W Tom 21

By Sandra Arnold

We found the house where he’d lived with his sister for 12 years after their parents died. This is where he played football, I thought, here in these narrow, grey streets. I had no photographs of him as a child, only the stories he’d told.  I tried to picture him inside this house, sitting in front of a piano he refused to play until his parents finally relented and let him go outside to play football. His sister was a brilliant pianist, he’d said many times. When she died at the age of 27 he joined the Merchant Navy and never went back home. Thus, the loss of all his photographs. He’d wept when he told me this. She still came to him in dreams, he’d said. At the end of each dream they always came to a gate and she told him he couldn’t go any further, despite his pleading. Each time he watched her go through the gate and woke up crying. We stood staring at the house, my brother and I, trying to remember whether he had said he was 17 or 21 when his sister had bought him a motorbike. I thought 17. My brother thought the bike had been his 21st birthday present. We turned to go as a car pulled up outside the house. A sharp whistle of air through my brother’s teeth made me turn my head in the direction he was pointing. The car’s registration plate: W TOM 21. We crossed the street telling each other it was coincidence. Tiny hairs spiked our necks. We promised we’d tell each other all the stories we could remember.

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Sandra Arnold lives in New Zealand. Her work appears in numerous journals and anthologies, most recently in Former Cactus, Bending Genres, Cabinet of Heed, The Drabble, Fictive Dream, Connotation Press and Best Small Stories from Aotearoa New Zealand (Canterbury University Press, NZ). In 2019 her third novel Ash will be published by Mākaro Press (NZ) and her first flash fiction collection Soul Etchings by Retreat West Books (UK).  www.sandraarnold.co.nz

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