Erin, by Catherine O’Brien
She held September in her mouth and despite gentle cajoling wouldn’t deign to spit it out. It was a commitment, a satiating thing, the other months only served to provoke her tongue.
September delivered on its promise of new adventures and so she tolerated its tanginess and odd metallic zing. On a whim she could enunciate as eloquently as a cashmere sweater gliding over newly-exfoliated arms.
She halted their progress outside the butcher’s shop and paid heed to the imitation man wielding a meat cleaver in the window. She jostled herself back and forth to invade the flightpath of his gaze and made him explain himself until he felt infinitesimally small. Her companion inspected her appearance while she waited; she viewed her beauty as a separate person put together for an altogether different story.
“What happened to your mother?”, her companion asked.
“Nothing. That’s the problem.”
“What do you mean?”
“She hasn’t been contactable since 2015.”
“Oh…Do you miss her?”
“It’s hard to miss someone who makes you feel unseen.”
The conversation ended there and the journey to school continued. Erin’s mind visited her only memory of her mother. She had fallen and been lifted into her arms, her head lost in the cloud of warm air parcelled near her neck.
Her new family members were nice. They looked at her like a librarian looks at a book. She made sure she wasn’t herself around them, they didn’t deserve that.
If she could have chosen a profession, she would have been a pickpocket who specialised in dreams. It wouldn’t have worked out though. She knew that. You see she had soft furnishings for a heart, easily dented over time. Sometimes, her negativity was the only colour-fast companion she allowed access to her thoughts.
Erin had attended enough schools to know the ropes. She did not engage, she did not volunteer, she existed. Her aura commanded enough respect to repel unwanted attention. Her unspoken agreement with the bullies was not violated and she respected that, whilst finding them abhorrent.
Occasionally, there were transgressions she couldn’t ignore. Sindy Maloney was one such transgression. She attempted to strike up a conversation in the canteen. Erin had moved quickly to neutralise the threat.
“Can you not?”
Three simple words forming a rhetorical question which halted Sindy’s friendliness.
Sindy was not the problem. However, Erin had to protect herself. She needed Sindy to understand that they would never enjoy anything further than a meaningful nod. Sindy had retreated looking suitably wounded and permanently schooled in the ways of Erin Power.
Erin’s feet felt like they were sleepwalking into the past. She didn’t want that. The bedrock had been laid but if she acted fast, she could still blast it. She found Sindy seated alone. Her fingers were steepled into tiny pyramids of unarticulated concern and holstered hurt. Erin’s conscience chirruped in her ear and she whispered to it to calm down.
She asked Sindy in a quivering voice if they could start again.
Catherine O’Brien is an Irish writer of poems, flash fiction and short stories. She writes bi-lingually in English and Irish. She holds a Ph.D. in English Literature. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Eunoia Review, Janus Literary, Ellipsis Zine, Splonk, Flash Boulevard, Tether’s End Magazine, Indelible Literary Journal, Tír na nÓg & more. Twitter: @abairrud2021.