by Suzanne Verrall


When Ian fell off his bicycle and knocked his head he lost the last ten and a bit years of his life. Which is to say all of it, given Ian was not quite eleven. A very nice couple called Mr and Mrs Whittaker took Ian home from the hospital and showed him his room and his clothes and his things and told Ian to call them mum and dad. Then, following the doctor’s instructions, they kissed Ian on the top of his head, being sure to avoid the lump, and left him to it.

Ian took his time looking over the model aeroplane kits and the books about insects and the schoolbag with its red pencil case and primary grade textbooks and an old banana peel at the bottom. He looked in the wardrobe at the jeans and shirts, the school uniform blazer, the shoes. He pulled out a hoodie and put it on over the t-shirt he had worn home from the hospital. It fit perfectly across his shoulders but the sleeves were too short and Ian could see his bony wrists with their fine golden hairs poking out beyond the cuffs. He pulled it off and dropped it on the floor and reached for another hoodie. There was a full length mirror on the back of the wardrobe door and Ian looked at himself as he tried it on. Then, one by one, he pulled every shirt off its hanger. The pile of clothes on the floor grew as Ian worked his way through the jackets and the jumpers, the trousers and the shorts. Not one piece of clothing fitted him right. Not even the pyjamas.

Exhausted and panicked, Ian lay back on the racing car bed with its matching robots sheet and pillowcase set. He fell into a deep and immediate sleep and dreamt of a house with a white front door that he knew he had painted himself, with the brass doorknocker he distinctly remembered buying from the hardware shop and screwing in place. Behind the door, in the house, Ian knew was his wife and children but he couldn’t seem to make it up the garden path. All he could do was watch as a boy about sixteen years old with neatly combed hair and a bunch of flowers lifted the doorknocker and rapped it sharply three times. “Don’t answer the door,” Ian cried in his sleep. “He’s too old for you.”


Suzanne Verrall lives in Australia. She is the author of the poetry collection One Day I Will Go There (Vagabond Press, 2022). Her poetry, flash fiction and essays appear in various publications including Australian Poetry Journal, Southampton Review and The Interpreter’s House. For links to her work go to www.suzanneverrall.com.


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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Sleeves”?

I once knew a woman who, following a bicycle accident, believed her life had been reset, that somehow she had been given a second chance. What an opportunity to be taken advantage of, I thought. But, like all accidents, not without a measure of risk.


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