Flash fiction, short stories, poetry …
Random header image... Refresh for more!

Gyoza and Pushchairs

S

andy is pissed off. Her shadow tries to nod in what it hopes is a comforting manner, but, quite frankly, it’s out of its depth. Anything with an extra dimension generally does that, but add an emotional component…

Sandy twists a pigtail. “I was going to get cornflour. For Gyoza. Y’know, Japanese dumplings. I make them, now. I tell you?”

The shadow blinked noncommittally – somewhere between, ‘Uh, hu?’ And, ‘May…be…’

“So, like I’m going to Tescos. Where else? But I have a bag of stuff from the Chinese supermarket. Bags, I mean. Pak Choi, soy sauce, real heavy: plastic handles and white tips. And this, this, this” – her hands sculpt a snowball the size of a man’s head, made of puke and flesh-eating acid. Thumbs go into the eye-sockets, hands shaking – “A-hole is pushing a baby-buggy. So there’s a split second decision –”

The café, the shadow notices, is filling up with its relaxed midday crowd. The steamer sighs a depressurised hiss; cups clatter like blunt, porcelain knives; the chatter of the day is still light-hearted (at least at other tables) before the rest of the day is lived. A warm blanket envelopes everything: the spicy scent of coffee wafting across the wooden floors, and leather, comfy-chairs, like the Ghost of Christmas Past. But most importantly, sunlight rafts through the blinds in the window. It casts an abstract stencil – a lattice, of warm, comfortable twilight – across the table, outlining a warm, comfortable body in all its Mondrian complexity. It’s a good day for shadows.

“Muh, hu,” it murmers. Sandy throws out a hand like she’s weighing a cabbage. Like it or not, they’re stuck with each other.

“– You believe that? So I go left, quick. Could’ve gone right. But the guy is aiming left too, shooting for a wooden bench outside the door; maybe wanting to arrange his shopping better. Next minute he’s throwing up his hands in a WTF, having a strop at me. He was young, too; maybe twenty. Baby ain’t going anywhere; pushchair is stopped. I like, well, I wish I told him to –

“Anyway, I guess, in the heat of the moment… I said sorry. Why’d I do that? And my voice sounded sooooo pathetic. Even I noticed; like I was hearing it on somebody else’s earphones. And I just –”

The shadow nodded sagely, balling its paws. It was making good use of the draught in the window that was stirring some bamboo leaves – rank-upon-rank of brave, bamboo survivors living on clear nutrient gel in transparent plastic tubes – the movement adding a measure of wilting acknowledgement. Empathy? Perhaps. Though the fluttering was somewhat slanted towards the exit.

Oh, God.

Tears plunge craters into latte foam. Surprisingly big splashes run down the back of her hand; splot on the table. The shadow has never seen tears literally spurting before. Look at that. Touched to its core – which admittedly isn’t very far in – it pats (flickers, strobes) her gently on the shoulder.

Gyoza? Pushchairs?

Her movement is infectious of course. So the shadow reaches out to form-before-words: to the dust motes that dance into its darkness, to the sly steps of a woman coasting by – who’s looking and not looking at that ‘girl of deficient mental needs’ (or whatever they call it these days) who’s apparently sobbing alone – to the barista in her front-down apron, elbows out, wrists rotating, clearing glasses. It’s complicated, but a mouth of sorts forms from these shadows, and from others besides: a hand crossing an armpit; a car slipping past the window; Sandy’s own Grande mug – the size of a concrete bucket – and a final flick of ponytail to make a beribboned tongue.

This is a mouth of black, crepe paper. But words? Ah…

As the drawer for used coffee-grounds opens up with a squeal, and the door out to the street bangs closed – that one, last inch as its spring-loaded armature expires – and some guy with a ‘rocky road’ and three gold-foil, chocolate coins gets his loyalty card stamped with a ‘ker-punch’ on glass, some words – from a distance, ears squinted – may have said, “Hey– there, there – I got your back.” And then, quieter, but still with affection (the squeak of an extractor fan) and a mischievous little wink of a rubbery doorstop, “If the sun’s got your front, that is.” It fades with the neon purr of a light fitting, and the commiseratory laugh of the wonky castor on the mop-bucket.

