A Celebration

Winner of the Merseyside & Cheshire Writing Competition 2011

A man drinks a glass of water. He is celebrating. He is standing in the kitchen in front of a window, revealing a large amount of orange. He takes a sip of water. He swallows. There is no taste, nor smell, because it is pure water. It keeps him alive. A sparrow lands on the ground outside. The sun is high in the sky. There is a wave of heat like water and soon the sparrow bursts into flames and is gone as quickly as it came.

The man hears his wife’s voice. Her name is Judith. She has skin like elastic with drinking so much water. She says, ‘I have a surprise for you.’ She comes down the stairs holding a black tube. He does not know what this is. The sun glares down, the temperature in the kitchen rises and they both begin to sweat instantaneously. She wipes her forehead. She is tall and thin. Sweat patches stay permanently on her clothes, her hair has never been clean, she looks like something that has been underwater and never dried with a towel, now stuck with a constant look of heavy dampness all over her body. She is smiling.

‘What is that?’ the man says.

‘A bottle of wine,’ she says.

‘Where did you get that from?’

‘That doesn’t matter.’

‘Have you been outside?’

‘Would you like some?’

‘What for?’

‘We’re celebrating,’ she says. She pours the dark red liquid into two glasses – soft like out of the mind of Salvidore Dali. The wine is warm. ‘This wine is warm,’ he says.

‘I know.’

‘I prefer water,’ he says. ’It keeps me going.’

‘I think the wine will keep us going,’ she says.

‘How?’

‘The celebration.’

‘I don’t know what we are celebrating.’ The man places the glass of wine down and as he does it tilts, unable to support its own weight and tips over, it spills onto the floor – or oozes like syrup, beginning to steam very slowly. ‘It’s too hot for wine,’ he says, sipping the water. The sky flashes white for the second time today.

‘It’s too hot for anything,’ she says. ‘Won’t you just join me in the celebration? Please?’

‘No.’

‘Why not?’

‘Because I don’t know what we’re celebrating.’ His skin is the colour of caramelised sugar syrup. It is burnt. His skin is so thick and dry. He watches another bird outside. Three of them are already on fire. The tree hasn’t got any leaves. ‘Drink some water,’ he tells his wife. ‘Please, it will save us.’

‘Wine will save us.’

‘There’s nothing left to save us.’

‘Then let us celebrate.’

‘But … ’

‘And drink wine.’ She pours the dark red liquid into his Dali glass and its crystalline sides droop downwards. He takes a sip and grimaces. The wine is hot. It bubbles and steams.

‘Is it getting hotter?’

‘Yes,’ she says.

‘What are we celebrating?’

‘Your birthday,’

‘Oh, that’s good,’ he says. ‘I thought we were going to be saved.’

‘Don’t be silly,’ she says.

 

© Michael Holloway