The Horseshoe

It sat below the bench, propped up amongst last autumn’s leaves, now ignored like so much else. She was not superstitious but when the postman knocked it over, leaving a parcel of books bought to distract from her grief, the last of her luck leaked away.

 

Written for The 50-word Fiction Competition (August 2017 – prompt ‘Horseshoe’) run monthly by the Scottish Book Trust. The winner, and the latest prompt, may be read by clicking here.

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Test Results

I am frightened. I need to be hugged. To be held close by my husband, told that I am loved.

He puts his arms around me. Grateful, I snuggle in. Unfettered now, my tears flow.

I am thinking of our children, ask, “Do we still have life insurance?”

I tell him I love him. Receive no reply.

I say, “We’ve been all right together, haven’t we?”

But he is angry now. “You’re not going to die! You’ve probably got what your mother has.”

Always so sure of himself.

Unlike me.

I need to be told that I am loved.

Bringing home the bacon

As I fed the severed limbs of my fourth victim into the grinder, I realised I had stopped caring about being caught. After the first time, which hadn’t been a part of the plans I had for my life so may not even be categorised as murder, I spent weeks expecting the arrival of the cops. The fear followed me. I would break out in a cold sweat in the grocery store when a passing patrol stopped to pick up a sandwich or grab a coffee. I avoided the town when I could, although my family had long been inclined to live apart.

And maybe that was what enabled me to carry on as before. The delivery guys were used to me signing for their loads. When a buyer collected our produce they might ask after Pa but accepted he was sleeping off the night before’s indulgences. Pa had a vicious streak when disturbed and they harboured guilt at triggering previous rages and the human damage caused. I’d stare straight into their eyes and drive the lie home.

He was a drinker was Pa. After he knocked his third wife down the stairs he didn’t dare risk another woman’s demise. Ma died when I was four having miscarried a baby a year since I was born. Her replacement moved out after a beating put her in the hospital for nearly a month. Cops made their threats but nothing more. If Pa hadn’t turned his attentions to me I would have walked out the day I legally could. Funny how the law once influenced my plans.

I don’t think any murderer believes they will remain uncaught forever. There’s always a looking over the shoulder for whatever exposes what’s been done. My biggest crime was being a girl with a figure men felt entitled to. I learned from Pa there’s a moment when primal need makes a man vulnerable.

We had always run the farm with minimal help. I could stun and butcher a full grown pig from my early teens. A man on his own need only be taken by surprise. The tricks I could turn when cornered grossed me out more than their aftermath. It helped that I had equipment on the farm to deal with a body and the mess of disposal.

One day someone is going to work out that missing men maybe visited with me here. I only kill the ones who try to take me by force. Whatever our faults we’ve always slaughtered livestock humanely, and the fattening pigs benefit from the added protein. The quality of our meat is talked of locally with pride.

Wedding Day

Peirene Press are running a flash fiction competition on their Facebook page which you may check out here. Entrants must submit a story of no more than 30 words on the subject of Cake.

I haven’t written any fiction in a long time but decided to give it a go anyway. This is what I came up with.

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The cake had cost more than her second-hand dress; it fell like a rock.

Her bridesmaid crawled from the car, sparkling now with bloodied glass.  

His injuries were life changing.

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A visit from Mother


She loves to opine. She sits back on my sofa sipping tea from the best china cup and proclaims. With each hard won breath disapproval flows sharply through her browning teeth, now loose in her gums. Dissatisfaction with the state of the modern world emanates from every pore in her increasingly fragile body. This isn’t how her life should be. She has paid her dues and deserves better.

Opinions radiate around matters of health, a care system on its knees. There are infections in hospitals which, once caught, cannot be cured. It is no longer safe.

It is the fault of the cleaning staff, all foreigners, why were they allowed into this country? It is the fault of the doctors, a different one every time, no interest in sitting down and chatting to their patients as they once would. It is the fault of the nurses who huddle together while patients are ignored. What they need is a matron to keep those youngsters in line.

And so many fat people taking up space, demanding treatment for avoidable illnesses. Greedy and selfish like so many in this world. Taking without giving.

Why do they not take more care of themselves? Resources that would be better used on the undeserving ill being diverted to care for the obese and the depressed. Life is easy these days, not like it was for us. What have they got to be depressed about?

She bemoans the lack of stoicism, accepting your lot, working harder to make life better. Eat less and exercise more, it isn’t hard. They should be made to lose the weight before treatment.

I am riled enough to respond, gently pointing out that obesity often has underlying causes. She glances my way, her body language screaming disapproval. I whisper that without treatment they may die.

The smile is thin, the eyes hard. “Let them”, she says.

At my age she was slim and beautiful. Money was never plentiful but she was always neatly dressed, hair coiffed, make up on, smiling coyly at the lens. Perfection was captured. The camera never lies.

She married at nineteen, was a good wife. She loves to tell of how the men opened doors, gave up seats, but I know there was a cost. Those neatly presented bodies would be silently groped, no fuss made about something that should flatter. Lewd comments passed for humour and the women were required to laugh. Their women. Ownership for coveted protection.

She looks at my body with its rolls of fat, its make up free face. Uncut hair is pulled back into an unflattering knot. Androgynous clothes are stretched over a despised shell, for comfort rather than appeal. She sees everything that disappoints her about this world.

I will not tell her about the scars on my arms. I will not mention the pain of a cold blade drawn from wrist to elbow, the gasp of anguish and then release as the blood flowed.

