Gap Year by Julie Oldham

Alone in Barcelona, having visited the Sagrada Familia, she descended into hell but on the third day rose again. And walks to the window to see a pool of children gathering in grey light. She crawls back to bed.

All morning, playground noises, waves of voices, crash on the brick of the hostel walls. Highs and lows of attention. She closes her eyes, opens them, closes. Morning comes and goes.

Surfacing at dusk, she swallows back the regret, the feeling of nausea—and swims in blue. Remembering: the jazz player with the mask; the sea-shore mosaics; the candelabra spinning; the nightclub full of trembling bodies. Cathedral glass. The blue. Everywhere the blue.

Remembering: lush autumn lawns beyond French windows; vibrato leaves stirring; her metronome childhood—trapped behind glass.

Remembering: the secrecy of doors; the Clearblue line; the gagging realization; her friend’s advice.

Shivering, she stands up, walks across the room—her bed an empty chrysalis of sweating sheets—and pulling up the blinds, remembers: the lucky key ring her father gave her, his brushing kiss; her mother’s bereaved eyes; the number on the card. The swirling confusion of birds at dusk.

Steadying herself, she opens the window and sucks in the air. Below, in the street, an old woman shaking her head, stumbling forward: her dark skin tough as flattened road kill. Where is she going? University to study music? 7 hours on her feet each day practicing, practicing—as she planned, as they planned, because she strived for this, they strived for this, and they want her to so much. She draws up her arms, turns away from the window and presses her stomach. Presses with hard pad fingers—walks across rooftops—and swims in blue. Swims, until the mosaic inside her sings. Sings. As notes on a score sing Sibelius. And her skin—her skin, breathing blue for the first time—dries slowly into wings.

Julie Oldham is a teacher. She lives in West Yorkshire in the UK and when not enjoying the local countryside (and ale) writes short stories, flash fiction and poetry. Her stories have appeared in print in a number of publications (including Artificium Journal and Bare Fiction Magazine) and on the Open Pen website.