A light-hearted flash, written in response to Haley Whitehall's September Flash Fiction Challenge. It comes in at just over Haley's specified 500 words, for which I hope she'll forgive me.
It was all my fault. After a lifetime of reading minds, I was bored with it. I told my mentor that I wanted a change.
“Are you sure, Jackie? You know, it doesn’t always work when we swap our superpowers. You might end up with half a skill, or no skill at all. Do you really want to risk that?”
I looked him in the eye. “I know all about how people think. I’ve stopped more crimes than anyone on the planet. I also divine that you’re trying to put me off, to save yourself the paperwork.”
He had the grace to look guilty.
“Oh Peter, please. Look, I can even read your
mind. Just think, if you arrange a new power for me, I won’t be able to see through your excuses any more. That’d make your life easier.”
I didn’t mention the paperwork this time.
“And,” I continued, “you’d have the satisfaction of actually mentoring me again, not just listening to me gloat about everything I’ve done. Go on, admit – well, actually, you don’t need to, I already know – you’d love to be superior again.”
I won. We completed the forms.
The problem with requesting a change from the Superpower Commission is that you don’t know what new power you’ll get: you’re assigned whatever they feel is lacking in the contemporary world. You’re also re-graded to Novice, no matter what your level in your former power. It’s not a popular process, and few instigate it.
Peter’s face, when I waved the official envelope at him, was a picture of trepidation. I’d known the Commission had made their decision when I’d noticed a decline in my abilities. Unfortunately I’d had no clues so far about what my new power would be.
“You read it. I’m too excited.”
I buried my face in my hands. There was a pause, while Peter read the letter. It lasted longer than I’d imagined, but there were a lot of documents in that package. Finally, frustrated by his prolonged silence, I gave up.
“Well, come on then. What am I to be?” Cheep
, said the duckling perched incongruously on Peter’s leather armchair. Chip, chip, chip
“Peter?” Chip, chip, chip, chip
, it chattered, waving its wing, if this were possible, at the discarded paper beside it.
I scanned the letter: in recognition of my services as a mind reader, I had been granted the power of turning people into small birds.
What possible use could that be in contemporary society? Please approach your new superpower with caution
, it said. In the early stages you may not have sufficient experience to maintain control over unrecognised stimuli.
Those “unrecognised stimuli” – presumably excitement and dread – had led me to turn my valued mentor into a duckling.
“I’m sorry,” I called, as I went to find Peter some bread. “I’ll reverse it as soon as I find out how.”
I didn’t know if it was possible. But one thing I can say for certain: even with my former power revoked, I knew exactly what Peter was thinking. And I wasn’t in a great hurry to hear him say it.
Reversal could wait. I threw him a few crumbs and settled down to read the Commission’s guidelines.
I found this story this evening, sitting on my hard drive doing absolutely nothing. I figured it was best out in the open, being read, hence posting it on here. Contains a very small amount of adult language.
Who’d have a little sister? Bloody Ashley barges into my bedroom without knocking. Again. If I’ve told her once…
I go to shout at her (again), but looking at her, something’s not right.
She flops onto the bed. “Tara, why’s Mum crying?”
“Don’t be silly. Mum never cries.”
“She is. She’s in the kitchen, crying. Go and look if you don’t believe me.”
The easiest way to get rid of the little pest is to play along – besides, I’m a bit curious. So I tell her to stay in my room (which I’ve never said before) and I sneak downstairs. True enough, Mum’s at the kitchen table among a mountain of soggy tissues.
Ashley dashes past me. “Mum, where’s dinner?”
Oh, the tact of the nine-year-old. I drag her from the kitchen. “I told you to stay upstairs.”
“You’re hurting me.” Her voice rises to a wail. “Mum…”
“I’ll hurt you even more if you don’t sod off.”
Back in the kitchen, I clear the tissues and sit down. “Mum?”
“It’s nothing, Tara. Go and look after your sister.”
