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Posts from the ‘#FridayFlash’ Category

Part of the Furniture

Two old chairs sat side-by-side facing the window. Arms worn, seats sagging, covers bleached by sunlight.

‘We used to talk. We used to look at one another. I remember when you used to notice me. You used to ask me me how I was. You said I was beautiful. Don’t you remember? You never talk to me anymore,’ said one chair to the other.

‘No. Not us. We never did. That was the humans,’ said the other chair. ‘We’re just chairs you daft bugger.’

‘Why don’t they then?’

‘Why don’t they what?’

‘The humans. Why don’t they talk, why don’t they look at one another? Why don’t they say nice things anymore? Don’t they care?’

‘I think they think they are chairs too.’

A Chance to Shine

My modest return to Friday Flash. It seems I haven’t written and shared a flash fiction since December 2012!

This isn’t the first time I’ve given a voice to an inanimate object. A couple of years ago I wrote a very short fiction about a pair of shoes with their own opinions…


IMG_3390
An apple from the garden, sat atop the wooden kitchen table, all perfectly imperfect.
Alone in the half-light from the cookerhood lamps, it proudly glowed: its contours more strongly rounded by its halo, the two small, black bruises and the – as yet negliable – newly forming wrinkles hidden by the shadows.

‘Paint me,’ it whispered. ‘I’m still beautiful. Paint me before I die.’

A woman entered the room, switched on a single light bulb, remembered the apple she had rescued from the ground in the morning, and smiled now at how its middle seemed noble and self-possessed like a robin’s. She saw the asymmetrical left-lean of the stalk, the elliptical shadow pool, and the way the reflection from the light bulb beamed out midway where the red and yellow colouring met. There was something really palatable – comforting almost – about the form of an apple.

She remembered drawing and painting apples in school. Hadn’t she been quite good at still life? For the briefest moment she wondered if she would like to sit and draw this apple now. But it was late, and anyway what would it achieve? She didn’t have time for unproductive things like drawing and painting.

‘Paint me. I’m dying.’

‘Where’s Cézanne when you need him?’ the woman asked the apple, pressing her lips together in compunction, as she turned out the lights, shut the door and followed the stairs to bed.

The forlorn apple’s previously tight, satiny skin turned sticky and soft in the dark, warm kitchen. It had tried its best but it hadn’t managed to inspire her.

Maybe the stories it had heard on the tree about humans being creative and appreciating nature the way no other animal could hadn’t been true after all.



Middling

A flash fiction
BroomHer house was in the middle of the town. It was not particularly big or small or fancy or plain. It was pleasant enough. She didn’t love it and she didn’t hate it. She liked it well enough.
She felt she had no cause to brag nor good reason to complain.
Mustn’t grumble.
Fair to middling.

She swept her driveway, pulled weeds out of the lane so folk could walk by, and clipped the hedge so the neighbours’ light wouldn’t be obscured. She didn’t play loud music or throw wild parties or keep noisy dogs.
Passers by made no comment. Passed no judgement. Offered no sympathy either.

She was just there. There she was in the middle.

She’d had love. She’d lost love. She was alone. She was lonely. But she saw that she had more than some and hid her tears. Who was she to feel sorry for herself?

She saw people come and go past her house and saw the fat people, the thin people, the old people, the young people, the rich people, the poor people. She heard love and hate in a word on the wind, violence in a drunken roar, thoughtlessness in a loud engine. She noticed differences, struggles, children crying, and she felt a need to be useful: to point out these differences.

Somehow.

But how?

So she wrote a poem and made a giant sign. For days she thought about the words, about the design. She made it by hand with brushes and ink. She thought about suffering and unfairness until her heart ached, and wiped away tears before they dropped onto the ink on the page.
She asked for those who have to care about those who have not.
She asked for people to love one another.
She asked for everyone to think about their actions.

After days of hard work, she bought an expensive frame and nailed the sign with the poem to the side of the house overlooking the lane, for all to see.

She went inside and rested.

When she awoke she heard breaking glass, shouts and knocking.
What did she know about pain and suffering?!
What right did she have to tell others how to live?!
Head-in-the-clouds poets should get a proper job!

After dark she went outside to remove the sign. It was broken. It was defaced. She was crying.

In the morning she went out and swept the drive. A passer-by spat on her broom. A driver in a shiny black sports car mocked her through his car window as he revved his engine and choked her with fumes. An old woman tutted in pity at her foolish extravagance.

She felt hurt and lonely and foolish.

She leant on the broom and controlled the tears.
She felt she had no reason to complain.

Who was she to feel sorry for herself?



Forty Quid and Some Fruit

A flash fiction

There’s something about having nothing that makes you feel … well, both heavy and light all at the same time.
There seems no point looking forward or back, ‘cause every time you do you feel sad and kinda hopeless. Life like this just goes on and on and on, and when you see no end to it, no better days ahead, it makes you want to top yerself. But there’s a lot of point in living in the moment. Why not smoke? Why not drink? Why not eat sausage and chips? Small pleasures. Simple things.

