Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Kitten Psychologist and the Kitten Come to a Conclusion

(Just jumping in now? Read the previous installment, The Kitten Psychologist and What the Kitten Did, or start at the beginning with The Kitten Psychologist.)

Both Worn Jeans and Green Shirt looked at me.

“Well, I have been having a hard time getting patients.” I said. “How did you know?”

“You told me about it. Before you knew I was sentient. And you’d told everyone else about it just before then, if not so bluntly as you did me.” The kitten glared at its owners. “What else did you think all those tales of financial woe were about? So, since you nodded and listened and did nothing to help, I decided to do so. After all, I had problems, and here was a psychologist in need of patients. You would have paid for the sessions if it had been your idea.”

I vaguely recalled that day—it had been at a party. Unfortunately, I’d been so down I’d had a little too much to drink to remember details.

“So you do have a heart,” I said. My friends bristled, but the kitten gave me a wry smile.

“I wasn’t about to let you know that. I am a cat. But,” it sighed, “it appears circumstances have forced me to reveal myself. Don’t go telling anyone.”

“I’d thought you were just being down on yourself,” Worn Jeans said to me.

“How are you paying for this office?” Green Shirt asked.

“Weren’t we here to talk about…” I waved my hands in their general vicinity. To tell the truth, I was embarrassed to admit that the only way I’d been able to afford the office for the past year or so was by subsisting off of less-than-stellar food. Which hadn’t helped my emotional state, that was for sure. “Was this only about the bank, or is there more?”

“Well, clearly there’s more,” remarked Worn Jeans.

And then proceeded to say nothing more.

“Ah, yes, well.” The kitten cleared its throat. “I went to more than the bank.”

“You what?” said both my friends in aghast chorus.

The kitten ignored them and addressed me instead. “Have you heard of the cat cafe that opened up in our neighbourhood?”

“The Cat’s Paws?”

“Take a Paws. Yes. They’re… willing to give me a job. If I have a bank account so they can deposit my paycheques.”

My friends and I all sat back. Hadn’t the kitten lectured me at length about the unfeasibility of kittens getting jobs? In great detail? Over Skype and email? Without giving me a chance to say much more than three words in a row?

“What will you be doing?” asked Green Shirt.

“Roaming their establishment, entertaining their customers by virtue of being feline. In return, they would provide me the means with which to pay off the debt I have incurred and, afterwards, continue to make use of this fine psychologist’s knowledge and experience.”

“Provided everything you do is your idea,” I said, a little dazed at being called a fine psychologist.

“Precisely. I do have my dignity to maintain.”

“And that’s why you went to the bank,” said Worn Jeans, as though not quite sure to believe these words.

The kitten nodded.

“You did all of this to help our friend?” asked Green Shirt. Oh. Wow. I hadn’t even thought of that.

“A friend who did everything possible to help all of us when my first strategy fell apart.”

“So what do we do now?” asked Green Shirt, but not of me. Of the kitten. Worn Jeans had also turned away from me and to the young cat.

The kitten, in turn, drew back and gave me a pleading stare.

Be honest, I mouthed.

The kitten’s head drooped, but only for a moment. It took a breath, drew itself up, and said, with the kind of poise only a cat can have:

“I cannot do this by myself. Will you help me?”

Maybe one day, the kitten won’t need a psychologist. Maybe one day, I won’t need a kitten. That’s what I’d thought more times than I could count ever since I decided to grow a conscience. But, before I left my office on Wednesday with my friendships intact and the kitten, impatient, had already gone outside, I paused a minute with Worn Jeans and Green Shirt.

“It’s hard to think it was scared of going outside when it first spoke with you,” said Worn Jeans. “I wish we’d known, but it looks like you really helped.”

I guess I did.

“Will our kitten’s visits be enough to help you keep afloat?”

“Not really, but it’s better than nothing.”

“Anything we can do?” asked Green Shirt.

I considered. Referrals would be great, but how awkward was it to tell your friends to go to a psychologist?

Probably no more awkward than telling them their cat was sentient.

