A selection of flash fiction stories from the collection Dancing Alone and Other Lessons by Digby Beaumont

His Wife, the Flier

His wife makes a swooping sound whenever she comes in to land. He keeps hearing the sound, but when he looks, no one is there.

On top of Devils Dyke, 1,000 feet above sea level, he sits behind the wheel of the lone car.

Wind buffets the windscreen.

“Tonight I’ll probably climb to 3,000 feet,” she’d said—her highest yet—as if it were really nothing to write home about. “Don’t fret,” she’d said. “You know I’ll always fly back to you.”

But that was another lifetime ago, and now all he sees is starlight in the clear night sky.

~This story was first published in Flash Frontier, December 2015~

Sobriety

The train moved off again. The boy shuffled to the edge of his seat and faced the man sitting opposite him. “That was a surprise, wasn’t it, Dad? Running into Amy like that?”

The man turned from the window, where he’d been watching the woman leave. “Yes, it was.”

The boy tilted his head. “Was she sad?”

“Sad? I don’t know, son.”

“She seemed sad to me.”

The man loosened his tie.

“She smelled nice,” the boy said—more to himself.

The man stared out the window, at the backs of the houses rolling past.

“Will we see her again?” the boy asked.

“I don’t know, son. I don’t think so. She’s got another boyfriend now. A new life.”

The sky was clouding over. The man reached forward and buttoned the boy’s coat. He remembered how the woman’s eyes had brimmed only moments ago, when he told her this was his sixth month of sobriety.

“She reminds me of Mum, Amy does,” the boy said. He sighed. “Mum smelled nice.”

“Yes, she did, didn’t she?”

The boy nodded. “Mum would have liked Amy.”

He stepped up close, put his arms around the man’s neck and turned his head to one side, resting it on the man’s shoulder. They held onto each other. Soon they were out in open countryside. Wind rushed at the window as the train gathered speed.

~An earlier version of this story was first published in Toasted Cheese Literary Journal, June 2010~

Ring of Fire

Her name was Mia, she said, or sometimes Gia, depending. She laughed. “Gia’s a slut.”

She’d picked me up after my old VW had given up the ghost near Heathrow and I was hitching a ride back to the city. She wore a tiny black dress and wide-brimmed black hat. Her Jeep Cherokee had an earthy smell.

She’d just broken up with her boyfriend, she said, and mentioned two other breakups before this one. “I know what you’re thinking,” she said. “Sounds like a pattern, right? Well, what the fuck do you know?

The look she gave, I thought she was about to bite off my face.

We drove on, then she turned with a half-smile, like she’d remembered a beloved pet dog who’d died. “Sorry, that was harsh,” she said. “I haven’t taken my meds today. You want to do something?”

Barely six months into the divorce, I considered what I had to offer. “Cocktails at the Voodoo Lounge?” I said.

She wrinkled her nose, said no, she couldn’t do that, and anyway, she craved open spaces, somewhere she could take the shirt off her back. “Let’s go to Primrose Hill,” she said. “Sleep out all night, under the stars.”

She flipped the door of the glove compartment and reached inside for her stash of grade A plus Afghan Kush, behind the seven-inch, high-carbon, combat knife she liked to keep handy.

The Jeep picked up speed. I leaned back in my seat as Johnny Cash powered out “Ring of Fire” on the stereo. And by the time Johnny got to the “burns, burns, burns” part, the two of us were singing along with him.

~An earlier version of this story was first published in KYSO Flash, Issue 7, Spring 2017~

Tourist

He loses things: a pair of paisley socks, computer files, the old gold Rolex watch his father left him, his job at Panasonic.

He loses his beloved cat, Basil, to complications from a urinary tract infection, his kind neighbour, Mr Tomashevsky, in a road accident, an hour or two of his own life here and there.

Somewhere along the line, his famous easygoing free spirit deserts him, along with the desire to sing the old songs. Soon after, his trust in the goodness of others follows.

