The Plaque – Kate Whitehead

 

Aileen stands in the upstairs bedroom of the holiday home, sensing subtle traces of him: a faint sharp aroma of old spice, a musky hint of pipe tobacco. Dazzled by the surprise of another day’s sunshine, she peers down at the historical tableau: kids jumping from the high stone harbour walls, catapulting magically through space.

She reaches into the musty wardrobe for a pinstriped dress belted at the waist, pats her close coiled curls and applies the peachy orange lipstick. Strapped into beige high heeled sandals, she navigates the cobbles, steps lightly and confidently down the hill, greeting familiar faces with a casual nod.

If he were here today, she thinks, we would walk together, mad dogs in the noonday sun marvelling in unison at the fantastic summer that reminds us of 1976. In her solo state, this unexpected burst of blue brilliance only accentuates her sense of loss, twisted under the harsh glare.

Her foundation trickles down her right cheek, melting in the brightest sun of the day. She’s tempted to retreat into the cool cavern but doggedly continues her weekly constitutional, climbing the haphazard steps, breathlessly gulping at the still salt air.

Aileen rests for a moment at the top, scowls disapprovingly at the floating detritus, discarded takeaway boxes tangled in the early brambles. Her scowl falls into a small self-congratulatory smile as she admires the deceptively distant elegant grey contours of the holiday home, sandwiched proudly in the middle of the granite.

Huddled at one end of the splintered brown bench with the missing slat, a blonde woman sits clutching a small notebook.

“Sorry, should I move?” she asks, half grimacing, half smiling – Aileen can’t be sure.

“No, there’s more than enough room for the two of us,” Aileen drawls authoritatively.

The blonde woman scours her small trove of uncontroversial chit chat, talks about the weather for the tenth time that morning.

She’s called Alice and she lives in the village all year round, at the top of the hill.

Aileen half listens to Alice mulling over shards of a memory of him.

“Oh, just look at that time, I’m late for lunch!” Aileen exclaims, slicing into Alice’s monologue about autumn in the village.

Standing up dizzily, Aileen turns and notices it, larger, bolder, golder, recently screwed on: the second plaque, below her husband’s.

Aileen trembles, shocked and enraged at the blatant unbelievable audacity of this thing that’s appeared overnight.

She spits the words at Alice. “They can’t do this, not without my permission, this bench is ours, we paid 500 pounds to put the plaque there in his memory because he loved the village so much.

“I need to talk to someone about this, someone who knows I need an explanation.”

“So you own the bench, do you?” Alice mutters indignantly, resentful at being privy to such a morbidly intricate drama.

“Goodbye then, enjoy your day,” Aileen growls, slowly regaining her starchy composure.

Alice observes Aileen’s cautious descent back down the steps and over to the other side of the harbour, paralysed by an overpowering sense of gloom. She raises reluctantly from the bench, her daily dose of calm contaminated by the morbid nature of this revelation…

Aileen sits on a stool in her porch, unstraps her beige high heels, shuts her eyes and imbibes the familiar scent: dusty tomato plants mingled with the spicy cinnamon of her tiny purple orchids.

She can’t decide: will it be lunch first, then the stern phone call to the woman at the chapel, who knows everything, to get to the bottom of the troubling matter of the second plaque?

After a single glass of merlot, suffused with transient drowsy contentment, she wistfully recalls her husband’s easy-going good nature and lets it go, the matter of the second plaque. His words chime in her head, gently mocking.

“Well, what harm can it do, two plaques on the bench? I’m happy to be with the other fellow anyway.”

It’s the end of her solo summer sojourn in the holiday home, drifting through the huge rooms, relieved when the huge sun sinks leaving her shrouded in a comforting twilight blanket. She watches the evening news, tut-tutting at the relentless stupidity of it all, crochets for the grandchildren then slides gratefully under the lavender-scented sheets.

Alice seeks out a new bench for her morning calm the following day, on the other side of the harbour. It is slightly concealed by overhanging branches and next to an overflowing litter bin buzzing with flies. If she twists her head slightly to the right, she can see the golden yellow contours of her own home high up above the harbour. She reaches behind her, runs her hands along with the rough wood, relieved to find it unadorned, seized by an unexpected feeling of gratitude that time hasn’t outsmarted her yet.

