I am honored to host the wildly talented Emma Newman who recently celebrated the hardcover release of her novel 20 Years Later. You may also know her from her anthology of short stories, From Dark Places, or her participation in FridayFlash. Or — as if that weren’t enough, like it should be, but it’s not — you may have heard her voice work which you can check out here.
Today Emma treats us to the eighth in her Split Worlds Short Stories. She is releasing one per week for a year and a day. You can find all the stories along with audio versions here. You can also sign up there to host one of these stories on your own blog.
Do you want to hear Emma read the story to you? Click here or on her pretty picture below. Without further ado, please enjoy this week’s Split World Story: Separation.
Kim sat at the kitchen table, dropping the letter onto the scraps of fabric and coloured paper. She felt sick, then tearful, then furious, but she didn’t make a sound.
The door was open, letting in the scent of summer along with birdsong, the heavy drone of bees and Natalie’s singing. Everything around her spoke of happiness, seeming absurd when her life was imploding. Divorce should only happen in the winter, she thought.
Her mobile chimed, she bit her thumbnail, now fearful of text messages. He hadn’t sent any for a few days, perhaps it was the first of the next burst of hate. She tidied the table, putting the paper and fabric back in the crafting box, sweeping up the fallen glitter with the dustpan and brush, all the while the ‘new message’ symbol flashing on her phone. Finally she’d gathered the frayed edges of herself back together again and picked it up.
“Hey chickadee, am near your place today, can I pop in for a cuppa?”
She smiled as the relief flooded in and texted an enthusiastic reply. Natalie appeared at the door. “Mummy, can I have some scissors?”
“What for darling?” she folded the letter from the solicitor over, even though her daughter wouldn’t be able to understand it.
“The fairy wants some of my hair.”
“You’re too small to use scissors. How about I do it?”
Natalie squeaked and bounced up and down until told to stay still. Kim snipped a lock from the back, where her strawberry blonde curls were thickest, and showed it to her. “Shall I tie a ribbon around it?”
“Yes, a purple one. My friend wears a purple fairy dress.”
Kim rummaged in the crafting box. “My best friend will be here soon, Auntie Magda, do you remember her? She has blue hair.”
“Oh! I like her. Will you make a cake then?”
“Why not,” Kim agreed. There should be time.
“What a bastard,” Magda said, pushing the letter back across the table. “What a sleazy, evil bastard.”
Kim nodded, tearful now she’d started to talk. “I don’t know what to do. He knows I can’t afford to challenge it.”
“But you’d win,” Magda said, pouring more tea. “If his own brother tells you he’s moved assets into that bitch’s name to avoid the assessment, it’ll come out in court.”
A squeal of delight floated in through the window and they shared a smile. “At least Nat seems okay,” Kim said, picking at the crumbs on her plate. “She’s going through a fairy phase.”
Magda looked at the pictures pinned on the corkboard. “I guessed,” she smirked. “It’s good to see there aren’t any Daddy monsters in them.”
“She doesn’t ask about him anymore.”
“Kids adapt, better than we do.”
“Mummy,” Natalie appeared at the door again. “Can I play the piano for the fairy?”
“I’ll open the cover for you,” Kim said, happy that Magda would hear her play.
“She’s so gifted,” Magda said as the notes floated in.
“But if he won’t pay what he should, I won’t be able to afford her lessons any more. That’s what upsets me; he might be doing it to spite me, but it’s Nat who suffers.” Then she was crying. “Her teacher keeps saying I should apply to the private school in town, they’ve got this amazing music department, but I can barely afford the mortgage now.”
“What about a scholarship?” Magda said, moving round the table to sit next to her. “And sod the house, it’s too big and old anyway. Move closer to me and Dave.”
“But the countryside is good for Nat. And she practically lives in the garden over the summer. He’s such a git!”
Magda rubbed her back as she sobbed. The music stopped and she struggled to get a grip before Natalie came back in. “Mummy? Is Daddy making you sad again?”
“I’m alright darling, go out and play.”
“Shall I ask my friend to turn him into a frog?”
Magda laughed. “Yes! A big warty toad!”
“Okay,” Natalie skipped out.
“You shouldn’t have said that,” Kim blew her nose.
“Why not? It gives her a way to cope, and she suggested it. Kids are wiser than we think.”
“Mummy!” Natalie reappeared a minute later, breathless. “Can I go to fairyland?”
“Maybe after lunch,” Kim said. “Can you help us make soup?”
“Mummy,” Natalie began, stirring the soup as she stood on her stool, Magda’s hands on her shoulders and kisses on her hair. “Is there a history of madness in our family?”
“What?” Kim lay the knife down as Magda’s jaw dropped.
“My friend wants to know.”
“Who is this friend of yours?” Magda asked, exchanging a suspicious look with Kim. “Is it really a fairy?”
“Oh yes. She’s tiny and sparkly and pretty and looks like that,” she pointed at the wall of pictures with the wooden spoon. “She lives at the bottom of the garden, by the old well.”
“And why did she ask about that?” Magda took the spoon from her.
“I don’t know. It was when we were talking about me going to live in fairyland. What does it mean?”
“I need a couple more carrots,” Kim said, wiping her hands on the apron. She went outside, the heat of the day oppressive after the cool farmhouse kitchen. She went past the vegetable patch and through the bushes to Natalie’s favourite spot, half expecting to find some weirdo lurking in the hedge, putting these mad things into her child’s head. But there was no one. Her tea set was laid out for two, a wasp drowning in the lemonade. She tipped it out.
Bellies full and dishes washed, Magda and Kim were looking over the pile of correspondence. “Thanks for staying Mags,” she said. “I couldn’t do this by myself.”
“S’ok,” Magda smiled, a blue lock twisted around her finger. “Nice to put the degree to some use. If only I’d kept it up, I could be your freaky blue-haired lawyer.”
They giggled, Kim felt better. “I think-”
Natalie’s scream cut her off, she was on her feet and at the door in a moment, hearing the exact pitch of genuine distress.
“Nat?” she called, heading down the path in her slippers, Magda close behind. “Nat?”
She emerged from the bushes in tears with outstretched arms, running towards her. “Mummy! A man caught my fairy!”
She ran into her arms, as Magda carried on running past them, no doubt fearing the same as she. “What man?” Kim asked, feeling her daughter quivering. “Did he hurt you?”
“No, he said the fairy was bad and caught her in a net.”
Kim’s shoulder was soon wet with her tears. “Did he touch you?”
“No, he caught my friend. The net made her all still.” The words unravelled into hysterics, Magda emerged from the bushes, shaking her head. “No-one there,” she said. “No-one in the fields either.”
“He went through a magic door,” Natalie wailed. “With my friend in his net.”
Kim shut her eyes, realising it was all part of her child’s fantasy, probably some reflection of the divorce or something like that. She felt Magda’s arms around them both. “I’m so sorry Nat,” her friend said. “Perhaps if we draw a picture of your fairy, she’ll find a way back again.”
Sniffing, Natalie twisted to look at her. “You think so?”
“Let’s try it, eh?”
Natalie wriggled free and ran into the house, sniffing.
“Thanks,” Kim said.
Magda looked just as relieved. “I thought it was something worse.”
“Kids eh?” Kim said as they walked back. “Where do they get this stuff from?”
Thanks for hosting Tim! I hope you enjoyed the story. If you would like to find out more about the Split Worlds project, it’s all here: www.splitworlds.com. If you would like to host a story over the coming year, either let me know in the comments or contact me through the Split Worlds site. Em x