A while ago I sent off a piece of fiction to Books Ireland for consideration in their flash fiction anthology. It’s a teeny, tiny story called ‘Touching Freckles’ and I’m very fond of it. So it was a marvellous surprise to get the email saying it would be published on their website for the flash fiction series this year. I don’t know where it came from (or why I chose something a little sad) but I like the characters so much that I might let them live longer in another format some day. Meantime here it is – telling a love story in 250 words.
“Okay, sheepskin? Or velvet? Oh, pressing your fingers down hard onto a hedgehog!” There’s a snigger.
“Where would I even get a hedgehog who’d let me do that? Seriously, you’re shit at this!”
She’s frowning now, I can always tell. I can feel those knitted brows as if I’m holding onto her pretty face, spreading my fingers along her forehead, like old times. Know what I miss most of all? Her freckles. My clumsy fingers stroke and press but - nothing. She sighs, leans into me. “Sam,” she says.
Disease is fast, until it’s slow. Falling over is funny, until it’s not. Sally is no longer frowning, I know this, like I know my heart still beats. Her freckles. A sky full of stars, I said once, and we fell about laughing. “Stars!” Sally shrieked.
We saw our long future up ahead, the path clear and lined with flowers. Not for us, the thorns that would prick, the darkness that would swallow.
What did we know?
“Blind as a bat?”, I asked. The doctor frowned (they never laugh, do they?) We held hands the whole way home. What else is there? Darkness descended, slow and heavy and soundless. I live in the dark. But the light is fuzzy around the edges.
Those freckles. Stars.
I’m slowly emerging from the dreaded lurgy. After two and a half years of carefully avoiding it, Covid finally sought me out. Seeing the two lines on the lateral flow test made my heart sink, but it was always on the horizon wasn’t it?
It hit hard, as happens for some (did someone say underlying health condition?) and I’m trying to be patient with the slow process of recovery. Most of all, the brain fog is hanging around. The perfect description, this, for feelings of disconnect and confusion: what’s the word for that thing again? Do I feel like watching TV or should I clean the bathroom? These questions can roll around in my head for HOURS as I sit staring out the window. It took weeks to open my laptop and then ages to form sentences. I haven’t sent a monthly newsletter since it feels out of reach. It’s rotten and choking, this fog, and it seems to carry in its wake an emotional element.
One of the biggest and foggiest issues in my head right now is encroaching despair. Democracy is wobbling. Wars are rife. Women and minorities are under attack. And all the while this virus is having a great old time. Cases are on the rise yet again and I think we could be forgiven for feelings of despair - when will it go away? Cancelled holidays, missing loved ones, and an alarming case of ‘them and us’ as the crisis once again shows the cracks. Societal shifts tend to bring division and this past few years is no exception. The gap is widening between the tribes: masks and vaccines versus lack thereof. In the foggy skies I’m struggling to even picture a bridge that could fill the gap never mind work out how to build one. We were once on the same page trying to keep each other safe, look out for the NHS, protect the vulnerable. But now, given the lack of moral leadership (don’t get me started) we’ve gone our separate and individual ways to the detriment of all.
It makes me sad. And mad. We’re better together, this is what our social species needs to stay alive. But ‘me first’ narratives are the order of the day. Why do we do this? Are we incapable of living together in peace and finding common ground? It sure looks that way.
Hope is to be found in wonderful journalism (click here for the best piece of political writing I’ve ever read) and wise old literature. Jane Austen never fails to lift the spirits, and Shakespeare speaks through the centuries to explain the human condition like none other. Which is to say: I’m taking refuge in books. When all else fails (and it’s all going wrong out there) literature brings me home to a safe place.
There’s comfort in stepping away to see that it was ever thus. The pendulum swings back, storms end, and slowly, slowly, skies become clear.