The Plan

The Plan by Paul McDonald

You smell her perfume on the sheets, despite boil washing. His grown up kids refuse to visit, and all the neighbours shun you: it isn’t safe to like you.

You try to laugh it off, but nothing’s funny; you try to justify yourself, but can’t. You ask the question, what does it want from you? You ask the chilly air; the mirror. The house knows the answer. It clenches when you enter: you feel it tighten, hear creaks in its beams and its brickwork. You know you make it queasy: dyspeptic gurgles rumble in its pipework, green mould blooms around its window frames and thickens in your presence. You shower twice a day, which makes it worse.

You beg to move, but he won’t go. Can’t, he says. You suspect the house won’t let him, and when you cry its dust motes dance before your eyes, mocking you.

You apologise daily, tell the house it’s not your fault. You shout it in the living room, bedrooms, and kitchen; shout it down the hallway. But the house thinks it is.

The day he hears you scream will be the end: the house will have its way. What can he do but think it’s in your head? What can the doctors do but think the same?

So you make a plan. Pretend that the perfume on the sheets is yours, the grown-up kids your own, and the neighbours knew you long ago. You’ll make believe you’re someone else. But even as the plan begins to form in your mind, you can sense the house laughing.

About the Author

  1. Avatar Paul McDonald (2 stories )

    Paul McDonald taught at the University of Wolverhampton for twenty five years, where he ran the Creative Writing Programme. He took early retirement in 2019 to write full time. He is the author of over twenty books, which cover fiction, poetry, and scholarship. His books include the novels Surviving Sting (2001), Kiss Me Softly Amy Turtle (2004), and Do I Love You? (2008); poetry collections, The Right Suggestion (1999), Catch a Falling Tortoise (2007), and An Artist Goes Bananas (2012), and a recent collection of flash fiction, Midnight Laughter (2019). His scholarly work ranges across a variety of disciplines, including American literature, humour, and narratology. His most recent academic books are: Enigmas of Confinement: A History and Poetics of Flash Fiction (2018), Lydia Davis: A Study (2019), and Allen Ginsberg: Cosmopolitan Comic (2020). His creative work has won or been shortlisted for a number of prizes including the Ottakars/Faber and Faber Poetry Competition, The Bedford Prize, The Bridport Prize, The John Clare Poetry Prize, the Sentinel Poetry Prize, the Sentinal Short Story Prize, and Retreat West Flash Fiction Prize, and the Pushcart Prize (nomination).