Flash Fiction Day has arrived!
And here are our submissions on the theme How the world changed since yesterday.
How the World Changed Since Yesterday
He sat for hours with the small body in his arms.
Stillborn. A strange word. He guessed they didn’t want to say dead – too harsh.
He sat and sang to her.
‘It’s summertime and the livin’ is….’ The song was a lullaby, and he’d always loved it. It just sprang into his mind though he hadn’t heard it for years. It reminded him of summers when he was a child, his Dad playing his Woodstock cd. He had somehow guessed at the song’s underlying sadness, a whisper of tragedy.
And it was July now. The season was wrong for death. When he sang to her he created a summer for her, that’s what he felt. She would never see it but his singing would make it real for her.
‘Fish are jumping and the cotton is high.’ She would never see all the beautiful things that he so wanted her to see but at least she would be spared the ugly things. And her heart would never break like his.
His whole being was focussed on the little girl. Everything else was nothing to him. Everything was trivial. The living isn’t easy now and will never be easy again. The living wasn’t easy for her either, she decided not to engage with the messy business, she would always be wise, always still.
He remembered reading once that Abraham Lincoln was so distraught by the death of his young son that he had crept into the catacomb and taken the body from its coffin and cradled it in his arms. He understood the not wanting to let go, not wanting to say that final goodbye. He heard the song’s haunting quality as if the parents are wishing good things for the baby but fearing the future.
But how was it that he loved this still and silent daughter so completely, never having known her? He could drown in this love, it took his breath away.
He sang and he sang until he felt his heart lift a little.
‘One of these mornings you gonna rise up singing
You gonna spread your wings and take to the sky.’
He could hear Janis Joplin singing the song in his mind, she sang it as if she were in intense pain as though she could see into the future the baby who never woke and the father who needed comforting.
His life had ground to a halt. The life that he had lived up until yesterday without her. He couldn’t live without her now.
‘Lay her in the cradle,’ his wife gently urges him, ‘it’s time.’
He can’t let go. He will never let go.
They stand looking at her, she will be ok, they will always be standing by and thinking about her every day and she will grow in their minds. As they look at other people’s little girls growing, they will little by little let go.
And Suddenly it was Easy
What was it Mrs Burrows had said? Keep your head down and kick your legs right up! Emma could not imagine Mrs Burrows standing on her hands. She was one of those squashy pillow ladies, all bosom and no trunk. Mrs Scudamore was a less likely gymnast still, heavily built and rooted to the ground by swollen legs. While Mrs Burrows paraded the entire playground Mrs Scudamore plodded cow-like up and down the row of little girls attempting handstands against the perimeter fence. “Practice makes perfect,” she would pronounce sourly, folding her hands together as if pressing a flower. Mrs Burrows was more helpful, throwing out advice like wild seed: “Kick harder! Try the other leg first! Tuck in your head as your feet go up!” Emma ran Mrs Burrows’ voice through her mind as she searched out a daisy free patch of grass in her small garden.
In the centre of the lawn was a cherry tree. Perhaps if her feet soared up and clumped against the trunk a shower of cherry blossom might fall around her like pink spring snow? Emma positioned herself two steps back, stretched out her left leg and raised her arms. She bounded forwards but as usual her feet faltered before reaching the point of balance. Upwards, legs! Kick and fly! She began to jingle words, as she often did when alone: Tuck in head! Do or die! Hands to ground, feet to sky! Again and again she tried, fitting her movements to the rhythm of the words in her head: to kick, to fly, to ground, to sky: too quick, too dry, too round, but try, try, try! To step, to skip, to ski, to sky, but why, oh why? Try, oh try! Fly, oh fly…
And suddenly it was easy! In a moment when her mind was elsewhere her feet found the point of equilibrium, passed beyond it and thumped against the tree trunk. Emma was upside down, standing on her hands! She released the arch in her back and let go her tortoise neck; she was looking at a house with a doorstep at the top and a roof at the bottom, window blinds falling upwards and roses climbing down from the earth. How the world had changed since yesterday! She could stand on her hands! Tomorrow, walk the width of the garden. Next week the length. By the end of the summer perhaps the whole way around the world! She would hand walk its circumference twenty metres at a time, and then of course there would be rivers to cross, maybe by hot air balloon, suspended upside down by her ankles? She would adapt entirely to the upside down life, learn to play the piano with her toes, answer questions in class by raising a foot, write on the blackboard holding the chalk between her heels. And every morning she would greet Mrs Scudamore with a cheerful wave of the calf: “Practice makes perfect, Mrs Scudamore! Try it and see!”
Better to be better
Heather sat on the beautiful second floor of the public library tutoring Jacob.
On the paper in front of them was a cartoon sun, each ray representing another aspect of the lesson he’d done this afternoon. At school they were shining a light on different jobs a person might have.
‘So, Jacob, when you were being an architect, was being creative or being smart was more important?’ Heather asked
‘the architects, they all needed to be smart, because, being smart means that…’ Jacob trailed off, studying the hulk zipper-pull on his backpack. ‘Why is that, Jacob?’ Heather said, when he didn’t look up, she continued ‘Well, being creative means coming up with new ideas, and solutions to problems ‘‘no. that’s not it.’ Jacob said ‘being creative is stuff like play-doh, and drawing and stuff…’
After several minutes, Heather was able to source the ingredients for a basic response, which she boiled down to ‘Creative, because imagination is fun and useful.’
Heather’s son was ‘slow’ too. She had hoped she could copy out the lesson plans they provided and use them at home with Asher.
