Sunday, 27 June 2021

And the Flood abates....

That's it for this year's FlashFlood!  Huge thanks again to our writers, our readers, our editors, and everyone who submitted work.  This was the biggest Flood ever, and we're grateful to everyone who took part in making it a success.

Our next submission call will be in Spring 2022.  We've posted tentative submission dates on our submission guidelines, though these are subject to change.  You can also keep an eye on the National Flash Fiction Day website for updates on NFFD 2022, including submission calls for the ongoing novella-in-flash competition and 2022 anthology and microfiction competition submissions.

Thank you again and happy National Flash Fiction Day...see you in 2022!

Wandsworth Carers Series: 'Turmeric and saffron' by Anita

This piece is part of our 2021 Community Flash series, showcasing new writing by the Wandsworth Carers Centre Writers Group. You can read more about the background to this project in our introduction to this series, find out more about Wandsworth Carers Centre on their website, and find them on Twitter @CarerWandeworth.

 

Turmeric and saffron

by Anita



Nana is cooking. The mustard seeds pop like tiny drum-beats, her cracked wooden spoon clatters, she hums to herself, something rhythmic and alien with an insistent downbeat. She’s directing me with jerks of her spoon- find the turmeric, no that’s saffron, where’s the fresh garlic?

Turmeric smells of earth, and tastes like mud-pies eaten in the sun. Saffron smells of dying flowers, and tastes of oily-eggy-expensiveness. The daal is bleaching itself, we add turmeric to bring the golden yellow back, a sunrise caught in aluminium. The steam from lifting the lid floods my face with heat and my hair with tiny creases. My ear lobes sweat. The spice mix to finish everything off is dry-frying in my mother’s heavy pan, the one that was a present from her doctor friend and that I’ve never used before. There’s a moment, a single moment, when the cumin, the curry leaves, the fennel seeds release their sweetness, when they turn from woody to aromatic and they need to be tipped into the daal straight away. Nana can sense this moment with her eyes shut, from across the room. I miss it from right next to the cooker, awkwardly twisted around the handle. 

The pan soaks in the sink, emitting burnt wisps from cremated seasonings, there are more curry leaves in a smaller, lighter pan. Nana hands me her spoon and teaches me the words to her song, and I stumble over Hindi while we laugh from our bellies.

*

Previously published in Bangor Lit.

Wandsworth Carers Series: 'Outlook' by Cheryl

This piece is part of our 2021 Community Flash series, showcasing new writing by the Wandsworth Carers Centre Writers Group. You can read more about the background to this project in our introduction to this series, find out more about Wandsworth Carers Centre on their website, and find them on Twitter @CarerWandeworth.

 

Outlook
by Cheryl


As I gaze aimlessly through my window my vision is interrupted by tall slender but powerful huddles

A clear indication of the next stage of nature’s striking clock notifying the jubilant approach of the summer months by the bursting of tightly wrapped buds awaking and stretching into symbols of beauty, elegance, strength, resilience arising from the supportive beginnings of its ‘stems’, its ‘green leaves’, guarded by sharp obstacles providing protection and growth.

Blooms in a vibrancy of colour and direction gliding tall with their fragrant sweet smell

The jubilant arrival of summer, our half year marker to embrace & review with gratitude and thankfulness, the burst of enchanting, nourished buds into open roses

Obstacles of life symbolised by the thorns, as we push through thorny experiences; growth with elegance and grace is possible and endless.

Though paths may be thorny, take time to nourish and nurture, it is attainable and worth every little effort.  Times may hold tight like a delicate bud…but with each season brings a new spray of hope, a new beginning.

Wandsworth Carers Series: 'Hope' by Aleen

This piece is part of our 2021 Community Flash series, showcasing new writing by the Wandsworth Carers Centre Writers Group. You can read more about the background to this project in our introduction to this series, find out more about Wandsworth Carers Centre on their website, and find them on Twitter @CarerWandeworth.

 

Hope
by Aleen


Hope is a sparkling silver veil
it's scent like spring wet grass
it's the sweet tang of Spanish lime
the sound of the Mbira singing out to the ancestors

Hope appears as the crescent moon
and feels like rain drops exploding on the back of my hand

Hope  lives.

Wandsworth Carers Series: 'A Life Changing Experience' by Avril

This piece is part of our 2021 Community Flash series, showcasing new writing by the Wandsworth Carers Centre Writers Group. You can read more about the background to this project in our introduction to this series, find out more about Wandsworth Carers Centre on their website, and find them on Twitter @CarerWandeworth.

 

A Life Changing Experience
by Avril


I can remember my life being unpacked from a brown cardboard box, unwrapped by noisy people, dusted, priced and put on a shop shelf where people manhandled me until I was bought and thought would be nurtured by someone who really wanted me.  Until, I was wrapped again and placed in a carrier bag. I felt unloved for a while, just a rigid frame with an uncompromising border and no-one dusting me. People forgot about me, put me in an insignificant corner waiting for the ‘right’ photograph. However realising I can be dismantled with care and a favourite photograph put in place, I become flexible with different photographs inside me discovering different emotions and feelings. All of a sudden I’m alive, handled with love and displayed in an important place. 

Wandsworth Carers Series: 'My Favourite Place' by Margaret

This piece is part of our 2021 Community Flash series, showcasing new writing by the Wandsworth Carers Centre Writers Group. You can read more about the background to this project in our introduction to this series, find out more about Wandsworth Carers Centre on their website, and find them on Twitter @CarerWandeworth.

 

My Favourite Place
by Margaret

One of my favourite places to walk is the tow path at Richmond. Being near the river makes me feel peaceful. I enjoy watching the wildlife ducks, geese, swans and sometimes even a heron.

At weekends the tow path is very busy with cyclists, walkers, joggers, people of every kind.

There is an ice cream van parked there which offers many  ice cream treats.

At full tide the river is busy with many types of boats sailing  by. If you are a rower, you can hire  a boat to take on the river. Alternatively, there are cruises running from Richmond to many destinations.

The atmosphere of the tow path makes me feel good, lifts my spirits. Yes Richmond by the river is the place for me!

Wandsworth Carers Series: 'Untitled' by Nicola

This piece is part of our 2021 Community Flash series, showcasing new writing by the Wandsworth Carers Centre Writers Group. You can read more about the background to this project in our introduction to this series, find out more about Wandsworth Carers Centre on their website, and find them on Twitter @CarerWandeworth.

 

Untitled
by Nicola


People all over the world had hopes of a hero, a champion to beat back the bad. Such a person would have the love of the people, but could anybody be heroic? Could someone, big or small, look danger in its threatening eyes and have certified courage to defeat it? Such duties are drawn to people with immense bravery and dominant prowess, no matter what they looked like. These said duties had entwined with the fates of four young women, who were on a path to destiny and would be tested in trials, and many would there be. The group of childhood friends were Earth’s last hope of liberation and survival, but could they handle the pressure was a question yet to be answered. . ..

*


Fae, Althea, Eva-Rose and Willow ran frantically for their lives from the horrid-smelling beasts from planet Algon, the Algonites. Deep-blue, hideous aliens who had inhabited Earth and had claimed it for their own for the past fifteen years. The Algonites had gone from world-to-world conquering, leaving havoc and chaos in their wake.

“Girls, step on it!” Fae exclaimed as she quickly looked behind her.

The fragrance of fear had clung to them, it all could be seen on their faces. As the girls pulled up to a clearing, they stopped to catch their ragged breaths. The Air rushed past them, urging them to continue their escape. Patches of the Earth were incinerated by the riverbed as the stillness of the Water in the river, was calmly waiting for an unnatural disturbance. Out of nowhere a blue bolt of lightning shot past them and set a dustbin on Fire, which made the friends to jump in unison and turn to their dismay.

“Shit, what are we going to do now?” Asked a worried Althea.

As they gazed upon the mass of blue beasts, they saw a larger one among them. It stood out from the crowd and looked to be five men strong. The indigo sea of Algonites parted down the middle, to leave way for their chief to pass through and advanced towards the girls. As it came closer, its features started to become clearer, the most noticeable aspect was on the right side of its face. A scar stretched from the side of its eye, down to the bottom of its neck. It stopped at the front of its troops; rooted, unmoving and in charge, determined to accomplish one goal; to spread fear and destruction. The Algonite Chief scanned the four girls with his eyes of pure obsidian, raised its thick, bulky arm out and held a ball of electric. An evil smirk formed on its deformed face and exposed its jagged edged teeth that were as sharp as knives. The girls looked at each other as they held hands instinctively and closed their eyes, praying internally for some sort of miracle. It lunged the charged ball at them as their insignias shone brightly. They shielded themselves....

Wandsworth Carers Series: 'Two Six-Word Stories by Shahnaaz'

This piece is part of our 2021 Community Flash series, showcasing new writing by the Wandsworth Carers Centre Writers Group. You can read more about the background to this project in our introduction to this series, find out more about Wandsworth Carers Centre on their website, and find them on Twitter @CarerWandeworth.

 

Two Six-Word Stories
by Shahnaaz


1.

Man suited and booted caught stealing

 

2.

Workers strike creates chaos is London

Wandsworth Carers Series: 'A Misguided Decision' by Jo

This piece is part of our 2021 Community Flash series, showcasing new writing by the Wandsworth Carers Centre Writers Group. You can read more about the background to this project in our introduction to this series, find out more about Wandsworth Carers Centre on their website, and find them on Twitter @CarerWandeworth.

