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.
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I’m going to ask her tonight, definitely. Dad said, you’re not even twelve son, what’s next – extra pocket money for johnnies? Mum told him not to be vulgar, then smiled at me; that smile that makes me want to yank her to the knees by the hair: shout, I’m not a baby, Mum.
It’s in the sports hall like always, but this year they’ve got a proper DJ, not just one of the dads. There she is, all curled hair and sprayed-on glitter. I go to tap her shoulder, but James and Jeremy, in the opposite corner, look at me all, why are you going up to a girl? So, before she turns around, I jump on her back: mime a lasso at them one-handed. Dig my knees into her skinny hips and breathe in marshmallows. Then I’m falling forwards. I put out my hands but my landing is broken. I roll off. And her blood’s on my knees. More of it trapped in the grooves of my trainers.
What happened? says Mr Miller, with a face like a father’s instead of a Head’s.
And she looks at me through the bloodied fingers at her nose. …
Marina’s lover delivers a mug of milky tea before his shift starts. She snakes her arm out from under the bedspread and grabs his wrist. He is ready for her: he clenches his fist around the sturdy clay handle and sets the mug down on a ring-marked, unopened paperback.
“Don’t go today.” She says that every day.
“I have to.” Always the same.
The top sheet is stretched across Marina’s lower face like a surgical mask. Her lover kisses the bridge of her nose. She holds her morning breath. He will leave. They all do, when days like this become weeks and months. God knows, she’d leave her miserable self, too, if she could.
“I’ll see you tonight.” They say stuff like that, when they’re just about to vanish. He smiles like a patient GP. Marina’s bowels twist.
Marina’s lover leaves the bedroom door ajar. She calls him her lover because he reckons he loves her to the moon and back. Plus, she’s too old for a boyfriend. He has created an unsettling draught. A vicious stripe of light interrupts t…