An occasional series of flash, or sudden, or short-short fictions

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Jarrahdale Road

She stood there in the white glare of the sun, thick-waisted and cheerful under her wide-brimmed Akubra slouch hat. Tom could hardly see her face in the black shadow pooled beneath the brim, his own eyes crinkled and narrowed despite the hand placed in a shading salute on his brow. From the waist, in a wide expansive gesture as if she were scything hay, she broadcast the feed to the chooks that skittered around the wide brown felt folds of her working skirt. Her hand delved, with each swing, to grasp handfuls of feed from the pocket of the khaki canvas apron tied around her full hips.

Behind her, Tom could see a parched, tight-fleshed old woman sitting on the porch, tilting the wooden chair back and forward with her feet, a double-barrelled shotgun athwart her lap.

‘You just walked out of the bush, love?’ said the standing woman, as she scattered more feed onto the dusty red earth.

‘Car broke down on the Jarrahdale Road,’ he said. ‘Don’t have a signal on my cell phone. I was wondering whether I could ask you for some water, and maybe make a call on your land line?’

She smiled and cast another handful of seed. ‘You aren’t dressed for a trip out here, love,’ she said. ‘No-one would be mistaking you for a bushranger. Didn’t you learn your slip-slop-slap?’ She gestured at his bare head. ‘That’s the way to get sunstroke, or worse.’

She beckoned to him to follow her around the back of the house, the old woman on the verandah following him with her eyes. As he rounded the corner he saw an old terracotta-coloured ute propped up on bricks, a few dusty outhouses, and some hen-houses and runs for the chooks. He felt the heat of the day in his bones and the still-shocking glare filled his head, and he weaved towards the back of the house. He felt her hand on his arm before he heard her, and willingly let her steer him to a dusty old armchair that sat in the shadow of the overhang. She pressed a glass of water into his hand and, as his eyes focused in the shadow, he saw she was smiling at him.

‘I’ve already called Roger in Jarrahdale,’ she said reassuringly. ‘He already knew about the car, spotted it on the side of the road. He’ll tow it in and you can arrange someone from the city to come and collect it.’

He smiled wanly and murmured his thanks. He felt light-headed and sleepy.

'Ah, none of that, now,’ she said, kneeling beside the armchair. ‘You’ll come round. Too hot today for Poms.’

‘It’s Tom,’ he said, looking at her kindly face, and returning her smile. ‘My name is Tom.’


Amy took the old tea caddy down from the corner cupboard and dipped her long forefinger and thumb into the scree of buttons inside. Her husband Sam stood in his vest and underpants in the kitchen, sky blue shirt folded over his arm.

‘I’ll never find a match,’ said Amy, and poured the buttons onto the kitchen table. She spread them with her hand and scanned the blotted wave of colours and textures, picking up a bright blue disk, holding it to her eye, replacing it. ‘These buttons are the gravestones of a hundred blouses,’ she said, ‘but not a single one will fit your shirt. Sorry, love.’

Sam trudged out of the kitchen and up the stairs. Amy began to scoop up the buttons and tip them back into the caddy. Very quietly, mindful of Sam’s feelings, she said to herself, ‘Some things just can’t be mended.’

Monday, 20 December 2010

Gulls of Kintyre

The mist rolled in from the sea. In the small car park on the island, he looked out into the swirling silver gauze that enfolded the causeway. At the edge of his vision he could see the whitewashed posts and rocks that marked the edges of the empty car park, the light grey gravel oval that now soaked into the fret. He could hear the herring gulls on the shore, but could not see them.

He thought about lighting a cigarette but decided against it. He didn't want to add to the pewter gloom. He scanned where the horizon ought to be on a late autumn afternoon, but could not make out the sun. He raised him arm but could hardly see the hand in front of him. He sighed. Perhaps it would be all right, anyway.

He re-attached the keyring to one of his belt loops and walked, jangling, up the sandy path towards the boarding house that stood silhouetted at the top of a small rise. Faint light leaked from the front bay windows as he climbed steadily, keeping his eyes on th gravel. He thought about driving out over the causeway in the fog, edging forward, fearing that the wheels would slip from the surface into the cold salt water of the bay, gripping the steering wheel like a life-preserver. Slow, slower still, as the tide crept up to the tyres and he came to a rest, halfway between island and shore. Watching the water enter the footwell, feeling the car shift as the water began to lift it from the surface of the causeway. Floating. But not for long. The water was cold. So cold.

He shuddered as he stood before the front door of the boarding-house. Damp clung to the hair that spilled long over his collar. He knocked.

A small, middle-aged woman in a black dress opened the door, peering up at him through loops of silver hair that fell from the pile pinned up on top of her head.

'My goodness, man, you look like you've seen a ghost,' she said. 'Come in, come in, Go on into the parlour and I'll fetch you a glass of mulled wine to warm you through. Go on, go on.'

He sat gratefully on one of the hard, winged armchairs, looking out into the mist as the light faded, hearing the gulls call. He turned as Mrs Gabriel came in, carrying a steaming glass mug of spiced wine. She handed the drink to him and put one hand on his arm.

'Take your time, now', she said. 'Did you try leaving?' He looked at her blankly. 'Well, it doesn't matter much, does it? You can try again tomorrow. You're welcome to stay as long as you like.'