“Let your kitten make its own choices,” I said. “And if you hear of anyone needing a psychologist, send them my way.”

“What if those people include us?” asked Worn Jeans.

“Just make sure you pay me,” I said, with a bit of a forced chuckle. My friends smiled, but I remembered our previous sessions. “How about, for now, let’s focus on being friends for a while. I’ve been moping around by myself long enough.”

“Sounds good to me,” said Worn Jeans. “Want to come over for dinner tomorrow?”

“That sounds amazing. I’ve… uh… been having a lot of Kraft Dinner lately.” I paused. Did I want to leave the reason in the blanks for them to fill in? But I supposed that, for all the talking we’d done, it was the things we hadn’t said that had led to all this trouble in the first place. “For the last year, actually. That’s how long my finances have been this tight.”

“Then,” said Green Shirt, putting a hand on my shoulder. “Come over as often as you like.”

There once was a little kitten who had decided that the outside was bad. One hundred percent, unequivocally, without question or shadow of a doubt dangerous. And yet, one day, outside it went.

Now the time had come for its psychologist to go outside, too.

And, once my friends and the kitten had left the building, that’s exactly what I did.


This story was first published on my Patreon. :)

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Kitten Psychologist and What the Kitten Did

(Just jumping in now? Read the previous installment, The Kitten Psychologist Tries to Be Patient via Email, or start at the beginning with The Kitten Psychologist.)

Wednesday arrived, and 2:55pm found me in my office, sweating.

I’ve really got to turn the heat down in this place.


It is down.

Well, crap.

I’d cancelled my other appointments that day when it became clear partway through my first one that all I could think about was this one. This one in thirty minutes. My lunch tried to regurgitate itself. It did an excellent job. 4 out of 5 carrot-flavoured lumps for effort.

Who knew a kitten would be so much trouble?

I did.

And I went for it anyways.

And now I’m here.

Was the thermostat actually working, or just pretending to work?

I simultaneously wished the kitten’s owners would come early and that they’d never come at all. Between ripping this experience off like a bandaid and waking up to find it a dream… I honestly didn’t know which one would be better. Maybe the bandaid.

I sighed.

Yeah, it was the bandaid.


What if I didn’t show up? I could escape out the window, right? Three stories isn’t hard to climb down. I’m sure it’s not.


My knee bobbed like a squirrel on cocaine. When had that started. Stop that. Stop it. Gah. Now the other one was doing it.




Okay, this is ridiculous. Pull yourself together. Or at least pretend to.

The door opened. I jumped.

The kitten entered first, followed by Worn Jeans and Green Shirt.

Oh dear lord.

I licked my lips.

Had I had enough to drink today? My mouth was undergoing desertification.

“Hello,” I said. Cleared my throat.

“Tell the psychologist what you told us,” Worn Jeans demanded of the kitten.

‘The psychologist.’ Ouch.

“I went to the bank,” the kitten said.

“You what?”

“We’ve obviously got to supervise it more,” said Worn Jeans, arms crossed.

“Wait, wait, two months ago, your kitten was too afraid to go outside. Period.”

“It was?” asked Green Shirt. “I didn’t know that.” Both of my friends had been sitting tensely and, due to my nerves, I hadn’t noticed until now that they both… softened? Not much, but enough to remind me to listen. To focus.

I took a deep breath.

“Well, I’m not now,” said the kitten. “Obviously.” Its usual arrogance faltered for a split second when it glanced at its owners, but it soon regained its composure. “Since the source of all our arguments seems to be money and how to get it, it followed that I should start by opening a bank account. However I end up acquiring money, I must have some place to put it first. And let us not forget that this all started because I was paying you out of an account not my own. It was the logical course of action.”

Never mind Voldemort. Now I was dealing with Spock. Or Spocklemort? Voldepock? “So you have an account now.”

“Of course not. The idiot banker refused to open one for me.”

“Because you’re a cat.”

“Because I have no money. And I’m underage.” The kitten scoffed. “Underage. The whole system’s felinist. I needed to be accompanied by a parent or guardian, apparently. Which my humans refuse to do for me. Neither will they lend me any money with which to make my first deposit.”

