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Author: Robert Mason

Replenished

The agent has a liverish complexion, perplexing eyebrows and fag-breath; she drives an old, mustard-coloured Renault that almost matches her skin. I can tell that she hates her job.

“Mr and Mrs T— are quite frail, so be gentle.”

Her words indicate concern, her expression boredom. She knocks, and the door swings open immediately.

The old man’s hand is calloused, his grip still firm. He sizes me up and blurts out that his wife has Alzheimer’s and he can’t cope. I commiserate, sincerely; tell him I would be a cash buyer, insincerely. He shows me round as the agent clucks over Mrs T— while checking her phone.

The house is stifling, a testament to bad taste and sentiment. The boiler is obsolete; the photos faded and the bathroom mouldy-black.

I coo.

The garden tells of skilful industry, abandoned; the shed is cobwebbed but full of treasures.

“Can’t do it no more. I’m going blind . . .” His words curdle and I do some sympathy. As he peers outside to hide tears, I pocket a pretty miniature spirit level and say, “Do you mind if I have another wander round? The layout’s not quite fixed in my head.”

“Take your time. But I’d better . . .” He gestures towards his wife’s room and shuffles off. A complicated folding ruler and a pair of ebony-and-brass dividers disappear inside my coat.

In the bedroom, I snap the heads from two ceramic spaniels, remove the light bulbs, flip back cheap duvets and slice down the centres of their mattresses with my scalpel (10A Swann Morton blade). I put the plug in the kitchen sink and turn on the tap. He’ll think he did it, initially.

Satisfied, I re-join them.

The agent looks relieved; dementia has its limitations. Promising an early response, we leave. She lights up and inhales suicidally.

“What did you think? Potential?”

I step towards her, baring my teeth. Clutching her bag to her stomach she shrinks back, and I walk.

She gives me the finger as her car speeds past, but doesn’t stop. Very wise.

I feed my trophies to the nearest drain and jog to the station, replenished.


Flash Fiction by Robert Mason
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Tundra

It’s as if she hasn’t moved all night. Perhaps, belly down, she has wallowed in her pillow; maybe she’s flailed and moaned. But here she is: toes turned up; arms sentry-straight; breast heavy on her arm. It’s the first time she’s slept naked in eight months.

The first time, since.

Her fingers creep over the scar. Its puckering has lessened and the ribs feel distinct. She can’t think of them as her ribs, though they’re nobody else’s. Picturing their pink, alien pearlescence, she wonders if they miss what used to cushion them. She sighs and inspects the photographs by the bed.

He was wonderful once: bright-eyed, lithe, attentive and funny. ‘A good provider’, as they say, and mad for it, for her. The noise they’d made at that Scarborough B&B! When they came down for breakfast, late and flushed, the other guests’ faces were a picture. She’d never seen anyone so fascinated by egg and bacon . . .

Back then, she never could have imagined disdain or distance; never foreseen insistence on pyjamas.

His side of the bed stretches away from her, cold and momentarily infinite: a tundra. Tears come and savagely she smears them away. The past is the past: dead, buried and best forgotten. The future’s what matters. Her future.

She swings her bare legs—plumper, but still shapely—out of bed, pauses as dizziness briefly takes hold, studies her reflection in the wardrobe mirror. She turns this way and that, parts her legs and thinks she might make herself come. It used to make her feel better, and it’s been ages, since.

The urge passes and her shoulders slump as sunlight slices through the gap between the curtains, dragging reality behind it.

What on earth is she going to do with his body?


Flash Fiction by Robert Mason
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Bad Poet

I kneel, and study the poet’s left eye. Anywhere less liquescent on his magnificent head—that silvered temple, or between those Schnauzer eyebrows—and inevitably the entry wound would have been described as ‘neat’ by busy pathologist or unimaginative crime writer.

Here, it’s a mess.

There is no corresponding exit, no pavement-porridge of bone and brain: a small calibre weapon was used. I imagine its tiny projectile zipping around the fine interior of the poet’s cranium, nonchalantly carving its way through haiku and quatrain, mincing half-remembered juvenilia and rendering rhymes to soup, before halting in the hatchery of the yet-to-be-written stanzas of his twenty-page (to date) free-verse whopper dissecting most of Europe’s post-Renaissance politico-philosophical history and speculating brilliantly (I’ve read some) about the continent’s and, by extension, the planet’s shaky future.

Tragic, irrevocable loss! This was a man whose envious peers found themselves, at unexpected moments—at a bus stop, say, or on the lav—contemplating the mysteries of the organ now irredeemably compromised: its weight, volume, circuitry and surface topography all, surely, more complex and mysterious than their own dull-grey matter. It seemed the poet understood everything; certainly I never knew him to be lost for original perception or impassioned opinion, though his originality was always underpinned by learning, and his passion tempered with wit and keen irony.

After tonight’s reading—packed, as usual—the poet had bought drinks for his admirers: his generosity was as authentic as his genius. And at closing time, en plein air, he entertained the crowd with pastiches of certain rivals’ efforts, spontaneously rendered into hilarious cod-Chaucerian couplets. His killer simply strolled up behind him and tapped his shoulder. Miffed at interruption the poet turned to remonstrate, then smiled in recognition just before the assassin aimed and fired.

The gun was a second-hand Beretta: nondescript, lightweight, and surprisingly cheap.


Flash Fiction by Robert Mason
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