 


Kate’s Whitehead’s short fiction often has a strong sense of place. She did gain a certificate in creative writing from Birkbeck but ultimately has gained more inspiration form reading widely and voraciously and listening to authors she admires talking about their approach to writing. Her writing has been published in online literary journals, fanzines and the print publications Confluence and Impspired.

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Fluttering – Heather Walker

 

I notice the fluttering inside of me at the time the earth stands still. Equal day and night. I turn to the man sleeping with his back to me. The shape of him stirs me and the fluttering increases. I lie my head against him and he does not stir.

The fluttering reminds me of a butterfly whose wings knock against a closed window, yet I cannot open up and let you out. It is not yet time. The year dips into winter. Snow lines the windowsill. I breathe on the glass and draw a heart. How I long to be out in the fields once more.

I have not told him of the fluttering I feel inside. This is my secret and I have no wish to share it. I hug my arms around my stomach, shelter you, to reassure you.

As days move into months, I have not grown much, yet I feel your kick. I caress your movement, talk to you as I shower. Surely it will be soon. I have still not told him. How can I?

Spring comes with a burst of white and yellow. I walk the fields, my feet sodden with dew. Lifting my face to the sun, I ask it what I should do. When the pain begins, I rejoice seeking a hollow rather than return home where he will ask questions.

You are restless to escape and now cramps rage through me as you shift. I hunker down and push, bearing my weight and strength through the length of me. And then the slip-slide of body, membrane, mucus and blood onto the grass. You are all legs as you flounder. Your head turns and we make eye contact. I smile and stroke your body, still wet through. I lift you to the sun and name you Solar. Placing you at my feet, you dry off, all the while trying to find your feet. I hug you, nestle into your furriness, and place you to my breast.

He will never understand. I can never tell him of this. You are mine, and we shall run the fields together, just as I did before I met the human.

 


Heather Walker is a London based writer of poetry, flash and short fiction. Her work has appeared in various magazines, ezines and anthologies, including Paragraph Planet, Visual Verse, Ink Sweat & Tears, Seaborne and Popshop. Her novellas, Where It Ends and The Chair are available through Amazon.

Who I’m Really Thinking About When My Grandaughter Assumes I’m Missing Her Grandfather and Gives Me that Soft-Sweet Look – Diane D. Gillette

 

I remember Rita in her pink kitten heels, her hair coiffed up in a lavender helmet, her lips leaving ruby stained proof of her existence on my neck. She tasted like merlot, and sounded like the sigh after a storm. I remember the pretty way she danced around my living room to the Nat King Cole record she brought over. Her hips entranced me, and I pulled her back on the couch so we could make love all over again. I remember the way her gardenia perfume settled into my pores for days after she was gone. How I could feel her skin under my hands, soft like butter, for weeks, for months, if I just closed my eyes and thought about her. I remember the taste of rain in the air when she drove away. I remember thinking that no matter what she said or believed, she’d come back. I remember finding the wedding announcement from the newspaper. Or rather, it found me. A manila envelope with no return address. No note attached. Just the announcement, snipped and clipped so sharp – a papercut right to the heart. It said the bride had been beautiful. But there’s no way Rita could have been as beautiful as she had been dancing in my living room.

 


Diane D. Gillette (she/her) lives in Chicago. Her work is a Best Small Fictions selection. Her chapbook We’re All Just Trying to Make It to January 2nd is available through Fahmidan & Co. Publishing. She is a founding member of the Chicago Literary Writers. Read more at www.digillette.com.

Beyond the Tree Line – Hugh Cartwright

 

It’s our first Christmas adrift in the stars.

And Molly’s first egg.

“Can I break it now?”

“Be gentle.”

Molly’s just four, the youngest of our tiny community. She taps the egg with fierce concentration, as if it’s the most important job in the Universe.

Suddenly the egg shatters and a glittering shape unfolds from among the fragments – a silver Christmas tree. It would weigh a handful of feathers on earth; here in deep space it floats effortlessly.

The tree glides quietly through the cabin until I tie it down with red ribbon. Our little group of 19 gathers round in a circle, linking arms and singing carols.

On 12th night, Molly helps me shepherd her tree into the airlock and we set it free. It glides behind the ship, not wanting to leave. But, as the hours go by, it gradually falls away, dissolving into the star-strewn sky.

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Our 27th Christmas; it will be the last before we reach our new home.

Molly is unwell, but she is our talisman; she must crack the final egg. A shimmering, golden tree emerges, capped with a crown of sparkling stars.

Our group now numbers 22. We gather around the tree for the final time, holding hands and singing carols.

