Clearly Defined Clouds by Jude Higgins
We had pasta for lunch. Linguini with lemon and curls of courgette. I made it because it was your favorite and I picked a bunch of rust-red chrysanthemums from my garden and placed them on the table. For some reason, you moved the vase so it stood between us and you didn’t see the earwig which fell from a bloom, made its slow way across the tablecloth to the salt cellar while you were telling me, in between mouthfuls, that perhaps we should call it a day. The vase of flowers as well as your full mouth muffled your words. I stopped eating, although the pasta was perfectly al dente and the lemon sauce just right and wondered whether I’d have the appetite to finish it cold later when everything had congealed. I placed my knife and fork tidily together at the side of the plate, while you carried on with your long explanation about our differences and I noticed the earwig was trying to climb up on a table mat, its small glistening body threatening to topple over backwards, so I got up while you were saying it wasn’t my fault, it was one of those things, opened the patio door and put it outside in the flower bed, where it might survive. You didn’t notice I’d left the table and carried on talking. I stopped listening and became interested in your cadence, which sounded almost like a lament, as if you really were sorry. I was glad the vase was between us and you couldn’t see how I lowered my head and gazed at your large feet under the table, one of which you were lifting up and down as if you were pedaling a piano to give volume to certain musical aspects of your words. It was curious you were wearing your work boots with the steel toe caps. Maybe you chose to put them on in preparation for the day’s dangerous work? You needn’t have worried. I didn’t make the slightest fuss. Even though you kept those boots on when you went upstairs on my new carpet to collect a bin bag of your things as soon as you’d finished everything on your plate and mopped up the lemony residue with a slice of the expensive foccacia I bought from the deli. It was hard to hear you clump around on those floorboards you’d sanded for me, as well as wondering if you’d leave an indelible mark somewhere.
After you drove off, your nineties rock music playing at full blast, I went into the garden to take in the last of the October sunshine and the sweet peppery smell of chrysanthemums. The earwig had disappeared. I looked up. Several small clouds were gathered close together, not entirely blocking the sun. You wouldn’t have been interested, but I wanted to tell you how clearly defined and separate they looked through my dark glasses and how that was the best part of the day.
Jude Higgins is a flash fiction writer, editor, writing tutor and events organiser. Her work has been published widely in magazines and anthologies. Her flash fiction pamphlet, The Chemist’s House was published by V.Press in 2017. She runs Bath Flash Fiction Award and directs Flash Fiction Festival, UK and the short short fiction press, Ad Hoc Fiction judehiggins.com