Tag Archives: short fiction

Writing 101

My own writing is going – but very slowly. I’m struggling these days with tiredness and low motivation; ‘Web’ is still something that’s burning in me to complete, but I’m really finding it hard to see my way around some of the issues I’m encountering with the story. So, because you’ve all heard me whining about how ‘writing is hard’ and ‘plotting is complicated’, I really didn’t want to write another blog post like that. Instead, I’m going to take part in WordPress’s Daily Prompts exercise, a Writing 101 designed to help you hone your point of view.

Here’s the story seed: The neighbourhood has seen better days, but Mrs. Pauley has lived there since before anyone can remember. She raised a family of six boys, who’ve all grown up and moved away. Since Mr. Pauley died three months ago, she’d had no income. She’s fallen behind in the rent. The landlord, accompanied by the police, have come to evict Mrs. Pauley from the house she’s lived in for forty years. Write this scene from a 12-year-old observer’s point of view.

Image: bondedbuilders.com

Image: bondedbuilders.com

True Crime

Mom’s just left for the store when I start to hear weird noises across the street. She gave me strict (and I’m talking strict, like no-TV-for-a-month strict) instructions not to leave the house – but if there’s going to be some sort of shakedown, like, just outside my front door, I want to know about it.

She also told me not to eat the last popsicle, but hey. She can’t have everything her own way, right?

So I slide out onto the front porch, and there’s a ton of cars out in the street. I see flashing lights and guys with uniforms, and in the middle of it my neighbour, old Mrs Pauley, looking like a tiny piece of crumpled paper. They’re surrounding her like she’s some sort of FBI Most Wanted, and I can see her shaking from here. I wonder where Jo-jo is: I wouldn’t like anyone treating my mom like this, and Jo-jo – well. He’s a big guy. I don’t think the police, if that’s what these guys are, would be too thrilled to see him.

Maybe that’s why they’re doing this now, in the middle of the day, I think. Jo-jo’s the only Pauley boy left in town, and he’s got to be at work now. His brothers are scattered all over. I don’t remember ‘em, besides as big shadows and booming voices. They left years ago, before I was able to control my own drool. I don’t even know their names any more.

The Pauley’s’ve lived here forever. Like, way longer than my mom and me.

I’m trying to figure out what’s happening – is her house on fire? Is she in some sort of danger, or what? I don’t see any smoke, or anything, and I’m pretty sure she’s not, like, some sort of criminal on the run or whatever. Maybe Mr Pauley was, though? Maybe since he died a few months back his shady underworld has started to crumble, or something, and it’s all falling on his poor innocent wife…

But that’s stupid. Mr P. was awesome. I miss the old guy; he liked to tell jokes so bad that they should’ve come with a federal health warning, but because he laughed so hard you couldn’t help but join in. Mom said he’d fought in some war, but she never told me the details. I wish I’d asked him about it, while I had the chance.

One of the cop-guys is taking Mrs P. out of her house. There’s another one handing her a bag. I hear some weird banging, and then I see some other guy’s hammered a huge padlock right across Mrs P.’s front door. He slaps up a piece of paper, which somehow sticks itself to the peeling old wood, and I squint real hard: Eviction, I can just about read.

Eviction. No way!

I can’t move fast enough. All I can do is get to the porch steps and shout, and Mrs P. looks up. She smiles, but I can see she’s crying, and she raises a skinny old arm to wave at me. I blink real hard (something’s in my eye, y’know, makes it hard to see).

I wish, not for the first time, that we’d had money to get me a proper ramp. It’d take too long for me to go out through the back – by the time I got around, Mrs. P would be long gone. So, I watch as they bundle her into the back of a cop car, and I shout that I’ll get her some help, and the cops yell at me to get inside and mind my own, and I have to struggle real hard not to shout right back.

And as soon as they’ve all gone, I turn and wheel myself inside. The phone is technically out of bounds to me, too, but I’m sure this time Mom will understand.

‘Hello. Hello? Could you connect me to Miller Automotive, please? I need to speak with Jo-jo… I mean, Joseph Pauley. He works there. Thank you.’

I hear a click, and a buzz, and then I’m through.

Wednesday Write-In #79

This week’s words for CAKE.shortandsweet’s Wednesday Write-In were:

strawberry  ::  tag  ::  code  ::  lower reaches  ::  hideaway

Image: ceressecrets.com

Image: ceressecrets.com

The Summer of Forever

Burton’s Berry Farm was the biggest in the county. All the kids from miles around, me included, blagged summer jobs there; it was hard work for rubbish pay, but it beat pulling ice-cream cones for screaming kids down at the seaside, hands down. At least you could eat as you worked, and Burton’s fields were big enough that you could do a certain amount of loafing without being spotted.

