Flash Fiction Finalists 2018
The following stories have been short-listed for the 2018 Edinburgh International Flash Fiction Award. The winner of the £500 prize will be announced on Saturday 29 September. Let us know via Facebook or Twitter (@artsclubwriters) which of the stories you like best. The stories could be on any topic told in 250 words or less. The final selection will be made by author Sandra Ireland
Daffodils with Apples
The blowflies arrive, and then their offspring. No one rings the doorbell. The daffodils in their vase droop and double over, as though in pain. The apples in the fruit bowl collapse in on themselves. The rain beats on the studio skylights, and the colours on her dropped palette dull and harden. Dust settles over everything: books, cups, toothbrush, face. Months of sun cracks the paint on her canvasses and solidifies what’s left in the tubes.
The post piles up on the floor under the letterbox. Circulars and two more letters from galleries, containing polite rejections. She uses no gas, nor electricity; there is no rent to pay on the studio. She doesn’t have a television. Her bank account is open but empty.
No one knocks. Two crisp leaves find their way in under the studio door. A house spider weaves a funnel-shaped web under the draining board and lays an egg sac. Mice taste the badger hair on the end of her brushes, chew the handle of the palette-knife she still holds, nibble on a toe. Snow piles up on the windowsills; melts.
Under the floorboards a pipe rusts and a slow leak starts, saturating the wood. In the apartment below, a yellow stain appears on the ceiling, and the paper bubbles and then bursts. Someone knocks on her door and knocks again. Someone else breaks the door down.
Her painting of a vase of daffodils next to a bowl of apples sells for £100,000.
Picnic eaten and Mum and Dad settled in deck chairs with a thermos, our brothers would send Nuala and me to draw circles in the wet sand. This task was our responsibility, our contribution to the ritual of the beach.
Oblivious of the wide-winged gulls, ignoring the fall of waves at the sea edge, Nuala and I worked. We decorated our lines with shells and seaweed and smooth, round pebbles. Our skins were sticky with salt water.
After Nuala learned about circles at school we laboured to make ours perfectly round. Her hair slipped loose and whipped across her cheeks as she traced out circumferences with a driftwood radius. Then she did King Arthur and told me they were sanctuaries. We strengthened their powers with incantations we called magic.
When our brothers came back from the far ends of the beach, we played tig. Our spaces were dens. We dodged and chased across the sand, nipping from one to the next. Nuala and I jumped inside, squealing. We giggled as the boys skidded to a halt outside, snarling in mock fury, unable to reach us over the boundaries we had built.
* * * *
Today, Nuala talks of secondaries and treatment options. Her face is grey beneath the red headscarf that hides her naked scalp. She asks will I watch her girls. I taste salt on our cheeks. I chant our charms in my head as I place my arms about her, in a circle that I make perfectly round.
Same Skin, Different Body
My life changed forever the day I lost my daughter. Her diary lay on the bed - pages open - neat, looped handwriting inviting me into a secret world. I closed the book, side-eyeing it as I flicked the duster around the room; motherly curiosity destroying an unspoken code.
She described hating her body, averting her eyes every time she showered, avoiding the mirror - an exercise in getting through life one day at at time, hoping for change one way or the other. The stupid advert about loving the skin you’re in when it wasn’t her skin that was the problem - it was the inside making the outside wrong.
As I let go of the past and put her clothes into bin bags, I searched within for answers. That sly drag on a cigarette before knowing I was pregnant. Did I drink too much, eat soft cheese during pregnancy, was I too busy with work, too preoccupied setting right a failing marriage? Was I to blame? I missed the little things - manicures, watching chick-flicks; I think she did them for me - a selfless act because I knew she was a tomboy happiest in hoodie and jeans.
A final hug, I don’t want to let her go and my tears soak into the surgical gown for the girl I’m losing. He says I haven’t lost him, that he’s always going to be my funny, quirky, idiotic child - same skin, different body. My life changed forever the day I met my son.