It was a family tradition, to greet each new calamity with a party. It might seem strange, but it was actually rather joyous; the absurdity of cheering and clinking glasses when something had gone terribly, terribly wrong. My earliest memory was of celebrating some failure of my father’s with canapes and champagne.
So when the news broke, of course we called the family together. Cousin Deborah made her signature punch and doled it out as the television scrolled breaking updates on the wall. I sipped slowly – it had quite the kick! – and tried not to listen, focusing instead on my Aunt Flora telling one of her interminable stories about her friends at the club, that I had heard at least three times already.
In the garden, the younger children chased each other, screaming. Mother kept half an eye on the sky above them, ready to summon them in as soon as it began. The billowing clouds had a ruddy, sunset glow, although it was barely 3 o’clock. The air was unseasonably warm and there was a tightness in my chest that hadn’t been there that morning.
I wandered to the front of the house, pausing to compliment my brother on the elaborate cake he had constructed on very short notice. He always was the baker in the family. At the end of the drive I could see people clustering up against the big wrought iron gates; not enough of them to be a concern, not yet. I made a mental note to mention it to Mr Rice, although his security system had probably already picked them up.
Returning to the parlour, I refreshed my glass and sampled my sister’s homemade dip (too much tahini). Father turned up the lights; the sky was darkening still further. Mother called the children to come in at once. Her smile trembled a little at the corners as she ruffled the hair of the smallest. I looked around.
‘Where’s Uncle Frank?’
My brother caught my eye across the room and shook his head, almost imperceptibly. Aunt Elaine, Frank’s wife, laughed, too loudly and for a moment longer that seemed natural. From outside, the shouting started. Father coughed and tapped a silver spoon gently against his whisky tumbler. The sound rang out, cutting across the family’s whispered conversations.
‘What shall we drink to?’
Above us, the clouds boiled.
‘To the end of the world.’
Sarah McPherson is a Sheffield-based writer and poet, with work published/forthcoming in Fudoki Magazine, Emerge Literary Journal, The Cabinet of Heed, Riggwelter, STORGY, and elsewhere. She has been long/shortlisted in competitions including Writers’ HQ and Reflex Fiction.
Some links to recently published short fiction:
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