On 12th night, Molly, whose memories were of nothing beyond our ship, is dead; she is the first to die.

27 trees drift behind in a soundless, invisible line, watching over us as we rush towards a world that Molly will never see.

 


Hugh’s not really a writer. His career has been spent in Universities, working at the interface of artificial intelligence and physical science. Now retired, he has begun to write occasional stories, some colored with elements of science fiction, others being just a little odd. It helps to take his mind off his impossible project: growing citrus trees in the Canadian climate.

The Rainham Diver – Rebecca Metcalfe

 

The tide slips away, the river lowers, and he is there beneath the water. Striding across the mud towards the bank, he does not move. Seagulls circle overhead and shriek, boats chug past going East or West, but he does move. His body is a cage that imprisons river water with each high tide, releasing it as the moon shifts. In front of him, the reeds lead up to the bank, and beyond them the oil refineries, chemical works and factories that line the estuary all the way to the sea. Behind him is more of the same, just with the heaving mass of grey water between. He has sunk into the thick, green mud and so there he stays; a grey figure against a grey skyline. And he does not move.

 

 

22752130_10210178275199633_1006394601_nOriginally from Essex, Rebecca Metcalfe studied first at the University of Chester and then at the University of Liverpool. She now lives in an attic in Manchester with two black cats and works part time in a museum and part time in a restaurant. She has previously been published in Spelk, Flash: The International Short Story Magazine, Peach Street Magazine, Lumpen Journal, and Foxglove Journal, among others. She can be found on Twitter at @beckyannwriter.

Frosted petals – Jade Morgan

 

The hexagonal particles of ice are warming, crackling, melting. The earth is only damp on the top layer; underneath it is dry and compacting, offering warmth and protection to the roots during the night. The sky is changing from a deep, vast blue to a softer, yet still intense, shade. Light blue will then be met with blinding white, will be met with lemon, will be met with blazing orange.

“All in good time”, the twilight breathes. “All in good time”.

Changing shape, the icicles climb into themselves before dropping onto the floor with the gentlest of ‘plops’. The departure of the clinging frost, which the closed petals host each night, causes the most subtle movement. The petals are shaken awake, free and able to breathe. Shimmering in delight, they turn their bodies towards the East like a porcelain ballerina twirling on a spring in a jewellery box.

As promised by the twilight, the sky is getting lighter. The remaining night stars twinkle and bow once more, before ending their performance and closing their glimmer to sleep.

As the tip of the brilliant father sun peaks its face over the hills in the horizon, the rays crawl over the grass towards the petals. In unison, the petals stretch, yawn and open themselves to let in the light and nourishment. It is a brand new day.

 

 

image0Jade Morgan discovered her passion for writing when she was travelling overseas, hiking in New Zealand’s National Parks and Nepal’s Himalayan mountain region. Since her return to England, she has engaged in writing courses to delve more into her new found passion. From the writing courses, Jade has been finding enjoyment in revisiting her travel journals to create a travel writing book and writing flash fiction stories. When she is not doing this, you can find her hiking, reading, hugging trees or planning her next adventure.

Perfect Surfaces – Geraldine McCarthy

On Saturday morning, Pam cleans the mixing-bowl at the kitchen sink while buns cook in the oven. She’s wearing rubber gloves to protect her nails. Only had them done the previous day, and they’re €30 a pop.

She’s volunteered to bake for a local coffee morning, in aid of some orphanage in South America.

The fairy cakes will take fifteen minutes. Two dozen should be enough; twelve plain and twelve with cherries. She wipes down the already spotless marble worktops, takes out the cakes, and has a quick coffee while they cool on a wire tray. The aroma of vanilla wafts through the kitchen.

Upstairs, she opts for skinny jeans, and a new baby-pink top. Her face is a little flushed from the heat of the oven, so she applies foundation, and then a little eye-shadow and lip gloss. The neighbours are all so glam, with their highlights and lowlights, their clothes always this season’s.

Fairy cakes in boxes on the back seat, Pam drives to the community centre. The Audi glides along like a dream. She’s glad she traded up this year.

Once inside, she makes sure to hand over the baking to Audrey, the head of the committee, who pecks Pam’s cheek and thanks her profusely from a cloud of Chanel No. 5. Audrey persuades Pam to stay for a cuppa, so they sit down in the far corner of the room, away from the hub-bub at other tables. Deep in conversation about the Tidy Towns contest, Pam feels a tap on her shoulder. She twirls on her chair.