 

A Misguided Decision
by Jo

 

It was sultry, it was steamy, it was mid-afternoon and she had to get away. He was hounding her. He was following her every move.

She knew she was not appropriately dressed for the place she was about to enter, she was appropriately dressed for the climate. As she ran, her blue, cotton strappy dress gave her body and bare shoulders some light relief.

She was running to get away from him and find refuge, anywhere her feet and frightened body would take her and this was the best place she could find.

She entered the church. It was cool, dark and cavernous; the sudden contrast in temperature was an immediate comfort. She sat down on one of the pews and gently wept to herself. She needed some time to think and to feel safe. While she prayed for guidance and a miracle she heard the chatter behind her. She was too weary to look round but she was aware that there was a group of women a few benches behind her, their voices augmenting. They seemed to be complaining about something.

It started to feel uncomfortable, the female voices were truly unhappy. It was not her language and she struggled to grasp fully their angry whispers. She had an eerie feeling it was all about her.

The priest came and sat next to her. He was young, younger than her. She turned to face him.

“Signorina” He said. “Is this the way you come to church?”

She wasn’t sure she was hearing it right. She sat there motionless, her eyes damp, her cheeks streaked, her head full of fluids.

“Do you think you are dressed in the right way to come to church?” He continued.

Unable to speak she thought for a moment about what was in her heart, and she felt pain, she felt pain and disappointment. A solitary tear trickled down her face and rested on the breast of her sundress.

Suddenly, he felt moved.

“Do you think God really cares how I am dressed?” She asked him, in a composed voice. “I came here because I needed refuge, I needed to come here.... where else is there to go? If this offends you and your congregation, I am sorry.”

She got up and walked out. He followed her.

“Please Signorina, stop, come back.” She could have kept going, fled one more time but she stopped and faced him, anger now taking over her sadness.

“I am the sorry one” He said. “Please come back in, you are right, God does not care how you are dressed, it does not matter.” He looked distraught and she could feel his compassion.

“What about them?” She motioned.

“Don’t worry about them.” He said.

She followed him back inside and he guided her to a pew. He gave her space and time and then he asked her if he could call the senior priest to come and support her.

 

Wandsworth Carers Series: 'Goodbye my love' by Megan

This piece is part of our 2021 Community Flash series, showcasing new writing by the Wandsworth Carers Centre Writers Group. You can read more about the background to this project in our introduction to this series, find out more about Wandsworth Carers Centre on their website, and find them on Twitter @CarerWandeworth.


Goodbye my love
by Megan

 

Goodbye my love

I know not when we will embrace once more.

Time is like a number floating in the wind sometimes fast sometimes slow.  

Goodbye my love.

Goodbye my love, I'm counting the time, like a slow waltz wishing it not to end, your breath a soft breeze on my cheek.

As you whisper goodbye my love.

I lie here without movement limbs no longer strong but stone like at my side, my heart still beat blood flowing fast, a shell within a shell.

So as I lie here as they come to say goodbye.

My eyes can only say goodbye my love as  the light slowly fades.


Goodbye
 

Wandsworth Carers Series: 'My visits to “Little Poland” in Penley, North Wales' by Barbara

This piece is part of our 2021 Community Flash series, showcasing new writing by the Wandsworth Carers Centre Writers Group. You can read more about the background to this project in our introduction to this series, find out more about Wandsworth Carers Centre on their website, and find them on Twitter @CarerWandeworth.

 

My visits to “Little Poland” in Penley, North Wales
by Barbara

After the war, in August 1946, detachments of the Polish Resettlement Corps arrived from Italy, with former Polish Army field hospitals in tow.  One of the hospitals made its home in an empty hospital camp, which had previously been a large American Army Hospital located near the village of Penley, on the border of England and North Wales in an area known as Maelor.  It became known as the Penley Polish Hospital No.3.

Penley became a cheerful camp consisting of brilliant white barracks of different sizes with tidy lawns and shrubs in between them.  The barracks were linked up by footpaths with neat borders of colourful flowers.  It was even referred to by the BBC as the “Polish Wonderland” and to the Poles it was known as “Little Poland”.  The hospital wards were located to one side in the large barracks, and the staff with their families were housed in small barracks a short distance from the hospital proper.  

The camp had its own chapel, nursery, social club with a full-size snooker table, shop, canteen, theatre and a well-equipped cinema with authentic cinema seats. The same Polish cultural and religious traditions were observed as in other Polish camps that were scattered around Great Britain.

My husband and I made frequent trips to Penley to visit my two sons and their families.  We both lived and worked at another Polish field hospital around six miles away, where I was a ward-sister, and my husband was an administrator in the general office.  Whenever we had a day off, we would cycle to Penley to spend time with the family.  I would bake a cake to take with us and made sure I had sweets for the children.  On arrival, we were always welcomed by a group of excited children running towards us, and it gave me great pleasure to see the smiling faces of my three grandchildren amongst them.

I particularly enjoyed the children’s company and, on a nice day, I would sit in a chair outside one of the barracks with my grandchildren and their friends sitting on the grass around me.  I would give the children sweets to pass around and would tell them fairy tales, Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, or Snow White, but sometimes I would make up my own stories.  I would also talk about my life in Poland before the war and the charity work I was involved in, as well as how I used to heal injured animals.  The children would listen in silence and, when I finished, they would bombard me with questions.  These sessions brought back fond memories of my own childhood during happier times in Poland before the war.

Sometimes, in late summer, I would go with the children to the nearby woods, where we would forage for wild mushrooms and blackberries.  We would sing traditional Polish songs along the way.  An abundance of wild camomile grew in the pastures surrounding the camp and the children helped me to pick this special herb, which I would then dry out and use for medicinal purposes.  The children particularly enjoyed the occasional picnic I managed to organise for them.  We spent many happy moments together surrounded by nature, and the children would later tell their parents about their adventures.

Penley Polish Hospital and camp eventually closed down and the family moved away, but my memories of it lived on.  I always felt grateful for the special experiences that I had with the children, and frequently reminisced about them in later life.

Wandsworth Carers Series: 'Untitled' by Jaycee

This piece is part of our 2021 Community Flash series, showcasing new writing by the Wandsworth Carers Centre Writers Group. You can read more about the background to this project in our introduction to this series, find out more about Wandsworth Carers Centre on their website, and find them on Twitter @CarerWandeworth.

 

Untitled
by Jaycee


The faint waft of sweet roasted popcorn and fried onions teases my nostrils, a temporary distraction to the heavy sense of dread anchored in the pit of my stomach. My mind scrambles for logic, chastising my decision to embark on such a high-risk act of insanity. The commitment is now marked in stone, there’s no turning back. A rush of adrenaline charges through my extremities. my gums thirsty for saliva, my head giddy with fear. I take a shaky breath in, a last ditched attempt steady and compose myself, to no avail.

Propelled to ninety degrees in a split second, I’m rudely jolted into an altered state of gravity. Launched into a frenzied attack of thrusting, discombobulated, jerking body convulsions. Frozen in fear, yet recklessly shaken like a floppy ragdoll.  A cacophony of high-pitched shrieks and screams merge with the sound of mechanical clanking and clinking of the metal rails accompanying the twists and turns as I dip and swerve into submission.

I feel the dryness of my breath hitting the back of my throat. My eyes wide and startled into paralysis, heart pounding, knuckles clenched and clinging on for dear life to the metal rod pressing into my ribs. A blur of topsy turvy horizons, twisted distortions, contours, colours and shapes flash across my eyes. A momentary flashback to a childhood memory, recalling the panic and helplessness of losing my footing and tumbling uncontrollably down a hill.

As the momentum shifts to a lower gear, I snatch a glimpse of wondrous far-reaching landscapes. I gracefully surrender to the final offerings of inclines and undulations, safe in the knowledge that the end is near. A welcome wave of relief floods my body, as I touch down and am reunited with the stability of firm terrain. Rejoicing in the sweetness of surviving this ordeal intact and unscathed. Terrifying and yet dangerously thrilling, I’m left craving for more.

An Introduction to Today's Flash Series: Wandsworth Carers Centre Writers Group

This year, for National Flash Fiction Day's Community Flash series, we're honoured to showcase the work of the writers at the Wandsworth Carers Centre Writers Group.  Over the course of the day, we'll bring you nine different pieces, one on the hour from 10am to 8pm.  But first, here is a little bit about Wandsworth Carers Centre and its Writing Group....

Wandsworth Carers Centre is a registered charity and limited company that has been providing support to unpaid Carers in Wandsworth since 1995. It is part of the Carers Trust network.

The vision for the Centre is a society where Carers are recognised and valued for their contribution and have choice and control that enables them to care, to stay healthy and to lead fulfilled lives.

A Carer is someone, who without payment, provides help and support to a partner, child, relative, friend or neighbour, who could not manage without their help.  This could be due to age, physical or mental illness, addiction or disability.  The term Carer should not be confused with a care-worker, or care assistant, who received payment for looking after someone.

The writers group aims to encourage beginner and intermediate writers to explore writing as form of finding time for themselves, and of catharsis and self-expression. The group write fiction, non-fiction and poetry, about their experiences of caring and about anything else they would like to write about.

You can find out more at the Wandsworth Carers Centre website and follow them on Twitter @CarerWandeworth.


Saturday, 26 June 2021

'Suspended Animation' by Rachel Swabey

Two days into lockdown, the children burst in, eyes shining, talking over each other.

