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Reflex Fiction Posts

What Are Friends For?

No one doubted that Jeff’s father was dying and most of us who’d heard about it were very sorry. But would he be dead by Saturday, that was the essential question. It didn’t look like it. His guttural, arrhythmical breathing was getting on our nerves. Only one of the four people in the house, not counting the old man in the bed, was related to him. You could see that Jeff, his son, felt uncomfortable in the presence of the others, embarrassed by the inconvenience he was, through no fault of his own, imposing on them. Certainly Jeff had a sense of responsibility, but he dreaded it. It was all so horribly awkward. He knew his sister would be furious when she found out that Jeff had called her too late. She was arriving on Saturday. There would be accusations.

Two of the four had jobs and offices to go to; they had stopped by after work to see how Jeff’s father was “getting on”. Jeff gave them drinks and, for no particular reason, everyone talked in subdued voices. The room smelled of oil of wintergreen and something less pleasant. It was already late Friday. Hersholt, “between jobs” as a primary school science teacher, had been reading to Jeff’s father from a book on black holes until he heard a groan from the bed and a sound he interpreted as, “Stop.”

Hersholt told Jeff to go take a walk, get some fresh air; he’d been “cooped up” in the house for days. Jeff sighed and agreed. “I’ll just take a turn around the block. Thanks, Hersh.”

When he heard the front door click shut, Hersholt went over to the old man, pulled the pillow from under the head and pressed it gently but firmly over his face. The room was now for the first time in many days silent. He put the pillow back where it was, sat down and picked up his book. He looked at his watch and saw that it was late, but not yet Saturday.


Flash Fiction by Cleveland Moffett
Picture: pitcher perfect by emdot under CC BY 2.0
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Blue Monday

Gus awoke on the third Monday of January to a grey sky and a tube strike. That familiar and sickening feeling which grips a body just before it’s about to cry, but held, prolonged, heightened slightly by its perseverance.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are currently experiencing severe delays on; the Victoria line, Circle line, District line, Piccadilly line, Central line, Jubilee line, Northern line, Bakerloo line, Hammersmith and City line, and Metropolitan line. There is a good service on all other underground lines.

He set off, on the seventy-minute walk to work; compounded by his failure to remember the earphones that could distract him, the earphones that blocked the grim world outside. Then the rain started.

Running from cover to cover, watching cyclists swearing at stuffed busses lumbering by, familiar sounds he hadn’t heard in a long time started to drift over him, draw him in. The smatter of rain on the stretched blue umbrella canvasses, a brief hiss of wind through a naked tree, the hubbub of conversation in a busy café. Were those birds singing, even in the rain?

A man blocked his path without noticing, face screwed in a ball of angst, shoulders barging but not stopping.

“Sorry.”

A smile formed at the edge of Gus’s mouth in disbelief, then widened when he registered scores of the same man, all over the street, all with their heads down and elbows out. He continued on his way, getting wet, looking up.

Down a familiar road a new sight caught his eye. A blue plaque perched on a wall, high above a door. A poet had lived here. Gus stood and looked up further still.

“Long, long afterward, in an oak, I found the arrow, still unbroke.”

An unfamiliar sound—a voice from behind him—soft in his ear but startling and direct. Gus spun around; saw a smile, a friendly face, wet hair and a pair of eyes whose colour he would someday come to know better than his own.

“Hello. I didn’t . . . ”

The rain danced around them.

“I hadn’t noticed you.”


Flash Fiction by Gus Golding
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Canvass

“This street? I’d rather not. Please.”

“It’s your area, make it count.” My agent held my look.

“Look, if it’s all the same to you.”

“It isn’t. Get on with it. What’s the problem, what’s the issue?”

“If it’s all the same . . . ”

“Don’t repeat yourself. I told you that before. Get on with it.”

“I’ll do another area.”

“We’ve done every other area, street, house. Is there something you want to tell me? Now.”

“I told you everything at pre-selection.”

“Glad to hear it. Sometimes you leave things a bit late. I’m not meaning this as a virtue. We need every vote. You know that. What is your strategy, go back to the last street and ask them to vote twice in place of this one?”

I wasn’t sure which had transformed most—the street, the party, me. Thirty years is a long time in politics. I’d changed most things over time—CND, Beatnik, Mod, New Romantic, New Labour.

The Dormobiles replaced by 4x4s, the steel bins the bin men used to turn upside down to empty scrapped by recycling boxes.

It seemed ironic my slogan was “Be the Change”. I had no choice but to go on, down the last street, the last house.

I saw my hand rise to knock but it hit air, the door already opening. The perfume hit me first.

I’ve never voted for anything, anyone else.

“You’ve changed,” she said.


Flash Fiction by J F King
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Ageless

There are certain topics I don’t want to hear about from a mature man who invites me out to dinner: his cholesterol count, his divorce settlement, his intestinal problems. If he’s married, engaged, gay, or in a relationship, I require full disclosure. I expect him to order a full meal. A man who only orders pasta embarrasses me because he’s used the pretext of age to secure a good table only to act stingy. Or worse, he can’t afford more than a bowl of spaghetti, in which case he’s a man with a sappy story I’ve heard before.

I’m ready to make allowances for a man who sparks my interest, though a man who could ignite me would surely have some class, which is not to say that a man of class would necessarily ignite me.

Here are some things age wears well:

Long sleeves
Expensive materials
Self-esteem
Humor.

Here are some things that don’t look good on the old:

Ambition
Envy
Restlessness
Boredom
Greed
Avarice
Lust.