Her mother. Grey roots and crumpled cardigan.

Pam’s stomach clenches. “Mam!” she says. “How did you get here?”

“Diane next door brought me,” her mother says, “thought I could do with a break.” She raises an eyebrow. “There’s only so many kitten videos you can watch on YouTube.”

Pam glances at Audrey, who averts her eyes, and nibbles her bun like a bird at a feeder.

Pam addresses her mother. “Oh, well, you know I’d have collected you, but I thought you were watching your weight, that you’d have no interest.”

Her mother twists her wedding band around her finger, as if she’s strangling a turkey. “Hmm.”

“Well, I can drop you back later.”

Her mother purses her lips. “Sure, if I came with Diane I can go home with her.”

Pam feels her face redden. “Well, I’ll call tomorrow morning then. Is there anything you need?”

“Not a bit,” her mother says. “Diane is beckoning me over. See you tomorrow.”

Audrey finishes her bun. “Well, I must mingle. Thanks so much for all your hard work, Pam.”

“Not a bother, Audrey. I’ll see you Monday night for picking up the litter. The group is meeting at the church, isn’t it?”

“Yes, see you then.”

As Pam drives home, she notices the varnish has chipped.  She’ll go to the nail bar next week for a repair job. They look so nice when they’re freshly done.


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Geraldine McCarthy lives in West Cork, Ireland.  She writes short stories, flash fiction and poetry.  Her work has been published in various journals, both on-line and in print.

Canvey Island – Rebecca Metcalfe

 

We spend the afternoon playing on the beach surrounded by fumes from the oil-refineries and chemical works. With our plastic spades we build sandcastles and dig for buried treasure. There’s a picnic of marmalade sandwiches and cartons of Ribena, then a shout of “tag: you’re it” starts the running around games. The tide hisses at us if we get too close. We run up to the bulging concrete flood-barrier and take it in turns to sneak round the edge to see if we can spot the troll we know lives behind it. He’ll get us if he sees us. We climb up and jump off into the sand with a thud. We have to rub our hands furiously up and down our legs to get the sand off before we can get back in the car. The drive home smells of seaweed and factory fumes, and we sit and laugh as we pick the grit out from under our fingernails.

 

 

22752130_10210178275199633_1006394601_nOriginally from Essex, Rebecca Metcalfe studied first at the University of Chester and then at the University of Liverpool. She now lives in an attic in Manchester with two black cats and works part time in a museum and part time in a restaurant. She has previously been published in Spelk, Flash: The International Short Story Magazine, Peach Street Magazine, Lumpen Journal, and Foxglove Journal, among others. She can be found on Twitter at @beckyannwriter.

Fissures – Jayne Martin

 

The new people had rebuilt from our ashes, from the scarred land to which we could not bring ourselves to return. The foundation had weakened over the years and the house had begun to sink on one side. Spider web-like fissures had creeped silently across the wall above our headboard as we slept.

We stood in only our robes, our feet bare on the cold pavement. The heat of the flames blew out the window of the second-story bedroom we’d planned as a nursery for children never born. The chimney collapsed onto your study where you buried your disappointment in work, while I buried mine in the kitchen growing larger with food that never filled the void. I may have reached for your hand. They said the fire was caused by faulty wiring. It’s true we had let things go. So many things.

I sit in my car across the street from the modern new design; all glass, sharp angles, and promise. No bicycles hastily discarded in its driveway, no toys forgotten from play on its pristine lawn. A gentle psst-psst-psst of a rotating sprinkler the only hint of life.

I wonder about the people inside and who they will become when the first cracks appear.

 

 

Jayne Martin 2Jayne Martin is a Pushcart, Best Small Fictions, and Best Microfictions nominee, and a recipient of Vestal Review’s VERA award. Her debut collection of microfiction, Tender Cuts, from Vine Leaves Press, is available now. Learn more at www.jaynemartin-writer.com.

Appearance – Antoinette Carone

 

We used to pretend that we were wealthy. After all, as we were taught in theater class, it is the appearance that counts. Keep up the illusion long enough and it becomes a reality.

We shopped in the jewelry stores uptown. We never bought anything, but we made excellent excuses for not doing so: The amber did not quite go with my eyes; I did not really like the emerald; and so on. Then one day I saw an amethyst pin. I loved it! We said we would think about it and left.

