Carolyn Gillum

The Anagram Man

Greta whips the bread bin from the bench. She upturns it, places it over my hands on the keyboard.

‘Now you can’t cheat,’ she says.

I type, and crumbs trickle between my fingers, like the things in my dream.

She lifts the lid. Frowns. ‘Start again, Oscar,’ she says. ‘Don’t mix up the letters. The quick brown fox!’

My arthritic fingers quiver over the keyboard; once they’d stabbed at the adding machine. I focus on the naked loaf of bread. In my dream the crumbs are bones and watches and rings.

Greta wants to learn forgiveness. I said I wanted to learn to type. I waited until today to ask about the internet. She gave me the sharp edge of her eye. It sliced through me, even after ten years. She left me when she discovered who I’m not.

When she’s gone, I pour a whisky. Practise breathing the way I’ve been told. Try to fill my lungs. But I’m still shaking when I close the curtains, lock the door. I down the whisky in one and it tears at my throat, like the smoke used to.

I type a man’s name into the box, the way Greta showed me. Hear the hammer of the adding machine as images flicker onscreen. Near the bottom, in brown and white, I see him. Young. Wearing his visor cap with the eagle and the skull – the Totenkopf. That badge on his arm: black angles that come at me like a propeller.

I touch his face. Circle the glasses through which he counted their things. Close my eyes against our reflection onscreen.

I used to have photos, people I said I’d lost in the war. Their watches and rings. Things I stole. Their stories, like the letters of my name, adjusted and rearranged.

Carolyn Gillum

Carolyn Gillum is a writer from Waiheke Island. She was awarded the 2016 Winston Churchill McNeish Writer's Fellowship to travel to Norway to write her first novel. The opening chapters of this work were shortlisted for the 2015 Flash500 Novel Competition, and longlisted for the 2016 Bath Novel Award. Her flash fiction has also been longlisted for the 2016 Fish Flash Fiction Contest and Flash500 Competition.