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Reflex Fiction Posts

A Practiced Silence

I drop my forkful of cake, get up and follow Dad to the shed. We see each other once a year, and that one day is no day to argue. Out back he fumbles with a padlock and a fistful of keys. The leaning shed is held upright only by junk crammed to the ceiling. The lock finally pops, the door sags open. Inside Dad worries a tangled 3D collage: three tattered ladder-back chairs, a mildewed deflated yard Santa, a hard-plastic machete. He pulls out the knife, play-cuts off my head.

I’m selling antiques, he doesn’t say.

Weren’t you selling herbal supplements? I don’t ask.

Nobody at church understood herbs, he doesn’t need to say.

I don’t ask what he tried before botanicals, or before that. His get-rich schemes are serial. I don’t ask if selling junk at flea markets pays the bills, or if he lost Mom’s life insurance on the dogs. Dad doesn’t ask, How’s Steve? Still together? You healthy? Written anything lately? A hundred unasked questions pack our practiced silence.

He drags out a bin of LPs. Depeche Mode, Pink Floyd, the soundtrack to Footloose. My records, I don’t say. Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality is still in its plastic. At thirteen I’d brought it home to no one shouting Dad’s on the dole again, to no one screaming, Deadbeat! Addict! Loser!—just a house mute with worry. The record, never played, disappeared under my bed. I wasn’t even a fan.

Black Sabbath, I say. This might actually be worth something now.

How much? Dad points the machete at my throat.

I say, A hundred quid?

One twenty, he says, and starts wrapping it up.


Flash Fiction by Christopher Allen
Picture: Record Player by Lena under CC BY-SA 2.0
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Outside the Big Top

The clowns undressed in the smallest caravan, a rattled crate squat on the edge of the trampled field. The tall one removed his wig and kicked off his loafers. The short one unbuttoned her jumpsuit.

Does it hurt? she asked him.

A little, he said, his fingers through the white hair. —Pass me the muscle cream?

She slipped between the heaps of sweat-salted leotards, ducked under a rack of sequined scarves. The cherry-coloured wig which haloed her face made her body look shrunken, thin and almost transparent in the incandescent light.

They didn’t laugh, she said while she rubbed the cream into his shoulders. It smelled vaguely chemical, like mouthwash and cement.

People won’t always laugh, he replied.

Clouded sunshine oozed through clouded window; veiny fractures and layers of grime distorted the glass. She unzipped his jumpsuit, slid the fabric down his hips and massaged his lower back. It settled around his waist—an extra layer of old, rumpled flesh. Then her fingers began to dance; he could sense the tremors travel up her arms to a quiver in her chin, a slight shudder in her shoulders. He twisted around and grasped her wrists, narrow as the pipes which ran down the circus tents to clumsy, hand-dug gutters.

She said, We’re too old for this.

He said, No.

The paint on their faces came away in blots of white and purple. He plucked the wig from her head and gently untied a knot of mud-shaded hair, letting it slide in greasy layers over her neck. Outside, the organ grinder’s strains wheezed and sputtered among the crowds as fair-goers marvelled under pulsing circus lights.


Flash Fiction by S D Pitman
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The Window

In certain places the frame exposes bare wood. That’s where condensation pools—in the right angles—the ninety-degree corners forever damp: blackened, perilous and fragile.

In other places she counts coat upon coat of white upon white; broad seams of time, like the ever-thickening skin that garnishes the soles of her feet.

Where it’s chipped there’s a horizon of lime-green primer between wood and white. It’s probably toxic. It’s probably full of lead. It was a different world with different rules back then, she muses. In the layers she sees yester-years, as though reading an old diary and wishing she hadn’t, because it only reminds her of the now.

The council want to change them. The letter says they’re not safe anymore, that the glass could fall out at any moment, that it could fall on any unsuspecting child playing ten floors below. It says that the cost of replacing them (which, of course, she must pay) would be recouped in one, two years maximum (depending on the severity of the coming winters, of course). They’ll replace them with plastic frames, or aluminium, so the letter says: efficient, easy-clean, double-glazing, it’ll be all nice and toasty, just like the happy couple child and dog pictured in the top right corner that she can’t stop gawping at.

She likes the windows just as they are. She likes the way the draught sometimes makes the curtains dance.

I’ll rub them down. I’ll fill the holes with putty. I’ll paint them and make them safe, she thinks. There’s no need to replace them. I can do it myself. You watch me, Mr Council. I don’t need aluminium. I don’t need double-glazing, and I’ve never needed easy-clean anything before, so why would I need it now?

She wonders why things can’t be as they ever were.

She can see the old works from way up here: tall smokeless chimneys, fields of corrugated rusty roofs, downtrodden yards long since gated and padlocked, London reds daubed with cryptic graffiti, and shards of glass glistening like tears in the autumn sun.


Flash Fiction by Lee Hamblin
Picture: Window Latch by darkday under CC BY 2.0
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Ladies Night

The wet T-shirt contest was scheduled to begin at nine, which meant eleven because the contestants wouldn’t be drunk enough by nine. Eventually, people began to migrate to the spare back room from the main bar with its knotty pine ski lodge vibe, cozy booths and large common tables—the bar the tourists knew. You had never been to one of these contests. You hadn’t gone to that kind of college. Nevertheless, you and a guy, your date, drifted to the back room along with the other locals, who weren’t really locals. The real locals were home with their families. Or plowing mountain roads through the night.

