Continuing our TUWL creative writing series, we have a beautifully rendered short story by Cath Bore.
Cath Bore is a writer based on Merseyside. Her fiction and non-fiction is widely published and includes an essay in Know Your Place, an anthology of essays on working class culture, published by Dead Ink Books in Oct 2017.
Her short story The Second Brain, based around issues of consent, is in The Word For Freedom: Short Stories for Women’s Suffrage (Retreat West Books, Nov 2018). Her flash fiction appears in a number of places including National Flash Fiction Day anthologies; We’ll Always Have Paris won the Bristol Flash Walk competition (May 2018).
Her short story Chemical Cosh was chosen for Fictive Dream’s inaugural September Slam (2018). Rush Hour was featured at Fictive Dream in August and is nominated for BIFFY50 (Best British and Irish Flash Fiction 2018 – 2019). Dusk Runner was part of the Solstice Shorts Festival 2017, at sites in North Devon and on Anglesey. Body Beautiful was part of this year’s Flash Flood Journal.
‘My name is Mazzy. It rhymes with Jazzy,’ I tell the new guy at work. ‘Not Maisie. And before you ask – no, it’s not short for anything.’
‘Just asking,’ he says.
‘Well I’m just telling.’
He blinks. Straight off, I feel bad for being stroppy so fill the empty air between us with words and explain Mum named me after a band she was into at college, Mazzy Star. I looked them up on Spotify, tried my best to like them but they’re nowhere near as exciting as I hoped. Even Mum doesn’t listen to them anymore. I tell him that fourteen female babies per million are called Mazzy and that’s not even here, it’s in America. I wonder out loud if such a tiny amount is in proportion with the number of fans the band have. I end with, ‘I’ve never met anyone else called Mazzy.’
He pauses. ‘Me neither. Until now.’
He’s very still, this man, but gives himself away bite-sized bits at a time. He’s got a tiny twitch of a smile. Lets one arm hang down, hooks the elbow with his hand like he wants to cover himself up, or tries to hide.
I babble to another close, run out of words, and leave him be.
It’s noon. I lunch early each day, to break up the hours. My original idea was to make the mornings shorter but the downside is the rest of the working day stretches out. I like this hour in winter. I take my usual space on the iron bench by the empty pond in the park. It gives me time to think and get so cold I’m grateful to be in the warm afterwards.
It’s the week before payday. I’ve run out of sandwich bags, so bread gets squashed and dented by aluminium foil wrapping. The top crust soaks up the juice from a slice of tomato and the grated cheese is waxy and hard and smells of feet. I’ve got crisps out of a multi-pack from the supermarket. Six packs for a quid sounds a bargain but they’re a mean 25 grams each, nothing when you compare them to the Walkers you see in the corner shop, so big you could eat them forever and never get to the bottom of the bag.
‘Nice place to have butties.’
I cover my stupid ugly sandwich. ‘What are you doing here?’
I notice how his hip tilts to one side, awkward like.
‘Fancied a walk. What happened to all the ducks?’
I follow his gaze over to the empty surface of the pond. It’s flat and still. ‘They’ve gone somewhere nice until spring.’
‘Mind if I join you, Mazzy?’ He pronounces it properly this time, and asks for a bite of my butty. Has the mushy part where the bread’s all wet and disgusting but eats it anyway. ‘Mazzy is rare,’ he says, continuing his theme from before.
‘As rare as rocking horse shit.’
‘Don’t say that about yourself! Promise me. Mazzy is like a rare…flower!’ He’s over-reaching and we both know it, but my fingers dance. I hide them in my pockets.
He takes the same early lunch as me the next day, at noon sharp. His flat is on the edge of the park, a poky little place. I’ve never made love in the daytime before. Yanking curtains half shut with the rush of it, going back to work straight after, mussed hair and flushed cheeks and crumpled skirt are easily explained away when the frost nibbles and the wind is blowy.
The wind loses its bite over the weekend, and on Monday I’m at the park bench at five minutes past twelve. He’s late, but comes eventually. Boy, does he come.
Winter speeds up as the days and the weeks pass. Ice melts within a calendar month and the collar of my coat scratches while I wait on a mild day, one worryingly spring-like. I reach for my sandwiches. A chip of paint from the bench stabs my wrist. The paint is peeling away in a shallow bubble, orange-brown rust underneath rotting the metal. I pull the shard from my skin. A fat ruby of dark red blood oozes. Sucking the cut clean, I taste copper coins and dirt.
I corner him in the office. He’s taking a late lunch from now on, did he not say? He looks different and his eyes flicker upwards and to the right as he lies. The afternoon lasts the longest ever, and I cut through the park to get home after work, keeping my head turned away from the direction of his flat. But it hurts not to look. The curtains are wide open, as tidy as his fringe is now, and I’m not sure if that’s positive news or bad. The next day at lunch, the sky above me is still white and the ground below so grey, and the icy wrought iron burns the backs of my legs when I sit on the bench. I press hard against it and force my skin good and dead. Getting to my feet after the hour is done, I stumble a little, the soles of my shoes are tinny against the earth, but I notice the tiny green blinks, leaf tips, in front of me in a sprinkled garnish. Soon buds will appear, and ripen. Pale buttery sunshine kisses my face ever so soft, way softer than he ever did. He did nothing by halves, him. I remember that time he swore blind he didn’t know Mazzy was slang for wanking. And I swallowed it, all of it, every single drop. I bark out a laugh. It comes from somewhere deep, my belly, my heart, who knows? It blooms big, and warms my chest, bounces back at me from the earth and rattles against the clouds. I count the echoes – they’re quieter each time, but still there, as clear at the ringing of a bell. The numbers stack up. It’s a way to pass an hour, to kill the minutes, chew them into nothing, before it’s time to go back and crush the rest of the day into dust.
Contact Cath via twitter at @cathbore.