The steam from the hot wine curled into the frigid air of the parlour. Outside the fog crept up the rise towards the house, and would soon envelop the windows. He sat still. If he didn't move, perhaps it would be all right.

A Conversation in Sunshine

'Do you know, you can't buy a decent olive in this city?'
'I'm sure you're exaggerating, Anna.'
'No, it's true. You remember that stunted little olive tree Seyit Bey spent so many summers watering and watering, while the dust covered his ears and eyebrows? You remember the hard, bitter, shrivelled things he used to present in a bowl and beg us eat? Even they were better than the best you can get in this city. The people here don't know how to cook. It's probably just as well considering what they have to cook with.'
'It was a fig tree, Anna.'
'Figs, olives, who knows? The point is that nothing ripens here, there's no sun. The water falls, and it rises up. I've never felt warm, not truly warm, here.'
'Is there nothing you like about this place, Anna? I like the trains.'
'You always liked trains, dear. There was that wooden train set that Baba brought home for your birthday when you were, how old? Five? It went in a circle, round and around, round and around…'
'No, that was Hamid's. Hamid's train went round and round.'
'Ah, was it, dear? Hamid's? I'm sorry. Poor Hamid. I'd forgotten, you see. I'd forgotten it was Hamid's. You're not upset, are you, dear?'
'No, Anna. I'm not upset. How are these olives, did you say?

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Three Steps to Heaven

'That's a long way from here, Carol love.' Edith put the bone-china teacup gently down on the melamine tabletop, then turned the cup precisely so that the handle was at an oblique angle to her hand.
'Did I tell you, I went to see your Auntie Megan this week? She's still living in Chester, in one of those tower blocks by the fire station. Seventy two she is. She's got the arthritis now, and it's not good for her, that place, all those steps. You should have seen it, Carol. The place was a tip. She's really let it go, ever since her Eric went. I says to her, "Megan," I says, "why don’t you tidy up a little bit?" She looked right in my face, and says to me, "Edith, who's to see it now? Who visits me now?" And where was I, then? I ask you. Well, she's always had a melodramatic streak, has Megan. But it's a shame. Growing up in that little terrace house in Cefn, of course we shared a room. Me and big sister. The hours she spent admiring herself in a mirror, plucking her eyebrows, pursing her lips. We didn’t have much money for make-up, mind, it was all make-believe mainly. "Greer Garson," she'd say, holding her chin up. And she was always well turned out, our Megan, always one for the boys. Always neat and tidy. And now this. Tell the truth, Carol, she'd been letting herself go a while before Eric went.'
Edith picked up the teacup by the handle, and went to the sink. Looking in the window, she poured out the cold tea, tea without milk, tea with lemon, just a hint of the bitter in the brew. The colour of the tea was the rich red of her hair. With her other hand she pushed a strand behind her ear.
Her slim back turned to her daughter, Edith said, 'Eric? Yes, I've seen him. They say he's taken up with a younger woman.'

(first published in An Anatomy of Chester: A Collection of Short-Short Stories, ed. Ashley Chantler (Chester: Chester Academic Press, 2007))

Sunday, 5 December 2010


If only I could float, he thought. If only old Isaac hadn’t discovered gravity, I’d be out of here and away. Clean away over that bloody great hill, laughing fit to pop.

It was getting cold now. If only I hadn’t come out into the garden, he thought. If only I hadn’t climbed that bloody tree.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Two Kings

‘Broken, did you say?’
Jasper blew out a plume of steam into the dark, frigid air and walked into the middle of the motorway. He turned and could see the illuminated stretch of road at the junction ahead, snow and ice glittering under the golden light.
‘Did you call?’
‘You heard me call. They said 2 hours. Minimum.’
Jasper pulled his black woollen glove off his wrist to check the glowing hands on the TAG Heuer wristwatch.
‘They won’t be here until nearly six.’
‘You’d better get out of the road,’ said his brother, who was standing, dressed in an identical black woollen Ulster, by the raised bonnet of the new Beamer.
‘What for?’ Jasper stamped his feet and blew more hot, humid breath into the night air. Looking both ways, he walked back to the car. ‘Anything left in the flask?’
His brother passed him the silver bottle with a sour expression. ‘Don’t drink it all.’
Jasper shrugged. ‘I’m not the designated driver.’ He tipped the flask to his lips and swallowed the bourbon, lighting a fire inside his gullet. ‘Whose idea was it to drive all this way on Christmas morning? Just to deliver some presents?’
‘Yours,’ said his brother.
‘Jesus Christ Almighty,’ said Jasper, stamping his feet.

Flash fiction

I have, for a while now, occasionally dabbled in what is known as 'flash fiction', 'sudden fiction', 'short-short fiction' - short stories of around 250 words. I had three stories published in a University of Chester collection known as An Anatomy of Chester, edited by former colleague Ashley Chantler. With another former colleague, Peter Blair, Ash Chantler edits Flash Fiction Magazine, which can be found at In this space I'm going to post some past and ongoing flash stories of mine, as I find I need a deadline to get me going. I thought of one story a day, as in Ed Hammell's songwriting project ( but that seemed too much like a yoke across my shoulders, so I will aim for a twice-weekly posting. The first one coming up... up!