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Tag: Long-Listed

The Way We Weren’t

A tire swing now, set far back in the yard, fresh scar of dirt under it, carved by child-size sneakers. Pansy faces, red and white, not black-and-blue, smiling from flower pots. Lawnmower in the carport, wheels caked with cuttings from an honest day’s work. A man whistling as he cleans.

White walls upstairs and down, intact, free of fist prints. The delicious absence of beer cans and cheap cigar smoke in the television room where a child plays. No tear stains on pillowcases. Closets serving their intended purpose; there is nothing and no one to hide from here.

Cake rising in the oven, not batter flung on the kitchen wall while a baby wails and a toddler screams and a dog cowers at the sight of a heavy boot. A woman singing because singing is good. Allowed. Kisses happen when this woman sings. Frying pans hang from a pegboard, clean and dry, void of menace. In this old house that used to be mine, with these new people and the way they are, frying pans are only used for cooking.


Flash Fiction by Christina Dalcher
Picture: Frying pans by Dan Grogan under CC BY 2.0
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Surrendering Camille

I’m Dot. Excuse my briskness—thinking on my feet, you know.

“Who are you? You can’t just pillage my stuff.”

That’s Rockford’s voice, not mine; as if I’d say ‘pillage.’ Or ‘stuff.’ I mean, come on; but it is my doorway and £925 per calendar month to move into a mess of his discarded possessions confers the right to be territorial. Only a profitable week of ebay selling had made the place liveable. C’est la vie.

Behaving reasonably wouldn’t help him. Accumulated pressure from another day hocking topaz jewellery to hello caller had kneaded me into a monster.

That said, I might have folded until his ‘You’ll realise I’m right’ smirk piqued me. I expect better from the handsome former owner of three pairs of Isabel Benenato trousers.

I deliver my mirror-proven, automatic smile. “I’m not sure I remember it.”

Behind me, Impersonation of Arrabbiata sauce simmers on the hob.

“I sense you want something from me.” I’ll admit he played that well.

“Describe.”

“About this big.” His palms slide away from each other in frustrated anti-piety. “Hardwood frame. Charcoals. A girl, glancing over her shoulder.” He’d sketched it, alright, that study in reckless beauty. I’d decided to name her Camille.

“Age?”

“What?”

“Her age?”

“Don’t know. Twenty? About your age.”

I knew what Camille would do.

Rockford selected the restaurant. God, he ate intently, wielding cutlery with sudden sweeps. I’d been envisaging wine-as-you-go. “Well?”

He crumpled his napkin onto his plate and lunged with a credit card at the waiter. “Well what?”

“Tell me about her.”

“Does it matter?”

Formalities of card, machine and number were attended to.

“Lover?”

“Once.”

“Then you forgot her whilst escaping rent arrears.”

“Cheap,” he muttered disdainfully.

I sensed I’d had my sport. “OK. I surrender.”

“So, Camille, may I please have the picture.”

Dot again, I slid it from my glossy, peony blossom tote bag.

Undoing clips, he liberated my charcoal life-coach from her frame, scrunched her, then dropped her unceremoniously for a gravy soak with the napkin.

An envelope had been stuffed behind the sketch.

“For that?”

“If you like the damned frame so much, Camille, take it.”

Reader, I didn’t.


Flash Fiction by Stephen Mander
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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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