Alice stared at the porch, newly built and smelling of fresh wood shavings. Above it workmen had nailed bright red slates that gleamed in vivid crimson under the sunlight.The people who had bought the burnt out shell never saw the yellow-red flames that haunted Alice’s dreams.
She heard a thud and turned, seeing her husband kick a beam lying in the grass, his hand touching the pocket where he had once kept cigarettes.
They had never returned, until today.
“It’s time,” she had told him and Phil nodded, understanding her.
Resting a hand on her stomach, Alice wandered around the garden gazing intently at the flowerbeds she had tended. It seemed strange to her that the plants remained unchanged. Leaning down, she touched the grass, tracing her fingers through the wet spikes, touching where her hands last clutched. She drew a sharp breath hoping that the scent of talc and raspberry shampoo had somehow lingered through the year of rain.
She remembered watching Ella riding her bike across the grass. It was past dinnertime and crossly opening the white framed window, she had shouted, “You’re late!”
Ella threw her cycle to the ground.
“Pick it up,” Alice said.
“After dinner!” Ella said, jumping up the porch steps.
They had shared a big dish of pasta, the family of three, before Alice tucked Ella into her bed.
“Sleep well my darling,” she said.
She and Phil dozed in the lounge.
On the back porch, the cigarette must have started smouldering.
The fire fighters pulled them out.
“Just in time,” the man said, putting a plastic mask across her face.
She formed the word, ‘Ella,’ with scorched lips, but her throat had swollen and no sound emerged.
They found the child twenty minutes later, peaceful and asleep. Never to wake.
Ella, always late.
Snowdrops now nestled in the grass, opening tiny white heads over the familiar earth. Minute springs of soft, pale new grass emerged. Alice felt a kick - hard and alive - against her belly, then a tightening under her abdomen. Pressing her lips together, she rubbed her stomach, winching as the sharp cramps clenched deep into her body, accepting them as both a penance and a gift.
Turning, she saw Phil looking at her and recognised the expression in his eyes; the look she knew filled her own. He was her emotional mirror image - the only one who hurt as she did, who could possibly understand how she felt.
He came over and placed his warm hand against her midriff. Her womb contracted at his touch and she moaned. Rocking on her heels, she inhaled the sweet scent of flowers from the garden until the pain began to ease.
“It’s time,” Phil said. “We have to go.”
Alice wiped her cheeks and leant down to touch the ground once more.“Good bye, my darling,” she said. “We miss you.”
Lucy Oliver is published in Take a Break and Stories for Children magazines, as well as various anthologies. She won Stylist magazine's Micro Fiction competition and is currently working on a historical novel.