The Magic Number

Too cold to feel cold, and too numb to pick the pieces of glass from her pockets, Tabitha hunkered in a patch of windowed winter sun with Major the tomcat, slid her fingers into his marmalade fur, and waited.
The brutal easterly wind fought to follow her into the cabin, screaming down the chimney, pounding against the door, and hissing away all warm air that the small open fireplace was trying to breathe into their squalid dwelling.
Away from the full force of the freezing coastal blasts, her ears and face began to defrost first; stinging, while her fingers still felt nothing but the passage of vibrations from a contented cat. She patiently pictured the glass in her pockets: mostly green, but today one more piece of blue, smoothed by tide and time ‘til it gleamed from its dull pebble bed, whispering, ‘Pick me, pick me. You see me, don’t you?’
And now, gradually, the pain. In soft, warm cat fur, throbbing fingers thawed and burned, while Tabitha thought of sharp, smooth beach booty in the pockets of the worn, woollen coat that was made for a child of her mother’s generation and told of poverty and hand-me-downs.
How many pieces now? Her fingers flexed. When she reached the magic number, Mother would return to help her care for poor Father. Slowly, stiffly she removed the coat and emptied the pockets.
Coughing, Father said not to raise her hopes so, but Tabitha knew collecting the blue and green pieces would break the sea’s curse. The colours of a mermaids tail – messages from the sea that her mother was sending home. Tabitha understood, even if Father didn’t. She’d counted the scales on the picture of The Little Mermaid: two hundred. Mother was fighting the curse, shedding her tail. The sea would soon return her.
Major one-eyed the traitorous door that had permitted the icy winds to whistle through, then, with confident paws, quietly assumed his right to the woollen coat.

25 thoughts on “The Magic Number

    • Thanks, Reb! I often think super-short flash fiction can be immensely poetic. It’s the same principal of condensing. Alison (above) is very good at that.


  1. This is intense and inspiring. The beauty of the pieces of glass and how she imagines them as scales of a mermaid is genius. This flows well and I felt that icy wind. I also love the way you introduce the cat into the story; it contrasts well and puts the rest into sharper relief.


  2. Such amazing descriptions, you really put me inside the story. It felt bleak at times, but as someone said, with a ray of hope in there.


  3. The opening sentences leave you groping for what sort of world we’re in. Is Major a pet, an anthro war hero, or some fantasy creature? What’s the nature of the drama? Why are they out here? And despite all those fundamental questions, it’s never cloying. Well done in so short a space.


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