Saturday
Jan182014

Coffee

My first memory is of flying over the garden wall. It’s one of those memories that are so vivid you could be watching them on film. I’m playing in the sandpit my granddad made me and I see a ginger cat jump over the wall into next door’s garden. I know I can’t jump over walls so I stand up, drop my bucket and spade, and spread my wings. There’s a smell of soil and pollen and I can hear the birds in the trees. I hover, watching the cat slink along the lawn next door.

 “Just because it’s a false memory, it doesn’t mean it’s not real,” Sarah said, pulling back her thick, red hair. I watched the muscles in her arms flex as she tied it up and then leant forward on her elbows. “You’ve got another reality, that’s all. And,” she said, stirring her coffee, “you’re wasting it. Have you tried flying since?”

I must have frowned or something because she rolled her eyes. “I mean have you tried it in your head? Look,” she said, pushing our coffee cups out of the way and pointing towards the hedge. “Fly over. Go and see what’s next door.”

“What?” I said. “I can’t.”

“Bullshit,” she said, shaking her head. “Of course you can. You followed the ginger cat.” I didn’t reply. I looked at her, all serious with those enormous green eyes, and I realised I didn’t want to disappoint her. I wanted her to come for coffee with me tomorrow and the next day and the day after that. I looked at the hawthorn just above the couple’s heads, the impossible blue of the summer sky above it. And I floated, just like that, over the table, over the hedge, spreading my wings when I reached the top and hovering there like a kestrel. Next door there was another café with red Formica tables and those flimsy metal chairs, a few people eating breakfasts and some bees buzzing around a lemonade glass. A few beats of my wings and I was over the fence on the other side: the back of the chippy with its concrete yard and huge black bins. A man in a red and white striped apron clutched his chest and slid down the wall, his face contorted in pain.

“Sarah!” I said. I didn’t feel myself coming back but I was there with her again, staring into her green eyes with my heart pounding in my chest. “We need to call an ambulance. The man in the chip shop...”

“I did,” she said. “Didn’t you hear me?”

“How did you know?”

“You can fly,” she said with a shrug.

I stared at her.

She stared back.

“Yes,” she said, pulling her chair back and draping her cardigan over her arm.

“Yes what?”

“Coffee. Tomorrow. Same time. That’s what you were thinking, right?” She grinned and walked away from the table without looking back.

This story was first published in Scraps, the National Flash Fiction Day Anthology, 2013

Monday
Jan062014

The White Stork

A stork on your roof is a blessing from God. That’s what everyone says. We can see the edge of the nest above us from our bedroom window, a shadow of twigs watching over our sleep. Sometimes she calls to herself and it sounds like she’s firing machine guns out over Warsaw.

Izabella has started calling her “our stork”. She wants to name her St Anne – they’ve been learning about the saints at Sunday school and she knows that storks symbolise fertility. Józef’s mother didn’t waste any time imparting that little fact.

“Why don’t you like her, Mama?” she says. We’re looking up at the birds from the street and the stork is standing on top of her nest as though our house is a ship and she’s the look out.

“She’s loud and irritating,” I say, running my hands through Izabella’s tangle of red hair. Always full of questions, that one. “What’s it like to have a baby?” she asked me once.

“I don’t know,” I said truthfully. “It’s hard to describe. That’s why we have stories about storks.”

One day we’ll have to tell her why she’s the only one in the family with red hair. For now, I watch her skip into the house, making stork noises in the back of her throat.

This story was first published in Lighthouse, Gatehouse Press)

Saturday
Jun082013

The Sentence

I don’t mean to go on at you, you know. It’s just, I’m scared you’ll leave me if I’m not interesting and how can I be interesting if I’m not talking?

When I look back, I can see other times it might have happened. “I wish this queue would go down.” “I wish it would stop raining.” “I wish someone else would clean the kitchen for a change.” I’ve said all those things. I didn’t really notice when they came true. I’ve never wished for anything like this before – and it wasn’t even that I really wished it. It’s just one of those stupid things you say. Heat-of-the-moment, you know?

