2nd place in the TSS Flash 400 International Flash Fiction Competition (summer)
On a sun-warmed hill, above pastel apartments with towels draped from window sills, there are streets with empty houses huddled around people-less squares, their windows shuttered for good. You take out your camera and begin to click: the thin orange cat that slinks through the ghost-thin gap in a door; the faded remains of a cola advert on a wall; the knotted tree reaching a furtive branch into a long-abandoned bedroom.
Hands interlocked, we traipse past gaping black doorways; we imagine them painted, with flowers dripping down their crumbling steps.
As I kick grit from my sandal, you’re up ahead, unlatching the gate to the cemetery.
Maria Belfiore, who died the year I was born, has a cross of white marble streaked with black and an old sun-bleached photograph in an oval frame. She stares out from behind horn-rimmed glasses in a roll-neck sweater and she’s all hunched up with laughter, an arm draped around her shoulder.
‘I wonder,’ I say, ‘if she was loved.’
But you are quiet, crouching among the weeds that skirt her grave, and I see it too, the crack in the stone lid of her tomb, the terrible, unmistakable gap: two black lace-up shoes side by side in the gloom, their toes pointing skywards as if poised for escape. Maria Belfiore’s shoes.
‘Let’s go,’ I say. ‘This place is…’
‘Incredible!’ you say, but that’s not what I meant. You’re fiddling with your camera lens. On our way here, I watched as it slapped against your t-shirt. You carry it everywhere, like a grown up security blanket.
While you frame the shot, I stand beside the crumbling cemetery wall where wild capers grow. The ground is dressed in dusty brown and I frame the view of the sea with my hands. These abandoned residents have the best spot in town, you were right about that. I wiggle my toes in my sandals, picturing them made of bone and dust, and there’s a breeze – just enough to push the hair from my eyes but not enough to drown the clicks. You’re taking one final portrait of Maria Belfiore.
‘I hope she was the understanding type,’ I say. From your kneeling crouch, you ignore my words, choosing to believe they’re a trick of the wind. Looking back, you’ll wonder at the inevitable unravelling of things, and trace it here, to this place.
Emily Devane, a teacher and writer, lives in Ilkley, West Yorkshire. Her stories have been published widely, most recently in Ellipsis and The National Flash Fiction Day Anthology. Emily won the Bath Flash Fiction Award in 2017 and was a Best Small Fictions Finalist. A former Word Factory apprentice, she last year won a Northern Writers’ Award for her short story collection-in-progress. Emily is on the editorial team for historical flash fiction literary magazine FlashBack Fiction.