Tidal Flow

A kaleidoscope of colours swirled before her. Vibrant streaks of red and daubs of yellow. Azure splashes reminded her of the sea; flecks of shimmering white, the foam of the surf. Her head swam with the dizzying image, and she rocked back and forth as cool ocean memories washed over her.

“Is everything okay?” a voice said, as if from far away.

Julia blinked at the intrusion as glaring down-lights and clinking glasses leaked into her solitude.

“Do you need to sit down?” the voice came again.

She pulled her gaze from the painting and turned towards the interruption. “Huh?” she said, as she slowly focused on the man standing in front of her. He was tall, and fair, with concern etched into his rather handsome face

“You were swaying.”

Heat rushed to Julia’s cheeks, and she unintentionally fussed with her hair, pushing a ginger strand behind one ear “Oh. No,” she said. “I’m fine. I just… I got kind of lost in this piece.”

The man lit up. “Really? That’s pretty cool. I’m the artist,” and he reached out his hand. “Alec Masters.”

Julia shook Alec’s hand, their grasp lingering a little longer than it should, as a squeak of something almost intangible passed between them.

“You’re the artist?” she said, trying to ignore the goosebumps that had erupted along her arms. “Well, I love it. What did you call it?”

“Summers at Freshie.”

“Like, Freshwater Beach?”

“Yeah. You know it?”

Julia nodded.

“I painted it from my memories as a kid,” Alec said. “Going to Freshie at Christmastime. The gentle waves. The scorching sand!”

“The smell of pies wafting from the canteen at the surf club. The chocolate paddle pops. Or Icy Poles!”

“Yes! The lemonade ones!”

They both laughed.

Silence rested easily between them, as reflections of their childhoods rippled through the air.

“You didn’t tell me your name,” Alec said, breaking the stillness, and shifting closer to her.

“It’s Julia.”

“Hi Julia,” and he turned towards his painting. “I dug those summers. The carefree, lazy days. Hanging with my mates. I even fell in love one year. Though, I don’t think she knew I existed.”

Julia watched him as he considered his work. “I get the yellows, blues and whites,” she said. “But what does the red represent?”

“That’s the love part. She wore the cutest red bikini and her hair was… like yours, actually. Ginger.”

A whole raft of butterflies started flapping inside Julia’s stomach. She studied Alec out the corner of her eye. His sandy locks, the freckles across the bridge of his nose, the familiar way he chewed on his lip.

“I fell in love too,” she said, her voice so soft it was barely audible. “With a boy in bright orange boardies.” She held her breath as Alec turned towards her.

“I wore bright orange boardies.”

“I wore a red bikini.”

“I never knew your name,” he said.

She smiled. “Now you do.”

Alec stepped up to the piece of card on the wall beside his painting and took a Sharpie from his pocket. “Now I do,” he said, and he crossed out the title, and in its place wrote a new one. Julia.

© Amy Hutton 2020

The Great Lie

The girl could remember the exact second she died. She was surprised only by how unremarkable it was. There was no last gasp, no panic, no fear, no life flashing before her eyes. One moment she was aware of the icy snow beneath her body. The next moment she wasn’t. It was all rather anticlimactic, to say the least.

She gazed around the room at the gathering. She knew all the faces. Mostly. She admired everyone’s commitment to wearing black. Very mourning of them, she thought.

She drifted towards the dining room, moving through clusters of people as they talked in hushed tones, whispering of the horror and lamenting the tragedy. She considered the table of food where most of the visitors had congregated. There was enough to feed everyone three times over. There was a pot roast from Mrs. Leggat who lived down the road, a pie she assumed was from Mrs. Thompson, made from the apples she grew in her yard, and the hideous ambrosia salad that Mrs. Nolan insisted on bringing to every barbeque and picnic day she was invited to. The girl leaned down to take in the aroma of a large bowl of trifle made by her aunt, and was stunned when she couldn’t smell a thing. Probably because I no longer breath, she thought. The man had taken that from her too.