“Yeah, like you’d be sat there blubbing over nothing. What’s happened?”
Then I realise: Ashley was right. It’s half past seven. There’s no dinner. “Is it Dad? He’s normally home by now. Where’s Dad?”
It’s like Mum’s whole body collapses in front of me. “He’s not coming home, Tara. He’s left us. Your father…“ More tears. “Your father’s moved out. To rediscover himself.”
I collapse, too. Dad’s gone? Where? To rediscover what?
“I don’t know what we’re going to do, Tara. Ask anything you want, although I doubt I‘ll have answers yet. But if you’ve the faintest idea about how I’m going to tell Ashley, then for God’s sake say so. I know she just won’t understand.”
Yeah. Like I do.
Caitlyn, my best friend, is all worldly-wise. “It’s a mid-life crisis,” she announces, swinging her freshly-painted toenails up onto the bed to dry. “He’ll have a tattoo and a younger woman the next time you see him.”
“So sensitive. What makes you the expert?”
“I heard Mum talking to our neighbour, ages ago. She was wondering how long before my dad has one.” Caitlyn stares. “Omigod, you don’t think he will?”
“Well, I didn’t see it coming with mine, did I? I can hardly be the judge of yours. And I’ll have my nail varnish back now, please.”
She wiggles her purple toenails. “You should call him. Find out what’s going on. Then you can tell me all about it and I’ll start watching Dad for tell-tale signs.”
Despite her self-interest, Caitlyn’s right, so I sneak off to the end of our garden after school. Dad’s phone rings for ages; I’m just planning my voicemail when he picks up.
“You left us.”
“Er. Well. Yes.”
“Where are you?”
“Well, Tara, I’m in a lovely flat in the city. There’s a spare room here for you and Ashley when you visit. You’ll love it. It’s – “
“I don’t care about your fucking flat.” Did I just swear at my father? “Why, Dad? Ashley’s devastated.”
“Is she there? Can I talk to her?”
“For God’s sake. Just tell me what’s going on.”
He sighs. “Tara, I’m forty eight. I’ve spent the last twenty years with your mother, the last fifteen of those making sure that all three of you are OK. You know, money, food, school. I’ve worked constantly. I feel old and tired. I still love you, but I just needed to get away, have a rest from responsibility. Do you understand?”
Caitlyn’s words come back to me. “What’s her name?”
“Love, don’t be like that. Look, you know when you get bogged down with homework and revision? Well, that’s how I’ve been feeling.”
“But I didn’t run away! You made me carry on. ‘Think of the future,’ you said. So why’s this any different? You chose to have us. I didn’t choose school. How about you think of the future? Or perhaps you already are – so, what’s her name?”
I wonder if he’ll hang up. But he doesn’t.
“I knew it. How old is she?”
“Tara, I really don’t see…”
“She’s thirty. She’s very friendly and she’s looking forward to meeting you and Ashley...”
It’s me who hangs up. Dad calls back and I reject the call, cursing him to hell. I chew my hair – something I can only do when Mum’s not around – and work through it all.
He’s had enough of responsibility, yet he’s moved in with another woman (my future step-mother, eugh) who he’ll have to support (along with us), and who will probably want kids of her own (my half siblings). How long does this “mid-life” period last, I wonder. Because it strikes me that when the next child turns fifteen he’ll do the same again. But by then he’ll be sixty three at least.
Ashley finds me behind the shed. “Was that Dad?”
“What did he say?”
“What car is it?”
I look at her. “Sorry?”
“Jenna said he’d have gone and got a new car. All men do it, she says.”
And I’d thought Caitlyn was forward. Jenna’s only a year older than Ashley.
“Tara, why would he leave us just because he’s bought a new car?”
For once I don’t say she’s stupid. I laugh. Not at Ashley, but at her garbled understanding of all this. She’s hurt and so confused, she thinks it’s all over a car. She’s young, but she deserves the truth.
“Tell you what, Ash – let’s get a Coke from the fridge and I’ll tell you what he said.”
