Winners of the June/July Flash Fiction Challenge
You’ll remember that June/July’s Flash Fiction challenge was to write a scene in which a family is preparing for some kind of celebration. Allow family dynamics to be revealed through the scene., we said. We had a flood of entries, and a good number of excellent ones, making it more difficult than usual to pick out the first among equals. We’re pleased to announce the winners of the June/July Flash Fiction Challenge.
But after some debate, we chose the piece by Corinne Rosmarin. She’s chosen as her focus a child’s hamster and used it cleverly as a means of exploring in a delicate and oblique manner the attitudes of the characters to an impending marriage. Well done, Corinne. You’ve won either a literary assessment on 5000 words of writing – (worth R2900 or £170) or a voucher of the same value to use on one of our courses or programmes.
The runners-up, in alphabetical order, are:
Catherine Black, with a lovely little piece of passive aggression from the father.
Erik Ilves for a simple little story with what feels like a very authentic climactic question.
Lynn Joffe for her slightly transgressive scene which demonstrates powerfully the old adage: like father, like daughter.
Sandy Lee for her lovely “showing” details – and a subtle and oblique take on her perspective character’s disquiet at her mother’s remarriage.
Rae Toonery for her distinctive and memorable character, brought to life with almost every detail Rae deploys.
Jean Veitch for her study in repressed frustration.
Well done, all of you – and thank you to the dozens of others who didn’t make the cut this time round.
Winners of the June/July Flash Fiction Challenge
Corinne Rosmarin Arthur’s Depressed
Livi looked down at Jamie’s small form hunched on the carpet as she brushed her hair absentmindedly, thinking she should have washed it.
‘Jamie, please get up and get ready. I put your new suit on your bed. It’s nearly time.’
He didn’t budge.
“Jamie, please. Your dad will be here any minute and you know he needs you today. Ring bearer is a very important job, you know.’
She mentally snorted as she said it. Probably wasn’t even Bill’s idea.
Jamie didn’t look up and she realised he was holding something in his hands, cupping it delicately and stroking it.
‘Is that Arthur?’
Jamie nodded. ‘He’s depressed.’
‘Hamsters don’t get depressed, silly,’ she said smiling.
‘They do. He wasn’t excited when I fed him a treat. He hasn’t even been on his wheel. I googled it. He’s depressed.’
‘Oh Jamie, he’s probably just getting old. When did you get him? Wasn’t it just before your mom…’
She froze. She had promised herself not to think about her sister today. How long do hamsters live for anyway?
Jamie looked up at her. She knelt down beside him.
‘Listen my boy, today is a big day. Put Arthur away and tomorrow we’ll take him to the vet. Let’s just get through today, OK?
Later that night she heard the squeaky tread of the hamster wheel and wondered if Arthur knew more than he let on.
‘What do you mean you forgot?’
‘They’re just balloons,’ he said, his back turned to her as he scooped up their toddler and kissed the top of his head. ‘Who cares.’
‘I asked you to do one thing,’ she said, placing a sucker into each of the party packs laid out on the table in front of her. ‘I’ve done everything else.’
‘No one asked you to martyr yourself,’ he said, putting the boy down and walking away.
The dark blue ink of rage rose up from her belly, up and up, until it reached her throat, leaving her unable to say a word.
‘Mama!’ the little boy clawed at her leg. She looked down and picked him up, taking a deep breath as she settled him on her hip.
‘Sweetie!’ he said, pointing at the bounty in front of him.
‘No, my boy,’ she said. ‘They’re for tomorrow. And it’s nearly supper time. Let’s go outside.’ She walked out the patio door and onto the grass.
‘Sweetie!’ The boy screamed louder, writhing his little body to get out of her arms.
‘Who wants a sweetie?’
She turned around. He was right behind them. She watched as he pulled a red sucker out from behind his back and aeroplaned it into his son’s mouth.
‘Are you serious?’
‘If you don’t want him to have sweets before supper, it’s a really dumb idea to do the party packs at this time of day,’ he said, walking back inside.
“Sbu, I still have so many questions.”
My mother won’t look me in the eye. She is now simply refolding the same napkins she folded half an hour ago.
“Ma, ask me anything,” I say over my shoulder as I plump the sofa cushions.
My older brother saunters by, kwaito blasting so loud in his headphones that we could sing along. I’m not sure if he’s here for my engagement party or he just happens to be home today. I’m afraid to ask because I’m afraid of the answer.
With our eyes, my mother and I follow Katlego and his Boom Shaka as they glide out the opposite door, and then she turns to me.
“What life will you have with another man, Sbu? Especially this one. He’s not one of us. I don’t understand you. None of it.”
Before I can answer, she’s looking away again.
I stop plumping and slowly lower myself onto the sofa. It’s the central piece of furniture in our house. Word is that I was conceived on it. And then my father disappeared from our lives.
“I love him, Ma. We’ve been through this. It’s our engagement party. What’s left for me to say?”
“How can you love another man?” Her eyes are moist.
“I can, Ma, and he loves me. Maybe that is a love you’ve never had.”
She looks up and stares. I see a flash of anger and then, perhaps, of recognition.
“Yes,” she says as she begins polishing the silverware.
