Madonna and Child with Apocalypse: A Triptych
With a whoosh and thud, he lands on the courtyard wall, and I leap up, startled, my book flying off my lap. His wings are twin arcs of pure light, and he smells of wet leaves and burnt umber. It’s a mystery to me, who he is and where he’s come from.
Hands on my chest to calm myself, I bid him welcome.
“Greetings,” he says, and I catch a hint of dead mouse on his breath. A shaft of sun cradles a lily in a yellow pot, and in the distance, the tak-tak-tak of gunshots sets the wild dogs howling. I sink back onto my chair, reach for my fallen book, and wait for him to tell me why he’s here.
It’s a steep and stony climb up from the oasis, and she keeps having to stop to retch up gluey strings of bile so the others go on without them. There’s a sheer drop from the edge of the path. The spated river at the bottom of the gulch sounds a long way down. When night closes in, she and her new husband lie against the red rocks, and he says he’ll listen out for bandits and soldiers so she can rest. He’s a good man. He didn’t ask for any of this. North of the Wadi, the rockets are firing, and in the curve of his arms, she watches the green and red stars arc across the sky.
The baby is fussy, won’t suck. His face crumples and twitches, and you stare at it like you’re memorizing the moon, the long eyelashes gummy with sleep, a scatter of milk spots, the star of the fontanelle. His tiny penis gushes, and you dab him dry with a handful of sappy grass. Once again you squeeze your nipple between two fingers and graze it on his lips. His mouth pulses once, twice, and as he latches on, that sharp sweet pain, whites turn black and blacks white. You pull him off your breast, and as his screams rise with the curling crown of cloud, burgeoning and topping out, you wrap your long cloak tight around you both, the color of the sky before the black rain falls.
Fiona J. Mackintosh is a Scottish-American writer living near Washington D.C. In 2018, she was delighted to win the Fish Flash Fiction Prize, the NFFD Micro Competition, the October Bath Flash Award, and Reflex Fiction’s autumn contest. Her short stories have been listed for the Bristol, Galley Beggar, and Exeter Prizes. Find her at: www.fionajmackintosh.com.
Features & Fiction Editor – Steven John