“Does Mum know?”
“Mum can wait.”
But there have been too many secrets. I’ll tell Mum later, but right now it’s Ashley who matters. I tuck her in beside me as we walk towards the house. Suddenly I feel the need to protect her. My little sister.
“Four of spades!” proclaimed Geoff with a flourish. “Who’s next?”
His next volunteer smiled as she hid the card from her patient, the magician: no mean achievement, trapped as she was in a job which made her despair.
“That’s it, nurse. Don’t let me see.”
Written in response to Haley Whitehall's June flash fiction challenge
, this comes in at just over 300 words. ___
Paul’s shoulders tighten under my hands. I can’t see his face, but I’m sure his eyes are darting all over the place. I lean round slightly – yes, his jaw is clenched. He’s about to lie to me.
“I’ve had it a while.”
I know this is rubbish. He’s supposed to be earning a living from that computer, not playing. I would lay money on his having bought this game today while I was working.
Well, if we had any money, I would. On my salary alone our heads are just above water. His tiny pension hardly counts: we can barely cover the mortgage; we live on own-brand food; we’ll have no holiday this year. All because he wanted to retire early and start his own business.
And he’s buying computer games? What of enterprise? Our hopes and dreams?
I watch him for a while as he clicks and grunts and even leans over with the effort. Right now, it seems, his only hope or dream is to reach level 12.
“You know,” I begin, about to remind him that this isn’t the way to get a fledgling business off the ground.
“Oh, Helen, you made me jump. Look, I’ve got to start all over again now.” Don’t tempt me.
“Anyway,” he says, condescending to face me now his fun has stalled. “Aren’t you meeting Lisa this evening?”
“Yes, I was just about to leave when I saw you were… Well, when I came over.”
He leans back in the chair, eyes narrowed. “Is that a new dress? I mean, it looks lovely, but you know, Helen…”
“This old thing?” I smile, opening my palms out to him. “Nah, had it ages.”
“Oh, there’s my cab! See you later!”
I even manage a jaunty wave as I leave. But as I close the taxi door, I hope that Paul's in there feeling as guilty as I am.
Written in response to Haley Whitehall's May Flash Fiction Challenge, this comes in at just under 500 words. ___ “He should never have been there in the first place!” Tim hurls this truism across the room like a weapon. We’ve been arguing since he came home.
“For god’s sake, Jodie: not only do I find out my wife’s cheating on me, but I have a dead milkman on my hands as well.”
“You did say it was going to be a bad day.” It’s possibly the worst thing I can say. But when you’ve been caught red-handed, ended up red-faced and find yourself facing a probable manslaughter charge, intelligent sound bites don’t come readily.
“We don’t even have a bloody milkman,” Tim says, pulling a holdall from the wardrobe. “I can’t stay here after this. I’m going.”
“But what about me? What about – well, him?” I look at the lifeless man on the bedroom floor, his blood seeping into the expensive cream carpet.
“He’s your problem! You didn’t seem to mind him an hour ago.”
With that, he’s gone. And I am, once again, on my own with the milkman.
Or Al, to use his name.
If this were the 1970s then Al would deliver our milk. He might call one day for his money, and I might invite him in, and… well, you know the rest. But thirty years on, our milk, like everything else, is delivered by Ocado.
So, Al is not our milkman. I am, therefore, only half a cliché.
Actually, we met at the library, both just borrowing books. We saw each other again. And again. Slowly, yes, we fell into an affair. I can’t justify it. I’m sure every unfaithful spouse offers the same defence: he is (oh dear, was) so different from Tim. Al loved to talk about anything; he liked reading; he cared. Better, he showed he cared – which Tim had long neglected to do.
Make that three quarters of a cliché: because of course we were rumbled when Tim came home early. He was supposed to be away, leaving us 24 blissful hours together.
We didn’t hear the car, nor the front door. Neither did we hear him calling, because as he put it, “You were making too much bloody noise.” The first we knew of his return was when he let rip a loud expletive from the bedroom doorway.
