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Tag: Spring 2017 Top Three

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

Midsummer’s Eve


The haar drifts across the fields. It knuckles into crannies and makes it easy to forage unnoticed, perfect for slipping into back gardens to plunder the riches of the soil. I fill my sack with knobbly carrots, hard-hearted cabbages, onions so large they’d burst their beds and—if I’m lucky—redcurrants that glisten like ruby pinheads in the swirling grey. Locals believe the mists shroud the souls of lost sailors. When they notice a missing pumpkin or a gap in their phalanx of leeks, they’ll likely put it down to roaming spirits.

I’d learnt my skills at Grandfather’s side; watched his arthritic fingers twist slender green beans from wigwams before filling his dampened pockets. Following a successful pillage, our caravan dripped with the scented vapour of soups and jam.

A tiny fist grasps my hair, and I smile, remembering Midsummer’s Eve. How, after one rosehip wine too many, my tale of finding this wee bairn beneath the blackcurrant bushes stilled the night. Gifts of trefoil, vervain and rue appeared on the wagon’s steps: blessings for the infant sprite.

Truth is, I spread my legs for the handsome captain of a ship moored by the quayside. Voluminous skirts and Grandfather’s failing eyesight allowed me to hide my growing belly. On the day my waters broke, I slipped into the long grass at the river’s edge to give birth like a forest animal. While my baby lay mewling on blood stained petticoats, I wiped away the vernix with leaves from a nearby clump of sorrel.

Sorrel—for what else could I have named her?—squirms in the shawl I’ve tied across my back. She’s hungry, so I reach for a tender pod dangling from tendrils. Her eyes widen as I pop a bright green pea between her rosy lips.

The mist is lifting, snatching my cover, and I should return. Grandfather will want his supper. Besides, this morning there was talk of a tall ship arriving with its cargo of tea. Tonight I’ll scour the inns for its captain; he’ll shoulder his responsibilities or end his days cursed on the high seas.

Flash Fiction by Ros Collins
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Addendum to the Art Loss Register


Drexel relaxed in the beat of swiping inner seams of jeans as the heft of cans tapped a pattern against his spine. In the chill air of just-before-dawn, the route to the underpass glowed oily orange.

Warning came in a muted grunt. Without losing his beat, Drexel slung with his shoulder into the crosshatches of a wire fence. The resident wino, shrugged beneath a sketchy carpet, pointed around the next corner. When Drexel saw the policeman, sans smiley-face, and a huddle of folk with flash cameras hustling around his imperfect artwork, he tugged his hood further forward.

“Bugger Bansky,” muttered the drinker and then shuffled on, a yarn flailing loose from his carpet in a rat’s tail trail.

Drexel crouched beside the shipwrecked ribs of a shopping trolley, edged off his backpack and tucked its strap around a dislocated, disengaged wheel. He had no desire to be caught red-bagged and red-handed. He thrust paint-stained hands into his pockets and padded nearer.

“What’s up?” he asked the uniform, lifting his chin towards the underpass and those hipster types with their LED lamps and thick-rimmed specs.

“Famous artist or some crap. Now piss off before I mention trespass.”

Drexel shifted himself into the shadowed concrete canvas and sidled closer. Harsh lights silhouetted his wan beauty. The missile-infant she cradled still suckled at her breast. She sirened out to him for the crimson-in-a-can that he’d abandoned, and she wept at the stenciled-on signature that stained her, that claimed her, for another.

A voice resonated by the agency of the underpass acoustics. “A deviation from his past work, a maturing. Pure genius!”

Drexel wavered half-in, half-out of the shadows.

Flash Fiction by Heather McQuillan
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