She didn’t know why he chose he. Why he decided to end her life on that frigid Wednesday morning. She didn’t recognise him. She had never seen him in town, or at school or any of the other places she regularly visited on her daily errands. She remembered her astonishment when the blade first entered her body. The shock cancelling out the pain. She remembered the sound. It was like those stupid slasher movies her brother liked to watch. A weird, squelching noise that was almost comical. She remembered how easily the metal sliced through her skin as if she were made of butter, and her utter amazement when her pinkie finger soared through the air, separated from her hand as she tried to protect herself from the blows. She’s not exactly sure how many times he thrust the knife into her flesh. But she knew it was a lot. It seemed to only go on for seconds. But she knew it was longer. At some point she had turned over, dragging herself across the frozen ground. This was her undoing. Though to be fair, she was undone from the moment he fixed on her. When his blade tore through her spinal cord, it was all over. The only thing left for her to do was die. She supposed she should be angry with the man. Angry that her life was cut short. That she would never live out her dreams. Never go to college or travel the world. Never marry or have her own children. Angry that she was so viciously ripped from this world and left in a crumpled, discard heap as if her existence meant nothing. But for some reason, she wasn’t. She didn’t feel anything for the man. Not at thing, she thought.

The girl drifted into the living room, following the sound of a shattering plate. Her mother was on all fours, trying to pick up the ragged pieces of broken crockery as people huddled around her. She watch her mother sag to the carpet in complete desolation. When a guttural cry rent through the air, it caught everyone off guard. The girl’s brother rushed to their mother’s side, wrapping her in his arms, and gently guiding her to the couch. They sat, holding one another, lost in their mutual suffering, as everyone else shuffled awkwardly and stared at their feet. The girl knew she should feel something. She should feel sorrow, or empathy. She should want to reach out to her mother, to her brother, and comfort them. But she didn’t feel any of those things. She just stood and watched. Like everyone else.

She wondered if this was what being dead was like. Feeling, well, dead. No sadness, or the kind of hate she knew should fill her stilled heart. Empty of not just blood, but of everything that once made her human.

The girl shrugged her shoulders and turned away from the tormented scene before her and drifted towards the stairs. In her room she sat on the edge of her bed and was startled to see her reflection in the mirror. She was wearing the same dress she died in. But there were no tears or grisly stains. It was clean and pressed, just like it was the day she slipped it over her head. She’d worn it to impress the new boy at school. He was tall, and cute and smiled at her on his first day, making a point of asking her name. He had made her pulse race and her palms sweat, and she was fairly certain she had done the same for him. It seemed particularly unlucky that he never got to see her in that dress. It hung so well on her, sitting just-right on her youthful curves. She wondered if the boy was sad that she died. That they never got the chance to go on a date, or make out behind the softball shed. She wondered if he cared.

She rested her head on her pillow and stared up at the tiny glow-in-the-dark stars strewn across the ceiling. They were a gift from her father, the day before he disappeared into the night. He’d spent all afternoon meticulously sticking each one into place, creating a plastic galaxy, and telling her they would always light her way. When he left and never came home, she considered taking them down. But she worried that he’d be heartbroken that she removed the last remnants of his love. The girl wondered where her father was. She didn’t see him amongst the black clad crowd milling around the food table trying not to talk of murder. She wondered if he even knew that she had died. That she was dead. Dead, she thought. The word sounded ridiculous to her.

As the girl lay there listening to the murmur of voices floating up the stairs from below, she found herself considering life’s great question. Or in her case, death’s. Is this all there is? Why didn’t she see that bright light she’d always heard about? Why wasn’t she raised up on the wings of angels to rest in the bosom of the Almighty as promised at Sunday service. Why was she not sitting on a cloud sipping tea with her grandmother, or playing cards with her grandfather, or throwing a ball for Reggie, the one and only dog she was ever allowed to have. Is this it? she thought. Were there billions of other ghosts spread across the globe, trapped in their own isolated worlds? Watching everything, and feeling nothing. What if this was her eternity? Always there. Silent. Separate. Alone.

The girl stood at the window and watched as the people started to leave. One by one they hugged her mother and brother, promising they’d be there for them, that they were just a phone call away, knowing everyone understood it was only platitudes; the things people say at the end of a wake, because they don’t know what else to say. As quietness finally descended upon the house, she drifted down the stairs and sat on a wooden stool in the corner of the kitchen, watching  her mother and brother pack up the leftovers and stack them in the fridge. Tomorrow she would watch them reheat and eat a meal of pie and roast. The next day they would finish the potato salad and the trifle. Eventually they would put what remained of the food in the trash. Her mother would go back to work. Her brother back to college. She would watch them drift apart under the strain of their grief. Her mother would grow old, sad and lonely, her heartbreak too much to bear. Then one day, there would be another wake, more food, and more mourners dressed in black. Her brother would finally pack up her room, carefully removing the tiny stars from her ceiling, one by one. He’d paint over the marks they left behind, cursing their father while swallowing back tears. Her brother’s wife would help him sell the furniture and select the nick knacks he’d like to keep. That photo of the family in ugly Christmas sweaters. The one with his mum before his prom. The one with his long, dead sister, just days before a mad man stabbed her thirty-eight times and left her in a pool of blood, on a mound of snow by the side of the road.