“We found something, in the woods!”

“We rescued it. It would have DIED!”

“Shh! Don’t give it away!”

In unison: “Come and see!”

Giggling, they grab me with grubby hands and drag me into the garden. I follow, swept up in their commotion. Behind the greenhouse they squat around a grey bucket full of sludge and gaze up.

“Frogspawn!”

As spring melts into summer, we take small daily pilgrimages to our bucket pond, sometimes together, chattering, sometimes alone and silent. We peer into murky water, searching for life, for change, for hope.

We draw life cycle diagrams to show their teachers, with arrows and labels.

In real life, things happen slowly. Each day seems much like the day before, but somehow, as we watch but without us seeing, jelly blobs turn to black darting specks propelled by tiny tails. Then the specks grow fatter, skin mottling brown and green.

They’re the size of a fingernail now, bumps where limbs will be, and strong, fat tails. What marvels they’ve managed. But we know more is coming, that the great metamorphosis—from small, silent swimming thing to great ribbiting hopper, with arms, legs, eyes, lungs—still awaits us. We’re only two-thirds of the way around the circle. One more arrow to go.

Every day, they lurk in the bottom of the bucket, stopping my heart with their stillness. Then they dart up, break the surface, and I breathe again. Small hands clutch at my sleeve, wide eyes search for mine, to see their anticipation reflected, for reassurance that, if we wait patiently, in our own suspended animation, we’ll get to watch the great change we yearn for unfold, to see life win, to witness an ordinary miracle.

'Alternate Ending' by Kati Bumbera

1.

She slips out of the palace one night while the prince is asleep, dreaming of someone else.

It's a long walk to town and her feet hurt. But the night is warm and she can read the stars to find her way.

After all, it's not her first journey into the unknown.


2.

She finds a job as a hydrotherapist at a spa.

Her patients are stiff and graceless in the pool. It hurts them to move in the water, but they need it to ease a deeper pain. One that you feel at home, in your own element, until it chases you away.

She doesn't talk much, but her patients like her.


3.

At lunchtime, she sits on a bench.

Girls walk by, flicking their long hair and linking arms. She feels a pang of sadness.

But tears dry quickly in the heat. Summer lifts her up like rising tide. Tramway bells ring and flowers unfurl. She remembers being young, longing for all this from a distance.

She was told she needed love to grow a soul. It made sense then. But not here, not where everything grows just by living under the sun.


4.

"Your next patient's here", says the receptionist. "Oh, and this came."

A wedding invitation. Silver names glint on ivory paper, like a knife's blade catching light.

She tosses the card on her desk.

She hardly notices the breeze that lifts it up and carries it away, far from the city, out to the ocean, where it falls into the waves and dissolves into foam.

'From the Sound' by Audrey Niven

Seaweed lulls the posts of the pier, wafting this way and that with the tides.  It strokes one side then the other as days turn to night, turns to day, paying no mind to the limpets’ cling.  Boots tread above it, up and down the pier, bringing lobster creels and post-bags, boxes of toilet paper and tins from the mainland.  Boats churn their engines spitting oil, stirring up silt and tiny fishes, chasing the peace away.  

When the wind gets up and the full moon casts its power over the Sound, there are storms.  Rain lashes the waves as they crest and crash, crest and crash, hurling themselves upwards, fragmenting in spray and falling back down to the deepening fury.  

On a night such as that, boots ran through the streets, the copper bell, green with age, clanging its reveille.

Come save us! Come now!


Lifeboatmen and women braved its summons as they always do.  They ran to their mission full knowing it would one day be their turn, or their son’s, or a stranger from a far shore in need.  

When they brought back the bodies and laid them on the beach, the oldest lifeboatman wandered away – turning his back, the others thought. But he walked to the post on the pier where the old bell hung and rang it.  He rang it and rang it until the whole village came, at sun-up, on the rising tide.  

And they stood together before the newsmen came, before the headlines were written, before the outrage rose like a wave, achieving nothing, and keened for the dead as if they were their own.

'The Year of Presto Chang-o' by Lynn Mundell

After a hot soak in the tub, her head evaporates in the bathroom mirror. Wiping her hand across the surface, there’s her face, small as her Benjamin Bunny dinner plate. Poof. Gone again. Coins are pulled from her ears and vanish in her brother’s hand. He swallows Mother’s silky scarves, all nine of them! It’s easy to make things go away, but harder to get them back, he tells her. Their turtle, Daltry, is placed under the top hat, which then slowly moves across the kitchen floor. Her brother curses. During a car ride to the beach, a cloud looks exactly like a giant moth—before the sky rearranges and it’s just a cloud again. In the back seat they sleep as the station wagon swerves. When she awakens days later, there is only one of them where an instant ago, surely, there had been two.

'1967' by Jayne Martin

The bank had taken our land, but my grandpa swore they would not take our house. It was near dawn when they hitched it up and we hit the road. Cows bellowed their good-byes. We took the back roads, me and grandpa sitting up front with the truck driver. Me waving at the people bending their heads near all the way ‘round at the sight of the old house groaning past. I could tell we were out of Kansas when the smell of freshly tilled soil vanished and the air turned brown from factory smoke. There didn’t seem to be any place to put our house and I wondered how well Grandpa had thought this out. He said we were taking it to Graceland, that Elvis would let us put it on his place, that they’d been friends in the Army. He’d called Elvis “son.” A fly buzzed around our heads in the cab. I opened the window and it flew back toward Kansas.

'The Three Porta-migos' by Sonora Hills

You can see them from a mile away, abandoned on the side of the main road into town.

They look like three, expectant children waiting for their mamas to come get them.

Three months, and not a word’s been said about when they’ll be picked up again. Da says they’re an eyesore—a mark of humanity in a long stretch of road where there’s always been nothing. “Who the hell wants three porta potties starin’ at them on their way to work every morning? Somebody should do somethin’.”

Jamie from across the road says he took a piss in one once. I dunno whether to believe him. He has the guts, yeah, but it must’ve took some commitment to hike out two miles just to pee in a yellow box.

“Which one,” I asked, though—too curious to stay quiet.

His grey eyes twinkled under his shock of ginger hair. “The middle un,” he said.

Da says it was an accident—man who drives them around got mixed up and put them there instead of the county fairground. Just never came back to fix his mistake.

Jamie says they got left because the truck driver died—truck flipped over and the potties spiralled through the air to land perfectly intact, right-way up. When they cleaned the truck away they left the potties like a gravestone.

However they got there, they look real fancy. Not just any old plastic porta potties—they look metal, the kind that have little sinks inside so you can wash your hands after, instead of walking around with sticky fingers.

I wonder if they’ll ever get taken away, or if they’ll just sit there, marking the half-way point to town, until the rain makes them bleed rust and they fall apart into nothing.

'Lights' by Susan Borgersen

Green
She couldn’t wear green, not even the darkest forest green. “Not allowed. Our religion,” her mother always said

Settling for blue for the dance was exactly that—settling. Georgia knew blue gave her a moustache; she’d had her ‘colours’ done at a party where they drape coloured scarves under your chin and everyone says what they thought. Green came up tops.

Sighing, she slipped on the blue dress, knowing no-one would look at a girl with a moustache, knowing she’d be invisible when the lights dimmed and pairings happened. But someone did notice.

Red
Sasha saw red every time she heard the upset at Georgia’s next door. Furniture crashing. Cries for help. Sasha felt helpless. The guy was a brute. Sasha watched him on Sundays washing his pickup—radio blaring—singing along out of tune—hairy belly hanging over his belt. The morning after the worst night of screaming broke with a plum red sky. Sasha recalled the old rhyme: red sky in the morning sailors warning, and knew she should do something. So she called Kenny.

Amber
Kenny’s the guy who danced with Sasha back when. He’d remarked on Sasha’s gentleness, told her he’d always be there for her. It was her amber light, her ‘go with caution’ signal. Kenny—one of the good guys.

Kenny came. Parked his white van across Georgia’s driveway, blocking the brute’s pickup. Sasha knew it was dodgy but loved him for it while she dialled 911.

Sasha and Kenny visited Georgia in hospital. They took her golden yellow roses tied with a scarlet ribbon. She wore mint green pyjamas in watered silk. Kenny said. “They make your eyes look turquoise.” Sasha said, “They give you a lovely peaches and cream complexion.”

'Whiskers' by Timothy Boudreau

 A Norelco electric razor, black plastic, with three floating silver heads. Jacob’s dad disassembled it, set the three heads on a paper towel, lifted each between forefinger and thumb to sweep out the leftover beard trimmings with a tiny brush, gently, lovingly, giving each silver head a final inspection, turning it toward the light, a puff of breath, before restoring them in the razor.
    “Can I try it Dad, please?”
    “You don’t have any whiskers yet Jacob.”
    When Jacob’s mother bought his father a new razor for Christmas—this one had an attachment for nose and ear hair—his dad gave Jacob the old one. “Here, you can save it until you need it,” giving him a look, “shouldn’t be more than a couple years.”
    


Jacob was nearly eighteen when the first random wispy strands of black sprouted out of his baby-smooth face. When his mom and stepdad were out, he sneaked the Norelco into the bathroom and plugged it in. Its buzz was louder than he expected, but as he passed it from chin to throat to cheek in slow circles the sensation was warm, a comfort. It still smelled like his dad—a combination of soap and aftershave, his dad’s pheromones. Jacob brought it back to his bedroom, and there before his mom and stepdad got home he cleaned it, sitting on his bed with paper towels and the little brush, zipping the razor back in its case before he heard the door swing open and the sickening sound of his stepdad calling to him up the stairs, “Hey Jake I brought your mother back safe and sound!” acting like he owned the place.

