Naked and bolstered by high thread-count pillows, he listens to the slip of his wife’s body against the bathtub from behind the wall that divides them. He hears the wake of water lift, the clasp of her vanity case. He pours two flutes of champagne. They’d checked in late, underestimating the journey from her new apartment. As he thundered up the hotel’s gravelled approach, a peacock appeared in the road.
‘Slow down’ she’d said, palm braking against his forearm. The bird shook its fan of a hundred iridescent eyes.
‘How wonderful’ she’d said and he’d taken her hand, happy she was still wearing her wedding ring, feeling its sheen press warm into his wrist.
The Jacuzzi spasms quiet. He splays the unruffled top sheet on the unoccupied side of the bed, exposing a triangle of crisp white cotton. The room dusks. He sips, studying the abstracts hanging beneath the wall’s frieze: Rorschachs of love– a rose, a conch, a branch of something or perhaps an arrow, he can’t be sure. A hair dryer buzzes behind the headboard.
Outside, the lake that glosses the hotel brochure frisks with mayflies and a few guests drift to terrace tables, watching the peacocks, their tail feathers trailing along the water’s edge. Beyond them lies wilderness, heather-stitched and pinned with sheep. He watches them migrate across the moor, their heads – black dots bobbing. They’d reared the same type on the family farm, broad backed with booted hocks though the pedigree escapes him. When blizzards bent the rowan, he’d pulled the flock from drifts with his father, who even when blindfolded by the crackle of ice always found them, always knew just by pressing his hands to their poll and muzzle, if they were hogget or ewe, his own or the property of another.
The flock skelters towards the plain, spooked perhaps by the moon rising flat on its back. The bathroom door unlatches, and his wife appears, hair quilled, outfit shimmering.
‘You haven’t changed’ she sighs, walking to the window, watching waiters hold matches to tea lights.
He drains his glass, bunches the sheets to stand. His skin pewters in the light.
‘I will’ he says taking her head in his hands, eyes closed, leaning in for the kiss. When he looks up, she has gone, the ring sits on the nightstand. ‘Rough Fell’ he says to the chill quiver in the room.
Mary-Jane Holmes lives in the Durham Dales, UK. Her work appears in anthologies including Best Small Fictions and Best Microfictions and publications including The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Spelk, Cabinet of Heed, Flashback Fiction, Mslexia, Fictive Dream, The Lonely Crowd, and Prole. Mary-Jane has won the Bath Novella-in-Flash Prize, the Bridport, Martin Starkie, Dromineer, Bedford, Reflex Fiction, and Mslexia prizes. Mary-Jane’s debut poetry collection Heliotrope with Matches and Magnifying Glass is published by Pindrop Press.
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