SOME OPENING SENTENCES by Rachel Robbins (1st place, Apr22)

“I don’t know where to start.”  Felicity’s fingers found Michael’s hands across the table.

“Me neither,” said Michael.

“I’ve been thinking in fragments most of my life. You know, short sentences, questions that can’t be answered.”

Michael nodded, but Felicity knew he didn’t understand.

She had meant to behave, but there had been so many better options.

***

During the day, the nightclub didn’t exist.  It was meant for the night and was closely guarded. The large, pony-tailed bouncers didn’t understand the reasons behind the entry policy, but followed the rules.  They only admitted those in the darkest of clothes. After a sweaty embrace in that dark, dank nightclub, they agreed to meet, shouting the arrangements over The Jesus and Mary Chain.  The graveyard was a joke, but also the perfect spot.  Felicity felt delicious, cleavage corseted and displayed above blood-red velvet.  Michael was late, but she didn’t doubt that he would turn up.

***

Felicity stroked the vase, took in its smoothness and then let it drop to the tiled floor.  The shattering of the glass was the most exhilarating sound she had heard in months.  Then a sigh as she reached for the dust-pan and brush.

***

Michael looked like he was scrolling through his phone to check out the news.  He could look at large, milky-white, fleshy breasts with the same expression. The occasional sigh signalled disappointment with the Tories or that Felicity hadn’t put on weight like the women on his screen.

***

Michael and Felicity had two children.  They had grown up now, and left the house, taking with them all their accomplishments and pride.

***

Michael and Felicity used to laugh in private about their miserable exteriors.  They had a passion for life, whilst loving the blackness. Music up loud. A joy in swearing and punching the air. They would joke about which people they would kill and how big to dig the graves.  They were already dressed for the funeral.  Cheap booze and the occasional amphetamine, they would also read poetry. Felicity loved the incompleteness of poetry, how it teetered at the brink of understanding and then retreated.  Michael loved the tatty, well-worn books that Felicity had stolen from the Central Library.

***

Felicity sandwiched between her two brothers, didn’t believe she was worthy of being spoiled. Money was not to be lavished on her. Her style was second-hand chic, reliant on a good figure and her thick hair.  Her mother would frequently comment that she would look better in pastels. Looking smart and polished felt out of reach.  She perfected her eye-liner flicks in the car-mirrors on the walk to school.

***

Michael took his responsibilities as the oldest boy seriously.  His mother, previously deserted, was not good with money.  So, Michael wrote the shopping lists, set the rota for chores, put up the calendar on the fridge and determined his siblings pocket money.  He ran a tight ship.  From a distance, his father declared him pretentious.

***

Felicity had been offered a place to study sociology, but knew she wouldn’t go.  Her Dad didn’t see the point in educating girls, especially when it was no longer free.  Instead of university, she worked in the second-hand emporium, wishing she could be reading. She would sit around the musty clothes until her belly got too big.

***

Michael had finished his apprenticeship and was offered a job with a proper wage.  They celebrated hard and bareback in the graveyard.  He was delighted with the news, a legitimate reason to leave home.  He would be a great father.

***

Michael had a spreadsheet and a plan to pay off the mortgage.  They would go out to the pictures, for meals and music gigs again, once the children had left home. He determined Felicity’s pocket money.  He paid her cash.  She had no need for a bank account.  She was a grafter, she’d make it work on a budget.

***

Felicity felt shame in front of the other young mothers.  They had learned the language of cooing and smoothing. They could do small talk. They didn’t have scars where they had removed their piercings.  The “you can’t sit with us” vibes of high school returned, so she kept her eye-liner flicks and fishnets.

***

Michael still wore black.  He no longer had hair to dye, and the good home-cooked meals meant he was no longer lean, but he couldn’t betray his teenage self by taking up golf or wearing bright clothes.

***

Money stopped being an issue, once Felicity remembered how to shoplift.  She could feed her family a proper cooked meal every day, paired with ‘shop-bought’ cakes.

***

Michael’s son was stronger and taller than him now.  But stooped whenever he came to visit.

***

Felicity wanted to ask her daughter about make-up and clothes, but couldn’t bear her scorn.

***

Felicity had considered couples therapy, but even bringing up the conversation seemed like too much work.

***

It never occurred to Michael to leave.  He just watched the familiar decay around him.  He liked his routine.

***

After the evenings spent numbed in front of the television, the security guard’s hand on Felicity’s shoulder came as relief.  Had she known that she had over-stretched?  A Chanel bag and two black dresses, designer labels, no price tags.

***

The judge had never gone a day without food.  He had no need to budget.  His accountant wife took care of the bills.  Everything was above board.  He paid a considerable amount in tax, which was then paid back as his wages.  Law and accountancy, he would loudly declare whether asked or not, were bullet-proof against recession.  The choices other people made were weak and irrational. He considered his daughter a rebel.  She had gone to Saint Andrews to study veterinary science. In his spare time, he read history books and had never listened to jazz.

Felicity, he declared, was out of control.  The police investigation had uncovered a freezer full of luxury items and jewellery and clothes worth thousands. This was not so much her first offence – just her first time being caught.  He had no choice but to deliver a custodial sentence for the criminal mastermind.

***

Visiting hours.  A table. Two hands reaching across.  No starting sentence.

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