The sun rolled down the clear, autumn sky
in a blaze a fuchsia,
its light lingering
like a lovers’ first kiss.
His heart sank.
It happened while she was watching. She supposed it had always been coming; in fact, she knew it had been. It was all he’d had to give. For months; ever since it had happened. They’d gone through so much together; then the accident, but he’d held on.
“My heart will always be yours,” he’d said, “until the day it sinks so completely and can never rise again. When it does, you’ll be free”.
Six months had passed since he died.
She stared at the heart at the bottom of the jar of formaldehyde.
She was free.
The pebble skipped across the water, hit an incoming wave, flipped and sunk into the grey shallows.
“Five bounces Dad.”
“Best one yet Billy. We call them skips, when the stone bounces like that.”
The boy picked up a stone of his own and launched it. It went more sideways than forwards and landed with a plop.
“You’ll get there Bill.”
“I’m too small Dad. I will when I get bigger though, won’t I?”
“You will son, you will.” He ruffled his son’s tangle of blond hair that shone even in this miserable, murky light. It looked like rain. They turned and walked along the water’s edge, enjoying the sound of the waves breaking on the pebbles and the rattle and sigh as the water withdrew, rolling the pebbles with it.
“I’d like to live here Dad. Would you?”
“I’d like to Bill. Your mum wouldn’t though, she can’t stand the water.”
“If we lived here she wouldn’t have to come with us to look at the sea though Dad, she could go shopping.”
The man smiled. He envied the innocence of the child’s mind and the questions it generated.
“It’d still be too close for her bill. Your mum doesn’t just dislike the water; she can’t bear the sight of it.”
“Why’s that Dad?”
They continued walking along the shore, their feet sinking between the pebbles that rattled under their feet.
“Let’s make a move now son. We said we’d meet Mum at 2 o’ clock. She’s probably loaded down with bags and needs our help. Feeling strong Bill?”
The boy picked up a last pebble, crouched down and threw it, his arm straight, in a sweeping motion. This time it didn’t go sideways.
“Well done Billy boy.”
The boy ignored the compliment.
“Why’s that Dad? Is it because she likes shopping?”
“You and me like walking by the sea. Your mum feels good walking in the town centre.”
The boy wasn’t looking as a grin stretched across his father’s face.
“Sometimes Bill, sometimes.”
“Sometimes always Dad.”
Love is a stroll in a sunlit garden, under a perfect blue sky
Love is the lurching axeman, blood dripping and stumbling through corridors hard and white
Love is the warm sun and a light summer rain
Love is the vise-grip of ice, the cold that rips the breath from your lungs and tears from your eyes
Love is the warm bed, as sunlight drifts through the gaps in the blinds
Love is the sword on which we commit the ritual of Seppuku: and give all.
The hand moved across the table, casting a shadow under the glare of the uncovered light bulb, now dull with dust. There was still strength in the hand, and a life of hard work and physical activity showed in the knots of vein and muscle as it moved.
A muscular forefinger which had shot and killed men in war, under orders and without hesitation, now lifted, paused then started to tap, without rhythm, on the plastic table. The window rattled as the wind picked up snow and threw it against the glass, a draught blowing past the single pane. The finger stopped while a deep, chesty cough ripped the silence and echoed in the room devoid of furniture except the table and two chairs. A car horn beeped twice outside
“It’s time,” said the voice, finding breath once again.
“Yes love, it’s time to go.”
“They’ll look after us Eve.”
The hand reached out across the table and grasped one no less young but smaller and softer and cold to the touch. A sob broke the brief silence.
“54 years in this house George. We raised children who’ve raised their children and all the while we’ve stayed here. It breaks my heart to leave it yet…”
Another gust of frigid air escaped from the rattling window pane.
“At least we’ll be warm my love, and we’ll have company our own age.”
The smaller hand gave another squeeze.
“You’re right George, I guess we have to go.”
The hand, cold and white at the fingertips, helped Eve to her feet and into her coat. It reached for the light switch, and hesitated, as it touched away a solitary tear from a wrinkled cheek. Wind tore past the loose window pane.