My health? My future?
I’m not expecting anything to be honest.

So, I stop the fags and buy some fruit?… What then? I sit here and fiddle with me orange peelings and cry about tomorrow? No. I share a fag with a mate over a cuppa tea and we get a few things off our chest. We can’t do much for each other but we’ve still got that.

And do I tell Benjy he can’t get bladdered with the lads after work on Friday so he saves a few quid? What then? His whole working week is about Friday and his friends. He couldn’t get through it if he didn’t have his Fridays. The rest of the week is bloody miserable for him. You know they don’t even pay him properly because he’s officially still training? What a load of bollocks.

Anyway… What have we got then? Forty quid and some fruit? That can’t get us a car, a new place to live. The fridge is knackered, the cooker is knackered. Megan needs a new bed. There is no future just by depriving ourselves further.

I was looking over this fella’s shoulder on the bus the other day – reading ‘is paper. Some woman had written how people who drink and smoke should pay more for healthcare. I laughed out loud, I did. The man turned and stared at me like I was mad.
I was mad to be honest. “Healthcare”?! Most people I know don’t even bother with doctors no more. We just wait until we keel over with liver damage or breathing difficulties. What’s the point of being told we ain’t living right, huh? “Yeah, sorry, doc, I lost me Waitrose loyalty card and haven’t been eating my pomegranates recently.”
It’d be funny if wasn’t so bleedin’ tragic. You know I know some people who’s not even registered with a doctor?

I think if I did have forty quid and some fruit I’d make a big bowl of punch and have a party. Share a little bit of happiness. We never seem to have any fun these days.

Ghosts

A flash fiction


What was strange, Florrie noticed, clipping Mabel’s overgrown fringe behind her ear the way she’d seen Mum do it, was all the stuff they said that she’d never heard before; stuff they could have said years ago if it was bothering them both so much.

‘Does it hurt?’ she asked as she tightened Mabel’s pigtails.
Mabel sat there trance-like; white-faced and red-eyed and smelling of Marmite. School mornings in winter were hard enough without being woken up by Dad coming home at 2am.

‘No,’ she whispered in reply like a ghost, staring blankly at the window as if there was nothing beyond it.

Mabel was silent until they reached the school gates. And then in a voice as thin and high as the frail winter cloud trails, she said, ‘I’m being good and quiet and it’s still all going wrong.’

Florrie took her hand for the first time in years and walked with her as far as the infants’ entrance.
‘It’s not your fault, Mabel. It’s nothing you did,’ repeating what Grandma had said to her.

But did she believe it?
She would carry on not being a nuisance too. Just in case it helped.

Yuck

A flash fiction

We are allowed to watch a film on a doctor’s fold-up computer in the camp. It is a film in a language I don’t understand with people so different from us it is like they are from another planet. Their clothes are plain and pale and flat. They speak too loud and too fast and there is never any still or any quiet.
A translator tells us it is a film popular with children all over the world.

There is a girl my age in the film. But she is not like me. She sits with her family at a table to eat but she doesn’t like her meal and refuses to eat it. I can not imagine ever refusing food.

The girl in the film is shouting at her father.
When the floods came and the mud and the house moved down the hill and we tried to run away I shouted at my father. But he didn’t hear me.

The girl in the film says a word: Yuck.
I would like some yuck. I would eat some yuck. I want to pull her flat hair and sit in her place and eat up all her yuck and show her how hungry I am.

Shelterbox

True Love


Will you still love me when I’m ugly?

You are ugly

And you love me?

Yes

Will you still love me when I’m old?

You are old

And you love me?

Yes

Will you love me when I’m wrinkly?

You are wrinkly

And you love me?

Yes

When I’m embarrassing?

You are

And you…?

Yes

Was I ever beautiful…? And not embarrassing?

No

And you’ve always loved me?

Yes

Well I wish you’d said something

What? And spoil your fun?

On The Button

I’m celebrating 2 years since my first attempt at flash fiction by sharing that first story from July 2010 (which is in fact more like a short story than a flash)
(Isn’t it funny – and rather worrying – how only 2 years ago I thought of sponsored academies as fictitious)

‘Zophar, listen.’ Luna crouched before him on the pavement. ‘You can get out whenever you want, okay?’
Zophar nodded, looking past his mother to the others. His body was poised in politeness towards his mother but in anticipation of other children, his eyes looked ahead to his new schoolmates and he willed her to say goodbye.
‘Did you Anti-Germ your hands?’
Another nod.
‘Where are your disposable toilet seat covers?’
Zophar patted his backpack.
‘And mask? Remember which pocket?’
More nodding.