He said you should try it. Or he said you could try it. That your body was good enough and you shouldn’t think it wasn’t. He thought he was being nice. As if there was a list of things you wanted to do but were afraid of. Scuba diving. Anything involving parachutes. Traveling alone. And he must have thought that wet T-shirt contest was on that list and that all you needed was a little encouragement. Only five volunteered. But the one that mattered signed up. The one everyone wanted to see. Her boyfriend urged her, you’d heard. She had famous breasts, and you could almost see why she’d want more than one witness at a time. And he must have wanted other men to envy him even more than they already did. Five minutes in, she unzipped her jeans. The boyfriend hadn’t authorized this. Mad and drunk, he climbed on stage. Why am I here? you asked yourself, again. You were there because it was a small no-stoplight town and everyone did whatever stupid thing was happening. He wasn’t a proper boyfriend, the guy you were with that night. Or maybe he was and you can’t remember because it was just passing time. You only remember the respectful kindness in his voice when he said that you were good enough to do something that you would never want to do. And then you said, though also nicely, I have to get out of this town.


Flash Fiction by Deborah Gang
Picture: Zipper by Thomas Wood under CC BY 2.0
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This Is Not Who We Are

I.

The problem isn’t mirrors; it’s cameras. In glass, Vera’s face is like glass looking back. But in pictures, she’s always laughing and her skin is tired, rolling down her face as it does.

Before the party, she smiles into the mirror to see how her face will hinge. It isn’t bad, she thinks, knowing it will be.

The party is for pregnant Clara two houses over; the Muslim woman at the end of the street arranged it, stands in a corner when Vera arrives. Sunlight halos Clara’s hair—her cheeks like apples, belly the earth. She makes Vera laugh.

II.

Amala sweats at the edge of the party. Imad said not to wear the hajib—it’s too hot—but Amala knows he is only afraid. He calls her Amy in public, tells white men his name is Isaac.

“This is not who we are,” she tells him. “We cannot forget.”

Her sister sends no word; Amala has read of women holding headless children for doctors to cure.

At the punch bowl, Clara says, “I’m Sigourney Weaver.”

Vera laughs. Amala knows, without looking, that it’s Vera—her sound unmistakable, neck thrown to the sky, line after beautiful line rippling her face.

III.

Clara wakes alone, Ben gone. The foot beneath her ribs shows like a mountain; her belly, the plains. When she calls, a woman answers his phone.

“Wrong number,” Clara says.

At the party, Vera talks about halos and Clara corrects her.

“I’m no angel. This baby’s an alien and I’m Sigourney Weaver.”

Vera laughs. The foot that is a mountain kicks, exploding. Clara looks for Ben, forgetting he’s not there. Her chair is wet, dripping. Only Amala, in the far corner, sees.

“Amy!” Clara calls to her.

A camera flashes, in that moment before her blood is seen, before women begin to run. It flashes despite the sun, bleaching skin. Washing beyond recognition.


Flash Fiction by Stacy Trautwein Burns
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Ladybird

She said things come out of oak wood, devils as big as your thumb.

She said, hair is important.

She said, “I don’t like to be reminded of space, the world spinning and being so tiny.”

Smoke was what kept them together, and kept them apart. A cloud between, around them. Everywhere he went, smoke was at hand, cigarette smoke, fog, mist. Smoke and its deposits. He was always brushing ash from her dress; they had sex in a greyed slant of light.

Sometimes she didn’t care too much for sex, but she was very serious about hugging and embracing. Wrapping herself round him.

Often she sat huddled seeing things in corners. Or not seeing things, you look and look and there’s nothing, no one there, she complained once. She talked of her lip-chewing teenage years. He would overdo it. Looking after her like a child. Made her lunch: cellophaned ham sandwich and KitKat. Caught ladybirds with her in the garden, the hedge was full of them that summer. Blood beads moving across her fingers.

She was trying to see everything at once and fit herself in, but she couldn’t without bending. Nipping and tucking. She said it hurt, everything hurt. He waited, sang to her quietly, tried to soothe.

When he was alone, walking through town he was burning, crackling with her. But he was calm. He had in him a different order of things.


Flash Fiction by Alan Beard
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Never Bigger Than an Orange

Tiny tangerine foetuses curl as if for protection next to the glass bowl. Their delicate flesh oozes juice onto the chopping board. I place my finger on the smallest and think of the first time.

I didn’t tell early on because I thought this somehow protected me.

I arrange the tangerine slices in a swirl, nestled in half-set strawberry jelly. Thick red gloop pulls the tiniest segment down from the surface so I can barely see it. My whole hand strokes a peach’s downy covering. It fits snugly into my palm.

I saw the last baby in grainy black and white, like a photograph from before my time.

The peach separates into two halves easily with a blunt knife. I pull out the stone and press its ribbed surface between my thumb and forefinger.

We had grasped one another’s hands at the sight of a heartbeat. My ears drummed for days with the echo of it. When the bleeding started I cried from my bowels upwards. He gave me grapes and took a job out of town.

I slice the peach halves and let them sink into the red jelly bed with their siblings. Then I rinse the knife clean ready for next time.

The fruit is suspended now in time and jelly. Fingers of sponge swell as they absorb the thick liquid. I scoop up the remaining fruit on the way to my bedroom.

Under soft covers I turn to lie on my side. My hands curve around the melon placed under my shirt.


Flash Fiction by Stephanie Hutton
Picture: Orange by Brian Pirie under CC BY 2.0
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