“Tangible” by Jeanette Lowe

In Theo’s friend’s house, the house with the swimming pool and the upstairs you can get lost in, everything seems to move by itself. Like it has a brain. A will. Doors, massive windows, swishy curtains, the up and down lawn-bot, all shift on the say-so of a human. Theo’s friend’s father, mainly. In a distant room tapping at his devices and talking to his screen.

First visit, Theo’s friend leads him up the two flights to his loft room. It feels different from the rest of the house, apart from the blind. Open sesame! Football posters, unmade bed. Comics and dinky cars scattered about the pale grey carpet. Theo’s friend says the cleaner won’t come up, the loft gives her the creeps, like it’s haunted, but it can’t be, the house was only built ten years ago.

Theo’s friend pulls out several shoe-boxes from the wardrobe. More cars, jigsaw puzzles, broken robots. Kids’ stuff. Theo goes to the window. Miles of sky, a huge shrubby garden, a not-old woman in a straw hat crunching up the drive.

She’s carrying something in her hand. He leans right out, peers down at the wide front doorsteps. They hadn’t come in that way, they’d come through the gleaming kitchen at the back.

She places it on the bottom step. A giant pebble, speckled. Like something a huge bird has just laid. An ostrich egg.

‘Do you collect stuff?’ asks Theo’s friend.

Theo shrugs. ‘Who’s that woman?’

She crunches back to the tall metal gates. Takes off her hat and scratches her head, like she’s not sure why she’s there. Replaces it, crouches down and starts combing the flowerbed with her fingers.

Theo’s friend goes into his bathroom for a pee. Theo goes across to one of the shoeboxes, toes off the lid. Pebbles.

His friend reappears. ‘She’s nuts, Dad says. He feels sorry for her. Lets her in whenever she comes. Most days, I reckon.’

‘But who is she?’

‘She’s the woman who carries the weight of the world. Dad says.’ ‘What does your mum say?’
‘Not much. She just brings the stones.’

She’s on the grass now, swinging a leg like she’s going in for a penalty. Stops and hooks the lawn-bot with her toe. A whirring beetle, wheels in the air. She rubs her foot, briefly. Returns to the gate.

Theo spots his father’s grubby car through the bars. ‘Dad’s early, gotta go.’

His friend’s eyes soften, like they’re sad. He leads Theo down.

Theo jogs along the path. The gate buzzes open and the car door swings towards him. His dad’s tanned arm is stretching.

Theo turns towards her. ‘Why are you moving stones?’

She smiles. Her eyes are suddenly bright like they’ve been switched on and are full of blue electricity. With her sleeve she buffs up a perfect oval pebble, almost white, and presses it into his hand. Small and hard, tingling his palm. His soft pale fingers curl around it.

Jeanette Lowe, born in Dorset but now resident in Sheffield, is an ex-special needs teacher, now devoting her time to writing fiction, decorating friends’ houses, volunteering and hiking The Peaks. Jeanette has a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from the University of Sheffield, and has had short stories and flash fictions published in Writers Magazine, Brittle Star, Flash500, Dorset Voices, and three Bath Flash Fiction anthologies. Her novella-in-flash, Let the demons tiptoe, won second prize in the National Flash Fiction Day inaugural NIF competition, and her novella-in-flash, Pixie Lore, is published by Ad Hoc Fiction (2022).

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