Winners of the December/January Flash Fiction Challenge
The brief for the December/January writing challenge was a simple one: Write a scene in which a mother and her teenage daughter go clothes shopping. Give us clues about their relationship through their interactions in the scene.
We liked many of the entries. The winner and the runners’ up, however, nailed it through the vitality of their scenes, and the details they used as evidence for the relationship between mother and daughter (or, the step-mother and step-daughter; or the aunt and daughter!)
Winner by a short head, for the sweetness of her conception, and the delicate hints about the literary conflict both characters experienced, was Emily Grace Hart. Well done, Emily. We’ll be sending you details of your prize: a choice between a literary assessment on 5000 words of writing worth R 2900 / £ 170 or a voucher to the same value to use on one of our courses or programmes.
Runners up, in no particular order:
Linda Ravenhill for her infuriating teenager who, despite her bad manners and criminal tendencies, bewitches us.
Channon Saunderson for her poignant snapshot of an aunt and her niece caught on the cusp of grief.
The ever-reliable Mitzi Bunce-van Rooyen for her brattish and manipulative teenager who will either terrorise the adult world she’s about to enter into – or learn some very harsh lessons…
And finally, Liz Lewis for her teenager whose flippant attitude towards death might well conceal, we feel, a grieving heart.
Well done to all of course – and courage to the many others who almost made it to the podium. There’s always another competition to enter. In fact, why don’t you start work on the next right now?
Emily Grace Hart
There are no words to describe the terror that accompanies buying a dress. Fun, one would think. But instead, I am trembling.
Slipping cold fingers into my jacket, Mama puts her hand on my shoulder. Her touch is warm. A silent reassurance.
I scan the shops, remembering how back home the markets were alive with music, bustling with textiles matching the spring flowers. The city here is supposed to symbolize freedom. But I just see concrete walls.
“There,” Mama says, nodding to a nearby boutique.
“You’re sure?” I ask.
“Sadiqini.” Trust me.
We approach the salesman. My footsteps are bird-like, ready for flight.
She greets the seller in English – the syllables still foreign to me – and the man points to a rack. Says blue might be my colour. Strange, I think. Black or brown always seemed safer.
At his comment, something shifts in Mama’s smile. “Maybe it’s time,” she whispers.
Later, when she picks out a teal dress with embroidered flowers, she says, “Time we stopped hiding. This is home now, habibti.”
When I try the dress on, I notice it brings out my eyes – turquoise, like the Khabur River back in Iraq. Or like the sky here in America.
It’s the first time since arriving that the thought of a new school doesn’t scare me. Because I know that when I walk in, I’ll be carrying both homes with me in a bright blue dress.
Leaving, bag in hand, I glimpse new smile lines around my mother’s eyes.
She sauntered from shelf to shelf, an apparition in black, carelessly flicking through the delicate garments, tossing them aside in crumpled heaps. Determined not to cause a scene, I followed; discreetly trying to restore order; hating her, hating myself for the ingratiating smiles I felt forced to give the scowling sales assistant tracking our every move.
The Doc Martins pivoted suddenly. Two dark-kohled eyes, blazing with fury, stared out from a surprisingly child-like face: “Are you following me?” she hissed, even as her gaze fell to the half-folded t-shirt in my hands. “Ha!” she smirked, “You’re tidying up after me? You’re pathetic, Daddy’s little handmaiden.”
I clenched my jaw, reminding myself that in a few days she’d be gone, back to school, back to her mother.
I felt a tap and turned to find the shop assistant, now accompanied by a large burly man in a suit. “I think it’s time you both left.” I nodded, shame flaming my cheeks.
“Are you going to let them tell you what to do as well?” She’d snuck up beside me. If I hadn’t known better, I’d have sworn she was standing in solidarity with me.
The security man took a step forward.
She looked at me a moment longer, then gave a tiny, tight nod and proclaimed derisively, “On don’t bother, Brutus. I’m leaving. Your stuff is crap anyway.”
I watched her slouch defiantly out the door, deftly pocketing a tube of red lipstick on the way.
