FICTION: A Quirk of Nature by Andrea Hardaker

The flash flood hit with a vengeance, forcing water down from the top of the moor in torrents. It seemed as if a whole new river had sprung up overnight, snaking through the heart of the town.

Kit stood on her front step, shivering. There was something unnatural about it all. The way the hill had actually flooded. It just wasn’t normal. She couldn’t understand how it was even possible.

“It’s the flash,” her neighbour shouted over the noise of it. “Coming down from the tops! Don’t worry. It won’t …”

But she didn’t hear him finish his sentence. He looked away the minute she turned, as if trying to busy himself with the drama of the flood.

Too much water had collected on top of the moor following weeks of rainfall. She imagined it sitting there, just waiting for the moment it could wreak havoc on the town. Still, she couldn’t quite get her head round it. Hills weren’t supposed to flood.

She pulled her jacket close and glanced up the street. It was full of what looked like Lego people, dressed in bright coloured wellies and Macs. Some were piling sandbags outside their houses, desperate to keep the water out. She doubted they’d succeed. Not if it kept on raining.Further down the road, a row of houses were already being flushed out. She watched as bits of furniture, rugs and television sets bobbed up and down, joining the mad dash for the river.

“I hope their insurers pay out,” she heard a man say. He was talking to a news-crew who had stationed themselves two doors up. The journalist nodded, but she suspected he hoped no such thing. The story of the flood itself just wasn’t enough – it was merely a quirk of nature. A dollop of human injustice was required to make the situation newsworthy.

The real shock, for her, was the violence of it all – tree branches ripped apart by the force of all that water. They grasped out as they passed, like the arms of drowning children, swept downstream. One of them snagged her thigh, almost knocking her off her feet. She wondered what might have happened if it succeeded.

She went back inside, thankful for the row of steps that acted like a moat to her front door, although the water had already submerged two of them. Once in, she dried her feet with a towel. It would be several hours before he surfaced so she went about her jobs as quietly as she could.

After she had binned the remainders of his take-away, which had been left alongside a collection of empty cans on the living room floor, she hobbled into the kitchen to make a cup of tea. Her thigh ached. It would need some Arnica. She pulled down her trousers and examined the spot. The bruise had spread since the night before, tapering out into spots of red along one side. She winced, reached for the cream, winced again as she applied it. It made her hands a little greasy, so she went over to the sink to rinse it off.

Last night’s cereal bowl had been left, abandoned on the side. Clumps of Weetabix clung to the sides like silt. It would take a good long soak to get that off. She thought briefly about chucking the bowl into the street, watching it bob on down to the river with the rest of the debris, but she didn’t want to draw attention to herself – especially with that news-crew hanging around, so instead, she filled it with suds and left it to soften.

Looking at it jogged a memory. Milk. She was out of milk. Damn it. How could he eat his cereal if they were all out of milk? She glanced at the clock. 7am. If she was lucky she had an hour or two before he woke but she’d have to brave the flood. She needed that milk.

She searched the hallway for her wellingtons, felt a tightening in her chest. She’d put them in the cupboard under the stairs but that meant she had to climb past a mountain of abandoned shoes, football boots, fishing tackle to retrieve them. She opened the cupboard door and fumbled for the light. Something heavy fell with a clatter.

She froze.

Held her breath.

But there was no sound from above.

Offering up a prayer of thanks, she pulled on her coat and boots, looked around the hallway for her purse. Empty. The fifty pounds she’d taken out the cash machine had obviously been required for his take-out. There was no point complaining. It would only make things worse.

A wheezy cough sounded upstairs. Ice blossomed across the surface of her skin. If he got up now…But he wouldn’t, it was too early – unless, of course, she had disturbed him.

She tried to be as silent as possible but every time she moved it sounded thunderous; her wellingtons squeaked, her raincoat swished – even her breathing rasped in her ears as if she was purposely trying to betray herself. All the tension which had built up in her body over the years accumulated in her hands which she simply couldn’t keep still. They’d started shaking continuously in recent months making her clumsy – a blundering fool.

