Winner of the 2019 OWT Short Fiction Prize
Valentine’s Day was always busy at Piece of My Heart. The couple waited in the doorway until I had a chance to dash over and greet them.
“Can I take your name please?” I asked.
“Jackson,” the man replied. “We have a booking.”
They were an odd couple. She was so thin she looked like she might snap. Her big blue eyes darted as if looking for danger. He watched his footing as I showed them to their table. I slowed down to accommodate his limp.
When I reached for the woman’s coat, she recoiled. As Jackson helped her out of it, I noted the three stumps on his left hand. I draped the coat over my weaker left arm, which immediately started to ache. …
When I confirm her suspicions, she stiffens. As I stroke her shoulder and explain how I couldn’t help myself, she glares stonily, making it clear without speaking that I am shut out.
She cries silently: no sobs or shuddering of the shoulders, simply liquid seeping from her eyes. When I wipe away a caramel-coloured tear, it stains my fingers and feels sticky like sap.
So I made a mistake, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still love her. When her skin condition flares, I suggest she go to a doctor. Instead, she runs her fingers over the scales, smiling absently. Within a week, the small patch on her shoulder has spread up her neck and down her arms, suppurating a sweet-smelling pus. …
Jessica’s been working on the Chopin all weekend. I suggested that she might want to start with something easier. Chopsticks, perhaps. I made it out of the room just in time to hear a glass shatter behind me.
I wouldn’t describe my wife as a natural pianist. She has beautiful fingers, nails perfectly clipped and scarlet, but… well, I shouldn’t have used the word stubby. Miniature, perhaps. Lengthily challenged.
A jaw-clenching discord precedes a string of expletives. A thud shakes the wall, followed by tears. I sigh and rummage inside my sock drawer. I tiptoe from the bedroom and tap gently on the living room door. No response.
When I ease the door open, Jessica is sitting on the piano stool with her knees drawn up to her chest, one finger despondently pecking at a key. Her gaze slides toward me. Warily, I hold out my peace offering. “Chocolate?”
She’d stopped her meds the week before. Ben decided they might harm the baby, even though the doctor said that was unlikely. That must be why she felt so strange — stomach cramps, ringing ears. Objects darted in her peripheral vision, but stilled when she turned her head. There was a faint smell of smoke in the air.
Nausea, sensory disturbances, tinnitus — all common withdrawal effects. And anxiety was normal for Flora. Even medicated, she fussed over nothing, Ben said.
Climbing the stairs, sharp pain ricocheted around her skull. She sat on the top step. Brain zaps, she told herself, breathing deeply. Normal when coming off Prozac. …
Just when I thought I’d made it through winter, the “Beast From the East” struck the UK, bringing sub-zero temperatures, howling winds, and several days of snow. I assumed barefoot running would be a no-go in these conditions, but it’s amazing what feet can handle. Some observations from my first winter as a barefoot runner:
1. Packed-down, firm snow is an excellent barefoot running surface. It’s stable, smooth, and doesn’t even feel particularly cold. Feet don’t sink into it, which means they stay mostly dry and warm.
2. Fresh powdery snow is fun to run in, but colder and hard work if it’s deep. However, you get the satisfaction of leaving human footprints in the snow. …