'Better Like That' by Alva Holland

‘Better like this? Or like this? Or are they the same?’

The doctor repeats this question so many times, my ears hurt more than my eyes. The model human eyeball perched on a rotating metal plinth in the corner of the examination room glares at me with each gyration. I blink and replace the stare with a disco ball – that suspended rotating glitter ball reflecting our pitiful efforts to dance to The Bay City Rollers’ ‘Bye-Bye Baby.’

The memories come flooding in.

You wore a pink halter-neck top over purple bell-bottoms. You told me your friend was more attractive, but it was only ever you. With multi-coloured beams catapulting across your face, I could tell your eyes were blue, the same blue you passed on to four of our six children.

Ben’s favourite colour was blue. His only request for Christmas four years running was a blue plasma ball lamp which you still switch on in his room, lying empty, preserved in his memory – the blue room with four lamps.

‘Better like this? Or like this? Or are they the same?’

It was better like that. Better when we were young when the music switched to a slow number and you stayed. Better when you accepted my ring, when we danced again under a disco ball I hooked up in the living room a month after Ben was born. Better when I could see your smile. Better when blue was a happy colour.

You sit quietly in your chair while the doctor explains.

‘To be honest, macular degeneration is such a slow-moving disease, I doubt he will go blind before…well, you know, before…taking his age into account.’

Doc faltered. I felt your hand squeeze mine.

‘Let’s go,’ you say. ‘There’s a disco ball waiting.’

Better like that.
 

---

First published by ZeroFlash in 2017.

 

'Freewriting à la Tesco' by Teika Marija Smits

It’s like when a nurse, needle in hand, instructs you not to tense. You can’t help it. You tense. Or if someone tells you to not think about a baby. There it is – whoosh! – peaches-heavy in your arms, its marvelling eyes begging you to really, properly conjure it into existence.

“Just write what you want,” says the creative writing tutor, her voice like a promise. “Write… naturally.”

I can’t do it. I tense. My mind flits from Salman Rushdie to Jane Austen; Octavia Butler to Dr. Seuss.

As the teacher drifts by me and notes my stubbornly blank page, the constipated look on my face, she suggests I try freewriting. “You know, anything, dear, anything.”

I wince. Anything is a pigeon pecking at a keyboard, hoping for the seed of a haiku. Anything is a slick of grass vomited up by my cat; green runes glued to sheets of A4. I go home, disappointed. Wonder what else I could’ve spent my £25 on.

It’s only when I’m writing the shopping list (you know, not tense) that I find my voice. Oranges are fat as Jupiter; Marmite, bottled grief. Eggs are crushed dreams masquerading as symbols of life. Milk – tears shed by breasts which will never be suckled.


'The Anthropology Major' by Rashi Rohatgi

The ice on Sita’s gloved palms achieved an unexpected friction with the ice on the street as she fell, and Sita thought about that: unexpected friction. When she’d come back from her semester abroad, she’d moved into the rented room of a girl off to Senegal for the spring, and though her housemates were perfectly civil nursing students she hoped were now being feted by their hometowns she had not forged ties. It was the perfect time, she’d imagined, to bring back men without pause. Sita found that the easiest time to do so was when the men were already in her living room: the health sciences students were constantly in her living room, drinking their way through the weekend, bopping to music even she understood wouldn’t be cool after graduation, trying to score a pretty nurse but, failing that, a pretty nurse’s housemate. The problem with pre-meds and they were always pre-meds, the boys who had the confidence to flirt with a stranger – was that they always knew someone else Indian. How could they compliment her when that other girl, the one with hair just as long and silken, eyes just as deep, lips just as luscious, was a curve-wrecking thorn in their side? An anthro major, they’d repeat, your parents must be cool. One, a redhead named Micah: or else ashamed.

“Yes, but ” she realized she couldn’t quite bear to say what she wanted to say, that though she was sleeping with strangers in an attempt to wholly inhabit the present, she knew she would never be here now in the way he’d desire, for she was always also that other Indian girl, who also inhabited the now, and whose experience of shame seemed to require her. They’d fallen into bed together. She’d never felt smooth since.

'Preparedness' by Janet Olearski

If she had not prepared for the storm, the consequences would have been disastrous… deckchairs blown into nearby fields, tiles swept from the porch roof, garden furniture splintered into pieces of wood ready for the next bonfire, plant pots smashed, flowers butchered. Her life disrupted. A loss of order.

So, she did prepare for the storm, folding the deckchairs, securing tiles, shifting and stacking garden furniture, putting pots and flowers in places of safety.

But, since the storm never came, she moved everything back. Though for the life of her, where it all originally went, she could scarce remember.

'Cello on the Bus' by Lucy C Hooft

 I take my cello on the bus. The case smacks my shin. I flap her up the step, clattering the floor and crash my cello on the bus.

Eyes roll, heads swerve. Why are you carrying that around? Why are you laden down with something so cumbersome, in public?
Why are you taking up space meant for another?

The bus fills with people, bodies push, bruise, more mouths breathing, more people taking up space meant for another.

I lie her down, flattening her fluted back to the trembling floor. I prise her open, grasping the catches, identifying cracks, fractures, flares, exposing the fragile pulse within.

Do we have to listen? Do you have to intrude on our world with your hurt and your turbulent heart?

I spike the floor, her body fits mine like a single piece. Her curved waist, her pointed hips and shoulders, her slender neck peers across my shoulder.

I play my cello on the bus.

Metallic strings - taut like that moment - mark the flesh of my fingertips. Stretched-out sinews resound through vermiculated wood.

I play her melody, curling thoughts into feelings, released. My pull of bow on strings sends vibrations soaring into every crowded ear, ringing chords in every heart and giving life to her loss. A whisper, a quiet weeping swells to full-throated chorus, her voice breaks through in plucky, striking, quivering vibrato.

I bear my loss, in public.

I catch a smile, a heart lifted out of the hurry to work, the ear-buds, phone-bowed necks and now - here. Here in the bus, hearing her song.

I fill the missing space meant for another. And I am the one she always knew I could be. The one who plays her cello on the bus.

'Reasons I can never go back to your parents’ house after you’ve gone' by Madeline Anthes

  1. Your sister. She’s nice, but sometimes too nice, and asks me lots of questions. Like, inappropriate ones about joints and diseases and things a 12-year-old shouldn’t ask about. She listens to that loud clashing music and sits with her door cracked so she can watch me walk by and trap me in the hallways.

  2. Your parents. They’re quiet and make me feel itchy and unsettled. They watch TV and laugh at the corny jokes. They never change the channel. They package leftovers for me in a Tupperware container and tell me not to bother bringing it back and thank me profusely when I do. They treat me like they’ve known me forever. Like I’m part of the family.

  3. The smell. It smells like dinner. Like roasted chicken and steamed broccoli. It smells like your mom’s candles and your dad’s bourbon and your sister’s roll-on glitter stick. It smells like the dog was out in a puddle and there’s Febreze on the couch. It smells nothing like you.

  4. You. The way your parents look at me and see you and it’s always a little wistful, like if they just asked nicely I could conjure you. The way your baby pictures and scribble-nonsense child drawings and communion photos and band posters are still all over the walls. The way you’re splattered everywhere but the house is completely void of you at the same time, and the fullness and emptiness confuses me and leaves me searching for a shred of you somewhere, anywhere, so that it can just make sense. The way I inhale in a breath in your parents’ house and it feels like I’m stealing a bit of air that may have once touched you. I want to deserve your air. I don’t know if I do. 

'Colour within Memories and Souvenirs' by Stephanie Percival

Thirty...thirty-one...

You learnt a lot from your mother. How to be clean...how to conform...keep things hidden. You’re kneeling on the floor sorting through the bottom drawer of the final chest. Her house is empty, except for sharp echoes, whispering through clean, cold air... ‘pick that up, you’re so messy.’

Forty... Folded squares of white linen rough against your fingers. Tea towels collected over years. You weren’t sure where she’d stashed them. There’s a hint of polish from the wood surface and it’s still shiny as if no dust would dare linger in your mother’s house.

She hated mess. You can’t imagine the clammy business of your mother having sex with your dad. He’d left when you were tiny. His voice is what you remember. A deep dark voice which sparked with anger as he shouted. Your mother hadn’t talked about him. You presumed he’d taken up too much space, cluttering the house with his big shoes and garage working overalls. Leaving rainbow petrol smears on mother’s skin.

Then it was just you and her. You were not a tidy child; limbs gangling, knocking against things. Hair; cork screw curls, untameable.

You unfold one of the tea towels. A crackle of static as it reveals a picture of Scarborough. You couldn’t go on the beach; Sand gets everywhere. Instead, you walked the prom, watched the donkeys and other kids flying kites.

Every year a souvenir was purchased. Then hidden away. Enclosing the happy brightness of the day within their pictures. Folding them secretly inside.

As more cloths unfurl, primary colours dance in the still air, like butterflies unshackled from cocoons.

Crying is a messy emotion, not to be encouraged. But you can’t stop your tears.

These tea towels won’t go to the charity shop. You’ll take them home and use them.

