Going Home

Going Home

[I belong to an online writing group, and each month we write a story with a theme and a word count. This time, we were asked to write about ‘Going Home‘ in exactly 500 words.]

“Higher!” she squeals, ” High-errrr!” and I push the swing harder so it arcs up into the spilled blue of the sky, even though I know what’s going to happen next. And on cue Izzy swings back down and kicks her legs and shouts, “Tooooo hiiiigh!” and I catch her as she jumps, like I always do. She lets me hold her tight and breathe her in: her dimpled skin, her hot little hands, her smell of sugared strawberries, until she struggles and wriggles and tears away to run free, blonde curls bobbing, across the grass.

We are back at the park again. There are others here today, of course – it’s a perfect summer’s day, unclouded, not too hot. I sit on the warm slats of my usual bench and watch Izzy scrambling up the slide, past the older boys kicking a football, indifferent, and wonder how many years I have left before they see her, they really see her, and I lose my little girl. But right here in this park, under the buttery sun, there’s nobody with eyes for her but me.

***

I jolt awake: the air has cooled and there’s a low hum of traffic along the main road. The playground is deserted. I know where she’ll be, but my heart is thumping an unsteady bass.

“Izzy!” I call, and my voice is rusty. An old woman walking her dog looks at me, and frowns; and then I see a flash of gold in the apple tree.

“Izzy!” I know I have to tell her something, but I don’t want to say it. There’s a light breeze whispering through the leaves.

“Time to go home now,” I call up, at last, and my heart sighs.

“Not yet!” she says, as she always does. “Five more minutes!”

Sometimes I give her five more minutes. Sometimes I don’t. It doesn’t make any difference: it always ends the same.

“Hold my hand,” I tell her, gently, but she jumps down and takes off towards the road.

“Hold my – ” I call, as she looks both ways and runs out. I yell and she turns, from the other side, where she looks back at me, eyes wide.

“Come back!” I shout, heart in my throat, “Izzy, come back!” and she is coming back, straight back –

***

There’s a hand on my arm. It’s the old woman, her little dog watching, ears pricked. I’m crumpled in a heap on the path. I scrabble up, and look for Izzy, but I can’t see her.

“You know,” says the old woman, quietly, “I’ve seen you. Every day. You can’t keep reliving this.”

“She’s coming back,” I tell her, watching the road.

The old woman squeezes my arm, and says, “She isn’t coming back.”

I can’t see Izzy anywhere. I can only see an unbroken line of cars, indifferent.

The woman asks, “Do you think it’s time to go home?”

I think about it, for a while.

I think about it.

© Joanna Rubery 2017

The Shower

Bridal Falls

[The challenge this time was to write a story about a Shower in 53 words.]

You left me high and dry beside a waterfall. I stripped under the spray, scrubbed you from my skin with bitter grit, rinsed you out with bottled feelings, filed away your dead love, trimmed my overgrowing dreams, plucked my courage up, and washed my hands of you in the water under the bridge.

© Joanna Rubery 2017

More competition news – Fallout

Olive branch

[I’m very happy to say I made the finals of this flash fiction competition with a ’50-word story about a hero’. I wanted to salute the small, kind gestures that transform the ordinary. Here in Japan, acknowledging another person’s humanity seems to be a way of life, even when it means reaching out to (quite possibly) the descendant of someone who was – not so long ago – The Enemy.]

https://www.writingclasses.com/contest/be-a-hero-contest-2017

Microfiction in 100 words: Heart Marmite

Heart Marmite

Take one heart (fresh is best) and slice it down the middle.

Tenderize with disbelief, then marinate the bleeding halves in melancholia.

When mollified, rinse in ice-cold invective. Pat dry with opportunistic hugs.

Meanwhile, bring a pan of salted tears to boil. Simmer at blood heat.

After half a year, pierce cleanly with a skewer.

Spice with bitters and resentment, and sizzle till browned off.

Stew in thyme and wistfulness awhile, till the flame begins to flicker.

Let the half-hearts cool on sheepish embers.

Chop finely into pieces, crush, and spread thinly, on other people’s crumbs.

Serve with soured grapes.

© Joanna Rubery 2017

Microfiction in 100 words: The Bathroom Mirror

Bathroom mirror

“Almost,” says my boss, throwing me a cloth. “Just wipe the mirror down.”

I look at the square of silver above the sink.

“Is it a mirror?” I ask her, “Or is it a portal to an alternate universe?”

“Get on with it,” she says, pushing the cleaning trolley. “One more room to go.”

I lift my finger and tap the sheen with one nail.

My alternate self taps back. And then I feel her – nail on nail. Skin on skin.

Outside, my boss sings off-key.

We both climb in the sink. Then, with one jump, we swap worlds.

© Joanna Rubery 2017

Microfiction in 250 words: The Photograph

[I’m very proud of this one, which came sixth in a recent microfiction competition hosted by Grindstone Literary Services. We were asked to write about a Snapshot in 250 words.]

I step on scarlet toes (“Sorry, love!”) and breathe in sugared scent. The girls are like butterflies, flitting under frangipani blooms.

“Madame?” He’s got a walkie-talkie. “Can I help you?”

“I’m looking for my friend,” I shout, above the bass. Then I see him across the street. A tuk-tuk swerves, and misses me.

“All alone?” I ask. The beer is sharp, cutting through the evening heat.

“I’m in love,” Pete tells me, through a haze of smoke and flowers. “Not with you.”

“Just as well,” I say. “With who?”

He nods across the road. “With Nita.”

I look over – the girls are glowing neon – and back to him.

“Nita from the Good Time Garden??”

“I’m obsessed!” he says.

A boy clatters in the gutter with empty cans of paint.

“Does she know?” I ask him. Pete isn’t young.

He shakes his head. “But I’m going to give her this.”

He smooths a photograph with tar-stained fingers. She’s laughing, he’s drinking something lime.

“I’ve written to her,” he says, draining his glass. “On the back. Dutch courage!”

Then he grins, gets up, and weaves his way across.

The fan above is broken. Something scuttles by my feet.

After a while, I spot him coming back, and then I see her, I think, on the balcony, a sliver of red. She leans out and drops something. It flutters into flowers.

“I think she was surprised,” says Pete, sitting down. “We’ll see. Fancy another?”

I wonder. I wonder what to say.

© Joanna Rubery 2017

 

Microfiction in 300 Words: Peak betrayal

Patagonia

“Is here!” shouts our guide, and we crunch over to where the snowy cliff runs out. Miles below, unheard, a glacial river splashes. The space between the pearl-white peaks is silent. The air is paper thin.

Magnífico,” I whisper. Antonio turns and smiles, but I mean him, and his dark and sparkling eyes. I hand him the water.

Peter-the-Australian is watching the sunlight fade away.

“Where are we gonna stay tonight, then?” snorts Gemma, from behind. “My bloody feet!”

Antonio unlocks a splintery shack. There’s a rich smell of Andean wood, and something like alpaca.

“I can see me breath!” says Peter, shards curling.

“No mirror?” yells Gemma, pulling off her hat. “What about my hair?” and it tumbles loose, like silk.

We spoon up soup as the night turns blue, then black. Antonio uncorks a dusty bottle and four glasses, crystallized with frost.

“Can’t get a signal here,” says Gemma, vexed, but Peter (“You millennials!”) is already dealing out a pack of cards.

“We two,” says Antonio, winking at me, “Against Gemma. And Peter.”

We’re a team. (Tonight? Maybe tonight.)

“That’s not fair!” Gemma’s protesting, glossy-lipped; but an hour later, I take another sip, play my hand – and it all falls apart. Gemma whoops.

“I’m sorry – ” I turn to Antonio, but, “Is only a game,” he replies, knocking back his glass.

In the dark heart of the night, I feel my frozen way outside. The stars are speckled right down to the ground, as if the world has tilted. I listen in, too.

From somewhere in the shack, I hear a giggle.

The dawn’s like ice.

I hand him the water, but “Gemma!” he calls, and walks away. On a far peak, I see the snow come crashing down before I hear it.

© Joanna Rubery 2017

Flash fiction: short stories with a long lifespan

Nested Russian dolls

Here’s a tongue-twister of a question: just how short should a short story be?

When it comes to word count, the literary short story has always resisted absolute rules. Outside the specifications of individual publishers, there’s no real definitive guide to how long a ‘short’ story should be.

Instead, it could be more useful to think of a short story as a standalone work that can, as Edgar Allen Poe said, be “read at one sitting” – or as a tale that has been whittled down to its essentials in a way that makes it “almost impossible… to summarize”. Or, perhaps, to consider the defining element of a short story as not so much its length, but its effect. It could be argued that the best short stories resonate in the mind for long after the last word has been read, triggering a “complexity of afterthought” in the reader.

In short order

Given the nebulous nature of the short story form, it’s not surprising that several sub-genres have sprung up in recent decades with word counts that are more sharply defined. Since Anton Chekhov is widely considered the original “supreme artist of the short story”, it’s nice to picture these sub-genres as a series of Russian dolls, each one fitting neatly inside the other.

Continue reading “Flash fiction: short stories with a long lifespan”

More competition news!

Jam Jar Lights Phnom Penh

I’m very happy to say I came 6th in a flash fiction contest – this time, we were asked to write a microfiction story of 250 words. I’ll post the story here once certain rights issues have been sorted.

Nanofiction: The Ring / L’alliance

Man with wedding ring

[Here’s a piece of nanofiction – a story in 25 words – in mirrored languages.]

The Ring

“I love you…” he said, bare-fingered.

“I love you too,” I told him, bare-souled.

“…but not enough,” he said, and put the ring back on.

L’alliance

«Je t’aime…, me dit-il, le doigt nu.

– Je t’aime aussi, lui répondis-je, l’âme à nu.

– …Mais pas suffisamment », déclara-t-il, et il remit son alliance.

© Joanna Rubery 2017