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Author: Louise Mangos

Water Baby

Rain hisses on the surface of the pool. When I watch you walk through the mist towards the starting blocks with your fists tucked under your chin and elbows hugging your ribcage, I have a vision of myself at your age. I remember standing on the brink, toes curled down over the edge, antelope legs goose-bumping, kneecaps quivering.

Later I remember reaching for you from my own body. You floated up to me through the warm waters of the birthing pool swirling with secretions from our two bodies. As I gazed into your eyes already open to embrace your first breath of air, I promised I would never make you to jump into the icy waters of that school pool and swim ten lengths until your head felt like it would explode with cold.

But today I watch your coiled anticipation, see your muscles flex with the pop of the pistol, watch those fingers I always thought would prefer the flow of a piano keyboard, cleave the water. As you kick away from the last tumble turn, a jelly of bubbles churns behind you. I know your lungs are bursting from the pump of your legs and the haul of your shoulders. I know when you twist your head to breathe you can see you are an arm’s length ahead of your nearest opponent, and my heart rate lifts with yours.

Your fingertips touch the wall before the others, and there is a moment where time is a vacuum as you gather yourself. The water catches up with you, and laps over the edge of the pool. You turn to the clock at the far end and your eyes open wide in wonder as you realise your victory and your achievement.

I let out the breath I have been holding for twelve years and know it is time to cut the cord.

Flash Fiction by Louise Mangos

Two Hundred Years Ago We Would Have Been Dead by Now

Forty years of twisting hands inside her belly, dragging at her guts for five days every month, as regular as a Swiss train.

Three natural births, each round head inherited from their high-browed father, burning as they crowned, leaving their imprints on her cervix and her memory like the sear of a cattle brand.

Five years of crimson flames rising from her breasts to wrap around her throat like a hungry serpent. Five years of the softening of flesh between her hips where she used to be as flat as a carpenter’s bench. Five years pressing her cheek against the cold glass of windowpanes, and grabbing menus from passing waiters to use as fans. Five years peeling herself from sodden bed sheets, and standing naked in front of the open fridge in the middle of the night.

But most of all, it’s the darkness in her head, the illogical anger and inexplicable shame. She spirals down, this feeling that her life is over. He no longer looks at her with hunger in his eyes. Someone needs to catch her in a safety net and persuade her that there is something worth living for.

Flash Fiction by Louise Mangos
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Breakfast in Bed

She’s just gone off. Her little chest still heaves with the muscle memory of reflex sobs. Her tight colicky stomach gradually softens under my hand as her slumber deepens. I continue to rock her gently in my arms, hoping she hasn’t woken you. I pray you won’t roar out of the bedroom with your hungover violence again this morning.

The sun is rising. Golden rays travel across the living room, softening the pieces of broken furniture. They make the splinters glow like a scattering of fairy lights. But this is far from Christmas. I survey the chaos of upturned chairs, torn upholstery, scratches on the table, and calculate what can be saved. Today will be Boxing Day, in more than one sense.

As I pass the mirror in the hallway, I notice my bruised eye matches the silky strands of our daughter’s hair. Slashes of raven black against alabaster skin. In a moment I will lie her gently down to continue sleeping, as her nocturnal pattern is not yet established.

I don’t want to let her go. Without her in my arms, I feel bare, stripped of my shield, but in her room I finally settle her in the crib. I kiss her velvety brow, and breathe in her milky sweetness. It is time to prepare breakfast.

I know the routine. It has been practised in my head like a school play until the very last line. The kettle will boil and I’ll pour scalding water into the pot. I will listen to it gurgle through the soft paper of the teabags. I will pour a cup quickly, I don’t like it too strong, before swirling a cirrus cloud of milk into the Ceylon brew.

There will be a choice of fruit, a peach or an orange, cream cheese and quince jam.

The newly sharpened bread knife will slice as smoothly through the crusty loaf like butter.

You make your bed and you lie in it.

This morning you deserve only this.

Flash Fiction by Louise Mangos
Picture: Tea Set by Ryan Hyde under CC BY-SA 2.0
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The Weight of Water

It started in the lake at the end of the summer. I noticed a series of barely perceptible ridges along my lats, like spidery scar tissue.

“Swimming,” my doctor had said in spring. We were side by side in the surgery, a colourful reproduction reminiscent of a Jackson Pollock spread on his desk. He circled the delicate web of cartilage between the two bones of my knee joint on the MRI copy. More holes than Emmental cheese. No more running, no more marathons. Time in the water instead.

An hour turned into four, and then it was every day from dawn until dusk.

Waking this morning, I gulp with dry lips, my mouth opening and closing, my voice mute. A fleeing nightmare presses on my chest like an ocean. I tuck my fingers under the silvery flaps at my side.

I slide into the lake, and it is like being born. There is an infinitesimal resistance against the surface tension when it dips with the pressure, before my fingertips cleave the clear water. Hips oscillate, transferring energy through the liquid mass. Pushing hard, muscles ripple. Faster and faster. Until my lungs are ready to burst. Until I no longer need to turn my head to breathe.

When I am at the other side of the lake, I lie on my back and sink down, watching the clouds in the sky ripple and distort as they recede. I inhale deeply, the joyous wonder of a childhood dream remembered when I realise I can breathe under water.

And I can’t come up for air.

Flash Fiction by Louise Mangos
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