“Can you blame them?”

The kitten eyed its owners. “I suppose not. But still. I’m trying to be responsible, here. You would think they’d see that.”

“And how are you supposed to pay back your loan, exactly?” asked Worn Jeans.

“I’m working on that!” the kitten retorted.

I made what I hoped was a placating gesture to both of them. “I’m confused. Why are you talking to me about this?”

“Don’t you see?” Worn Jeans’s hands jabbed the air. “It went to the bank. On its own.”

“Why is this even a problem?” Green Shirt exploded.

What the what now? The kitten and I exchanged glances, but said nothing.


“No, really, why do we need to make a big deal about this? It went to the bank to open an account. That’s not a crime.”

“And whose money will it fill that account with? Ours?”

The kitten flicked its tail.

“It’s going to pay us back. It said it would.”

“It stole money from us for weeks, why would we believe what it said? And why does a kitten need money?”

“Because your friend needed help!” the kitten yelled.

And now for the thrilling(ish) conclusion!


This story was first published on my Patreon. :)

Wednesday, January 3, 2018


The birds have flown
go on, go on
Their dark-rising shapes giving way
To the dark-arriving clouds
Thick with thunder
and the cleansing rain

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Zac (Storm Foxes)

(I've posted a few excerpts from this one, which is circling in various forms in my head. This repeats some of the plot points of previous iterations, but in a different form. It's... getting there. Slowly.) 

I remember the anger most of all, driving me through the freezing, early snow. I couldn’t feel my toes in my boots and my ears hurt like they’d fall off, but right at that moment, I hated my father so much it didn’t matter. I hated him enough that I brushed aside the early nips of the storm foxes’ teeth. I hated him enough that, striding through the bush, I wasn't even scared. I hated him. He was going to pay. 
I reached the old, rust-red railroad, abandoned in the bush decades ago, the faltering line demarcating native eucalypts and wattles from plantation pines. Unlike the eucalypts, the pines looked natural in their coverings of snow. ‘Look at us,’ they seemed to say. ‘We were made for adversity.’ 
So, it seemed, was I. 
It was anger that propelled me through the darkening forest as wind spat snow in my face. It was anger that drove me deeper and deeper into the trees that loomed overhead, blocking the light that glinted in storm foxes’ eyes. But it was grief, when at last I reached the Winter King’s clearing, that brought me stumbling to my knees. 
I was eight, and Mum had gone.
“Fix it,” I told him, the Winter King, with his great stag antlers and all-seeing eyes. “Bring her back.”
He smiled sadly. “You know I can’t.”
I challenged his gaze. “Send your foxes. Find her.” The storm foxes, riding invisible on the wind, nipped at my ears, my nose. I ignored them. 
His smile vanished. “They are not my foxes any more. They no longer do my bidding. I could not send them if I tried.”
“Then make me one.” My heart hammered in my chest; this was it, this was my father’s punishment, the thing I’d set out to do. He’d driven my mother away, and now I would leave him too. “Make me a storm fox, and I’ll find her.” If I could ride the winds as they did, I’d find my mother wherever she was. Nowhere in the whole wide world would be too far. I’d find her, and I’d bring her back. 
The Winter King’s eyes glazed up with tears. “Is this really what you want?”
My jaw ached. “I do.” Cold burned my fingertips. Alive. I felt alive, so damn alive; nothing could touch me now. 
The Winter King bowed his head. “So be it.” 
I stood, too agitated to kneel, robbed of the fight I’d expected. “I hate him,” I said, though it was none of the Winter King’s business. The storm foxes circled me, red fur and cream throat, black eye and white tooth, glimpses magically visible in the gloom. “I never want to see him again.”
The Winter King laughed without mirth. It sent shivers down my spine. “Be careful, child. You’ve lost one parent already.”
I scowled and swatted away a fox that nipped at my ear. “I’ll find her.” 
The Winter King bowed and faded away.
The foxes’ nips grew restless, daring—a toothy, masochistic leer. For the first time, fear trilled along pathways that anger had made. 
I didn’t scream when they tore into me—I’d asked for this—but I couldn’t stop the tears from rolling down my face. It didn’t take long before blood joined them, trickling from my eyebrows, dripping off my earlobes, oozing from wounds on my neck and scalp. 
I closed my eyes, alive. It hurt, but in a way that was normal, natural: the physical response of a body being torn apart. For the first time since Mum had walked out, the pain in my heart dulled. 
The sharp, sweet iron of blood overtook the crisp smell of the pines. My pulse rushed in my ears until I couldn’t hear the quiet yips of the foxes any more. Slowly, I sank to the ground, fighting against the impulse to shelter my head. 
Maybe something had gone wrong. Maybe the Winter King had left me to die. Walked out on me, just like everyone else eventually did. 
I tried so hard to be good. 
Under all the pain, something began to itch. I opened my eyes. At first all I could see was a haze of red—blood, maybe, or fox fur? It was hard to say. But then the musk of fox grew stronger, the iron of blood faded into the background just a little, and I realised the trees were taller than they had been. 
No. I was shorter. 
I swiped blood from my eyes—
Ow. I had claws. I stared at my hand—paw—hand? I had paws?
Oh. I realised the storm foxes had withdrawn a little, and that the pain had changed. Instead of the sting of open wounds, I ached like I’d run to Melbourne and back. And I had paws. 
I tilted my nose to the sky and yipped with delight. I was a storm fox, and now I’d find my mother quick as breathing. 
I leapt off the ground, ready to soar with the winds and the snow. For a heart-buoying moment I flew—
The ground smacked into me like disappointment, and I discovered the truth: I was a fox. Not a storm fox. Just a fox. 
Foxes couldn’t cry. I was glad.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Peace of the Gods

