An interesting piece, Phil's tale of a woman dealing with the loss of her husband speaks of much more than the simple act of boxing up belongings and clothes. A wonderful reflection that resolves in freedom, A Flash of Blue earned its place on the shortlist with the grace and poise of the elusive kingfisher.
Shortlist - Open Prose Competition
A Flash of Blue
She slipped the final jacket from its hanger and checked the pockets, before deftly folding it with practised hands and adding it to the other clothes in the laundry bag. The stale ghost of his aftershave wafted up to greet her, but it barely registered. His side of the wardrobe had been a sea of muted greys and browns; functional, everyday clothes. Her side wasn’t much better; the only nice clothes she owned were outfits bought for weddings or christenings, and hadn’t been worn in years. Bill didn’t like socialising, so they tended not to. Making this space now was less about confronting grief, and more about seizing opportunity. She picked up her new silk scarf from the bed, the liquid fabric spilling through her fingers. It was a vibrant, iridescent blue-green. Bill would have hated it. That was probably why Catherine had chosen it. She smiled, arranged it carefully on a hanger, and hooked it onto the rail.
He’d been buried in his best suit. It had been expensive when new, tailored to fit. Joyce thought he looked particularly smart in it; it offered a faint echo of the dashing young man she had married more than half a century before. He had filled out a little in the last few years, and Joyce had worried that the undertakers might struggle to get him into it, but they seemed to have managed somehow.
Barely three weeks had passed since she had received that panicked call from the landlord at the Red Lion, and she had rushed to the hospital only to find that she was too late. Now his clothes were all packed up, his shelf in the bathroom cabinet was empty of all his medications, toiletries and shaving paraphernalia, and practically everything that defined him had been packed up, ready for the council tip or the charity shop. Catherine had taken his Rolex watch and silver bracelet as keepsakes for the grandchildren when she had flown home after the funeral, but she hadn’t wanted anything for herself. Her brief return from Melbourne had been for her mother’s benefit, nothing more. Joyce kept only his plain gold wedding band, which she had placed in the top drawer of her bedside cabinet on her return from the hospital. She supposed there needed to be some, small acknowledgement of their 57 years of marriage.
There had been happiness. Joyce still remembered Bill’s audacity when they had first met. He had effectively stolen her from one of his closest friends, pursuing her tenaciously, and encouraging her friends to champion him. He had shattered a friendship irreparably, but won the woman he loved. Joyce had been flattered then, but self-confidence can sour, in time. Drive people away. Bill had never raised a hand to her, not ever, but he was nonetheless capable of considerable cruelty. He was a demanding and difficult man, entirely convinced by his own importance. With age and infirmity he had become all the more overbearing, more intractable, his latent frustration with the world restricting Joyce like a too tight suit, and she had conformed almost imperceptibly to his overbearing will.
She zipped up the laundry bag and placed it by the door. Tony from next door had offered to drive her into town later that afternoon. Bill’s Vauxhall was still parked on the drive, but though she had passed her test, she had never driven it. Bill had forbidden it. He treated the car almost like another child; one which didn’t grow up to defy him. He’d spent hours waxing the bodywork, checking for scratches in the paint, tinkering under the bonnet. Joyce didn’t know the details. She knew only that the car served as a means of escape from their marriage. There had been other distractions; steam trains, model trains, even golf, one summer. Each hobby and activity served as a bolthole from a decaying marriage. These snubs, once hurtful, had become blessings in disguise.
Of all Bill’s hobbies, birdwatching had been the longest lasting, and initially at least, one which she had been allowed to share. In the years immediately after their retirement, they had often made a day of it, driving to the coast or out to the Peak District, often in search of a particular species. Joyce would pack sandwiches and a flask of tea. Bill would record the date and location of each initial sighting in his battered RSPB guide book. He’d had a real talent for it, spotting a ringed plover or sandpiper from within the hushed confines of a hide, or stopping dead on a woodland path to discern the distinctive hammering of the green woodpecker. In recent years however, he had made it clear that she was no longer welcome on these excursions, now limited to the nature reserve a few miles outside of town. Her inexperience, her incessant questioning and her sandwiches were now intolerable distractions. Making her way carefully down the stairs, she spotted the guide book in a box bound for the tip, and stooped down to pick it up. On the front of the volume was a photograph of a kingfisher in mid-dive, resplendent in amber and electric blue. It was a cruel taunt from the publishers, as this was one of the few species that had eluded him, despite hours of forced and frustrated patience.
When Tony arrived an hour or so later, and started to load his car with the various boxes and bags, Joyce had liberated a few items from within them. Bill’s binoculars and tatty bird book, adorned with his neat, copperplate hand, had been returned to the cupboard in the dining room. Maybe one day Joyce would complete what he had started. Not for his sake though. Not for him.
“Right. All set Joyce? I think that’s everything.”
“Lovely Tony. Thanks so much.” She replied, pulling on her coat.
“Not a problem. Any time. Oh Joyce, I do like that scarf. Really suits you.”