She glanced at the front door. She daren’t risk taking her keys, they’d rattle or worse crash to the ground. She’d have to leave the door on the latch. Take a chance it would stay shut against the force of all that water.

As she attempted to button her coat, a kaleidoscope of images sprang into life in the hallway mirror making her jump. The damned thing had shattered only nights before, during one of his episodes. Shards of glass pinned different sized versions of her to the wall, some of them reducing her to a pin prick. She shuddered. She should really have taken it down the night it smashed – it was dangerous. But she hadn’t the strength.

She reached for her sunglasses and peered at her reflection. She’d have to wear them, despite the rain. It meant of course, that everyone would know. But, who was she kidding? People already knew.

Most of them, she mused, believed she wore the shades to mask the bruises. But it was so much more than that. Those sunglasses allowed her to decipher who was who. She hid behind them, peeping out as if she was a reflection in the mirror, watching them unawares.

She learnt a lot about people. For example, some, who she’d once considered her closest friends, avoided her the second she stepped into view, as if they couldn’t even bear to look at her. It hurt, much more than any physical pain she’d ever experienced, but, she reminded herself, they couldn’t help themselves. She frightened them. Perhaps she reminded them of their own narrow escapes – or failings.

Worse, were those who didn’t know her well but assumed they’d been through something similar – the army of battered wives. They had a tendency to reel off their own personal stories as if the perceived commonality between them somehow made things better. “You have to make a new life for yourself,” they said. “We know it’s hard. But think about your child. There are shelters, there is help.”

“You don’t understand,” she said. And they didn’t. There were no shelters for people like her. She wasn’t even sure there were that many people like her. If there were, no one ever talked about it. They were too full of guilt, too pregnant with shame. She just had to learn to live with it.

She’d never been able to stop him. He’d use anything lying to hand – toys, a bicycle pump, golf clubs. He’d once pulled the dog’s chain so tightly round her neck she’d passed out. She had to get rid of the dog after that and took to hiding heavy objects – just in case.

But there was nothing she could do about his fists.

When he’d first started hitting they were small and round like pebbles, but as he grew older, his muscles stretched alongside his temper. He was a man now, almost 17 and he towered above her. But he didn’t mean it. She understood that. He couldn’t help himself.

Floorboards squeaked overhead. She imagined him waking up, restless, hungry. She’d have to hurry.

She braved one last peek in mirror, pulled a strand of hair across her face. She positioned it, hoped it would stay put and breathed a sigh of relief; the bruise was beginning to brown. A few day’s time and it would simply sink below the surface.

Outside the world was in a fury. Wind and rain whipped at her cheeks. She pulled up her hood.

‘Damn you, Mother Nature,’ she thought, glowering up at the skies.

But it was no good blaming. Some things were simply out of a mother’s control.

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Andrea Hardaker

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Andrea Hardaker is what her granny would call, a bletherinskite (someone who talks a lot). Born and raised in Scotland, she currently lives in West Yorkshire where she established Ilkley Writers Group in 2014. Andrea loves stories both real and imagined and has written all life. She worked as a journalist for many years before turning her hand to creative writing. Since then she has won first prize in the Federation of Writers Scotland Flash Fiction competition, 2014, and has stories published in Firewords Magazine (issue 1) and has been included in two short story anthologies; Journeys – a Space for Words, and Portmanteau, (Indigo Dreams Publishing). Andrea holds an MA in Creative Writing and is currently working on a YA novel, set in 1980s Scotland, called Mad Dogs Bite. The agony of finishing the novel has led to many distractions, short story writing being one of them.

You can find her on Twitter @The_Pickled_Egg

Or listen to more work here; https://audioboom.com/Alexandra70

If you enjoyed ‘A Quirk of Nature’ leave a comment and let Andrea know.

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