Shortlisted for the Fish One-Page Fiction prize
Published in the Fish Anthology, ed. Clem Cairns;
Fish Publishing 2006.
He thumped me once. I thumped him twice, once before his thump and once after. It was a thump sandwich, as he put it later. We hadn’t any steak in the fridge – who has? – so he laid two strips of bacon across my brow. I looked like Groucho Marx.
Pete was wide and tall like an idea of a guy. Seeing as he had the edge, I favoured the pre-emptive strike. My weapons were mostly culinary. One evening I hit him with the colander. For days he carried a polka-dot pattern on his cheekbone.
Whenever I strain spinach I think of those, our glory days.
After a while he lost his appetite for conflict. I don’t know why. Our evenings sagged in the middle. They sagged so much we could not get up, not even to fight.
We took up the usual things – TV, sex, silence. Pete joined a wine club.
One night he said, let’s talk. I said, why? He said, that’s what you do. When you’re a couple. I looked at his elbow. I wanted to say something about it, but on second thoughts it seemed fine the way it was. Let’s talk about art, he said. Likes, dislikes. And another time: What are your top ten colours, in reverse order? So he talked and then we both talked. We talked and talked. We thought that’s what you do. You couples.
One day I talked and there was no reply. I went into the garage and his Suzuki was gone. Four days later he left a message on the answerphone saying he’d fallen for a girl called Caitlin. This seemed unlikely. But it was true. He brought her round to prove it. She stood there on our doormat. She said Pete had an aura. Pete seemed embarrassed to have an aura but secretly pleased I thought. I asked her if I had one. She smiled.
So I invited them in to see my new kitchen utensils. I’d been drying that cast iron waffle pan at the time. The salesman had called it an investment buy.
He was right.
Afterwards I felt squeaky clean and empty, like a polaroid of myself. I lay on the sticky lino and noticed things. Next door’s cat was batting a ping-pong ball against the skirting board again.
I tried a bit of humming. Then I sat up.
Caitlin was resting by the fridge. A red puddle had spread around her: it was like she was defrosting herself. Pete lay half in the hall, sunny side up. His head was turned the wrong way, like an owl. Together we watched the clock slice up its face into little bits of now.
I don’t want an aura. I don’t need one. Pete didn’t need one, back then. Before we were a couple. Before he lost his appetite.
© tessa sheridan