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by Lauren Bell

They said I could keep it, that they had albums stuffed full of them, that you really wouldn’t mind, especially as we were, as we still are …

So I took it, kept it, where it passed from their palms to mine, and where it slipped like a barely audible sigh into my pocket.

The afternoon passed like any other. Us three sat around in your parents’ wicker garden chairs sipping homemade lemonade that was a bit too sharp for my liking, and eating carrot cake which didn’t sit right inside. But I never said anything. That would have been rude, impolite. Instead, I ummed a lot, licked the spice from off my lips and sucked my fingertips dry.

I helped myself to a second slice of cake, not caring if it put an extra inch or two on my hips, and turned to face your parents. They were smiling like they always do, pleased that their carrot cake was such a hit with their soon-to-be daughter-in-law.

So I kept up the pretence.

The sun was hot on my face, burning my eyes, so I had to adjust my position while your parents sat, a golden halo eclipsing their frames like they were invincible.

We said goodbye and on the doorstep I looked into their kind eyes, glistening almost with secret knowledge. I pulled off their driveway, my heart as light as a feather, with one hand resting on my pocket.

***

I kept you everywhere with me, always checking that you hadn’t done a vanishing act. I often wondered what you were doing, being on the other side of the world, probably sleeping whilst I worked. But maybe there had been an instance when we had both drank a cup of coffee or ate a slice of buttered toast simultaneously, in sync, like twins.

On the night before your arrival, I had the imprint of your crescent-shaped face blazing away on the inside of my eyelids, soothing me to sleep, while my mouth mimicked the cheeky smile you had in that photograph. There was genuine warmth in that picture, so when you came home without a phone call or text I couldn’t help but feel that something wasn’t quite right.

This wasn’t like you at all.

Over the weeks, I noticed that you weren’t the same man I knew and fell in love with, and I assumed your meetings had fallen through. Yes that was probably it. That was the reason why you never looked at or listened to me. Why you never smiled any more.

But then I remembered that photograph I had of you, the one your parents gave me instructing me to keep it, the one I had dutifully cherished since the moment it was bestowed into my care, and had spent many a lonely evening with, when the real you was upstairs researching “supposedly” on your computer, pressing it to my aching lips, my yearning heart and wondering, wondering all the while what to do with it.

A smile to keep then?

Perhaps not.


Lauren Bell lives in Birmingham, loves rainbows and is often drunk on inspiration. Her work has been published by Bare Fiction, Firewords Quarterly, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, and Storgy Magazine, where she is a contributing writer.

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