by Frances Gapper
OUR ROAD’S NAME is close to Hades. Some of its inhabitants:
Mrs Bertie, visiting Mr Timber
Them 2 at number 59
Man struck by lightning
Ghosts including Mum, who lived elsewhere. Elsewhere. A sort of lichen on my skull.
Linda: I keep ornaments and mementos in my glass-fronted kitchen dresser. The coffin drawer is for family, it’s where my mother kept her mother and I in turn kept her. In the underworld I’ll be a swan gliding around a dark lake. Or anyway that’s my plan.
Mrs Bertie wears a headscarf and is a cat type, not dog/horse. She and Mr Timber have arguments. One day I heard him shout holy fucksticks, whereupon Mrs B. shot from the house, jumped on to a garden wall and escaped into the cricket ground. I think. It all happened so fast.
The 2 of us live at number 59. Because we keep ourselves to ourselves, we are rumoured to be evil ghosts. No. However our relationship is intense. When angry, we slam doors and march around. Or we do housework and ask would you like a cup of tea. In sum, we are neither each other’s worst enemies nor soulmates, but your average married couple.
Lightning struck our neighbour in the park during his lunch hour. Clear blue sky no thunder. Magpies cackled. At the hospital they took scans. His brain was riddled with flight holes eaten by winged insects and his face a lit candle. Not wanting to go back to the office, he took early retirement on medical grounds.
Me. I was geographically ignorant, not knowing even whether the Black Country included Birmingham. Joe drove me everywhere in his ancient car.
He calls this district the Old Kingdom because it’s where he was born. An old mining area, its arterial route Pig Lane (from pig lead).
Will I be Persephone, torn petals clinging to what’s left of my hair? His pet name for me, one I’m not so keen on, is Measles, because of my blotchy skin.
nb electricity, water, broadband. Change of address cards/emails. List of inhabitants.
We can only breathe the air in front of our faces. Which to be honest is not great air; better’s to be found in other regions to the north/south.
But at least it’s somewhere. Good view of moon, unlike in our last place where I had to walk around the corner.
A message from Mum? One of her rhyming clues for treasure hunts? No. Only a dead leaf stuck in the letterbox.
Joe’s watching TV. I go to the kitchen, search the freezer section for a pack of peas, find them under the mint Magnums and hold the pack to my head, first one side then the other. It’s a painful condition. Like spiteful pixies tugging at the roots of my hair. Which falls out, leaving bald patches. Linked to stress maybe. Can’t be helped. Won’t grow back. Never mind.
During the time I was my mother’s carer my mother disappeared. I came home to find the house upturned and her gone. My blue shoes had also vanished, to my annoyance. They were sandals of a typical Clark’s pattern, like children’s shoes.
The usual mother-and-daughter role-swapping, exchange of psyches.
Mum was sitting in a glass-fronted room at the police station, wearing my blue shoes unbuckled. ‘Mum!’ she cried, flinging out her arms, ‘Where have you been?’
Thinking I only just arrived, I’ve been living here for years apparently. In the Old Kingdom, I mean. But also in the past, in fragments. I’m terrible at letting go of things. A rat.
Two young women with pushchairs are tearing slices of bread in half and throwing them into the pond. Or chucking in whole slices, which hang suspended in the murk. The ducks keep their distance.
Last night he dreamed about me, which he doesn’t often. You had on your blue shoes. You took them off in the middle of the street and said I’m not wearing these any more.
Frances Gapper lives in Cradley Heath in the UK’s Black Country region. Her stories have been published in three Best Microfiction anthologies and in online lit mags including Splonk, Wigleaf, Twin Pies, Meniscus, 100 Word Story and New Flash Fiction Review. In 2022 she won the Allingham Arts Festival’s flash fiction competition with her story ‘Summer of 73’ and Silver Apples Magazine’s Flash Cat contest with a mini-tale about a cat called Harry. @biddablesheep