An earthquake goes off at the table. Gerald rocks; left to right, back to front. Time turns solid, thoughts once free now trapped in glue. His head shudders, in a pound that starts at his temples and sweeps to the back of his head; the head that has a rock-sized bump from falling off a swing as a kid. Or was it a bike? Gerald isn’t sure anymore.
Words get lost, caught in his fish hook mouth. Letters drop; ice cube like; one clunk after another. Gerald sees the phone. On the not-so-white wall, its cord twisted as noodles. He reaches out, feels the weight of his arm as if it’s being held. He says LET GO, but what comes out sounds nothing like that.
Below the phone is a shelf, one Gerald put up the day he got his new drill. He is on it, smiling in a picture frame beside a woman and a boy. The boy is small, a gash down the middle of his nose. Gerald knows the woman, recalls a warm finger circling his chest hair. She makes him think of the colour red, although he doesn’t know why.
Gerald raises his gaze, to look above the shelf, back to the noodle phone.
HELLO, he shouts. The word makes him think of drawing on wet sand, with a stick broken from the apple tree in his mother’s garden. She made the best apple pie, the best.
HeLp, he says.
pLeAsE, he yells. But there is no answer. And Gerald wonders why the phone doesn’t work and blames the woman that makes him think of red for not telling him it was broken.
You have six months, the consultant says. Six months to say goodbye, do the things you’ve always wanted to do, tie up loose ends. I leave with a prescription for my own weight in morphine and a phone number for a place that rents hospital beds.
Broccoli, they tell me. My daughters say it’s the best thing to fight it. We call it it, as we can’t say the real word out loud. Both daughters are always over now. One makes broccoli soup, the other roasted florets. If I add cumin, the younger one says, will that make it taste better? I say it doesn’t matter, it always tastes like grass sweetheart. She sticks out her tongue and shakes the cumin bottle like maracas.
I’m on a plane, a parachute strapped to my back. My brother asks the instructor what happens if the chute doesn’t open. We’ve an emergency one, says the instructor. Well, what if that doesn’t open, my brother persists. I laugh and remember how he stood like a stork when he was a toddler so his feet touched as little as possible. I need to know Anna, he declares. I pat him on the shoulder and tell him it would be a much kinder way to go. On the way down I let out my screams.
My son comes home, from America with his new girlfriend. We’re pregnant they tell us over dinner. I spend the rest of the holiday looking at her nearly bump. I’m sorry mum, my son says. When I ask him what for, all he can do is shake his head. I say it’s wonderful news and suggest having my name in there somewhere. That way I’ll always be here, I tell him. He nods so hard I’m afraid his neck will break. When they leave, my husband follows me around for days.
I’ve booked a trip, my husband announces. Over broccoli and kale pasta bake. He shows me a picture of the Great Barrier Reef and I cry for ten minutes. He hands me a handkerchief and grips my shoulders. I dream of jewelled fish, manta rays the size of boats and kissing a turtle. Down there I live forever.
Everyone’s around my bed. Can we get you this? How you feeling? Is there anything that’ll make you more comfortable? I tell them all to fuck off as it’s one of the things I’ve always wanted to do. My daughters read to me as I smoke. Sometimes they share the joint and we laugh, until the room is ready to burst with all the things we’re trying to say before we can’t.
I’m here, but I’m not. They’ve organised the funeral. They’re waiting with red eyes. I kiss the turtle I never got to see and tell them to let go.
Clodagh O’Brien writes flash fiction, short stories, and the occasional poem. Based in Dublin, she has been published in Thrice Fiction, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, Litro, Literary Orphans amongst others. Her flash fiction was highly commended at the Dromineer Literary Festival and shortlisted for the Allingham Arts Festival. You can catch her writing at: www.clodaghobrien.com and on Twitter @wordcurio
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