SHORT STORY FOR THE WEEKEND: Before It’s Too Late by Sue Shipp

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Hayley Garner, one half of street artist duo Nomad Clan, working on the mural at Play Dead studio in Highland Road, Southsea

Internationally renowned street artists Nomad Clan prepare for a career-spanning show in Southsea

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Here is the latest in the series of short stories written by members of the 390-strong Portsmouth Writers’ Hub

The little red Fiat gleams brightly in the dull morning light. To the left of the car, the grey-granite church of St Michael watches over those in eternal sleep.

Grass slopes fan out before it, broken only by rows of headstones and pea-shingle paths.

David Renfrew sits tapping his fingers on the steering wheel. He tries flexing his right foot hoping to ease the ache in his ankle and then gives up, conceding once again, the Fiat is too small for his six-foot frame.

On the day the car was delivered for Kirsty’s thirtieth birthday, she’d clapped her hands and flung her arms around him, kissing him full on the mouth. Her breath tasted sour and he’d been afraid to hug her tight.

That day, he’d placed a bouquet of red roses on the passenger seat. Today: a hand-tied bouquet of white lilies. Twelve: one for each year they’d been married. Sighing, he turns the radio off and folds himself out of the car, his breath pluming in the chill.

Turning up the collar of his tweed jacket, David leans back into the car, grasping the lilies by the stems. Straightening, he closes the door, and makes his way past the church to a white-marble headstone inscribed KIRSTY RENFREW – 1980-2010.

She’d made him promise there would be no fuss. Her parents’ had been as vocal in their disagreement, as when Kirsty married him, and once again, refused to attend.

Stooping, David places the lilies on the soft, moist grass, telling himself this time he will honour his promise to Kirsty. To live life before it’s too late, without guilt. Already silver-grey threads his dark hair and crows-feet edge his eyes.

Jinty sips the steaming mug of strong, green tea. Leaning towards the low coffee table, the sofa cushions squishing flat against her plump thighs, she picks up the well-thumbed photograph album, resting it on her lap.

Bailey, the black labrador jumps up on to the sofa and settles beside her. Scratching his head, Jinty puts the mug down on the table, and then turns to the last photograph in the leather album.

The smiling face of her twin, Kirsty, stares up at her. They sit together on an old stone bench, leaning against each other. Jinty, the elder by 20 minutes, remembers forcing a smile for the camera even as she felt the thinness of Kirsty pressing against her.

The fine May day had done nothing to improve Kirsty’s pallor and her fine blonde hair, reduced to tufts, hid beneath a multi-coloured silk scarf. Despite her illness, she’d been determined to live every day she had left. To the full.

She encouraged David to take many photographs of them that day in the National Trust garden. When she tired, the three of them had sat outside the coffee shop on wooden garden chairs, sipping cappuccinos, listening to the gentle breeze make the wind chimes sing.

Sighing, Jinty pushes the album from her and moves quickly into the hall. Shrugging into a worn duffle coat and tugging on a pair of old green wellies, she takes Bailey’s lead from the coat peg.

His claws tap against the oak floor and then he sits, tail swooshing to and fro as she clips the lead to his collar.

A wet muzzle startles David out of his thoughts. He hadn’t heard Bailey arrive. Turning, he watches Jinty make her way towards them, the dog’s lead hanging loosely from her gloved hand.

She smiles and he feels his heart lift. It’s a smile he knows well, and although Jinty and Kirsty hadn’t been identical twins, the resemblance around the mouth and eyes is strong.

Jinty pulls him into a warm hug, kissing him on the cheek.

‘I knew you’d be here today.’ For a moment they cling to each other, until Bailey pushes his way between them, forcing them apart.

Tucking a strand of hair behind her ear, Jinty looks down at the white lilies already stained by orange stamens.

‘They’re beautiful. She’d love them.’

As the silence between them deepens, David, shuffles awkwardly from one foot to the other, until clearing his throat, he breaks the moment.

‘I’ve been telling her about us. Do you think that’s silly?’

‘No. I talk to her each night before I turn out the light. Helps me get to sleep sometimes,’ Jinty smiles. ‘I never told anyone that before.’

‘Do you think she’ll mind? I mean, about the way we feel for each other?’ David pauses. He avoids Jinty’s gaze. ‘I feel like I’m betraying her.’

‘I know.’ Pulling off one of her gloves, Jinty takes him by the hand. His fingers, curling around hers, are cold to the touch. ‘But she wouldn’t want you to feel that way.’

Jinty pauses, until David focuses his dark serious eyes on her face. Her words are quiet, gentle.

‘All she every wanted was for you to be happy. Even at the end, all her worry was for you. I want you to be happy. But only you can say if we can be together, without guilt weighing you down.’

For a long moment David stares deeply into Jinty’s green eyes. They shine with honesty, and kindness, and love.

They remind him of what he has already lost, and show him of what he can still have.

A burst of sun breaks through the morning cloud, spilling on to the white marble headstone. A blackbird sings a song of beauty, announcing his place in the world, and David feels a healing begin in his soul.

Pulling Jinty into his embrace, he bends his head, inhaling the fresh apple scent of her hair. His words fall, soft and clear.

‘It is time for us, my love, for I could not bear to lose you as well...’

Sue Shipp has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Portsmouth. In 2016 she was involved in writing collaborations for the Much-Ado-About-Portsmouth Festival, Voices at the Kings Theatre and the Ferry Tales Project. This year she was shortlisted in the Lovedean Writers’ Competition.

Send your short story to the Portsmouth Writers’ Hub via e-mail at hubinthenews@gmail.com. For more information check out the Portsmouth Writers’ Hub on Facebook.