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

From room to zoom: a snapshot of the camera

Girl with camera

How many photographs will we take in 2017?

Over a million? Not even close. Over a billion? Way more: conservative estimates are that we’ll take 1.2 trillion pictures this year, with our smartphones snapping the vast majority of them. That’s twice as many as four years ago. We are, some believe, drowning in digital imagery, saturated in snapshots, seemingly captivated by an invention whose rapidly evolving nature reflects our own: the camera.

A Camera with a View

Like taxi, camera is one of very few words that’s understood almost everywhere – except in a couple of places, including (rather ironically) the most photographed country on Instagram. If you ever lose your camera in Italy, explaining “Ho perso la mia camera!” might get you some odd looks. The Italian word camera has retained the sense of its Latin predecessor, and means (bed)room or chamber. (Instead, you can say you’ve lost your – take a deep breath – macchina fotografica.).

But how did we make the etymological leap from a room to a photographic device? To find out, we need to zoom out and take a longer look at history.

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The Conversation Garden

Night Trees

[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 ‘A Conversation with your Spouse’ in exactly 1200 words.]

I knew it instantly. You were there – then half a second later, you were gone.

“Stand back!” shouted the doctor, that antsy one you never liked, and “This way,” said Agnieszka, doe-eyed,“This way, Mrs Johnson,” guiding me out through the swing doors to the empty corridor, as behind us they worked away on you, in vain.

I made a sound. Agnieszka squeezed my shoulder.

“It’s too late,” I told her.

She looked at me with those big brown eyes of hers. Like Bambi, I’d said to you yesterday, when you’d cracked a smile, and said –

“They’re doing everything they can,” soothed Agnieszka.

“But it’s too late,” I explained to her, as gently as I could. “I know he’s gone.”

You’d surprised me, like you always did, before I’d had the chance to tell you one more time what I wanted you to know.

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New Song: Let You Go

Every cloud has a silver lining. I do believe that. In my case, I try and turn that heartbreak into harmony:

© Joanna Rubery 2017

The Beach at the End of the World

Stewart Island Harbour by Day

I had washed ashore on the beach at the end of the world.

That wind-whipped afternoon, the ferry crossing over the dire strait from Invercargill had been, I’d scrawled in my diary, “like the Pirate Ship” – we rose and fell with each wave, the floor splashing with spilled tea. After an hour, I slid down the jetty with a handful of hardy fishermen, spangled with sea salt.

“Welcome to Stewart Island,” said the captain, shaking hands from a fish crate.

In the half-light of Half Moon Bay, I held my breath. The harbour was a glassy grey, scattered with small boats, clinking in the ripples. On the far horizon, the sun was a low glow of unearthly light. I felt, as I always do, the tingle of the unknown.

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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.

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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.