A boy lives in the roof. He smells of slate and warm pigeon breasts on crisp winter mornings.
Stolen feathers prick his scalp instead of hair. A flightless fledgling, he’s pressed under roof tiles, body bulging between the slats.
Hunched under the low roof, my limbs become a geometry lesson of angles. My foot scuffs the Christmas box- it tinkles, showing off its boa of fairy lights. The boy’s there, tickling my cheek with his musty down. He asks me to stay and I’m willing-unwilling but I sink to the floor anyway and listen, the thick, soft dust a cushion under my knees.
He whispers of the stars, the drift of a million suns that wink and shimmer, filling the sky with inky purple shadows. He bellows of the storms that have shuddered through his eaves, shaking plaster dust from his joists, threatening to tear his wooden skeleton from his slate skin. He drones of the bees, their waxy hexagons that tunnelled through him until his hollows shook with waggle dances and sung with the hive mind. Disturbed, honey drips and falls into my eyes.
He asks to take my hand and instinctively I reach for him. I yearn to count the stars as friends, to feel myself expand under the sun’s rays. He creaks, timbers groaning like a battered mast for love of me.
‘I love you more than the dawn,’ he chitters. ‘More than the bees. I’d extinguish a thousand constellations for you.’
Then I smell his breath‒wind-dried skin and bone, cement ground to powder by damp and time‒ and I kiss him once and stumble away. The Christmas box tips and falls, wreathing the boards with unlit bulbs.
There’s a boy in the cupboard. I run to him as the roof shakes and groans, as brick dust salts my hair and gums my tongue. The boy’s door opens with a sigh. I burrow into him, rip through layers of wallpaper‒ floral, stripe, floral‒ and dig my fingertips into his plaster, searching for his heart. I follow the pulse and thump until I find it, lay my palm over the beats that come faster for the touch of me.
The boy in the cupboard never begs me to stay, promises nothing as I curl in his darkness, my hand on his mineral chest. Soon I’m as cold as he is warm.
The boy in the floor stares through knots and gaps between boards, with his woodlouse eyes, his cable lips and tied-up tongue, tangled with balls of hair and shredded newspaper.
I never talk him.
After a succession of rejections, this piece of flash fiction was published yesterday on the website for Flash Flood the National Flash Fiction Day journal.
Do visit the site if you fancy reading some great fiction.