Monday, 18 May 2015

Carousel - a short story by Katharine Orton

There’s blood in my mouth. A metallic twang on my tongue from the split lip you gave me. You’re wearing the hood pulled up on your raincoat and my damp dress slaps against my shivering knees. I hug myself tight. For warmth, yes – and for courage. Because I’m not taking you back this time.

‘I’ll stay with Mum tonight,’ I say. ‘When I get back I want you gone.’ Our bodies are turned tactfully outwards, away from one another. There’s a fair at the seaside, today, and a carousel. Painted horses loom out of it. They bare wooden teeth; glare with manic eyes. It’s mesmerising.

We fled the house earlier like it was a crime scene. ‘To get some air,’ I’d said. I run my tongue over my lip again, reliving the pain. ‘Alice, please,’ you say. There’s a quiver in your voice.

‘Please, what?’ The wind makes me shiver – or maybe it’s adrenalin. I’m formidable now you’re weak. Now your rage has burned out and your fists have turned inwards again. I could be up high with the seagulls, watching us both, watching the carousel – buoyed on balmy foreign breezes.

I savour this feeling. It’s not often I get to be powerful.

‘Don’t do this,’ you beg. ‘I swear. I’ll never lay another finger on you.’

‘The problem isn’t your fingers,’ I say. ‘It’s your fists.’ The goad tastes delicious. The carousel thunders round, screaming.

You prize my arm away from my body. You have to wrench it. You hold my palm between both of yours, as if praying. ‘I’ll do anything, my love,’ you say. ‘Anything.’ A rush of sympathy floods me like anaesthesia. I struggle to resist. On the ride, children grip their slippery charges, faces fearful. Knuckles white.       

My father wasn’t like you – though he had other passions. He’d stalk into the room where my brothers and I played and slip his hand up Mum’s skirt, and she’d just stand there, frozen against the wall. As if her stillness meant we wouldn’t notice.

My own knuckles are the colour of chicken bones popped from their sockets.

I smell candy floss through the rain. What is it that made you this way, I wonder? Bruised, inside? Is it the ancient strap marks from your dead dad’s belt? The lashes from your mother’s tongue? I’ve seen the power of those.

You’re shaking now, as you grip my hand. Beside us, the carousel slows to a standstill. You sink to your knees. I could walk away. Leave you crumpled on the floor.

But something’s changed. I’m not your mother, after all. I’m not you. I can’t stomach hurting you for long. It’s the thing that makes me different that makes me stay.

I try to pull you to your feet and when you won’t rise, I crouch too. I kiss your tears with my bloody mouth. It hurts. When we get to our feet, the carousel has started again. New passengers. New fares. The same old ride.

Winner of Flash 500 First Quarter 2015.

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