by Ali McGrane
CONNIE HAD NO SAY in the dress she wore for her mother’s wedding. Long sleeves snug around her wrists, eggshell-stiff skirt confining her skinny legs. My pretty chickadee, her mother had called her, as she scraped her daughter’s hair into a bun, the hurt of it making Connie’s throat ache.
If she hoicked the pale blue satin almost to her waist, she could still sit cross-legged on the bed. Sky blue, her mother had said, for a new life opening up. Connie reached under her mattress for the tiny pocket knife she’d filched last week from the back of a kitchen drawer. Light bounced off the blade as she prised it open. It looked sharp. It looked like it could slit anything. Easy as pie.
Connie wriggled into her favourite shorts, tucked the knife into a pocket, and pulled down the skim of blue. No-one paid her any attention as she slipped out the back door, and through the gap in the fence to the field beyond. She raised her face to the actual sky, which was silver grey, streaked with thin clouds, the kind that seem like a sky goddess must be teasing them apart. Connie believed in the sky goddesses, and she wished they’d show up for her today. She put both hands to her bun, tried to release the tugging hairs trapped in the elastic bobble.
When the rain started, she spread her straightjacketed arms, swooped and hollered, her dress darkening along with the sky. The goddesses cheered her on, sending carousels of rain for her to ride till she was dizzy with it. She sank to the sodden grass, the dress a dead weight around her.
She drew out the knife, made a nick in the V of the neckline, tore and slashed all the way to the skirt’s hem. It wasn’t easy at all, with the uncontrollable shivering, and the waterlogged fabric snagging the blade every second. But she persisted, inch by inch, peeling herself open to soft rain and cool air. Till she could watch goosebumps rise along her arms. Till she could lift muddy knees from the ground. Till she could fly.
The long grass slick-slacked her legs. The rain might have been falling forever. She might have been running for days. When the far hedge swung close she slowed. Followed the brambly curve to the five-bar gate, the tarmac road, a bus shelter. Inside, the shelter was a work of art, a world of its own. Tall palms, lush green tangles, feathered flashes of colour. Connie perched under wild jungle skies, bluer than blue. She wondered what came next, whether a bus from here would take her home, whether her mother had missed her.
Ali McGrane lives and writes between the sea and the moor. Her work appears in anthologies and online, including FlashBack Fiction, Ellipsis Zine, Janus Literary, and Splonk, and on shortlists including the Bath Flash Fiction Award. She is a reader at Fractured Literary. Her Bath-shortlisted flash novella The Listening Project is available from Ad Hoc Fiction. Find her @Ali_McGrane_UK.