By Nicola Belte
April-ish 22 is the favourite: she was conceived in the summer of ‘Pete the thief’ and she is his; and his alone. That’s rare in this town. He may have been a bank robber on the run, may have had buck teeth and horrible breath and slobber in his beard, but his selective sperm had made my mother feel like the beauty cream that got the cream.
So it’s April-ish my mother calls when she sees the man, staggering past our house, and up the deserted high street.
“Shave your legs, darling,” she yells, running out into the road. “You,” she says to me, “go get the Autumn 19’s, and get in line, he looks a strong one. And brush your hair.”
Us three Autumn 19’s are the children of Bill/Billy/William, the travelling salesman who once took a wrong turn, or right one, depending on how you look at it. He came in Winter 18, just before it stopped getting cold. Or dark. Just before the sun’s tender midwifery turned callous; before she burned alive the jaundiced sky; sliced the tag of time from the toes of our incubating lives.
Bill/Billy/William, the balding librarian, a.k.a Caligula, flat out on every springy bed in the neighbourhood for almost a month, the books he’d been flogging, forgotten. Then the air got him, of course. But at least he died smiling.
We sit out on the porch as the man limps past, rocking in our chairs, the creaking like the sound of a million pairs of rusty legs opening, or robot wombs ticking.
“I think I’m lost” he croaks, his throat full of dust, and Spring 1-24 giggles.
There are six Spring 24’s. Their dad was a journalist; he came here to i-n-v-e-s-t-i-g-a-t-e the s-e-c-r-e-t-s of our town. He wanted to probe the closed mines, to test the water, to find out what had happened to our men, to see if the rumours were true.
“The dadda’s and the bro-bro’s and the cuz’s and the sons: gone” baby May-ish 3-21 had told him, pointing her lollipop at the cemetery on the hill. Other than that, we couldn’t help him. But he certainly helped us. We burned his reports after we’d buried him.
“Uh-oh” Spring 3-24 says as my mother leads the man inside. He yelps, and my mother’s claws quickly pull the curtains across. Summer 2-21 walks across and takes her place. “Ivy, or Holly, I think, for this one” she says, “Winter’s not a pretty name” and for once, all the Springs agree.
Poor man, I think, thinking of April-ish 22’s fat thighs and hands like slabs of raw liver. But Summer 2-21’s pretty and she’s next; she can be the creamy chocolate pudding after his big plate of offal.
“Gerrroff” he shouts, but his cries are muffled. Us seasons sit and hum, and plait each others hair. He’ll be fine, he’ll get used to it, and he’ll be out of here before he knows it.
BIO: Nicola Belte lives in Birmingham, U.K, and writes fiction. You can find here at her blog, here: http://nicolabelte.blogspot.com/