Under the maelstrom sky, a pond. Beneath that pond, a wellspring. Around that pond, the forest. The heads of the trees nodded over the small liquid hollow, needles a lattice as though the spring had reached into the air to form a shield against the violence of the atmosphere.

Into the peace it created, saint Gih arrived.

This was before his power; this was before his fame. Saint Gih came to the wood of Belameh while the goddess fought the first battles of the uprising, when doom lay on all their foreheads. A poacher, he entered the wood, seeking the white deer the hunters spoke of in reverent whispers, the white stag whose antlers shone like the moon. The antlers which, when ground to a powder, would keep a man from death.

Saint Gih arrived at the pool.

The spring lay beneath, unnoted, unseen. From it poured all the water of the air. Saint Gih had entered the clearing to escape the storm; Saint Gih had arrived to find the source of its chaos. Though he had found no deer in the wood, the lightning across the sky remained atop the water. The pool held it, branching to one side, branching to another.

And in the image held there, saint Gih found what he sought, though he did not know it.

A deer stood at the edge of the pond, a doe white as the moon. Saint Gih raised his bow. If he should not cheat death this night, at least he should eat. The arrow flew, shot truly, bent awry in the air that rose above the water. The doe fled into the darkening wood.

Though he did not know it, saint Gih’s death left him.

Before him, an arrow. Beneath it, a wellspring. The power that shielded the storm held half a weapon at eye level, and saint Gih stood transfixed. He turned to the sky, the dome above him, grown out of nature as though shaped by hands. He turned to the trees, arced when they should be straight. He turned downward, and saw the lightning in the water.

Saint Gih saw the storm in the water.

The words of those who were not yet saints came to him out of the spring. The words of those who fought the gods entered his mind and churned therein. He could not deny what he had once doubted, and though they saw only defeat, under the sky he saw their victory.

Under the sky he saw their peace.

Leaving the arrow, he entered. Leaving his bow, he drowned. Leaving himself, he submerged. And the wellspring rose to meet him. The wellspring poured through him to the clouds. The wellspring put the lightning into him. Saint Gih, who had hid from battle for fear, though that fear ate him until his shrinking heart sought the secret the trees hid, broke the surface converted to their cause.

He arose saint Gih, firstborn of the entombers of gods.


