by Adam Lock
Even though she’s flickering canary yellow, I’m going to ask Dawn to do it with me, because she promised she would.
She shakes her hair from her shoulders. ‘What do you think, Sam?’ she asks, hands on hips, her aura darkening to lime.
‘Looks great,’ I say.
The lager is warm, difficult to swallow. I finish the can, stand it on the coffee table and open another.
First she’s teal when she lifts her chin, then flickers to mint green when she pushes back her shoulders.
‘Really?’ she says, stretching to see more of herself in the mirror above the fireplace. ‘You think it suits me?’ With her fingers threaded through the belt loops of her jeans, she moves her pelvis backwards and forwards, rocking on the balls of her feet. ‘Brunette,’ she says.
‘Looks great,’ I say again, pointing at her hair with my can, moving it so quickly the lager inside sloshes and spills onto the carpet.
‘Steady,’ she says, flushed coral. ‘Get lager on that settee and I’m in big trouble.’
‘When’s your mom back?’ I mumble, covering the erupting can with my mouth.
‘Sunday night.’ She looks again at the mirror, altering the angle of her reflection. She checks her teeth, using a painted nail to remove something. Through a closed jaw she says, ‘When’s Joe finish?’
‘Ten,’ I say.
She glances at the clock on the far wall. ‘Should be here about half past.’
I rub my teeth, making a squeaking noise. The end of my finger finds a canine and I scratch its point.
‘Music,’ she says, remembering. She kneels down at a wooden cabinet next to the fireplace and takes one of the CDs from the bottom shelf. ‘You like this one?’
‘Hannah’s played it in the common room.’
‘Hannah?’ she says, rolling her eyes, flaring a verdant green. ‘It’s my CD,’ she says, as though I’m not there. ‘You have the hots for my little sister?’ Holding her own wrist, she twists it, and her aura side-steps to mauve. She bites one of her nails, and rising above her shoulders, like ignited gas, there is the gentle glimmer of lavender.
‘No,’ I say, knocking the can that’s wedged between my thighs, grabbing it before it falls. I imagine the can hitting the ground, lager splashing out over the carpet.
‘Bet Joe does too,’ she says under her breath.
After finding the track she’s looking for, she stands, and again swishes her hair at the mirror. She lifts her hair with both hands and holds it in a pony tail high up on her head. Her white top rises and I see the small of her back and a strip of white underwear, bunched a little above the blue of her jeans.
‘You know she has an unconditional from Glasgow?’ She’s looking at Hannah’s pencil drawing of their mother on the wall, framed in black.
‘She told me — yeah.’
‘She’s staying with Dad tonight. She’s petrified — jumps anytime the door goes or the phone rings.’ Looking back at Hannah’s drawing she shakes her head. ‘You seen them? The images she’s been getting?’ With a finger raised to the side of her head, she makes a stirring motion. ‘Nutcase if you ask me. This morning he sent her a picture of a dead fox. A proper nutcase.’
‘But she knows who it is?’
‘Yeah, some freak in Sixth Form, always gawping at her, she says. Can’t prove it yet, but he’ll slip up.’ She shrugs. ‘You off to Uni too?’ She moves closer.
‘Not sure yet. Been to Southampton. And I’ve been to—’
‘You mind?’ she says, reaching for the can wedged between my legs. She drinks, her head thrown back, and the underside of her neck crawls up and down as she swallows.
‘Do you want to do it with me?’ I ask, ‘like you promised?’ I hear my words and they’re mechanical, to do with a meeting, an appointment.
‘I said I would didn’t I?’ she says, putting down the empty can, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. ‘Patience,’ she shouts, turning up the music. She walks out of the room, burning chrome yellow.
I’m counting down to when Joe gets here because then and I’ll know for sure it won’t happen.
‘You haven’t have you?’ Joe says, closing the front door, taking off his coat.
‘I wanted to. I asked her to but… ’
‘Christ. You want to lose it or what?’ He’s tangerine, his eyes narrow, a hard smile turning his aura mustard.
‘I wanted to but—’
‘But what? You were on a promise.’ He walks to the kitchen, and stops at the door. He turns and whispers, ‘You didn’t go on about the colours thing did you? The syneth…the synthesi—’
‘Synesthesia,’ I say. ‘No.’
‘What colour would you be giving off now?’ he sniggers, shaking his head, muttering something I can’t hear.
When she dances, Dawn is the colour of a dark green apple. We do shots, smoke cigarettes, and when Joe drops ash on the settee, Dawn bursts with carmine red, stuttering to a burnt orange as she listens to his apologies. And then they’re both laughing again, and I’m laughing, and they’re holding on to each other like the floor is shaking.
It is after midnight when Joe falls asleep at the other end of the settee. Dawn’s head rests on Joe’s lap; I think she’s asleep too. Like she asked, I stroke her legs that are stretched across my lap. They are smooth. Her cobalt blue glimmer rises and falls, pulsing in time with her slow, deep breaths.
