by Laura Besley

We met outside a nightclub in early spring. ‘What you need,’ I heard a voice behind me say, while I was jumping on the spot in a denim skirt and a strapless top, ‘to warm you up, like, is a good, stiff—’  

‘Hey, watch it,’ I said, mock-stern. 

‘Drink.’ You waggled your eyebrows at me and started laughing. 

‘Isn’t there some rule about laughing at your own jokes?’ I was smiling though.

‘No, Ma’am. Not in my book.’ You draped your jacket over my shoulders. ‘Let me buy you a drink? When we get inside?’

‘Just the one,’ I said, but pulling his still-warm jacket tight, we both knew it was the start of something.

After three tours, your skin taut from too much sun, you quit the army and retrained as a security guard. This seismic shift from the glossy image you’d had growing up to its current sepia state wasn’t discussed. You handed it over as a fait accompli. Fatigued with a toddler and a six-month old baby, I thought having you nestled at home with us might be our very own silver lining.  

Bare feet splaying on cold floorboards, I tiptoe downstairs, and find you, as expected, watching an old Arnie flick on mute. On the coffee table there’s a tumbler filled with ice, whiskey poured into the empty spaces.  

‘You coming to bed?’

‘In a bit,’ you say, not looking away from the fight on-screen.

I remember the early days, when you stayed with me in halls and we would share my narrow single bed, limbs entwined. Upstairs, I stare at our marital bed, shrouded in pallid white sheets. I pound and pound and pound your pillow with my fist until a lone feather flies out. It floats down, landing on my outstretched palm. Finger by finger I curl my hand around it, oh so carefully, thinking if I can keep this feather safe, maybe I can save the rest of the brood too.  

Laura Besley has been listed by TSS Publishing as one of the top 50 British and Irish Flash Fiction writers with her story ‘On Repeat’ (Reflex Fiction) and her story ‘Silenced’ has been nominated for Best Microfiction by Emerge Literary Journal. Her flash fiction collection, The Almost Mothers, was published in March 2020 and her collection of micro fiction, 100neHundred, will be published in May 2021. She tweets @laurabesley