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

White Lies

Wave

[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 ‘White Lies‘ in exactly 2500 words.]

I knew something wasn’t right when my mother stopped abruptly by the kiosk, clapped her hands lightly, and said, “Let’s have an ice cream!”

I looked up at her, squinting in the summer holiday sun.

“Ice cream!” shrieked Peggy in delight, and tried to spin around, but stumbled.

I caught my sister’s arm, and said, “We’ve only just had breakfast!” but my mother was already clinking coins over, distracted. Somewhere above us, a seagull began its harsh, halting cry. With a cone of whirled white in her hand, my mother glanced up.

“Be careful,” she said, eyeing the gull, “Or he’ll take it. – Wait!” she added, as I reached out, “Ladies first.”

Peggy took her ice cream, and bit into it with relish. Her eyes slid closed, and she swayed a little, humming.

“Patience is a virtue,” murmured my mother, in a far-off voice, handing me the second cone. I watched it coming with indifference. My tongue stung of metal snow.

My mother didn’t seem like my mother today. At breakfast she had sat in silence, tearing her napkin into tiny shreds. I’d taken another slice of toast while she wasn’t looking.

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The Door

Beach Door

[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 ‘New Life’ in exactly 1000 words. This story is, in fact, an extended take on my microfiction story, Terminal.]

The iced wind seared my patchy scalp, and I coughed again, a raspy, racking ache. My fingers stung. Perhaps we should never have walked all this way to the hospital, but when I was little, March never used to be this bitter. I remembered sunshine. We’d even drive over to the beach sometimes, and –

“Mum,” sighed Amy, “How much longer will this take?”

I caught us frozen in the glass front opposite: my daughter, a sliver of sulky green; myself, a sharpened stick. It would be the last time I set eyes on either of us.

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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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Daisy Chicklit Gets her Guy: Chapter 4 (of 4)

Couple kissing

[I wrote this story for my sister back in the early noughties, as a spoof on the romantic chicklit that flourished at that time. There are many, many in-jokes here, including quite a few lines taken from the script of that incomparable chick flick, Clueless.]

Bunty wandered absentmindedly into reception and said, “Two Dictaphone tapes and one email, if you wouldn’t mind.”

He squinted at me.

“God, Piggy, you’ve improved over lunch. Did you go for a face lift?”

I threw the tapes at him.

‘I’ve been demoted!” I screamed. “Selma has drowned! And if that isn’t enough I missed out on a fantastic DKNY deal this afternoon. And – “ I held out my phone. “Look at this. My boyfriend has been two-timing me.”

I slammed the phone on the reception desk.

Bunty looked at the offending photo over his glasses.

“He’s your boyfriend?”

“Since yesterday.”

He sucked in air through his clenched teeth.

“Well, I’d say this calls for one thing, Daze.”

“What?” I snapped.

“Revenge.”

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Daisy Chicklit Gets Her Guy: Chapter 3 (of 4)

Office

[I wrote this story for my sister back in the early noughties, as a spoof on the romantic chicklit that flourished at that time. There are many, many in-jokes here, including quite a few lines taken from the script of that incomparable chick flick, Clueless.]

I awoke at five o’clock with a nagging suspicion in my stomach, and turned over, warily, in the spare bed. It was still dark, but a couple of birds were hooting outside.

Something was bothering me about today.

Christ. The Presentation.

Simon had commissioned me last week to prepare a six-month review of Profit and Loss for the Board, and had breathed garlic down my neck in hinting that ‘big rewards’ would come my way if I wowed them with my overhead expertise. The trouble was, in all the excitement of the anticipated Valentine’s proposal from Gary, I hadn’t really prepared for it and had been sneaking heat into work and discussing Nicole’s third eyelid with Bunty. The presentation was at 11 this morning. More to the point, I was still in my ripped Alaia.

“Bunty!” I croaked, banging on his door. There was a rustling sound, and then Bunty opened it a crack. He wearing a pair of pyjamas dotted with ponies.

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Daisy Chicklit Gets her Guy: Chapter 2 (of 4)

Little boy and teddy

[I wrote this story for my sister back in the early noughties, as a spoof on the romantic chicklit that flourished at that time. There are many, many in-jokes here, including quite a few lines taken from the script of that incomparable chick flick, Clueless.]

Bunty had ordered extra Japanese sea cucumber for lunch, bless him, in special consideration for my feelings. I cut it into slices and popped one over each eye. We sat outside at Vincenzo’s bistro on Densington High Street, as we were wont to do. Opposite us, a small table was marked Reserved – Prime Minister. Vincenzo’s had an exclusive clientèle.

“Simon really went too far this morning,” agreed Bunty, tucking into his pan-fried pigeon foot. “I know he’s an idiot, but criticizing your sandals? You have exquisite taste, Daisy.”

“He’s a rubbish kisser, too,” I moaned. Bunty winced slightly as if he’d cracked a pigeon bone, but said nothing, so I carried on regardless. “And I can’t believe it all happened in front of that dishy, delectable, drop-dead hunk who materialized today like a heavenly chorus of angels! My God!”

“Who would that be?” feigned Bunty.

“Didn’t you see him?” I asked, astonished. “Here – “

I snatched up my phone and cycled through the images. Gary winning Can’t Diet Won’t Diet. Gary and his own weight in hamburgers. Gary being kissed by Myleene Klass. Ah – Toby, looking slightly stunned in the lift.

Continue reading “Daisy Chicklit Gets her Guy: Chapter 2 (of 4)”

Daisy Chicklit Gets her Guy: Chapter 1 (of 4)

Romantic dinner table

[I wrote this story for my sister back in the early noughties, as a spoof on the romantic chicklit that flourished at that time. There are many, many in-jokes here, including quite a few lines taken from the script of that incomparable chick flick, Clueless.]

I knew it! It was going to be the most romantic moment of my life.

The waiter had just lit the candle and melted into the shadows. Celine Dion began to coo softly from above. Gary put down his knife and fork, still chewing, looked me deep into the eyes and cleared his throat. I squealed inside and clicked my Manolo Blahniks together two times. Tilda had bought her bridesmaid’s dress with my credit card this morning. She still owed me two hundred quid from last night.

“Daisy,” said Gary mid-chew, “As it’s Valentine’s Day” – he coughed – “and stuff, I wonder if you’d do me the very great honour…”

He looked askance at the waiter who slid forward from nowhere. I shut my eyes and waited in breathless bliss.

“…of letting me have the rest of ya potatoes,” continued Gary, “This place is like a bloody concentration camp. Eh, mate, how about bringing us another plate of chips?”

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Short fiction: Martha’s Hands

Girl playing piano

I am delivered at 10.26 on the morning of Thursday 19th April, inside a box, in one hundred and forty-seven separate pieces.

“Oh, for crying out loud,” says a voice, as I am being slowly slotted together. “What have you got me one of these for?”

I tune into this voice. It’s silvery and singsong, with the first few cracks of age.

“Mum! Everyone’s got one these days,” says a second person on my left, sharper and brisker. “This is going to be perfect for you with your arthritis.”

“Rachel, I do wish you two wouldn’t waste your money on these gadgets,” says the older woman, with a sigh.

“Wait till you see what she can do!” barks a rougher voice. “This is the top-of-the-range model with advanced motor skills. Look, Amelia – look at these hands!”

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