Home Flash Fiction Flash Fiction—Warmth, by Fiona McKay

Flash Fiction—Warmth, by Fiona McKay

Portrait of a mother with her daughter, 1816 – 1823, Henri François Riesener
Original public domain image from Finnish National Gallery


Warmth, by Fiona McKay

Kate watched as the old boiler was carried out of the house, its metal innards exposed like torn arteries, wires flailing and drooping.

It had done good service in the house, and she worried she had been too quick to replace it, too quick to heed the warning comments of the plumber as he serviced it yearly, his hair greying in time with hers. It could go at any time, he had said, but it hadn’t. Each autumn though, she would cross her fingers and schedule a service, hoping to eke it out another year.

I can’t believe you swallowed that, she could hear her mother say. And, I can’t believe you’ve left it this long.

She had swung endlessly, like a pendulum, putting off the wrong decision.

Many years before, she had been an adjunct to her mother’s efforts at maintenance, at life. Tethered to the phone, listening, listening, listening. Each suggestion she proffered spawning new problems like the hydra. Eventually learning that solutions were not what was required of her. Learning, eventually, to listen and agree. There are some relationships where only one person can be right.

He does nothing, your father, I have to do everything.

Always ‘her father’, as if she owned him. Even when she was a kid. Her father, her responsibility.

After the plumber had left in his van, Kate drove to the sea. She swayed with the swell of pain inside her, threatening to spill. Was it the newness of things? Having to absorb new ways of doing, replacing the familiar. The instruction manual was a palimpsest: everything she’d ever known, overwritten. The sea slapped the promenade with a hard wave, and saltwater brimmed, slid, pooled.

Oh, for heaven’s sake, what are you crying about now? A refrain.

She remembered then, a busy Saturday afternoon in an overheated shopping centre, a crying child levered into the cool outdoor air by a red-faced mother. She had watched, her stomach made of ice, fearful that the woman would slap the child, hiss in its ear, just you wait till I get you home, showing me up like that.

But no, the mother had squatted down to the child, stroked it gently, asked was it hungry, thirsty, tired; asked should they go first to the café or the bathroom? Kate had turned away, hollowed out and shivering.

The feeling came back to her now. Her face was chilled from an east wind, and salt clung damply to her hair.  She drove home filled with a desire to be minded. To have a thick quilt between her and the world. For someone to say, everything’s going to be okay, and to make it okay, and to need nothing in return. She stepped into the house, the new heat running fast through the radiators, spreading warmth through the home she had made for herself.

Fiona McKay writes flash fiction, short stories, and is revising a novel. Writes with Writers’ HQ. Words in Reflex Fiction, Janus Literary, Scrawl Place, The Birdseed, Twin Pies, Bath Flash, Lumiere Review. Supported by Arts Council Ireland Agility Award.