Qualified Entry: Fiction Category
By: J.R. McRae
On the edge with clouds at her fingertips, she held her breath – one step, one more step and they’d be flying.
Val was so still when she left him – the only noise, the machines gathered round him in robotic vigil with tutting clicks and hmmms.
Everyone disapproved, a wild night – end of school – everything on the edge and over, even her lipstick!
“Too bright, too red,” her mother shook her head adamantly. So what, Val had bought it.
“Why?” she’d laughed, when he gave it to her, “so you can take it off!”
Her mother’d stopped coming to hospital with her. Her father’s message, via his secretary, had been scathing and remote – too busy with new wife, new baby.
If Val’s parents’d said something, it would’ve been easier. They blamed her with their eyes. Val had been driving, but somehow they knew she wasn’t blameless. She felt that. No one forgot a breakdown.
In the early hours of the morning, she’d started to feel ill. Val told the others they’d split. He half carried her to the car and she’d flaked back into the seat, eyes half closed. It had been raining, she remembered the sound drumming on the duco, impatient fingers, her father’s. A few blocks from home rounding a corner, the wheels slid in the wet. Val’d fought to straighten the car. The truck loomed – winged – spun them crazy, no horizon –
a wave of fractured images splintering over them.
Val slumped at the wheel with blood trickling from his mouth and broken bits of a starry night in his hair.
She’d tried. The Hospital said her blood wasn’t compatible with Val’s. She knew what they weren’t saying. They stood there po-faced, eyes blank, pens and clipboards ready for the next casualty. Something about them reminded her of the dorm mistress at the posh school her father put her in – one term and she ran. She hesitated, helpless, hands flapping at her hands like useless wings. Then she screamed at them, “It’s red isn’t it! It’s red!”
Three hefty security blokes removed her from the ward, their fingerprints black in her sun-brown, freckled arms. In the struggle, a vase broke, its contents of red flowers spilling across the floor.
Everything’d broken – home, family, her brother’s car borrowed that night – now Val… Her mother mended things when they were little. Somewhere she lost that skill.
The Blood Bank was closed. It never occurred to her that it’d be closed on Sunday. Without thinking, she explored the outside – a window – high up – that ledge – she climbed! Somehow her fingers found the niches, gripped, drew her up, her feet scrambling and pushing, wind whipping her hair across her eyes so everything crossed out, cancelled, wrong.
Inside, it looked stark, white and stainless steel like the emergency ward – no amount of antiseptic could cover the sick sweet smell of blood. She heard steps. Someone coming. She slid behind a cupboard. The man muttered something, RH negative A, Val’s blood type. He went to the cold room with gloved hands. He took the red plastic bags –
In a distant room a phone rang. He shook his head, shut the cold-room, left the blood on a trolley. She edged over, drawn to the warm, deep red, reached out – touched, gasped! The feel repulsed her, cold, clammy – she hadn’t expected that. She picked up a blood bag gingerly, like someone who’s never held a baby – Val didn’t know about that either – she’d meant to tell him the night of the accident . She stood holding the blood to her, brushing the cold plastic against her cheek.
“HEY! Put that down!”
She spun. Without thinking, threw the blood – the bag splattered on the wall, bright, cold drops splashing on clothes, spattering the ground. She ran, the man yelling and slipping on the bloodied floor behind her.
The front door open, a courier asked “RH negative A, Royal …” his voice trailed after her.
Her feet seemed not to touch the ground. She felt her legs stride longer, wider as if they’d climb the air – the edge of flying –
Abrahams had tended the roses in the park 30 years. The reds were his favourites – deep reds, bright reds, reds tinged with yellow, pink beauty reds, crimson blood reds. His wife survived the Holocaust, survived the flight across Europe ahead of the Russian advance. Survived it all to die here, in freedom, by her own hand. As he’d come in their front door, he’d seen the bright petal drops on the carpet. He’d found her on the kitchen floor with blood spilled out from her hands.
The roses were special – she’d always loved red roses.
Today he watched as the girl with dark, blood red hair flew down the aisle of roses. He’d stepped out in front of her – so like – the very shadow of his wife when they’d first met. He smiled, arms out.
She stared at him, confused – the flying over – half turned, her hand brushing a thorny stem – “AAH!”
Before it could bleed, he wrapped her wrist in his kerchief.
“Come on, I’ll pick you roses.’
She looked at him – he knew – “Red ones!”
“Yes,” he said, “the red ones.”
That night, at the side of Val’s bed she placed the roses – a splash of red colour in the white room. She leant over the bed, “Val,” her breath brushed his lips, “ I can fly. I can fly to wherever you are. I can reach you.”
Later that night, the duty doctor taking Val’s pulse added another.
‘Eye lids flickered.’
He didn’t see the faint smile crease the corners of Val’s mouth.
The lipstick, she was wearing the red lipstick –
“Red – suits you -” he murmured. Somewhere in his mind, she turned and smiled, her hand reaching out, back to him, flying…