Mrs Mclean disappeared when I was the only one watching.
At first she just got smaller and smaller. Never a tall woman to begin with, her clothes hung on her, as though borrowed from an older, big-boned sister. Even her head looked shrunken, hair too full and candy-floss fluffy for the skull it adorned. I remember trying to tell people.
“Dad, Mrs McLean is tiny.”
“Wheesht, Siobhan, I’m listening to the radio.” He didn’t even look at me when he spoke.
“Mum, Mrs McLean is teeny, tiny, toaty now.”
“Away back to reading your book, Siobhan, I’m busy with the cooking.” She didn’t even take her eyes off the dough she was kneading on the board.
“I’ve finished my book. But Mrs McLean, she’s…”
“You’ve finished another book? Jesus, that librarian must be sick looking at the pair of us. Well go and play then, but leave poor Mrs Mclean alone, do you hear? She’s had enough to deal with.”
And so she had. I’d heard them talk about all the things she’d lost: her son in a war somewhere far away that Dad said wasn’t even our fight; her daughter to a sickness they only ever called the big C; her husband to one of the special hospitals – there were three surrounding our group of villages, so I always thought she’d find him one day if she just looked in the right one – and her sisters and brothers to the four corners of the world. I knew the world was round, but never argued when I ear-wigged on the adults. Then we were all losing Mrs McLean but no one would listen.
One morning I stood at my bedroom window and watched her walk down her garden path. With every step she shrivelled until her clothes dragged along, her head lost inside her cardigan, just the fuzzy hair sticking out of the hole. Then the wind rose and her hair scattered across the grass, like dandelion fluff when I blew it to tell the time, and her shoes stopped walking as her skirt and top crumpled onto them.
Mrs McLean disappeared because I was the only one watching.
Flash 500 Winning Story First Quarter 2013
For information on Flash 500 competitions, visit the Flash 500 website: www.flash500.com