I will not tell her of the resources I wasted. Those medical staff gave me the best care in the world. They did not opine or complain as they patched my hated body back together.

She would call me selfish, and I was.

She would believe that had I truly wished to die I would have succeeded. She would look at me with those familiar, contempt filled eyes and wish I had.

So do I.

 

Matriphagy

She had considered suicide on more than one occasion.

What put her off was the effect on her kids. She did not wish to burden them with a legacy of guilt, although she was unsure if they would harbour such feelings. She could imagine anger, frustration, disappointment. They treated her with such contempt it was hard to know what impact her demise would have.

And then there was her husband. He treated her well and she knew that she was useful to him. She cooked and cleaned even if not with the skills he could admire. Sex was another chore. He was still handsome enough and solvent in a world filled with debt. He could easily find a replacement although not perhaps one as compliant as she. He may relish the change but, as ever, she worried about the impact on their kids.

The aches and pains she felt, the blood she passed, it was probably just her age. If not then death by illness would be so much more acceptable to those left behind. There would be no public shaming even if her choices could be surreptitiously blamed by the spiteful. She knew that she drank more than was good for her but cared little for the effects on her body. If it shortened her life then so be it, at least she would have lived.

It had been a good life. She loved her husband even after all these years of marriage. She was proud of their kids whose lives stretched out before them, filled with such potential. They seemed normal, happy, ready to spread their wings. Didn’t their desire for independence, their strong but considered views, show that she had done her job well? She felt accomplished that they no longer needed her. It hurt that they did not want her.

She considered going to her doctor but saw little point. She was overweight for her age and height, obese by the helpful charts she consulted on line. Both her mother-in-law and her sister opined that the obese did not deserve free healthcare, that they should help themselves by losing the weight. She had been trying to lose weight since she was fourteen years old. Only occasionally did she succeed.

She did not agree with their point of view believing that these issues were often an outward sign of more complex problems. She wondered if she suffered a mental health disorder then berated herself for indulging in such thoughts. Her husband considered depression to be a first world problem, a sign of weakness. He had no interest in such nonsense.

They rarely talked about how they felt. They rarely talked of much at all. When the children discussed politics or the economy she would try to engage but her oratory skills failed her. They became exasperated, running rings around her stumbled opinions before dismissing them. Their father, when he joined in, always sounded so sure, so knowledgeable. She felt a failure for her inability to counter his neoliberal perspective with the same conviction.

She felt a failure in most things: as a wife, a mother, a worthwhile member of society. She sat upon this earth consuming resources and giving little back. If her body was now failing her then she would allow it to wane. The costly treatments that could be offered would channel finite resources away from those who deserved it, those who wished to live.

What is it her son had said when she had told him she did not expect to achieve old age? ‘At least you won’t get dementia.’ This had always been her fear, that she would become a burden to those she loved.

Some days she did not wish to die. Some days she felt the warm glow of happiness, a momentary sunbeam, breaking through the shadows that threatened to engulf her waking hours. Some days life still felt good.

And it had been a good life; she had no regrets. She had achieved so much even if her family did not now hold any of it in regard. She had not made any sacrifices but had offered her all willingly and with infinite love.

This then would be her first, selfish act.

 

 

Sins of the Father

The taxi drove past the house at a quarter past eight every weekday morning. Annabelle could see the girls sitting stiff and upright in the back seat as they went by. They reminded her of mannequins with their blank expressions, always staring forwards, never seeming to see what was ahead. She wondered how much of all that had happened they understood.

The experts consulted by the court had decided that their daily needs would best be met in another town amongst strangers. The few friends that Annabelle had managed to keep, those who had not joined in with the general condemnation and subsequent ostracisation, reported that the girls were calm but unresponsive in this new setting. The staff had tried at first but with so many challenging cases in their care it was easier to let the quiet ones be.

It would have been easier for Annabelle to let things be except then she couldn’t have lived with herself. She had a stubborn streak and a desire to do what she thought was for the best whatever the cost to herself. This latest attempt at improving the world for those she cared about had cost them dearly.

When she had first arrived in town and the twins had ignored her she would not accept that this could never be changed. Her predecessor had warned her to expect nothing more but she observed the girls ability to understand each other’s needs and slowly learned to join in. It had surprised everyone when, at the age of eight, they had uttered their first words.

Words can be dangerous weapons.

When confronted their father denied everything and threw Annabelle out of their comfortable home, angrily terminating the contract that she had naively imagined would offer them all some protection. The unwanted attention of subsequent investigations sent the girls back into their own little world. It was clear from the medical evidence that they had been abused but not by whom.

There had been seven carers since their mother had hanged herself from a tree in the back yard one sunny afternoon in the summer of the girls’ third year. None had noticed anything amiss.

The townspeople were suddenly noticing a great deal.

Some claimed that Annabelle’s non-existent advances had been spurned by the father, others that the stress of caring for the girls had driven her over the edge as it had their mother. Some speculated that the mother had made the same discovery and could not live with it, cruelly pondering why she had not taken her damaged daughters with her.

Annabelle had watched the storm that she had unleashed spin wildly beyond her control leaving nothing but hurt and destruction in its wake. Her beloved girls, spurned by society for being born different, were now beyond her care. Their father had completed his time in court by taking out an injunction to ensure she kept her distance.

Perhaps she should have moved away. Perhaps she would have done had the father not courted his defence lawyer, now pregnant with their first child. Annabelle’s hairdresser had eagerly disclosed that the early scans showed a little girl.

Annabelle understood predilections, especially the sins of a father. She would bide her time.