The Wages of Sin by Karen Jones

The bin bag full of helium balloons floats above Morag like a black cloud. She trudges through the village, past the sign that says THE WAGES OF SIN IS DEATH, towards the swing park, where she settles on a bench, attaches the strings of the balloons to the armrest and watches the empty swings creak in the wind.

Iain sidles through the wrought iron gate, tramps across wet grass, sits beside her, takes out a packet of tuna sandwiches, unwraps it and hands her one white triangle. She accepts, but doesn’t eat, just places it on her lap, ignoring the oily stain forming on her coat. He eats his half sandwich, gulping mouthfuls of bottled water between bites.

He looks up at the black bag. “How many this year?”

She stays focused on the swings. “Seven. You know it’s seven. Why do you pretend not to know?”

He shakes his head, studies his shoes. New shoes. High polish. She notices.

“What are those in aid of?” she asks. “You don’t usually dress for the occasion.”

He tries to clear his throat but there’s too much stuck there. “Been for a job interview. Got it. Start Monday.”

Morag’s head snaps round. The black cloud judders. “Where?”

His head bows almost to his knees. “Edinburgh. I’ll be moving down there. Too long a commute.”

She nods, once, sharp. “She going with you?”

He exhales, his breath clouding the space between them. “Aye. Aye, we’ll marry down there.”

She sniffs, a dry sniff of nothing but dust. She rubs her naked-since-the-day-she-was-born ring finger, throws her untouched sandwich in the bin and stands up, straightening her coat and her back. “Good. Marriage is the right thing.” She lets the barb sting. “It’s the new start you need. Shall we go? I take it this will be your last time?”

Iain doesn’t answer. Instead, he undoes the balloons from the bench, throws away the bin bag, and they make their way out of the park, seven heavy years glowering above them.

At the graveside, he hands the strings back to Morag. She wonders how many years it will take for there to be enough balloons to carry her away.


Karen Jones is from Glasgow. She has been successful in competitions including Mslexia, Flash 500, Words With Jam and Ad Hoc Fiction and published in numerous ezines, magazines and anthologies Her work has been nominated for Best of the Net, Pushcart Prize and is included in Best Small Fictions 2019.