The Temperature of Islands

(flash fiction)

After her heart attack Barbara returned to the island. She knew very well that the helicopter—if available—would take twenty minutes from the mainland. She went straight to the stoned guy on the beach who did winters in India, and bought a purple sarong.

Barbara sunbathed nude, it was heartening—heartening!and her ropey body soon gleamed. Friends passed. Emmanuel and his poodle-headed partner Nadine from Paris. They were already seamed and brown. The northern Italians with their glorious sons. A waddling Greek woman whose rear was a lopsided adjunct and whose breasts moved as though they were gourds filled with water.

They all asked her how it had been, this first year without Hervé. Did she have plans to move? Had the children been supportive?

Barbara replied that she had had a heart attack. A smallish one—not at all like the one that had thrown Hervé to the ground when he was sitting at Roula’s pouring back raki—but a heart attack nevertheless.

At that, her friends remembered the clumsy display of Hervé’s dying, the useless propping of his head, the lack of final goodbyes, and Roula’s extinction of the music. Barbara watched each of them recompose after this.

But— 

They wanted to say, But are you not afraid? But the helicopter? Do you not remember that drive to the heliport in the dark? The way those imbeciles had almost tipped Hervé’s body onto the rocks?

In fact Barbara did. She smiled at them and rolled over and tanned her bottom.

*     *     *

Barbara dragged herself up to the heliport. This was where she had seen the life leaking out of Hervé, vanishing from his livid face. It was true, the paramedics had levered him unevenly so his body almost slid to the ground; one young bearded man had looked at her apologetically. The other had not.

She stood at the rusty chain wire fence that had been tossed over by the seasons. Growth burst through the concrete slabs, mostly relieved of their colored paint. This was where she had realized Hervé was leaving her. This where she saw that life would blaze through each of them, leaving carcasses and flickering shrines. Barbara thought of Hervé the day before, elbow on the table, trying to entice Emmanuel to invest in the faded discothèque on the hill, or at the least hire Manolis’s fishing vessel that afternoon—when Hervé knew very well that Emmanuel would never leave Nadine alone on the beach. And then, Barbara saw the two of them on their separate beds in the room, each shrouded in greying sheets, Hervé’s farts uncontained.

Barbara’s heart attack had happened on a train crossing Germany. With discomfort, she had stood up to move down the carriage, but found herself wading in water, blind in all but the centre of her eyes, crashing into headrests and shoulders, and landing with an injured face in one man’s lap. At first, they had thought of terrorists, and police charged through looking for youths with knives or guns, until Barbara, whimpering, was surrendered.

Barbara rattled the chain wire fence. She kicked a stone. There were wells on the mountain tops with wooden planks laid over the openings, and these were held in place by abrasive stones. There was a temple of loosened rocks with a font made of a burning black substance that Hervé had said was certainly from a meteorite. There was a white church several peaks away where there were candle stubs on a stand and a powdery square of carpet, and an icon of Saint Gabriel sweeping across a gold frame.

Catherine McNamaraCatherine McNamara grew up in Sydney, ran away to Paris at twenty-one to write, and ended up in West Africa running a bar. Her collection Pelt and Other Stories was long-listed for the Frank O’Connor Award and a semi-finalist in the Hudson Prize. Her work has been Pushcart-nominated and published in the U.K., Europe, Australia and the U.S.A., in reviews including The Collagist, Literary Orphans, Flash Fiction Magazine, Ambit, Structo, Litro, Wasafiri, Southerly, Two-Thirds North, Short Fiction and Trafika Europe. Catherine lives in Italy.