I got a second job – just temporarily. I became a telemarketer. I hated every minute of it, but I was good at it. I guess all that pretending, all that making claim to an alternate reality paid off. At the end of six months I had saved twelve-hundred dollars.

I put on my one good dress – black silk crepe but very plain – and wearing sunglasses but no make-up, I walked into the jewelry store with the cash. The pin was still there! (I imagine it was too small for someone who could afford whatever she wanted to take notice of.) I never wore jewelry when I went into that store except for the gold studs in my ears, a graduation present from my aunts. I went home wearing the pin on my black dress. The austerity of the neckline really set it off.

There was a woman sitting in our living room with David, drinking white wine. David introduced her as Margot. I guess we effectively carried off the appearance of wealth, because Margot took quite a close look at my pin. She was a dancer, or so David said. That seemed to be true from the way she held herself and from the length and tone of her legs. She looked elegant and aloof. Perhaps Margot was pretending to be beautiful.

She certainly convinced David. He left me for her the following weekend. He said that he was obsessed with her exquisite looks, that he had more in common with her that with me and that he and I weren’t really meant for each other.

 

 

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Antoinette Carone was born in West Virginia. She has studied theater in New York city and holds a bachelor’s degree in Romance Languages. When she and her husband decided to spend a year in Naples, she kept a journal which was later published as Ciao, Napoli – A Scrapbook of Wandering in Naples. Her short stories “The Eternal Return” appeared in the May 2018 issue and “The Demon” in the January 2019 issue of the online journal Ovunque Siamo. She is an active member of the New York Writers’ Coalition.

Yellow Ribbons – Pene Morley

 

The newspaper did nothing to stop the cold seeping from the wooden bench into Steve’s bones. He hugged his anorak tighter around his shoulders and tucked his hands under his armpits. Swapping that old blanket for a tin of baked beans had been a bad idea.

Shoppers, muffled up in coats and scarves and hats, trudged to and fro in front of him. Most ignored him, but some watched him out of the tail of an eye as they passed him. He wanted to grab them and tell them, ‘I was like you once, before I went to fight your bloody war’, but he knew they wouldn’t believe him; they never did.

A woman hurled a half-eaten burger into the bin at his elbow, and he eyed it for a moment before snatching it up. Then he noticed the girl staring at him, knock-kneed, gripping a plait in each hand as though she thought her hair was going to fly off.

‘It’s for my dog,’ he said, nodding to where the lurcher was curled up among the carrier bags at his feet.

The dog raised its shaggy head at the sound of his voice, and he tossed the burger between its paws. It snapped it up.

‘What’s his name?’ the girl said, edging closer.

‘I don’t know. I call him Bob but he’s not really my dog; he just follows me around.’

‘Can I stroke him?’

Steve nodded. The girl bounced down on to the ground at his feet with a grin, and the lurcher stretched out his neck to sniff her mouth, his tail thumping the pavement.

‘My dog’s called Scruffy,’ she said, giggling and squirming as Bob licked her face. ‘I got him when my daddy died but nobody can see him; he’s invisible.’

Steve crumpled up the burger bag and chucked it into the bin. Not having a dad must be tough on the kid, but you wouldn’t know it looking at her now. She was holding Bob’s ears up like butterfly wings and chatting to him about everything and nothing. Steve was about to ask her about her dad, when a slip of a woman rushed up and grabbed her by the shoulders.

‘How many times have I told you not to run off like that, Anna?’ she said, pulling the girl on to her feet.

Anna twisted in her grip. ‘I just wanted to see that man; I thought he was daddy.’

The woman’s body slumped, like a puppet no longer in play. She glanced over at Steve, exasperated, and for an instant he thought her tired eyes were pleading with him for help.

Then she tugged at Anna’s arm. ‘Come on, I don’t want you bothering him.’

‘But he’s got a dog,’ Anna said, digging in her heels, ‘and it’s real.’

‘I don’t care.’

‘And he’s got no laces.’

‘What..?’

Her mother stopped pulling her arm and turned to Steve. She studied his cracked, unlaced army boots and then looked back at Anna, frowning.

‘Remember when Daddy’s laces broke and he used my ribbons to tie his trainers,’ Anna said. She smiled at Steve. ‘Would you like my ribbons for your boots?’ She knelt at his feet. ‘I think they’ll look ever so pretty,’ she said, threading her ribbons through the lace holes.

