Bunny and I are on the phone. Her voice is simmering at the other end. I imagine her face; the high cheekbones, the white of her eyes; the exhaustion.
‘…or I could be a cabinetmaker,’ I’m saying. ’That would be good.’
‘Why a cabinetmaker?’
‘I could touch it afterwards. It would be mine to touch.’
‘And sell,’ she suggests.
‘But I wouldn’t. I’d keep it. I’d build it with good tools. I’d build it to last.’
‘You could sell it,’ she says.
She’s delicate, quieter than usual.
I pull the phone closer to my ear. ‘Are you okay, babe?’ I ask. She doesn’t reply, so I add, ‘I miss you, baby, you know that?’
For a moment, all I hear is the crackle of the line and the sounds of my past. I wonder what she’s thinking.
‘I miss you, too,’ she says.
The metal plate under the phone is blue and scarred. I stare at it. ‘I saw a man fall down the stairs today,’ I tell her. ‘It wasn’t pretty.’
‘Do you still love me?’
For some reason I laugh. ‘What?’
‘Tell me,’ she urges.
‘Of course…’ I glance behind me. ‘…of course I love you, babe.’
She’s silent at the other end. The air conditioner above is blowing cool air onto my skin, strips of paper flickering in its ribs. I rub my temple, as though rubbing my thoughts. Nearby is a glazed window with dead flies lying on the sill. A couple of guys I know walk by, talking loudly. I move closer to the wall, adjusting the phone, nursing it.
‘I dream that you’re with another man,’ I whisper. ‘I dream you’re with him and I can’t do anything about it. I can’t wake up.’ She’s still silent, but I can hear her breathing. ‘Bunny? Are you there?’
‘What am I doing with this other man?’
The line buzzes. I stir back my emotions.
Then she says, ‘The cabinet’s a great idea.’ Her voice is breaking. She’s crying. ‘It’s really magical.’
‘I’ll build them to last, baby.’ I press my fingers into my eyes until yellows and oranges rush my brain. ‘It’s just a while longer now. Have faith.’
The line starts beeping.
‘Bunny?’ Behind me I hear the clash of doors through the block, the rattle of keys on a guard’s belt as he passes nearby. ‘Bunny? My time is running out.’
The line is beeping and in the moment before it dies, I hear Bunny gasp, ‘Oh God…’ and then everything is swallowed by static.
A.S.J. Ellis is a writer and poet from Cambridgeshire. Currently based in Bristol, he spends most of his time writing his novel as well as a collection of short stories. He has an interest in materialist philosophy, specifically themes of the reification and alienation of people in contemporary society.
You can find more of his work on his website The Elaborate Spinning Machine Is His Head.
You can read more of his flash fiction stories on SolQu Shorts by clicking the links below: