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Hole

by Neil Brown

Published in The Legendary 2014

Laura lit a cigarette before answering her mother’s call.

“Where have you been? I’ve been out of my mind.”

“My phone died.”

“You could have used a pay phone.”

“Sure if I could magically charge the battery and extract your number from it.”

“Flaming things are more trouble than they’re worth. Put your brother on.”

“He’s gone for a walk.”

“By himself? Did you give him any money?”

“£5 for some lunch.”

“Do you think he’s going to buy food?

“Just £5. No credit cards, no blank cheques, just £5.”

“Does he still have that stupid moustache?”

“Not exactly.”

“What does that mean?”

“It has erupted into more of a beard.”

“Good God. Has he tried anything stupid?”

“No, he seems okay.”

“I’ll never get that image of him out of my mind. I still get shivers when I go to the bathroom.”

“I can imagine.”

“I spoke to Dr Bromovitz. I told him about the bathroom incident. The things he said to your father last Christmas, what he did to the apartment. Everything.”

“And?”

“He said it’s understandable, but he needs treatment.”

Laura stubbed the cigarette out in a cup and moved to the window. People scurried along the grey shabby pavements. Taxi drivers honked their horns and yelled. Somewhere a baby cried.

“I had better get him from the park.”

“What’s he doing in the park?”

“He likes to watch the ducks.”

“Oh God, there’s a pond?”

***
Sophie leant out over the bank and peered into the dark, secretive water. Fish darted beneath the reeds. She ripped off a chunk of bread and focused on a Mallard that was bobbing a few feet away. She cocked her arm and then paused. A loud cry filled the air. It sent the ducks flapping into the air and sent a shiver down her spine. Pushing through the bushes, Sophie stopped. It was a swan. Its long neck was taut and its eyes wild. At its feet, tangled in the reeds was another swan. It was dead, its neck lolling in the ripples of the pond. Someone coughed, and Sophie spun around and tripped over the root of a tree. A man with a bushy beard held out his hand. His wedding ring glinted in the sunlight. His eyes looked like her mother’s when she cried.

The swan nuzzled at the body of his former companion which bobbed lifelessly in the shallow water. Another cry reverberated around the lake.

“How did she die?”

The man crouched down and pointed. “See her beak?”

“What is it?”

“It’s a fishing line. It must have stopped her from eating.”

Sophie sat down beside the man. He smelt strange.

“The swan looks sad.”

“They mate for life, you know.”

“She was his wife?”

The man nodded.

“Will he find a new wife?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Why?”

“When you meet someone right she becomes part of you. If she dies, it leaves a hole inside.”

“So what will he do?”

“I don’t know. The world is a lonely place for him now.”

As the swan’s cry faded, her mother’s voice took its place.

“Will he be okay?” Sophie asked, brushing the leaves from her jeans.

“I’ll take care of him.”

As the sun sank behind the pine trees, the man got to his feet. The icy water stung his legs, and the soft bottom of the pond sucked at his shoes. He kicked them off and watched them sink. The swan flapped its wings but made no attempt to flee. Removing a penknife from his jeans, the man placed one hand tenderly on the bird’s neck and cut its throat. Blood gushed out, staining its feathers. When the death spasms ceased, the man laid the swans together and felt around the razor sharp edge of the hole inside him and drew the blade across his wrist.


Short stories

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