Self-Possession, by Alison Wells
Fiona stepped around a dead bird in the road.
By the railings and the rush of the buses, she became aware of implausible nausea, olfactory conspiracies of street tarmac, cafe onions. She saw Jack waiting outside the Gallery. The momentum of her body checked. Inside her the tiny astronaut unravelled, tethered to the mother ship. A jolt under the skin.
Self-possession. Jack had it. In his arctic white t-shirt, blonde-haired, broad-shouldered, unburdened.
I will make you love me he had said, in a bar.
In the street she reached him. He kissed her, leaning in. He possessed her neck. At dusk in the flat he tore at her clothes under milk white windowsills. Inside the gallery halls, his hand at the small of her back.
The figure in the painting stared at the caged bird.
She’d been proud of herself before meeting Jack. Jack was an architect. During lovemaking he considered her geometry, their wall shadows thrashing against each other; parabola, rhombus, polygon.
“The bird – it’s beautiful, don’t you think?” Jack stroked her hand.
She didn’t answer.
“Look at it,” he commanded.
She did as she was told.
She leaned her other hand against her stomach. Her midriff was becoming convex. Soon he would notice, insist.
“You don’t know what’s good for you!” he’d said, that first time at her flat.
Even the bars of the cage were lovely.
His fingers loosened. She made her arm bird bone thin and slipped it from him. Eventually he would turn his eyes from the painting, his face dark against the outline of her absence.
Fleeing to Pearse Street, a feather stuck to her shoe.
In the train she watched the framed shapes of her possible lives flicker. In the bleached air an arrow of birds headed south.
Alison Wells is a writer and librarian from Bray. Her writing has been Hennessy and Bridport shortlisted and published widely, including in The Stinging Fly and Crannog. Her novel The Exhibit of Held Breaths was a finalist in the Irish Writers Novel Fair.