It was out before I’d even thought about it. I talk such a lot of crap. What do I do now? Call an ambulance? The police?

“I wish your breath would just drain out of you.”  What was I thinking? I only wanted you to be quiet for five minutes.

It was definitely the wish. I checked. I tested it on a glass of water. It was amazing: like one of those slow-motion reverse films, every droplet going backwards in the air and vanishing. I tried it with the punnet of strawberries in the kitchen too. They were beautiful – rising like helium balloons and then disappearing into dots – like when you stare at a light bulb for too long.

I wish you were still alive.

Why doesn’t that work?

Posted for Flash Mob 2013

(This story was also published on The Casket of Fictional Delights)

Sunday
Aug262012

Leaf

“I’m looking for my step-daughter,” the old woman told the trees. “I want to give her a gift.” She stretched out her hand to show them a scarlet apple. The trees rustled in the spring breeze, silent but for one small leaf.

“She’s staying in the tiny cottage at the bottom of the woods,” she whispered. “I see her dancing sometimes. I wish I could dance like her.”

“When the others fall in the autumn, little leaf,” the old woman said, “You shall dance.”

The trees watched quietly. They watched as the beautiful girl with jet black hair and skin as white as snow took a bite of the apple and wilted on the porch. They watched over her glass coffin and her seven faithful mourners, and told each other stories about a prince who would come to revive her, his one true love.

The leaves grew thick and green through the summer and as October crept through the woods, they blushed red and fell from the trees, settling like dust and rotting gently into the soil.

All but one, who landed on her own two feet and danced out into the winter, searching for a prince.

Sunday
Mar042012

Red Carnation

I look for women who understand flowers.

The little boy didn’t notice the red crayon he had dropped under the seat when his mother hurried him off the train, so I picked it up and drew a picture of a carnation on the back of an election flyer. I went over it three times and the petals flaked like old lipstick.

I glanced at her, sitting opposite and reading a second-hand newspaper. She looked up.

I held up the flyer, hoping she would recognise the ruffled petals, the tarragon-leaves.

She smiled, held up her ring finger: married. 

(This story was first published in Stand Magazine)

Tuesday
Feb282012

Displaced

"This isn't really a first date conversation but if you can’t cope with this then there’s no point in a second date."

I should have walked away then. But I fiddled with the sugar packets and waited for the bombshell.

"You've heard about the Invitarol mums, right?" Paul said, putting down his coffee.

I nodded. “Who hasn’t?”

"My mum was one of them," he said.

"Shit." I looked at him carefully. "How much of the sickness did you get?"

He shrugged. "Mostly just the bit they don't talk about. And the eyes." He pointed at them through his glasses: unusually purple.

I waited.

He took a deep breath. "They reckon it's something to do with the fight or flight instinct – it was altered by the medication somehow." He chewed his lip. "Some of us... well, we get displaced."

"Displaced?"

"Literally. We just find ourselves in different places. One minute I'm sitting here in London drinking coffee with a beautiful woman-” I blushed. “-and the next I'm in Manchester watching a horror film."

I laughed. "No way."

"That's not all," he said.  "Whenever one of us gets displaced, we get switched with another Invitarol baby. So I'm in the cinema in Manchester and the bloke who bought the tickets is here drinking coffee with you."

“But that doesn’t make sense. Why would that happen?”

“No one knows.”

“Why isn’t this all over the news?"

He shrugs. "Everyone knows about the sickness and the heart problems and the kids that ended up with the wrong number of fingers. All of that can be put down to medical accident. But can you imagine if this got out? It would totally screw Invita Works. Plus no one wants to admit that they don’t know how it happens."

"But people know. I mean, you're telling me."

"You've been cleared."

I swallowed. But it's like someone telling you they're a superhero. It's just not credible. I was thinking, wait till I tell Jessica about this one. I was thinking, the sensible thing would be to leave. I was thinking, that guy sitting at the counter in the black suit would be hot if he didn’t look like he was in the mafia. I was wondering if I could get away with a red beret like the one the woman at the next table was wearing.

