A Change in The Weather by Karen Schauber
There’s a change in the weather I didn’t notice before. I can taste it. On the teeny hairs on my cracked tongue. Dry musk – bergamot. No. More of a stale smell like a cedar closet that hasn’t been opened for ages. Dank. With a hint of old lady’s muskrat fur coat, not evident yesterday. My senses. Piqued.
I look-see over at the stream of light punching through the crack in the window and recoil like a Bela Lugosi vampire. Too much. Too soon. The filmy glow unfamiliar after an eon spent in isolation. There is much to revive. Restore. I emerge like a bear from its den. Famished. I don’t remember when I gobbled up the last ramen pkg. Empty cans, soiled take-out cartons, dehydrated and junk food foils, cellophane, and Styrofoam packaging punctuate the countertops, marking my itinerary and grazing practices of the last few months. No sense in rummaging around in the cupboards, I know they are bare. I hear the tiny brown mouse scurrying. Again, behind the sofa. Sounds like he’s found something to eat. Carrying it off through the fissure, in the dry wall. He’s darling. But I do need to eat. I reposition the trap a little closer. To the hole.
It’s hard to tell what season we’re in, now. Is that snow I smell. I’ve been self-isolating. For so long. Last time I checked the president was behaving like a Sith Lord. Soon after, my internet connection went down. Something about non-payment of fees; the last mailed invoice said. But honestly. It’s been a welcome reprieve to be without cable. And Wi-Fi. I mean after all the sparring with the press, a break, does a person well.
This social distancing thing is taking a major toll. My skin has lost its healthy sheen. More mayonnaisy than tanned, and the granular flaking is not a pretty picture. I desperately need a strong dose of Vit D. I peel back the edge of pasted newspaper pressed against the windowpane. It has done an excellent job keeping the winds and cold at bay, but, in, the, process, I, had, to, sacrifice, sunlight. I turn the door handle, but it doesn’t budge; rusted stuck. From disuse. I can hear the wind rattling the branches against the side of the house and can feel the daylight warming the door.
If I call out, I wonder if my neighbour Milosevic will hear me. Come to my rescue. Let me out. I open my mouth, but a pitiful sound emerges – not my own. It’s been so long since I’ve spoken. To anyone. My voice has shrivelled from disuse. I remember once when I lost my voice from laryngitis and had to nurse it back to full decibel with hibiscus tea. And manuka honey. What I would give for a teaspoon of that delectable nectar now. Well, that’s not going to happen – since all the bees went extinct long ago.
I decide that when this is finally all over, I’m going to get a dog. I’ll call her Mercy. Pitié for short, to remind me… I’ll be better prepared for the next pandemic. I grab my n-95 and head for the door.
I take another gander out the window – heavy clouds, chalky. I decide I can wait for a change in the weather.
At the End of the Road by Lynda Scott Araya
An imagined Level 4 Lockdown clandestine meeting
It could be the start of a Bond Movie. The black, boxy RAV driving up the long road. Lock down deserted now. Save some desultory leaves swirling in the wind. Through the Victorian grand gates, the car sweeps, until at last it is there, drawing up to the bed of roses. The garden blushes in the warmth of the late autumn sun. Opium, Black Magic, Checkmate, all of them red. Stop! They nod at the driver as he emerges, fat and overblown. His hooded eyes check out the scene. One corpulent hand, wedding ring tightly wedged in pudgy doughy flesh, rests on the car door. Its 3.03pm and he is late.
Atop the central arched window of the house, with its weathered limestone blocks struts a starling. Back and forth across a solitary electronic eye she struts. Mate with me. Mate with me she sings to the camera. I have made you a nest in which to rest with me. Again, the roses red incline their graceful heads. Stop. They say. There is danger ahead.
Inside, another man waits. Anxious, he paces, twists his wedding ring. He slowly inhales, blows small puffs of air out of thin wet lips. A small trickle of saliva slips down his chin. He wipes it away. Before it is seen. The antique grandfather clock ticks loudly. The beating of his heart. The quickening thud and pulse within him building up to a crescendo. An Agatha Christie novel. The Stain on the Carpet. Lockdown in the Mansion. Breaking the Rules.
The visit is over in no time. Neither man needs long. They never do. The heavy-set man, porcine, satisfied with a job well-done returns to his car. Above him, the camera watches on. Time and date stamped. Check mate the starling sings.
The Rules are not for Cats by Annette Edwards-Hill
I suggested we move in together for the month.
But he said no. It was too soon.
What if you want to see me? I asked.
Don’t visit me, he said. Rules are rules.
We sat together in the silence. At 11.30pm he told me to go home.
Now, I lie in bed listening to cats fighting. You can’t make a cat self-isolate.
At 5am I give up on sleeping and get in the car.
I can see his shadow in the window, waiting.
I stand at his front door, my slippers damp with dew. Then I hear the sirens.
Alone Doesn’t Have To Mean Lonely by Judy Darley
Dawn comes late at this time of year, as though the tired sun rises with effort, still trailing dreams. I walk down the avenue when the sky is littered with gold.
