One To Four

By Catherine Edmunds

Rachel is curled in the big red armchair, listening to Haydn string quartets and reading about a container ship full of cannibal rats that has run aground in Plymouth. The rats sit around a table, this is it, guys – last supper, and tuck into each other with tiny knives and forks. There is much squealing, messy spatters of blood. Bony feet litter the place, severed from little pink legs. A few fat rats remain. Time to desert the sinking ship.

Time to tell Eric it’s over. He’s the last of the fat rats, drowning, having consumed too many colleagues during boardroom skirmishes.

There has always been glass between them, no sound. Most mealtimes, his mouth moves, and she watches, fascinated by the rotary motion of his jaws. This is how he eats. She’s known this since the first date, which she filed away as long ago as Fuck-up Number One.

Number Two was his criticism of her illustrations. Bit bland, darling. They were on a flight to Nice. She was making tiny sketches in a Moleskine notebook. Mice. Cunning, scheming mice, their rapiers sheathed. Bit bland. The tip of her pencil snapped. She muttered something about turbulence, felt the roar in the engines, the sadness in the seats. He was looking the other way, discussing his free snack with the steward, trying to negotiate double portions.

Number Three – the Lily Ponds at Bosherston. She called them the silly ponds when she was little, but when they went there together years later and she told him, he didn’t laugh – he sneered, and the ache spread and spread until she was made of ache and there was no way back. She knelt at the water’s edge and he stood behind her, too far back to see the tadpoles wriggling en masse towards her. She imagined the illustration she would draw; the swarming tadpoles, jaws snapping, the giant looming above them in the chilly air, unknowing, the water rippling and dancing in the light, disguising all that went on beneath the surface.

Haydn’s ‘Lark’ quartet draws to a close. It’s growing dark, but she doesn’t turn on the light. Instead, she visualises the music in the silence, listens for a long time. When Eric finally gets in from work, and the house is a blaze of movement and explanations for his lateness, she is utterly calm.

He doesn’t notice all the tiny severed limbs, the sinking ship, the musty smell of engorged tadpoles.

He doesn’t know this is Fuck-up Number Four.

Catherine Edmunds is a prolific writer, artist, and fiddle player with award nominated Irish folk/rock band ‘Share the Darkness’. Her published written works include two poetry collections, four novels and a Holocaust memoir. She has been nominated three times for a Pushcart Prize, shortlisted in the Bridport four times, and has works in journals including Aesthetica, Crannóg and Ambit. Catherine lives in North-East England between the High Pennines and the grey North Sea.

Find out more at her website and on Facebook.