“At least we’ll be warm, Eve.”
She lay on the bed and he kissed her again. She was beautiful. Her face, that face, as smooth as morning ice, her complexion airbrush perfect and those eyes, deep and black as mineshafts, stalked him around the room. He was reduced to switching off the light before undressing and only when he was under the duvet would he turn the light back on, and there she was, a remote smile always on her face. He couldn’t go on like this, she had to go, permanently.
He bent down and kissed the cover of Vanity Fair one last time.
Sliced by razor
bleached with sorrow
Hung out to dry
saw your smile,
felt your kiss
The razor’s wound
but never eternal
As the heart beats once again
Ah, at last. I’ve finally written something fictional, it seems ages since the last one. Thanks to Morgen Bailey and her Story Writing Exercises I found myself writing this at half past midnight, using the keywords: need, leave, Nebraska, pick, song. I went slightly over the 15 minute limit – 17 to be exact. Then I left it, went to bed and came back to touch it up this morning. So, thanks for that Morgen. Great exercise! So, let’s see how this little 550-worder stands up in the warm light of a summer morning shall we?
My back is sore, my legs cramped and my coat can’t be pulled any more tightly around me. My breath fogs and my fingers and toes seem to have left me for warmer climes, but my ribs, hard against the hard cold wood, jolting and jerking, are the worst.
I’d taken a beating before leaving Summer Creek. Panning for gold in them hills can make you feel like a king, but it can make others feel like killing you, make them envious. I’d gotten away as best I could I suppose, considering the kicking I got. Still, I kept my gold, or most of it. They only found a few nuggets and the rest was well-hidden. It was the gold I’d promised not to touch: Janie’s gold. The gold I wanted to win Janie back with, the gold I need to win Janie back. As I move I can hear her letter rustle in my coat pocket, a crinkled reminder of a love gone bad, and a love now gone.
The hell was she doing in Nebraska anyhow? What, or rather who made her leave? I knew the answer to that; she couldn’t live alone for long, she needed company and preferable the male-type. The Lincoln postmark was the first thing I saw when I received the letter, two months ago now. It made my heart sink, then I panned just that little bit harder, worked just that little bit longer to bring her some gold from the Black Hills, to get her to come back to St. Louis. I’m a fool, I know but this is no fool’s gold in my possession. She’ll see that, when we meet. I still can’t believe she’s gone even now. I can think of nothing else as I sit, freezing my ass in this slow, empty cattle wagon, shunting and bumping through the South Dakota night.
I lay my head back, close my eyes and listen to the movement over the tracks, each cross-tie and rail joint out to get me. I’m sure I can taste blood now; punctured lung? Could be, 6 pairs of boots can do damage to a man already weakened with a broken heart. I begin to hum an old song; The ship that never returned, one of our camp side favourites. Billy would take that banjo from the sackcloth and pick like an Appalachian angel. Billy. Billy bust flat this autumn, running up debts and making enemies. They took his banjo, then they took Billy. Mountain justice. No one said anything, we all had debts but most of us were panning enough for our need; except Billy.
All this gold weighing down my pocket and I’ve not eaten in almost a week; feels like my stomach is touching my backbone: it probably is. At least I’ve Janie’s gold, hidden good. I would write her a letter or a note but my fingers couldn’t hold a pencil. I’ll just sit here all quiet. I wish there was at least a cow for company.
I feel so weak, so tired, it’s getting colder. I can taste the blood good now, getting stronger with every jolt of the train. I think I’ll just close my eyes a bit. I know I shouldn’t but just for a short while, I’m so tired. And so damned cold.
I’m a day behind – there’s nothing I can do although this was half-written yesterday. Life gets in the way sometimes and certain people and things cannot be refused. I aim to be back on track by tomorrow evening…promise!
‘You have pen and paper in front of you, and an hour to produce an award-winning competition piece. Today’s prompt is “The empty chamber”.
