Fulfilling by Fiona McKay
Kate is not ‘imagining it’. There are small tufts of pale fluff on her neck, and no, it’s not ‘just a tissue in the washing machine’ as John suggests. There’s nothing drifting off his shirts, nothing clinging to Ella’s favourite black top, Josh’s Minecraft t-shirts. It’s more solid than tissue, just on her clothes. And only she can see it.
At work the next day, she’s handing back French vocabulary tests to noisy second-years when she sees small twists of beige fuzz gliding off the papers and onto desks. The students don’t notice, except Tyler – of course Tyler notices – who asks, Are our tests shedding, Miss? Do you keep snakes at home? Is this snakeskin? Did your snakes eat our homework, Miss? And everyone except Kate is laughing now; she hasn’t the energy to laugh or tell him it’s dryer fluff. Instead, she snaps at Tyler, Maybe save your smarts for actually learning something? And regrets it when the room goes quiet, sullen.
In the staffroom, Chris who teaches Geography and always finds reasons to touch her, says, Kate, what’s all this? and runs his hands down her back, flicking at her dress, his hands unnecessarily finding the curve of her buttocks. She flinches so hard she elbows him in the face, ‘accidentally.’
After work, when she has shopped for dinner, collected the kids, supervised homework, cooked: then she will have to deal with the washing machine – empty the lint tray, run hot water through it, shake clothes out in the garden.
That night, she dreams that John and the kids see the fluff now, too. John swipes at her shoulder blades in a way that makes her wince. Ella picks bits of fluff off as she walks past, going, Mom? WTF?. Josh calls her ‘fluff-monster’ or ‘fluff-head’ and steps over hanks of fluff on the living room floor. Her dead mother is there too; congratulates her on losing weight, says to be careful at her age, it all comes off the face first, tells her to exercise more to even things out. Kate lashes out, wakes John. His annoyance lingers in the air; she doesn’t get back to sleep.
Kate starts gathering the fluff into a basket each day. In the evenings, when John and the kids bend their necks to screens, she leaves them, creeps silently up the stairs to where her stash awaits. She ties her hair up and out of the way, takes off her polo-neck. She gathers wads of the fluff, pushes it into the gaping hole at the back of her neck. Each wad pushes the previous one further down – she fills and fills until the basket is empty, then kneads out the lumps and the hollow spaces. From downstairs, she can hear distant laughter, a quiz show on tv, things blowing up in a computer game. It’s quiet as she hugs the empty basket. The fluff is her concern only, and every day, there is a little less.
Fiona McKay is a SmokeLong Quarterly Emerging Writer Fellow for 2023. Writes with Writers’HQ. Words in Bath Flash, Reflex Fiction, Lumiere Review, Janus Literary, Pithead Chapel, The Forge, Gone Lawn and others. Runner-up in Bath Novella-in-Flash 2023. Her writing has been nominated for Best Microfictions and Best Small Fictions. Her Novella-in-Flash, The Top Road, is published with AdHoc Fiction, and her Flash Fiction Collection, Drawn and Quartered, is published with Alien Buddha Press. She is supported by the Arts Council Ireland Agility Award and lives beside the sea in Dublin, Ireland, with her husband and daughter.
Tweets about writing @fionaemckayryan