Short Fiction ~ Rachel J. Fenton
Honourable Mention, Strands International Flash Fiction Competition -5
One hand on the lock that had been broken a decade ago, it was as obvious to Kiri as Andrew’s bare feet that what he had to say could only be spoken outside this house where everything between them had fallen away.
The cliff spanned the length of the beach, orange and unstable as if sediment had been combed there. Nested at intervals, pigeons cooed, jutted their heads like animated hieroglyphs. Andrew turned to look at them and Kiri called out just in time to stop him planting his foot into the giant turd left like an unexploded bomb on the low sea wall.
They climbed down and picked their way through the mussel nurseries, Kiri gingerly stepping into rock pools where crossing the sharp shells was impossible, Andrew striding.
Andrew used to tell Kiri about the creatures he and Georgie had seen in the pools, as if auditioning to be the next David Attenborough. ‘Dip your feet in and shrimp nibble your dead skin,’ he’d say. Later, he’d grumble. ‘You’re always busy ruining the planet instead of getting out and enjoying it.’ But he’d given up broadcasting.
Sunlight bounced off the water, cast patterns on him. Kiri remembered the nights they used to spend watching the slide shows he put together of all Georgie’s milestones: eating her first solids, sitting up by herself, crawling.
‘I might have a swim.’ Andrew took off his shirt. He looked at it a moment then threw it a little distance from them. Kiri brought her hand to her side. Few but the habitual swimmers and dog walkers took advantage of the lack of lifeguards to occupy the beach this time of year.
He moved as if doing breast-stroke, but even through the distortions in the water, Kiri could see he was walking on a sandbank. His legs reminded Kiri of the way he taught Georgie how to swim, with her belly supported by two dining chairs and him holding her feet, heels turned out to kick, frog-like.
A woman with a large retriever saluted two power-walkers whose Pomeranians were too small to keep up, and the group stopped and stared as little arse-holes were made amenable to the big head. Kiri suspected the retriever was responsible for the bomb on the sea wall.
Andrew bobbed rhythmically. Kiri picked up his shirt, shook off the sand. He made his way to shore.
‘You cheated.’ She couldn’t be sure how conversation between them would turn out. He nodded, the way he did when he laughed but for his making no sound.
There was a pigeon on the sea wall. It looked up as small then larger then big stones cascaded, only flying off after one hit the top of its head and forced its beak into its crop.
Kiri turned to see if Andrew had followed her. He could have been waving at anyone.
Rachel J Fenton's fiction won the University of Plymouth Short Fiction Prize, Auckland University of Technology Creative Writing Prize, and came second in the Dundee International Book Prize. She lives in Aotearoa New Zealand.