This story, first published on my Patreon, comes from my work in progress Hunter and Prey, which will be the third book in the White Changeling series. It may have differences in the final book, as this is taken from the first draft, but I anticipate it will remain mostly the same.

The other books in the series so far are Hidden in Sealskin and Like Mist Over the Eyes.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The L.A.O.S. Part 8

 Catch up on Part 1!
(Or maybe Part 2?) 
(How's about Part 3?) 
(Part 4!)
(Ooo, Part 5...)
(6! It's Part 6!)

Inside, my new acquaintance gave me the nod as he split to join his team halfway down the room. I sauntered up to the top table and plunked down like to Megan like nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

I mean, comparatively, nothing had, right?

Megan shuffled her chair around to shoulder me out.

“What?” I said. “I came back.”

Greg’s gaze burned right through me, accompanied by a chill sense of dread as a hand landed on my shoulder.

“Chris Webb? A word, please.”

She was a stern-looking teacher, hair pulled back in a tight bun, heavy-rimmed glasses weighing down her nose.

My stomach twisted. I’d been in trouble before, obviously – though I wasn’t like some of the guys, I didn’t look for it deliberately – but this was different. I’d never been in trouble before when I’d been trying not to be. “I’m sorry,” I said, trying to forestall whatever might be coming.

Stern Teacher just raised an eyebrow at me and led me to the corner of the room. “Just stand here a minute with me, please.”

I leaned against the wall, arms crossed tight over my chest – and swallowed. Two other teachers stood at the table with the Losers, rummaging through their papers.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“You’re not supposed to leave the premises,” Stern Teacher said, echoing Megan’s words earlier. “This is a closed event. Who knows what you might have brought back with you.”

I jerked and nearly lost my balance against the wall. “Like what?” What did they think I might bring back? The plague? Ebola? Bird flu?

Stern Teacher pursed her lips and nodded towards the table. “If we find anything there that looks like it might be calculated to aid your team, any unpermitted materials…” She trailed off and relief flooded over me. I hadn’t brought a single thing back in with me; there was nothing to find.

Then one of the teachers frowned, staring at a sheet of paper in his hand. He passed it to the other teacher, who also frowned, before starting in my direction. It was Megan’s death glare though that really had me feeling queasy.

The first teacher waved the paper under my nose. “How did you get this?”

I stared. The paper was unfamiliar, thicker and creamier than regular paper, and more to the point, I’d never seen what was printed on it. I squinted. It looked like… I drew in a sharp breath.

“Yes,” the teacher said smugly. He handed the page to my stern babysitter. “A complete list of all the questions from the contest. All rounds. Verbatim.”

The Stern Teacher echoed my gasp. Perhaps she wasn’t so stern after all. But then – “Mr Webb, what do you have to say for yourself?”

“I… I… Nothing! I didn’t bring it in! I’ve never seen it before!”

I’d been in trouble before. Plenty of times. Even sometimes when I hadn’t actually done anything wrong. But I’d never been in trouble in front of a crowd full of people containing not a single person who’d be impressed by it. And worse: Megan caught my eye, and the death stare had melted. Instead, sheer and abject horror widened her eyes, followed very quickly by such an intense loathing, I actually considered phasing through the floor right there in front of everyone.

See, Megan? I wanted to tell her. This is why I don’t care.

The teachers finished their murmured conference behind me and my stomach jolted as I caught the final words: “…disqualify them.”

I shook the teachers off and strode to Megan, heart pounding like it wanted to burst through my veins. “I didn’t do it,” I said, wishing that if I just stared hard enough into the depth of the ocean, it would believe me. I’ve been to the ocean twice. Both times, it was utterly merciless, dumping me over and over and over, grinding me into the sand until I coughed and choked and conceded defeat.

The oceans of Megan’s eyes were just as cold.