There comes a time when you lose control of your dream and it takes control of you. It doesn’t happen often, at least not to me. This time though it’s worse; this one’s really got me.
I, like you no doubt, let my passions intertwine with my dreams. The things that I want in life, the things that are tangible, doable, reachable – they become my dreams. I don’t dream lottery wins, a Rolls Royce or a mansion on a hill, I dream in words, in black and white, created by me for me, usually. This time it’s different.
Mr Farrow, Martin to his friends so he remains Mr Farrow to me, teaches afternoon writing classes at the local college. He’s good, I’ll give him that. He’s published; he wins things, people look up to him. Last year I started his creative writing class, in the hope of a little dream realization; I was working a couple of bars at the time, keeping myself busy at night and staying at home during the day; perfect.
Except my days now are empty, with only words to fill them. My live-in partner, Shareen, left me months ago, calling herself a victim of my obsession. I’m not jealous, I just like to know where she is, who she’s with, what she’s up to. In addition there was my writing. At first she thought I was a novelty, someone to show her friends – a writer. I write all the time but I’ve never won anything. After a time she saw that as a reflection on me and saw my lack of success as a trigger for my obsession with her. She’s wrong. I will win, I know this time I’ll win and win big too then that’ll get her back, that’ll teach her. She’ll want me then. My name and my fame, she’ll want that.
‘Just fifteen minutes left now, you should have closed your story and now be reading through, editing where necessary. Polishing till it shines – this is the big one.’
I sit there looking at Martin, at Mr. Farrow, and sight the barrel on him. I hope he’s written for his life, there only one empty chamber.
The prompt from 3 May contained required the use of ‘vermillion’ and ‘musky’. I think I managed it. It’s still 3 May in New Mexico, for example so technically I can still squeeze it in. Well, it was written before my Swiss midnight.
Her face looks beautiful in the bright, white light. Her musky perfume fills the air as we sit on the terrace. The shadows of her features pronounced in contrast, her nose creating a pyramid-shape and the furrows creating trenches in her forehead as she looked away from the glare; it’s a magical moment but one doomed to pass quickly, as all moments do. In this early evening dim I am fascinated.
The day had dawned cold but bright, and, following breakfast of espresso and a croissant we decided to take a long walk along the coastal road, up and down the small hills with little traffic to disturb the tranquillity of it. We must have walked more than 10 miles before deciding to stop for lunch at a small restaurant just off the road, perched on a small cliff overlooking the rock-strewn beach beneath us. We ordered a Prosecco each from the bar and sat down at one of the small, plastic tables on the terrace, pulled our coats around us and lit a cigarette.
We had a fine lunch of spaghetti with clams followed by a shared lobster – what the hell, it was a special day after all. The two bottles of white wine went down well, so well in fact I kept nodding off in the taxi taking us back to the hotel. We stayed in bed for a couple of hours, making sweet love and holding each other close, barely speaking; there was no need. Finally, as the daylight outside faded in its wintry haste, we took a shower, dressed and went down to the hotel terrace looking over the sea. I tightened my scarf around my throat while she pulled down her hat and we sat. Our drinks arrived.
The seagulls were screaming, swooping and diving every time a wave broke and the sound, along with that of the waves, filled the evening.
The western sky still glowed a variety of pinks and one by one the stars appeared but none outshone the beautiful Venus, her vermillion majesty abroad in the evening sky. Sitting above the now-set sun she took centre stage.
“What’s that low star darling?” She asked, pointing to it. “It’s so bright.”
It was in fact enormously bright, even in the frigid winter air. The hairs on the back of my neck made a lazy, crawling motion. As we looked, she continued to burn brighter then, suddenly, her light expanded. It continued doing so until it seemed the sun had returned from below the horizon. Still the light expanded. The first knot of fear appeared in my stomach.
“What is it Honey?” She asked, holding my arm tighter.
“No idea, well actually I do but it’s not a rational one”
“Tell me!” It was an order. She fumbled in her bag for her cigarettes.