Her mother gazed at Steve as if to say, ‘I’m sorry, about her’. He grinned at her, and she reached down to stroke Bob and hide the flush of colour that had appeared in her cheeks.

 

 

PM bio picPene Morley lives in the south of Germany with her husband, teenage son and two Labradors. She discovered very short stories on Twitter over a year ago and now tries daily to do one of the writing prompts. Since then she has also started writing flash fiction and is writing a novel which she hopes to have finished soon. You can follow her on Twitter @PeneMorley.

The Conspiracy – Dan A. Cardoza

 

It’s the last night of my once a year visit nearly complete. Actually, it’s our last visit ever. Another uncomfortable Thanksgiving has come and gone. Tomorrow, it’s back to Chicago.

Earlier in the day, mother asks me to trawl through the attic boxes, and fish out our childhood memories before they place the house on the market.

Later in the day, after an early supper, father and I sit alone facing each other at the opposite ends of the kitchen table. Mother is at church, volunteering for just about anything.

I stand; push two dusty childhood photographs I discovered toward father.

Father look, these are so familiar, yet distant? I voice.

Yes, they are nearly identical son, except one is underexposed, sepia. Not sure why you retrieved the photo box from the attic. Most of those years are dead and buried.

I only asked you to look at these two father.

Son, why do you insist that we look at any photos?

Not sure father, maybe it’s time. I remember you thumbing the fat camera levers on your new Polaroid 900. Mother was hovering nearby. I recall your big smile. We were posing and …

Yes.

Its then father stands to exit the room. His massive hand smothers the handle of his lacquered Mallacan cane, veined & crooked, a tan leather glove. Then he limps away.

In the chilled lens of a dusty sunset, the parched air drifts through the half closed window, hissing faintly through the screen, like a thousand tiny tongues singing a chorus of truth. A chill slowly slithers up my spine. It’s moments like this I dread. I feel such gloom, like an orphaned child.

Goodnight father, see you in the morning.

Goodnight.

Much later, as I retire, I hear subtle moans coming from his room, as he toils in the muddy pastures of his sleep. As if on cue, at 3:00 A.M., he sits up and stares into the dark, at nothing in particular. I know this because mother spoke of his nightmares that have only increased after he quit drinking. She also confessed his depression is getting worse.

Over the years, our family has weathered torrents that have washed away bridges, only to be restored by the uncomplicated architecture of distance and malaise. I still want to understand, but after so many years, the melody of deception is a cappella. I close my eyes and begin to wade into the shallow waters of sleep.

Then I enter the dark of a dream,

You take us to the park. We play hide and seek for hours. Only this time I am never found. Mother, crazed with fear eventually finds me walking into the mist of her high beam headlights, a shivering apparition. Nothing is ever the same.

Swimming back from the deep waters of sleep, toward dawns pale shore, I hear an unseen small voice, one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, four…

 

 

Dan A. CardozaDan has an MS Degree. He is the author of four poetry Chapbooks, and a new collection of fiction, Second Stories. Recent Credits: 101 Words, Amethyst, UK., Chaleur Magazine, Cleaver Magazine, Dissections, Door=Jar, Entropy, Esthetic Apostle, Foxglove, Frogmore, High Shelf Press, Poetry Northwest, Rue Scribe, Runcible Spoon, Skylight 47, Spelk, Spillwords, The Fiction Pool, The Stray Branch, Urban Arts, The Zen Space, Tulpa and zeroflash.

Pumpkin pie – Cath Barton

 

In the dark street the window of the sweetshop shone out. Maisie, aged nine and three-quarters, had taken a detour on her way home from school. She pressed her nose up against the shop window; there were meringues iced to look like ghosts, witches’ hats made of chocolate and little marzipan pumpkins. Maisie pushed her hands deep into the pockets of her coat as she continued to stare at the sweets. In the right-hand pocket her hand closed on something unexpected and she pulled it out. It looked like a small, hard, shiny nut. She held it in the palm of her right hand and touched it, very gently, with her left index finger. Would a fairy appear in a puff of smoke and offer her three wishes, or at least her pick from the sweets? Nothing happened. She touched it again, said one of her own magic spells under her breath and waited. Still nothing happened. She put the nut back in her pocket and turned, reluctantly, from the bright window.

When she arrived home her mother was in the kitchen, looking flustered as she always seemed to be these days.

“Tea’s nearly ready,” she said. “I wondered where on earth you’d got to, Maisie. Wash your hands quickly now.”