She would watch as the house was sold, and a new family moved in. Another young girl would decorate her room with pictures of a Korean pop band. She would watch as that girl grew up and moved on to start a life of her own. Her bedroom would briefly become a home office, then a gym, before the parents decided to downsize and put the house on the market. Then, another family would move in. Then another. And another.

All the time the girl was there, watching everything and feeling nothing. Knowing that it was all a lie. All the stories she had ever been told about heaven, were just that. Stories. There was nothing beyond death. No afterlife. No paradise. No better place. Just an eternity of solitude. Of endless emptiness.

The girl should have been angry. But she wasn’t.

© Amy Hutton 2020

 

 

Turning The Page

The door opened with its usual creak. The bell chimed cheerily from above, as it had for fifty years. Sarah reached down and gathered up the letters strewn across the floor, flinching at the envelope with overdue emblazoned across it. She side stepped the untouched boxes on her way to the counter. She meant to sort them yesterday. But she could no longer see the point.

Heading to the backroom she put on the kettle and sniffed the milk from the mini fridge to make sure it hadn’t curdled. She poured herself a tea and blew on it as she walked back to the store counter. Dropping into the well-worn chair, she sipped her tea, and wistfully glanced around.

 

She knew every inch of this bookstore. Every nook. Every cranny. She grew up here. Had adventures here. She visited Narnia from the grubby old seat by the window. Fought the pirates of Neverland on the floor in the history section. Went on a journey with Bilbo on the sofa by the magazine rack.

She had her first kiss in the same back room where she had just made tea. Sarah was twelve, he was thirteen. He held her face and pressed his lips tenderly to hers. She still remembers the tingling sensation that rippled along her entire body. She touched a finger to her mouth at the memory of it.

 

She wandered through the shelves, running her hands along the rows of bindings. Opening a copy of Misery, she breathed in the pages. How she loved the way books smelt. The feel of the paper between her fingers. The promise of what was to come. Nothing could ever replace a good book, she thought. Except it had.

When Sarah’s father passed away, he left the store to her. With all its memories, and all its debts. She tried to turn the business around. Tried to make it work. She put in a few computers. Added a coffee bar. Ran some book signings with upcoming authors and hosted a series of poetry readings. Anything she could do to get people across her threshold. But who was she kidding, no one wanted books anymore. They had their Kindles, their podcasts, their quick hit of entertainment on their phones. Books were obsolete, and now, Sarah was too.

Tomorrow she would meet the men who would buy her stock, and Monday, she would hand the keys to the new owners. They were going to open a cafe, with organic beans, and vegan muffins. Or something like that.

 

Sarah sighed deeply. She took the copy of Misery and tucked it into her bag. A keepsake to hold onto. She flicked off the lights and turned the open sign around to closed for one last time. Then steeling herself, she stepped onto the street and shut the door behind her.

The bell chimed cheerily from above, as it had for fifty years.

© Amy Hutton 2020

Happy Endings

The sound of horses whinnying jolted Max awake. Groaning, he swung his long legs out of bed. There had been coyotes in the area, which was why his horses were stabled instead of grazing in the fields. He shimmied into his well-worn Levi’s, picked a t-shirt up off the floor and pulled it down over his broad shoulders. Padding sleepily to the door in his socked feet, he slid into his boots, grabbed his rifle and a torch, and stepped into the night.

With his torchlight bouncing across the ground, Max quickly made his way to the stables. Cocking his rifle, he gripped the iron handle of the heavy door and slowly yanked it open. Taking a breath to ready himself, he slipped inside and flicked on the lights.

“Oh!” came a voice to his left.

Max swung around; rifle raised. Standing before him, in a gown of blue satin and clouds of tulle, was a woman. She was startlingly beautiful, with brilliant eyes, and golden ringlets around her face. In her hand was an ivy wrapped twig with a large sunflower on the end, and though he knew it couldn’t be true, Max swore the woman was twinkling.

