Staying Alive – by Eva Rivers

Six months. Maybe a year.

I thought, make up your mind. When you’re teetering on the edge, the difference between six months and twelve months really matters. Did I have the extra six months or didn’t I? Did Mr FRCP have any idea what that meant? It meant an extra twenty-four weeks. An extra one hundred and sixty-eight days. An extra four thousand and thirty-two hours.

The bus should have arrived at 11.14.  It was 11.27 before I saw its top deck glinting in the distance. The thing about buses is you can think things through. Work things out. Make decisions. But I’d made my decision even before swiping my Oyster card and now time was running out.

When Alistair arrived home I was tipsy and singing along to Stayin’ Alive. Somehow that horrendous falsetto didn’t seem quite so bad. One of his junior partners was with him. I waved.

Ah…ha…ha…ha…stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.

‘Rather inappropriate behaviour,’ he said when the junior had gone.

‘I’ve got something to tell you,’ I said.

He wasn’t even looking at me. He could conduct a whole conversation without looking at you once.

‘Tomorrow, I’ll be gone.’

‘Gone where?’

‘I’m leaving.’

That made him look up.

‘Meaning?’

‘Meaning I’m not going to waste any more time.’

Stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.

The crossing from Holyhead to Dublin was ferocious.

‘Would it help if I prayed to the Gods of the Irish Sea?’ I said to the woman who brought me a wad of paper towels.

Fecking eejit is what Dad would have said. But nothing could have appeased the sea that day. By comparison, the train to Killarney was like the Orient Express.

Mary met me at the station. She’s the eldest. Then there’s Lizzie. And then me. The Three Graces Mum called us. We stopped by the cemetery. Mum’s head stone was leaning in towards Dad’s just like she always did in photographs. I tugged at the weeds that clogged up the few inches of soil that separated their graves.

They couldn’t have been better parents. You don’t have to marry him, they’d said all those years ago.

‘You’ve a lifetime ahead of you, Aisling,’ had said Mum. ‘Come home. We’ll manage between us now.’

Dad said he’d take a flying kick to anyone who so much as raised an eyebrow. But I didn’t go home.

On my second night every member of the family came to dinner. Even Auntie Colleen who rarely left her purple Lazy-Boy.

‘So where is the hotshot?’ she said.

‘I left him behind.’

Colleen spent the rest of the evening sucking on a crubeen, or even talking to it now and again. I pictured Alistair doing his lemon-sherbet face. He’d always accepted cooking killed the germs a trotter may have picked up in its former life, but he said it could never destroy the image of what the pig had trotted in. I think it was crubeens that turned him against the entire Irish race. It was Colleen’s crubeens he’d once called revolting. She never forgave him.

My half-formed plans for the next six months-maybe a year are pretty modest. I’ve a limited desire for adventure. And forging a whole new set of memories doesn’t interest me. It’s the old ones that I need to fall back on. I’ve been home just three days and I’m being shamelessly selfish. Time’s passing at half the pace and there’s no need to rush it. For the moment, no one knows why I’m here or for how long. But I’ll tell them soon. There’s time enough.

***

Eva Rivers writes short stories and flash fiction about the ways in which life affects ordinary people. Among her literary influences are Lydia Davis, Raymond Carver and Flannery O’Connor. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Penny Shorts,The Drabble, Fictive Dream, Firefly Magazine, Storgy and Scribble. She lives and works in London.

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