VENUS HAS EXPLODED! I wanted to shout. I didn’t however. My mind filled with possibilities and ramifications of our red sister disappearing into a million pieces. My mind asked how, yet I knew the answer, it was obvious.
“Do you remember you read that article in the newspaper the other week about the approach of a couple of asteroids, big enough to do damage?” I took one of her cigarettes and lit up. Bloody low- tar were not need at this moment. I broke the filter off and continued smoking. I had her attention.
“Well the experts said they would pass within so many million miles of us. I think that while we’ve been looking out of our porch to see if something was crossing our front lawn, no one told us what would happen if we left the back door open. We’ve been worrying about a rogue asteroid or a misdirected comet for years but we’ve never considered other planets, I mean, why should we? I think something has hit Venus and whatever it was was big.”
The light consumed the night sky. The moon no longer cast a reflection over the calm, black sea. The only reflection came from an ever-growing light around 100 million miles from us.
“Then we’re OK,” she said, sounding fairly convinced, “I mean what harm can it do us from here?”
She had a point; I mean what was going to happen? A huge piece of rock had thrown itself into the second planet and by the looks of it had obliterated it, creating nuclear chain reactions and sending a million pieces flying through space. What harm could it do? I didn’t want to analyse that question, I didn’t need to. I knew that somewhere across the gulf of space a piece of our sister planet was heading our way.
We ignored the cold and remained seated outside. The bowls of olives and peanuts had been consumed; the ashtray had been emptied once and was steadily filling up again. The light was getting ever brighter, the night sky lit completely, even the birds in the trees started singing, thinking it was daytime. We continued to sit and watch, entranced.
Her face looks beautiful in the bright, white light. In this early evening dim I am fascinated. They told us the world would end December. I’m now going to order us the most expensive champagne followed by the finest cognac. I don’t think I’ll have time to pay for it. I don’t think we’ll be here much longer.
I know, I’m late but there was no way of doing this yesterday, work gets in the way sometimes. “Magnetic words” – that took some thought and alas…this is all I came up with. Roll on to Day 3
I can feel my heartbeat, my temples are thumping; a bit like the sound of a washing machine on slow spin at the end of its cycle. My stomach cramps, or rather alternates between cramps and butterflies that flutter by. I need to step away, I need to get a grip. What is going on?
I woke up, splashed my face and made my way to the kitchen, no changes from my usual Sunday morning habit of making myself a pot of tea and preparing a plate of digestive biscuits and placing both on the little coffee table, spreading out and opening a book. This morning however I awoke early; thunder trounced my head and lightning tried to sear its way through the blinds and the rain hammered on anything it touch. A perfect day for reading, I thought, pouring the first cup from the pot. Then, without taking either opening a book or switching on my laptop, I step over to the fridge.
I, now, you, why, see, kill
It’s been a week now. Last Sunday morning I awoke, made my tea and started to read when a whispering noise made me look up from my book. I didn’t see anything; at first. The words, they rearranged themselves, on their own. There’s no one else here except me. There hasn’t been since last Saturday, except now I think she’s come back. Or she sees why I did or else…I’m going to see why she will.
They stood side by side, hand in hand and their feet touched. Mary could feel Tom’s hand squeezing hers, letting her know, without words, that they were one, a couple, and were in this together, as they had been for almost two years now. He turned to kiss her.
It had started as a slow, drunken dance at a Christmas party; his steps awkward, a little drunk and she, not sober, sometimes trod on his feet, giggling. They held each other close enough for their colleagues to start nudging each other and pointing. Tom didn’t care; he didn’t want the dance to end, ever. He was aware only of Mary’s perfume, the clean, shampooed scent of her shoulder length raven hair and her soft skin as he pressed his cheek against hers and whispered ‘you’re beautiful’. Mary felt a butterfly take flight inside and she slung her arms around his neck as he held her, while Bryan Ferry sung “Slave to Love”, and the evening finished with a lingering kiss.