I nearly embarrassed myself by reaching out to take her hand as we crossed the street, but managed to abort just in time and straightened my jacket instead, avoiding another look of thirteen-year-old scorn. Shelly was not the cute, little five-year old that I’d planned raids of freshly-baked biscuits with anymore.
The mall was chockers, as usual on a Saturday afternoon. Little gangs of teenagers in twittering groups, sipping on their Colas as they waited for the movie; taking selfies, laughing at something, and chirping about something on social media. Shells glanced over and then abruptly detoured into a Woolies. I trailed after her.
She was determinedly scratching through the racks, head down, concealed.
“Honey, are you okay?” I asked, hesitating.
I flopped down onto the stool next to the shoes. “Shells, avoiding it won’t make it go away. We need to talk about it. It’s this afternoon.”
“I don’t want to talk about it”. Her mouth was set in those stubborn lines, so like her mother’s.
I sighed, looking at the shoes she was trying on – little black pumps – and blinked rapidly at the sharp burn behind my eyes but the a tear still leaked through.
Shelly looked up at me, looking away and then back again, uncomfortably. “Aunty Sue, are you okay?”
“No, honey, I’m not. I miss them.”
Her face twisted for an instant, then she swallowed and leaned over to hug me. “It will be okay, Aunty Sue.”
Mitzi Bunce-van Rooyen
“Does my bum look big in these jeans?” I ask.
My mom stares at me as though I’m spare and says, matter of fact: “Well, if you have to ask.”
I huff and puff and peel the offensive Levi’s off. The right pants leg bunches and hooks around my foot. I force it free and kick it to the corner.
She shakes her head. “Don’t blame those poor denims for your excesses, Samantha.”
I snatch the next size up and squeeze them over my full hips. “Mom, why must you always be such an opp?”
She fingers her bag. I can see she’s dying for a cigarette. It’s about the only thing she allows past her plumped lips these days. “Why must you always speak in code?”
I twist to look at my butt. What am I worried about? A Kardashian butt is fire right now. My mom has the body of a young boy with fake boobs and she thinks she’s so sexy. She’s so cheugy.
She raises one skinny eyebrow. “Those don’t look much better on you.”
I dig deep into my arsenal for something I know will sting. “Yeah well, I don’t care what you think. You’re like ancient.”
My mom inhales sharply, reaches into her bag and tosses me her Amex card. “I’ll see you at the car.”
I turn back to the mirror and smile. “That’s all I wanted in the first place, Karen.”
‘Just give me the money.’
Mother’s lip wrinkled like a concertina, ‘No.’
‘Why not? I’m not stupid, okay? Funeral. Black. Gotcha.’
‘No! You’ll buy something dreadful.’
No shit. In a place like this?
With Mother watching like a crow, I tramped down the rows, plucking out black. Done, I hugged the fashion oil spill, and headed for the dressing rooms.
A voice growled from the shadows. ‘Only four items at a time.’
‘Ma, you gotta pass me stuff.’ I handed over the sludge and barricaded myself in a cubicle.
It went snappy. Jeans. No. Short skirt. No. Low top. No. Jumpsuit. No!
We got into a cool rhythm.
If I said, ‘Maybe, this’, Mother said, ‘No’. If Mother said, ‘Ooh, this is nice’, I said, ‘No’.
And so, the oil slick disappeared.
Mother banged at the door. ‘Why are you s-o-o-o bloody difficult? This means another shop!’
No effing way!
Then, ‘Hang on…’ Mother fluttered a drab dress above the door. ‘Look! I missed this!’
It had a long zip in front, and a belt. Plan: pull the zip down low, and hitch the dress up high with the belt.
‘I’ll take it.’
Without warning, the four-item monster charged from her cave. ‘Here! That’s our new uniform!’
Trembling, Mother’s fingers uncurled from her prize.
‘Though shit, Ma. Then it’s the jumpsuit.’
‘No. You must show more respect.’
‘It’s your grandfather…’
‘It’s a funeral.’
‘Grandpa won’t mind. Last I heard, he was dead.’