Flash Fiction: Venus in Tatters by Lucy Ribchester
A new short story from the author of The Hourglass Factory
He was halfway through a cigarette when the news came through: there had been a slashing.
‘Burns,’ the editor said, his hand on the doorjamb. ‘This is serious.’ He gave details. Her flesh was cut in six long strips, there were bruises, a hatchet used to hack. ‘The brute who did it, the brute …’ The editor hung his head. ‘She was, you see, the most beautiful woman in the world. That must be made quite clear in the copy.’
They had a briefing. Burns was to go to the scene. If he was in luck, the villain would still be there, in police custody. He could get a quote, that would spice it up a bit.
He was to note the exact particulars of the wounds. ‘Our readers prize details. Which breast … which thigh … look beyond the injuries to find some way of telling them how she was. Write of her loveliness, her purity … you’ll see it in her face.’
‘And the address?’
‘The National Gallery, of course.’
There was still a thick crowd seething when he got there.
‘You want to see her?’ The guard said. ‘I don’t think so. The restorers are in already. Glass was shattered. It’ll have been taken down by now.’ He took off his cap and rubbed his head. ‘Painted by man. Destroyed by woman.’
‘The attacker then.’ It was his only chance left for a scoop. ‘Could you point her out?’
‘The suffragette?’ The guard needled his eyes through the crowd to a police van down by the Trafalgar lions. ‘There.’
Burns’ gaze cut through the bodies. She was tiny, hunger-struck; her form looked scraped out from the inside, her arms twisted in a lock. He made a dash, shoved aside women and children and hats and old men.
He had his notebook ready. She saw him coming.
‘Yes, I did it,’ she said. ‘You want a broken woman for your paper; come watch us being force-fed.’
Lucy Ribchester is a recipient of the Scottish Book Trust New Writer Award. Her debut novel – The Hourglass Factory, published by Simon and Schuster – will be launched at Waterstones Edinburgh on Thu 15 Jan.