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Reflex Fiction Posts

Strawberry Jam

My sister was the one who took the bottle opener up the garden, coaxing the lids from the beer bottles. She poured hops and wheat and barley onto their oily backs, and made a swimming pool for the slugs.

Their fat bodies wrestled in carbonated liquid, drowning in the deep end of the Tupperware. I saved the fattest one, placing it on my palm as its black body rocked from side to side, contorting into the shape of a crescent moon. My sister wasn’t speaking and neither was I. Everything was wrong. I curled up my fingers until the slug’s body became hard and still, before tossing him into the box to face another death.

Some slugs wriggled to the sides where I kneeled, waiting with Saxo crystals, making snow in the middle of July. I imagined that the creatures would pop and bang like a real witches’ brew, but they dissolved, leaving behind a thick rubbery sludge. We let them bake in the hot sun, watching them give up and die. They smelt like the peaches Mum had once left for too long in the fruit bowl, that I’d refused to eat when they were put in my lunchbox. The flesh decomposed and eventually started to weep. When I hid them in a corner of the garden, a family of flies feasted on the rotting pulp.

It wasn’t long after the men with the ambulance had finished picking my Dad up off the floor of the hallway, that we were allowed to go back into the house. My sister helped me stand on a chair so we could look out of the kitchen window to see what the grownups had been doing. The garden had always been a place of decay, and it had managed to seep inside our home. Dad had left his piece of toast on the patio, covered in strawberry jam. We made sandwiches and ate them without plates, watching the sky turn grey and the toast outside grow soggy.

Flash Fiction by Emily Green
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Human, Nature

Sometimes, when you’re sitting in a restaurant with a man, you look at the myriad men and women around you and feel sick. They’re all eating mass-processed gruel and it’s in front of you, too. Forget the entrées with foreign names; it’s all the same. For all the claims of helping the planet, you can’t help thinking where it goes after it’s disposed. You’d rather leave it on your plate than contribute to the cycle of preach-not-to-practise. Your date quietly mentions behavioural therapy, then doesn’t return your calls.

Occasionally, when you’re driving, you see all the other vehicles around you and find you are not breathing. You have to concentrate on the number plate of the car ahead and add up all the numbers: dividing, multiplying, and cancelling the zeroes until you’re left with a nice, polished one. “Go to the country,” they say, but that won’t stop the crush of metal in your mind. You’re not in the city, but its beat still reaches out. It repeats a cliché about stolen sleep. That’s what worries you.

And often, when you throw plastic into the trash, you feel overcome with shame. Some days you only buy loose vegetables from the store: “No bags, please.” You wash your hands three times after unwrapping the meat from its cling-wrap amniotic sac. (The bones are not so strange. It’s the flesh itself that renders you catatonic.)

Yet whenever you see a wasp inside the house, you can’t move. Revulsion tides ice up your spinal column. If the insect hovers close enough, you’ll run out the way—but usually your movement encourages it to follow, until you have to rush through three rooms just to slam a door between the both of you. You’ve stopped opening the windows, now.

Flash Fiction by Caitlin Stobie
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The Rain Around Here

“God sure is crying a lot today,” he says. Rain falls on the tin roof and blows against the window; pools of water mark potholes on the road and the neighbour’s driveway.

His small face is soft and crumpled. Mine is lined and drawn. I understand what that means now—as if each crease was carefully traced with charcoal pencil during the night.

From the kitchen I see him turn to me, his lips move, but all I can hear is the rain. It’s what it does around here. Been worse—that time when he was still in my belly and Roger and I sat in the driveway in his shitty old car watching the water rise as Roger turned the key again and again. I’d finally got out, waded down the road with the water lapping at my crotch.

The matches crumble in my hand until finally the gas lights. Everything is soft and sticky with damp. It’s how the rot sets in, microscopic spores that can crumble wood.

I take my coffee back to bed. With a fingertip he traces the run of a single drop of water down the window. He was born into it, water pelting down from the sky when I arrived at the hospital. They were full—all that was left was a cupboard of a room barely big enough for a bed. Big enough for me and him though, and the midwife who said she’d stitch me up nice and tidy.

I know those spores are all around me, millions of them drifting in the air, invisible and perfectly formed. I feel them settle on the clammy sheets, the windowsill, my hair, smell their taint on my breath.

He moves his head into the nook of my arm and sweeps his tongue cat-like across my skin. “I’m hungry.”

I pick black spots of mould off the bread, smear it with peanut butter. Next to the rubbish bin I see it. A fungus, a fragile ear-shaped flower. I pluck it, pull the shallow roots free and tuck it gently behind my ear.

Flash Fiction by Rachel Smith
Picture: Houby by Martin Dvoracek under CC BY 2.0
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Not Going Out

What would happen if I stayed in the house for another week? Would they know? Perhaps they already know. Perhaps it is already a subject.

But how would they know? People still came, what of it if I didn’t go?

Outside looks dour. It’s not a day to go out. It’s a day to stare out. The house overlooks uncelebrated, toppled headstones, claimed by lichens and scoured by weather. The deep dead rest out there, unmolested. Breath on the glass obscures them so I draw on the pane with a manicured finger: smiley-face.

I am hiding; they must have noticed.

When thoughts come, simply acknowledge them and let them pass.

