Short Fiction ~ Neil Campbell
Honourable Mention, Strands International Flash Fiction Competition - 4
Eva’s red and white pyjama top is unbuttoned and her little breasts are jiggling. Slices of yellow light line the walls to the side. She has her eyes closed and her brow is furrowed. He takes his eyes from her little breasts swinging, ducks his head into her hot belly and sits up so she calls out. He smells the skin of her belly as she rocks more quickly. She grabs his long hair as he grips her bottom. He slaps it red and she laughs and pushes his head back and kisses him roughly as she rocks and he doesn’t move so much as stay there.
Kevin sits at the kitchen table labouring through the Full English. Eva is still in her dressing gown and smiles at him while drinking a mug of coffee. The tea he drinks makes his stomach, rotten from what she said was expensive wine, cringe and curl in on itself, while his head feels like a solid block. There are four sausages.
He puts down his knife and fork to assess the task. She goes upstairs and he’s finally cleared the plate by the time she comes back. She has scrubbed her face and re-applied make-up and put on clothes that look brand new: jeans, knee-length black boots and black sweater.
She makes him another cup of tea and when he’s had it he pushes himself against her as she washes the pots. You’ll smudge my lippy, she says, drying her soapy hands on his shoulders and laughing. He looks through the kitchen window and into the yard, sees a small pink bike and various whitened footballs around a frozen swing.
She comes back into the kitchen with her coat on, car keys in her hand catching the light. He gets up and wonders where his coat is and she smiles and brings it for him. Their breathing leaves big clouds around them as they walk carefully over ice that has formed over ice from before. The engine starts at the third attempt, the vapours from the exhaust congealing in the freezing air, mixing with the smell of coal. There’s a crack in one of the salt glazed pots glistening in the sun on the gravel drive. Eva takes a cash card from her handbag and starts to scrape at the windshield. Kevin reaches into his pocket but only finds coins and keys. The giant ash tree has jackdaws chirruping at the top of branches while the moorland is silver above the black river.
The red Vauxhall Corsa moves away and Eva keeps it in third, alternately frowning and smiling, telling him not to worry as his feet push at the floor of the car and his eyes squint at low sun dazzling on frost. They move through Bardon Mill and onto the A69 and she drives them past Haydon Bridge and into Hexham, dropping him off at his house at the top of the hill on Chirdon Crescent, on the council estate near the hospital. He makes to get out of the car and she puts a gloved hand on his knee and moves over for a kiss. He stands on the pavement outside his house as she drives away. She waves and he doesn’t. The giant tower of the Egger chipboard factory has vapour rising from it. One of his neighbours is standing there and smiling. He considers her a moment and goes inside. Eva heads back down the A69 past Haydon Bridge towards Bardon Mill.
By the time the train slows into Bardon Mill he’s almost dancing. As soon as the train moves off and the bespectacled face of the conductor disappears from the window, Kevin turns to a gap in the fence and sighs while clouds of his own steam rise above the moonlit waters of the South Tyne.
He crosses the silver tracks and passes the Station House. There’s a frozen trampoline in the garden and a lump of snow still standing in the grass. Beside it there’s a carrot and a pair of plastic spectacles. He walks up Station Road and goes into the Bowes Hotel. There’s a woman behind the bar and three men sitting on stools in silence, nursing their pints. There’s a football match on and the glow of the TV shines across the ageing baize of the pool table. Kevin stands at the bar and gulps a pint of lager while watching the game. Putting the empty pint pot on the table he turns and leaves the bar just as somebody scores and the woman says thanks, behind him. He walks back out into the street and puts his woolly hat quickly back on and marches up the old road towards Redburn Park. He looks through the trees at the park; the park that used to be the site of the Bardon Mill Colliery where his grandfather had worked. He goes into the park and unzips by the trees. The swings and roundabouts and wooden climbing frames above the chipboard floor are picked out in silver by the moon. Beside its sharp circle are millions of stars. Kevin sits on a swing and looks at Jupiter, the brightest of them. There’s a vibration in his pocket. He checks his phone with numbing hands, sees seven messages there.
He leaves the park, passes the council estate and goes down the hill towards The Forge. He crosses the road, tries to see in. He stands there with his hands in his pockets before turning to walk back over the hill, where he waits by the old telephone exchange for the 685 back to Hexham.
Neil Campbell's latest novel Lanyards will be published in September 2019. From Manchester, England, he has appeared three times in the annual anthology of Best British Short Stories (2012/2015/2016). He has published three novels, two collections of flash fiction, two collections of short stories, two poetry chapbooks and a poetry collection, as well as appearing in numerous magazines and anthologies.