“Still Life” by Daniel Fraser

Frank passes by the house a second time, the pack of lithium tablets in a bag on the dashboard of the van, wondering how to tell Anne he isn’t well. The light from the porch swells outward, imitating warmth. He parks.

Anne is walking around in thin linen, floating from room to room. Frank drops his bag and makes for the stairs, head low. He feels the sweat and dirt bound closely to him, a weight that tingles.

‘Don’t change,’ Anne says, woozy in the doorframe. ‘I like you just like that.’ Her voice flicks like a tongue inside his stomach. She pours another glass of Sambuca ‘to refresh her,’ she says, ‘like a holiday.’ 

They are on the sofa. Anne looks over at a bit of skirting board with a dead spider curled up on it like a little hand stuck trying to make a fist. Frank crinkles the medicine inside his pocket, feeling confused and sad and a little bit like “this is a problem” but one he’s not allowed to talk about because how much does he drink and besides isn’t he the one who’s crazy and WHO THE FUCK IS HE anyway?

‘Are you…?’ Frank says, with no idea how the sentence is supposed to end. Anne’s grinning, pouting, quivering her lips. Her eyes are swollen, full of aniseed and webbed dust. 

‘What?’ She says. Her hand coils round the tumbler like its moulded there. She twitches out a thud of ice like rock hitting crystal or cold hitting throat. Frank shivers.

‘Nothing.’ He chews the corner of his cheek. Frank’s dad comes back from cancer, filling his brain-space with insults, calling him worthless. The voice gets replaced by a montage of drugs and childhood tears. Frank wants things to be his fault.

Anne gulps and swallows, sighing with a snake hiss. Frank smells sweetness. Anne drapes an arm across him, her white bra peaking through loose cloth.

‘You look good,’ Anne says, lilting, a slight slur, thin fingers brushing Frank’s hand. Frank wants to have sex and break up and take Anne to therapy and get a job where he can afford therapy and go back to college and kill himself. He gets up and makes pasta. Anne eats six slices of Parma ham thin as razor blades and smokes two Pall Malls with the door open.  Frank takes the tablets and feels a little further away from himself; like his consciousness and body were somehow a TV he was looking at from across the room. Limbs move, mouths move. There are rooms with lights on, bodies sharing space. It all seems fine in a way that seems dead. Like a still life. 

Anne kisses his neck while Frank thinks about those aniseed sweets his grandma used to suck, little red balls that spilled onto your tongue. Anne puts pressure on his thigh and pulls up her dress. Frank puts his hand under, feels the wet warmth. His grandma dies just as quickly as she lived. Anne slips away her underwear. It stays hooked on one leg like a hula hoop rolled around a belly. They have sex fully clothed, scratching and tearing at the hard places behind each other’s backs. Frank examines them both from somewhere else, his mind locked in a threesome with a slower, greyer version of himself and a woman that several drinks ago used to be his wife. 

They finish and sit side-by-side, breathing heavily, staring out. Frank turns on the news and lets the world do its work, the dissolving bigness of it, the vast expanse of anything that can crush you down and make everything close seem bearable. There were wars and fires in California. It would be ok. Frank holds on to his knees, feeling them shift beneath his hands. Anne pours a drink. Outside the city makes its broken music: sirens, aeroplanes, cheering, and underneath it all a cool wind swirling, whispering with leaves.

Frank gets up and crosses the partition back into the kitchen. He watches Anne through a dark reflection in the window, a mass of hair and neck. He’s there too, an oblong of grey sweatshirt, a piece of face; all the rest of him cut off by the frame, severed by awkward angles of light.

‘The days are getting colder.’ Frank says, pulling a beer from the fridge. 

‘But we’re not Frankie,’ Anne says, ‘we’re not.’ and she lights up another cigarette before she’s even finished laughing.


Daniel Fraser is a writer from Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire. His work has won prizes and been featured widely in print and online. He lives in London.

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