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A Thousand Pieces

A Thousand Pieces

Anneliese Altman

He tells me.
And I listen.

I don’t want to hear the words but they hurtle towards me. My throat is tight, my cries teetering on the brink of escape; pushing their way up and up, edging towards a liberating holler I feel the need to release. My tears will have their time but that time is not now. I tighten the curl of my fingers around my glass. If he looks closely he might see my fingertips drain of colour. But even if he does I know he won’t notice. Not anymore. There’s been something on his mind for a while. And it’s not me.

I look at him and for a moment I see the face I’ve trusted a thousand times; the eyes that used to see the same dream as me. But now a glassy stare looks beyond as he lights up another smoke; the second one within as many minutes. The tip blazes a dirty amber as it burns, his hard-edged mouth ruched to a grimace I hardly recognise. He releases a plume of smoke that leaves him shrouded. The cloud dissipates soon enough but the vacuum between us remains. I look at him again. I’m staring now, goading him to look at me. He doesn’t. I don’t think he can.

And then, from I’m not sure where, I find words. They tumble from my mouth, unplanned and clumsy, catching with a croak as I clear my throat. I tell him straight. Look at me, I say again and again. And although his head doesn’t move - the same head that’s rested on the same pillow as mine each night since before I can remember - his eyes shift to the side. And in that moment, just for that fleeting moment, we’re looking at each other like we’ve looked at each other a thousand times before. My eyes prickle and I want to reach forwards, claw him back. But as I ride the urge, I remember what he’s just said. Sharp words tether our ties. And although he’s sitting there – within reach, right in front of me, I know. He’s already gone.

The glass slips from my hand, shattering on the concrete patio. I hear it before I see. I look down at the thousand pieces scattered around my feet. He shakes his head and it’s me apologising. His voice contrasts against the memory of kind whispers long departed. He’ll clear up he insists and I watch as he disappears, to return with the broom. The shards give their last shimmer in the late sun before he pushes them aside. No trace remains except the silence that’s still between us. He stops and leans on the broom and I’m expecting him to speak. I stare at the floor, waiting for what seems like some time.

What will you do, he asks. I’ll be fine, I reply.

Annelise is a writer from the UK. As well as working on her first novel she writes short stories and flash fiction. She has most recently been published online at RMR Audio Art Journal, Spelk Fiction and 101 words. She was the winner of the TSS 500 flash competition in October 2015.

previous reviews & comments:

'This is very powerful - details the tension of the situation beautifully'
Susannah Ware, 2019

'Speechless and moved to tears...'
cjw298, 2016

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