Short Fiction ~ Gillian Brown
Honourable Mention, Strands International Flash Fiction Competition - 8
Paul rubs the sleep from his eyes and stretches an arm over to Laura’s side of the bed. Her musty scent tantalises his nostrils but his hand finds an empty space. A surge of disappointment smacks him in the chest. She’d come home tired and late from work last night, and gone straight to sleep.
A strong coffee aroma filters in through the open door. With a sigh, he pulls on his jeans and tee-shirt and joins her in her kitchen. Laura doesn’t look up or speak. Caught in her spell, Paul sits down quietly across from her.
Concentration ripples Laura’s brow and forms crinkles round her eyes. The glass table between them reflects her fragile beauty. As she presses her lips together, Paul frowns. Her lipstick looks brighter than usual. Bolder, somehow.
Her left hand holds a delicately-shaped cup – her own creation, painted azure and gold. The sea and the sand, she says. Her eyes and hair, he thinks. He never touches her favourite cup for fear of breaking it.
In her right hand, she grips a fine bamboo stick between her first finger and thumb. The glittery purple nail polish takes him by surprise. Laura always wears black.
A froth of hot milk crowns the surface of the cafe latte. She gently draws the bamboo stick across the top. The pale foam parts, leaving a dark trace in its wake. Something clicks in Paul’s brain. She’s drawing a picture. He sharpens his focus. Laura’s art always contains a message.
A map of Africa? No. It’s a head. The contour of a face emerges, followed by hazel eyes, curly hair, a nose, and a smiling mouth. Something about it seems familiar. Paul can’t think what.
She hesitates a second, then grips the stick more tightly. She traces a beard, well-coiffed and trimmed to perfection. Corporate style. His chest tightens. He gazes uneasily at the crinkly hair. Lastly, she adds an earring. A drowning sensation sends his hand rushing to his neck.
Laura lays the bamboo stick on the table where it forms a dirty puddle. She clasps the cup in both hands and takes a sip, her plum-coloured lips embracing the rim. Drinking slowly, she savours each mouthful, then lays down the cup. A bitter taste spreads over Paul’s tongue.
Her eyes seek his. The truth is as clear as the portrait in her latte. He is Paul’s best friend, Tim. Her gaze softens. ‘I didn’t know how else to tell you,’ she says, the brutal truth delivered like a caress.
The silence grows heavy between them. Paul’s fists tighten in his lap. He stares back at the cup. Tiny fractures zig-zag across the porcelain. The cracks widen. With a splitting sound, the cup shatters into a thousand pieces.
Trembling, he pushes himself up from the table and heads for the door. A quick glance back. The cup is whole again. Slightly different. But just a cup, painted azure and gold.
Gillian Brown started out as a travel writer but now concentrates on fiction. Her inspiration often comes from her travels or real life experiences. Motivation comes from short story competitions, for which she has a mild – but enjoyable – addiction. She has had stories published in magazines, in anthologies and online and won and been shortlisted in various competitions.