The sun was high, a tag or two of light wispy cloud just barely flecking the perfect blue of the sky, the day Joey was put in my drill. The air smelled like dry earth, and the hsss of the irrigation system was almost enough to lull you into mindlessness. I was lying on my side, using the strawberry plants like a hideaway as I rummaged through their lower reaches in search of the fattest fruit. It didn’t taste as good, but it weighed more, and that was all I cared about.

‘Hey,’ I heard. A shadow fell over me. Squinting, I looked up.

‘Oh – hey,’ I saidmy head exploding with are you clean do you smell what’s your hair like did you brush your teeth this morning? He dropped to his knees beside me, making me squint as the sunlight flashed straight into my face. I gathered myself up, making space for him.

‘So. What’s the drill?’ he said, looking sideways at me, his eyebrows waggling. ‘Get it? Drill?’ He nudged me with the point of his elbow, shaking his long fringe out of his face. Is he speaking code, or something? I wondered, for a long, stupid minute, long enough for the smile to fall from his face and be replaced by awkward embarrassment.

‘Drill!’ I said, finally, bringing one dirt-encrusted hand up to my face. ‘Duh. Yeah. Good one.’ I laughed, but the moment had passed. I tried not to look at him as I showed him how to pick, demonstrating the quick twisting motion that helped the berry to roll softly into the palm of your hand.

‘Be careful not to just chuck them into the punnet,’ I said. ‘He checks for spoilage, and you don’t get paid for the mushy ones.’

‘Got it,’ he replied, setting to work. At least an hour passed in silence.

‘So, you’re in my maths class, yeah?’ His voice startled me.

‘Yeah?’ I said, shrugging, my heart pick-pocking in my neck.

‘Looking forward to final year?’ He squinted at me, his skin already reddening. His arms were bare, the sleeves of his t-shirt ripped off, raggedly, at the seam. I half-smiled at him.

‘Yeah, right,’ I said. ‘Hello, the big bad world.’

‘Tell me about it,’ he said, rolling his eyes. ‘What’s your plan? You know, for afterwards?’

‘I can’t even think about it,’ I said, trying not to hear my mother’s voice splitting my head in half. Get yourself down to that supermarket and apply for a job on the tills, do you hear me? It’s good work, and it’s steady work, and it’ll do you! Or are you too good for an honest job, you little madam?

‘You’re going to college though, aren’t you? You should, anyway,’ he said, turning back to the plants.

‘What?’ I propped myself up on one elbow. He was already pink across the cheeks, and a damp patch spread across his chest and down the hollow of his back. ‘Why d’you say that?’

‘Well – because! You’re good at English, right? You wrote that poem, for last year’s school magazine?’ I flushed, feeling sick.

‘You read it?’ I buried my face in the greenery.

‘It was good,’ he said.

‘Shut up.’

‘It was!‘ He chuckled.

‘Shut up anyway!’ I laughed, but the rolling sickness was still there, underneath. He was silent, then, but a smile lingered on his face.

After a while I stretched into the hollow I’d dug in the soil, where I kept my stash of water. I took a long swallow, and was thoughtlessly sealing it back up again when I noticed him glancing over. He has no hat, I thought. No sun-cream. No water.

‘Want some?’ I said, offering him the sun-warmed bottle.

‘Thanks,’ he said, flashing me a grin. He licked his lips and flicked his hair out of his face again as he reached for it. I watched as he raised it to his mouth, and watched his lips move as he drank his fill, and watched his freckling skin while he was distracted with other things.

‘Sorry,’ he said, handing it back to me mostly empty. ‘I took too much.’

‘Don’t worry about it,’ I said, lifting it to my own mouth again before the touch of his skin faded from the plastic.

My pickings for that day were way down, and they didn’t come back up again at all that long, hot summer. Turned out, the fields at Burton’s were the perfect place for loafing.

Wednesday Write-In #77

This week’s words for CAKE.shortandsweet’s Wednesday Write-In were:

warm beer :: ridicule :: double vision :: colt :: connect

This week, a voice and a scenario came straight into my head, and it’s something slightly different from my usual style – or so I think, at least. Let’s see if you agree.

Image: ubercomments.com

Image: ubercomments.com

The Last Drop

I’m laughing when I fall into the kitchen – someone shoved me, but I’ll never know who. The swinging door slaps smack against the panelboard wall and I tumble, bumpidibump, through it.

‘Hey!’ I shout, already half-up from my knee-bashed crouch. ‘Not cool!’ I get ready to turn around and go after them, but something makes me stop. Something catches me.

And it’s then that I see you, perched on the countertop beside the half-open fridge, and you see me too and there’s that look in your eye again, that look, the one you used to get. Before.