Al scrambled from the bed. Whether he was planning to run or simply protect his modesty, I’ll never know: he caught his foot in my discarded bra and fell, cracking his head on the wardrobe.
Then we started arguing. Then Tim left.
So I am alone in my bedroom with a dead milkman, who was never really mine. Suddenly, it hits me: Al, too, was married. He’s no longer anyone’s.
I wipe my own tears before dabbing blood gently from his face. Tim was right: Al should never have been here in the first place. It’s all my fault.
I dial 999.
This is a 50-word flash that I wrote a couple of years ago. I thought I'd post it up as I wore odd socks today. No better reason!
Odd socks were one of his adolescent quirks. Everyone said we were matching socks, yet to be paired. It didn’t happen.
As adults, we meet. Conversation is stilted. His expensive shoes show only black above.
We’re as mismatched as his former footwear, I realise. I bid my teenage dreams farewell.
Our mothers eventually met for coffee. It had taken us ages to engineer it, with one always busy, another reluctant to ‘impose’ and only Jane’s mum being keen. The date finally arranged, we parked them with their lattes and left them to it.
Two hours later, we saw them through the window, laughing and smiling. It had worked – these three lonely women could finally enjoy some weekly company. And their daughters could relax a little.
But as we walked in: “Ann drinks too much… Jane doesn’t eat enough… Sal looks too pale…”
And we thought we were now supposed to be looking after them!
In honour of Mother's Day I thought I'd post this little flash which I originally came up with a few years ago.
David says, “You really didn’t like those steps.” He’s right, I didn’t. Outdoor steps. Rustic. Uneven and bumpy things, they are, and rotting leaves making the wood all slippy. It took me a long time to climb up them. I’m breathing heavily, too: it was hard work.
I’m not good on stairs at the best of times. I lose my balance. Always think I’m going to fall, even though David says, “Of course you won’t. You’ve never fallen down the stairs, have you?”
Well, not in any of our houses I haven’t. But I did when I was a child. Fifty-odd years ago and I remember it clear as day. I suppose it was more comical for my parents than traumatic: there was no agonising tumbling and rolling, just bump, bump, bump on my behind until I reached the bottom. They didn’t laugh, bless them. Mum came to help me but I could tell she wasn’t that concerned. All I had to show for it was a bruised backside.
David wanted to come up because the hotel people told us the view’s lovely. I told him, “Go up on your own, I’ll never make it up there,” but he insisted I didn’t want to miss the view.
“After all, Nessa, it’s your holiday too,” he said, as though dragging me up a load of mucky steps would make my week. I suggested he take photos and show me, but he just told me I always say I can’t and this time he wasn’t having it.
So I puffed up the stairs and nearly fell back down them at least twice. Now he wants me to admire the view, and all I want to do is get my breath back.
“It’s fantastic,” he says.
Despite my crabbiness, I can see what the hotel people meant. Miles and miles of lush, deep green. “I wish we had more trees at home,” I tell him.
“Not the trees. You.”
Me? Fantastic? It’s been a few years since I heard those two together. Especially from David. I’m obviously surprised, so he says, “A year ago, you wouldn’t have got past the first step. All that weight you’ve lost – see, it’s paid off. Next year we’ll come back and you can run up them.”
True enough. A year ago I’d barely leave the house, let alone go on holiday. And these steps just wouldn’t have come into it. I’ve dropped six stone, and I’ve got a long way to go yet. He's right: I got up the steps!
But I’ll never run up any stairs. Or down them. I don’t think David’s twigged that getting me back down there is going to be twice as hard as making me climb up was. I’m not good on stairs, remember. And despite it being considerably smaller than it was, I still don’t want a bruised backside.
I wrote this in response to a visual prompt at Prompts for Writers
. It's my first monologue in a few years, and while I'm sure it's not a perfect example, it flowed very easily. Constructive feedback, as ever, is more than welcome.