What Happens to a Girl Who Lives Alone

By WJ Barris 

The three old aunts arrive with eyes trained to uncover signs, omens, a ripple in the day. Somewhere in the distance a cock crows, but only twice, and they shake their quivering heads in unison, sunken necks craning to see more, hear more, about the girl, the one with the short floral skirts and bare arms, the one who sat cross-legged on a dining table, taunting fate, inviting spinsterhood. They search for clues in the cleft stick by the gate, the cracked mirror in the hall, the sun low and red sinking into the hills. They ponder the meaning of a fall on wet tiles.

No-one is willing to enter the bathroom except the old widower from next door who heard the girl scream, who phoned the aunts. He crosses himself, a half-forgotten gesture he once knew well, picks up the broken girl from the tiled floor and carries her to her bed. He walks back to the bathroom and washes his hands, over and over again. The aunts hover in the passage and they watch him, watch over him, as he dries his hands, hurriedly. They bless him, his family, his life, his descendants.

The aunts gather around her bed, their black dresses harsh silhouettes in a room of perfumed lightness, and cover her still form with blankets of vibrant yellow.

They monitor her breath. In. Out. It is slow, raspy. Her eyelids are shut. The aunts had warned her of the dangers that could befall a young girl, but she didn’t listen, this girl who would not take a husband. They had told her if she slept alone, darkness would silently creep into her open mouth and hide, and when she woke, the blackness would enter her mind, destroy her beauty. She laughed and called them crones.

Such a pity, the widower says, only last night I dreamt of her in a long white wedding dress. Ah, the aunts sigh. That will be a death foretold. They fold their hands in their laps, and sit in silence on the chairs they dragged from the kitchen. They wait for her breath to cease.

WJ Barris is a South African living in London. She is currently working on her first novel, and recently started writing short stories and flashes.