The long, hot summer has flaked off strips of bark that crunch underfoot. The sensation shudders through me – a memory of touch from heels to calves and the tender place at the back of my knees no one has ever paid attention to but you.
During my walks, I’ve befriended beetles and snails. I’ve run my fingers over unfurling ferns and had silent, heated debates with clouds.
Sycamore leaves scatter the pathway; fingers curling as they count off the months.
No one has held me since March.
You left in February, telling me you felt suffocated; striking out for air. From our bed I watched you empty shelves into suitcases. Our duvet wound about me, clinging on as though to prevent you trying to take that too.
You’ll be ok, won’t you? An afterthought flung as you propped the door ajar with the toe of one boot, arms full of the life we’d shared.
I didn’t bother to answer. Weariness weighted me. Days passed before I surfaced.
Then it was already March. I escaped to my job at the bar, its buzz and gleam, bringing home tips, vodka breath and a stranger who left politely at daybreak, shoes in hands. Later, I found a slip of paper on my windowsill patterned with a phone number and no promises.
Like a fallen leaf in need of pressing to remember its shape, I’ve kept their note in a worn copy of The Wind in the Willows – my comfort read.
I haven’t tried dialling the digits. I haven’t missed my stranger, or you, any more than I’ve missed the jostle of the crowded bar since being furloughed.
The other day I caught sight of myself in a mirror. My hair’s red is re-emerging at the roots. I look fit to burst into flames.
I tell myself loneliness is a choice, and I don’t choose it. The world brims with vivacity that keeps me company. During my morning walks, fragrances embrace me – the density of summer blooms followed sweet spring leaves.
Now, I inhale the quenching dampness of roots reaching deeper into mud and copper leaves disintegrating. A hint of ice meets my lungs, tasting of stones threaded with silver. It imbues my steps with fresh energy. Anticipation quivers in my veins.
Before leaving the house, I applied lipstick for the first time since March. Its vivid scarlet and waxy perfume adhere to my mood.
As I exhale, I spy a figure ahead. There, then gone.
My brain latches onto the shape; decodes it – crown, trunk, limbs, bootlaces long enough to flap. Reappearing and disappearing in rhythm with our strides. We’re walking towards one another on opposite sides of a row of orderly trees. My view opens, closes, opens, closes.
The height and strong, narrow build are right, the hands bunched into pockets and jaunty swing of thick-soled boots. Dark hair, bouncing, is bigger than I expect, but your moss-green sweater is unmistakable – I can almost make out the textured chunky yarn.
I stride faster, breath quickening. I lift my shoulders, straighten my neck.
Your pace doesn’t falter.
Any moment now we’ll collide. We’re almost within touching distance. I recall your fingers dawdling down my spine until my skin shivered.
My pulse clatters.
But then the space between trees reveals itself, and I blink.
You are not there. No one is there.
I halt, blood thundering, and hiss into the empty air.
High above, clouds swirl, silent but unstilled.
Lynda Scott Araya’s background is in education but she has always been passionate about writing. She has recently been published in the Christmas edition of Mindfood, as well as Prospectus. A Literary Offering and Landfall 240. A strong advocate for mental health, especially suicide awareness, her poem “Speak of Suicide” is currently in the Hope and Fear Exhibition in the Forrester Gallery, Oamaru NZ. Along with her husband, Lynda co-owns a heritage-listed home in Kurow, North Otago, NZ.
Judy Darley is a British author can’t stop writing about the fallibilities of the human mind. Her short fiction has been published in the UK, New Zealand, US, Canada and India, including by The Mechanics’ Institute Review, Spelk and The Cabinet of Heed. She is Flash Fiction Editor at Reflex Press. Judy’s story collection Sky Light Rain is out from Valley Press. Her debut Remember Me To The Bees is available from Tangent Books. Find Judy at http://www.skylightrain.com; https://twitter.com/JudyDarley.
Annette Edwards-Hill lives in Wellington, New Zealand. She has been published in Flash Frontier, Bonsai: Best small stories from Aotearoa New Zealand, Gravel, Headland, Fictive Dream, Spelk, Reflex Fiction and the 2019 Bath Flash Fiction Anthology. She was nominated for the Best Small Fictions and the Pushcart Prize and the winner of the Flash Frontier Winter Writing Award in 2017. She was recommended in the London Independent Short Story competition twice in 2019.
Karen Schauber is a flash fiction writer obsessed with the form. Her work appears in fifty international literary magazines, journals and anthologies, including Bending Genres, Cabinet of Heed, Cease Cows, Ekphrastic Review, Fiction Southeast, New Flash Fiction Review and Spelk; and has gained a ‘Best Microfiction’ nomination. The Group of Seven Reimagined: Contemporary Stories Inspired by Historic Canadian Paintings (Heritage House, 2019), her first editorial/curatorial flash fiction anthology, achieved Silver in 2020 in The Miramichi Reader’s ‘Very Best Book Award” for Short Fiction. Schauber curates Vancouver Flash Fiction, an online resource hub, and in her spare time is a seasoned family therapist.