Aurelia and Oriel
Jane has two friends with houses in the country, friends for weekends away. In one household she is afraid of the parents and in the other she is afraid of the children.
Aurelia's house is big and dark, governed by dogs, toilets, and doors. That toilet you are not meant to flush, that door you didn't close properly behind you (it must always be shut) and now the dog's got out, or the dog's got in and eaten a whole box of After Eights. There are rules at Aurelia's house, but they are only disclosed once you have broken them.
Aurelia's father looks like a thumb. He lets you know right away if you have asked a silly question. Her mother is thin and sour, like the beetroot soup she always serves for lunch. Lunch is at one o'clock. You are to eat everything and not enjoy any of it too much. There is a jar in the kitchen, on a high shelf, from which you are occasionally given a caramel, or a Kendall's mint cake. But Jane quite likes Aurelia. Aurelia has a horse, and they can shut the door to her room and pretend to be fairies.
Oriel's house is full of light; there are lots of mirrors. You can sit on all the furniture and help yourself to cold drinks. Her parents are hands off and handsome. They refer even to each other as Mummy and Daddy, so Jane does not know their names.
Oriel is the second of three children, all of whom are terrifying. They like winning and rambunctious games. The two boys like them to play in the mine, a big hole in the yard, digging or collecting glass. When Jane is there, the three children align. They are always on the right side of arguments, even when they change positions, and they communicate new rules without speaking. Even mimicry is not safe: Jane can adopt the attitude Oriel took the day before and be punished for it the next. Oriel tells her brothers to throw Jane in the pool. She is carried to the water, sputtering: but you, but you, but you. Only television feels safe; Jane often suggests they watch it.
When Jane goes home, her mother asks first if she has had a nice time, and then if she has been a good guest. If she has been to Aurelia's she confesses that she was badly behaved, to Oriel's, that she was dull. Jane is sorry to disappoint her mother, and her mother, worried that Jane is disappointed that they do not have a house in the country, telephones the parents to thank them for their generosity and arranges another weekend away.
Olivia Parkes is a British-American writer and painter based in Berlin. Her work has been published in Hayden's Ferry Review, The New Haven Review, Bosque Magazine, The Coachella Review and Blue Five Notebook. She was awarded second prize in The Exposition Review's Flash 405 "Metamorphosis" contest in 2016.