The last time I saw Daddy was in a Buddhist restaurant, converted from a granite bank on Union Street in Aberdeen. I decided I’d match him glass for glass, accusation for insight. The retsina arrived, a methylated mix, and by the time I reached for my first top-up he’d drained the bottle.
Inevitably, out came the story again; how he’d trained across to Lesley’s funeral in Glasgow when she died, was heading for the after-tears and was told in no uncertain terms that he wasn’t welcome by his third daughter, my stepsister, whose childhood trajectory had carbon copied mine.
‘Dad, can you imagine what Victoria was going through?’
‘That little bitch. She just wanted to punish me.’
‘Do you remember what you sent her mother when you heard she’d been diagnosed with terminal cirrhosis?’
‘What?’ Dad’s cruelty curled his lip.
‘A bottle of Moët et Chandon.’
Dad gulped down another half a glass. I speared a prawn cracker.
‘Can you perhaps understand how that made your daughter feel?’ I asked. ‘Don’t you think it’s a tad insensitive to gift her a bottle of champers, considering she had two months to live?’
Dad quaffed another glass and put down his chopsticks.
‘Honestly? I just wanted her mother to have the best.’ I smirked at his twisted logic.
Dad sniggered and swilled. I let out an ironic chuckle.
And then we both burst into raucous, uncontrollable laughter, catching the shared irony on our sozzled tongues.
We clinked glasses, his half-empty, mine half-full.
Rosemary watches as Grandpa spears a small piece of buttered toast with his fork and stabs it repeatedly into the soft yolk of his fried egg. He leans as far forward as his belly will allow. His mouth grabs the dripping toast but not quickly enough. The worm of his tongue pokes out to snare the yellow dribble before it can slip down his fast-greying beard onto his smart, white shirt.
With hair in curlers and dressing gown tied in a clumsy knot around her middle, Grandma shuffles into the kitchen, a mug gripped in her strong, right hand. Her left arm hangs at her side as useless as a priest in a brothel. She places the mug down as gently as she can. Tea sloshes over the side onto Great-Grandma’s embroidered cloth. She drops into her chair with heavy-bottom weariness.
Grandpa sighs, raises one eyebrow.
Rosemary pushes her untouched plate of egg and bacon to one side. The yolk wobbles.
Grandma reaches over and touches Rosemary’s arm, her hand warm.
“Eat up, my girl. We can’t have you fainting on your mama’s wedding day.”
Grandma’s head jerks towards him. ‘Lionel Marshall! Don’t you breathe bad luck over this day.’
Grandpa scoops up the last of his egg and brings it to his mouth. It falls. Yellow on white. He shoots up, grabs his serviette, mops and rubs, spreading the mess across his chest.
’There’s no fixing that. You’ll need a new one,” says Grandma.
Rae Toonery Graduation Day
Julie opens her handbag and checks again: purse, ticket, phone, keys, card. Yes, all there; “no need to fuss, Mum,” that’s what he’d say, her clever son, Dan. She pictures him having breakfast with his housemates. Sugary rubbish, if she knows those lads. If she was there, she’d do them a great big fry up. None of that posh nosh they’ll be serving after the ceremony.
What she wouldn’t give for a nice cool lager right now. What was she thinking of wearing her biker jacket in this heat? PVC should come with a menopause warning.
Shouldn’t it be here by now?
There’s a groan to her left: a bloke in a high-vis and work boots informs her that the train is cancelled. She’ll miss her connection now.
Well, that’s it then. At least his Dad’ll be there – with his hat-wearing, non-sweat new wife. Posh food and intellectuals: that’s their world.
She takes out the ticket, intending to throw it in the bin, then thinks again. “Can you use this love?” But High-Vis Bloke just carries on scrolling through his phone and puffing on his sickeningly fragrant e-cig.
When she gets to her parents’ house, she sends the carer home and settles Mum in front of daytime TV. While Dad’s eggs boil, she sets to with the duster. Soon they’ll have a picture of Dan in his cap and gown to add to the trinkets on the mantlepiece.
At least they have a grandson to be proud of.
“How shall I cut the tomatoes?”
Oh Lord, give me strength. She asked for a job, I gave her one, but still she’s using my brain.
“Just slice them in rounds thanks, Ma.”
A glob of icing spurts out of the piping bag that I’m busy strangling and causes a splatter effect on the pristine surface of the cake. I bite my lip and wipe my glasses with the hand that’s still holding the bag. Genius.
“Won’t rounds be too big? What dish do you want to put them in?” she asks oblivious to the carnage taking place on the counter behind her.
“The blue one please.” I point a buttery finger in the direction of all the pre-washed, pre-thought through platters.
“Really? The blue one?”
“Yes please.” I’m channeling Mary Poppins with every ounce of restraint that I have.
“But green is the complementary colour of red. I learned that on my art course, in Italy. And they have small tomatoes there,” she says sniffily.
“Ok mom, use the green one then.”
We work in concentrated, slightly huffy silence; I know she’s lost in an Italian summer that seems recent to her. I try to steady my breathing as I concentrate on decorating the cake, but I can feel myself whirling in a spiral of dread; that heart stopping moment when one realises they are losing their mother and their daughter at the same time.
“Done,” she states proudly. “How shall I slice the cucumbers?”