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Author: Alicia Bakewell

Still Life

You are not smiling. Take a photo if you want, your eyes say, not unkindly. The shiny surface of the photograph is cold. It smells of developing fluid, not of you. I haven’t even cried yet.

“It’s not a very good snap,” the police officer shakes her head, then notices my hurt expression. “I mean, for the newspaper. It’s grainy. He looks kind of miserable. Usually they’d use something like an old school photo, or one from the wedding album. Something in colour, at least.”

“I didn’t know him when he was at school, and we’re not married,” I say, clutching the photo to my chest now.

The cop looks at a handful of images on her computer screen. She’s searched your name and found an old social media profile you hadn’t used in years. You’re smiling in front of the Eiffel Tower. Jumping from a cliff, arms and legs akimbo, into the Mediterranean. Experimenting with what might have been your first selfie, scowling close-up and confused into your phone. Grabbing your brother in a playful headlock (imagine, in a few years you will both be gone).

“Any of these?” the officer looks at me tiredly.

I put the black and white photo back into my bag, closing the zip with unintended ferocity.

“I don’t think I can do this,” I say. I feel immediate, unexpected relief. I don’t want your picture in the paper, this one or any of them. I don’t need to tell my side of the story, or give anyone an exclusive. I want to go home and stare at the wall, the one you’ve half-painted.

The officer puts a hand on my arm, then walks out to the conference room where the journalists are waiting, dictaphones and takeaway coffees poised.

“She’s changed her mind.”

Flash Fiction by Alicia Bakewell
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Black Leaves

Inexplicably, he could read the future in tea leaves. It was no false claim. She’d tested him over a long period of time, asking questions he couldn’t possibly know the answers to, recording what he said and waiting to prove him wrong. The moment of jubilation never came, though, and she began to wonder whether he was somehow writing her life like a film script. It frightened her a little, but she knew that if she mentioned it to him, he would just laugh and deny everything.

He predicted a lottery win for her, and she felt a shameful compulsion to split the twenty five pounds with him. He advised her not to take the motorway one night, then smiled unnervingly as they watched the pile up on the late news. He told her she would be reunited with a long lost relative, and offered to drive her to the airport when her sister’s flight came in from Tokyo.

How many pots of tea would they share before his luck ran out? She tried different blends, bought a new teapot and cups, took him to cafes in unfamiliar areas, but his accuracy was unwavering. She tried to make out the pictures and shapes at the bottom of her brew, but saw only a smattering of damp leaves. He christened them journeys, romances, impending catastrophes. She asked him why she couldn’t see as he did, and he avoided her eyes, muttering something about the answers being in the spaces between the leaves.

And what if she walked away from this future he seemed to control? What if she wanted to drink tea with someone who, like her, saw only the waste at the bottom of the cup? Would he use the leaves to find her?

She waited until he was sleeping, crept downstairs to the kitchen and grabbed the boxes of Darjeeling, Earl Grey and Ceylon from the window sill, stuffing them into her bag. She drove to the pier and stood beneath the lemony light of a full moon, holding the open boxes at arm’s length and letting the tiny black leaves flutter into the sea.

Flash Fiction by Alicia Bakewell
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Baby Steps

The first time they help him up out of bed, his head spins and he is sure he will fall. How long has it been? Weeks, maybe months horizontal.

His knees buckle and he feels two arms grab him, hears the rustle of a starched uniform and the soft fall of non-marking soles.

“Take it slowly, mate. It’s been a while.”

How long? he wants to ask, but it will take breath, and his feels thin and in short supply.

The androgynously named occupational therapist (Alex? Jordan? His memory is as shaky as his legs) helps him into a wheelchair. They cruise through the corridors and service lifts to a room that looks a bit like a dance studio. One wall is mirrored and a waist-high handrail runs the length of it. The other walls are dotted with motivational posters. He crinkles his nose at a nauseating quote and she smiles.

“Maybe don’t reach for the stars just yet,” she says as she helps him stand. Again he wobbles, and she grabs him under the arms with expert timing. He’s taller than her, or would be if he could stand up straight. His limbs are spindly now, stomach hollow, collarbones sharp. He avoids his reflection in the mirror, wonders whether his girlfriend was telling the truth in that text message. Was she really not allowed to see him on the ward?

The therapist wants him to visualise, focus, breathe, and other things he can’t do. They don’t even get to the walking bit before he is slumped back in the wheelchair, fists balled in frustration.

“What do you want to do? Maybe try again tomorrow?”

He doesn’t want to try again tomorrow. He wants to try again all those weeks or months ago. He wants to stop that flash of light, the crunch of metal on metal and bone on bone. He wants to hand the keys to a friend and sit in the passenger seat. He wants to have six less drinks. He wants to listen to someone who told him it probably wasn’t a good idea to go out that night.

“Tomorrow . . . yeah, maybe.”

Flash Fiction by Alicia Bakewell
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Barely Casting a Shadow


When he looks into the walnut edged mirror, he is forever six years old, trying on his mother’s wedding veil, cherub lips smudged with coral pink. Those still childlike eyes now glassy and tired, hair sweat-soaked and flecked with grey, he does a little twirl, dry lips curling into just the beginning of a smile. Beneath the mirror, he opens the drawer that has always been full of silk scarves. He takes a pure white one, lifts it to his unwashed cheek to test the softness of it then wraps it gently around his neck, as if bandaging a wound. It smells of her, that unrepeatable concoction of lavender, cigarettes, and something powdery and vague with no origin but her. It is that same unknowable essence of home that he looks for in the folds of every little foil packet.

On the wall, a framed prayer. “Jesus loves you,” she writes in her letters. “But do you?” he wonders.

The living room seems angry at his presence. Dust particles in the afternoon light become boulders and he raises two trembling hands in defence. Laceless brogues resting on the coffee table, he fixes himself a little something, just to take the edge off. She’ll be home soon. He buries his face into the flower garden of her sofa, dreams of orchids with vendettas and bad tempers, Venus fly traps big enough to swallow a human head. Dreams within the dream that he wakes with her cool hand pressed to his forehead and her voice—the tone of it, not the words it says—a soft, fragrant balm.

The trill of her keys sounds a warning. He quicksilvers away, barely casting a shadow as he jumps through the open window, landing on his feet, catlike. The white silk scarf is caught by the breeze, uncoiling from around his neck as if she has tried to snatch it back.

Flash Fiction by Alicia Bakewell