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"A thorn in her side" by Emily Macdonald

Her index finger throbs, becomes swollen. The climbing rose brims with scarlet-edged garnet flowers. Their perfume is heady, musk and Turkish Delight. Thorns bind the stems like razor wire.

The prickle is embedded deep in the finger-pad. It hurts when she presses against anything—her tea mug, her toothbrush, her keyboard, her trowel. She rubs it with antiseptic and olive oil, massaging the soreness.

“That’ll learn you. I told you to wear gloves.”

“I did. The gauntlet ones, but I had to take them off to tie the stems in.”

He shrugs. “Get rid of the rose bastards. They make a mess on the lawn.” Messy, like you, his eyes say.

He doesn’t care for her garden. He dislikes the plants crowding his pitch of artificial grass, where he shoots goals, bending the ball's trajectory with a sly touch of his boot. He relishes moments of imagined glory, running like a champion, arms waving overhead.

When she was twelve, she slipped while climbing on a bed of oyster rocks. Far out on the bay at low tide. The rocks lacerated her calf muscle in stripes, punctured her knee and the palm of her hand where she’d stretched to brace her sudden fall. The cuts were slow to heal until six months later, the point in her hand became red and swollen. It festered into a pearl of yellow pus, a piece of oyster rock was spat out, as if her body had ruminated, endured then expelled the shell in disgust.

After she serves, then clears away dinner, she joins him in front of the TV. She squints to spy the prickle, squeezes the sore spot with her nails.

“For fucks sake, leave it alone,” he says. “Watch the match. I don’t want to have to tell you what happens.”

She tries to watch, so as not to annoy him. The commentators shout in excited cliches, ‘The stage is set, it’s evenly matched, it’s there for the taking, it’s anyone’s game.’

She stares at the screen, sucking on her finger. She can’t ignore the annoyance under her skin. The thorn is a constant irritation, one her body will soon reject.

He roars when the match goes to penalties. He expects her to stand, shout support alongside him. She turns her giggle into a gasp when the opposing striker kicks right through the goal keeper’s padded arms.

Should have worn better gloves, she thinks and bows her head to hide her glee at his fury.

“Look, it’s out!” she says, and gives him the finger.

“It was in, you stupid woman!” he shouts.

Emily Macdonald was born in England but grew up in New Zealand.

Fascinated by wine as a student, she has worked in the UK wine trade ever since. Since going freelance in 2020 she has been writing short stories and flash fiction.

She has won and been placed in several competitions and has work published in anthologies and journals with amongst others, Fictive Dream, Reflex Fiction, Crow & Cross Keys, Ellipsis Zine, Roi Fainéant, Free Flash Fiction and The Phare.

In writing and in wines she likes variety, persistence, and enough acidity to add bite.


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