by Adam Lock
I grip the muscle that runs from the back of her ankle to the back of her knee with both hands and bite. I fell in love with Beth, fell in love with her calves.
When the bell goes, we run to the toilets to see who can piss the highest. Spencer pisses so high it reaches the open window above the stainless steel trough. Outside, below the window, girls are screaming.
When Jen is born her face is all screwed up and red. I’m holding her, looking around for someone to tell me it’s ok. Mom looks at me like ok isn’t enough any more. She wants to know I understand what’s happened, that I’m taking it all in, that I know nothing will ever be the same again but that’s ok.
My sister and me are shown a chair. We sit next to one another, hips and shoulders pushed together. Grandad makes a “shh” noise and holds a finger to his lips. Nan is asleep on the settee, beneath a purple crocheted blanket. Grandad leaves the room so when Nan wakes she sees us and it’s like we’re ghosts. Nan stares at her slippers next to the settee.
I’m late, but I don’t know what for.
Beth never lies, but she lied for me. She said it was the first time for her too. It didn’t matter to me anyway. Not really. I’d only ever bought flowers for Mom. Some things change everything.
In the sky are Boeing 747s: orange wing-tipped, green wing-tipped, silver wing-tipped. They fall sideways, wing first, disappearing behind hillsides, behind cityscapes, behind mountains. I run to help but they’re nowhere.
I’m there when Nan, or the machine (can’t be sure which), takes her/its last breaths. It’s not until I reach the car that it hits me, how Nan’s final breath must have been there in her first, maybe touching, like the ends of a long length of string, crushed and jumbled up in a ball. Nan’s first breath was an inhalation, her last an exhalation, and the lifetime between her trying to catch her breath.
Miss Finnian asks me what the first letter of the alphabet is and points to a banner high up on the wall that has a word and a picture for each letter of the alphabet. I say “apple,” but Miss Finnian says that is a fruit, not a letter. The class laugh. She asks me for the fifth letter of the alphabet and I say, “Egg.” The class laugh again but I’m not trying to be funny. The alphabet only makes sense if everyone agrees it makes sense.
Beth asks, “Why me?”
I say, “It was your calves. I fell in love with your calves.”
Well, it has to begin somehow.
Adam Lock was placed third in the Cambridge Short Story Prize 2017 and was shortlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction Award 2018. He’s been published in Spelk once before and has stories featured in publications such as STORGY, Fictive Dream, Reflex, Retreat West, Fiction Pool, Ellipsis Zine, Syntax & Salt, Occulum, and many others. Website: adamlock.net. Twitter: @dazedcharacter.