Our Pyrrhic Victory
by Alex Gladstone
Frances calls from the kitchen.
‘Can you open it?’
I break off from setting the table and go through to where she’s chopping an onion with the blunt knife; I get the wine from the fridge and ignore the leftovers that’ve been in there for the last week and get some glasses.
‘I just need to get this done,’ she says.
‘Not a problem.’
There are some shreds of vegetables on her dress I feel guilty for noticing, so I busy myself with the wine.
‘You look nice,’ she says, smiling, even though I know it’s hard. I’ve made an effort tonight too. I pour the wine and pass her a glass and there’s a million things I could say, good things — but then we’d have to talk about them, so instead I don’t say anything.
After our guests arrive and we sit down to Frances’ soup, we start to tell the same old stories, she and I. We don’t call out each other’s exaggerations even though we know them; we try to pretend they aren’t embarrassing to hear. I keep on yawning and Frances swirls her glass around by the neck — there’s nothing new or significant, nothing at all. And I think we just can’t escape this: this is us. We can’t help being mundane.
So then, finally, I begin to lie. As in, maybe it will set us free.
At first, it’s hard and I start small, but the wine loosens me and before long I’m making up portions of my life that never happened, entertaining our guests with things I’ve never done, this wild energy to keep going. Frances has her confused, hurt look on her face, but I’ve seen it to death and I’m rising above it. She could too; she could join me, rise up over these same stories we always tell, the same clothes we always wear, this flat we live in, these lives we lead. It’s like I’m reaching a hand out to her across the table. We could be new. Alive. Virile shoots clawing out of our old husk throats.
Once our guests have left, Frances clears the plates off the table.
‘I get it,’ she says, going into the kitchen. ‘I see what you did.’
We are us, always always us.
‘Just . . . don’t say it was any worse than the normal me. Please don’t.’
She slumps onto the door frame and wipes some hair out of her face, clumsy with fatigue. She stays there and looks at me without expression like we’re beyond it now. She looks and looks at me, into me, searching, but in the end, she just shakes her head.
‘Who?’ she says.
Alex Gladstone is an author living in Battle, East Sussex.
by Phillip Temples
The tired firefighter stands next to a little boy in front of the remains of his family’s smoldering house. In one hand the boy holds a gas can; in the other, a pack of matches.
“Well, what do you have to say for yourself, young man?”
“Um — I was left unsupervised?”
Phillip Temples is still trying to make sense of it all. Writing and photography help. He can be followed at https://temples.com or on Twitter @PhilTemples.
by Kim Crowder
We crawl mile after mile, caught in heavy motorway traffic, tailing a huge tanker. I study the array of haz-chem warning signs covering the tanker’s rear end. In silhouette, one shows a broken-boughed tree raising leafless limbs above a completely featureless horizon-line. In this bleak landscape’s foreground, a sick-looking fish rises, gasping, from a black pool. To break the tedium, I say “Oh dear, poor fish”, and my passenger replies, “Yes, but he should have taken more care when he climbed that tree.”
Kim Crowder pays attention to detail. Her writing focuses on fleeting human interactions, the oddities of what people and words say and do — and what they do and don’t mean. She lives with a greyhound and a man in Scotland.
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