His father opened the driver door of the car and the airlock was released with a Clop. Shhhhhhhh. He stepped out carefully, holding a green canister, spraying into the air as he approached.
‘Another squirt of Pollute Repel for luck.’ He misted the air around Zophar’s head and tiptoed back to the car, as if trying to avoid making contact with the ground. ‘One last button test, perhaps Luna?’ he called, slipping back into the car and sealing himself in.
‘Yes. Quick button run-though,’ said Luna. Tell me again.’
‘Emergency Back-Off spray, emergency water purifying tablet.’ Zophar’s fingers ran downwards over the buttons on his blazer at speed as he rushed through the list. ‘Emergency anti-viral pill, emergency contact button, emergency detox spray button.’ He touched his cuffs next. ‘Panic buttons. Now can I go?’ The five-year-old jiggled impatiently.
‘Anytime at all, if you are worried,’ continued Luna, ‘if someone touches you, if someone coughs near you, if the toilets are dirty. Any reason. You hear me? We’ll get you out straight away. Just press those cuff buttons. And when the car brings you back remember: shoes in the porch, through the first entrance door, blazer off, then through the airlock and straight to the arrivals shower. Don’t come in with your shoes and blazer and don’t touch the cruise control in the car on the way home. You hear me?’
‘I know, I know, you said. Now can I go?’
‘Okay.’ Luna kissed the air, not touching Zophar. ‘Go baby. Take care. Remember: buttons!’ She mimed pushing buttons as he ran off. ‘And don’t run or you’ll fall and touch the ground and I’ll have to take you home!’

Luna clasped her hands in front of her chin. ‘Good luck. Come home safely,’ she whispered.

Zophar scampered up the steps as fast as he thought he would get away with. He was more happy and excited than he could ever remember being.

This was better than birthdays. There were other children here.

The entrance was massive. It took up one whole side of the building.
‘Prevention Pharmaceutical’s Academy of Learning and Science welcomes you all and asks that when you enter the building, you do not share a door pod with anyone else,’ came a voice from within the walls.
Robotic eyes shifted around and each pod spoke instructions through hidden speakers as one hundred children at a time were allowed to enter the first segment where they were instantly separated by screens that held the children in stalls as they were scanned for identification and viruses.
Immediately three boys were locked in and a voice told them to wait until cars arrived to remove them.
Some newcomers were familiar with screening and airlocks. They stood patiently while the eyes and scanners moved around them. But the others, from older housing out of the city had not experienced Entrance Pollution Prevention.
Zophar could hear cries of ‘I want to go home,’ ‘I don’t like this,’ while others sobbed and tried to back out.
Luna had told him about the entrance and how other boys weren’t used to it. ‘They’ll soon get domesticated,’ she had said. ‘Everyone learns eventually.’

Next they were filtered into a huge glass cube. It was one of six on three levels. A voice told them to wait for the professors to collect them.
In this mix of trained and untrained five-year-olds, the difference was obvious to Zophar: the untrained boys had less shiny clothes and they didn’t have emergency blazer buttons. Zophar worried for them. But they didn’t look bothered. A few of them started talking to each other and they even tried to talk to the trained boys. Luna had said to keep away from untrained boys because they weren’t treated. He wondered if it would be safer to hold his nose then he wouldn’t be sharing their air. He held his breath for twenty seconds and gave up.
An untrained boy had been watching him. ‘I can hold my breath loads longer than that.’
‘Ludo’s the best at holding his breath. He swims underwater,’ said another boy.
‘He goes swimming?! Wow…’ Zophar stared.
‘Ye-ah, loads of us go. It’s really good for you.’ The boy threw off his blazer and mimicked breaststroke. ‘Gives you strong muscles. My dad said so.’
Zophar, Ludo and some others took off their blazers too, giggling as they ran in circles pretending to swim.

‘Why are your buttons so big?’
Zophar turned to see Ludo wearing his blazer and fiddling with the cuff buttons.
‘No! Don’t!’
The airlock opened and a robotic sensor promptly identified Zophar’s blazer. Ludo was shunted gently towards the door pods.
‘Please wait until your car arrives,’ said a voice.

From the door pods Ludo was directed into Zophar’s family car and within minutes he was lowered out at Zophar’s house.
A woman’s voice from a wall speaker said he could try school again tomorrow and she was glad he was home. ‘And remember:’ she said, ‘shoes in the porch, through the first entrance door, blazer off then through the airlock and straight to the arrivals shower. Don’t come in with your shoes and blazer on.’

Luna waited outside the bathroom with clean towels. She stared; horrified at the sight of the strange, untreated boy and then she hyperventilated.

Zophar’s father left Ludo in the entrance while he arranged his collection. Then the house and car were treated before the car was sent to collect the right boy this time. It had all been too risky and too stressful – Luna would home-school Zophar from now on.


