by Jude Higgins
Because there was nothing else to do, and you hadn’t moved from your computer screen for hours, I suggested we went to the bluebell wood for a picnic. Of course, it had to rain as soon as we found a place to sit.
‘At least it brings out the smell of the flowers,’ I said looking at the soft haze of blue that spread far across the woodland floor.
‘If you like that sort of thing,’ you said. I knew you hated perfume but the scent of wild flowers was different, surely. I let your remark go and we sheltered under a huge copper beech taking turns to swig from the bottle of my homemade lemonade.
‘My last girlfriend gave me a Bonsai beech but I couldn’t bear to trim its roots,’ you said, gulping down the fizz. ‘I set it free and planted it in her garden but it died.’
‘Like an animal from a zoo,’ I said, watching rain drops slide down your cheeks and disappear into your new unruly beard. ‘Hardly any survive if they’re released into the wild.’
You looked away. Then you put your finger to your lips, your hand on my arm, to still me.
A young deer stood in the nearby clearing, gazing at us. Its ears quivered, the rain glazed its dappled coat. It only leapt away when a beech nut thudded to the ground.
You shook your head in wonder. ‘I had real eye contact with that deer.’
‘And I did.’
I hadn’t really. I was more aware of the warmth of your hand on my arm. I wished you still looked at me, spellbound.
For a while, you were more cheerful. The sun came out, we ate the tomato sandwiches I made and you said they’d always been your favourites. When I asked, you took pictures of me among the bluebells and even let me take one of you standing next to an oak tree that was completely hollow but had new shoots on its few remaining branches.
‘Another good sign,’ I said. You didn’t disagree.
But that night, when you were back on your computer, I realised we’d left the empty lemonade bottle behind. Years ago, I found a bottle in the woods with a field mouse dead inside it. I wondered if another mouse hoping for a better home would crawl inside this one and never escape.
Jude Higgins is a writer, writing tutor and events organiser. She runs the Bath Flash Fiction Award and directs Ad Hoc Fiction and Flash Fiction Festivals UK. She has been published widely in magazines and anthologies and her chapbook The Chemist’s House, was published by V. Press in 2017.