Instructions for a Secret Agent by Emma Venables

You must forget:

  1. Your mother’s face on a rainy day as she dragged bedsheets and blankets from shelves to turn them into fortresses, pseudo-wombs where you would lie, curled, symbiotic, sharing pieces of yourselves destined only to be aired beneath cotton constellations.

  2. Your father’s face turned towards the sun as he told you that you could be anything you wanted to be despite your womanhood and its cages; the way he smiled: a smile brimming with all your potential. A smile meant for you but cast towards the sky.

  3. The fourteen steps it takes to get from the gate to the front door of your childhood home where you’d enjoy the feel of the paint peeling around the letterbox every time you pushed it open and how, sometimes, you’d pull away a glossy red shard and stow it in your coat pocket, awaiting your mother’s clucking tongue; how you emptied your pockets into a puddle and watched the red fragments float before you walked the streets of London for what felt like the last time.

  4. Toby’s paws on your skirt. His tongue swiping the day from your face. The way he stretched in his sleep. The thwack of his tail against your legs. His posture as he watched you leave. His gaze full of knowing, as if he could foresee your route, your fate, the hands you would touch in lieu of his head.

  5. Freddie, his hands on your waist as you ploughed into the lake before battles and bombs, uniforms and instructions, muddled your vision, breath, innocence. Freddie, with his big ideas and his backpack, uncreased and intact, standing in your doorway, goodbye on his lips and war in his heart.

  6. Your name sending Toby into a frenzy.

  7. Your name clenched between your mother’s teeth.

  8. Your name caught like a stone in your father’s throat.

  9. Your name rasping in Freddie’s mouth.

  10. Your name.

Biography: Emma Venables’ short and flash fiction has been widely published in magazines and journals. She has a PhD in Creative Writing and has taught at Royal Holloway, University of London and Liverpool Hope University. Her first novel, Fragments of a Woman, was published by Aderyn Press in June 2023. She can be found on Twitter: @EmmaMVenables.