universal rule or something that means you have to do those things. If you do them, it shouldn’t be because they expect you to, because then all you did was choose to do what they expect of you. Why not choose not to?’

Celine puffed her cheeks. ‘You make it sound so easy,’ she replied, ‘but what if that’s not possible?’

‘I’m not saying it’s easy, but it is always possible. Even if someone’s got a gun to your head, you still have a choice — you just feel like you don’t. Anyway, for what it’s worth: you don’t have to do what anyone expects of you, unless you want to. Your choices are yours and yours alone. At least, well, that’s what I reckon, anyway.’

Celine sucked in a deep lungful of air and blew it out. ‘Mine and mine alone, huh? So you reckon we can do things that are truly unique?’

‘Hell, everything you do can be individual and unique if you just own it,’ replied Artur with a newfound energy in his voice. ‘People have been doing the same kind of shit for centuries, but no one has ever been you. And no one has ever been you now. We’re creating the universe with every action we take. I would say it’s pretty much impossible not to be unique and have significance — at least, that is if you do what you choose to, not what they expect, and don’t just get lost in the cycle of repeating all the same little things everyone else does.’

There was a clinking of metal and they both turned to see Rosa and Charlie jump off their swing and walk over, arm in arm. Celine reached for her vape and put it to her lips.

‘Hey, come on you two, we’re going to get a slushy from the ice cream van. Where’s Eli?’ asked Charlie.

‘He wandered off somewhere,’ said Artur, ‘not sure where he’s gone.’

‘Oh, well send him a message will you, to let him know where we’ve gone?’ Charlie called, setting off towards the park gate. ‘Come on, let’s go.’

Celine climbed off the roundabout and grabbed a hold of its bent, rusty bar. Pulling her arm back, she launched the bar forward with all her might and watched the platform spin round and round and round.

‘Come on, Celine!’ yelled Rosa. ‘I’m thirsting for something!’ she laughed, pulling on Charlie’s arm. ‘Let’s go!’

‘I’m going to stay here,’ said Celine, staring at the roundabout as it spun into a blur.

‘Huh? What’d you say?’ asked Rosa, who had only been half paying attention.

‘I said I’m going to stay here, thanks. I don’t want a slushy — they just taste plastic and artificial.’

Artur blinked, folding his arms.

‘What? Come on, don’t be daft, Celine. What are you going to do here on your own? God, don’t be weird again — let’s just go!’

Celine paused and looked over at Artur. ‘I think I’m going to be just fine without you, thanks,’ she said, smiling. ‘Maybe you’re confusing being weird with being unique?’

Artur kicked some more of the wood chips, smiling hard.

‘Fine — just leave them, babe. See you later, losers!’ Charlie shouted, causing Rosa to giggle once more. They walked out of the park, talking loudly, while Celine and Artur stood motionless, waiting for their voices to blur into silence.

The street lamps buzzed and clicked into life along the park's edge. Side by side, Celine and Artur gazed at each other briefly before glancing away. The purple-black of the sky brought with it the chill of a new evening.

A sudden shuffle whistled through the air. Behind, Eli reappeared, pocketing his phone and zipping his jacket.

‘Hey, what’d I miss?’ he asked, looking curiously at Celine and Artur.

‘Oh, not much,’ said Celine, grabbing hold of the roundabout — it ceased abruptly. ‘This and that.’

R. D. Stevens is an award-winning novelist and author. He has had two YA/NA novels published — 'The Journal' and 'The Freeze' (Vulpine Press) — as well as a number of short stories. Outside of writing, he loves to read, play the guitar, and talk about existentialism (with anyone who'll listen). You can discover more about his journey on Instagram and Twitter with the handle @rdstevensauthor, or at

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