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Jan/Feb 2006 Fiction Special Feature

Two Flashes

by Nigel Spriggs


(HONORABLE MENTION)

Chill

Time splinters. Gets under our fingers. She picks up the little snow maker and shakes it and then puts it down. "I used to love that thing. I used to think it was clever." The snowman within just looks sad now. A little yellow around the edges. His snowstorm looks thinner as well. I tell her, "Take it, it's yours."

"Bin it," she says. "I used to love loads of things."

I pick it up, throw it away. The bin bag's a barrier between us. It makes me feel safe, holding our baggage. These things, I think, these are the reasons. Not me. Not you. But this tat. She holds her body at angles. This is the last dance we'll have together. When it's over, we'll both walk away.

She goes on into the back room. The wallpaper we hung one wet, drunk, November weekend five or six years ago now looks like old man's skin over uneven plasterboard walls. When the couple who decided to buy saw it, I watched them try not to laugh. He said, "What cowboy went and put this up?" Julie said nothing at all. Later, after they left us, we turned our backs on each other. I stood alone in the hallway. Julie came and traced the walls with her hands.

Now her mood has grown more pragmatic.

"Look at this place. It's a dump."

She lights a cigarette and flicks ash on the carpet. I don't bother fetching an ashtray. The carpet's been ruined as well. Everything, here, has been ruined. I say, "Do you want the sideboard?"

She says, "Do I look like I do?"

I say, "Is there anything you want here?"

She says, "Jesus. I don't know."

We drift upstairs. We stare at the crap in the bedrooms. Neither of us want anything from here. Together, we've spoiled it all. She won't enter any room with a bed that I stand in. She looks in from the landing. She drifts off into another. As I step in, she steps out. One more dance. Neither of us take anything with us. A few things go into the bin bag. An old pair of straighteners. A couple of books. Our wedding photo stays on the bed-stand. She gives me a look that says ditch that thing when I'm not looking. Then she steps out of the bedroom. My fingers leave dirty marks on the glass-front. It makes a small noise, like a wind chime, as it falls to the bag from my hand.

Back downstairs in the kitchen, I hold up the scaly kettle. She shakes her head. In the bin. The pots for the Tea, Coffee, Sugar, all with dirty, brown-rimmed handles. They go into the bin as well. On top of the fridge, there's the breadbin, from the days when we thought Argos was cool. I don't even ask her. It crashes down into the Tea, Coffee and Sugar pots, possibly our photo as well. I sigh. I pull open the fridge. It doesn't smell as bad as I expected. There's just some old ham, four suspect eggs, and two ice cold cans of Stella. Without even turning to ask her, I run the Stella tins under the tap and pull both the tabs up. I pass her a can. She takes it. Outside, it's getting dark now. There's a hint of orange bleakness beyond the block of garages our garden backs on to. We sip thoughtfully from two cans of Stella, the last things we'll ever share.

 

(HONORABLE MENTION)

Falling, Falling Through

There's a twist at the end of this rope. A big one. The Australian says, "You put your feet in here, pal, then keep your feet tight together." He's grinning. He's wearing a hat with corks on. They dangle all over his face. Darren's looking nervous. Suzie's holding his hand. The Australian laughs. He's got a buff, easy manner and thick, ruddy, overworked biceps. "You jumping with him, Sheila?" Sheila? Bloody Aussies. Suzie lets go of her lover's hand and steps away. Darren looks back at her, frowning. Then he looks to his left, at the Aussie.

"Ever had any fatalities?"

"Yeah, Sure," the Aussie says. "This one time, had this big thick Maori rat-faced son of a bitch knifed two Pommies right here in the queue. Bled to death. And you ever see that advert, the one where the bloke jumps and the croc rears up? That was shot here. Croc's still down there. Biggest in the outback. Can smell its breath from here, if the wind blows the wrong way." He claps Darren on the shoulders. "Now, what you gotta remember is this: The only way is down. Ok? You ready for this? You ready to step off the ledge?"

Darren takes another look around him. He takes a look back at Suzie. She's laughing. He laughs a little himself. All the way through the build up--the jacking the jobs in, the renting the house out, the kissing goodbye to his family, her family, the shaking of hands at the airport, all the things tired people do now--this is the moment he's talked of. Letting go. Dropping. Fresh air. Now he is here, on the ledge. How far down is that? The little platform he needs to swim to looks like a stamp in the water. The water, itself, like a pond. The cliff face that he will fall down is craggy and grey, wet from rainfall. The sun is now out, and it is vibrant. Darren stretches his arms out. He looks up at blue sky. A plane. So high up, silver in the distance. Feels the breeze on his throat. The Aussie, whatever his name is, says, "Jump in your own time, Cobber. Let yourself go when you like." Deep breaths. Deep breaths. Heartbeat. The pressure of heartbeats. Steps forward. Lets himself fall.

Weightless. A giddy emotion. Hands down. Fingers to water. Flash thoughts. Vibrant flash floods of panic. What if the rope doesn't hold me? What it the rope's cut too long? A scream that hasn't enough breath to hold it. Darren falls. The rope uncoils. The Aussie laughs. He and Suzie high five. Below them, such a long fall below them, the rope grows taut, then flexes back. Darren's fingers touch water. He sees little pure droplets of raindrops flow from the tips of his hands. He slowly loops through the air. The rope loops back lazily around him. Above him. A coil. He spins through it. It tightens. He drops down once again.

Darren screams. With laughter.

He drops.

The rope forms a coil.

The coil forms a noose.

His neck slips into its center.

The coil snaps shut.

There's one crack.

Dangling and taut now, there is a twist, at the end of this rope.

 

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