It had mewled piteously when Jenny placed the lid on the shoebox. Then silence. What to do? Punch air holes with her school biro? But then it would suffocate slowly when she laid it in the ground. Poor thing. Not even fully grown.
She fastened a red elastic band around the box. From the inside, she could detect no sound or movement. When she carried it downstairs, it was heavier than she expected. More like the weight of a plump kitten than the barely-formed creature she’d birthed on the bathroom floor; arriving in a whoosh of wet - and so much blood she thought she must surely bleed to death.
It being mid-morning in the school holidays, and her mother at work as a receptionist in a solicitor’s office in Queen Square, she was alone when the horribleness started. Up to her to cope and to mop up the carnage as best she could with two towels left hanging on the back of the bathroom door. Next, she’d stuffed the towels inside a black bin bag, along with her panties and pyjama bottoms.
The following year, a kitten turned up. Sitting upright on the place where the sun shone brightest through their magnolia tree which hung heavy with buxom blossoms. Her mother commented on how fast and fat the tree had grown this last year; while Jenny said nothing of the phosphorous, the nitrates, and the natural nutritiousness of blood, and of gristle, and of bone.
The kitten mewled as it rubbed against her legs. Its coat warm from the smiling caress of the summer sun. Her mother, reluctantly, agreed to let her keep it, so she swaddled it in her cardigan, and carried it close to her breast, up the stairs to her small bedroom, where she carefully laid it in a doll’s cot. But her mother, unknown to either of them, harboured her own secret, growing curled inside her, sucking sustenance with its toxic hungers. Her cancer wasn’t caught early enough; it couldn’t be expelled with blood and push and grunts.
Later, standing by the graveside, she wished her mother could have been buried underneath the spreading magnolia tree.
She stayed on in the house. It wasn’t so much that a new family might well take a spade to the long and sharp, the thin and white, of small bones curled beneath, but rather that she wanted to stay, to be close, to tend and nurture. Each anniversary, the magnolia would reward with flowers of cloying, sickly sweet scent, and at night she’d sit in her rocking chair under blossoms white and pinkly plump as a baby’s cheek, and sing a soft lullaby.
Nobody called or came to visit, save for the cats and kittens which arrived on soft footpads, bringing their stolen trophies of baby mice and tiny shrews. A moon, soft as if seen through tears, shone through her bedroom’s curtainless windows, as felines swarmed over her, like an undulating fur mantle. It was hard to discern what was, and what wasn’t her. She acquired a spinning wheel, and began to collect hairballs which she spun into yarn, Rapunzel fashion – but without the gold (although her marmalade cats’ colour came close). Evenings were spent knitting jumpers, blankets, and furry hats with pointy feline ears.
When not in the house, she would sit sunning herself under the magnolia tree, until one day, when very old, she didn’t climb back through the kitchen door, or make her way amongst the cats, their kittens, the household squabble, the hoarder’s squalor. Instead, she curled up on the very spot where her daughter slept. There she breathed her last, and there she lay undisturbed, as bone and blood and sinew insinuated, spreading root-like, deep into the fecund earth. Finally she reached the place of brittle and bone, to meet her child’s sweet embrace as blossoms dropped their petals above.
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?More information about these and the Day itself available at nationalflashfictionday.co.uk.