They started going out together over the Christmas period and returned to work a couple. Both thought that working for the same company would get in the way but as Tom worked on the brokerage floor and Mary in the back-office a floor below, they rarely saw each other during the day and always had something to talk about in the evenings. Recently they’d spoken of engagement, normally after a bottle of wine but they talked of it nonetheless.
Tom let go of her hand, turned and placed his hands either side of her face as he bent to kiss her. She held his gaze as her lips parted to meet his. She felt their lips crush and she threw her arms around his neck, pulling him towards her. The kiss was passionate although love had now replaced the lust that Tom had felt that first night but she still drove him wild. He didn’t want that kiss to end, ever.
Suddenly the floor shook beneath them once again; another explosion. The heat and smoke were becoming unbearable and the couple parted. Tom placed his cheek next to hers and whispered ‘I love you’, and Mary heard, above the noise and chaos she heard. She pulled away and mouthed ‘I love you too’ back to him. He felt tears sting his eyes as he smiled at her, drinking in her beauty in the late summer sunshine. Then they turned.
They stood side by side, hand in hand. Mary could feel Tom’s hand squeezing hers, letting her know, without words, that they were one, a couple, and were in this together. They stood, eyes closed and he gave her hand one last, tight squeeze. They stepped off; into nothing and into forever.
Recently I read an article on 9/11, about those that became known as ‘the jumpers’; those men and women that chose to jump from the Twin Towers instead of burn. It’s estimated some 200 people jumped before the towers collapsed. In fact the images of those men and women are some of the clearest memories I have of the tragic events of that day.
I didn’t know this before reading but America in the main has tried to forget the fact that people jumped, because that would be considered suicide and that is contrary to God’s law. I like to think instead that it was God and God’s love which gave them the initiative and courage to find that second way, knowing there was no way out.
There seems to be a shadowy recollection of a man and woman jumping together but I can’t be sure after 12 1/2 years. The possibility of a couple jumping together, finding strength in each other at the very last, pulls my heart strings, very tightly.
I don’t do dedications, as they seem (to me) a somewhat futile exercise. However, the events of that day in which 2’977 people lost their lives, between NY, Pennsylvania and The Pentagon, were so great that no-one remained untouched. To all of those lost, and especially to the 200 who found the courage to take that final step.
The silence hangs like the first fog of autumn; denser than mist, more dangerous. Blinding even, creating its own shadow. A shadow falls across the newspaper that rustles at the table, struggling to break through the opaque shroud of silence. The silence in the kitchen breaks as an oven dish crashes on top of the cooker whatever is inside now basted by metal on metal.
The newspaper, disturbed by the crashing metal, now lies flat and silent. Its reader casts a last worn glance at the front page, frowns, gasps and smiles. The smiling reader gets up, puts on his coat to protect him from the cold but not the silence. The door opens, then closes with a thud.
The closing door is not heard in the kitchen, where knives are sharpened whilst thinking about the reader, with regret at how things have become. The reader’s keys click and turn in the door which swings open, hinges crying out for oil. His coat is off but his smile isn’t.
The smile continues as a few words are muttered in the kitchen, above the sound of the extraction fan. The knives fall silent once again.
“Happy anniversary my darling.”
The cloak of fog disappears as a cork pops in the kitchen.
Originally to be called Angel Wings when I wrote it yesterday, following a thunderstorm after work, just as I got on the motorbike…nice.. However at 4.30am this morning that title seemed like an old UK advert for a sanitary towel (Sorry Ladies…).
This has to be the quietest flight I’ve ever been on. Even the kids have stopped squabbling. Thank Heavens for small mercies.
The television screens are showing the ocean beneath, from the cockpit camera. It’s very blue out there in the tropical sunshine. Every now and again a ship, possible a huge oil tanker or bulk carrier will pass by, appearing tiny from this distance. Have you ever looked, I mean really looked, at the ocean from a plane? The way the sun creates 10,000 mirrors on the surface and how you can see the wave ridges, even from this height.