And then there was a sort of buzz - like when a fly hits one of those electric bug zappers.

And now he's not here. Now there's a woman opposite me, tall and blonde with slightly violet eyes and a silver butterfly on her necklace. She looks confused then lost then embarrassed, flickering between them in just a few seconds. She looks like she could do with a couple of painkillers.

"Um... hi..." I say.

This has got to be some kind of practical joke.

She blushes. "I hope whoever was sitting here a few minutes ago prepared you for this," she says. "Where are we?"

I point at the logo on my mug. "Starbucks."

She rolls her eyes. "I mean what town?"

"London."

"Shit," she says. "Excuse me."

She stands up, smiles awkwardly, and staggers to her feet. She doesn't look all that well. I watch her weave between the tables, scrabbling in her bag.

The mafia guy is standing by the doors. “I need to call my husband,” I hear her tell him.  He nods at the woman in the beret. She strides towards me.

“Please stay calm, madam,” she says. “Everything’s under control.”

 (This story was first published on Dead Ink)

 

 

 

Friday
Aug272010

Shell

Here’s what I did: I broke the egg into a small red bowl and whisked it up with a splash of milk. I melted a bit of butter in a saucepan and slipped some bread in the toaster. I poured the egg into the saucepan, cracked some black pepper into it and whipped it around with a wooden spoon.

The toast popped.

I spread butter on it and poured the warm, crumbly egg over the top.

I stepped over your legs. I sat down. I realised I’d forgotten to make a cup of tea. That’s when I cried.

The kitchen was so cold I could see my breath.

I couldn’t see yours.

(This story was first published by Cinamon Press in 'Exposure', 2010)

Sunday
Jul182010

Eyes

As soon as I see her I am stopped in my tracks. We stare at each other, paused, muted until one of us remembers how to carry on. Her hair is a sleek, glistening black; her eyes are green and bright: the moon reflected in a pond. We knew each other in another life perhaps. I loved her once, I’m sure of it.

For a moment, neither of us can move. We’re caught in each other like cobwebs. I want to say something but I don’t know what; I don’t know if she’ll understand.

It is she who looks away first.

She springs to her feet, turns with a leisurely stretch and walks away, flicking her tail as though she’d never known me; as though, if she had, she couldn’t have cared less.

Sunday
Jul182010

Silence

“I think perhaps we should stop seeing each other,” I say softly. “It doesn’t do us any good.”

There is silence.

I play with a strand of my hair and stare at a holiday programme with a woman in an electric blue sarong.

There is silence.

Your voice is so clear that it sends swords and icicles spearing through my skin: “I’m in your head."

Sunday
Jul182010

Whoever It Was

I used to hide behind the sofa when the doorbell rang. If it rang a second time, I’d curl up as tight as I could and try not to shake. If it rang a third time, I’d stay there all afternoon.

Usually they went away in the end, but there was a day when Whoever It Was decided to try the door. It opened because Mum never locks it when she leaves, so he came in.

‘Hello?’ he called and I stayed behind the sofa and bit my arm so that my teeth wouldn’t chatter.

Whoever It Was stopped in the living room doorway and told the dog not to worry: he was an old friend of Mary’s. I didn’t know how he knew Mum’s name and I wished the dog was behind the sofa with me so that I could protect him.

Whoever It Was told the dog he’d wait, thumped into the sofa and sighed. There was a muffled bang when the dog wagged his tail against a chair.

Time stopped moving. I counted the grey diamonds on the back of the sofa six times before Mum came home and slapped her handbag on the table.

‘Oh my God!’ she cried and I know she was happy to see Whoever It Was because her voice went high and crumbly.

‘Come out, Lucy,’ Mum said wearily and I wished she hadn’t because I felt stupid.

‘She looks a lot like my mother,’ said Whoever It Was.