Latest Winner: Solar Urticaria

By Belinda Rimmer
Belinda says: I have lived in Cheltenham for over 30 years. I am a poet with two published pamphlets. I am drawn to short fiction; the challenge to tell a story in a few words. I am currently working on a Novella-in-Flash.

If she’d been born a mole or a badger or a bat – something nocturnal – it would have made Clara’s life a whole lot easier. She hoped to be reincarnated as a firefly, drawn to the light.

The daylight was dragging. Not long until she could draw the blinds and sink her hands into her beloved plants: pots and pots, lined up on the window ledge; her own little garden of lilies and roses, mint and oregano – a sea of blue and pink and yellow and orange and white. Her plants thrived on light. Just because the sun made her blister and pucker and pimple, until she scratched herself raw, why shouldn’t they feel its benefits? Things without sunlight shrivelled and died. She should know. Baby Bio had become her best friend, a godsend for her plants. She’d been tempted to take a swig, only deterred by the skull and crossbones on the bottle. 

After her father’s death and to escape her mother’s incessant fussing, Clara had moved into a flat on the seedier side of town. Adam had dropped by a few times but couldn’t tolerate the darkened rooms, the sadness of it all. She didn’t need him – she had her plants. 

And tonight she had a visitor. She’d scrubbed the kitchen with bleach, covered the table with clean towels and drunk a tumbler of vodka. What would he be like? She hoped for a sun-junkie; bronzed and with a whiff of sea on his clothes. Still, you couldn’t exactly ask over the phone about his sunbathing preferences. It had been hard enough to find someone – through a friend of a friend of a friend – prepared to come to her flat in the almost dead of night to tattoo her. She wasn’t even sure if it was legal. She’d drawn a template and requested inks with exotic names: jade, sapphire, aquamarine, emerald, flaxen

Then the doorbell rang and there was no turning back. He wore a bobble hat and thick sweater, smelt of soap. His name was Brown, and he wasn’t one for small talk. 

He worked like someone used to kitchen tattooing, his fingers moving over her skin – stretching, staining. One on top of the other the layers of pain came, reaching into every part of her. There was not much to do but watch him; the way he tipped his head every so often to ease the pressure on his neck, the sound of his breath, sharp and focussed, and the grey of his eyes. 

“Done,” he said. 

She stared in astonishment at the beauty of the little cluster of forget-me-nots at the top of her arm. 

She opened the window to let the astringent smell of ink and something else, something earthy, evaporate. Pavements gleamed and moths darted in and out of street lamps. The night seemed to curl around her like a soft blanket; she’d never understood how much beauty there could be in darkness.

She rested her hand on Brown’s arm; a gift of skin and warmth and sunken treasure.