“I didn’t,” I said. “But I’ll find out who did.” And just as suddenly as that, I knew that I would: that despite their stupid dorky glasses and perfectly knotted ties and passion for a Maths trophy that mean exactly squat out there in the real world, I would find out who had done this to them, because even though caring hurt so much I couldn’t breathe, having Megan stare at me like I was dog crap she’d stepped in when she’d expected fresh, clean snow was worse. A million orders of magnitude worse.

And as I walked away, escorted to the staff room by a posse of excitedly concerned teachers buzzing like bees over the prospect of Real Discipline, Pubic Boy caught my eye and winked. And I remembered: we weren’t the only ones who could phase.

A stupid Maths competition was one thing. Someone who had every reason in history to hold  grudge against us and could literally walk through walls, people, and anything else that stood in his way? I glanced back at Megan. She’d never let me protect her now. I’d never wanted to protect anyone before. Fights – real fights, not things staged and choreographed for show and reputation – they ended badly for me. But this time… I ground my teeth. Pubic Boy was going down.

[Continued next month...]

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Remarkable Insight of Jellybeans

They sit on the lounge they bought together, curled up in opposite ends while the TV blares. He sounds like the TV, droning on, talking with monotonous fervour about his job, his friends, his bike—and she can’t make herself care. It’s like ads, like prime time, like seeing the same reruns month after month after month, and what was clever and funny once is now mundane. It makes her think of canned laughter and dishes, taking out the garbage and catching buses. Forever, it’s been like this; he talks, she listens, never interrupting, never interjecting, the perfect girlfriend, the perfect listener, perfectly selfless, an empty vessel just waiting to be filled—and he’s never asked about her day, not once.

He pauses for a breath and, carefully, she lifts the jellybean jar from where it has been resting against her tucked-up ankles, out of sight but not out of mind, cool glass pressing against bare skin, ice in a desert storm. She unscrews it with perfect, measured movements, not too quick, not too loud, not wanting to interrupt his train of thought.

He glances over. “Can I have some?”

He hadn’t wanted her to buy them, called them a frivolous waste of money, and as soon as she got them home she felt like he was right; jellybeans had no   place in their pantry, nowhere to sit that didn’t highlight their out-of-placeness, garish in the cool dim company of potatoes and garlic, practical tinned tomatoes and stockpiles of penne pasta. He hadn’t wanted her to buy them, but she’d known all along he’d finish most of them, because that’s just how it was, and she’d never interrupted.

“Sure.” She peers down at a jar full of sugar, bright colour and empty calories, flavour that kisses the tongue then vanishes, leaving the mouth cloyed with generic sweetness. Bright colours, like fruit, or hummingbirds, or hope. She chooses a dark brown one speckled with white and twists around, arm extended so she can pop it into his mouth, a sugar pill, a placebo. His tongue brushes her fingertips, bird-like, here-and-then-gone, and she returns her fingers to her lap and rubs them on her skirt.

“Yuck,” he says, screwing up his nose, eyes never leaving the TV. “I hate the coffee ones.”

“Sorry,” she says, and fishes a second bean from the jar, brown, with white speckles. “Another?”

He nods, and stares glazedly at the telly; he has exhausted his supply of conversation topics, and she is unsurprised, because every night they are the same, and they are limited, and they are never hers, like the books kept on display to impress the neighbours or the ornaments that line the hallway. She presses the jellybean against his lips, a tiny act of rebellion, and he takes it without looking, and again she scrubs her fingers on her skirt.

He makes a face and spits out something that was perfect once, but is now half-chewed and mangled, its clear, worthless centre exposed: a shot of glucose, an empty hope, a painted, hollow corpse. “I just said I don’t like the coffee ones,” he snaps, shooting a sideways glare into her temple where it pierces, lodges, and she can almost feel the blood trickling down.

“Sorry!” she says defensively, resisting the need to rub her temple. “I didn’t mean it.” But a thrill stirs inside her stomach. He’ll believe her, of course he will, because she never interrupts—but this time, she meant it, and she hears alarums sound and horses neigh, and the clash of sword on shield.

“Hmph.” He reaches into the jar and scoops out his own handful, multi-coloured like the eggs of a rainbow, then scoffs them down all at once, chewing indiscriminately.