‘…never give up or to get it on the first try?’
‘Get it on the first try’ ”let’s say I was doing something that was hard at first but got easier with practice, you know? Or that was always easy. Where would I learn more?’
But she’d lost him.
Heather wrote down ‘Never give up, because determination is very important’ She scratched out ‘determination’ and put ‘hard work’
So Heather was Jacob’s copywriter. Asher didn’t have one, because Heather didn’t believe that was a good idea, having the parents fluff up their children’s work. And why, maybe, Asher had simplified homework lately, his teacher Clara docking the sheets, bigger failure than trying and not learning. A denial of his ability to learn at all. And yet she still expected a hug at the Christmas party. Still wanted to chat up the chickens she and her husband Doug had started to keep. I don’t think so, bitch.
Heather stared at the clip on her blue Bic pen until she’d calmed.
‘So the next arm says… is it better to cooperate with others, or to compete?’
‘Cooperate means to work together, help each other out,’ Heather explained.
Home: she’d be tired, she’d be starting dinner, she’d be thinking about tomorrow. Would she be as patient with Asher? Would she be able to listen as well? She was not sure she would, however hard she tried.
Sometimes, she would stand at the back of Jacob’s class watching.
She had seen how much better the teachers treated him, had the other students treating him.
And now here she was, treating him better as well.
‘So the question is asking, is it better to help each other out, or to be better than everyone else?’
When Asher was born, it didn’t just change her thoughts – it changed how she thought them. All that airy space she could walk through in her head before, become lost in for days at a time – shrivelled instantly, to hard rubbery shrink-wrap over what needed to be protected. Her thoughts near- subliminal at times, finding herself doing what needed to be done, through that headlong rush of developments that had run outwards at first, and now slowed to a crawl.
The lesson was almost over – they were fast running out of time.
Heather scrunched, trying to meet Jacob’s shifty chocolate eyes ‘Jacob, sweetie, I need you to really focus for me, OK? Is it better to help each other out, or better to be better than anyone else?’
‘Better than everyone else’
‘Okay, then’ Heather said, and that was what she put.
The place where the wildflowers grow
Hannah had walked this particular path through the park often, but today it felt unrecognisable. It wound round just past the tennis courts, now so worn and weathered that the ball bounced at unpredictable angles and made for an amusing spectacle for the passer-by. From here it stretched in sinuous turns through the wild flowers and tall grasses, secluded from the faceless crowds sitting on dry patches of turf littered with cigarette ends and discarded ice lolly sticks, the remnants of a warm spring day.
This particular part of the park had been her favourite since she was a small child and used to run through it with him on a Sunday afternoon. All butterflies and skies filled with little splutterings of cumulus clouds drifting gently past the August sun. The breeze had always felt warm and reassuring; now it whispered of something more ominous, harassing and refusing to leave her mind blissfully absent of the unbearable truth. The wild flowers were still not fully in bloom, but they swayed gently on their long, ungainly stalks, waving knowingly at Hannah as she walked by, the hint of a bud at the tip of the green stems keeping the beauty of what was to come concealed from view, like a promise forever waiting to be fulfilled.
Hannah’s phone vibrated in her pocket, but she didn’t reach to look at the screen. Let them wonder. She had not taken it off silent since she was in the hospital, and she felt no need to allow the rest of the world to interrupt her reverie. She was in a self-imposed bubble, isolated yet reaching out at shimmering and distorted memories of her brother as they drifted by in concave dioramas. Photos were not enough – they teased and taunted over a moment captured, a collection of megapixels forever frozen cruelly in time, never to be repeated now.
As she came towards the end of the path Hannah began to slow down, suddenly mesmerised at the sound of her shoes as they crunched monotonously on the gravel. So regular, so mundane, yet the sound instantly transported her to the driveway of her childhood home. Her dad raking away at the gravel – it always bunched up into little heaps – Hannah and her brother chasing each other on and off the grass that ran neatly alongside it. Crunch, crunch, crunch, thud, thud, thud. She remembered she had fallen and hurt her knee that time as she taunted her brother’s lack of speed to the next gravel pile. And that was the memory. She didn’t know why, but it was the clearest she had seen him since the accident. She looked down at the same feet that had danced so happily as her brother helped her up and pretended to chase her, and wondered if they would ever move like that again. The flowers in the park would never be as beautiful now – there was nothing left to feel, and everything had changed.
Hey, you found us!
To any newcomers looking for info on our Flash Fiction Day event, welcome!
Please send us your flashiest content, or discontent, on the theme ‘How the world changed since yesterday’. 500 words or less. Come June 24th, we’ll post it along with a tempting selection of other tales, illustrating the creativity and range alive and well in modern flash fiction.
Send submissions as PDF or DOC files to firstname.lastname@example.org by 12 noon on Friday 23rd June.
Please don’t be shy – we’d love to hear from you!
First Quinkling Quest!
Hey, Quinklings! Andrew alerted me to Flash Fiction Day, which is on 24th June this year:
The organisers of Flash Fiction Day are asking for people to contact them with details of events held to celebrate this day. Since we cannot meet in the same physical space on that day I thought we could each write 500 words on the same theme and post it on this page of the website on 24th June?
My suggestion for the theme, with memories of 24th June 2016, is ‘How the World Changed since Yesterday’. This can be interpreted in any way, not necessarily political; it could be botanical, familial, meteorological or anything else you choose. It could even be a different world from the one we live on?