by Marie Gethins

Anaïs slips into a side chapel, lights a candle, kneels, whispers words by rote. A deep breath. An enticing blend: melting wax, incense, and crypt. She wants to absolve Emilie—the sister who loves a different Anaïs. A phantom character in the tale Emilie has been writing since her birth. Not perfect, no, Emilie enjoys flaws. Nibbles on them over iced coffee with her friends. ‘My little sister, wait till I tell you.’ Emilie favors an eyes-skyward expression as the preface for these monologues. They’re pacey, sprinkled with imaginary details, her friends gasp in all the right places.

This vision breaks Anaïs’ rhythm. She begins again and looks across rows of candles at the relic. A miniature jeweled church contains the saint’s head. White linen surrounds the skull, falls in soft folds around the neck. Centuries have shrunken skin to tight adherence. Eyebrow tufts endure above lids that are stitched closed. A few teeth are visible between slightly parted lips. The nose is misshapen and off-color. Clay? Stone? According to the guidebook, this saint didn’t care about personal appearance. Good thing.

She falters on the fifth line. The word order isn’t right. Anaïs sighs. No absolution for Emilie today. Sorry not sorry. She does a circuit of the church. Even after five years in Marseille, she discovers new details. The heels of her sandals beat progress over ships, sea monsters, and cresting waves. Elaborate marble tombs interrupt the aquatic scene. Sleeping knights in cream chainmail hold broadswords. She wants to place a hand on their shoulders and give them a shake. Hey, like to travel? You’re just my sister’s type. You’ll love LA. In a dusty corner she discovers Enguerrand de Sprez, his sword sheathed, feet resting on a contented spaniel. She fingers the twelfth-century letters but cannot decipher their meaning.

When Anaïs’ phone vibrates she hurries out a side door. Sunblind, she taps green. Of course, it’s Emilie.

‘You haven’t sent your dates.’ There’s a whirl of keyboard clicks—Emilie the Magnificent Multitasker. ‘It’s not easy for me to get time off and I need to book things.’

Anaïs rolls a pebble over and back under her sandal. ‘I think I’ll give it a miss this year.’

‘If it’s about money…’

‘No.’ Anaïs walks to the adjacent cemetery, lifts the gate latch, and wanders down a gravel path. ‘I’m going to Greece with friends.’ Lichen-poxed headstones list against yellowed grass. ‘Renting a villa together for two weeks.’

‘The squad are counting on you. Spa girls’ weekend, nights out.’

Anaïs replays last year’s chatter: Botox and dermal fillers, gel nails, hair extensions, protein smoothies. Puffed lips moving beneath unlined faces, a female collective planning to retrofit her into someone like them. She hears Emilie push a glass into the fridge ice dispenser, then a gush of high-pressure water and the crackle of fragmenting ice.

‘Who are these friends? And I’ve heard about Greek guys.’

‘Actually, I’ve met a really cool guy here, Enguerrand. He’s a dog person, super fit, and sweet in an old-fashioned kind of way.’

‘Hmmm, what’s his name again? Spell it.’

‘Someone’s at the door. I’ve got to go.’ She hangs up before Emilie can reply.

There will be Google searches and social media combs; girl squad discussions of the little sister’s latest craziness. Analysis she will hear later, but not witness. Her silhouette ripples across unkempt tombs. The sun is low, sinking behind the church. Rays warm a lavender hedge, releasing its scent. Anaïs lines up thumbs and fans her palms. The shadow bird swoops, skimming lavender, then rises to block out the evening sun.

Marie Geth­ins’ flash fiction has fea­tured in NFFD Anthologies, Flash: The International Short-Short Story MagazineJellyfish ReviewLitroNANOWales Arts Review, Banshee, Synaesthesia, The Incubator, The Nottingham Review, Spelk, Ellipsis Zine, Words with JAMPaper Swans101 Words, and others. Marie is a Pushcart and Best of the Short Fictions nominee and an editor of the Irish flash ezine Splonk.