Mairead Robinson February 2024 First Prize

A Palimpsest of Cheerleaders

by Mairead Robinson

Mel’s in the bleachers, inspecting her shattered shin-bone, pantyhose around her ankles, thighs like a pair of suckling pigs. Sadie reckons Mel would’ve been crowned, but I think Sadie herself; even with her stomach bleeding out, she has that poise, that prom-queen pout. ‘Why d’you even care?’ I say, ‘We’re dead, remember?’

Posthumously,’ she snaps. Her tear-brim gaze moves beyond Mel, and I know she’s seeing the blue silk draped wraith-like on its hanger, the strappy shoes, the simple silver locket. I’ve seen her touching fingers to the hollow of her throat, mouthing, ‘Me?’

The field’s Elysium green. Palimpsest. Miss Ingram chalked it on the board; a parchment erased, marks beneath still visible; squeak of plimsols on the locker room floor, jocks charging out, ball flying high, crowd on their feet, and us, mid-routine, twizzling pom-poms on the T-stretch, hearts wide open to Danny Markham’s bullets as he riddled the squad, taking us all out.

Mel was sweet on Danny, mistook dark-eyed hatred for love-sick brooding, and hoped for his corsage on prom night. ‘Fat chance,’ says Sadie as she lunges, hands on hips, elbows out. I joined because Mom said college, and who knew cheerleading scholarships were a thing? So, there I was, and here I am, effaced by kite-high Danny, his Pa’s M16 spitting fire. He was troubled, wailed Mel, blasted leg a right angle, fatal bullet lodged in her heart like Cupid’s flinty arrowhead.

Shadow-shapes stand in the dug-outs. Our mothers, so small, wispy as smoke. Mel hops over and suggests we do the lead-in, so we’re high-kicking, pike jumping, pom-poms razzle-dazzling as we holler the chant, as if they could hear us, as if we could scribe ourselves anew beneath the yearbook obituaries, as if there was anything left save all this ache, this longing.

About the Author

Mairead Robinson writes and teaches in the South West, UK. Her work has appeared in Ellipsis Zine, Crow and Cross Keys, The Molotov Cocktail (Flash Monster 2023), Free Flash Fiction, Full House Literary, Voidspace, and in various anthologies too. She is supposed to be working on a novel, but has become hopelessly addicted to Flash Fiction. She won second prize in BFFA, October, 2023. Mairead tweets at @Judasspoon and skeets

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