‘Warm beer,’ I mumble, nodding at the fridge, and the words come out all sticky and burning, like napalm.

‘Nothing worse,’ you say and your voice is as fresh and shocking as rain in winter despite the fact that I have heard it before, so many times, and in so many different colours.

‘Yeah.’ I pull myself up onto my feet again and make myself swear I will not trip and I yank my fingers through my stupid hair and I start walking toward you like I was planning, all this time, to do it anyway.

‘How’ve you been?’ you ask as I get close enough to close the fridge door. It meets with a soft moist little noise, a flumf sort of noise, one that gets me thinking about other stuff, the sort of stuff that gives me double vision as I imagine the things that could have happened between us but didn’t.

‘How’ve I been?’ I sound so stupid. ‘Fine, I guess. School. The usual. You?’

‘Same,’ you say, tossing back the last of your beer. You still drink the same brand, and your hair is still golden on top and brown around the back of your ears and down your neck and you still move your head like a colt does, like a coiled spring, like you’re ready but you don’t know what for.

‘How’re your folks?’ I clear my throat, trying not to look at you. I don’t know why I even asked about them, because the ridicule still burns like a blowtorch flame, and the tears are all still fresh in my mind and the anger will never die. I remember what they called me and even though they didn’t use the same words to talk about you, I know you suffered too in your own way. You’re in a different school now, one where you can just be you and not a part of us. You put your beer bottle down so gently that it barely makes a tink on the marble.

‘Folks are fine,’ you say, and when you look at me I happen to be looking at you and then our eyes get all mixed up and there’s no escape. There’s the old connect again, the one where I know my heart’s beating in time with your heart and our breathing falls into step like two old friends.

But then, a stumble.

‘I’ve – got to go,’ you say, and you slither down off the counter like a little kid, all elbows and urgency, and you blink and look away and it feels like I’m falling. ‘Enjoy the party, or whatever.’ And then you’re gone.

I pick up your beer bottle and there’s just a tiny dreg left in the bottom of it and so I put it to my lips and drain it, my eyes feeling like two blobs of molten glass and my nose starting to melt inside. I drink back the sour drop, all that’s left, and then I chuck the bottle with all the other empties, and it settles down clinkidiclink among them like a long-lost traveller arriving home, until I don’t know which one is ours any more.

When I get back outside to the party, someone tells me you’ve gone home early, and I pretend that I don’t even care, and everyone is fooled.

Maybe even me, for just long enough to get me through.



Wednesday Write-In #75

Well. So this has been somewhat of an unexpected morning, so far. I’ve finally managed to get something written for CAKE.shortandsweet’s Wednesday Write-In, however, as I’m sure you’ll all be delighted to know.

This week’s words were:

fly :: heatwave :: parchment :: beeswax :: boiling

And here’s what I did with ’em.

Image: sumosamtshirts.co.uk

Image: sumosamtshirts.co.uk

On A Long, Hot Summer Night

‘Oh my God,’ I panted. ‘I. Am. Boiling! I don’t know how you’re sticking it.’ Shelley, lying beside me in her brother’s heavy Thin Lizzy t-shirt, didn’t answer.

This heatwave was like nothing we’d ever known. A couple of days before, a guy from the end of our road had fried an egg on the bonnet of his car, just to see if he could. Talk had been flying around town about a kid who’d got heatstroke and who was now a foaming, raging lunatic locked up in a darkened bedroom. My own brother had managed to get himself stuck in a patch of melting tarmac like a fly in a spider’s web – but I had a feeling he’d done that on purpose.

‘Will we see if someone can bring us to the beach?’ I asked. ‘Maybe Joe, or one of the other lads?’

‘Ah, no,’ said Shelley, in a weird voice. ‘Joe wouldn’t be bothered with us, would he? He’s probably off with that girl from Ballyconnell – whatshername. You know the one.’

‘No. Who?’ I said, rolling onto my front, leaning over to examine my friend’s face. ‘I thought you and him were, you know.’ Shelley was lying flat out on her back, her eyes scrunched shut. Her cheeks were a faintly boiled pink, and her long blonde hair was spread out around her head like she was underwater. My own mousy brown locks were plastered to my skull, and every inch of me was doused with sweat. Shelley looked like she’d dropped out of the pages of a magazine by comparison, even with the stupid shirt on.

‘Yeah. Well.’ Shelley’s lips were drawn so tight that they were barely visible.

‘Shel, what’s up?’ I swished away a curious wasp, buzzing about beside her head.

‘Mind your own beeswax, Trish! Honestly. You’re as nosy.’ Shelley sat up, suddenly, and started gathering her stuff.

‘Here! I’m only asking. Are you all right?’

