Lily rubbed the fibres between her fingers, coarse like coir or horsehair. She flipped Ed’s recliner on its side. It sagged, not surprising the months he’d slept there, the stairs impossible. When the pain kept him awake, he’d sit, picking out constellations through his telescope. How he’d loved stargazing. She’d wanted to reupholster, something bright– chenille, silk? But that chair was all that was left of him, except the telescope which she’d packed away until she knew what to do with it. No, it was too soon. She ran her hands across the seat base, the daisy head pins were intact, the webbing tight. Could it be fox? She rattled the patio door handle. It was locked. She sighed, righted the chair, smoothed its sun-faded tartan cover and put the hair in the bin.
The next morning, she found more hair on the upstairs landing. She looked up at the loft hatch. Squirrel? They’d had an invasion once, destroyed the lining of Ed’s silver-flecked wedding jacket. She fetched the pole, unhooked the cover. The ladder concertinaed down. Inside, the air was a mix of dust and camphor. No droppings, no rodents. Only the box with their wedding clothes, photos, the telescope and Ed’s books: Stargazers Handbook, Atlas of Space. How he’d wooed her with Perseid meteor showers, comets, the rise of Venus on summer mornings. She’d even felt jealous sometimes alone in their bed while he spent the nights with his lenses and fingerscope brackets. She pulled the hatch closed with a bang. That night, she decided it was stakeout time. She’d catch this creature. She turned off the main lights, sat in Ed’s old recliner and…..woke in the early hours, neck cricked. There was nothing but silence and stars. The stars! Like silk thread through velvet and one in particular stood out, but of course she didn’t know its name. She went into the attic, pulled out Ed’s books. Regulus, brightest star in the constellation of Leo. One of the oldest named celestial objects- in Arabic ‘heart of the lion’. She heard something downstairs, shot down the ladder. The patio door was open. A shadow lingered by the wall. Was that a swish of a tail, a bolt of mane? She stepped outside… a tuft of hair. ‘Oh darling’ she said, fetching his suit, laying it over the recliner. The fabric shimmered, the night sky roared light.
Mary-Jane is passionate about writing, teaching and editing creative writing. A Forward Prize nominee and Hawthornden Fellow, Mary-Jane has won the Bath Novella-in-Flash Prize, the Bridport Poetry prize, Martin Starkie, Dromineer, Reflex Fiction and Mslexia Flash prize as well as the Bedford Poetry competition and Live Canon Pamphlet Prize. In 2020, she was shortlisted for the Beverley International Prize for Literature and longlisted for the UK National Poetry Prize. Mary-Jane’s debut poetry collection Heliotrope with Matches and Magnifying Glass is published by Pindrop Press. Her latest pamphlet ‘Dihedral’ will be published by Live Canon Press and her novella Don’t Tell the Bees, will be published later this year by Ad Hoc Fiction.
Her work appears in anthologies including Best Small Fictions 2014/16/18 and Best Microfictions 2020 and in a variety of publications including Magma, Modern Poetry in Translation, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Tishman Review, Magma, Barren, Spelk, Cabinet of Heed, Firewords, Flashback Fiction, Mslexia, Fictive Dream, The Lonely Crowd, and Prole.
She has an MA (Distinction) in Creative Writing from Kellogg College, Oxford and is currently studying for a PhD in poetry and translation at Newcastle University.
Mary-Jane teaches courses and workshops on short fiction, microfiction, memoir, poetry and the novel. @emjayinthedale