Then his wife says she’s leaving. “Something’s missing,” she says and he agrees.

Months pass. Years. Always wondering, What will be next to go?

Until he picks himself up, taking long walks around the city, where the streets look familiar, but he swears he’s seeing them now for the first time.

~An earlier version of this story was first published in Microfiction Monday, 63rd Edition, September 2017~

Nightcap

The call went up for Ray’s flight. As he followed the signs to the boarding gate, he reached for Sherrie’s hand, forgetting that now he travelled alone. This holiday was the deal he’d made with himself. Too late to go back on it now.

A woman named Phyllis sat next to him on the courtesy coach to the hotel. A divorcee—the second thing she mentioned. “What’s your situation, Ray?” was how she asked about him.

*

He kept running into Phyllis—in the hotel bar, by the pool, in the gym, at the Marina Grande. For the first few days she was always with a different man. Then she started appearing on her own.

He was polite, but felt uneasy around her, as though he’d be sucked into something dark and slippery if he let her get too close.

“We must get together one of these evenings,” she’d say whenever he made an excuse to leave.

*

The last night after dinner she knocked at his door. “Nightcap, Ray?” she said, brandishing a bottle of the Capri Bianco she knew he liked.

He glanced at his watch.

“Come on,” she said, powering through the door. “It won’t kill you.”

After he opened the wine and poured two glasses, she started to weep.

“Phyllis,” he said, “What is it? What’s wrong?”

“I’m lonely—that’s what,” she said. “So fucking lonely.”

He opened his arms and she moved into them, burying her face in his chest.

“Can I stay the night and lie next to you?” she said.

*

Around four he woke. Phyllis was sitting up in bed watching him in the dark.

“Aren’t you afraid?” she asked.

“Of what?”

“Dying alone.”

He fumbled for her hand. It was big and fleshy, so unlike Sherrie’s hand. He held on to her, grateful for this unexpected moment of contact, until it seemed like his own hand didn’t belong to him any more.

~This story was first published in The Rose & Thorn Journal, Spring Issue 2009~

Let’s Never Be Apart

Late afternoon, I’m sitting alone in the lounge of the Brighton Holiday Inn remembering Ed, when we were kids, how he’d always want to play the Joker to my Batman, Lex Luther to my Superman.

I drain my whisky glass. A woman in the doorway stares in my direction. Early forties, low cut top, cropped hair bleached pure white.

I look away. When I turn back, she’s making her way over.

“Dean? Oh, my God. Dean, it is you.”

I start to say no, she’s mistaken—

“How are you?” she says. “You look great. Love the beard. Suits you.”

She sits, green eyes wide, ash-grey flecks in her roots, and I try again. “I’m—”

“I had a weird feeling about today,” she says. She moistens her lips with her tongue. “So what are you doing in Brighton? Down on business?”

I want to tell her: a funeral, my best friend, Ed. The thought makes me lightheaded.

She glances back at the doorway, gives me a little, lopsided smile. “So you didn’t give it all up and become an organic farmer, after all?”

I try to smile back. It comes out a twitch of the lips.

Moving her face close to mine, she lowers her voice. “I always knew we’d meet again.” Her breath smells of tobacco and toothpaste.

I envythis Dean she believes me to be. Why did it end between them? I want to touch her hand, say I never gave up hope, in all the years—the dreams, the disappointments, the loneliness.

A waiter appears, asking if we’d like to order something.

This is where I come clean, I tell myself. Sorry, I’m not who you think I am. Like I wasn’t for Ed. I couldn’t save him from jumping in front of that train.

I turn to the woman. She places her room key on the table. I picture the two of us sharing a bottle of Pinot Noir before leaning into each other all the way up to her room, where she’ll transform into Wonder Woman with me her arch-enemy Hades, holding onto bodies that don’t want to die. And for a time, at least, we won’t think of the darkness falling outside.

~This story was first published in The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, June 2015~