The Real Boy by Jess Moody

(After Pinocchio)

Their first spring together was…unexpected. He held a fear of women, of being caught in a lie. Don’t you agree? Don’t you love me? Am I enough? Will you stay? They threw out their demands and he could return only truth, however brutal. A learned response: always, the memory of gristled tearing, the pain splintering between the eyes with the stretch. Over the years it was remarked upon, laughed at: how the slightest query pulled a palm to his face, covered and cowering. She was the first to accept his answer: perhaps. Their last summer was long. Bleached white empty days and sunlit sands. He sat above the tide-line, the designated-driver of beach play; never a drop of the ocean, satisfied to guard the towels, the gritting lotions. He played with other people’s sons, digging deep to avoid her eye. He refused to discuss the making of a child. Still, she was proud of his fine even looks, his patience, his ability to talk quietly with the waiters in his sad, archaic accent (a touch of Tuscany). No seafood for him; only light sweet things to wash away the threat of salt. Their last autumn was all mist mornings and smoke-thick nights. He shook with the frequency of flame-flicker. Would not move closer to the bonfire; could not stave off his blanche at the burning Guy. The silhouettes of small children jumped and jerked before staccato sparks, and he felt the tug, the lurch. What is it? She asked, again. What don’t I know? His hands snapped from hers, covered his face. He gave no response, and they both saw the certainty: she had no power to hold him still. Their last winter was fractured. The before she left, and the after. Before, he stared too long at waving branches and the gaze of gnarling knots. He forgot to fill his face with expression, and failed to read hers. The night he came home to silence and gap-toothed shelves, he knew she was not – nor ever would be – out searching for him. She needed something real. So he did not call, did not fight. He was made to end someone else’s loneliness; now he must sit with his. In the after, time circled. Endless nights and days of thinking, remembering; worrying if he would know wrong from right without her frown to guide him. He dug out the old nightlight she had bought, unbidden. The dark brought suffocation again, the echo of his breath trapped inside another’s ribs, screams blubber-muted in the deep. Their last winter was his last winter (perhaps). Exhaustion tripped his feet in the mornings, narrowed his vision. Prevented the glimpse of the red light, the blurred wheels. Black wet tarmac now dirty-white with spilt milk. The passersby knelt over his right-angled form, and he admired their production line of ohs, their painted horror. How lifelike. Over the wailing, an unseen woman’s whisper: Are you in pain? He tried to check his face, but his joints would not respond. From his lips, a hoarse and horrible sawing noise: either weeping or laughter (later, people would say, they could not tell). The sirens brought more primary colours; reds, blues, then the greens and yellows. Rushing figures varnished in raindrops. He hoped there would be no more questions; hoped that to fix him, someone might cut him open. Follow the grain, feel the warp. Read his life in rings.

About the Author

Jess Moody is a Wulfrunian in London. She likes her words and worlds a little weird. Nominated for the Pushcart ’19, Best of the Net ’20, & listed in the BIFFY 50 (Best British & Irish Flash Fiction Awards).


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