In The Absence Of Moonlight

This story won the London City of Stories competition 2018 for Kensington and Chelsea.

Esi kills her lover on a Sunday morning before the sun breaks over the edge of the sky. Quietly she hums a song about birds calling out for dawn. It must be a hymn, something her mother sang whilst brushing her unruly hair in lilting Spanish Esi only knows through osmosis. Her hair tickles her spine, and the scissors resting beside the shovel beg to be used, but her arms ache and she isn’t sure she could lift them to her throat to sever it.

It’s a soft morning, breeze only enough to erect the hairs along her arms. The circle of disturbed dirt in the field looks black as pitch in the twilight. Wildflowers will grow in a ring there, bright and bigger than those nearby. Plants drink decayed animal matter like steroids and blossom decadently. Everything is carnivorous in some way.

James dug the hole which uprooted the last lavender sprigs, now he will feed the new sprouts.

On her knees right where they last kissed, Esi writes a list of all the things she must forget. How to scrub her nails clean because blood leaves food tasting of copper for days. How to hear the words take him out, and not let the rising bile inside her overspill. How to disappear someone like blown dandelion seeds. 

Esi writes the worst parts of herself on a paper scrap, signs it and reaches for James’ old lighter, a gift from before. She flicks it on, flame the same colour as the sun now breaching the horizon and burns herself down. 

The song loops in her head, like the birds looping into the dawn, la blanca paloma de la paz canta. (He spoke Spanish, sometimes, curled up in their bunk, drawing his fingers along her spine. It was the only language he knew which the others didn't. James only whispered loud enough for her to hear. She was never sure what he said.)

His parting words burn last, curled into the fireball like a final embrace. It's okay, angel. Set us both free. The switchblade on her keyring rings like a wind chime as she stamps out the flame and covers it with damp earth. Her fingers are black with mud, clothes coated no matter how hard she tries to brush herself clean. Her jacket hides the blood but not the filth, and she can't change without washing her hands. The thought curls like a fist in her belly.

When her quivering legs become stable, she leaves the field like the nowhere it is supposed to be. She walks, choosing paths purely by listening to the pull within her coiled guts. A few rights here and there, but mostly straight ahead.

A steeple rises above the grey road, sunlight glinting off the stained glass, and Esi thinks about her mother kneeling for nightly prayer, a ritual that seemed as arcane as the moon pouring through the window. 

Closing her eyes against the sun, she renames herself Maria. She keeps walking.


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