Short story excerpt

I’ve been working on a new short story recently, title still undecided. Titles are a bitch. Either they come to you all at once, sometimes at the outset, or you search for days and days. And days.

Here’s an excerpt:

This would have to be the last time Oliver wore his Lion King costume. Guri was turning nine tomorrow, and at dinner he’d already said, Not that mouldy old thing again. Puberty wasn’t supposed to begin till twelve or thirteen, but Oliver could still remember how embarrassing your parents suddenly became. After the party he’d dryclean the costume and fold it away in Anna’s cedar chest, where he kept her grandmother’s wedding gown, Guri’s baby clothes, the lace-trimmed heirloom pillowcases she’d always launder by hand, and all the costumes she’d sewn for Guri as well, the last one unfinished. Not for her the same costume for Halloween and Fasching, either. Each occasion was special; each day, a work of art. No one else he knew could spend an hour designing breakfast. He held up the papier-mâché headpiece to his face and regarded himself in the mirror: her masks had about as much in common with a ready-made-in-China one as her face, so vivacious and character-driven, with the way it had looked when he’d removed the pillow.

Oliver replaced the mask above Anna’s sewing table and retreated a few steps to check that it hung straight, eased it into place, then bent and blew off the dust which had settled on her sewing machine since morning. Dust, he’d read, was mainly composed of dead skin sloughed from the living; he seemed to do a lot of shedding, just not the right sort. Tomorrow, he promised himself, tomorrow he’d carry the sewing machine out to Mirjam’s car. He could sew on a button, mend a seam by hand, but Anna’s machine was a temperamental dinosaur inherited from her mother, and if Guri ever showed the slightest inclination to take up anything which didn’t involve pixels as a hobby, his aunt would gladly return it. You’ve got to start letting go, she’d told Oliver last week. And the week before. Tomorrow she’d bring Guri a brilliant gift that he, Oliver, would never have thought of, one of Andrei’s luscious chocolate cakes, and enough energy to subdue an entire planet of rampaging rodents. She’d run her dad’s restaurant very capably since his stroke, even adding a second star to its Michelin status, but her turnover in husbands threatened to rival her turnover in employees. Her latest divorce would soon be finalised. She had always been the beautiful sister.

He heard a cry from Guri’s room. It had been several months since the last nightmare, and Oliver had been hoping they were gone for good. He swung round to face the mask. Leave him alone, he muttered. A week after the funeral, he’d buried it under the wedding gown, which had only made things worse; then encased it in bubble wrap, crated it and tried the storage cellar, which made things worse still. He was afraid to burn it. He gave the mask a pleading look, the same sort of look that Anna had found so endearing when they first met, then went to reassure his son.