“Ma’am?” Max said, as calmly as possible, “Is there a reason you’re in my stables at two in the morning?”

The woman blinked.

“Ma’am?”

“I don’t suppose you were going to a ball?”

“Excuse me?”

“A ball?”

“Ma’am, the only kind of ball I know anything about, is a football.”

“Oh dear. I think I made a wrong turn,” she said, as she waved her twig above her head. A shower of stars burst from the sunflower and a map appeared in the air.

Max lurched backwards, tumbling over a bale of hay and landing with a thud.

“I see what happened,” the woman muttered to herself, “I zigged when I should have zagged.” She waved the sunflower again, causing the map to vanish with a ‘pop.’

“Who are you?” Max stammered, as he hoisted himself off the ground.

The woman glanced around the room, “Is this your kingdom?”

“My what?”

“Your kingdom. Your realm.”

“No Ma’am, this is Iowa.”

“So, you’re not a Prince?”

“No, Ma’am.”

“Well you’re handsome enough to be a Prince,” she said, casting an appraising eye up and down Max’s tall form.

“Are you flirting with me, Ma’am?” Max said, a grin stretching across his face.

The woman threw her head back, laughing with a sound like wind chimes in a soft breeze. “Well, you are cute and very polite, so if you ever need a fairy godmother…” She handed Max a card.

Max looked at the card in his hand. “Ma’am. You may want to rethink this card.”

“Why?”

“Someone could…um…misunderstand.”

“Could they?”

“Yeah. ‘For a happy ending call 555-FAIRYGM?’” Max said, eyebrows raised. “Happy ending…?”

“But, doesn’t everyone love, a happy ending?” and with a wink the woman vanished in a spray of glitter.

Max looked down at the card again, “Well, I can’t argue with that,” he said, and shrugging, he slid the card into his pocket, and headed back to bed.

 

© Amy Hutton 2020

 

Spinning Her Wheels

God. Look at him rippling.

She puffed as she peddled, the beat of the music mixing with the throb in her butt cheeks.

He yelled empowering words, leaning forward on his handlebars, causing his shorts to ride up his muscular thighs.

Those legs. My god.

She caught his eye and he smiled.

She peddled harder while his gaze was on her, hoping she looked okay in her new leopard print shorts. Trying to make it all appear effortless. It wasn’t.

Sera had been working out at Soul Cycle ever since the day she met Chris. She had locked herself out of her apartment and was on the street waiting for a locksmith to arrive, when Chris walked by. He stopped to ask if she was okay. She answered yes and made an awkward joke about what an idiot she was. He tossed his head back and laughed, before saying, “We’ve all done it,” and smiling so bright, Sera nearly gasped.
He asked if he could wait with her and reached into his satchel, pulling out a bag of red liquorice vines. She said, that would be fine, and peeled a vine from the pack, holding it between her fingers, too shy to eat it. He placed a vine between his lips and Sera watched him twirl it, moving it in and out, as they chatted about the weather, and the oppressive summer heat. When help finally arrived, Chris handed Sera a card and invited her to, “Try me out.” He meant his spin class. Sera hoped he meant something else. Four weeks later, and she was the fittest she had ever been in her life.

For Sera, every day revolved around the heart pounding hour she spent with Chris. Hot and sweaty. Grinding. Pumping. Up and down. Bodies glistening. Moving as one.
She arrived at the studio early to make sure she was always in the front row. She remembered the tracks he played and downloaded them, so she could learn the words and sing along. She made a mental note of every moment with him. Every shoulder-squeeze. Every wink. She told herself each day would be the day he would ask her out. And each day, she went home disappointed.

“Great work, guys,” Chris yelled, when the class was over, and everyone was packing up.

Sera slowly pulled her gear together, taking her time, hoping to be the last to leave. She felt her stomach flip as Chris approached.

“You’re looking great, Sera.”

She blushed through her already beet red face. “All because of you, Chris.”

He smiled his bright smile.

“Um. Chris?”

I’m going to do it. I’m going to ask him out.

He looked down at her, his sandy blonde hair hanging in his too blue eyes. “Yeah?”

“Um…um…” She sighed. “See you tomorrow?”

“You know you will!” and he squeezed her shoulder and winked.

Sera picked up her bag and hobbled out the door. Every part of her ached.

But mostly… her heart.

© Amy Hutton 2020