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A BRIEF RESPITE

WINNER
The 2016 Screw Turn Flash Fiction Competition

By CL DALKIN

It was over. After seven long years, he’d done it. Seven years of mad, unhinged, up-and-down emotions. A rollercoaster, his sister had said.

He’d ended it the only way he knew how. By packing a rucksack and walking out. Everything else belonged to her anyway. Just the shirt on his back—light as a feather, mate. It felt good. Closed the front door—click! And he was off. Very satisfying.

Oh, all right, there had been a bit of a fight. She’d flown at him—screaming, pleading—and he was propelled backwards, over the arm of the sofa, taking her with him.

It’s okay—they had a soft landing. Oh, all right, her head did connect with the coffee table. Bit of a thump. Might give her a black eye. Maybe he should just call and check?

No. Way. Not going back there ever again. What about all the bruises she’d given him? Mental and literal? They just weren’t suited. They had been, in the beginning, but some couples just bring out the worst in each other, don’t they?

He’d left her peacefully sleeping it off, sprawled over the sofa in her patchwork jeans and pink hoodie. Oh, all right. Maybe not that peacefully. Snoring—noisy, rasping, laboured breathing. That’ll be the whisky. And forty cigarettes a day. Always snored after the whisky, keeping him awake. Maybe now he’d get a full night’s sleep!

What a relief. He’d soon be at his sister’s—”Come round,” she’d said, when he told her the news. They could have a take-away and a beer. Lovely. If only the rain wasn’t so heavy. He was soaked through, right to the bone.

Speaking of which, he hoped she hadn’t broken any? Of course not! People are always relaxed when they are drunk. Land like a sack of spuds and just stay where they are, limbs everywhere. Like a funny little straw-headed ragdoll. Nasty bruise on the side of her head though.

He shrugged off the feeling of—what was it? And noticed a figure on the other side of the road. Rain pelted his face, but he could see it was a woman in a pink hoodie, dirty blonde hair poking out. He felt a thump in his chest, wiped his face, and looked hard across the road. She was turning the corner.

He speeded up to the edge of the street. No one. You’re going a bit nutty mate. Who would be out in this weather anyway? Not even the sun had bloody bothered to get its arse above the horizon. That’s what it felt like, anyway. Nah, he was just feeling guilty, that’s all. Her image must be burned on his retinas. Mate, you can’t just shrug off a seven-year relationship.

Nearly there.

Bloody rain was getting harder. Battering the pavement—he heard it, along with the sound of running footsteps. Clop! Clop! Clop! Clop! Someone was up the road ahead of him, near his sister’s house. He could hear the gate squeal and saw . . . a flash of pink?

Not possible. He’d left her snoring. Dead drunk. Legless. She couldn’t even walk, let alone skip along like a teenager. God, he hoped she hadn’t been sick. He should have lain her on her side, like the paramedics once told him. Shit. Maybe he should have called for a doctor. Oh, thank God. His sister, smiling, waving through the front room window. She’d know what to do. Then he froze, his gaze drawn to the upstairs window. Another woman, also waving, looking down at him. Pink hoodie. Dirty blonde hair. Nasty bruise on her temple. Expressionless.


Claire Dalkin is a librarian living on the south coast of England with her son, husband, and very round cat. She stands on the beach every morning, no matter what the weather, and looks out to sea. She can’t stop reading, and writing, and believes there is no known cure for this, other than to keep doing what she is doing.

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