Flash Fiction by Patricia Cosgrove
At the end of the lane, beyond the scrags of gorse and fuchsia and the fields dipping to the sea, the spring tide surged and broke on the shingle. The woman sat on an upturned fish crate in the shelter of the gable wall, eyes closed, counting the wet suck of each ebbing wave on the shore.
‘Mammy, can I have an egg?’ The child had snuck out barefoot, still in his pyjamas.
‘In a minute. Get back inside – you’ll catch your death.’
She slopped the dregs of her coffee under the crab apple tree, its branches gnarled and stunted from the salt winds. The April gusts had felled the blossom, drifting white petals through the cropped grass. She followed her son into the sagging lean-to at the back of the house, pressing her weight against the warped door, and wedged it shut behind her with a breeze block.
The child splashed his feet through the puddle in the middle of the cement floor.
‘Don’t do that!’
He cowered when she picked him up.
‘Please, Sean, don’t do that again,’ she said, stripping him of his sodden pyjama bottoms. She held him on her hip and stroked the small of his back. ‘Mammy doesn’t like that.’
She perched him bare-bottomed on a kitchen chair and scuttled through the pots on the draining board, found the blue saucepan. A greasy scum rimmed the inside and she scoured it. The water spluttered then gushed from the tap. It pooled in the plughole and wouldn’t drain. She took the rubber plunger from under the sink and siphoned out broken strands of spaghetti, chunks of tomato. She’d reminded her husband to scrape the plates before he washed them last night, but he’d forgotten. Cathal always forgot what she asked.
She chewed her lip and stared out at the washing sagging and jerking on the line. The wind snapped the sleeves of Cathal’s shirts into mock salutes and she thought of the tedium later; collar, cuffs, arms, yoke, the hissing tip of the iron nosing smooth between the nub of buttons.
Sean dragged his chair over to the shelf beside the fridge, stretching to reach the purple carton. He opened the lid, did eeny-meeny-miny-mo over the six brown eggs.
‘This one,’ he said. ‘And one for you.’
A small grey feather clung to a shell and he lifted it between his thumb and forefinger and blew it like a kiss at his mother.
‘Get off that chair before you fall!’
He clambered down and sucked in his cheeks as she sparked the blue flame on the stove.
‘I suppose you want dippy soldiers with that?’
He nodded and rummaged through the bottom drawer for the egg timer, stood beside her as she slotted bread into the toaster, peeled back foil from a half block of butter.
‘Move, Sean! You’re always under my feet!’
His thumb went into his mouth before he could help himself. His mother smacked his hand away.
‘Don’t do that,’ she said. ‘Mammy doesn’t like that.’
A squall passed over the sun, darkening the kitchen and a sudden shrapnel of rain drummed the slates, gobbed melts of ice against the windows. The washing, she thought, all the morning’s work undone.
She hurried into the garden, the wet grass soaking through her slippers. The line pole pitched to and fro and she grappled it with both hands, the rusted iron streaking her palms orange. She tugged at a shirt hem, felt it spinnaker away as the fraying rope unsnarled itself free from the branch in the apple tree. The washing trailed in the ground, muck-spattered. She put her fists to her eyes and counted the waves beyond the wall.
The eggs rattled in the pot. The child held the timer up to his face, watching the pink trickle of sand until the last grain fell.
‘Mammy,’ he called. ‘Maameee.’ The door of the lean-to banged in the wind.
He went towards the stove, looked up at the steaming pot and reached for the handle. His scream, the pure clear hurt of it, spliced the wind.
Patricia Cosgrove comes from a small coastal town in North Dublin, where she still lives. As a child, Patricia was told that her constant tale-telling would turn her tongue black. Undeterred, she continues to make things up. This is her first published piece of fiction.
Image courtesy of Helena Bjork
Also published on Medium.