While he protested about the dangers she stepped gingerly over the barbed wire that ran along the top of the fence and stood laughing on the other side, kicking her shoes in the air. She looked down at her bare toes and noticed a scattering of small holes in the soil. Peering into one of them she found it was full of dead scorpions.
He handed her a torch. “Look down the other holes. You may as well know the truth. When you realise what I’ve tried to protect you from perhaps you won’t think so badly of me.”
She shone the torch down a hole and saw it too was packed with scorpions. Writhing red live ones. She clapped her hands to her mouth.
He shook his head. “You see? With bare feet you’ll never be able to walk past them in safety. That is why – knowing your propensities – I built the fence.”
She reached over the wire and handed back the torch. “Thanks. But I know how to avoid that problem. I’ve been practising.”
His protest froze on his lips as she rose a couple of metres above his head, waved and glided across the fields with the wind in her hair until she reached the place where the factory stood glowing in the sun.
She landed with a little bounce and looked back. He was just a dot in the distance, but intermittent flashes signalled that he was watching her through a pair of binoculars. She turned her back on him and looked up and down the street. It was empty because the factory hooter had sounded long ago and all the workers had gone home. Free from prying eyes she explored. The building had been brought up-to-date and the surrounding area was partially landscaped. The front of the factory was covered in mirror glass which looked like a giant cinema screen. As she approached it she saw the hills and sky reflected on the screen and further back, a long way back now, her home and garden were barely visible with her husband behind the fence.
She stood still to admire the greens and blues and golds shot through with bronze like the bolt of silk her mother had once bought in a sale because it was so beautiful. It was too beautiful to use, her mother had said, wrapping it in tissue paper and putting it in a drawer to keep it safe. Then her mother died and the beautiful material was thrown out with the rubbish.
A sharp tap on her shoulder made her jump at the unexpected intrusion on her privacy. An old man in a long greasy raincoat stood grinning toothlessly. “It’s comfortable behind those bushes,” he slavered.
“Piss off!” she hissed.
He flushed livid and bunched his fists under his chin then thought better of it and sloped away.
She moved out of sight into a doorway and settled down comfortably where she had a good view of the screen and could enjoy undisturbed the reflected scenes of clouds, trees and lakes. She waited patiently for the main feature film to begin. While restful music tinkled in the background, the faces of her parents, grandparents, school friends and teachers appeared on the screen. Only those who had died, she noticed with a twinge of unease. Old scenes from her past were replayed so vividly she wondered if she had died too without realising it. To test the theory she walked up close to the screen to see if the other characters reacted to her. When they didn’t she sighed, vastly relieved, “They’re only two-dimensional.”
As the film progressed she was so engrossed in the story that she didn’t know exactly when he’d sat down beside her. He watched the film in silence and waited until the interval before interrupting. He’d always had nice manners, she reflected.
A girl walked towards them carrying a tray full of soft drinks and rainbow-coloured ice-creams. They both dug deep in their pockets for money and bought one each.
She licked the last creamy drop off her fingers. He set down his empty carton. The second half of the film was about to begin.
SANDRA ARNOLD lives in New Zealand. Her work appears in numerous journals and anthologies, most recently in Bonsai: Best Small Stories from Aotearoa New Zealand (Canterbury University Press, NZ, 2018). Her third novel Ash (Mākaro Press, NZ) and her first flash fiction collection Soul Etchings (Retreat West Books, UK) will be published in 2019. www.sandraarnold.co.nz