I’m stuck between members of the Ipod generation. The skateboard guy to my left has Green Day blaring into his ears, he must be going deaf. The girl on my other side has some awful rap stuff. I don’t know what’s worse. I’ll just go back to looking at the screen. The book on my lap, The Outsider by Albert Camus, lies upside down and open. I know it’ll ruin like that but I’m otherwise occupied.
My wife’s in the row behind with the kids. Every now and again her hand reaches over and caresses my shoulder or my neck. I reach over and put my hand on hers, giving it 3 squeezes. It means ‘I Love You’. We’ve always done it. I’d like to change places with one of my children but they want to stay close to Mum. I can’t blame them.
An hour ago the pilot took us up to over 40,000 feet to avoid a storm. 40,000 feet! That’s like sticking the Eiger on top of Everest. We’re out of the thunderstorm as well, so I guess that’s another small mercy.
This has to be the quietest flight I’ve ever been on. We were just under a hundred miles from Miami when the storm knocked out our engines. The guidelines tell us our plane can glide that far. I continue looking at the screen. I hope they’re right.
Thanks once again Morgen.
Welcome to Flash Fiction Friday and the ninety-fourth piece in this series. This week’s is a 580-worder (with an American theme – happy Independence Day yesterday everyone) by Christopher Farley.
This story will be podcasted in episode 31 (with three other stories) on Sunday 8th September.
The Freedom Train
He closed his eyes for a second. He finally began to believe it really was over. The mountain of lies and the rivers, even oceans, of deceit no longer mattered. The affair was finally finished and could now be considered a thing of his past, where it should stay. It had become like a tedious end-of-season football match; neither side wanting to lose but both would be content if the referee blew time. Each had said their piece and each had gone their separate way. The thought of returning to his old life before his spree as a shoplifter in the…
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The lines. So many of them it seems, interconnected and weaving a spider’s web of expression (exhaustion) on my face. My face. My Insomnia. My card. I present me and myself to you, my expression (exhaustion) for you to see. Is it not enough to just get through the day without having killed or been killed, to keep your job, to love your wife/partner/mistress/friends? What does the world want from me at this hour – always? Why does it not let me sleep?
We went through the war, Baby. Almost 15 years, you and I. Our war. Troughs deep as trenches, trapping body, poison, blood but offering shelter. A temporary escape? Choose the sniper’s bullet or machine-gun mow-down. The result’s the same. Bleeding, twitching body on the ground. Life-draining.
The war Baby. Those truces. Those long (but not long forgotten) truces. Not a trough or trench in sight. Poppy-field sunrise. Blackbird reveille. No scars, bullet wounds or barbed-wire kisses. Just us: and the world. When did you realise that Baby? Just us.
What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.
Would you accept damaged goods?
Would you accept a damaged heart?
Not physically, at least I hope
But damaged in the wars of love
Could, or should I even offer such
What would you think of me?
If I tried to hide the pain and hurt
Pretending nothing ever happened
I’d be like the used-car salesman
Who filled the noisy transmission
with sawdust, to cover up
The damage done before
I’d try plug the radiator holes
But my pain would still seep out
The mileometer I’d try to rewind
But the miles done would remain
Monday morning, dingy grey
Rain and sleet, sleet and rain
My mood, my being cannot sustain
The will to weather the winter
I wonder whether
I will fade to grey
As will fade this winter’s day
But a ray of light, burning bright
Crosses the continental divide
Across the ocean, cold and wide
But wider is the chasm without love
When I look upon a grey cloud sky
I should see the blue above
My love I hung
on a line,
out to dry.
To the bitter winds
To the calm winds
of an embrace.
Shrivelled by the hot, scirocco
winds of passion.
Lava souls melting.
Lusted and lusting.
Wanted and wanting.
My love I hung
on a line,
in fear of
the black, polluted
dust of decay.
Of love no more
which no wind will stir.
The clock is ticking
Running down the time
As we run down our lives
The clock will stop one day
And so will we, we may
Look back on what we’ve done
We’ll look back and see
Just you and me, and we
Shall cherish all we done