Kate’s Boyfriend


[I used to belong to an online writing group, and each month we would write a story with a theme and a word count. This time, we were asked to write about ‘She Never Wanted It Anyway‘ in exactly 300 words.]

Her boyfriend would have blue eyes tonight, she decided: ice-blue.

No. Kate paused: why not violet? It was her favourite colour, after all, although the eyes might look a little disembodied – even Kate found her ideal man’s specifics hard to set in stone. Still, by now her experiment had woven himself into her walls, a fine-figured shadow, vaguely tall and hazy-faced, whistling in the bath, clattering in the attic, and even radiating a reassuring warmth in bed. Once she could have sworn she actually saw him through the window, taking out the rubbish. As it was, Mark – a neutral, no-nonsense name – suited her just fine. They could go days without talking, and then, on demand, he would materialize in a mental shimmer.

“What are we doing tonight?” she half-heard from the hallway.

“Sophie’s coming over,” she said, uncorking a bottle. “Remember?”

“Blonde Sophie?” asked Mark, chipper.

Kate looked up. The violet suited him, although oddly, she couldn’t quite see through him this evening.

“The very same,” she said, remembering her friend’s text: I’m finally getting to meet THE MARK??!!!

Kate prepared two glasses and her excuses: “on emergency call” would do. When the doorbell rang Mark usually vanished, so she was surprised to find him beating her to the front door, and even more so on hearing Sophie cry:

“At last!”

and – to Kate’s astonishment – throw her arms round him on the doorstep. Kate stood, open-mouthed: Mark’s blurred lines had sharpened under Sophie’s hands, his shadows shifting into a shape all too real. She watched, numb, as Mark waltzed her friend into the kitchen.


Kate found the texts a week later, and smiled. Sophie was welcome to him. She’d soon discover that there were certain parts of Mark where Kate had been – let’s say – overly experimental.

© Joanna Rubery 2017

Little Lucy Grey

My name is Jackie Grey. I’m forty-three, and I’m a hospital receptionist. I’ve been married to Steve, the love of my life, for fifteen years now. We have two wonderful children, Lucy and Oliver. They drive me up the wall, of course, but I can’t imagine life without them. They mean the world to me.

Sorry: Lucy and – George. We have two wonderful children, Lucy and George.

No. George Grey doesn’t quite –


“Dr Charumasami,” I say, dropping my files.

“Taxi for the happy family!” he bellows, leaving me with some scrawny pair and their bundle of joy. Dark-haired. Immigrants, I expect. Probably speak no English.

“First one, is it?” I ask, on hold to Autocabs.

“Four,” says the man, holding up his fingers, and smiles, “Four girl.”

Some people have no self-control.

“Expensive!” he’s grinning at me now. She isn’t smiling, though.


My name is Jackie Grey. I’m forty-three, I’m a hospital receptionist, and I’ve been married to Steve, the –


What now? Bloody Pam and her Pilates. I’m not trying it again.

“Any more” – she winks – “dates this weekend?”



My name is Jackie Grey. I’m forty-three, I’m single, and I don’t have any kids.

That taxi isn’t here yet. She’s asleep. He’s restless, hands jigging about. I catch his eye. He mimes a cigarette.

“Outside,” I tell him, “No – outside.”

He bangs the door on his way out, but the wife doesn’t stir, so I tiptoe over. Just for a look.

I pick her up, the bundle of joy. All big brown eyes and tiny fists. She’s very nice to hold. Very warm. Quiet, too, not a crier. Looks like a Lucy. Looks like me.

I think we’ll go for a little walk now, Lucy Grey and me.

© Joanna Rubery 2017


Ice Cream Van

You were inside me, once, curled up like coral. Tiny, tight-furled, almost translucent – I could see right through your pearly skin. Now it’s everyone else who sees through you instead, but it’s everyone else who’s wrong. About so many things! Like love, for example. It’s not blind at all, because I see you perfectly, even in –


– the middle of a crowd like this, I see you and I feel you, holding my hand, as I always imagined. Everyone else is blind, because they look and do not see. I see you just as I dreamed you: a perfect fusion of known and unknown. You’re mine. I’m not letting you go.

“Maria!” – I don’t know why this woman’s always so worked up – “How are things?”

She follows me everywhere, this one, and never likes my answers – see, she’s frowning now.

“Time for another chat, Maria?”

Why? We’ve had so many chats. I don’t have time for another. I tell her we’re busy again, you and me, and she pulls her disappointed face.

There’s a jingle-jangle over the road.

The woman’s lost in thought. Perhaps she’ll let us go.

Then, “I know!” She cracks a smile. “How about an ice cream, sweetheart? What flavour?”

She’s looking at you, my darling, for the first time. You‘re smiling back. I hope you’ll remember your manners.

“Thank you,” I say, for you. “We’d like that very much.”

We walk over to the van, the three of us.

© Joanna Rubery 2017

The Club


[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 ‘The Club‘ in exactly 750 words.]

Rob saw it first.

We were limbering up, and then – I remember – he went very still.

“Mik-eyyyyyy!” came a two-handed holler from across the fields. I always forgave Rob his little brother. We even let Stevie in The Club – after all, there were some games you couldn’t play with two. (“I swear on my life,” Stevie had repeated, as a bead of scarlet trickled down his palm.)

“Earth to Mik-eyyy!” yelled Stevie.

“Get on with it,” I muttered, the bat rough in my hand. I felt the prick of a splinter.

“Are you rea-dyyyy?” yelled Stevie, unnecessarily, his voice sinking in the heat. The sun was blistering that summer, I remember that.

Stevie bowled.

The ball cracked off the bat, and arced into yellow. Rob didn’t move.

“What’s he doing?” said a girlish voice behind me.

Continue reading “The Club”

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.]


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