They had bread and butter and jam for tea, as usual. Maisie had a cup of milk and her mother drank tea, weak tea. The two of them sat in silence, each lost in her own thoughts, but after a while the warmth from the food and the one-bar gas fire made them easier with one another.

“I’ve got a surprise,” the woman said, and the girl looked up, uncertain whether to ask what it was. Her mother was unpredictable, and Maisie didn’t understand what made her upset.

“It’s a pumpkin. Your dad brought it round. I’m going to make a pie.” She smiled at her daughter in an entreating way.

Maisie found it difficult thinking about her dad, so she thought about the marzipan pumpkins in the sweetshop window instead. She had never eaten pumpkin pie, but she had had marzipan on Christmas cake and she knew she liked that. She managed a wobbly smile

“Tomorrow,” said her mother, “We’ll have it tomorrow. It’ll be a treat.”

That night, when she knelt by her bed to say her prayers, Maisie held the shiny nut between her hands.

“I’m giving you a third chance,” she said, and then, surprising herself with her boldness.

“And just so as you know, this isn’t for me. I want you to make things better for my mum and dad.”

Next day Maisie stopped at the sweetshop window again on her way home from school. The marzipan pumpkins seemed to be winking at her. When she put her hand on the nut in her pocket it felt different. She pulled it out and gasped: it had turned into a coin, as bright and shiny as the shop window. Maisie pushed open the shop door, a bell tinkled and a little old man appeared from a back room.

She ran home with her bag of sweets. At the door she hesitated, hearing voices in the kitchen, but there were no shouts, no tears. Just soft talking.

They had tea together, Maisie and her mother and father. Pumpkin pie. Which, actually, the girl did not like. But she didn’t say so, just smiled. As they all did. Later, Maisie looked in the bag for a marzipan pumpkin. But the bag was empty, apart from a small, hard, empty nutshell.

 

 

Author pic.CathBarton.smallCath Barton is an English writer who lives in Wales. She won the New Welsh Writing AmeriCymru Prize for the Novella 2017 for The Plankton Collector, now published by New Welsh Review under their Rarebyte imprint. Cath was awarded a place on the 2018 Literature Wales Enhanced Mentoring Scheme to complete a collection of short stories inspired by the work of the sixteenth century Dutch artist Hieronymus Bosch. Active in the online flash fiction community, she is also a regular contributor to the online critical hub Wales Arts Review. She tweets @CathBarton1. Find out more at https://cathbarton.com.

The Fortune-Teller – Geraldine McCarthy

 

I hunkered on a three-legged stool outside the caravan, waiting. People liked to see what Rosie the Palm-Reader looked like. So I put myself on show, donned in my green velvet dress, with bangles jangling from wrist to elbow. It was important to look the part.

The fair was in full swing. The stall next to me sold cheap plastic toys, and young children pointed to guns and dolls and swords, and pouted if their parents said they’d spent enough already. Men led horses down towards the end of the street, where the beasts would be eyed by keen buyers. The smell of dung mingled with the smell of chips, fused with the smell of leather from the shoe stall across the way.

Business was quiet. Would I make the price of the supper?

Jim ambled up. His tweed jacket was open, revealing a beige pull-over, slightly ravelled at the neck. Hazel eyes, rosy cheeks and grey curls in need of a haircut – not many people would pay him heed. He was late. Normally he came in the morning. He toured all the fairs and was on first-name terms with the horsey crowd.

This six months past he’d begun paying me visits.

“Rosie, how’re you keepin’?”

“Good enough, Jim. Good enough.”

I waited for him to speak again. I didn’t like to presume.

“I was wonderin’ would we have one of our little chats?” He stood staring into the middle distance.

I rose from the stool, my knee joints protesting, and gestured towards the van. “Come in, Jim. Come in.”

I hauled myself up the steps, and sat at one side of the pull-out table. All of a sudden, the van seemed dingy. The curtains were faded, as were the cushion covers, and the carpet had seen better days. People expected dream-catchers and crystal balls, but I had neither. I ran a no-frills operation.

Jim came and positioned himself opposite, shuffling his bulk to get comfortable. He held out his palm without being asked. His hands were calloused and rough; he’d told me of the long years he’d spent labouring for big farmers. I ran my finger along his life line, his head line and his heart line, doing my best to ignore the tingle, the quickening of my own heart.

“Is there anything bothering you today, Jim?”

“No more than usual.”

The last time I’d seen him he’d been arguing with his wife. Said he couldn’t leave. The house was hers, and he’d have nowhere to go.

“Well, as I told you before, Jim, your heart line is strong.”

So it was. Just like my own.

He exhaled loudly. “You’ll have to give me more than that to go on, Rosie, love.”

I wanted to advise him to ditch the wife. That’s what my gut instinct told me. I’d normally be honest with a client, but I couldn’t say anything in this case.

He waited for me to continue.

“Your strong heart line allows you to over-ride practicalities. Sometimes we can be too practical, calculating everything in the credit and debit columns.”

I’d said far more than I intended.

Jim shifted in the seat, and the leather squeaked. “Aye,” he said, looking me straight in the eye.

My cheeks burned and I hoped the dim light would camouflage my unease. “This one’s on the house, Jim.”

If he was surprised he didn’t show it. “Aye, thanks. Well, I’ll be off so.”

He descended the steps, reluctantly it seemed, and I stayed in the caravan a while, delicately fingering the heart line on my own palm.

 

 

IMG_0407Geraldine McCarthy lives in West Cork. She writes short stories, flash fiction and poetry. Her work has been published in The Fable Online, The Incubator Journal, Seven Deadly Sins: a YA Anthology (Gluttony, Wrath, Avarice), Scarlet Leaf Review, Brilliant Flash Fiction,  Every Day Fiction, Fifty Word Stories, Foxglove, Poetry Pulse and Comhar.

The Rose Trees are in Bloom – Arlene Antoinette

 

Monday

Mother sits in her favorite armchair, peering through the picture windows onto her backyard garden. The rose trees are beginning to bloom, she calls to me. I’m in the kitchen, washing up last night’s dishes, scrubbing spills from the stove, sweeping and mopping the floor. I respond with a quick, that’s nice. She leaves her spot only for meals and bathroom breaks. Night falls; a veil of darkness obscures her precious flowers. I plant a light kiss on her cheek as I put her to bed.

 

Tuesday

The rose trees are beginning to bloom. Her words seem to dance across her lips. I’m busy loading the washing machine and unloading the dryer. I look up, but I don’t respond. Mother stands at the window like an expectant child on the night before her birthday.

 

Wednesday

Mother, are you finished dressing? Again, she’s standing by the back window, hands clasped together as if in prayer. Have you seen them? The roses are beginning to bloom! Her blouse hangs open; her hair’s undone. I walk over to her and place my hand on her forearm. Come with me mom, we’re running late for your appointment. I don’t bother to look out onto the garden; I’m busy calculating how long it will take me to finish getting her dressed.

 

Thursday

Okay mom. I’m off. Lunch is in the fridge. There’s a glass of coconut water on the table and if you need a snack there’s a granola bar in the cabinet. I should be back by dinner time.
Have you seen them?
Seen what?
The roses buds. The rose trees are beginning to bloom.
I know, I know. I’ll look at them when I get back. I have to go. Love you. I grab my purse and head out the door.

 

Thursday Evening

Mom, I’m home. Mom, I’m back. I open the fridge and retrieve a bottle of cold water. It’s 5:30, and her lunch is still there. Mom, where are you? Why haven’t you eaten? I walk through the house, glancing into her bedroom, the bathroom and the living room. Finally, I look out the back window. She’s there, sitting on the bench in her beloved garden. I retrieve her lunch from the fridge and head outside. Mom. She doesn’t respond. Mom, you must be starving. I lay my hand on her shoulder, there’s no response. Mom, mom! Are you alright? Mom say something! Mom! Mom!

 

Friday

The hospital’s ER is ice-cold. Pictures of children playing in fields adorn the walls.

 

Saturday

I call close friends and family. My hands shake as I dial each number. 

 

Sunday

I stand at the window gazing out into the back yard. Yellow, pink and red roses adorn my mother’s garden. The roses are in full bloom

 

 

stillmyeye

Arlene Antoinette is a poet of West Indian birth who grew up in Brooklyn, New York. She graduated from Brooklyn College and worked as an instructor with disabled individuals for many years. You may find additional work by Arlene at Foxglove Journal, Little Rose Magazine, I am not a silent Poet, Tuck Magazine, The Feminine Collective, The Open Mouse, Amaryllis Poetry, Boston Accent Lit, Sick Lit Magazine, Postcard Shorts, 50 Word Stories, The Ginger Collect, Neologism Poetry Journal and Your Daily Poem.