HANNE LARSSON: She Knows When He Nears

Flash Fiction by Hanne Larsson

One for Sorrow, Two for Joy

They moved in in the late spring. With the snow melted, the ground thawed, and the birds’ cacophony cascading down from the trees, they could finally bury Pa who’d been cohabiting with Mrs. Jones in the icehouse. The priest was sparse but fair; Pa’s life had been what it had been, his deeds few and pedestrian. He’d spoken even less.

The house was Joanne’s now, his will inking an even split for his descendants, but Eddie had died long before adulthood. Pa had just forgotten.

He was good at that.

Joanne glares at the woman sat opposite – several hard-earned biscuits on her best plate walled between them – cradling her glass, afraid that if she lets go, it’ll shatter in her hand.

“Don’t you miss him? I miss my rock terribly,” the woman – call me Mum she said when she fluttered in – says, and Joanne shudders. She doesn’t, not by a long shot, and even less now, that this interloper is here, claiming she’s owed things. At least magpies are honest about their thieving.

“More tea?” Joanne escapes to the kitchen but the cawing doesn’t grow quiet. The woman objects, promising to return with a box for Pa’s things – especially that divine jewelry in that gorgeous box – and flaps out in her same swanning way. The silence looks to be replaced by squawking now.

So, when she returns, Joanne is ready, has adapted what she already knows. Springtime will make it harder, but it’s not impossible. It’s all Joanne’s now. One for sorrow, two for joy. 

Sins of the Father

It’s always child number three, always Azuria – the one with the blue lock – that causes the trouble, makes up the stories, the one that turns her mother’s luscious brown hair grey strand by strand.

Her father does not notice Azuria; he does not notice any of his children except when they distend their mother, making her ankles swollen and the bile rise in her throat. His three offspring run riot around her home, cleaning out the larder of snacks, growing frogs in the fountain, slamming doors, misplacing cutlery and breaking beds.

She’s not sure this is what she agreed to, would give anything for a quiet night and decent sleep.

“Give me the key back,” she calls out up the stairs, down through the cellar, into the nooks and crannies where they squeeze themselves when they don’t wish to be found. “You’ll be sorry.

Your father will know of it.”

But she knows it’s an empty threat. He’s gone again – not expected home for months – away at negotiations. Deals, he says. Parties, she suspects. She hasn’t forgotten his words of warning when he first brought her here and has lived true to them. The key to the locked room remains untried by her, hangs on gold chain close to her heart. She’s safe this way. They’re safe this way.

The silence – or rather, the absence of Azuria’s noise – is heavy, like the time of year, but she’s too exhausted to fear the worst. So, she returns to her tea, and her novel, her five minutes of her before she begins the unenviable task of food preparation for bottomless stomachs and growing limbs.

A scream from on high; she races but the door is open, the room compromised, the child so like her father caked in dust and cloth and matter which was once what she could have become and it’s too late, too late to change anything.

He will know when he returns, and it will not matter how she explains it: that blood will out, that this would always be the risk with children about. As he does not see them, this too will be her fault.

“Your father…” she says, as she takes her daughter by the scruff, pulling her to the bathtub, scrubbing her clean as best she can. Yet one smudge across her shoulder and lingering up her neck remains no matter what. Azuria is marked now, as is she.

“I know,” Azuria replies, smiling feral. “I’m counting on it.”

She knows when he nears: the frogs go quiet, a blanket of expectation thrown over the house, the air closer, her hands sore from wringing. He’s dusty from his travels but holds his hand out by way of greeting. Azuria is missing from their customary line-up, not that it matters. She will defend her child, bear-like, despite all that she complains.

She hands it over, watching his eyes rove over the key, scrutinizing it for a change.

“Where’s the third one?” he asks, not once looking into his wife’s face, not once acknowledging all she does with his brood round her. Her name is Azuria, she would scream if she could, and she deserves your attention. 

“Around, I expect, she’s always about catching something.” Her voice is forced lightness to her ears; he inspects her even more closely.

A shriek from on high; he swears, she clasps her throat, trying to swallow the unfolding terror, keeping her hands close to mask the shaking.

He gets there first, she lets him get there first; the others have scattered to whatever corners they prefer, this isn’t their story.

And when she gets there, she’s too late, and not too late. Azuria stands triumphant over her father, a once-lost steak knife in her hand, letting it drip drop fresh onto the floor, sending dust swirling.

“My name’s Azuria. Now will you notice me, Father?” she asks, bending down to the body still wheezing and panting, still clinging on, his blue beard shaking with desperation and, taking the key from where it mingled with the bits of him, wiping it back to sparkling on his trousers.

“Here, Mother,” she says, handing the key over, leaving without another glance. “Best keep the door locked.”

It’s always child number three.         

Hanne Larsson is a British Swede who longs for the 95% humidity and hawker centre food of her childhood. Her stories are fed by environmental science topics, moss-covered rocks masquerading as trolls and what-if scenarios. Her words can be found in Splonk, Twin Pies Literary, Ellipsis Zine, and with work in Best Small Fictions 2022. She’s a member of the Pause Collective and dreams of day-long hacks on Icelandic horses. She tweets: @hannelarsson

Flash Boulevard is edited by Francine Witte. Banner photograph by Wes Candela.

Published by poetrybay

Flash Boulevard is a product of Poetrybay.com, since 2000 a flagship online poetry publication.

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