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Sir John Everett Millais 1871


Flash Fiction by Mary McCluskey

His pale, gray wife drifts away from the bed, murmuring. Her voice is fading, as she is. Where has she gone–where is Claire, his vibrant, vivid wife? It is as if all of her colors have bleached out. Like fish. Fish die like that. But she is not dying. He is.

His heart leaps in his chest like a salmon, stalls, seems suspended in the air.

His daughter is crying. It is soundless, but she holds his hand to her face and the traces of tears are there, cold. Her cheek is soft. A tremor of memory as he sees, sharp and clear, Claire on the Crail seafront all those years ago, the pub behind them. Her eyes so green, her face pink from the wind. They had paused; he’d touched her cheek, then slid his fingers along her neck, sliding down beneath the blue woolen scarf. Soft skin, warm under his halting touch.

The boys’ voices are deep and solemn. They say Hey Pop; they clutch his hand as if they want to arm wrestle. Their voices, with that small emotional vibrancy, direct questions to nurses and to doctors. They don’t listen to the answers. There are no answers.

All of the shadows in the room move, slide, glide away. He wants to remember what matters, wants to tell them the secret of what is important. At times, the secret, the real answer, comes into focus, but it, too, slides away. Like raindrops that tap on the window, then slip down the glass to be lost again in the ground.

If he could tell them, he would: I loved you. Loved you all.

He remembers Claire. On the stone path, the cold winter trees, the sky heavy and black and her green eyes laughing, sparked with light, as she turned, her red hair swinging.

He’ll leave her there, in all her colors.

§ § §

Mary McCluskey is a British journalist, for many years based in Los Angeles, California, presently living in a small village in Gloucestershire, UK. Her short stories have appeared in a number of literary journals and she has completed a novel, which may or may not be published, depending on the mood of the gods. She daydreams a lot.

Reprinted from Ink Pot #7; available now

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