‘God, yeah. I’m grand. Not a bother on me,’ she spat, flinging her sun lotion into her string bag. She scrunched up the parchment paper that had been around our sandwiches, and shoved it in between her bottle of water and whatever book she’d brought with her. She was always reading something, usually stuff I’d never heard of. But then, that wouldn’t be hard.

‘You don’t sound like you’re grand,’ I said, propping myself up on my elbow.

‘Don’t worry yourself about it,’ she said, turning towards me. ‘You wouldn’t have a clue, anyway.’

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ I licked my lips, tasting the horrible mixture of sweat and suncream on my skin.

‘I mean – Jesus. I don’t know what I mean.’ She drew her legs up and wrapped her arms around them. Kissed golden by the sun, they made my limbs look like they were made out of toothpaste by comparison. ‘I mean, fellas don’t treat you they way they treat me.’

‘Yeah. Well, I know that.’ Fellas didn’t even look at me. They couldn’t keep their eyes off Shelley. Not just their eyes, either, most of the time.

‘I wish I was you, sometimes. It’d be great to have a bit of peace.’ A spike of pain drove itself through my chest as she said this. Yeah, being me is fantastic, I said to myself. Fat, ugly and alone. Bloody brilliant.

‘You’re such a cow, Shelley Malone,’ I said, hefting myself to my feet. ‘A stupid, selfish – ‘

‘Trish! God, I’m sorry. That’s not what I meant.’ Shelley looked up at me, squinting against the sun. Her face was blotchy, and her eyes were full of tears. My insides tied themselves in a knot as I looked down at her, sitting on the grass like a lost child.

‘Shel – look!’ I flopped back down beside her. ‘Just tell me, will you? I want to help.’ Really, I just wanted to know, but I didn’t tell her that. Shelley didn’t answer me for ages; she just sat there, breathing deeply, her face thrown back against the wide blue sky like she wanted to melt into it.

‘Well, unless you have money, or a way to get to England, you can’t help me,’ she said, her voice so quiet that I barely heard her. My heart skittered around while my brain absorbed her words, and I thought about the book in her bag. Her dreams of going to Dublin to study. The life she should’ve had.

‘Is it – is it Joe’s?’ I asked, putting my hand on her arm. ‘Does he know?’

‘Even if he did, d’you think he’d care?’

‘But there has to be something we can do, right? Isn’t there?’

‘Who’s ‘we’?’ she said, and at her words it felt like the sun had gone behind a cloud. I shivered, my skin prickling, as I looked at her. ‘There’s only one ‘we’ here, and it’s not me and you.’

She grabbed her bag and rose to her feet, and I watched her walk away. Part of me knew, even then, that she was never coming back.








Some Friday Flash

It’s Friday.

Thank goodness. I feel like this:

Image: bighugeminds.com

Image: bighugeminds.com

Perhaps it’s a consequence of it being the first full week back into the ‘norm’; the routine of early (pitch-dark) mornings, running around like a fly with an azure behind all day, and falling into a grateful stupor at night – well, once I’m finished reading ‘just another chapter!’ of course.

Or maybe I’m just getting old. That could be it, too.

Whatever the reason, I’m glad to see Friday’s smiling face. I’m also glad to have completed another ‘Flash! Friday’ challenge – I’ve posted my story below, just in case you’d like to throw your eye over it. It’s not the best piece of flash fiction in the world, nor the most original, but I don’t know. There’s something about it that I like. I have a soft spot for time travel stories at the best of times, and I could think of worse places to be stuck than early twentieth-century America, so in a way I’m a little jealous of my characters.

And, when you think about it, isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be?

So – here’s how it works. Every week, the lovely people at Flash! Friday select a prompt image, and also a prompt word, or words. This week the prompt words were ‘Time Travel’, and the image was this:

Image: commons.wikimedia.org

Image: commons.wikimedia.org

And here’s my wee story:

End of the Road

‘Wait. I don’t …’ The handheld panel illuminated Palmer’s frowning face. ‘Just a second.’

‘Haven’t got a second,’ I said, assessing our new surroundings. Vehicle, of sorts; windows grubby, warped. Unfiltered sunshine. Early twentieth? Maybe? How could we be so far off, again? As Palmer scanned her screen, I glanced behind. Wow. A tunnel carved through a giant tree spanned the road – it must have been our vector. Huh. Organic, again… The jalopy groaned and shuddered, knocking me out of my thoughts. I turned back around, trying to focus.

‘C’mon, Palmer,’ I muttered. ‘Quickly, before we’re seen.’

‘Yeah, yeah. Hang on.’ Palmer swiped the screen, decisively. She pressed ‘Engage.’


‘What’s wrong?’ I side-mouthed, trying to stay calm.

