The following was long-listed for brilliant flash fiction. Not really sure what it means to be long-listed, the story doesn’t get published so I guess it is merely an ‘honourable mention’. The theme was ‘It came in the mail’. I hope you enjoy.
The monstrosity practically barricaded me inside my own flat. It was a miracle we had even managed to get it through the door, god knows what ridiculous item they had bought.
The parcel belonged to the woman upstairs but I, who worked the graveyard shift, was the one who met the delivery man. If only I’d known they weren’t going to collect it. The woman used to smile warmly if I met her in the hallway, be keen to exchange pleasantries, but then her possessive partner moved in. After that our amiable encounters turned to awkward grimaces.
I’d come here for a clean slate, somewhere that couldn’t possibly remind me of my wife. Yet, the whole city seemed to fight me, like I was a transplanted organ it was determined to reject. People warned that I’d be alone if I went away. They were right, but it was better than being haunted by the piteous glances of friends and neighbours.
My days were a desolate vacuum, grief replaced by an empty void. I could barely summon the energy to venture outside, but had no peace of mind to sleep. When the knock came I was staring out the open window, in an apathetic torpor. It was my neighbour, her dark hair in tangles, bags under her brown eyes. I should have joined the dots or reached out to her but my mind was still out on the ledge. Forlornly, her eyes lingered on the monstrosity as she absently caressed the side of the box. She promised that her boyfriend would come and collect it but, typically, he never showed.
I went back to my window, allowing my legs to dangle. As I peered down, the grey slab of concrete whispered invitingly. That was when she dropped. I stared morbidly, wondering if it had hurt. When she turned over onto her back, I saw the pain etched upon her face, and I carefully pulled my legs in. No one came. No siren sounded. She died slowly, but her eyes locked desperately onto mine as if seeking comfort in her final moments and, I chose to believe, it helped her find peace.
Her boyfriend scrubbed up well for the media, talked of her recent abortion and how she’d become depressed, blamed himself for letting her go ahead with the procedure. He said he’d always wanted to be a father, would’ve supported her no matter what.
The parcel became a foreboding, seething presence. I couldn’t take it. Frantically, I ripped it apart, revealing its secret. It was a crib. Bespoke. I put it all together and left it sitting in my flat. My wife and I had talked of having children and I agonised over it for weeks. The woman’s eyes seemed always in my periphery, accusatory, as if to say, ‘you know the truth’. Numbness gave way to rage.
I heard the murderer above, yelling at the TV, and I gently rocked the crib one last time before starting up the stairs.