#fridayflash Entropy held

Killiney Bay

On the train the man with the monobrow does the crossword. He holds his pen poised over the newspaper’s soft flesh. A hirsute man in a suit, astute. A knife of light slices the paper – diagonally – not down or across. As a boy he would never step on shadows.

He left his wife this morning, now certifiably dying, crying in the arms of his sister-in-law. ‘A little sniffle’ is what she’d said, her eye’s white, the edges of her features dark pink like an inflamed wound. The tissue was crushed beyond utility.

He would never step on shadows but he let them wrap round him in the night when he stood star bathed in a rural village house’s back garden. He stood, eyes shut, arms outstretched, short trousers, aged eight, feet in sandals, rooted. He wanted to feel the turn of the earth.

The sun is rubberstamped on the horizon. The wide water of Killiney Bay is lit as if with a million candles, to exonerate the blood sacrifice at the periphery. And then a crescendo of light. The gurgling infant sun becomes gold, regains its naivety.

‘I don’t feel broken’ his wife had said. ’It’s as if there isn’t anything wrong. I can walk down the street to buy apples. I can hold them in my hand and feel their wax, their shield. I can press my thumb into the skin and bruise it. I can take a bite, clean and tangy. You know what I mean by that’ she said, pressing her thumb into his skin above the elbow, placing her hand against his newly shaven skin, just a small nick, that stung. ‘When the sun shines on my head, my hair gets warm and I feel good’ she said. ‘And inside I’m being eaten up and later I go home and take a nap all of a sudden like I used to do when expecting the children.’ The sleep with no undoing.

His car was also kaput, hence the commute, the battery on his mobile phone is ailing. The train clings to the cliff above the bay and he always wanted to sail down such a sky in a parachute, to chuck himself out into fear.

In Oncology, unmasked, much later in the day, he strode out of Surgery to meet the relatives of his patient. Irony had faint humour. He feigned empathy as he had done all through the years to stem the flow of their tears, to shore up their devastation. He indicated in nods and in the press of his firm tips that he was to be depended upon, even when there was nothing he could do. Then he fled, with solid careful steps.

He wasn’t the kind of man to hold his head in his hands, but his wife had framed his face with her fingers and then entwined her fingers with his. ‘You’ she said, ‘you’ and of the radio ‘I love this song’. And then she undid her fingers and he had the sensation of falling backwards and falling and falling. At that moment neither of them were scared.

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22 comments

  1. Ah, Alison, just lovely. First paragraph is wonderful lead in to your story. Love the image of his wife framing his face with her hands – a face on a head he never would hold in his hands in despair.

    “Irony had faint humour” is a great line.

    Wonderful.

  2. Wow, Alison, I love this. Your use of language is consistently so fantastic. I always look forward to reading them, and am never disappointed.
    Every time I read one of your stories I can imagine it all unfolding in front of me. Wonderful descriptions.

  3. What I’ve enjoyed about your writing so far is how well, in just a few small paragraphs, you can evoke a greater story, the tiny bits of a life that give a telling glimpse of the whole. This is no small ability. This story feels like falling, or like being underwater, the sensation of being swallowed up by something. The repetition of the boy who wouldn’t step on shadows (can you step on shadows?), yet felt wrapped up in them is deep, heavy-laden.

    I admit to some little confusions at first (though the text ‘reads’ beautifully) – I loved the image of the (hairy) man with the mono-brow and later the ‘blood sacrifice’ – conjures up images of werewolves, but also, at first, the idea of abuse. The second paragraph seemed at first to tell us this was a story about a brutal man who has hurt his wife.

    You don’t let us off so easily though, the story is more complicated than that – and the twist of it is sad, graceful and elegiac. A great read.

  4. Thanks all. I wrote this yesterday evening and would have liked to go over it more and make things clearer. The idea, DJ of the blood sacrifice in my mind was like a nightmare scenario of floating dead, loved ones but then beauty alongside, it got confused in my mind then with the image of a new born, residues of blood (which seems to denote strife) but is really something wonderful. More work might unravel those thoughts and create a sharper metaphor. I meant the man to have the seemingly cold intellect of the surgeon but did not see him as abusive but very interesting to see where the images took you.

    Thanks for the positive comments so far. What I don’t like about my writing sometimes is that it’s too emotion based, esoteric, up in the air. I would like to root it more in real life, real exchanges. But I guess a flash is good for fleeting feelings.

  5. Such brilliant work Alison, (as usual). There are so many lines I love here, but especially “star bathed”- such a beautiful image.
    Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful stories with us!

  6. Beautifully written. Some of it took my breath away’ …feet in sandals, rooted. He wanted to feel the turn of the earth.’ This was so evocative, I could picture a young unconfident young boy trying to find his living inside the heart of the ‘no nonsense’ surgeon type who was suffering great trauma because of his wife.

    Really enjoyed it thanks.

  7. too emotional? You gotta be kidding. All writing ought to offer emotional intelligence whatever hook/story/narrative we frame it in and yours always does that in spades. personally I prefer the lyrical & linguistic approach to the realism one.

    Here there seem several emotional jags like a broken bottle, that everything and everyone is bound by the truths & the baited time/motion implied by the title. Everyone is on the edge of something or just passed through it & unsure what they’re emerging into. Wonderful, taut stuff

    Marc x

  8. Then he fled, with solid careful steps.

    Loved that line and that image. How often do we do that in the everyday?
    Can’t say I understood it all, but it was lyrical and moving.

  9. Again, I’m too late to add anything new. Beautiful work. I agree with much of what’s been said already. Stories like this are why I consistently return to your blog for #fridayflash.

    Interesting title too, btw.

  10. Hi Alison – your story literally brought a tear to my eye. You say, ‘I would like to root it more in real life, real exchanges’, well for me this story is very real, very close to home. The feeling of almost surreal confusion makes it all the more poignant – standing ‘star bathed in a rural village house’s back garden’ and the ‘sensation of falling backwards and falling and falling’ was me last year shortly after my husband’s surgeon ‘fled, with solid careful steps’. Something’s eating you from inside …… and life’s every day problems with cars and mobiles mingle with light, shadow, stars, sun, sea, sky and mortality. (Anyway, happily my husband in not ‘certifiably dying’ and he’s feeling much better now). Thanks so much for your story.

    1. This is one of the most touching comments I have ever received, that someone with a real experience would find a resonance in my fiction is really something special. The fraility of life is something that I feel quite strongly these days and I have a great sense of, as you say big things like mortality being intertwined with our small niggles. I hope things are better for you and your husband now. x

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