by Sandra Arnold
She had a photographic memory, so she could recall conversations, the expressions on people’s faces, the tone of their voices, the setting, the weather, the colours, the smells. If she needed a detail in the telling of a tale all she had to do was rewind the film in her head. What she wasn’t good at remembering were numbers and directions. So when her father asked her to deliver a bag of freshly dug potatoes to a house in a different neighbourhood and collect payment for them she ended up at the wrong house.
Part of the reason for this was that she was paying too much attention to the hated fur-lined boots on the end of her legs as she trudged through the snow, stepping on frozen puddles, seeking solace in the splintered ice glinting in the winter sun.
Her father’s tongue-lashing had included many words in response to her objections to the ugly brown boots, the most incomprehensible being that the red boots she’d set her heart on would attract the wrong sort of attention. But the word that slid behind her eyes and made them water was ‘sacrifice.’ He’d been saving up to buy new dentures, he said, and her warm feet came at the cost of his teeth. So she pulled on the brown boots and zipped up her lips.
And there she was, knocking on the wrong door, making breath clouds in the frozen air, snapping icicles off the black branch of an overhanging tree. And when the door opened she explained her mission and the man told her to leave the potatoes on the doorstep and come inside. He told her to leave her wet boots in the hall and showed her into a room with green walls and a green sofa and a green chair and a china cabinet. He told her to sit on the sofa and wait. She heard his keys rattling as he locked the front door.
There were no pictures on the walls. No photographs. The china cabinet was empty. A mousetrap with a severed tail poked out from beneath the chair. Snowflakes drifted past the sash window and clung to the glass. A hawk glided in the white sky, a rabbit hanging from its claws. The room was cold as if no one had breathed in it for a long time. It smelled of dead dreams. It filled with the sound of her thudding heart. And as the door to the green room opened she sprang across the bare boards to the window.
She left the potatoes on the doorstep and her boots in the hall and slipped and tripped all the way home. By the time she fell through her own front door her feet were blue. Her father’s face was a storm cloud, his words like lightning strikes. Her teeth rattled in her jaw, locking her words inside.
Sandra Arnold is an award-winning writer who lives in New Zealand. She has a PhD in Creative Writing and is the author of five books. Her most recent, a flash fiction collection, Soul Etchings (Retreat West Books, UK) and a novel, The Ash, the Well and the Bluebell (Mākaro Press, NZ) were published in 2019. Her work appears in Spelk, JMWW, New Flash Fiction Review, Bending Genres, Ellipis Zine, Fictive Dream, among others.
Learn more at www.sandraarnold.co.nz.