'Impermanent Facts' by Lucie McKnight Hardy

She’s vacuuming in her daughter’s bedroom when she remembers that there is a cupboard. In the cupboard there is very little: a few clothes, neatly folded and waiting for the charity shop; a play mat her daughter has no use for now; and a doll’s house, devoid of inhabitants.

And then there is the smell.

Acidic, she thinks. Her brain makes an infinitesimal adjustment to the thought. Astringent. Yes, that’s more like it. Astringent and green and fresh and sharp enough to summon a memory from her childhood.

The tickle of the ladybirds that alight upon her fingers. Just two at first, their bonfire domes gleam brazen in the sunlight. Then more arrive and settle on her hands. They fold their wings, veil-like, under brittle bonnets. Soon she has a swarm, dozens and dozens, each one coveting a unique constellation upon its back. They run over her hands and up her arms and onto her face and over her eyelids, and she gives herself up to the prickling, the drumming of tiny feet on her skin as their bodies speckle hers.

She searches her brain for the source of this memory. She plucks at the synapses that bind these thoughts together, the grey matter that acts as glue to unite one evocation with another and suggest a new version of the truth.

She knows there were no ladybirds.

She knows there is no daughter now.

And yet the fragile bodies desiccate and the weight of the vacuum cleaner causes them to crumble and to disappear.

All that remains is the smell.

---

First published in the 2017 Retreat West Anthology, Impermanent Facts.

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