‘No way,’ she breathed. ‘Of course. Organic vectors. Missing targets by centuries…’


‘It’s the Network. The Timeshift itself.’ She swallowed, hard. ‘It’s collapsing.’

What?’ The car swerved.

‘How’s your twentieth-century patois?’ she grinned, sadly. ‘We’re going to be here a while.’


And, with that, I wish you a happy Friday and a peaceful, restful weekend. Read lots, write lots, and laugh as often as you can.


Wednesday Write-In #68

This week’s words for CAKE.shortandsweet’s Wednesday Write-In were:

man’s best friend :: diamond :: bulge :: mail :: stew

Image: thefenceline.co.uk

Image: thefenceline.co.uk

Operation Dognap

‘Come on, you little idiot,’ muttered Ade. ‘Look! Steak! Mm-mm!’ He waggled the drying lump of meat between the slats of the fence. All the dog did was bare his teeth and growl, very quietly. He didn’t move an inch from his post beside the back door, and his tiny, sparkling eyes glared out of the gloom.

‘Man’s best friend, my eye,’ whispered Dagger, getting to his feet.‘What do we do now then, eh?’

‘We go to Plan B, don’t we,’ sighed Ade. ‘The full Monty.’

‘The what?’ Dagger wrapped his arms around himself. ‘If you think I’m droppin’ my drawers in this weather – ‘

‘Nah, you twit,’ snapped Ade. ‘Think about it. Why are we here in the first place?’

‘To get the dog,’ mumbled Dagger, his thoughts skittering about behind his eyes like dead leaves on a winter breeze. ‘But ‘e isn’t playin’ ball, the little –‘

‘Yeah, yeah, all right. So if ‘e won’t come to us, what can we do?’

‘Go down the pub and forget about this whole thing.’

‘Most amusin’,’ said Ade, in a voice like freshly poured cement. ‘Nah. If ‘e won’t come to us, we go to ‘im. Right?’

‘By ‘we’, you mean me, don’tcha?’

‘Well, I ‘ardly mean myself. I am incapacitated, if you remember.’

‘A broken ankle is hardly incapacitated, mate,’ muttered Dagger, already eyeing the garden wall with suspicion.

‘I’d like to see you sayin’ that if it was your ankle in question. The man ‘as to pay for ‘is actions, yeah? And we’ve already decided –‘

‘Yeah, yeah – kidnap the mutt, leave a ransom note in ‘is mail box wrapped around a lump of meat, tell ‘im next time it’ll be the dog’s ‘ead, or whatever. Draw ‘im out. Get ‘im to face yer.’

‘Precisely,’ answered Ade. ‘Now. Let’s give this meat one more try, and if ‘e won’t take it, then it’s Operation Dognap. Right?’

‘Just get on with it,’ sighed Dagger, crouching once again. Ade was sprawled on the cold ground, his injured foot stuck out in front of him. He dangled the meat through the fence again, and this time the dog hopped forward, just once. His head cocked to one side.

‘Diamond,’ said Ade, smiling. ‘That’s it, little fella! Come on!’ The dog took one hesitant step, and then another. Ade widened his smile, sticking his fingers out as far as he could, dangling the meat closer and closer. Then, he flicked it forward. It landed on the cement ground with a faintly moist smack.

‘Now you’ve gone and done it!’ whispered Dagger. ‘If ‘e don’t eat it –‘

‘Look, my friend,’ replied Ade. ‘Is ‘e, or isn’t ‘e, wolfin’ it down?’ The dog leapt upon the steak like a hunter on his prey. Within seconds, he’d eaten nearly half the meat.

‘Just another minute now…’ said Ade, gripping the fence and pressing his eye to the gap.

‘Is ‘e – ‘e is! That dog’s swayin’ on ‘is paws!’ hissed Dagger.

‘Drugged meat, my friend,’ replied Ade. ‘Now, ‘op over and grab ‘im.’ Still muttering, Dagger scaled the wall. Lightly, he dropped into the garden and picked up the dog, and the remaining meat. Together they made a rather strange bulge under his jacket.

Ade hauled himself to his feet as Dagger let himself out of the garden.

‘Now, we’ll let your owner stew for a while, won’t we?’ said Ade, running his finger lightly over the unconscious dog’s head. ‘We’ll see how many walks ‘e takes you on with two broken ankles, yeah?’

The dog snored in reply as his captors hobbled off into the night.


Picking up the Pen

So, today I’m facing a disappointment. I’ve had another rejection, and this time it’s a big one. I’m dealing with it the only way I know how, which is by picking up the (metaphorical) pen and continuing with what I love best.

In that spirit, here’s a wee piece of flash fiction, which also happens to be my entry for Flash! Friday for this week. It’s a tiny bit risqué, but I hope I’ll be forgiven.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be off. I have a bit of picking myself up, dusting myself off and getting back on the horse to do… Happy Friday, and happy weekend.