Shadows are the best of confessors.

It’s just Gyoza. It’s just some guy who made a face and ‘lost it’ on some random moment. A pushchair? Shit, he probably wasn’t feeling so confident pushing the damn thing and was concentrating so shit-hard on the responsibility, he wasn’t looking where he was going. You both chose wrong. You got upset for the rest of the day. You plotted his downfall. I was with you, remember – midday sunshine is straight down, and hard, but I was there underfoot, as usual. But it was you who felt weak. Who walked away fast, without looking back, imagining – in your own head, mind you – the acerbic looks and pointing, nodding heads, as he gets down to dissing you with his girlfriend, sitting on that wooden bench he was aiming for. You squeezed oranges for ten minutes, right at the back of the store, just to make sure he’d gone…

This is where your energy goes.

As the woman, sitting behind, thoughtfully turned the page of her magazine, and a small child picked his nose and considered the surprisingly, fruitful fingernail, the sunlight flitted ‘just so’ and the shadow sat back. Take it from someone who knows – who is paper thin – there’s more to you than this.

 

July 1, 2011   9 Comments

Snowbathing

C

laire is snowbathing. It’s the only way she knows how to protest over the weird-ass weather we’ve been having. As far as she’s concerned, global warming sucks polar popsicle.

It’s not entirely clear who suffers more: Claire, or The Multinationals, with their evil-hearted excesses of Freon and centrally-heated boardrooms, but either way, she’s out there now on the flat roof of her city-centre tenement, sunglasses frosted, getting a ‘whitey’ while the snowflakes fall.

So what are the best-dressed arctic-activists wearing this holiday season?

The height of polar chic is almost certainly Claire’s two-piece bikini with snowmen on it. She made it herself with a cerulean-blue, hipster tie-side from La Senza, on which she painted snowmen (and snowwomen) with Tippex for bodies; black bull-marker for arms, eyes and buttons; and a little orange nail varnish for carroty noses.

Surprisingly, none of her friends want a ‘snowkini’, even with this cheery design, though Claire hopes it will be a ‘grower’ once word of her ‘direct-action cum zero tolerance over isobars’ is championed by the press. I mean, who else could be this cool, right? So far, the broadsheets are as empty as the horizon, but she has high hopes.

She lets the white flakes drift down and settle on her tummy. At first they simply fizzled out into droplets of water, but now they are gathering as little islands with a flake of ice in the middle, and where the islands meet, larger archipelagoes are forming. Her bellybutton is a small, chilly lake, entirely filled with melt-water and a few particles of grit, while the material of her bikini-top is growing an ermine, fluffy trim. She’s fifteen minutes away from being crowned Miss December – this month’s polar play-bear.

In the meantime, luxuriously, she’ll contemplate flipping over and doing her back, loosening a few straps – it wouldn’t do to get a frost line. At this angle, staring down her front, she can see plenty of fine, blond hairs pulled upright as her flesh turns turkey. Soon, she may have to slap on some of her homemade SnoTan – goose fat mixed with a healthy dash of antifreeze – because really, chipping oneself off a sun-lounger with an ice pick isn’t much fun.  Last time, she ended up with a partial Monet stuck to her behind, trailing lounger springs.

By her side, a radio is playing Christmas favorites. Beside this is an alpine skiing magazine suggesting a few, seasonal treats – though it’s turning fat and pulpy, like a paper lasagna, as the melt water gets at it – and an icy-blue cocktail made with crushed ice and a cobalt-blue liqueur, that could be hydraulic fluid cut with a ‘V’ of sky.

