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  1. Split Cream

    (Short story published in From Arthur's Seat 8th Edition)

    She slid the spoon over the soft white surface of the cream. She often thought of its tender sweetness when she crawled into bed at night, snowy peaks in the mixing bowl. When whipping cream it must be of a heavy sort and cold, in a clean, dry container. These are also the ideal circumstances for sleep, no mascara tracks on the pillowcase or dry crumbs in the sheets to disturb the task at hand. It’s better to leave the window open all day, let the breeze blow through, the air in constant motion. Whip your clothes off in a hurry, pour yourself out of the packaging. Slide,- quickly, under the cool duvet.  She shivered under the comforter, trying to stir herself gently into sleep. They had always disagreed on this, him preferring to let the room become humid with the scent of human cohabitation. 
              On his first birthday with her, she made him a pair of lumpy wool socks to keep him warm. The rime on the window allowed to inch back inside. Later she made him a quilt, fingers going from clumsy to practised, crocheting square after square of itchy wool. On her ring finger, there was a small lump formed by years of holding a pen, working with the smooth needle formed a twin on her index finger, a blister of devotion. When she presented the enormous blanket to him, her cheeks were hot, the physical object showing the mortifying scope of her affection.
              Her mother liked to refrigerate the whisk and the bowl before whipping cream. Chilling small pieces of her warm kitchen to facilitate her craft. Her mother’s whipped cream turned out faultless every time, sweet hills and stiff peaks of white. She wished she could place herself on the cool white shelves to cool her body and mind. 
              When her dad died her mother had stopped cooking, taken to drinking cans upon cans of cola, glutting herself on the shortages of her childhood. Trying to sip sweetness back into her body or marinating the pulsing muscle of the heart in sugar, preserving the dregs of it. When they visited her together they used to try to feed her carrots and spinach, gleaming cuts of white fish, steaming bowls of lobster soup, spooning all the fragrant meat into her bowl. He had been so kind then, already equipped with skills to draw the women in her family out from the fog of their thoughts. Teasing them into smiling together, breaking the serene stillness of their company. Those nights she would hold him close in bed, breathe in the warmth of him, the sour note of sweat, before retreating to her single thin duvet, chest brimming with sweetness.
              Some nights, when the radiator is too forceful and the duvet too heavy, sleep bubbles over her like viscous honey. Stagnant air oozing over into her dreams, which become leaden and damp. The delicate peaks of cream start to sweat, churn into butter. After those nights she awakes with her fingers tightly clasped, clammy grasp around her belly. Like his hands had been in the casket. Her shoulders taut, like her body was leaving without her. She needed to breathe deeply and turn the body-warm duvet over and wiggle her toes free of tension. Soothe the tight vertebrae of her spine with mundane musings. Try to let dreams drift over her, her awareness becoming floating and feathery.
              There were also nights where peace was distant and her mind roiled with memories. She was hopeless at mountain names, he had always been good about pointing them out from the car window. Patiently repeating the stories behind each name every time they drove home. Strange tales of outlaws and wights that tired farmers created to entertain hungry children in the dark. Without him, the umbilical cord to her surroundings was cut and everything passed her under a veil.
              Before, the whir of her thoughts was difficult to still, data from the lab shuffling like a deck of cards across her closed eyelids. Soft plans for the future kept her awake even in the cool, darkness of their room. But a mind buzzing with possibilities is easier to calm, a heavy arm pulls you into the mattress, fingers smooth over your brow clumsy with sleep. No possibilities stretching out before them anymore, only a cheap plot in a graveyard in the next town over. Hours from the snug warmth of the drive home, socked feet on the dashboard, wet smell of shoes in the trunk. 




    These days she takes the bus to work, lets herself be enveloped by the bustle of other people in the morning, packs a book but ends up staring out the grimy window. Every Thursday, the bus filled with primary school children, their harried minders shooing them to the back where she sat. The first time she was startled by the revelation that the teachers were all around fifteen years her junior. She could hear the blurring influence of English in their speech, their grammar and syntax, and drawling lack of clarity. They were around the age she had been when they met in the dingy university bar. Where he had lamented the lack of funding going to language preservation and exclaimed at the warmth of her fingers when he clasped them in his calloused palm.
              Yesterday an old man behind her retched a series of loud coughs. A sound like his lungs were trying to crawl up his throat. His muddy trousers filled the back of the bus with the pungent smell of piss and spilled spirits. She felt a kinship with the hacking man, in another age, she might have handed him her handkerchief. The only courtesy she could offer was the lack of backwards glances. Her mother drank too, she had found out much later. Not for pleasure but methodically, sharp clear spirits gulped down that enabled her to sleep. The radiator in the bus had been broken for a few weeks, everyone's chins huddled into the cradle of their scarves to keep warm.
              Later in the day from her chair in the office, she watched two of her coworkers smooth their palms over their swollen bellies and grumble about the lack of back support in the allotted chairs. Her eyes met with the taller one, who reddened and smiled clumsily at her. Last year they had talked about going off birth control and safety precautions that necessitated a break from lab work during pregnancy. Giggled together at the prospect of being delegated to office duties together. She grimaced back, a facsimile of courtesy, and tried not to focus on the hot stench of dried blood coming from the pad in her underwear.
              When she closed her eyes and prayed it was not His face she saw but his. Like wax poured over his skeleton, cheeks turned to sunken putty retreating from the open air. It had been almost ten days before they could have the funeral, his father flying from Norway, his sister from the East, and his mother from a cheap cruise. She had sat blankly in their room all the while, wishing that they had not laughed at weddings, that their paper trail was not just a series of boxes from his office. His mother had insisted on the open casket.




    Tonight the pillowcase was silky and fresh. The veil of sleep crept up on her while she stroked comfortingly over the gooseflesh of her arms. 
              From these dreams she awoke softly, her jaw vulnerable and open. The blushing sunrise warming the vaulted ceiling sky. The puckered mouth slackened with a deep exhale. This time of year morning light crept softly over the horizon, leaving behind the pitch black of winter, the days where the light bled weakly through the windows between lunch and afternoon tea breaks, long gone on the way home from work. In the kitchen she sat in her usual chair, ignoring the empty placemat across from her. Scooped skyr
    into a bowl and out of season blueberries, rotund and aglow with foreign rays of sun. Poured a thin stream of cream over it and ate hungrily,  licking the last drops. She looked at her warped reflection in the back of the spoon and took a deep breath.
              On the bus, the swarming children filled every nook and cranny and a meek-looking girl was instructed to sit next to her.  Trying to unclench her underbelly she smiled reassuringly at the girl. The windows were fogged up with heat, the radiator fixed and her fingertips felt blessedly warm. Stroking them over the cold windowpane to clear it she looked back outside, saw the colour bleeding back into the town.