Conditions for Living
After the rain, I stand on the outer edge of a field divided diagonally by a muddy path, its two triangle wings petrichor-green. On my left is a bus stop, drip-drooling. Standing next to it an elderly lady, unaware the rain has stopped, huddles under the protection of pale flamingo feathers. I set off towards the squat buildings on the far side. Two empty coffee cups monkey around. A child, in a kangaroo-pouch carrier, yap-yap-yaps. Her mother purrs. Swings and slides and seesaws, once the lurid colours of poison dart frogs, have been claimed by the dull russet red of urban foxes. And a man walks on water.
It was slithering hot the day we met. I was seventeen, a mere fledging, recently thrown from a parental nest lined with broken eggshells. I thought I would cope, I thought I would manage on my own. And then I met you: tall as a grizzly bear with camel-blond hair and eyes lizard-green. You reeled me in, told me I was wild. I thought it was a compliment. No, you said. You need training. Rewards and punishment, you said. It’s the only way animals learn.
The man a few paces in front of me is short, more doe than stag, hair protruding from his head at all angles like antlers. Slowly slowly, he lifts his arms until they are at right angles with his body, poncho-pigeon wings spreading. Like a rabbit snared, I stop and stare, dare not move or breathe. Patches of sky, as blue as an Indian peafowl’s chest, hold clouds, wrinkled like elephant skin. Will he take off and fly?
Season after season, your words wrapped around and around me until they were cocoon-tight. Trapped inside, I writhed and struggled against your constraints, heart beating humming-bird fast. I became tired, so tired from the fight, and gave in.
The man takes another step, then jumps off the water, the soles of his shoes as wide as a duck’s webbed feet. He lands on the ground in front of him. I see a plank of wood pop up through the puddle, like a whale surfacing for air, then disappear again. What I thought I saw was nothing more than an illusion.
Newborn-chick yellow, the sun hatches from a cloud, throwing honeycomb onto my new home. At long last I realised you were keeping me down with your words and decided it was time to write my own story. I bided my time, waited until I was strong enough. When I was ready, I emerged, and unlike the man on water, I flew.
is the author of (Un)Natural Elements, 100neHundred
and The Almost Mothers
. She has been widely published in online journals, print journals and anthologies, including Best Small Fictions (2021). Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, twice nominated for Best Micro Fiction and she has been listed by TSS Publishing as one of the top 50 British and Irish Flash Fiction writers. She is an editor with Flash Fiction Magazine and is currently a Creative Writing MA student at the University of Leicester.
Having lived in the Netherlands, Germany and Hong Kong, she now lives in land-locked central England and misses the sea. She tweets @laurabesley