Debut Flash: 'Three Perceptions of the Winter Soup Kitchen at the Olde Church on the Hill' by Sarah Barnett

Mrs Cadaver-Jones edges towards the Church; it looms large and imposing. She isn’t fooled by its promise of sanctuary. ‘Pah!’ she spits the word into her woollen jumper; it reverberates through the moth holes, sour breath brushing her skin. A growl in her stomach reminds her hot soup beckons. The do-gooder will serve her, try to lure her into the flock with his smiles. He’ll fail. She will accept the bed on such a bitter night while watching her brittle back. Creak left, creak right, as fractured dreams come.

Gabriel Hope approaches the Church – a haven of promise, safety, warmth.  A holy embrace to ward off fear. A hot meal, a warm bed, away from the piercing icicle of winter. His eyes are warm with gratitude as the angel serves him his broth. This night, sleep will come without fear; or dread of thieves in the dark; or a kick from a privileged soul spouting cruel, venomous drivel. Cocooned in the blanket, he will dream of his salvation, knowing it will come as his prayers grow in strength.

Morticia North assesses the spire, which stabs a blackened sky. The old church beckons her into its cold vaults, where spirits whisper through the creaking eaves. Dusty, faded cushions offer no comfort on the pews. The man stirs the cauldron, slops the witches’ brew into the plastic bowl. She clutches it like a Dickensian orphan, drinks deep. The potion works its spell, almost enough to quell the fear. She edges to the makeshift bed and hopes the blanket protects from the apparitions that haunt the crevices. Yet the ghouls creep under the hessian and infiltrate her dreams.

In the chill morning, the three emerge; they see the crocuses have broken through the ice. Soon Spring will cast them out again.

'Fidelity' by Jacqui Pack

We scattered Jasper’s ashes at the top of Butser Hill. Two handfuls each. The wind took him. Four clouds of grief spread out across an otherwise empty sky and drifted over the A3. We cried – for what we’d lost as well as in thanks for the years that we’d shared – then returned to the car that still had his bed in the back.

The next day I opened the front door to find four small mounds of ash on the step. After drying my eyes, I swept the ashes into the urn and drove to the car park at Eastney. The beach was deserted. I said a short prayer under my breath and emptied the urn out over the sea. The foamy waves Jasper had so often waded through welcomed him back, drawing their old friend far into The Solent for one final swim.

It rained hard that night. In the morning, when I opened the blind, a thin circle of ash was lying over the top of the pond.

The third time we laid Jasper to rest we didn’t leave home. Alongside the hedge that borders our garden he basks in sunlight until mid-afternoon and, when the moon lights the sky, he’s content to remain in his favourite spot. Faithfully watching over us all as he sleeps.

 

 

---

First published by Fictive Dream, 10th February 2021.

'Nude Radish Harvest' by Patience Mackarness

People would ask why we were friends, you so out-there, me not. I’d say Yin and Yang; It sounded cool, and saved me thinking of a real answer.

You came to my house often when we were kids. I didn’t like visiting yours, a once-grand villa that had a soggy sofa in the garden, sprouting mould and fungus like an ecological art installation. Inside were cobwebs, stained carpets, bits of plaster that fell from the walls with a whump and a puff of dust. There was never much in the fridge, so we’d forage in cupboards; we found potted shrimps, and anchovies that made us gag. Your parents never told us off. When I asked my mum why, she said they were probably busy. My dad said, "They're bloody hippies, that's what they are."

I didn’t tell my parents I’d seen your dad through the smeared kitchen window, pulling up radishes with no clothes on. His bumcrack was full of ginger hairs. I didn't wait for him to turn round, though afterwards I sort of wished I had.

I envied you a little back then, because your parents let you stay out after dark and run around barefoot. Later, everything you did was something I wasn't allowed to do. Or had never thought of doing. Or wanted to, but lacked the nerve.

At a seventeenth birthday party, we all got drunk-stoned and played Truth Or Dare. You took our dares, mooning passers-by through the window, swigging from every bottle in the drinks cabinet while we counted down from sixty.  But then you chose Truth, and someone asked if you ever wished you could just be normal. We laughed, assuming you'd go Fuck no! and belch or fart or spray out a mouthful of beer.  

But you said, "Every day."

'Muscle Memory' by Sara Magdy Amin

Halfway through the sentence, he paused. A juvenile burn scorched his ears.

Your address, sir?

Ever since he came here his muscles have been training for their new life. His throat was adopting new hymns, ones that didn’t amplify boisterously over the wailing of street sellers and the blares of tuk-tuks through the alleyways of Muiz Street. No minarets called his eyes heavenward to a prosperity. His hands were learning new ways to be known.  He rearranged the letters that made his name, uncurled their bodies, removed their embellishments, reincarnated himself as A-h-m-e-d on the dotted line.

His tongue would abandon its guttural memory, once thickened by maternal emulation and invocations of the divine.

274 Kingston Street

Here, his entire body would eventually learn to yield to its new milieu, but his lips would retain the memory of that day they were shaded under palm trees, saturated with dates and honey, and her hair cascaded over her shoulders for the first time. His lips would never again seal quite intensely at “buh”, puff gently at “ha” and draw infinitely at “kuh”, and he would learn to say “I love you” only in a quick and short-lived part of the lips.

'Because the World Always Turns and People Always Forget' by Catherine Ogston

The man they found by the highway was ordinary enough until they opened him up. Perhaps they thought his body would reveal answers, or his name running through him like the letters of a seaside town in a piece of rock. But his heart was a cabbage, a maze of ridges pressed inside cool layered leaves. His lungs were broccoli trees; miniatures of vibrant green, thick-trunked with slender branches. Where his kidneys should have been there were two tiny horses, like children’s toys, ready to gallop around his torso.

When they cut into his veins the sky went dark. Birds shrieked in confusion and people rushed out of their houses wondering if the end had come. I sat on the old swing under the apple tree and let the last of the blossom drift down onto my cheeks like ash from a burning volcano. I knew it was only temporary. Soon they would sew him up so he would look like an ordinary man again. The birds would quieten and the sunlight would swing back on its curve from the darkness. And by the time the last stitch was in place everyone would forget about the man with the pale green heart of folds upon folds, and those minute ponies which used to race up and down the track of his spine.

'School's Out' by Christopher P. Mooney

Textbooks and board pens have been abandoned in favour of cocktail cans and party hats; the tables where students sat only minutes ago cast aside for a makeshift dancefloor. The teacher’s desk remains untouched so as not to disturb the lines of coke that have found a temporary home in the grooves and scratches of decades-old graffiti.

This marks the end of another year, the academic one, and it isn’t long until she and I find ourselves in the department storeroom, class sets of Shakespeare and Plath, even Dickens, towering in judgement on all sides as our tongues, ironically wordless, explore new meaning. I push hard, mouth hungry – our kisses and thrusts punctuated by breathy silences – knowing my behaviour is grammatically incorrect but determined to write an exciting chapter that will get me through the family summer.

'The Half-Way House of Happy Endings' by Angela Readman

The lounge is littered with smashed glass and baskets. I sit picking slipper bits from my soles. We flick through magazines, heroines in withdrawal, twitching for bluebirds to land in our palms.

Someone stretches, I look away. Don’t say I’ve noticed how some lay on the couch. Flat-out, fingers locked for flowers. I know how it is. Don’t comment if anyone fills her unmade bed with squirrels or sleeps late. There’s no setting an alarm to Kiss Me Until I Don’t look Dead.

The clocks are muffled with socks. The 12th bong makes some of us run.

‘But couldn’t I...’ I hold a blonde dying to dust. Rule 2: Dusters and brooms must be locked in the closet. It’s forbidden to put anything away. I relapsed that way, most of us have. Totally godmothered.

‘I am not a princess’, we chant in a circle, finger combing hair. Hairbrushes and apples are a source of flashbacks. Mirrors are contraband, but, of course, some sneak in.

We hear them heckle from suitcases. Calling how pretty we are, contesting who’s the fairest in the house. La-la-la I hum over my name. It’s important not to get dragged in.

It took so long to learn to put on a shirt without swallows holding our shoulders in the air. It seemed we’d never realise the rats eating our peaches wouldn’t let us ride them into horsedom and not all old women were trying to kill us.

The bears raking through our tampons and nail clippings did not want us to kiss them.

The scars are glossed with purple lipstick. I hammer tiaras into spiked wands whilst women practise cackling, holding up scores for how villainous they can sound. If we could only stop falling asleep in strange places, licking frogs, smiling.


'this feminine position' by Barbara Renel

autumn. someone has left a box of cooking apples on her doorstep. maybe it was him. she fills the sink with cold water and tips the apples in. apple bobbing. snap apples. some she will stew. some she will bake. she will eat – all of them. they will be delicious. she’s eaten apples before. her swollen belly is testament to that.

she chooses the apples for baking. she has her mother’s corer and sinks it into the firm flesh, a mist of apple perfume. she twists drawing out each centre, like a cork, arranges the prepared apples in the dish, fills each hollow with honey, cinnamon, adds a little water. she stands sideways to the sink, her belly an obstruction, and pares the other apples for stewing, slices them into the pan, adds honey, cinnamon, a little water.

maybe it was him. over her, under her, inside her, beside her. FUCK HIM. her swollen belly is testament to that.

cooked apples, soft creamy flesh infused with honey sweetness, warm aromatic cinnamon, intense, seductive, irresistible. she will eat – all of them. they will be delicious. she’s eaten apples before.

so she knows.