Image: silentfilmlivemusic.blogspot.com

Image: silentfilmlivemusic.blogspot.com

A Moment on the Lips…

‘All right, Mr. Fairchild. Nearly finished.’

‘Doctor, may I ask – is it serious?’

‘Not sure, old chap. Let me just take another look at your skull. Hold still, now.’

‘My skull? But I thought -’

‘Hold still, Mr. Fairchild, please.’

‘I say! Are you quite sure you know what you’re doing?’

‘Mr. Fairchild, be reasonable. I am the preeminent authority on STDs in the country, after all.’

‘S… STDs? What on earth?’

‘Supernaturally Transmitted Diseases, sir.’

‘Of – of course. Yes. Supernatural, you say?’

‘Mmm. Just turn your head, there’s a good chap. Ah, yes – just as I thought. Definite lengthening of the earlobe, and if I’m not mistaken… Yes. A nascent protuberance.’

‘A what?’

‘You’re growing horns, Mr. Fairchild. Tell me, was it a faun? It normally is.’

‘It – what? It was just a kiss!’

‘Yes, yes. That’s what they all say. Why don’t you have a seat, old bean. You look done in.’

‘Good God. What shall I tell my wife?’

‘Oh, I should think it doesn’t matter. I give it about a week before you’re gambolling and eating grass.’

‘You can’t mean…’

‘I certainly do.’

‘Isn’t there –’

‘Anything I can do? Afraid not, old bean. Now. Will that be cash, or cheque?’



Wednesday Write-In #48

This week’s words for CAKE.shortandsweet’s Wednesday Write-In were:

toxic  ::  imprint  ::  fluorescent  ::  cream  ::  water pressure



The fluorescent tube flickered above our heads, its failing light mimicking my suddenly irregular heartbeat. I picked at a tear in the greasy, checkered tablecloth, its plastic surface giving way to a toxic-looking underlay. I loosened some of it with a questing fingernail, wondering if I could sneak some into his coffee without him noticing.

‘Could you have picked a worse place to tell me this?’ I asked. The crackling buzz of the dying light filled my brain, and he made no move to reply. He shifted in his chair and cleared his throat, and his eyes flicked up to the wall behind me.

The imprint of his wedding ring was still on his finger. The skin where it had been was shiny-looking and new, like a freshly healed wound.

‘Look,’ he began, ‘I’m sorry. I never meant for any of this to hurt you.’

‘If that was true,’ I said, ‘you wouldn’t have done it.’

‘So, we can sort out the house and stuff at a later date, yeah?’ The eyes again, flicking up to the wall. I wondered what I was keeping him from, where he’d rather be.

‘Do you even care about me? Did you ever care?’

‘D’you want another coffee? I wouldn’t get the cream this time, though. It looks a bit off.’ He met my eyes and gave me his little boy smile, the one which managed to be sweet and apologetic at the same time, the one that said ‘sorry, love – I forgot to get the newspaper,’ or ‘sorry, love, I didn’t get around to washing the car.’ Sorry, love – I couldn’t remember how to love you, so I just stopped.

‘Is there someone else? Is that it?’

‘So, how’s work, and everything?’ he asked, winding his fingers together, his knuckles whitening. ‘Anything happening with the new boss?’

‘Is she younger? Better looking? No, forget I asked. I don’t want to know.’

He took one last look at the clock.

‘Look, I should probably go, you know? I have to meet someone, in a while. Will we just…’ he took a heavy breath, biting his lip as he gazed at me. After a few minutes he blinked, shaking his head. ‘I’ll be in touch then, right? In a few days?’ His voice was bright, and he was already half on his feet.

I expected him to reach over and shake my hand, then. I genuinely, honest to God, thought that’s what he was going to do, like I was a client and this was a business meeting.

I stood up, carefully. The table surface seemed too far away as I reached down to grab my phone and keys; my hands didn’t belong to me. I felt like a helium balloon, full to bursting, rising up and up toward the cobwebbed ceiling. I clamped my mouth shut, because I felt it coming, like I was a pipe under the wrong pressure, a water main about to blow, a sewer threatening to overflow.

‘Are you…’ he began, but he looked at me and his words just dried up. I’d never seen his mouth hang open before – not for me, at least. I said nothing, and he said no more.

I kept my mouth shut all the way home, driving carefully and considerately; I kept it shut as I locked the car, unlocked the front door, and kicked off my shoes. I kept it shut as I walked upstairs to the bathroom, and as I wrenched the rings from my finger, and as I pulled out the plunger from our – my – designer wash-hand basin, and as I dropped them down the plughole one by one.

