2nd Place in the spring TSS Flash Fiction 400 competition
Gallagher waddles up the drive, his crumpled blackened body like a sack of coal. The whinnying horse behind him scrapes its metal hoof against the cobbled road.
I pull back the wafer-thin curtains, cursing the lack of insulation in our house. Had expected the clip-clop to pass by, as I lay cuddling Gallagher’s daughter, Meg.
Her wrinkled Doc Martens (with different coloured laces) on the floor. Red, curled up tights like a crooked mouth at the end of my bed.
An empty bottle of cheap wine rolls around, a gleam of green. Cigarette butts are squashed in a saucer. A thin blue candle hisses.
Meg leans on an elbow, reaches for a cigarette with a freckled hand. “Who is it? What is it?”
Downstairs, the front door creaks. Dad, his braces undone, in a filthy yellow vest, bellows, “Morning Charlie. How’s tricks?”
“Are ye alright Cock? Do you need any?”
Mum would have ordered the coal. November time. Before she left. The card through the letter box advertising best Polish coal would be stuck to the fridge. The symbol of a flame, orange-back, like the tip of a spear. Don’t burn this Card. Burn our Fuel.
She’d ordered enough to last us the whole previous winter. Gallagher’s black footprints spattered the path that lead to the rickety shed. An eon ago.
I’d meant to clean it out. Torn bags, empty, flattened. Red-and-black like board games.
Things she left behind. Dog-eared books, a pink-and-white tooth brush, half-used lipstick. A plastic hippo.
Empty vodka bottles behind the wardrobe.
Dad talks to Gallagher. I can’t make out what they’re saying. A train rips the air.
Meg’s cinnamon breath warms my neck. Her hand rests on my shoulder. Gallagher walks, bow-legged, down the drive.
Instinctively he stops and looks up.
“Oh shit!” she ducks, her head an arrow pressing against my back.
The cloakroom, the dance. The cold, black air as we leave. The music, the cigarettes, Strawberry Fields Forever.
I spread my arms to hide her, wriggle my fingers in a half-hearted wave at Gallagher.
A keeper blocking his goal.
David O’Dwyer lives in Dublin, Ireland, with his partner Helen and three daughters. He works in the Centre for Safety and Health at Work in University College Dublin (UCD). His short stories have appeared in Cadena magazine, the Migrating Minds anthologies and A Blushing Object. He is a runner-up in the People’s College Short Story Competition and has been shortlisted in the Fish Short Story Prize, the William Trevor/Elizabeth Bowen International Short Story Competition and the Over the Edge New Writer of the Year Award on several occasions. David submitted a collection of short stories as part of the MFA degree in Creative Writing in UCD in 2016 and is currently completing his novella, Sanctuary.