---

First published in Bath Flash fiction Anthology 1 (AdHoc Fiction, 2017).

Title from Roche, Margaret A. This Feminine Position, Nurds, The Roches (album 1980)

Debut Flash: 'Power and Control' by Michelle Garrett

I press my finger to the mirror to see if there’s a double reflection. When I was a child, someone told me this is how you could tell if it was a two-way mirror.

I use my earring as a toothpick to show Marissa how to get rid of the sesame seed in her teeth. ‘But be careful of dropping it in the sink,’ I say. We inspect our teeth in the mirror, and I remember the dream where I was brushing my teeth, and they crumbled out of my mouth into the sink like pebbles, embarrassing everyone in my dream so much they had to look away.

I can’t remember if a double reflection of your fingertip, or an absence of the double reflection, means it’s a two-way mirror. I imagine a man in a blue uniform sitting in a plastic chair on the other side of the mirror, waiting to see if I do something wrong. We all have secret nightmares.

A small pile of shit is in the middle of the toilet floor when we get to work. Everyone steps around it. I feel bad that I’m leaving it for the cleaners to deal with, even though it isn’t mine. A week later, another pile of shit appears. Marissa Googles why people do this and discovers it is about power and control. She says we should put a hidden camera behind the mirror. I’m silent. I know it’s not a serious suggestion but still.

Someone has put a bowl of potpourri scented with coconut on the shelf above the sink. An employee I don’t know washes her hands next to me and we exchange looks in the mirror over the South Seas teal and aqua woodchips. I leave without thanking her for the effort.

'Transfiguration' by Chris Drew

‘Pigeon.’

That’s what my neighbours said to me when I opened the front door, which I hadn’t done for three weeks. Maybe four. I didn’t know their names. We just called them Laurel and Hardy.

He was tall, bald. Eyes narrowed behind rimless spectacles. Everything about her was short: her stature, her hair. Even her temper. I heard her voice echoing through the wall most nights, ghost-like. She held a blue plastic washing basket with a white towel folded inside.

‘In your back garden,’ she said.

‘Pardon?’ I said.

‘Broken wing,’ said Hardy.

I stood at the threshold and tried to think of an excuse. I’m ill. Allergic. The place is a mess (which was, in fact, true).

‘We won’t be long,’ said Laurel, pushing past me and waddling into the living room. ‘I like your wallpaper.’

‘Thanks,’ I said.

My wife picked it out. Silver against blue. She loved the way it sparkled, how the pattern moved in the sunlight.

Outside, the pigeon flailed around in the long grass. Hardy chased it behind the shed while Laurel supervised from the patio.

The shed was her photography studio. Pictures covered the walls. Insects, stones, weeds. There is beauty in everything, she said, if you look close enough.

Hardy cornered the bird between a chipped terracotta pot and the sagging panel fence. He threw the towel over the bird and lifted it gently into the basket. When he let go, it didn’t move.

‘Is it dead?’ I said.

‘Shock,’ said Laurel. ‘We’ll take it to the vet.’

She smiled and squeezed my arm.

‘It’ll be OK,’ she said.

After they’d gone, I lay down in the cool grass and watched the clouds drift overhead, silver against blue, their shapes transforming, something becoming nothing becoming something again, even more beautiful than before.

'Balance' by Barbara Diggs

Queenie is eight when her mother makes her walk up and down the white-stone stairs of the city library with two borrowed books on her head. If Queenie falters and they tumble to the ground, she has to brave the steel in her mother’s face, then do it twice more. She feels people staring, maybe laughing, and her face flames in secret beneath her skin. She climbs, eyes straight ahead, lifting each sneakered foot with deliberation, as if wearing glass slippers.

Queenie becomes an expert in the weight of books, for she has to read aloud whatever she chooses. Fantasies are easiest to balance, although sometimes harder to read. Weeknights, she sits at the rust-flaked kitchen table, swinging one leg, reading about winged girls, glittering lands, as her mother reheats mac and cheese before heading to the evening shift at the diner. Alone in the apartment, Queenie’s voice rattles like dice.

Queenie feels ashamed of her relief when her mom loses her job. Cutbacks. The word slices her tongue; tastes of metal. Her mother starts reading to her at dinnertime, but makes her eat with a book on her head.

Queenie is almost nine when they move into their car, a dented Ford Fiesta, the pale red of an unripe cherry. Her mother sleeps in front; Queenie has the back to herself. They scrub their underwear in the tiny sinks at McDonald’s. Her mother wears her steel face; says this ain’t but a moment Queenie you hear me. They continue the library ritual, adding more books until Queenie can glide up and down the stairs balancing a stack of seven. At night, Queenie dreams she can fly with a tower of books on her head. She sleeps very still, chin lifted.

'Lift Off' by Cherry Potts

Not the blast and roar of Cape Canaveral, but a gentle uncoupling, a pushing away, a metallic hush – it reminds her of the swimming pool when she was seven, hooking her feet under the bar and stretching back into the water, tensing muscles, then relaxing as the water holds her. Her hearing dips, echoes and blurs. Her body remembers bending knees, remembers pushing away, the water caressing as her hands stretch up and back and make contact – not with the choppy surface of the municipal pool, but the overhead switches.

So, yes, just the gentle pushing away into the intimacy of space. Listening with all her heart to that soft hushing whoom – the hum and tick of machinery about her, and Earth drifting beneath/above/beyond the reach of her stretching fingers, beyond the reach of her hearing, baffled as it is by the many voices serving up data, dreams, good wishes – gradually fading as she drifts out of reach of those static-filled whispers, into radio silence, and a greater silence still. Her fingers uncurl and she floats, weightless, the scent of chlorine in her nose, and the slap of water still ringing in her ears.

'Breadwinner' by Hibah Shabkhez

They cast him out, the superfluous one, the un-needed one, the one whose crime it was to be one-too-many. He spent the days sighing under swishing trees, mourning his way along the length of rivers and lakes, reading taunts into the cackling of the geese. His were all the words and the only words in that vast, vast expanse; but supremacy must have a smarting audience, or the exultation ebbs limply away. Blind to the lucence of moon and star, deaf to the whispers of water and leaf, he yearned for laughter and tears warmer and more other than the echoes of his own. Then came the day when he was he was cast out no more, for he was needed: to work, to earn, to grind and be ground. 'Cast me out again,' he says now, looking each morning at the swishing trees through the wire-mesh on his narrow, steel-barred window, smiling to hear the geese cackle back their old mockeries. Now he remembers only the beauty and peace he scarcely saw then, and above all, the freedom, the glorious, glorious freedom! He closes his eyes resolutely against all memory of the yawning abyss, the near-hell of absolute solitude, lest it find him here too. Loves, fears, and longings, holding him together and pulling him apart, all stem from the same shadows now, from the same exile that seems sometimes never to have existed and sometimes never to have ended. 'Oh, cast me out again!', he says. But he dares not say it aloud.

'A Command Performance for The Only Audience that Matters' by Teresa Douglas

Sweet sixteen, high school lunch, five precise bites of pizza. Ignore the luscious smell of cheese and sauce. All our appetites must be delicate. Stomachs in, backs straight. Everyday a performance for a hostile crowd. Their eyes glide past if we’re perfect.

Free forties, sprinklers shooting water like fireworks into sizzling summer air. We kick off shoes, laughing, toes gripping wet grass as we run through unexpected water with abandon.

Our tween-aged daughters stand horrified on the sidewalk, Mom people are looking at you!

But the water is a sweet release. And we teach the only audience that matters.

'You’re Lookin’ at Country' by April Bradley

Long Hollow Pike stretches out far and away, curving into the dream of night until it vanishes around our high school across the street, reminding us of its homecoming-float mythologies. Lucy and I collect bricks from the demolished ruin of our old elementary school under an August moonbow. We hear the playground creek ripple and then snow falls on a pile of coal waiting to be fed into the furnace. Beth wears red and white gingham on the first day of first grade. Sweet little dogs trot along her red barrettes, and it’s all I can do not to touch them. The hallway outside the classroom slopes downwards so when the tornado alarms blare, we try not to somersault into one another like balls of 7-year-old children rolling away in the wind. Jason and I find a pumpkin on the playground by the creek and carve it up with his pocketknife on the floor of our 3rdgrade classroom. Honeysuckle grows around the hickory trees by the swings and I think about drinking the nectar while we wait for our paddling. We sing This Land Is Your Land in music class and songs from Coal Miner’s Daughter in the auditorium. We sell Girl Scout Cookies and take ballet lessons and gymnastics and tap. We wear jeans under dresses, play soccer, twirl batons, and mix-up Barbies with Star Wars action figures. Lucy and I and head back towards Nashville, drive though the gentle switch-backs of the Cumberland River basin, and I whisper-sing to myself, my arms winging through the air as first dates and suicides/rapes and car races/proms and overdoses, and the sweetnesses and disasters keep pace with us, and I’m signing that refrain over and over as if Loretta Lynn wrote a song just for me.

My Perfect Daughter' by Mileva Anastasiadou

My perfect daughter is out at night, dancing, drinking and she is safe, safe, for men won’t harm her, won’t touch her, unless she wants them to, she’s not afraid, when she forgets herself, when she has fun, she calls and says, I’ll be late mom, and she comes home, I make her breakfast, she says, I went there and there and there, and I did that and that and that and I hear her stories, I live the fun, as if I were there too, I smell the joy, the youth, the innocence.

