Sally and her postcards and the death that comes after

Emily Harrison

This story has a content warning

You take a seat on the sofa and sink into her cushions. Across from you, she sips the coffee she asked you to make. Three teaspoons. No milk. Her face sucks in so sharp that it looks like she’s swallowing her teeth. There’s dust on the armchair that props her up. It’s made of fabric and dust. The clothes on her kiss it.

This was an accident. You. Here. Your parcel sent to 21A rather than 41A. It’s unusual for the delivery service to do mix ups. 

The scent of mildew and soap floats like flotsam. There’s something medicinal in it, as if she scrubs her skin and the surfaces with the slippery bar, leaving small suds marks as she goes.

‘Quite a collection,’ you say, as she points you to another of her postcards. She’s laid them out for you to view. You wonder when she last had a visitor. 

‘Isn’t it just, Thomas.’

Your name is Tobias. She must have read the parcel wrong.

In front of you there are prints of a sunken Scarborough and the former haunt of Whitby Abbey. The Humber Bridge against a sunset. Saltburn Pier strewn with dots of bodies. On the back of the postcards, in the margins, reads the scrawl of a year. 1997. 2009. 2021. Nothing after 2040.

‘I can’t look at that one,’ she tells you. You’re holding Hartlepool Marina. ‘Not since the place vanished.’

You don’t reply.

‘I have one from Robin Hood’s Bay,’ she says, to fill your gaps. ‘That’s a good postcard. Four pictures in one.’ She holds up four fingers, though they are closer to dead branches. ‘That place was nice.’ 

She sips, mouth pursed, and you sift through the postcards to be polite. Another of Whitby. One of Whitley Bay. Redcar and a donkey on a beach. Under a grey sea now. 

You ask why she never sent them to anyone.

‘They’re my memories,’ she replies. ‘Do you have any?’

She doesn’t define it. Postcards or memories.

‘I don’t,’ you say.

Time slips, and after a while you make your excuses.

‘Thanks,’ you offer, as you linger at the front door, parcel in hand. ‘I appreciate you taking it in.’ Through the wrapping you can feel the bottle of pills. One hour it said on the website. One hour, a series of hallucinations, then death.

‘If I need another coffee, can I knock?’ she asks. One of her eyelids is drooping like melted candle wax.

‘Sure,’ you say, knowing there won’t be an answer. You hope she isn’t the one to find you. It wouldn’t be an easy sight.

You’re halfway to your flat before you realise she wouldn’t make it. She’d probably crack her head before the thirtieth floor. The stairs are so narrow in these tenement buildings that one wrong step can be fatal. They’re dark too, purpose built not to let the light in. It’s easier not to see what you’ve lost.

Later, when the pills are swimming – you swallowed them with home brew that tasted of chalk – and the hour is counting down, you think of the sun on her postcards. The old world lit up. She’s there, dancing. A weird jig in her armchair on Scarborough beach.

Emily Harrison has had work published with X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, Ellipsis Zine, Barren Magazine, STORGY Magazine, The Molotov Cocktail, Litro, Tiny Molecules and Gone Lawn, to name a few. She is a onetime Best Small Fictions nominee, which is pretty cool.