This story is now published as an e-story from Ether Books:

(N.B. Thanks to Norman Geras – @normblog , who very kindly supplied me with the inspired prompt word: “prompt” when I asked on Twitter!)

The Deer Stalker

A short story / flash-fiction
It’s still there, like a trophy, on the kitchen windowsill – the bottle you drank from on Wednesday night.
I don’t drink beer. Anyone who knows me knows that.
I wonder how many people have walked past the house and seen it there and thought, ‘She’s had a man in her house. At last.’

I looked at it on Thursday morning, sitting in the sunshine, the last swill at the bottom evaporating into the morning air. I breathed the deliciously dirty, left over smell into my head and drank in the memories as I thought about your deoxyribonucleic acid still on its un-rinsed neck. Still on my neck. The words you knew I wanted to hear repeating in my mind, caught on a loop. Later when Mum saw it but said nothing I felt I was holding that night like a clandestine cloak around me. Memories still so physical I couldn’t share them. Not yet. Maybe in a couple of weeks I’d tell her about the man known by his friends as The Deer Stalker.

On Friday the stale beer-warmed-in-the-sun smell accosted me at breakfast, as if to taunt me: ‘He didn’t phone. You’re used and dirty,’ it said. I held it in my hands for the first time since Wednesday night and examined the neck, hoping I hadn’t made a mistake and fallen for a man who was easy with his DNA after all. I played the evening back like a film and smiled at the blank table top as if it were your face. I dipped the back of my neck into my shoulder as if it were your hand. And then I closed my eyes and pressed the warm rim of the beer bottle to my mouth as if it were your kiss.

Yesterday was cloudy. I washed and tumble-dried my sheets, and the house smelled of me not you or your beer. I looked at your bottle on the windowsill and told it to call me. I told it I was going to be out all day but I would have my phone with me. Over lunch I protected myself with hands in front of my face as I told Anna about my encounter with The Deer Stalker. She tore up her seeded roll doubtfully and gave me half. I found I couldn’t eat as she suggested reasons for your nickname.
After a silence, she asked, ‘What was it like? Are you glad he was your first?’ But I could tell she was cross.
I said, ‘Sorry.’ I was sorry I hadn’t told her sooner.
But she said ‘No.’ It wasn’t that. She was sorry I’d had to find out this way.
I didn’t understand.

I had this daydream this morning that I could take your DNA from the bottle and make a baby. I could give birth to you. Hold on to you. If I couldn’t have you then I would have a beautiful copy of you. Maybe you would find out and you would see me with this baby and realise you loved me. And then it dawned on me that maybe I’m already pregnant. As I showered I wondered if perhaps you’ve lost my number and you’ve been trying to contact me.
But now that Anna’s told me what she found out about you last night I don’t want your DNA. I’m holding the bottle under the hot tap and allowing myself, and the ghost of my virginity, one last memory of my defeat. I admire your stalking talent; your ability to watch patiently from afar until you’ve learnt a woman’s moves. That’s a clever technique to appear as if from nowhere and catch us offguard. And then the softly-softly charming, not touching, always getting closer and closer – winning trust, moving gently. Bit by bit. You won’t hurt. How could someone like you hurt? You creep. You creep.

Flutter


It was the flit of the butterfly’s wings that changed everything.

When she saw it, perched perfectly still on a nettle, it was dark – like her.
She liked that.
Quiet and dark.
And alone.
Folded up against the world.
She drew her elbows into her sides and watched its antennae twitch. ‘We’re the same – you and me.’

But then it lowered its wings and she saw that she was wrong. It showed off its rich red-orange and its bright purple flashes and powder-blue-eyed stare.
In a multi-coloured flash it took off.
She watched the creature’s papery flight lift and bounce and then disappear it; losing itself in a medley of yellow dots, orange silk hearts, green spikes, purple tongues and bright pink spears. Light petals fluttered, heavy pompom heads swung like upturned pendulums, and grasses waved. The colours altered as the wildflowers danced and bobbed in the sunlight. How inspiring nature was to have evolved a creature that adapted so cleverly to its habitat.

Sitting cross-legged and gazing out across the grasses and flowerheads, she tried to match long-unused names with remembered images: the red admiral, the tortoiseshell, the painted lady… but she didn’t know what this one was. Butterfly spotting had remained in her childhood with so many other ephemeral memories.

She wanted to take a photo. One day she would take the perfect wildflower meadow photo: sky, flowers and one other element: a bee, a bird, a distant hill, a butterfly perhaps…

One day…

She looked down at the unopened corner-shop-vodka, with the wonky label, hammocked in the lap of her long summer skirt and squeezed the pills in her fist until her palm begged to be relieved of the pain. Then she stood up – letting the bottle drop to the ground and walked back to the hospital, shaking out the pills like seeds along the path.

They’d said his eyelids had fluttered.
There was still hope.

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