Nina calls the following night. I wish she’d stayed at home. Isn’t that where the bereaved are meant to be found, behind closed curtains, waiting for us to visit them?
Not Nina. Not your widow.
“I thought you should know: Richard was found dead last night.”
“Come in,” I tell her, if only because it gives me reason to turn away, to remove evidence of my grief from the porch light’s glare. Am I supposed to know yet?
In the lounge I switch on a solitary lamp, stand with my back towards it. Yes, I’m sure – by now I would have heard.
“I’m so sorry, please sit down. Sorry for your loss, I mean…”
Ignoring the chair I’ve indicated, Nina takes a seat on my sofa. Her gaze drifts over a stain on the cushion beside her. A stain I’ve been unable to shift.
I escape to the kitchen to make tea, and retrieve my muted phone from the cutlery drawer. Eleven missed calls. I glance towards the back door, where last night’s shoes lie, cleaned of the mud from my cross-country trek home. Above them: my jacket, and along one shoulder seam a tear, made as I wrestled gear lever and handbrake to return you, clothed and decent, to the driver’s seat. It is a tear I must mend as soon as Nina is gone.
Standing over the kettle, I balance Gordon Ramsay across the switch and take a slug from my brandy glass. I have maybe five minutes before the kettle boils dry. Five minutes in which to bury all recollection of your agony; to erase the memory of my battle to save you. Five minutes to remind myself that now Belize can never be.
Nina sits, legs crossed, businesslike, a pen and notebook in her hands. From the doorway, over her shoulder, I read a series of names: Amanda, Bethany, Carole, Debs… Most are mutual friends or acquaintance, and a peppering of ticks suggests some mission is in progress. My own name waits, half way down the page. As yet unticked.
“Did you know Debs was planning a trip to Belize?” she asks. Tea slops over the rim of the mug I’m carrying, scalding my fingers and spilling onto the carpet. Nina’s head turns: another stain?
I make it across the room, manage to deposit the mug on the coffee table before her. “Such a coincidence,” she continues. “Apparently Julia’s all set to go too. Imagine. Debs and Julia, both off to Belize, totally independently of one another. Personally I never fancied it. How about you, Miranda? Ever been tempted by Belize?”
I avert my eyes from her gaze, make no effort to shake my head.
Nina stands up. “Must be going. So many people still to be told about Richard.”
In the glare of my porch she leans towards me, her hand on my forearm. “I recommend caustic soda,” your widow tells me. “Makes any old stain a thing of the past.”
FlashFlood is brought to you by National Flash-Fiction Day UK, happening this year on 27th June 2015.
In the build up to the day we have now launched our Micro-Fiction Competition (stories up to 100 words) and also our annual Anthology (stories up to 500 words). So if you have enjoyed FlashFlood, why not send us your stories?
“She’s not dead, you know,” a voice beside me says. The woman sharing the park bench in Kensington Palace Gardens has been observing me write on the back of a postcard. Years have passed since that immeasurable worldwide torrent of grief. Even so less than fifteen minutes ago, I’d found myself unable to walk past that famous face on a display of vintage cards at a Bayswater Road stall. “Diana’s not dead.” The woman shifts on her thighs and re-settles herself on the bench, a faint unidentifiable smell exuding from her dirty grey overcoat. Really, I can’t help myself when it comes to Diana. You have had to be around in her time to understand the mesmerising effect she had on people. “Oh?” “She wasn’t in that coffin.” “Oh?’ Despite myself, I am intrigued. The woman eyes me steadily, holding me fast with her gaze. “No. She’s in a mental institution.” The tone is matter of fact. “Under lock and key. They’ve kept it from everyone.” She gives me time to consider this, turning her attention to a m…
The little dog is tethered in the sun. From a distance, she has a rough coat. But when I’m close enough to stroke her, inside the pool of her reflection on the slow-baked sand, she is soft. You tell me not to touch. “Fleas, Simon,” you say. I drag your case up the hill. So many clothes. All from the cheap shop so you can justify their number, their casual disposability. I hoped you would spend all week in your white swimming costume. But you want changes, multiple changes. The room disappoints you. The humming fridge disturbs your sleep. The toilet gasps and gurgles. The ceiling fan struggles to stir air thicker than Brown Windsor soup. “I can’t breathe,” you say. The little dog cries all night. You burn on the beach, so you stay in the room. You smother your skin with cream, but refuse to let me baste you. I buy you more lotion—"Too watery, too melon scented"—from the shabby shop. Down the hill, up the hill. You want stifado in a carton. Down to the jaded restaurant, up again. Yo…
The orange fell apart with a single push of the thumb; the segments, juicy and firm, their pungency piercing the air. She let the aroma envelop her in a sweet embrace. Even the cicadas in the long grass were music to her chambered ear. How she had missed them on those cold silent nights when the snow had smothered her world. How she had yearned for the rhythmic clicks that rose to meet the stars with orchestral inclination. It wasn’t her idea, or even her wish. Decisions like that were never made by children. ‘We are no longer a family,’ he’d declared. ‘It is time to go and you are coming with me.’ She opened her mouth to argue but only howls of pain emerged. Of the journey, she remembers only the dark hull on a black sea, waking up to the sound of the ship’s horn echoing against the walls of a foreign harbour. The new home was a place as harsh as the marram was razor sharp, as unforgiving as the barren dunes that were set like concrete in the constant freeze. She always knew she would…