My perfect daughter is on the streets, walking, marching, she’s strong, confident, she won’t back down, she raises her voice, shouts loud, she shouts for me, for everybody, and she is safe, safe, not beaten, not bruised, when she comes home, I make her dinner, she says, we went on and on and on and we claimed that and that and that and I hear her stories, I live the excitement, as if I were there too, I smell the urge, the strength, the power.

My perfect daughter complains sometimes, she’s not that perfect, not all the time, she says I expect too much, from her, from life, but in the end she’s fine with me, she’s safe, safe, she says, thanks mom, and she is grateful I didn’t let her come here, and I’m happy, happy she lives only inside my head.

Debut Flash: 'Strained Relations' by Gina Thayer

My mother went extinct on the second of October, a balmy autumn morning, the leaves contemplating their fall. I should have salvaged her cells, regrown them. I could have stocked a theme park. Tyrannosaurus Mom.

Or maybe, I should have built a time machine, turned back the decades to fix it all. I could erase the shouting, the lies, the shattered china. Maybe, if I went back far enough, I wouldn't turn into a meteor.

'Untameable' by Zahirra Dayal

Sundays smelled like burnt hair because that was when you had your hair tamed. First, your aunt took your wet hair and marshalled it with crocodile-teeth hair grips. Then, she released each small section from the mouth of the crocodile and aimed the Philips blow dryer like a gun at close range.
     The stretching and pulling squinted your eyes. You heard the sizzling of your singed curls. The burnt smell floated into your nose, flaring your nostrils. You sat frozen to the stool for the hour it took to wage battle with Mother Nature. After your hair was blow dried, you studied the flattened version of yourself in the oval mirror of her oak dressing table, feeling the distance widen between you and the girl in the mirror.
      Your aunt patted your brown hair with the coconut oil spread like butter on her palms. ‘That’s better!’
     You felt the edge of your freedom but didn’t move, suppressing the raging restlessness that flowed through you. She divided your straightened hair into two, rolled it into four balls which she fixed with triangular pins that dug into your scalp. Finally, she put a brown stocking over your head to seal in the straightness, and instructed you not to remove it. She was terrified that rain, humidity or any form of invisible moisture would undo all of her work in an instant; so precarious is the nature of blow dried hair.
     ‘Be careful with it or it will turn frizzy again’ she said before you broke free.
     
Now that you own your hair and your Sundays, you wash it and leave it to dry naturally. It grows bigger as the moisture evaporates. A tangled mass of brown curls rises to frame your face. The woman in the mirror smiles back.

 

---

First published by Briefly Zine (Issue 4, March 2021).

'Derek's New Head' by S. A. Greene

When Derek came home from work he was wearing a big white box over his head. I didn’t say anything. I thought, he probably knows he’s got a box over his head, and I got on with making his supper. But when the sausages were ready, he told me he wasn’t hungry

    What if I cut them up for you? Make them smaller?

    I don’t care if you make them smaller. I can’t eat them.

Well, I hoped it was one of his phases, like that time with the hairdresser and next door’s chinchilla. But the box stayed on his head, and the more time passed, the more difficult it was to mention it casually. Sometimes it seemed like he was going to broach the subject himself, and I’d find myself quickly saying something to prevent him. Strange, that, because I really was getting worried. He was beginning to smell a bit, for one thing. 

One night, just after Strictly, he blurted it out, out of the blue. 

    I thought you might have noticed the pinhole camera on my head, mother.

    Pinhole camera? I thought it was a cardboard box! 

    Why on earth would I be wearing a cardboard box?! Honestly, mother! You are funny sometimes!

He explained how the light comes in through the hole and something about how everything’s the wrong way up. I asked him if I could look inside it, but he said he couldn’t take it off at the moment. He asked me if I wanted him to describe what was in there. I said yes, please, lovey. 

He spoke for hours and hours. I didn’t understand everything, but it felt good, sitting there like that, quietly listening to my boy telling me how he sees the world.

'Last Night with the Stoatman' by Anika Carpenter

The bracken scuffles, sounds delicious. It’s inhabited by Leporids and haunted by echoes of wrappers being shoved into jeans pockets, and hushed unzippings. Up here, where there are no unscheduled meetings, late trains home, unvoiced apologies Christie summons the rabbits. Unthinkingly they come, following the steady thump of her leather boots on fertile soil.

They’re shadowed by a slink-hipped predator, a figure who moves in twists and loops loose as a gymnast’s ribbon. The snap-necked bunnies that once were sweethearts, wives, husbands, lovers catch the hypnotic movements in their cheerless brown eyes. Hearts racing. Stunned. Sweet trembling flesh, sweat-sodden fur. His fur’s chocolate-smooth, glossy enough to capture the stars. He glimpses Christie and sighs, ‘Oh Goddess, my Goddess’. She grins wider than the waxing moon, has him drape his slender arms around her neck, unflinching at his rotted-heart breath, his sap-sticky words; ‘My blessing, my woman, my prize’. She fills his mouth with her reply, ‘You moth-eaten stole of a man’. Loose-bellied, crow-footed, drooped and greying she reaches up to paw the sky. A contented cat drawing down rain that lays him out sodden across moss and rocks. Christie shimmies home, stopping only to kiss the wind-bent Hawthorn trees.

*

Carrots bob beside rabbit flesh like lost life jackets. After they’ve eaten the stew and fresh-baked bread, Christie will explore the forest of hairs on her husband’s proud belly. Disturbing the corvids, pipistrelles and Dark bordered beauties he confides in. The bats will seek shelter in his furrowed brow, the moths, fall to the floor like wood shavings.  She’ll shake loose deadwood and Morchella spores, make a rot-rich compost, and as she cradles him weighty as a felled tree between her thighs, he’ll pick lichen from her hair and suck the dirt from her under her fingernails.

'Senior Hour' by Thaddeus Rutkowski

I went to buy groceries during Senior Hour. When I got to the store, there was a long line of old people waiting to get in. At the entrance, I had to show ID to prove I was old enough to enter. This step reminded me of being carded at bars when I was much younger. Sometimes I got into the bar; other times I didn’t. This time, for Senior Hour, I should have been flattered to prove my age. Maybe I looked younger than a senior. But I didn’t look young. No, I probably looked old as the hills. I’m sure my appearance was relative. I looked younger than Methuselah, but definitely older than twenty-one. What I really needed was a drink.

'My mother is a garden where other people grow' by Leonie Rowland

When I was born, I grew out of her: seeds from a flower, catching the wind.

When my grandma died, she grew into her: violets spilling into roses, purples replacing pinks. Watching from a distance, I learnt that death repurposes rather than uproots, that the ground does not mean silence, that everyone needs somewhere to go.

At first, I plucked the violets. They grew on her arms, her chest, blooming like bruises. I tied them together and made a garland, placing it on her head. ‘There,’ I said, ‘repurposed.’

After that, they spread to her mind. I blamed myself for planting them too close, for closing the circle like one of my grandma’s fairy rings. My mother spun through the house like a tiny storm, twirling, turning. The garland was a halo, a glowing crown of thorns.

Once, I found her naked, standing in front of a full-length mirror. She pressed her hand to her heart and said, ‘She’s here.’ Purple spread from her fingers, mottled her skin. I knew then that I would have to bury her, cover her with soil so she could start again. I was scared that my body would look like hers, uprooted and trembling. There was no more room.

Do we become our mothers, or do we become the dead? These days, when I undress, I have them too: purple flowers scattered across my chest. I cut their stems and place them in vases, but there are too many now, and my room looks like a funeral parlour. My mother wouldn’t know if she saw them—she would think they came from her.

Sometimes I imagine her floating through a field, just above the ground. My grandma is there too, drifting beside her, not quite touching. Below them, the earth is full.

 

---

 First published at Tiny Molecules in their 8th Issue (Spring 2021).

'The Woman Who Wore Her True Colours' by ...kruse

She hauls out of her bath and puts a bearskin on her bare skin. It is the colour of earth and wild honey. Heavy claws, curved like moons, clack on the wooden floor; they are tree cleavers, bark peelers, hive breakers. She lumbers on fat brown pads, her shoulders heave and roll. She is too, too big for this little, tiny house.

At the threshold, her bulk squeezed against the frame, she sniffs and tastes airborne news; who passed by and where they were going, when rain is due, where food is, if enemies lurk. She smells shadows and sunshine, berries and bees, what is sweet and what sour.

She pads, huge, hairy and magnificent, muscled and mighty, small eyed and long toothed, out into the world.

'Full Body Eraser' by Kristen Loesch

I don’t like shaving because it leaves scalded streaks up and down my legs, because it stings under my arms when I raise them (he says I ask too many questions). I don’t like to pluck either, like I’m a bird, like I’m pulling out feathers (he thinks people don’t need wings). He hates my body hair (he doesn’t like things that grow) though he doesn’t much fancy my head-hair either (he prefers things flat, unmoving). I say I’ll try a full body laser where they burn all the hair off, smooth the skin into slate, where I have to go and lie down (flat, unmoving) and they make me wear eye goggles (blinders) and the laser makes a shooting, scraping, swallowing, soaring (skinning, scalping, stabbing, suffering) kind of noise, going round and round over the same places, burning (burying) until it’s over and you sit up and take the goggles off and blink because all you see is perfect light all around without any darkness, any human imperfection, like you’re a barbie, like you’re a ballerina, like you’ve barely been born, and it should be fine to live like this, people still talk to you, see you, understand you, but it’s a little like he’s turned you into somebody else, a second person.

