Flash Fiction 3rd Place: I Have No Word for What This Is by Adam Trodd
I buy a pint of milk. There should be nothing unusual about that. Pull the crinkled staticky sleeve of my ancient fleece up to my elbow. Fabric snags on scab. The young man behind the counter sees the smooth livid pink of nearly-healed scratches. Weighs up his comment. Tosses it out.
Easier to say yes. Notice that the milk is sweating. Probably been out of the fridge for hours. On the path earlier. Subject to the buttery sun. They call this breaking the chill chain. Words for everything. Anodyne. Salve. Rub it on the sore spots, the scratches. I imagine that by tomorrow it will curdle into seminal clumps on contact with the hot tea. Buy it anyway.
‘I have a tom.’
He wants to continue with the conversation. The words. A two euro coin lodged in the corner of my jeans pocket will buy my freedom if I can get it out.
‘Randy bastards, toms. You can hear him at all hours. Out on the prod. Caterwauling, they call it.’
Words again. For things. Unwanted. Lancing me. No blood. Only water left.
These are fragments of time. Breaking free from the bigger berg of me piece by piece until there is no time left and I am meltwater that cannot be discerned or targeted by people with their words. Calving they call it. Beautiful description but it is less a reproduction and more of a diminution. It is a taking away.
The coin is dislodged. I place it on the counter and a little ice calf bucks out of the shop door and into the street where it is obliterated into bright white crumbs by a passing taxi.
Tea made. Toast half-eaten. More fragments that bring me towards an end. When I spoke to my counsellor she asked me to call again the following morning to describe how I am feeling. I see the hours until then stretched like a paternoster. Feel I owe it to this woman to wait and it makes me laugh-cry at the absurdity of it. I don’t know her. She is just doing her job. Has made no evaluation of my intellect. Doesn’t assume I can see that this is a strategy to prevent anything final. Doesn’t have time to care. I want to cooperate for now because the alternative is currently too abstract.
Will I accept a phone call from my mother? Who knew everything and did nothing? I ask myself before the allocated time; the next fragment. Listen to her words for things that spider-wind the embedded artefacts so they don’t kill me immediately but leach toxins into my blood and stop my heart many years from now. By then both my parents will be indemnified by their own deaths.
The phone buzzes. With each droning ring it creeps across the coffee table.
I wonder if it will stop before it falls.