The Promise

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FLASH FICTION:YOU DIDN’T GO out, not even for milk. You poured water over your cornflakes, drank your Nescafé black. I promise I’ll telephone before Christmas Day, he’d said. The weekend became Monday and Monday became Tuesday. There must have been an accident.

You fretted all morning, you fretted all afternoon, watching it merge unremarkably into night, dark and grim by four in the afternoon and your fret now a gripping in your chest, a thin little whine.

On Wednesday you gave yourself a sponge bath, dried yourself with a mildewing towel. You wondered if your mother was enjoying herself in Montreal. She rang while you heated up a tin of Heinz, you tipped the pan in your hurry, burning your wrist, beans spewing like vomit.

When you heard her voice, disappointment took the air right out of your lungs and she talked, on and on while you held the telephone inches from your ear. Her suitcase had been mislaid, lost, idiot airlines, I mean for Christ’s sake. She didn’t mention Charles, perhaps he’d not quite turned out but you knew that all along. You remembered his mouth talking to her while his eyes peeled your clothes off. And then you, or was it she, put the telephone down, and you stared at it and hoped he had not tried to call while you were on the line.

You watched Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers re-runs. You’d watched them before, when you were 11, unaware that one day you’d still be living in your mother’s flat, an adult now, or so she kept insisting, leaving those foolscap pages on the kitchen table for you to read in the morning – you must put the past behind you, it’s time to grow up. Do something with your life. You should do an MA, become a draughtsman, a textile designer, even a teacher for Christ’s sake. Anything but who you were and she would tell you how. It was no use blaming your childhood. It wasn’t her fault your father died.

You wondered what anyone saw in Fred, other than his feet. You flipped channels. Christmas morning came and went. On Boxing Day you washed your hair and dried it in front of the stove, the veins on your temple throbbing as the smell of gas leaked into the kitchen.

When he knocked, you knew it was him, all dash and panache, your heart quite separating itself from the thinning clutches of your ribcage.

He brought Babycham and chicken tikka takeaway, not a word about why or where or who. You didn’t ask. He told you he loved you and you believed him because he meant it.

He snored in your arms on the mattress on the floor beside the telephone and you watched the flickering on the wall until the candle died. You waited until it was dawn, waiting for the moment he’d wake up and leave you, promising to telephone, hand on heart, his cupid bow lips on yours planting a hot and waxy seal.

You wondered what anyone saw in Fred, other than his feet. You flipped channels. Christmas morning came and went


Flash fiction will be a regular item in The Irish Times. E-mail a story of no more than 500 words to flashfiction@irishtimes.com

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