No. I am hibernating. A natural state for mammals in the winter. I am channelling the bear, or rather, the hedgehog. I am curled up in a ball with my spiny parts external, until spring. I’ll definitely surface then and be cheerful, like the daffs. The kids won’t mind, they keep my vulnerable inner warm. They are not outdoorsy children anyway; the garden meets all their needs. And the internet.

Do something that scares you every day. Tomorrow.

I am safe. These castle walls keep us, this sanctuary. Home is where the heart is, all my hats lay here. We’ll all be quite fine. We’re just not going out today.

Flash Fiction by Emma Dykes
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The Husband Who Went for a Walk

I start my search logically, at ‘our place’. Are we really one of those couples that has a ‘place’? We did meet here, get engaged here, never tired of its beauty on our Sunday walks here. For an instant, my body thinks it’s home. Milliseconds of comfort before quickened breaths create plumes in the chill, with the realisation I’m sans something very important; like my handbag or my phone. Of course it’s neither. It’s worse. I’m only half of a whole.

I’ve been a wife for longer than I haven’t. So I should just . . . know where he is. Shouldn’t I have some God-given power to guide me down frosty footpaths, over ancient bridges and through thickets to where he is? He’s no longer in my spousal range. He’s taken our combined strength with him. I should have known him better.

I walk, imbalanced, to her. She’s consistent, almost glittering in winter sun. Always there through the decades, always strong for us. The abbey. Our shared love. As majestic today as she has ever been. Her archways like open mouths, yawning me in. Her tactile walls holding a million stories, ours too. Her stony skin a rainbow of eyelid-greens, vein-blues and bruise-indigos. Her missing parts are her beauty. How can people call her ‘the ruins’? We are not ruins with our missing parts. If he still loves her, can’t he still love me? I am majestic too, despite the new chasm on my body. Flat space with a higgledy, pink, train track scar, reminding us both where my architecture once stood proud before the weather changed.

He promised he loved me anyway, promised he was fine. But his drawbridge went up. He loved me from a safe distance. It was just a bag of fat covered in skin with a teat. But I’m grieving its absence. One now, where there should be two. Is my pain just as much his pain?

It’s the first time I’ve been to the abbey without him, my other missing part. I stand. We talk. I tell her he went for a walk. She nods and tilts sympathetically.

We both know he isn’t coming back.

Flash Fiction by Janelle Hardacre
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When Is It Time to Go Home?

All I needed was a sign. It was a club, of course the floor was sticky. Not a sign. I had a good look at everything, but couldn’t see the end of the room in the fake fog. Luck would have it that the boredom the reader is currently experiencing with this description was also my own, so I danced. Soon, elbows flew south west-north east and no one could finish a whole drink before it was knocked out of their sticky, dirty hands. People’s shirts and trousers smelled more of spilled Red Bull than perspiration (wonderful), and there was always someone gagging in the corner. Every time I went out to the smoking area, the sun shone brighter. It was a hot summer morning. Still no sign. Suddenly, there was a girl, poor thing, coral red lipstick smeared all over her face, twitching with a cigarette in the heat. When told that she looks like Joker, and that she should fix that, she became grateful, so grateful, that her trembling voice could barely reach past her lips to say, “Tha-a-a-a-a-a-a-nk youuu so mu-uu-u-ch. Woul youu lii-i-ike some M-mmd-m-a?”

Immediately, she collapsed and nobody turned. I tried to help her up, but every time I reached out to help her, I hit the mirror.

Flash Fiction by Ellan
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He did have exceptional hair. No end to it. And when he slept, he looked like a plant, uprooted, brown stems all tangled in a heap. He even smelled like wood. Earth. Damp things, forest things. He didn’t wear deodorant—he was dangerous. In the morning, at my table, peeling an avocado with a small, sharp knife. Hands full of fruit, a positive Caravaggio.

In the city, he was lost. Long fingers knotted in mine. Pumpkins, too fat and too orange, stared rudely from windows.

On the park bench, pigeons gathered round us. Never enough gossip to satisfy them all. He laid his dark lion’s head on my lap. The sunset was dragon’s breath—all trickery though, the afternoon was cold. England, after all.

I led him underground. The quickest way to get around—the quickest! Not the nicest.

Dark eyes. Ash.

Eventually: It’s dirty down here.

(I didn’t say it) it’s particles of passengers (but I didn’t say it).

The tube roared, furious. Tired.

He watched others, in costumes of the city.

I nudged him.

He eyed the gap with suspicion.

We went to a pop-up gallery, café, bar, projector, bare pipes and if you don’t want, NO ONE CAN MAKE you eat gluten. Pricey drinks. He ordered, he wanted to. His shoulder blades through his T-shirt like the stumps of wings. I’d told him to bring a coat. He came back with a pot. Stewed leaves.

You like tea, he said.

We sat under a lamp: orange, red. Hot. He didn’t mind, child of the sun. My lipstick coloured my cup rose. I saw him looking and reapplied, going for ‘worldly’.

Well. Silence followed. Stretched out like a white sheet then folded in on itself. Small, small, handkerchief-sized. I could put it in my pocket and carry it round every day. I’d seen us in our old age, avocados and everything.

I avoided the park. In winter it was no place anyway, all humiliated trees. Spring was the challenge. But I went, one day. Sat on the bench. Doodled in the margins of an old notebook. Pears and the like, plump rosebuds, vines.

Well. The pigeons came back.

Flash Fiction by Charlotte Newman
Picture: Pigeon by Robert Claypool under CC BY 2.0
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