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by Bee Lewis

“Someone you love has to die.”

That’s how it sounded, anyway, when you whispered into my ear. After the initial shock, the spores of the idea latched onto my consciousness, tendrils taking root. I listened for you again, but you were silent.

On the bus, pressed against a stranger who smelled of hamburgers, I wondered if it should be my father, yellow with age and fatigue. Exhausted from coughing up the half-century of nicotine he’d polluted us with, the minutes between one cigarette and the next becoming shorter — until there was only a cloud of pewter smoke and a trail of ash to mark his position in our house.

In the queue at the supermarket, when the checkout assistant tried to engage me in small talk, I wondered if it should be my sister. Did I love her? Or was it a social expectation? We’d been strangers for longer than we’d been close. An argument over sprouts at the dinner table preceded a lifetime of snubs and misunderstandings. I picked up the bag of sprouts from the conveyor belt, contained in their green plastic netting, and packed it into my Bag for Life. Not my sister.

My mother was already dead, so she was out of the equation on two counts.

Over the next few weeks, I thought about it often, although in the beginning, I tried not to. I ran luxurious bubble baths with the finest perfume oil. I treated myself to champagne truffles, which I ate in secret, so that I didn’t have to share them with my sad, bald husband. He wasn’t a strong candidate either. I’d grown used to him, in the same way I’d grown used to the settee with the sagging cushions. It was comfortable, but if I sat there too long, I ran the risk of petrification.

But still you nagged away at me and I began to hear you even when you didn’t speak.

At the hair salon, I looked at my reflection, pleased with the honey-caramel lowlights. Kirsty, the stylist said, “I love it.”

I smiled at her and replied, “I love it too.” And then I realised.

I paid the stylist, leaving a tip for her and the junior, then I stepped out in front of the red car that was coming too fast over the brow of the hill. Blessed silence.

Bee Lewis lives on the south coast with her husband and their Irish Setter. Bee has a number of publishing credits including British Short Stories 2015 (Salt), Flash Fiction Magazine, and Rattle Tales. Bee was shortlisted for the 2016 Brighton Prize, winning the Sussex Prize category, and has just completed her first novel, Liminal, which will be published by Salt in 2018.