1st Place in the TSS Flash 400 competition (winter)

The gallery’s polished concrete floor gives off an acrid, almost rotten smell; a lecherous odour that forces itself down John’s throat.  He gags. The layer of sweat on his skin is more whiskey shots than salt. He feels shabby, sour. Rain hammers on the sealed-shut skylight drowning out the whispering sound the glass doors make as they are flung open.

A woman, hunched under a shiny yellow mac, stumbles into the space. Rivulets of water run down her sleeves and land like dishonest kisses on the floor. John’s daughter has a yellow mac, but she looks cheerful in hers. She skips and bounces when she wears it, leaps into puddles. The sodden woman walks cautiously as if her bones are sticks. She approaches the nearest artwork with such a look of effort on her face that John imagines her flesh, with each hesitant step, is turning into clay. She stops in front of ‘Collage No.25’. Colour drains from her coat and leaks into the puddle at her feet, making shapes like heartbeats in the water. She straightens her spine and stiffens her legs, tips herself towards the artwork, leaning forward until her forehead rests flat against its priceless surface.

‘Miss!’ John pleads, picturing the damage she’s doing. She raises a hand to silence him, draws a shallow breath and begins to chant.

“Burnt croissants, the autumn breeze through our kitchen window, the lilacs she’d picked, coffee on her breath, the oncology ward, too many lilies.” Her voice is soft, slow, like his ex-wife Helen’s used to be when she was listing all of his failings.

The woman repeats her incantation.

“Burnt croissants, the autumn breeze through our kitchen window, the lilacs she’d picked …”

The smell of the gallery slinks, begrudgingly, into dark corners and the pages of exhibition catalogues. It wraps itself around door handles and curls into electric sockets.

The woman repeats her incantation.

John lies down, trembling as he always does when he’s reminded of Helen.  The chronic rain makes O, after gasping O, on the flooded skylight.

The woman repeats her incantation. John begins his own.

“The new carpets in the house I no longer live in, Helen’s hair when it’s damp, my daughter’s sun-kissed skin, the inside of minicabs, cigarette smoke in a stranger’s hair, burnt toast.”

Their voices merge into one undulating olfactory prayer.  Raindrops trace indecipherable messages on the glass doors.

***

Anika Carpenter lives and works in Brighton and is a proud member of Writers’ HQ. Her stories have been longlisted in the Bath Flash Fiction Award and Reflex Fiction Flash Fiction Competition. She was a runner-up in the BIFFY50 Micro Contest (Autumn 2018). Anika’s background is in the fine arts. She is currently working on a book comprised of a collection of twenty-five collages and alternative artist’s statements, which take the form of flash fiction, poetry, lists, letters, and surreal dialogues. Twitter: @stillsquirrel Website: www.anikacarpenter.com


Learn more about our Flash Fiction competitions.


Support TSS Publishing by subscribing to our limited edition chapbooks.