Debut Flash: 'Flip Sides' by Jaz Oldham

 Lakshmi: Goddess of love, fortune, beauty and prosperity.

  1. Red. It all begins with red. Sensual yet pure. A most auspicious colour. The bridal shade. The colour of the sandoor you will apply neatly along the parting in your hair, a visible prayer for the longevity of your husband.

  2. Star Anise. For the joining of two into one.

  3. Salt. To preserve. To flavour.

  4. Sugar. For sweetness. He shall lovingly slip your tinkling marriage anklets onto your sleeping feet each morning.

  5. Turmeric. Sunshine bright, bestowing good fortune upon you and new life within you.

  6. Cinnamon. Tranquillity and affection are the garlands adorning your gate.

  7. Garlic & Ginger. Tradition, honour and strength shall be blessings upon your hearth.

  8. 7 green chillies and a lemon strung together -To sate the tastes of your enemy. Alakshmi. Hang it outside of your door to halt her misfortune and misery entering.


Alakshmi: Goddess of poverty, misfortune, discord and malice.


  1. Red. It all begins with red. Except when it becomes a mist. Except when it runs in a drop down your beautiful face.

  2. Star Anise. For bitterness.

  3. Salt. For your lachrymose life.

  4. Sugar. Three in your tea, for the shock.

  5. Turmeric. To ease your pain. For healing.

  6. Cinnamon. The colour of your skin, before the black and blue take over.

  7. Garlic & Ginger. To revive you when you are broken, for such you will be.

  8. 7 Green Chillies and a lemon strung together- Alakshmi’s relish. But you have hung it inside your door dear girl, and allowed misery residence with you. Remember, the door you entered is also an exit. Use your fear to propel you out, where courage and strength will set your feet on a new path.


'Mons, 1914' by Grace Palmer

Daisy’s head was low, her skin twitched, her tail whisked but those horseflies still hovered. Lewis chucked, ‘Come on, girl,’ the supply wagon behind them beginning to bog. He patted his pocket where his sister’s letter lay, looked at the sky as inky as dead men’s fingers.

A bomb crumpled, air rippled, earth volcanoed. Daisy swayed, tipped the wagon and Lewis pitched into mud and sulphur gas. Her groan punctured his heart as he crawled towards her.

She tried to lift her head. Lewis laid his dirty palm against her wild white eye, breathed in, and wasted a bullet. 

'A Linguistic Theory of Bats' by Hannah Storm

We are in the college bar, drinking snakebite and black, you watching another match on TV, jumping and jeering like it’s a matter of life or death. I’m trying to tell you my theory about the word for bat in different European languages and you think I’m talking about something to do with the game that has gone on all day, and I say not cricket bat: I’m talking about the flying kind and I reckon the words we use for these animals says something about our cultures. So, for instance, the French word is chauve-souris which translates as bald mouse, but before I can explain what this says about Gallic sensibilities, you say it’s my turn to buy a round and anyway you can’t concentrate with me rabbiting on. So, I leave you with the Italian pipistrelle, which is more romantic than its root word vesper, as in night, not Vespa as in I wish I could ride off into the sunset with someone who listens and loves me. And I head for the bar, thinking of the German fledermaus, or flying mouse, and how I should just take a leaf from this literal language and tell you we are kaput, when someone brushes my arm and says something which sounds like you could do better. He speaks so softly I have to lean in to listen, and I figure he looks and sounds Latino so I ask him if he knows what bat is in Spanish and flap my arms just in case. He smiles, all teeth and I imagine him sucking my blood, bringing me back to life. He mouths mur-c-i-e-l-a-go. It’s the only Spanish word with every vowel, I say. And I know the fact it means blind mouse doesn’t matter, because I can finally see.

 

 ---

First published by Restore to Factory Settings: Bath Flash Fiction Anthology Five (Ad Hoc Fiction, 2020).

'When Reginald died' by Jonathan Cardew

he left an imprint of himself on the window pane, condensation in Reginald form, fogged over blocky head, holes for eyes, u-shaped smile. His wife sat by the window and gazed at this new Reginald—Reginald beyond the grave, Reginald of frosted glass.

Reginald had been an insurance salesperson, up at five and back at nine. Always chasing. Always dreaming about something else.

In glass, his smile was kind of alluring.

Reginald’s wife exhaled onto the pane—and he faded. He became steam. It was impossible to let him go. Run over by a truck, the idiot hadn’t looked both ways. He came back, gradually; the chin first and then the u-smile and then the pissholes in the snow eyes. The hair brushed in afterwards--more stylish in her breath than ever in real life.

A shaft of sunlight speared the window pane, illuminating the condensation, making him prismatic and sparkling. More vibrant. More moisture.

When the postman came, she wiped Reginald away.  

---

First published in With One Eye on the Cows (Bath Flash Fiction Award Anthology, Vol IV).

'You and I' by Noémi Scheiring-Oláh

You would love this, I know.

The buzz of the lorries vibrates the thin window above the sofa bed. Noise to me, lullaby to you.

Headlights seep through the slats of the shutter, drawing yellow lines on the opposite white wall. It would remind you there’s a world out there moving, breathing, making noises. Making you feel safe.

It makes me furious. Being stuck in a cheap, rented damn studio flat.

I need to get up.

The neighbour’s TV is arguing, shattering and shooting. You’d love to hold a glass against the wall and press your ear to it, listening in, picturing the movie in your head. But I stomp my feet instead.

As I walk past the dining table — correction: the desk, used sometimes for eating porridge and ready-made curry, I adjust the ballpoint pen so it’s perpendicular to the desk’s edge and parallel to my sketchbook. No. Your sketchbook. You made me buy that one all those years ago, holding a red, giraffe-shaped balloon. But it’s still blank, see? It only takes up space.

A yellow smiley face clinging onto the small white fridge says “Every day is a good day.”

And the warmth of your instant joy mirrors that smile, lighting up the room like the lamp of the fridge I just opened.

Coldness exhales onto my bare shins. I bend for my water bottle and nudge the fridge’s door closed with a foot. Light thins out, jars of strawberry jam tinkle.

The smiley fridge magnet reappears in the greyness.

But I shake your smile off my face, scoffing, regaining control. C’mon. I’m an adult now. How can you still make me fall for that silly thing?


'Speaking in Koans' by Vineetha Mokkil Maruthur

Dan speaks to me in Zen koans. A line, two at most, flung at me like a wannabe philosopher’s frisbee.

He has been taking classes at the Buddhist Centre. At the end of week one, he came home with a pink lotus-shaped meditation cushion. Week two, he walked around the yard barefoot. He switched from coffee to green tea the next week, following the path set by his guru, Maya. When Dan takes Maya’s name, the rush of desire leaves him breathless, leaves him helpless.

Maya has an athlete’s body and an assassin’s stealth. Her voice is smoky, with a trace of a Slavic accent. She moved from her lonely Latvian town to London three years ago.

Maya meditates. Maya levitates. Maya’s lips caress koans all day.     

“If you know candlelight is fire, the meal is already cooked,” Dan says, staring intently at a slice of buttered toast.

“What is the most precious thing in the world?” he mutters while I draw the curtains and let in the lukewarm light.

“The giver must be thankful,” he says, when I surprise him with an expensive bottle of Chablis.

The wine is an invitation he declines. A sip or two may have loosened his tongue, a glass pried open his secrets. Sober, he falls asleep in seconds, drifting away like a fluffy cloud. I stay awake, alone in the dark, listening to the sound of his breathing. The sky swallows the moon. The night speaks to me in koans I can’t solve. 

 

---

First published in Ellipsis Zine, 25 January 2021.

'Keeping the Wolf from the Door' by Sue Dawes

Once upon a time he could sense her coming, her carefree childhood clinging to the folds of her cape.

She wants to be called Red now, says Blanchette is ‘so last century.’

He pulls up the sheet as the door bangs open.  Her entrance is followed by the damp of the forest.

‘I’m home,’ she says, dropping her empty basket, no pretence anymore. ‘I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.’

He hears the squeak of the ice box as she raises the lid.

‘New social worker?’ she asks. ‘How many does that make?’

She laughs, the sound spiking the hairs on the back of his neck, pushing against the white cotton bonnet she insists he still wear.  

When she leans in to kiss his cheek, he can smell the rotten flesh on her breath.

‘Keeping me company is the least you can do, after Grandma,’ Red reminds him, wagging her finger.

He swallows.  The work is endless, like her trail of childish footprints.

He used to be fierce and frenzied, a life spent frightening old ladies and blowing the roofs off straw houses. Now he’s domesticated.

He’d be scared of her shadow, if she had one.

'Corners and Edges' by Marissa Hoffmann

The yellowing leaves were holding on, like Mummy. We came inside, we hushed. We cut apple pieces, drew pictures and crept secret deliveries up the stairs on a tray. Darkness felt bigger, we slept top-to-toe, Gorilla and Cattie too. Each morning, jigsaw pieces lay on our pillows, first the corners, then the edges. We worked by Mummy’s bed, no picture to guide us. Outside, the wind chased chatty leaves into groups, they whispered about letting go. But the snow shushed them the day Daddy rocked us, wet cheeked, he told us the rest of the puzzle we’d work out together.

 

---

First published at Flash Frontier's Micro Madness 2019.

And the Flood abates....

That's it for this year's FlashFlood!  Huge thanks again to our writers, our readers, our editors , and everyone who submitted work....