Gunmetal by Alicia Bakewell

Not long after she leaves, you’re outside, overall-clad, painting the fence. Doesn’t matter about the colour now, but you fought hard for Gunmetal over Sandy Beige. It feels good to do something that stretches your limbs, makes you sweat. The neighbours will tell her you were out here this afternoon and she’ll do the equation, realise that you wasted exactly five minutes dealing with the break-up. Like she’ll say to them, you’re so cold these days.

‘What else do you want me to do?’ you mutter under your breath, dipping the brush again. Nothing wrong with keeping busy. There’s so much work to be done, and a bit of the moral high ground to be claimed by getting your hands dirty. She was right, maybe, to call you an alcoholic, but it’s amazing what even a hopeless drunk can achieve before wine o’clock. She’ll do fuck all with the renovations now, maybe a bit of remote project management. Nagging, in other words. There’s no question, the house will need to be sold. She can’t buy you out, and you’re in no fit state to go it alone here.

Her little speech was well-rehearsed, as if she’d written it down, practised in front of the mirror. You felt unmoved as she delivered it pitch perfect like an actress. She asked if you had any questions, and you wanted to know whether you could keep the dog. She agreed quickly, without a fight. It was the only moment you felt tears threaten.

‘There’s no one else,’ she said, so earnestly that you knew she was lying.

You hammer the lid back onto the paint tin, take the brush inside and swirl it through a jar of turpentine, watching the oily, blue-grey threads of paint disperse. It’s wine o’clock.

Alicia Bakewell is a short fiction writer based in Western Australia. Her work has been published by Reflex Fiction and Flash Frontier, and she was the winner of Reflex Fiction’s Spring 2017 competition. She is trying to give up writing poetry. She tweets nonsense @lissybakewell.

Image: Tim Mossholder