I kept it shut as I dropped our wedding photograph onto the tiled kitchen floor, and even as I smashed the china bride-and-groom figurine he’d bought me for our first anniversary, and as I cut my wedding dress into a mass of tiny, silken squares, fit for nothing.

By the time I finally opened my mouth again, there was nothing left to say.



Wednesday Write-In #47

This week’s words were:

charm  ::  inverted  ::  herb garden  ::  mistaken identity  ::  terrorist

Image: ownc.co.nz

Image: ownc.co.nz

The Spell

Alfie was a patch of salt-and-pepper fur amid the wildflowers. She watched from the kitchen window as he stalked a cabbage butterfly with the dedication of a lion hunting a wildebeest, smiling over her cooling cup of chamomile and ginger tea. With a grimace, she made herself swallow the last of it, telling herself it was packed full of health benefits; seconds later, she was standing in her herb garden, her feet planted in Mother Earth, her face turned to the benevolent sky, her arms spread wide in thanksgiving.

Today would be the day, she knew. She felt it.

A sudden feeling of warmth on the backs of her legs made her jump, but it was just the cat, slithering his way around her calves, looking for some appreciation. I’ve worked hard, hunting butterflies for you, she imagined him saying. You’re right, she answered him, on a soul level. You have worked hard. I appreciate you, little lion.

‘Well, you tiny terrorist,’ she murmured, bending to scratch him behind the ears, just as he liked. Thrumming, he flopped onto his back, exposing his tender belly for a rub. She watched him stretch, extending his claws in delight, as her ministrations hit the mark. ‘Putting on a charm offensive, now, are we?’ she said, with a laugh. Alfie could only yawn in response. Grinning, she gave him one final tickle under the chin, before rising to her feet once more. Affronted, Alfie flopped onto his belly and started cleaning his paws, pretending he was the one ignoring her.

‘Today’s a big day, Alfie,’ she told him. He ignored her. ‘Everything’s in place. He’ll be arriving today, I know it.’ Alfie just kept licking, his tiny red tongue sliding up first one paw, and then the other. ‘I can see you’re not interested,’ she said, watching him with affection. ‘But you should be. From today, you won’t be the only man around here. Just you wait!’ With a yowl, the cat leapt up and stalked away, tail held high in what looked like indignation. Stop putting human emotion on your animals, she told herself. Honour them as they are. She blessed Alfie’s retreating figure, and turned back to her garden, where everything was growing as it should.

Everything was perfect.

‘Hello?’ came a voice, out of the blue. A man’s voice. ‘I’m sorry, I… My name’s Joe, and I…’ She spun around to greet him, smiling, only for her words to be stolen right out of her throat. This man was not what she had ordered. Her smile died.

‘Are you… lost?’ She asked, impatient. ‘It’s just, I’m expecting someone, you see?’

‘I – um. I’m Joe, and… where am I?’ He murmured. She watched him, horrified. The look in his eye was right, and the dreamy tone of voice. He’s ensorcelled, she thought, with desperation. Oh, goddess!

She picked up her skirt and ran, the bells on her hem jingling as she hurried toward her Spell. She could have sworn aloud when she saw it, hanging there in a mess of twigs and string, her carefully chosen pattern completely destroyed. The whole thing was inverted, for a start, knocked sideways as though taken by a strong gust of wind. Several of the most important feathers – the ones for height, and hair, and youth, oh no! – lay on the ground, powerless. A hole was ripped right through the centre. Deflated, she fell to her knees, trying to pick up the strewn pieces she’d worked so hard on. Spun in a circle for eternal love, wound with my own hair for neverending passion… It had been her best work, by far, and now it was ruined. Something caught her eye as she searched the ground for lost pieces of Spell, something small and sinuous and covered in fur… Something which was pacing back and forth, watching her with a beady gaze. A knowing gaze.

‘Alfie!’ she hissed, suddenly realising what must have happened. ‘Did you do this?’

The cat yawned at her, his eyes glinting. She knew she wasn’t imagining the grin on his tiny face, but before she could reach out to grab his collar he was gone, like lightning, lost amid the tall grass.

‘Miss?’ came Joe’s voice again, from above her. ‘Can you please help me? I’m… I don’t know why I’m here…’

She straightened up, full of purpose once more. All she needed was one lock of his hair to cast a new Spell, and this poor fool could be on his way, none the wiser. She was pretty sure she had some Lethe-water left inside – just the thing. She fixed the hapless man with a bright, businesslike smile, and he did his best to return it, through a haze of fear and bedazzlement.

‘I’m so sorry, Joe – was it Joe?’ He barely had a chance to nod. ‘This has all been a case of mistaken identity, I’m afraid. Would you care for a cup of chamomile and ginger tea? Yes? Come on inside. This way, good boy.’

