Contemporary


A Better Place

The soft, distorted burr of the phone ceased, to be replaced by a crackling uncertainty, punctuated by the abrupt clatter of the receiver as it was dropped.

“Ah?” a sleepy voice asked.

“Harriet, it’s me,” Isobel said.

Sleep left the voice.

“Isobel.”  Harriet would not go in for the do you know what time it is routine.

Isobel listened to the distance stinging her ears with murmurs of other conversations, and quite distinctly heard a voice say,

“Who the hell is it, Harriet?”

A bleary murmur, then Harriet’s voice again.

“Is there something wrong, Izz?”

The line was suddenly clear, as though Harriet were beside her, Isobel could hear the acid in her voice, tight with irritation, she could almost feel Harriet shift as she reached to the bedside table for a cigarette.

“Don’t smoke in bed,” she said, without thinking.  Harriet laughed.

Isobel swallowed, suddenly unable to say why she had made this inconsiderately timed call.

“Isobel, you’ve not spoken to me for fifteen years.  Now you’re phoning transatlantic to tell me not to smoke?”

All And More

“Ah, second hand books,” Lindy said happily, all thought of the matinee performance she was meant to be ushering driven from her mind.  “Do you think there’s a gene for loving second-hand books?” she asked.

Josh nodded.

“My gran can’t pass a second-hand bookshop by; and Auntie Jean’s just as bad, I didn’t have a hope, it’s an inherited addiction.”

Amarilly

Sweat is beading on her lip and a necklace of salt stands on her skin.

She holds the eighth cold beer against her forehead, rolling it slowly to and fro, feeling the indent of the moulded glass bump her brow.

The ceiling fan stirs heavy air and casts an intermittent shade across the table.

She listens to the whine of the bug killer up over the counter, and the hup-hup of the fan, and the tinny-plastic clatter of the strip curtain across the kitchen door.

Ants walk in purposeful file across the dusty linoleum.

She lifts her face away from the cold glass of the bottle and downs the beer in three swallows, oblivious to the steady traffic of Greyhound passengers through to the restroom.  If they want a beer or a soda they can use the vending machine.  No one would be fool enough to ask her for anything in this mood, not even a stranger.

Blood Will Tell

I began to feel anxious. They all turned to look at me, and grinned.

What a lot of teeth, I thought, and then I knew.

“You all have Baba Yaga Syndrome?”

The woman on the hearthrug reached out and patted my knee.

“We knew you’d understand.”

“No, I don’t think I do understand, I don’t think I want to.”

JR yawned and snapped his jaws together decisively. Braids sighed and glared at Brenda.

“Are you sure this girl is a witch?”

“Of course she is,” Aunty said firmly just as I said, equally firmly,

“No, I’m not.”

Brenda laughed.

“You might think you aren’t, sweetie, but blood will tell.”

“That’s a bit gothic for my taste.  I have never learnt any witchery and I don’t intend to.  I’m a lawyer.  And I’m not prepared to represent a coven of Baba Yagas.”

The woman on the hearthrug lifted her head and glared at me.

“Do be careful about your terminology.”

I tried to pull myself together.   I was in a room with twenty flesh eating witches, and a dog.  I needed to get out of there, and quickly.

Eye of the Beholder

A wedding picture, mum sitting, holding Dad’s hand by the fingertips, a gooey look on her face that seemed completely implausible, given what he knew of their relationship.  Carefully posed that, to hide the bump under the short, plain, white cotton dress.  They got married in early November, and Bill’s birthday, today, he reflected grimly, casting a glance at a silent mobile phone, was in early February.  She must have been freezing, he thought, not for the first time, and marvelling at the backcombed glory of his mother’s hair.  Which once more reminded him of the girl by the cemetery.

He frowned and pulled out two almost identical baby pictures, himself a few days old, cradled in his father’s astonished arms.  A cigarette dangled from dad’s fingers inches from his infant head: amazing he hadn’t set light to the blanket.

Gingerbread

“Pull yourself together, “Juno whispered into the four a.m. silence.  She didn’t need to look at the clock.  She always woke at four.

In someone else, this would be a sign of depression.

Not me, Juno told herself as she dragged herself out of bed and to the bathroom.  I’m an early riser.

“And talking to yourself,” she told her reflection, “would be a sign of madness in someone else, but me, I have no one else to talk to, so I need to practice.”

She smiled at her reflection, then let her face drop.  Smiling felt false, unnatural.

The Cure

I used to behave like an alcoholic myself, I would drink in secret, away from the house, doing my best not to hurt him, but unwilling to share what I thought of as punishment.  I used to come home smelling of peppermint, sneaking in down the alley and through the back door.  He always knew, and often he’d be waiting at the kitchen table, in a wide legged sprawl across the red backed chair nearest the cooker.  He’d look at me from under his eyebrows, like some long-haired dog … he had that look down pat, first one eyebrow cocked then the other, before reaching for a cigarette…

“My one vice,”

…the second eye still pinning me to the wall like a loaded gun.

The Drowned Land

Jess finished her cigarette; leaning her forearms on the metal rail that ran alongside the short flight of steps, she flicked the butt into the undergrowth.  She wasn’t planning on returning to her seeds just yet.  She yawned without covering her mouth; her tongue curled like a cat’s and fidgeted with the zip of her hoodie, skidding it up and down, slowly, then quickly, and then slower again.  Clara grit her teeth against the rasping metallic echo in her head.  She needed to get out of the sun; she wondered if she could get away with lying on the floor of the storeroom for half an hour; would anyone notice?  Or care?

She imagined her own skull, packed away in non-acidic wrapping, in an innocuous cardboard box with reinforced corners and a reference inked onto the label on the front of the deep lid:

ACF/Cr/C21

Adult Caucasian Female/ Cranium/ twentieth century; reflected for a moment that her classification would match her initials: Anna-Clara Frei, moved on to how lovely it would be to take her head off, and went back inside to make a cup of peppermint tea.

© Cherry Potts 2012

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