By Julie Barney

Bad news falls from his mouth before I can catch it. Hands and knees on the floor, searching, bad news escapes me. It buries itself in the carpet like hundreds of little black fleas. I claw at the fibers but words wriggle deeper into the floor. I try to crush them with pounding fists but they are strong.

On the edge of my vision I see them in clusters that make sense but, as I turn, the words scatter and squirm back into the carpet. Some of the words jump, biting. They leave me stunned and itchy. Some climb up my neck and make me shiver. I can feel bad news crawling over my scalp, feeding and laying eggs. I try to rake it out with my fingers- end up with nothing except hair.

I remember the man then, so I stand. I see my children playing with train track. Around them the floor is alive with bad news. Outside the Sun shines. The pavement, the trees, the grass, are crawling with nothing except happiness and summer. I tell the man that we are going to the park. These words are candy floss pink and butter yellow. They drift like confetti at a wedding and bad news is scared of them.

I talk more and more about the park, swings and river while I get my children ready to go. The man says something about identifying a body. I catch these words but drop them quickly to the floor. They wriggle down into the carpet and I leave them there. The man pours instructions into his radio. Navy blue worker ants, easy to ignore.

I keep talking the happy words which hold bad news at bay. Bad news can’t get me now. But I can see the man looks sad and cross. Bad news is feeding on him now instead of me. I notice the words he tips into his radio are infested with little black fleas. Somehow this is my fault. If I tried harder to catch the bad news and contain it the man would be safe. I care about that. Then I look at my children, bad news scrabbling around their shoes looking for a way in, and I care about that more.

I try to explain to the man that we must go. These words are deformed and don’t make sense. Their wings won’t work. They fall to the floor and bad news feasts on them. The man says we can go to the park, so we do.

My children run ahead. Bad news hasn’t spread this far yet. I speak to friends in words of lilac and blue. Children’s voices ring out over the river like silver dragon flies. Little black fleas are biting me under my clothes, no one can see them.  

I see the police car out on the road, the man watching. I can ignore them. But my children are tired and hungry. It’s chilly and we didn’t bring jumpers or coats. Friends have gone back to their houses. It’s getting dark and starting to drizzle. It’s the happy words that escape me now.

It’s time to go home and be eaten alive by bad news.

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Julie Barney lives on the Isle of Wight with her husband and two grown-up children. She works full-time as an early years practitioner, for an organization that shares her love of the outdoors, and her belief in its ability to heal. She writes when she can, especially when she should be doing other things.

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