I close my eyes.
With my arms fastened tight across my chest, my shoulders needling into my neck, a gust of cool air wafts across my face — a duvet falling over me.
‘You fell asleep,’ Dawn whispers.
Almost naked, on her knees, she leans into me, stroking my forehead, smudging hair away from my face. She trembles with bruised purples, luminescent orchid.
Where’s Joe?’ I ask, my voice croaky, my mouth tasting of cigarettes and lager.
‘Asleep,’ she says. ‘Upstairs in Hannah’s bed.’
She lifts the duvet and gets in next to me.
‘I said I would,’ she says, the duvet now charged with her shift to indigo.
She kisses me but our teeth clash. Colours seethe, and she is close. She kisses me again, but this time there is the disagreement of tongues. I close my eyes and the colours stop. Her face moves away from mine, but I don’t want to look at her because on the other side of my shut eyelids, there are colours, and there are windows and doors, and there is the sky and air, and… And then there is the snake of her hand, moving beneath the folds of the duvet, along my leg.
Her hand pauses, the room inhales.
I want it done—over with.
I open my eyes in time to watch her kiss my forehead. She lifts the duvet and stands over me. Her shallow smile curls and she nods.
‘Night,’ she says and offers a goodbye with the palm of her hand. She leaves to go upstairs, and the room is now colourless. I touch my two front teeth where they clashed with hers.
I close my eyes.
I wake to the rhythmic straining of a bed in the room directly above—Dawn with Joe. I throw off the duvet and put on my jacket and shoes.
I look at Hannah’s drawing of her mother one more time; it’s smudged and alive. There is only graphite grey, only pencil lines and shading, because Hannah knows. This close to the drawing, so near to the front door, I hear Dawn and Joe talking upstairs, their words hushed, dry.
‘Couldn’t go through with it,’ she says, ‘he’s too sweet.’
‘Sweet?’ Joe sniggers. ‘Couldn’t get it up you mean?’
‘He didn’t want to do it. Not really. Not with me anyway.’
‘Didn’t want to? It’s all he’s talked about for weeks.’
As I reach to open the front door, I hear her ask, ‘You didn’t really want me to do it with him did you?’
Outside it is dark.
They don’t understand. And I want to tell them what happened yesterday morning, before the dawn, because they have no idea. I imagine telling them: as I walked along Northwood Road, next to the field with large grooves running away into the distance, I found a dead fox. I imagine telling them how it lay in the gutter, its snout resting on the kerb, its ears pricked and alert, as if listening to me breathe. And dark with an open wound at its neck, its body twisted, it lay still, there in the gutter. I tell them how its nose was black, glistening, ready to sniff at any moment. The small rows of teeth at the front of its open mouth, with tiny grooves etched at their edges, as though carved from wax, appeared fragile next to the tusk-like canines that stretched down over its lower jaw, pressed against the dark flesh of its lower lip. I tell them that its eyes were shut tight, like a child hiding.
And because of everything, I tell them how when I placed my boot onto its ribs and pushed down, it made a cracking sound like damp wood burning. And I tell them how, discharged under the pressure, black flames burst from its throat, lashing against the tarmac. I tell them that when I knelt next to it, took my phone from my pocket, and aimed the lens at the fox, the image on the screen was perfect. The blood, fanning out from its neck was oil, and the fox was, and always had been, a machine.
Then I tell them I found Hannah’s number in my phone.
I tell them, that because there was no sunlight, because it was not yet dawn, the fox’s pelt was not amber, or bronze, or gold, but was drawn onto the road with pencil.
I tell them Hannah would understand, tell them that if I explained, she wouldn’t be afraid at all.
Sending that image to her meant I could breathe again; it made me shiver. I’m tired of colour. There’s always colour and I’m done with it.
Looking back at the house, I see my reflection in the living room window.
Joe asked about my colour—my aura. I can see it now, shining—the glare of it. I’m all the colours, the whole spectrum, compressed so it’s white hot and burns—it really fucking burns. It’s heavy too, and so dense, so massive, it will soon fall in on itself and collapse, and then not even light will escape. Joe wants to know about my colours. For now, I glimmer white. But in my stomach and in my chest, there is the promise of relief, because there, vibrates the engine of a black hole.
Adam Lock won the STORGY Flash Fiction Competition 2018, was placed 3rd in the TSS Cambridge Short Story Prize 2017, and has been longlisted and shortlisted for numerous competitions, including the Bath Flash Fiction Award. Adam has had stories appear in many other publications such as Former Cactus, Spelk, Reflex, Retreat West, Fiction Pool, Ellipsis Zine, Syntax & Salt, Occulum, and many others. Links to these stories can be found at: adamlock.net. You can also connect with him on Twitter: @dazedcharacter.