Forty years ago, aged eleven, Helen White put her arm through his. He can still feel it: her pristine blazer-sleeve against his wrist. It stunned the school playground into silence, and a couple of his friends feigned epileptic fits.
Childishly in love, this is all he could have hoped for! He should have turned to smile at her, let her know her gesture hit its mark; he should have stroked her arm with tender fingers. Had this happened in his dreams he’d have held her head gently in his hands, kissed her on the lips the way Kirk kissed Uhura on Star Trek: deep enough to set his friends frothing.
Instead he said, Please remove your arm. His tone was haughty, like one whose status had been undermined: as if he were a king and Helen’s peasant wrist betrayed imminent infection from something worse than smallpox.
Helen White did as he requested: removed her arm at once to the sound of mocking kids singing, Please remove your areharm, please remove your areharm!
What made him say it? What aspect of his prepubescent self could conjure such perversity? Was it cowardice or embarrassment? Free will or destiny?
Forty years later they spoke again in Sainsbury’s. They spent half an hour chatting in the frozen foods aisle. They were both divorced by then, and as they spoke exciting prospects danced beneath the surface of their words. Until he sensed her shadow about to take his shadow’s arm.
Paul McDonald was Course Leader for Creative Writing at the University of Wolverhampton for twenty five years before taking early retirement in 2019. His most recent flash related publications include, The Enigmas of Confinement: A History and Poetics of Flash Fiction (2018), and a chapbook of flashes, Midnight Laughter (2019).