As she led the man into her kitchen, she wondered whether she could bring herself to turn Alfie into a frog, just until this new Spell was completed. That’d teach him to meddle… No sooner had the thought crossed her mind than, somewhere out in the garden, a loud feline wail sounded, cutting off rather more quickly than expected. She heaved in a deep breath, her lips fixed in a grim, determined line. Still got it, she thought, with satisfaction.




Wednesday Write-In #43

This week’s words are:

dilate :: avalanche :: stamp :: pedal :: change of address

This week, I’m doing something a little different. I’ve written five very short pieces of flash, each one built around – but not using – one prompt word, connected to one another only by time.

07:21, Freetown

The boy listened, his heart hammering, as his boss examined the find. He kept his eyes low: the first thought across his mind when he’d seen the gleam in his sifting tray had been take it! Take it and run! If he showed even a glint of this… His gaze fell on his boss’s machete, and he wasn’t able to think any more.

‘Good, good,’ the boss said, suddenly. His hand, huge and iron-hard, jumped up, his arm like a striking snake; the boy flinched, but the hand fell, gently, warmly, on his shoulder. He looked up at the boss’s face, surprised. The man’s eyes were big, the pupils wide and dark like the tunnels into the mine.

With a shove, he was put back to work. The boy allowed his terror to flow away with the river as he returned to his perch. Today was not the day.

17:21, Brisbane

‘Wow, honey! Look at you!‘ She straightened up, straining against her fresh stitches, at the sound of his voice.

‘Hi, Leonard,’ she murmured. The flowers in his fist were already making her eyes water.

‘How’s our girl?’ he whispered, crossing to the crib. When he’d finished cooing, he added his new flowers to all his old flowers. All the cards were from him, too, she knew. Not even a phonecall from Mum.

She looked down at her hands, miles below her, stranded in the snow. Her head suddenly felt like a rock tumbling down the mountain of her body, bringing everything with it; she couldn’t breathe as she collapsed into herself. She clutched the sheets, like that could help. Cold seeped out of every pore.

Nobody knows I’m here. Nobody. How’s Mum going to find me?

Did you say something, hon?’ he said, looking at her with a frozen eye.

00:21 a.m., Las Vegas

She was, he realised, following him. She drifted in his wake, her perfume like a noose around his neck. She met his eye, finally, and the glint in her gaze wasn’t his imagination.

She was far from being the only slender, diamanté-clad beauty in the room, but she was the only one who wanted him.

He’d tried to speak to her once or twice, but all she’d done was grin, slowly, and lower her eyes to the gaming table. Midnight saw him desperate.

‘Come,’ she finally whispered, brushing against him as she passed. She paused, glancing over her shoulder, as they reached the exit; when she saw him following, she smiled.

In the dark alley outside, his head met the ground before he could think. The last thing he saw was a boot coming for his face, and he thought he heard a woman’s laugh as he went under.

09:21 a.m., Frankfurt

‘Come on!’ snapped Frau Schenk, her irritation boiling over. ‘Your mother doesn’t pay me all this money to have you play like a strangled cat!’

Amalie sighed, replacing her fingers on the keys. The notes floated on the page before her, breaking free from their moorings as she watched; her fingers felt like twigs, dried and brittle and inflexible. She wondered if she rubbed her hands together hard enough, if she’d be able to set herself on fire. Maybe the piano would burn, as well, and old Schenk along with it. And mama, too.

Two stanzas in, she felt Schenk’s stick across her knees.

‘Your feet! Move them!’ The woman smacked at the sheet music. ‘Can’t you read?’

Amalie tasted blood in her mouth as she stepped on sostenuto, wishing Schenk’s fingers were trapped beneath it. She crushed it to the floor, and took the whipping she knew was coming.

10:21 a.m., Jerusalem

‘Shalom, Keren! How are you today?’ The postmistress’s smile was bright, if a little too full of teeth.

‘Morning, Mrs. Levy.’ Now that it was time to ask for what she wanted, Keren’s throat was dry as a desert. She placed her hands on the counter. Her fingers trembled, and she clenched them together, tightly.

‘And how is your lovely husband?’ Mrs. Levy continued, one eye on the queue behind Keren, and the other on the clock.

‘He’s…’ Keren began. She tripped over her words, and coughed. ‘Look, Mrs. Levy, I need a form.’

‘Yes?’ replied the postmistress, already poised and ready. ‘A visa, perhaps?’

‘No. No, I’m…’ she heaved a breath. ‘I’m leaving. I’m moving away.’

‘Oh! Just you?’ asked Mrs. Levy, her hand already on the appropriate document. She stamped it and slid it through, keeping her eyes on Keren’s face.

‘Just me,’ Keren replied. ‘Just me.’