Regret

By G. Frank Kirkpatrick

THE GRASSHOPPER BUZZ OF THE ALARM NEEDED TO END. MAIDA STRUGGLED

FROM UNDER THE DUVET, TRYING TO KEEP AS MUCH OF HER ARMS AND LEGS UNDER THE COVERS WHILE STILL REACHING FOR HER MOBILE. LENGTH DUE OF TO THE AND

CABLE

DISTANCE OF THE SOCKETS,

SHE MAY AS WELL HAVE GOTTEN UP. NINE FORTY-

FIVE CHRISTMAS DAY. HER MUM AND DAD AND BE

BROTHER

WOULDN’T

CALLING FOR A WHILE, SO SHE HAD TIME FOR A

SHOWER, AT LEAST.

BART

WOULDN’T BE CALLING AT ALL.

There was only so long she could run the hot water. The power shower was the only warmth in her flat until the heating came on. She brushed her teeth. She considered

growing her hair out from the crop so it’d take longer to wash. Reluctantly, Maida

Gates stepped out into the cold

tile floor of her bathroom and into a towel. Ten o’clock and time for a breakfast she could hardly face. Since seeing Bart and his sultry, lithe, little black dress girlfriend, it had felt as though Maida’s stomach was filled with ice and her heart had been washed in swarfega.

Muesli with hot milk would be enough to tide her over until the sun was over the yard arm. The inevitable, uncomfortable phone call of playing daughter and aunty would no doubt arrive before the rest of her family sat down before dinner. Then she could break out the gin and sling the roast for one into the oven.

It was hard to think that a whole year of hugs and smiles and working around Fred’s creaky Modernist scripts could all fall apart with a stroke of the wrong cheek and a giggle with the wrong

woman. There was a natural gravity to their time in the Stillitch Players, Bart’s voice would carry her them to the

back of the room and the two become the mainstay of Fred’s chorus. Although, Maida was walking over coals to

embolden herself, Bart was used to an audience. The

unfortunately named Mr Bart Hart had heard every joke going at the local college, usually from teenagers a good six inches taller than him. It

had seemed a natural thing for the two of them to pair off; until the last rehearsal before Christmas, when Bart had gone straight to the lissom brunette, stroking rain-soaked hair

behind her ear, while Maida gathered their coats. As per

every week, she’d passed him his waterproof, only this time, Maida hoped he had noticed

how curt her reply had been and how hurt she had felt. Although, why would he? She was a paltry meteor in the orbit of his Artemisia. For once, she had walked to the bus alone, before standing at the stop, uncomfortable and forgotten, pretending ignore their

Christmas plans.

Wiggling her feet in her slippers and struggling to get comfortable in her chair,

Maida tried to put aside how she would have spent It was

Christmas with Bart.

too late night for a cuddly liein. She’d already have made

him poached eggs on toast. They’d have exchanged gifts (Maida wondered if the girl in

the little black dress would have got him Transformers lunch box Bart would have had, if Maida had drawn him in the Player’s Secret Santa.)

They’d have had nothing but sparkling wine, kisses and

cartoons on TV until her sister called. But there would be no turkey for two or Queen’s Speech, still in pyjamas. No re-

runs of Only Fools and Horses. No New Year with plans

together. Instead, there is just the routine of smiling for other people and gin and tonic for herself.

The tick of the clock had seemed to carry in her vacant flat. It had not lasted long on

the wall.

Maida patted the

pockets of her dressing gown for her mobile, her mouth thick with quinine and cookedfrom-frozen gravy, her head thick with gin and turkey. The heating had gone off and the curtains weren’t drawn; all heat had fled the house.

Abandoning the one remaining slipper clinging to here toes,

Maida

padded

into necking

her a

kitchenette,

mouthful of melt-water and lime rind as she went. Deft

fingers of frost snuck beneath her t-shirt and raised goose bumps on her belly. When she finally found her mobile in the pocket of her jogging bottoms, the screen was dead and blank. Other than the actinic pink

disc reflected in the windows of the opposite house, there was no way to tell how much time had passed. Christmas

Day was over, but night had not fully drawn in. It stood next to the fridge-freezer, still as a statue as sloe blackthorn leaves fell around it, melting into shadow

where they touched the tiles of kitchen floor. A cloak of thick black smoke writhed around its broad chest, melting like the flickering leaves into the black slate of the floor,

obscuring any foot it may have had. Fine-gauge chains of fire blackened iron crawled across its chest. A crown of similar metal, matte black apart from

the sharp edges and curves, sat upon its brow, a cage of inch wide portcullis covering the eyes. A noble jaw, scarred but scraped clean, was the only flesh on show. It reached out a hand, as though to cup Maida’s cheek and draw her closer, but it was shod in the same cruel steel, with forged claws at the tip of each finger.

“So alone,” the figure snarled. “Maida, I’m so alone.” The voice sounded like clumsy fingers walking a vinyl record backward under a stylus. The little green-black leaves

condensed out of the air as it stretched closer, beyond the scope of wrist and elbow and normal shoulder. Glass

shattered and splintered and

offered stepped

no

obstacle the

as

it

across

floor.

Maida felt the curve of the worktop, and the edge of its underside, press against her arse. She closed her eyes tight, a memory of struck matches in her nose. “Stay with me, Maida. None of the others ever have.”

There

was

a

pricking

of

shattered crystal in her toes and something wicked closer came. “Why don’t they stay? Why don’t you stay?” The

voice echoed with the growl of bears and chainsaws and

ground teeth.

There was a

breath of brimstone and fog and wormwood on her tongue. There was the sweat of a man

with a chill instead of warmth closing to her. With her eyes screwed tight, Maida Gates inched along the edge of the kitchenette, until her senses were clear. But she had left bloody foot prints and shade behind her. Beneath a scorched grille of iron, pitiable green eyes

ached to hold her. To hold her in barbed hands. For seven

breathes, they held each other in their gaze. Before she had even realized, Maida turned away. Better to live alone than in the thrall of another,

whether it was blessed Bart or the lonely king lurking in the shadows.

The sun sank over the roof of her own building, breaking through the undrawn curtains in nuclear pink. It

brought more warmth than light should ever; it burned away everything but the blood and broken glass in her

kitchen.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful