STUFF

hoardingRecently I joined a local Creative Writing Group and the latest piece of ‘homework’ was to write a page or so around the prompt word of ‘Stuff’. Here is what I came up with.

STUFF

You reach for the floor beside the grubby mattress and your hand stops. Paper. Your eyes flicker to the pile of magazines; this section all sports but the top one is askew and from years of practise you ease it back to perfect alignment. A silent satisfied sigh slips between your lips. Lips, thirst, only now do you realise the rasping dry feeling in your throat, you gag, try to cough, to spit. Anything. Just tiny puffs of air that lift the dust from all around, it flutters freely in the gloomy air, some dancing in the shaft of light beaming through the torn curtain. Light, too much light. You need to eradicate the beam, to restore the darkness, to preserve your stuff. Slowly you ease yourself onto your ankles, wincing with pain, time standing still, each movement agony. Don’t need this. Really could do without this hassle. You mutter. To yourself. The left knee gives way and twisted you fall back onto your hideaway. Surrounded by piles of newspapers, magazines, records, memorabilia. It’s all junk, she said as you came back from the car boot sale. Was that the fourth time, or the twelfth? Just because it’s called a car boot sale doesn’t mean you need to fill it, she joked. At first. Beth was sweet, good, kind. She tried to stick with you, with it. You shake your head, the memory of her too much, too distant, another lifetime. The sunlight moves and blinded you lash out, fast, violently. As vicious as your swiped at Beth. You didn’t mean to hurt her, honestly. You did your time and were set free again. But are you? Ever? Again you lash out at the light, striking it back and forth, striking your cave of print material. You feel a gentle pummel first, then a cascade as first one pile wobbles then topples over. Over you. An endless colossal collapse of stuff. Are you free yet? Vincent?  

©Annika Perry

KEYS. MOBILE. LAPTOP.

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It is with heart-ache and compassionate concern I have watched close friends undergo recent troubles at work. Incessant restructuring within companies involving everyone’s re-application for their old job. Even worse, sudden and unexpected redundancies. With them in mind, in the midst of all their uncertainties, fears and confusion, I wrote the following fiction piece; trying to make sense of this unstable world around us. On the same theme my friend, Thalia Gust, has written a striking poem.

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KEYS. MOBILE. LAPTOP.

‘Twenty-three pounds forty-one.’

Emma scours the coins in her purse, their muffled jangling amplified across the empty aisles. Finally she locates the coin and as if disembodied, hands over the money. Now Emma holds out her hand expectantly, waiting for the nine pence change. 

The sales assistant stares at her hand condescendingly. What is her problem? Emma wonders. She has no idea of problems.

‘I’m just waiting for the three pounds.’ 

Emma looks at the twenty pound note and fifty pence. I feel like a moron, she thinks. I feel old. Deflated, the spirit and hope went out of her in a puff just three days ago.

One accident whilst cooking dinner surely is enough. A pan of water, luckily not boiling, tipping across the whole hob, knocking out the gas burners. Puddles form around them, gleaming under the fan light, little ripples. Emma just stands and stares at them, heart heavy with the thought of effort. To move everything. Just everything. Once sorted she continues to cook; every action a reflex. Robotic. An automaton who fails to lift a glass of soda water. Look! There it goes, flying across the counter, onto the cook books, under the toaster, over the napkins. Just great. Emma believed she was all out of sighs. She is wrong. The tears ceased but the sighs, they persevere.

Emma looks left. Then right. She turns onto the road. Remembering at the last minute, she glances left down the road again, straight into the front fender of a lorry. A lorry not slowing down. He is so angry. Vicious. Emma puts her foot down on the accelerator, speeds to thirty and levels off. Level? When will life ever be like that again? The lorry bears down on her, only a couple of feet from her bumper. Just try it, she mutters. I don’t care. I really couldn’t care less.

 Three days. Three events.

Three days earlier she wakes after a restless night. The bed had been wrong. Not the one from her childhood room that she’d slept in for the past week whilst visiting her parents. The room was wrong. Not her cosy pink small bedroom from her youth. Here it was too warm. The cool air of the countryside had caressed her face during the quiet nights whilst at Mum and Dad’s. Here even the house was wrong. Too noisy. She feels like Goldilocks and The Three Bears – waiting for everything to be right! Still waiting.

Despite the lack of sleep, Emma smiles at the tender sunlight of the day, as the warmth of Spring, its promise, beckons her outside. She heads for the garden, checking quickly on Scott working from his office in the converted garage. She pops her head round the door. Just to say hi. Shocked, instead of seeing her husband’s habitual disarray of letters scattered across his desk and spreadsheets visible on the computer screen, she spies a tidy work surface and a movie playing before guiltily he clicks off. Why?

‘I’ll come out and join you for a drink.’ Why? He never usually has time for a break whilst working from home.

‘No, it’s okay,’ she replies, anything to keep him in the office. He picks up a letter and comes out. The air seems to darken, she shivers. Just being foolish, tired.

Drinks in hand, they settle on the bench. Emma jabbers on about her parents, their news. So unlike her. This yakking. Scott holds the letter in his hand, wafting it up and down as he taps the edge of the bench. Blinding sunlight reflects from the reverse side of the pure white sheet. Whatever it is, don’t let go of that hand grenade, Emma thinks, almost hypnotised by its presence. She wants to sit in the sun and talk. Normal things. She points at the birds and flowers. Half-heartedly he joins her at mentioning the ladybirds. Skittishly she jumps up to inspect them closer. Scott calls her back to the bench and reluctantly she joins him there.  

‘I had a meeting last Tuesday’ he starts and stops. ’There is no easy way of saying this.’

Then don’t. She mustn’t have said it aloud. Alas.

‘When I went to sign in, I saw the director was there. This isn’t good, I thought.’

It isn’t, not good at all, Emma fears and the inner shaking that still consumes her three days later begins.

‘Well…they made me redundant.’

No! You went ahead and said it. Nothing will be the same again.

‘But we have a good package. It will tie us over. It will be okay.’

Not a word. Not even a sigh. For a second or two complete stillness as shock and terror sweeps over her whilst guilt and shame hound Scott.

‘When do you stop working?’

‘Then. I went straight back, told the people in the office and left. It was like a weight had been lifted off me.’

And onto her.

They talk there, in the warm sunlight, a bee buzzing hello, the blue tits incessantly nibbling peanuts. She cries a bit – tears that were held at bay for years, during deaths, funerals. For this she cries. Now. Scott is between euphoria and shock. Emma is between desperate and drowning. For once he sees hope and light. For Emma…gloomy darkness shrouds the bright sunlight.

Three days ago they were given the end and the beginning. As the days go on Emma sees the beginning. A change. As the man she married is returned to her; as the stress  of work ebbs away, the lines on his face flatten and dissipate. A bounce, yes, there is even a run in his step. For Emma, she walks as if removed from herself. Endlessly she visualises herself, as if watching from a remote camera. Separated from herself and the world.

 One day –  a week day –  they walk hand and hand in the park. Emma’s days becomes his; well, apart from the hours he spends in the office as the job hunting starts. Lunches together. Visit to the shops. Normal life and it feels good. But it is temporary. God, she hopes it is because she doesn’t know how they will manage otherwise. God, she will miss it when the old normal returns. But it will be different this time.

Over the next few days facts from the fateful day drizzle out, scorching her heart like hot lava on ice with each statement.

‘You know how hard it is to get a key off a key-ring. Even when things are normal.’

Emma knows exactly what he means. The fingertips skin ripped, nails split, the air around sprinkled with soft annoyed curses – usually before giving up in a huff. Looking at her husband’s hands, she wonders how did he manage to undo those keys at all? Nails bitten down to the quick. Undoing the key that Tuesday morning was no normal event. Under duress, under demand. Like those scenes in the cop movies. Hand over the gun and badge. An unexpected and sudden reversal of life. She imagines his shaking hands as he tries to keep himself together. We all have pride and self-respect. Quietly stoic; biting back his hurt, shock and anger. Finally the key is passed over. Then time for the company phone. 

‘Laptop?’

He sees the chance to escape this madness for a few minutes, an opportunity to be alone, to strengthen.

‘It’s in my car. I’ll get it.’ Emma imagines him walking downstairs – it just has to be down a flight of dull grey painted stairs. She see him wanting to flee, to scream, to swear (even if he is not that way inclined). Instead, ever the professional he takes the steps back, laptop case knocking against his legs.

So that was that.

He returned to the office that fateful morning. Unaware of events his colleagues uttered a casual greeting before their eyes returned to the screens. Hadn’t they noticed his ashen mien, she wondered. His shrunken demeanour? His shock? 

‘Well, I’m off,’ he says to them all.

‘You’re not well, then? Going home for the day to rest?’ one voice pipes up. Intuitive to his change of tone.

‘No. Gone for good. I’ve just been made redundant’

Emma imagines the silence, the non-verbal ‘thank god, it wasn’t me’, the uttered, ‘what? how could they?’ Things like this happened in other offices around the country, to other distant employees. But never to one of their own. The purge is coming closer.  

At the meeting, Scott picks up his now empty briefcase then turns back once more to the director.

 ‘I can stay until the end of the week – there are a few important meetings to attend.’ Ever the gentleman Scott magnanimously makes the offer.

Such a gesture in the face of unfairness and cruelty. No discussion. No warning. They fight dirty. They sit still, bowed by guilt, surrounded by the darkness of the deed. Or so Emma pictures the scene.

‘Thank you but no, that is not necessary.’

So that was it, she realises. Redundant. The very word resonating with negative connotations, not needed, expendable. Conjuring up images of the dungheap. Too troublesome, too ethical, too moral. Not toeing the company line. So, out comes the broom. Quick sweep. Then redundant.

For Emma, television in the evenings becomes a life-saver. For an hour or two she loses herself in the fantasy world of others. Emotionally the rollercoaster continues – she fears for the future, but battles to see the positive, the light. She is hopeful. Still, the world shifted, slid, shunted. Her initial desperation and anger dissipates like a wisp of wind in the vacuum. From the darkness of the void comes emotions of hope and opportunity. 

Keep your keys, mobile and laptop, declares Emma to herself a few days later. You gave us a chance at life. A chance at living.

The End.

© Annika Perry

‘The longest and most exciting journey is the journey inwards.’  Konstantin Stanislavsky

***

RESTRUCTURING

The new buzzword, replacing responsibility,

honour, respect.

Bad management scurrying, 

for camouflage, from blame.

 

Word covering new creep-hole,

to fire without care,

without cost.

No law has yet found its way,

to stop this demeaning crunch.

 

You can re-apply, 

employees are told.

With hope, worry and dread,

sent away,

 

to tell the family and gather

self respect.

They talk, fear and hope

entwined in a dance.

 

Will we lose our home,

can we feed our children?

Where do we go, what to do?

Inhuman burden to put,

on the trusting employee.

 

Some will rise from the ashes,

find strength.

Courage to create.

In a society built on Corporations,

An herculean task.

© Thalia Gust

The Whiteout Years – Part Two

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Here it is; the second and final installment of my short story, ‘The Whiteout Years’. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it. That was a joy – or perhaps that is not the most appropriate word. Considering…

To read Part One, click here. There is an option to read the whole story here,  The Whiteout Years.

Finally, a huge thanks and hugs to you all for reading and for the many warm and positive comments. I’m truly touched by your words and they have given me such a lift. I feel it’s through the comments that a real sense of each other develops and relationships are built; that is the heartfelt core of blogging.

The Whiteout Years – Part Two

Along the road-side Carl spotted the triangle warning sign for elks. For the first time that day he smiled. The signs were far and few between, not through lack of trying. The local highway agency put them out, however they were soon quickly stolen by souvenir hunting tourists and taken home as a memento of their holiday in Sweden. The resilience of the authorities was staggering – hundreds of signs stolen, hundreds more put out. 

Out of the blackness Carl spotted the sign for the village. Two kilometres. His fifth year here and the road felt as familiar as the one he drove every day to work. How could that be? How could he feel so at home in a place he’d visited so infrequently?

He started to in shock, eyes blinded by a kaleidoscopic sheet of colour. Blinking, he saw more rainfalls of brilliant reds, whites, purples high in the sky. Another rocket swerved to the right, evaporating high up in the dark. Firework upon firework followed. Carl was late, the plane had been delayed and it must already be midnight. The start of a new year. As he drew closer to the village Carl saw that it had excelled itself. Now he could hear the distant thunder of the rockets, the odd whoops of delight from the crowd.  

Three years since his last moments with Karin. Three years since days, weeks, months, years ceased to matter. Her parent’s had survived their loss; he never knew how. At their insistence Carl came every year to visit them. Whilst he held himself responsible for  the accident, they had taken it upon themselves to save him. A lost cause, he told them repeatedly. He’d tried to escape their care and concern – to no avail. So, here he was again. Late.

Suddenly a wall of brown appeared in his lights. Large eyes gleamed in the headlights and instinctively Carl slammed on the breaks. The car spun to the side and with a smash it stopped; then suddenly it lifted and twisted up into the air before  landing on its roof with a cushioned thud. Outside Carl heard the sound of an injured animal, the pained barking of an elk.  As the car spun slowly, Carl saw the huge animal steady itself, before sheepishly trekking into the trees.  

He heard her breaths next to him, the harsh rasping and puffs of warm air upon his cheek. Tiny wisps of vapour floated in front of his face, warmth meeting cold. Carl started to shake, then thought of Karin and reached out to her, to protect her. The seat was empty. It was all wrong. Where was she? Wasn’t she driving? Why was he in the driver’s seat? She must have escaped? Gone to get help? He heard her voice in the distance, “Keep safe! Live.” 

“Karin!” Carl shouted her name until his voice was hoarse, quaking with the cold. His hand, blue and black, fought to release the seat-belt buckle. Karin, he had to find her. 

She was driving, laughing, singing away as they took an unknown short cut to her parents. He should have said no. He should have told her to slow down. Be sensible. No, he had told her, she’d shouted back. “Sensible is not living, this is!” and with that she’d turned the wheel first one way and then the other, skidding round and round.  He’d been furious, his temper frayed with fear. Seeing this, Karin had thrown herself around his neck, nestled her face into his neck, kissing him, comforting, all the time muttering, “Sorry, sorry.” After a while the car chilled and conscious of the time and the fireworks display, they set off. “Please, Carl, sensible is okay but remember to live, to live wildly, madly. Promise me.”

“Wildly, madly,” the words echoed in his mind, around him. “Please live…” the silent voice begged of him, 

“Live!” Karin’s voice again. Twisting stiffly in his seat, Carl searched for her. She’d been driving, more carefully after their stop, but he suddenly noticed her seatbelt. She’d forgotten to fasten it again. He told he to stop and do it up. She refused, saying they were soon there. He insisted. She started teasing him, “Calm Carl,” when suddenly he reached over in a huff for the belt. There was no warning, no skid, no shout. Nothing. Just a sharp descent down into the ditch, the car clumsily crashing, round and round down the steep slope. They would have been ok, the police said later. They would have been ok, if it wasn’t for the birch tree. Karin’s side of the car hit it full on, the door crushed on to her side. Unconscious for hours, Carl woke in the hospital with Karin’s father by his side, tears streaming down his face as he held Carl’s questioning look.

“Live wildly…” Karin’s voice again, demanding to be heard and freezing Carl started to, only to find himself dangling upside down in his seat, his head searing with pain, so cold time slowed. With her warm hand on his black fingers, they began to glow red as blood pumped painfully into them. With her guiding force Carl reached for his seatbelt until a sharp click released the buckle and with difficulty he clambered onto the road. 

Ahead lights sparkled from the windows of the houses in the village, colourful tree lights, window lights, candles. The last firework crackled in a cacophony light. “Karin!” Carl spun round, stumbling with dizziness. No one. Nothing. Yet, still something. 

The lights ahead beckoned, the lights of warmth and life and for the first time in three years Carl could see them, feel them. The mantle of oblivion had been lifted and yes, he would listen to her, to live wildly, madly. With tears stinging, freezing into tiny droplets on his cheek Carl staggered off towards the village.

The End

© Annika Perry 2015

The Whiteout Years – Part One

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Following the post about my visit to the Royal Society of Literature thanks to my short story entry to the V. S Pritchett Memorial Prize, many of you kindly asked if I was going to publish the story here on my blog. So I am pleased do just that.

I wrote ‘The Whiteout Years’ in the midst of Spring but it is set in Winter and particularly New Year so I thought this an apt time to post it. The story was also shortlisted for the InkTears Short Story Contest 2015.

As this is quite a long story I have decided to split it into two parts, however if you wish to read it in one go, please click this link.  The Whiteout Years

 As always, I really will appreciate your comments.:)

The Whiteout Year  by  Annika Perry

The music was blaring in the car, some modern Norwegian pop and once again Carl scanned through the radio stations. Lots of grinding static, then a few words, then silence as he hit the off button. Admittedly he was out in the Swedish forest but surely it shouldn’t be impossible to find a decent station, preferably in English.

Outside the snow had started to fall again; thick snowflakes bombarding the windscreen, the white swirls hypnotic. Carl slowed down and rubbing his eyes peered through the windscreen. On full beam he was reduced to the bottom of well vision, so minimal it barely reached the bonnet of the car. There was a slight improvement with normal lights on as the headlights lit a dull streak in front of him.

It was too hot in the car and Carl turned down the heating and opened the windows. The cold blast of air bit into his cheeks. Well, that did the trick and now fully awake he looked out for the sticks. He remembered his first winter here with Karin, her laughter filled the car as she sped along the narrow road at if in a rally, catching the orange snow poles marking the edge of the road with glancing blows. Behind the poles was a metre deep ditch, packed with snow. No poles now, a recession was on, instead birch branches, painted white were impaled into the ground earlier in the Autumn. Clever that, white against the white snow – a genius stroke thought Carl ruefully. Wonder what Karin would have made of that?

Finally Carl reached a crossing for the main road and out of habit he stopped. He knew he didn’t have to; he’d have seen any approaching car from the top of the hill. Nothing. A moment of total silence. With the windows down he sat and listened. He never failed to be overawed by the silence, the odd rustle of snow falling gently to the ground from the over-ladened fir trees. The odd animalistic sound deep in the forest, feral and prehistoric.

That fist time he’d been petrified, as with Karin they took a trek through the woods in the late afternoon. Lunch at her parents had been long and jovial, wine followed by schnapps, then the coffee and cakes. Replete and exhausted they’d made their excuses and headed out for a break. Whilst his body had been warm, his lungs froze in pain, as he inhaled the icy wind. Shocked he’d stopped and gasped and with a warm gloved hand Karin lifted his scarf across his mouth and face, softly stroking his cheek. “Keep safe,” she’d whispered. If only she’d listened to herself.

During their first winter walk, the snow crunched luxuriously under their boots, the frozen twigs snapped against their coat and the moss popped quietly in protest. A world transformed and in awe Carl, gloved hand holding Karin’s, wandered around the magic winter wonderland. He’d laughed suddenly, startling Karin.

“What?” she’d asked.”What’s so funny?”

“Last year we took my nephew to a winter wonderland in Cornwall, it was dreadful, such a disappointment. But look at this. Heaven – there is no way you could recreate this.”

Not far now, he was almost there and yet another year without Karin. Without her blonde air across his chest as he woke in the mornings. Without her grumpy moody mutterings as she woke and then slowly cheered up sitting up in bed, black coffee clasped in her hands, duvet wrapped tightly around her. Carefully he’d snuggle next to her, sipping his tea. Another year without her clothes strewn around the bedroom; a shops collection of tops hogging the dresser drawers, skirts and trousers abandoned as if heading out for a walk. Whilst he folded his clothes with care, hung them on a hanger or over a chair, Karin would blissfully discard her clothes as she headed for a shower, one leg of the jeans in front of the other, as if removed mid-step.

The rejected choices from the previous day lay forlorn on the carpet, chair, wardrobe door. However did they get up there? In a fit of pique? Those early days together Carl had tidied up after her, attempted to mend her ways with hints and then stronger words. Within months he learnt to love the mess; he could gauge her mood by the number of items left out. Just one, a day of confidence and self-assurance. Three or more, Karin needed extra loving, caring. No one else knew, her fear of others, lack of belief in herself. How could they? So self-assured in her work, tall and beautiful. Your poster Swedish woman – god, how had he got so lucky?

The whiteout deepened and claustrophobic Carl glanced down the road. A wall of grey/white murk met his glance. He couldn’t see anything. The silence droned in his ears. Signalling right, he turned, first onto the the left side of the road, then correcting himself onto the right. At least the road was ploughed, snow banked two metres or so high on each side. He was still driving on snow though, icier here and he felt the snow tyres grip the surface with a little skid. That had been his life these past three years, skidding along.

Working, surviving, interspersed with hours, days, nights of whiteout. Oblivious he would just sit in the dark at home. Forgetting to put the lights on, forgetting to eat.

“You’ll slip through the cracks, if you don’t bulk up,” his friends warned him. He didn’t tell them, it was too late, He’d already slipped away.

Meals with Karin had always been spontaneous. His life of routine turned on its head as she entered his life.

“I’m starving,” she’d called out as they returned to his flat after their first date out. It was midnight, dinner was hours ago and the film had been a drag.

“I’ll get some toast and tea,” Carl had suggested. Karin scoffed at the idea, pushed her way into the kitchen and set to work. Within a few minutes most of the contents of his fridge and cupboards were on the counters, with the overspill on the small dining table.

“Let’s make a feast!” Swedish meatballs, rosemary potatoes, salad, dips, bread adorned the newly set table. She’d managed to find his one and only decent table cloth and not satisfied with its brown drabness she’d flamboyantly cast her blue scarf on top. With the harsh electric lights off, his long-forgotten candles were finally lit and in reverential silence they sat and ate. At two in the morning, a grotto of warmth and love. It was not only his kitchen which was transformed that night; Carl was never the same again.

To be continued…

©Annika Perry 2015

‘SURELY THE POETRY IS IN THE PLOTTING.’

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They say you should never arrive too early. We thought fifteen minutes before the start was safe, but apparently not as the photographer seemed to have become welded to his position in front of us with the lens aimed directly at my friend and I. We tried to seem busy. Talked. Scribbled in my notebook a little. I felt as if I’d returned to my university days. Finally I lifted out my phone and took some photos! That seemed to do the trick as the photographer moved and at last I could concentrate on my surroundings watching the rest of the audience gradually enter in twos or threes.

When nearly full with three hundred eager writers and their friends a hush fell on the lecture room as the three ‘stars’ of the evening entered. Three highly distinguished authors with many worldwide successful books between and with an intimate knowledge of the UK and US markets.

As an entrant to the V. S. Pritchett Memorial Prize short story competition  I had been invited to the awards evening at the Royal Society of Literature (RSL). The society was founded nearly 200 years ago by King George IV to ‘reward literary merit and excite literary talent’. New fellows use Byron’s pen or Dickens’s quill to sign in and the sense of history was palpable from the surroundings alone, set near Somerset House at the Royal Institute of Art, London. 

V. S. Pritchett  is regarded by the RSL as one of the country’s finest short story writers and the society set up this prize in 2000 to commemorate his birth. 

The judges for this year’s competition were Philip Hensher, Adam Mars-Jones and Rose Tremain and before the prize -giving there was a discussion between the three of them about the short story. Here are a few snippets of what they had to say. 

As author of 16 books, including award-winning ‘Restoration’  and numerous short stories Rose Tremain has been published in over 27 countries. She believes that writing short stories is the closest a fiction writer is to being a poet. She thinks that short stories can be considered a form of poetry in themselves. Philip Hensher, the chair of the discussion, disagreed strongly with her comment, asking how stories such as the Sherlock Holmes ones could ever be considered poetry? At this Adam Mars-Jones interrupted quietly and said, ‘surely the poetry is in the plotting’. 

Rose Tremain considers it essential on not knowing yourself where the story is going and that this is part of the journey, telling your reader to come along and find out. Endings can vary and some be such as Mark Twain’s ‘snapper’ tales which have with a real bite at the end.

‘The fictional becomes real, the real becomes fictional,’ said Rose Tremain.

Her stories often start with an image or as a result of overheard conversation. Once during a particularly bad  winter storm in America she heard one man say to another that it ‘is really good for roofters’ and from this one sentence she wrote a short story.

As for the fictional becoming real, Rose Tremain read from her short story ‘The Housekeeper’, where the Daphne du Maurier’s fictional Mandeville Hall is recreated as reality with Daphne du Maurier becoming a character in the story who visits the hall one summer.

Adam Mars-Jones, a novelist and also book, film and theatre critic, has just released his memoir ‘Kid Gloves’, admitted he has not written short stories for decades although he considered them a good tool for learning. His co-authored collection of short stories on people living and dying with AIDS was published in 1987.

He mentioned his dilemma of wanting to write one particular story about AIDS but was stuck as he did not want to use the word AIDS – even then, before the world of texting and emailing, he felt it was too shouty, too powerful and would dominate the story. In an epiphany one day he realised he could just substitute that word with another, in this case ‘slim’ and after that he could write the story. It was imbued with a a sense of humour which worked very well.  

Philip Hensher, who has written numerous books including his semi-autobiographical novel ‘The Northern Clemency’, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize, has recently edited the two rather large  tomb-like volumes of ‘Penguin Book of the British Short Story’, considers the short story as a ‘witness’ on topical current events surrounding us, such as the World War II short stories. He reiterated the ‘immediate topicality’ of short stories and their ability to address urgent social issues. However he did recognise that the best short stories could also be totally irrelevant to current affairs.

Markets for short stories were discussed at length and I never knew how vibrant and well-paid the short story market was at the beginning of the twentieth century. Between 1890 and WWI there were at least 34 magazines in Britain printing short fiction. One of those mentioned was the ‘Strand’ magazine which had a huge circulation and could as a result pay handsomely for stories. In 1914 when the average  annual salary was £ 400:- a year the ‘Strand’ paid £ 350:- per story. Imagine selling a short story for £ 27,000:-!!  As Philip Hensher says ‘No wonder there was eager competition among writers; no wonder the best writers of the day, including Rudyard Kipling, DH Lawrence, Bennett, Joseph Conrad and HG Wells, placed the form at the very centre of their creative practice’.

There was disagreement about the expose these magazines offered to ‘experimental short fiction’ with Adam Mars-Jones believing the magazines did not afford many opportunities early on for this kind of fiction whereas Philip Hensher felt strongly that they did, although they would lead with a ‘safe story’ and often put the unusual experimental ones on the back pages of the magazine.

Although the short story market in the UK is languishing it is still vibrant in the US, the ‘New Yorker’ being a prime example of excellent literary short fiction, the writers agreed.

Another issue quickly discussed by the judges is the seeming unpopularity of the short story by the general public. Rose Tremain feels that the short story requires more effort from the reader as it is often full of original thinking and written in a tight structure which results in the reader having to peruse the work critically. This can be considered exhausting and as a result puts off potential readers. Novels by contrast she says resembles ‘a bouquet’, far easier to read with less expectation on the reader. 

After an evening of interesting discussion and readings the winner and runner-up to the £1,000 Royal Society of Literature V.S.Pritchett Memorial Prize 2015 was announced. Following on Philip Hensher’s earlier point about topicality both stories were strong on current issues, one based in China, the other in Ukraine. 

The sponsor’s of the prize, Christopher and Jennie Bland, announced the winner– Jonathan Tel with ‘The Seduction of a Provincial Accountant’. Unfortunately he was in San Fransisco writing a story about the current crisis in Syria so his agent picked up the £ 1000:- award. The runner-up was Nick Sweeney with ‘Traffic’. 

All in all, my friend and I had an exciting inspirational and enlightening  evening surrounded by so many like-minded people and listening to ideas from successful writers about the short story. Wine and refreshment afterwards were most welcome! 

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CHILIES IN MY HANDBAG

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I was overwhelmed with the positive response to ‘Biding Her Time’ last month and many of you kindly asked to see more of my writing. Therefore I am happy to show you another of my stories – and this time you will not have to be patient and wait for part two as I’m putting on the whole story today.  As you will see, this is a story that cannot be split into two! Wishing you all a lovely weekend.

 Chilies in My Handbag

It’s one of those days – again. A day of forgetfulness in a world that has forgotten me.

Just as I pull up at the house the purple skies of the morning finally erupt. The cascade of rain thunders on my car roof and water gushes down the windscreen. The radio is effectively silenced and with satisfaction I pop the button off. I wasn’t listening anyway.

On the far side of the garden I spot John, our gardener. Rather a grand word for the young chap who comes over once a week to mow and strim. To chop and trim, I think. Rather like a hairdresser, but much cheaper. John’s  bouncy brown hair is now plastered unflatteringly on his scalp, streaked to one side, his T-shirt a sodden luminescent white. Polyester.

At last the downpour eases to a thin drizzle and opening the car door the pungent heady fragrance of our lilac trees floats around me; so intense as if the trees themselves are vibrating with life. How I envy them and their strength. 

The dark brick mansion looms before me; a mock Tudor monstrosity, its mahogany door more a deterrent than a welcome with the only redeeming feature of a small lead window. Quickly I head indoors, droplets of water gliding smoothly onto the cream woollen carpet in an arc around me.

“I’m home,” I call to the house. Silence greets my hoarse high pitched tones and my ensuing self-conscious laughter is strangled quickly in my throat by the lump. A lump that periodically reaches down and yanks at my stomach, twisting and churning it into spikes of agony.

I double over in pain and with a whimpering moan stagger into the drawing room and pitch deflated onto the floral sofa.

Two hours later and I’m still here with Friday afternoon slipping unnervingly away from me. I look over my shoulder as I feel a nudge and spot my red cashmere coat draped carelessly across the back of the sofa.

“Red,” my friend Charlotte had insisted. “Roberta, you must wear red. Bold colours give you courage.”

Red! Courage! What poppycock, I think as I lean back and give the coat a vigorous shove onto the floor. Even so, I imagine it landing in a graceful and elegant swoop on the oak boards.

“Poppycock!” Such an inane, ridiculous word, so outdated it is heading into the realms of ancient history. Of course, it is George’s favourite expletive. He cannot even swear with passion.

By my right leg I feel the reassuring caress of soft leather – my red Hermes handbag. Subconsciously I bend over and stroke it gently, with a final pat on the side. My surrogate pet.

Fool me, graciously I had accepted it from George last Christmas. Safe, stable George, handsome to boot in those university years. Who knew he’d become such a tyrannical fuddy-duddy.

“I’ve got a job. At the bank,” I’d proudly, naively, declared one day soon after our marriage. “Starting Monday. Let’s celebrate!”

“Let’s not,” my husband had replied in his monotone voice. “You’re not taking the job.”

“What? Why?!” I had asked in shocked disbelief.

“We’re starting a family. You stay, you do as I say.”

Despite my anger I couldn’t hold back a giggle at his unintentional rhyming. Still, it was fait d’accompli.

Somehow, impossibly, I was living in the 21st century but trapped in the 19th. At least then the women weren’t alone, there were others to share their incarceration. With no family, few friends, George knew I dared not broker any resistance. 

Here I reside. Bellingwood Manor. George, myself and Hermes. I lift its red leather catch and reach inside for a hankie. The rustle of plastic stirs me to my senses and out I pull two red chilies, neatly wrapped and tied in a little bag. For dinner tonight. I’d forgotten all about them. Ripping open the plastic I roll the glossy, smooth chilies between my fingers. 

Anthony loves chilies. 

I recall the first time he tried them in my beef curry. His little face scrunched in surprise, eyes glistening and with a squeak of a four-year old he sagely stated, “Hot,” then added in a panic, “water, please!”

Thereafter, many days whilst I was cooking, all I would hear was, “Mummy, what are you making for dinner tonight?” His childish voice lifting in pitch, pleading. “Beef curry with lots of chilies?” 

The dish was now legendary; in our house at least. Cooking slowly the flavours permeated throughout the ingredients until finally the beef fell gingerly apart on our plates. 

“I want it hotter, Mummy. The hotter the better,” Anthony challenged and together we’d researched them. 

“Let’s try those over 300,000 strong,” he’d begged, reading about Scotch Bonnet chilies.

“Perhaps better not,” I’d laughed in mock horror. “Let’s stick to 1,000 strong chipotle ones.” 

Snuggled closely on the sofa, the laptop heavy on my thighs, I remained still, not wanting to move Anthony who burrowed closer to me, seeking comfort and warmth.

He was silent for a moment.

“It’s a silly word, isn’t it, Mummy? Chilly?  Freezing. But they’re so hot. Burning.” I nodded. Like everyone else, I’d always thought the same. “We can call them hottie instead,” he stated confidently.

At this I involuntarily trembled. Hottie. Hot Tottie. Shivering, I was now the one seeking warmth and love from my son. George had had a few of those. Totties. He’d not even deigned to hide the fact. Nor denied it when I faced him with the accusation. There was just a slight imperious wave of his hand, as if swatting away an annoying mosquito. I have a lot of empathy with those poor insects.

“Hottie? What do you think, Mummy?” Anthony repeated innocently.

I turned to him. “Not the best idea. Though chilies…”

“Come from Chile, everyone knows THAT!” He was now exasperated with me.

“Well, not really, they came from Mexico first but they are really called capsicum and …”

Here Anthony flew out of the sofa and onto the floor, his imaginary sword in front of him, slashing back and forth at the morning’s golden rays, streaking in through the window.

“Caspian! Prince Caspian! No wonder I like chilies, they have the same name as the Prince! Look at me. Prince Caspian saving Narnia. Look, there’s Lucy. Peter.”

I smiled and clapped my hands.

“Go, Prince Caspian. Go!” He battled along, my little prince, unaware he too was the son of a despot, fighting invisible oppression. How I’d wondered then, at that moment, if he would conquer the darkness within our family? Whether light and freedom would be our salvation? Victorious he waved his arms and paraded around the room. His radiant eyes shone into my treacherous ones. 

Only seven and we’d sent him away.

“I don’t want to go, I don’t, I don’t!” he cried night after night. Alone, I tried to settle my blond-haired treasure, his piercing blue eyes shimmering with tears at the thought of boarding school.

“Such tantrums,” George brusquely snapped one night. “That won’t last long.” 

He was wrong. Throughout that summer Anthony’s questions and pleas were as relentless as the suffocating heat.

“Why? Why do I have to go? What have I done?”  Questions for which there were no real answers.

“Nothing, my prince,” I replied quietly, rocking him tightly on my lap, his small skinny arms clinging to my neck. “Mummy and Daddy think this is best for you.”

“Poppycock!” I shout to myself, now seven years later. It was for the best! Who was I fooling and squeezing my hands hard, the chili peppers crack open and ooze soft squishy sap and seeds, which slink around my fingers, onto the palm of my hand. 

“Tradition. It’s tradition,” George had ranted. “It’s where I went to school, your grandfather and great-grandfather too. Did me the world of good.”

Really? I thought bitterly, fearing for Anthony and his future. With a punch I wondered how I could have been that weak, that blind?

My iPhone vibrates and from the insides of Hermes screech the excited tones of  ‘What Does the Fox Say’.  Anthony was raving on about the song on his last visit a few weeks ago. As soon as he’d left, I’d put it immediately on my mobile as a ringtone. My pathetic attempt to be closer to him. I glance down at my phone. It’s a text. From Anthony.

How he’d grown, that last visit. Fourteen, taller than me and the same shoe size as his dad. The two of them had talked and ribbed each other all evening,  sharing stories about masters still at the school,  sports clubs and  past and present memories. Excluded I fell to the wayside.

“Thanks, Mum. This tastes good,” Anthony briefly acknowledged me, his eyes never quite meeting mine. His arms were now muscular and strong but never reached out to touch me and as I moved cautiously towards him for a quick hug his body arched, cowered away.

“Bye Mum,” he’d said and left, chatting amicably to George on their way back down to school. Another tradition. After the first two years of tears, it was declared best I never accompanied them. Yes, I’m sure that was for the best.

It will be different this time. I’m sure it will. I’m cooking Anthony’s favourite dish. Yes, the beef curry. The squashed chilies will still taste spicy and with a spring I get up and head to the kitchen. My phone sings again and this time I hum along.

“What does the fox say?…” 

Picking up my phone, I sit down and read.

“Sorry, Mum. Hope it’s okay but going to Mathew’s this weekend instead. Saves you the trouble of cooking – lol!”

So, that’s what the fox says.

It’s dark now and the slam of the front door shudders me awake. George. Without fail, he always flamboyantly opens the front door before sending it shut with a short sharp shot of “BOOM”.

It must be eight. The gloom of the house envelops me and I notice I’m freezing cold. The chill of the evening penetrates through my coat which is wrapped around me as I huddled and slept behind the sofa. Red. Courage. I stretch, my legs  numb from the hardness of the floor, knees locked stiff. Slowly I lift my head from my pillow, Hermes. Red. Courage. I trace the perforated ‘H’ lightly with my fingertips, leaving the odd dried chilli seed in my wake on the immaculate taurillion leather. The stinging scent of shrivelled chilies galvanises me into action.

“Roberta. Bertie…Where are you? What’s up?”

At the call of Bertie, his pet name for me, his pet, I unravel my mane of long brown hair and shake my head to loosen the locks. 

“Great about the weekend, eh?” Does he never stop? “We’re not troubled with Anthony.”

My hand locates Hermes and standing I see George framed by the hall light, blinking into the dusky room.

Walking up, I take hold of his shoulders and roughly swipe my hands across his tweed Savile Row suit. Shocked he stands stock still and sniffs. Finally, from his blazer pocket I at last get a handkerchief. Perfectly ironed yesterday. Was it only yesterday? With it I wipe away the residual chili sap from my hands  before replacing it with aplomb. Without a word I head upstairs. To pack. To stay with Charlotte.

First though, I really do need to buy a new handbag. After all, keeping chilies in ones handbag is far from ideal, even if it is a Hermes.

The End

© Annika Perry

BIDING HER TIME – Part Two

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I am pleased to present the final part of Biding Her Time, my first winning short story which was published in Writing Magazine last year. Thank you for all your kind and positive words about Part One of the story posted yesterday.  Again, enjoy and I look forward to your comments.

BIDING HER TIME – Part Two

“Sir, he’s the brightest of us all, well, nearly, apart from Queenie of course.”

Sympathetic eyes scanned in her direction then back to the front.

“Sir, he is going to university. To be a doctor. He always said so.”

“Well, that was true. Life has changed suddenly for him and as the eldest he is starting work on his uncle’s boat tomorrow. You will all understand, I know,” replied the teacher, staring into space, to the space usually occupied by Thomas.

Without warning Queenie stood up. The chair screeched against the floor and as silently as she arrived that morning, she left, heading out into the warm sunshine. A warmth that failed to reach the chill in her heart. She did understand. His sorrow, at the loss of his father and his dream. Queenie shook with the realisation of her own loss of Thomas. Their future. Thomas and his lively exuberant presence and his kindness. All gone.

She saw him later that day, on top of the highest outcrop of rocks on the island. Look Out Point they’d all called it, playing pirates, fighting off the invaders. Thomas stood still but she could see the battle within him.There was a new firmness in his stance and a grim determination set on his face. With a start he shook himself out of his reverie and finally spotted Queenie. He nodded briefly, his eyes black with grief, then turned for home.

The following months and years passed somberly for Queenie. Her joyful singing became the hushed hum of insects, her skipping metamorphosed into a considered mature step. She walked out with a couple of boys, respectable boys, in her father’s opinion. “Not like that Thomas,” he would add. “He doesn’t go to church anymore. He even drinks, I hear,” he would comment in disgust.

Queenie retreated to her studies, but the competitive excitement had long since evaporated. The classroom shrank in around her and her legs became numb, squashed under the small desk cubicle.

“You can’t let him go so easily, Queenie,” Betty reiterated. Betty, her friend at nursing school and who, since learning of her love for Thomas, had made it her personal mission to unite the two.

“You must fight for him. We’ll sort something out,” she said with conviction.

“My father. His disapproval…” said Queenie.

“You and Thomas will win that with time. You’ll see.”

Queenie was becoming colder by the minute. For over an hour the North Sea wind had whipped around her ankles, trying to raise her long marine blue skirt. Her new high heel boots caught unnervingly on the rough cobblestones of the quay and she tiptoed precariously between the minefield of trawls, which were strewn chaotically alongside.

Seeking shelter by a red fisherman’s hut, its paint peeling, she pulled her new tailored jacket around her.

“Ten more minutes,” Queenie muttered under her breath. She had already waited for nearly two hours and the bunch of wild flowers she had picked fondly that morning had started to wilt. She gave them a quick shake as if hoping to revive them then laughed at her own foolishness.

Had something happened to Thomas’s trawler? Why were they the last?

A sudden gust of wind lifted her new hat and its delicate blue feather fluttered in the breeze. She heard the soft ping of hat pins hitting the stones and scanning around she located them.  Securing the hat again, she failed to notice the wooden vessel approaching the harbour. It lay low in the water, laden with herring, as the captain skilfully steered between the harbour walls.

All onboard gawped at the astonishing sight of the stylishly clad woman on the quay, standing incongruously amongst the lobster pots and wooden boxes. Shielding her eyes, Queenie looked up quickly and scoured the deck for Thomas. She could not find him. Thomas had no such difficulty and called out to her but his shout of “Queenie!” was lost amidst the raucous cheers from the crew.

Minutes later, Thomas was able to climb down onshore and quickly he dashed after the now retreating figure of Queenie.

“Queenie?” he whispered reverentially.

“Queenie!” This time he shouted louder. She turned and waved, tossing the flowers to the side.

God, he’d missed her. That smile.

Rushing up to her, he stopped breathlessly and stared.

“Queenie. You are so beautiful. You’re all grown up.”

She laughed. “Of course, so have you.”

“What are you doing down here? What a coincidence. A wonderful one, mind,” said Thomas in awe.

“Yes, it is, isn’t it?” Again that smile

“Would you like to meet for coffee later?” asked Thomas boldly. “Once I’ve changed out of all this,” he added as he gestured to his bright orange oilskin clothes.

“I’d like to very much. Thank you,” said Queenie.

At that moment Thomas realised this woman was destined to be his wife. She just didn’t know it yet.

The End

© Annika Perry

BIDING HER TIME

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During the past nine months of blogging I have had many kind requests for me to feature more of my writing. Today I am very pleased to post my first winning story, which was printed in Writing Magazine last year. As it is quite long, I have chosen to split this into two parts with the concluding part appearing tomorrow. Enjoy and I look forward to your comments.

BIDING HER TIME

Aged seven Queenie fell in love for the first time. The only time. From the moment she saw Thomas, she knew that here was her future husband. He just didn’t know it yet.

It was the first day of school and Queenie spotted Thomas at the front. Straight backed, tall, skinny, he sat next to the teacher’s desk. His blond hair was cut short military-style. The worn out trousers were a hand-me-down and the navy blue fisherman jumper had been repaired at the elbows. Nervously he fingered the black slate, then the chalk, before rubbing his dusty fingers across his trousers, leaving a white smiling streak grinning for the rest of the day.

Carefully Queenie edged past the other desks but felt a slight tug on her new skirt; it had caught on a wood splitter from one of the desks and sighing, she gently released the skirt and realised she could easily mend it later at home.

Tentatively she opened the lid of her desk, then, as she twisted to listen to her friend, it slammed shut. The classroom fell silent and all eleven pairs of eyes were on her. Even his. Thomas’s.  She smiled sweetly, shaking her head, the long pigtails waving apologetically to the teacher, the red bows catching the sunlight.

“Well, Queenie,” said the teacher. “Thank you for that, but please in the future leave it to me to settle the class. To work…”

The rest of the day passed in a blur as Queenie hugged her secret to herself and there it remained for the weeks, months and years ahead.

The infamous tales of Thomas and Queenie quickly spread across the small fishing island as the academic pupils rivalled for first place in every subject. Their nine fellow school friends awaited each test result with anticipation, as first one week Thomas excelled in maths, the following week Queenie produced a stunning essay.

One day as the sunlight streamed in through the windows, Thomas’s arm flew up in answer to the teacher’s latest maths question.

“Yes, Thomas. Please answer. Let’s see your ability to predict the future,” said the teacher with a quizzical smile. “Or shall I finish the question first? Eagerness is all well and good, but do be patient.”

Shamefaced Thomas remained silent for the rest of the day and he waited for Queenie to outshine him. She didn’t however, and stayed mute herself, feeling for him and his embarrassment.

Through the years the pair struck up a lively banter, but it was just that, banter. Yet Queenie knew. She felt her love flourish as Thomas grew into a young man; strong and broad now, regularly working on the boats, helping to bait the longlines at five in the morning before school.

With frost on his overcoat and hat he scrambled late into class and was allowed a minute to put the coat by the fire and to thaw his numb hands. He added his coarse grey woollen mittens to the rows already hanging on the wooden railings. Water dripped from them all and formed small pools below. A warm fug penetrated the classroom and by lunchtime the now only slightly damp mittens were retrieved, hats donned and coats buttoned up as they headed out again.

“Queenie! Wait!” called Thomas one day at home time. They were thirteen, she older by a month and therefore the boss – or so they joked.

“Queenie!”

She stopped, as did her heart for a second. The sun hung low in the sky, the sea mist coasting up the cliffs and across the playground, lapping at their feet.

“Here. Borrow my gloves. I saw yours still sopping wet from lunchtime. Mine are dry.” Gratefully she accepted and as she lent to pick up her books, Thomas, with his long arms, reached over and took them.

“Let me. I’ll walk you home.”

Anxiously he talked about the fishing, the latest herring prices and his uncle’s new trawler. Queenie smiled, her long brown hair tucked under her fur hat, the brown coat sweeping the ground. She could bide her time. Already a head taller than her, Queenie glanced up at Thomas, his blond hair darkening to a soft longer brown, a cap perched on his head. Yes, I can wait, she thought.

A few months later Queenie quietly let herself into the classroom, her eyes red and downcast. She raised her head only once, to look at Thomas’s desk, now unoccupied.

Her friends approached cautiously, as if trying to rescue an injured and frightened bird.

“We’re so sorry to hear about Thomas’s father,” uttered one friend.

“They say it was quick,” another tried to reassure. “Heart attack, wasn’t it?”

“How is Thomas? When is he coming back?”

Queenie just shook her head, unable to answer, her summer coat clasped tightly around her.

“Class, please settle.” Even the teacher was subdued. “We are all so sorry to hear about the loss in Thomas’s family. As some of you may know, he will not be returning to school…”

“What?!” The uproar was controlled but loud. Shocked chatter reverberated around the room.

End of part one…To read the concluding part, please click here.

© Annika Perry

The Bike

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Death came to his eyes that day. The advert had gone into the paper on Thursday and since then three calls, two visits and now a sale. He’d never expected this to happen. Why couldn’t he see this? Since he was three he’d lived on two wheels. Scooters, bikes, mountain bikes, motorbikes and trial bikes. The one selling today he’d only got last year.

For two long summers he’d worked at the hotel saving up; hospital corner after hospital corner on the beds, scraping his knuckles endlessly on the dark wood frame, loo after loo scrubbed, room after room vacuumed. He’d had a laugh with the other cleaners too – sorry, ‘maintenance crew’ or such nonsense. At lunchtimes they’d gathered in an unoccupied room watching sport on Sky, sometimes they’d sneak a few beers with them.

A couple of times he’d sneak Jessie from reception into a room. Together they’d tried out the double bed. Hmm…Jessie. She’d gone off to uni now. Of course, she’d wanted to do all that ‘long distance relationship’ rubbish. No way. Those never worked out. He’d told her so too. Okay, telling her by text might have been a mistake; his Mum had laughed nervously when he told her how he’d broken up with Jessie. His Dad just scowled audibly with disapproval. What the heck! It was his life.

They were here now. A couple with a Range Rover and a trailer bouncing behind. Adam, their son, scuttled out of the car and dashed up to the bike, his enthusiasm leaving a trail of happiness in his wake. So young. Just wait until life hits you, Adam. There he was, Adam, stroking, actually stroking the handlebars of his motorbike, now ducking down to look at the wheels, his head turning in exclamation to his parents, then an adoring glance at the engine. Joy radiated from his eyes.

Better get this over with, he thought, grabbing the keys from the pristine kitchen counter, reaching for the helmet on the stool. In the hall he looked into the mirror and thought ‘smile’. The corners of his mouth turned up into a grimace; that’ll do he reckoned as he headed out.

Hollow darkness filled his eyes as the car pulled away, his trial bike rattling in the trailer. An unfathomable emptiness cascaded over him as he glimpsed it for the last time.

He’d won three championships on that. Local ones but still. He’d been taught by the top rider in the country for a while. Then the falls! Remember the one on the moors, skidding down the muddy hillside, leg trapped beneath his bike, engine still running. Caked in mud, he’d got up and rejoined the race. Finished last but he’d laughed all the way to the line, celebrated all night with his mates, the most inglorious defeat and the photos of the day shared avidly on Twitter and Facebook.

Photos. He’d better take them off. Him and his bike. Just him now. As if he could ever have made it, been a real success. Stupid dreams. Those days of foolishness. Days of waste.

He took his mobile from his back pocket, scrolled through the photos. Here one on holiday with his friends all on their trial bikes. Who was that stranger staring at him, with a smile shining on his face? Who was that guy, laughing with his friends, his arm draped round his bike, chin resting on the seat? Click. Delete. Click. Delete. Whoever he was, he was gone. Click. Delete. The look of death in his eyes.

© Annika Perry

Hearts

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The last few weeks we have been bombarded with hearts – Valentine heart cards, heart decorated wrapping paper, teddy bears cuddling huge red hearts. Hearts swaying from shop ceiling as they join in the extravaganza called Valentines.  How could I fail but to recall a piece of flash fiction I wrote last year and is aptly named ‘The Little Heart’. Romantics be warned – this is not a love story.

The Little Heart

In my bubble I bump against life, insulated from its joys and sorrows. My child gesticulates wildly, his face alight with excitement and there must be words. Such sweet words from that gentlest of voices, but for me inaudible. The fog within me wraps around my nerves, slowly strangling all the senses.

“They’re here to help you,” my husband promised.

“You’re the one who needs the help,” I screamed.

In those days I could shout, argue, feel, love, rage.

“Take it!” The man in white orders. Glancing down in my hand, I obey. The beguiling beauty of the hollowed heart of the blue tablet pulsates reassuringly. I glimpse closer. It’s not a heart, rather a soft-scooped “V”. V for victory to the zombie that in the ensuing days commandeers my body. It overwhelms me and all that remains is a modicum of myself, a spectator to this tragedy.

“She’s much calmer. Happier even.” The words drift painfully to my brain.

My son appears, hugs me and his sad wild eyes penetrate my soul. He leaves – his ghostly presence imprinted on my mind. I was tricked into this hell. Trapped. I’ll fight my way out. For my life and child.

The End

“His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”

From Dubliners by James Joyce