What’s the point? she wonders. Why have different flavours in the first place, if you won’t stop to savour them? She closes her eyes and selects one bean,        just one, its sugary surface smooth and slightly sticky. Without opening her eyes, she places it delicately on her tongue, closes her mouth around it like a secret, sucks it close and concentrates. Sharp, sweet but acid, tart—not lemon, but something close. Grapefruit, she decides, and rolls it between her teeth, trying to make the flavour last—but of course, the flavour’s gone and she’s left with that same inevitable, generic sweetness.

She feels the same; just a generic sort of sweet, a hollow-caloried person-shaped lump, valueless, worthless but for fleeting gratification that weighs heavy afterwards on the tongue. Does he feel that way about her? Although she listens, does it satisfy him? After the first flavour of their relationship is gone, is she still enough? She watches as he grabs another handful of jellybeans and sucks them down, swa-llowing them like liquid, concentration on the sitcom never faltering. Yes. He is satisfied with bright colours that smack of hope. Empty nutrients comfort him.

She remembers the man she saw earlier this evening, dark and tall, striding between the rows of the fruit market with confidence like a million-dollar cruiser amidst dinghies. He’d confronted a seller over her bruised nectarines, their blushing skins marred by brown stains of abuse. He’d caressed ripe lady fingers, inhaled sour green mangoes, savoured a dark burgundy grape. Not everyone is satisfied with hollowness, she realises. She is not satisfied.

He shifts beside her, mindless, and she knows that any moment now he will ask for his nightly cup of coffee—supermarket coffee, over-roasted coffee, old and dull and cheap coffee. But she is sick of crappy coffee; it reminds her of days spent under the flickering eye of fluorescent light bulbs, walled in by partitions covered with geometric patterns in sensible colours meant to detract from the fact that really, they are padded. A shiver touches her spine and she stares at the jellybeans, wondering.

And of course, “Coffee?” he says, and she wraps her fingers around the neck of the jar and decides. Generic sweetness is not inevitable. “No,” she says as her heart tries to break open her rib cage, or burst her veins with blood flow. She touches her fingertips to her temple.

He tears himself away from cued laughter and crude humour to give her an incredulous stare. “What do you mean?”

She shakes her head, lips sealed against the weight of what she has said. She can’t repeat it, it’s too heavy, it will break her jaw with its passing—but she has said it once, and maybe once will be enough.

He raises an eyebrow. “Bad day at work?”

And there it is, the very thing she’s been waiting for all these months, the thing she thought she needed to hear—only now, she realises it’s not enough. It’s jellybeans, with the gloss of hope on top hiding emptiness inside, and he, who is satisfied with handfuls of sugar and cheap, dirty coffee, will never be enough. She thinks again of the man in the markets, of sun-ripened strawberries made sweet with heat, of apples crisp and fresh so the juice runs down her chin when she bites into them, and she turns to him with eyes full of tears, with hands full of jellybeans, and a heart full of fruit. “I’m sorry,” she says, and catches his arm before he can turn away, before  he can dismiss her words as platitudes. “I can’t stay here,” she whispers, begging him to understand and knowing perfectly well that candy and cost-saving never can. “I’m leaving. I’m sorry,” and she’s not.

While he sits there in stunned silence, she passes him the jellybean jar and stands. “You’ll be fine,” she says, and smiles. “What we have is replaceable.” Gaping, he watches as she walks to the bedroom, where she picks up her blackwood jewellery box that holds the antique necklace she asked her grandma for when she was twelve, empties the single drawer in the dresser that holds all the clothes she’s ever chosen for herself, slips on her favourite shoes and rummages in the depths of the wardrobe for the pale blue fake-crocodile handbag she’d fallen in love with at the county show, the one he hated so much she’d never dared use. It smells of feet and old carpet, pencils and overripe bananas. A smile spreads across her face as she gathers up all the decisions she’s ever made, and carries them to her car. “I’m sorry,” she says as he stands on the porch, still speechless.

But she’s not, and she drives away with the satisfying sweetness of mangoes on her tongue.