Love, labour, loss
Donny pedals fast, heading to the riverbank where Jackie Griffiths waits with two ripe peaches in a paper bag. It’s a warm, slow evening and he is late, so he shouts her name, makes starlings fly.
He sits one row behind in double English, falling for a nape (that word, the way it carries in his mouth!) and studying a single brown mole, a filigree of auburn hair, a blouse label that licks her neck and makes him groan.
Never a word has passed between them, until yesterday, when Jackie turns, smiles, passes back a note. ‘I know you look at me,’ she writes. ‘Meet me down by the river tomorrow at six.’ She promises peaches.
Donny spins his legs faster, wishes he could fly. It is past six yet he is still on his way, still just getting there. He wonders why, when in his dreams it takes him no time at all. Donny checks his watch again and thinks, “I am late, late, late!”
This is the moment it comes to him, the moment the whirring chain unblurs and slackens, the moment the hurrying pedals slow.
How long, he thinks, would he stay if she was late? Simple, he would wait until the sun turned red, until the grass dampened and the sounds of the church bell multiplied, then divided. He would wait, solitary, dreaming of her coming, even if she never came at all.
And Jackie? She will already have looked at the time, eaten a peach, thought of tomorrow and glanced at a flock of starlings taking flight from a distant shout that sounded like her name.
Donny stops, looks out across the fields to the lowering sun beyond, then turns his bicycle around, thinking that everything which comes easily, goes easily, and is all too soon forgotten.
He knows that in the morning there will be, by the riverbank, a single, small patch of flattened grass. Beside it, two peach stones, already dry.
Ken Elkes is a prize-winning short fiction author, journalist and travel writer from Bristol, UK. He began writing seriously in 2011 and since his work has appeared in various anthologies and won prizes in competitions including Words With Jam, Momaya Review, Flash 500, Writing WM, Lightship Publishing and Accenti Magazine. He won the 2013 Fish Publishing flash prize and was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize in 2012 and 2013. He tweets via @mysmalltales.