The next addition to our collection of exclusive flash fiction pieces is Not Like Last Time by Welsh writer and critic John Lavin.
‘It only really hurts at first,’ she said. ‘And then I just feel, uh… kind of good, I suppose.’
‘How do you mean… good?’ her boyfriend replied, trying hard to suppress the look of disbelief that had swept over his face.
She was wearing an uncharacteristic, long-sleeved white linen top that revealed the outline of her black bra. The top had more than a hint of the middle-aged about it – as though it had come from a shop like Monsoon or East – and it suddenly dawned on him that he had seen her mother wear it before. Of course, he thought sadly, she has borrowed it because it has long sleeves.
‘I don’t know. It’s difficult to explain,’ she replied. ‘It’s… difficult to explain. I stop thinking for a few minutes. Stop… feeling shit.’
‘You enjoy doing it?’
She didn’t reply in words but the smile that came and went in an instant like a darting, russet-throated swallow, was answer enough.
After a pause, she said, ‘You hate me now, don’t you?’
‘Of course I don’t hate you.’
‘You’re not going to break up with me then? I thought you were going to break up with me. They’re not deep.’
She pulled up her sleeve. Snot-green and burgundy scabs had formed over each of the five cuts that she had made. They looked obscene where they were. There in the snowskin on the underside of her arm.
Always in a neat row. Always.
But it was true, they weren’t deep. Not like last time.
‘Your lovely arms,’ he said.
‘Not so lovely now,’ she laughed, pleased.
‘Don’t!’ he snapped.
He had intended to tap her gently on the hand that she had started to pick at the scabs with but somehow it had come out harder than that. Somehow it had come out like a slap. Hard and meant.
Her hand was raised in instinctive retaliation and it remained frozen in mid-air for one awful, elongated moment.
He said, ‘Honey, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to.’
She let her hand fall and stared furiously at her knees. There was a keening quality to his voice whenever he wanted to make something up to her that had a habit of only making her feel more angry.
‘Can’t you just say if you’re pissed off with me?’ she demanded. ‘Instead of fucking hitting me?’
‘Oh come on. You know I didn’t mean to!’
‘Yeah you know you do.’
‘I need a cigarette.’
They smoked in silence. She fiddling with her plastic and silver bangles in-between defiantly picking at her scabs and he looking out of the bedroom window to where his parents were crouching besides a hole in the ground, midway through the act of re-burying the recently deceased family cat. Foxes had dug its corpse up in the night, their frenzied screeches causing everyone in the house to have terrible dreams that bled into the fabric of the following morning.
Not Like Last Time by John Lavin is part of a Wales Arts Review series publishing original flash fiction pieces by some of Wales’ top authors in a celebration of the unique literary genre and National Flash Fiction Day.