Tight jeans don’t flatter an older person. Long hair, very long hair that makes you look from behind like a student—anathema. Don’t turn your head. You’re not your daughter, no matter how often people say you look like sisters. They lie.

When people say you haven’t changed a bit in the past twenty years, they mean you haven’t aged as alarmingly as some other people.

When they say you’re elegant they mean your choice of dress is age appropriate.

When they ask, “How do you keep such a slim figure?” they mean, “How come you don’t look disgustingly matronly?”

Michael Jackson spent a fortune whitening his face, and yet it was the whitened face of a black man.

You can’t be white if you’re black, you can’t be tall if you’re short, and you can’t ever grow younger.

Madonna can expose her brilliantly surgically rejuvenated butt during the Super Bowl halftime show, but it’s still the butt of a fifty-five-year-old woman.


Flash Fiction by Israela Margalit
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Last Wishes

“I’ve signed. Now you sign.”

Tom retrieved a grubby envelope from the table and waved it under Roger’s nose. The tabletop was littered with mugs containing dregs of tea, the newspaper lay open at the racing page. The gas fire flickered and the room reeked of stale cigarette smoke.

“Dad, this is ludicrous.” Roger ripped the envelope in half.

Tom snatched it up again. “It’s me last wishes.” A hacking cough interrupted his words.

“Dad, you are not dying. You had a nasty bout of bronchitis. You’ll be right as a trivet in no time.”

“I knows better. Now, listen. Me and your Mam, we had money put by in the blue teapot for when we went. But your Mam’s send-off was expensive. I did her proud, but there’s nowt left to do me.”

“Don’t talk about that now.”

Tom smoothed out the envelope halves and handed them to Roger. “I’ve written it down. You’re to put me in that big car of yours and take me to the seaside. The beach where we used to go fishing. Choose the right tide and I’ll be halfway to Holland by daybreak. Won’t cost you a penny.” He wheezed with effort. “I’ll not be a burden on you. Promise me you’ll do it.” His hand clutched Roger’s arm with surprising strength.

Roger prised the bony fingers loose. “Dad, you’re making yourself ill.”

“Promise.”

“Stop maundering, you daft old bugger. Come on, I’ll make us a cuppa.”

The fireman was grave. “I’m sorry, sir. It’s not safe for you to go inside. The explosion destroyed everything.”

Roger winced. “The doctor told him not to smoke with his oxygen mask on.”

The fireman patted his shoulder. “If it’s any comfort, your dad wouldn’t have felt a thing.”

“Can I take this?” Roger picked up a charred object that had landed on the pavement. “It’s one of his old Army boots. I’d know it anywhere.”

The fireman shrugged. “Suit yourself.”

The boot floated on the waves, its black shape growing smaller. The solitary onlooker wiped away a tear.

“Got what you wanted, didn’t you, you daft old bugger.”


Flash Fiction by Madeleine McDonald
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Benny

She had watched him dying for more than a year. The distended belly, the yellow toxic delirium of liver cirrhosis. She watched as ambulance after ambulance took him, tearing at his poisoned skin, haemorrhaging black tar blood. Yet, she succumbed first.

He sat at a table in the dining room. They had shared a double room on the floor above. Dressed in a black Crombie overcoat and a dark suit, his pale face reflected in his white shirt. Sober since her death, out of respect, he returned from the funeral before her children and relatives began the ritual, drinking a path through grief. His sobriety was a condition imposed by her children to allow his attendance at her funeral.

He had met her when she was already lost to alcohol and walking the streets. They needed each other. She, tough and direct, but a woman moving in a vicious world. He a man, fit and strong, but a gentle soul filled with regret and remorse. Together they survived, drifting through their mutual oblivion. Now, he was alone.

We sat across the table from him, the dining room doors locked to give him a sanctuary in the chaotic hostel. My colleague held his hand as we congratulated him on his strength. “You did right by her,” we said, as he stared at a rapidly cooling mug of coffee. We encouraged him, suggesting ways of maintaining his sobriety. We would create havens for him to escape the other residents, he could come here to us at any time, to talk. We would have him eating healthily, taking exercise. His long-estranged brother had made contact, reached out to him. His family were waiting for him the brother had said. He agreed to all of this, enthusiastic about the new start gifted to him through tragedy. We smiled for him, but we knew what would happen.

He let go of my colleague’s hand and went to his room, their room. His cold coffee left untouched on the table.


Flash Fiction by Stephen McGuinness
Picture: Whisky by Phil Long under CC BY 2.0
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The Palace

My tummy rumbles as I sling Hillary’s blue knitted boohoo blanket and my violet unicorn sheet over the high chair and wobbly kitchen table. The sheet slides off into the overflowing kitty box. I solve the problem with an anchor—a half bottle of Da’s whiskey. He’s busy praying to the porcelain god, while Ma rages.

Her heels stomp down the stairs.

“Morning, princess,” she says through jumbo pink lips.

I marvel her rainbow eyelids.

She tells me we’re not going to church.

With pearly nails, she clicks on the television. It’s the Preacher Ted show. Ma tells me the miracle man can sink all hail glory into foreheads using blessed water.

She swims out the door dressed like a mermaid—all sparkly and red. Slam.

From my palace, Preacher Ted shows me the way. I will heal crippled NooNoo, my plastic giraffe, and President Quack, my one-eyed stuffy. I fill a pot with tap water and baptize NooNoo. My giraffe loses its spots. Coloured water greets Mr President. He emerges blind and orange.

Miracles don’t happen.

The fridge will remain empty.


Flash Fiction by Claire Lawrence
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