Hidden Wings by Ali McGrane

An empty suit lies discarded on a bench, legs spread, arms hanging loose. You lift a limp sleeve and let it drop. The cheap shine reminds you of the suit you bought for her funeral. Don’t spend good money on misery, she said. But there was a kind of guilt in that. You ease yourself onto the far end of the bench. It’s the first time you’ve left the flat in weeks.

A current of air lifts one corner of the jacket. You slide close. Your fingers find their way inside. It’s warm. A shudder spreads from the base of your spine. You don’t believe in ghosts, in any kind of afterlife. The suit rustles as though some animal has taken up residence. You tell yourself that’s all it is. You tell yourself she’d be laughing at you now. You tell yourself it’s just the sort of stupid trick she’d pull, a total wind-up. You circle the bench. Swing your arms to check for puppet strings. Scan the wild green space for kids, for anyone, anyone at all.

From the back, the suit could almost be mistaken for an actual person, apart from the lack of head. She’d have made a better job of it, rigged up a hat on a pole, a long-haired wig, a bandana. An invisible man.

The sun bites into grey cloud, and spits silver light across the bench. The suit gleams blackly. Makes you think of beetles, the hard outer cases, hidden wings.

You pat the suit down as though checking for clues. One sleeve gusts, and falls across your arm. She’d do that in her sleep. The sudden weight pinning you, the way you’re pinned here.

Slow as stopped time, you inch free. Your arm tingles, every hair wired. The result of friction, a static charge, nothing more.

You reach for the stiffened shoulders, squeeze hard, the way she taught you to squeeze nettles to avoid the sting. The suit crumples. You squeeze and squeeze till it’s nothing but formless black, slippery as oil. You spill it into the nearest bin.

Feathered shadows follow you, tease at your heels.

Ali McGrane lives and writes between the sea and the moor. Her work appears in anthologies and online, including FlashBack Fiction, Janus Literary, and Splonk, and on shortlists including the Bath Flash Fiction Award. Her Bath shortlisted novella-in-flash, The Listening Project, is forthcoming from Ad Hoc Fiction. @Ali_McGrane_UK

Image: unsplash.com