Despite hacking away at the glassy surface of this cocktail with a twizzler and a frosted cocktail umbrella, Claire has had to boil a kettle, just so she can put her lips to the thing. There has already been one skin-flensing incident of ‘lip stickage’ and a trip to A&E. She should probably use an antifreeze mixer, like one of those dodgy Austrian ‘alcopops’ she read about. Those in the know say diethylene glycol has a pretty smooth finish.

An eddy of snow blows up onto the roof, and few feathery clumps drop onto her cheek and shoulder. Her towel is turning a little soggy under her backside, while to her sides, it is becoming a spotless, white blanket – like one of those fluffy white bath towels you get at health spas; so soft, that you want to disappear into them and have the staff dig you out with a snow shovel and a sniffer dog.

On her sunglasses, frosted flowers are growing. Her eyelashes brush the underside of the black plastic, where the ice is rough and undulating. Languidly, she slides the glasses up onto her forehead, scraping up a slushy wedge of snow. Most of it dribbles and wanders away down the back of her scalp.

Now flakes of snow are tickling her eyelashes, making her blink.

The radio starts singing ‘the weatherman says it’s snowing’, and she smiles a deep smile of satisfaction, wriggling a little into that freezing moisture on the towel, finding that perfect spot of relaxation. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying yourself while waiting for a few more signatories to the Kyoto Climate Treaty is there? Or that personal apology from those more reticent ‘Annex I’ countries?

Better keep the thermometer close, though, in case of a snap thaw – then it’ll be a flip-flopped stampede inside for a stretch in the chest freezer, cradling a butterball turkey. Slushbathing isn’t nearly as much fun as it sounds.

February 7, 2011   6 Comments

Cephony’s Bear

T

he bear waved.

Cephony looked up, down, left, right and then – glowering, chin down – sped up a bit …

This was the only scary thing to happen on Saturday.

Three days later, on her way to the big washing machine for people, the bear waved again. It was loitering by a snack machine.

Cephony inched round one of Teresa’s white trouser legs and folded some fingers up and down very slowly. Her one eye stared, the other was pressed into a fold of warm material, crushing her eyelashes. Teresa was sipping from a small paper cup, while bubbles rumbled up in the fish tank. This was all during a detour on the way to the man with the beard and glasses and the little brushes up his nose.

Teresa looked down. “You’re not … wiping your nose on my clean trousers are you, Cephony?”

“Nope. I’m waving to the bear.”

“That’s all right then.” They continued on their way, Teresa clump-thumping along.

The third day the bear waved, Cephony held Teresa’s hand and waved back, big style. She didn’t let go of Teresa’s hand, though she did lean out on it really far like a skydiver. Her smile had at least three teeth in it.

Day four, and she and the bear were on speaking terms. More-or-less. Cephony said: “Hello bear.”

She and Teresa and had been playing slides on the white floor in the white house.

The bear had waved back cheerily.

“That’s a very nice bear,” she said to Teresa, almost twisting her head off to look back.

“Yes, dear,” said Teresa. Teresa was tapping her pen on her armpit board. The paper was crinkled.

“Why do you have a bear?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Why do you think we have a bear?”

Cephony pondered this, finger to her lip, eyes rolling up to the neon lights. “’Cause … um … bears are funny?”

“That must be it then.” Teresa squinted at her watch. “Are you hungry?”

“Maybe.”

“Maybe bears are funny, or maybe you’re hungry?”

“Um, yes.”

Teresa smiled, though her lips weren’t coloured in. “How about chicken in a box?”

“Can I just has the box?”

“I’m afraid not. No chicken, no box.”

“Oh.” Cephony twisted her lip, then pointed. “Why do my eyes go funny when I look at them? I can see green bits and blue bits.”

“They just do.”

Cephony nodded. A moment or two later, she was holding her arms wide, working out how wide they’d need to go to hug a bear. The answer was, ‘wider than this arm and this arm and another arm’.

They went round the corner and the bear was left behind. It was reading Yoga pamphlets.

The next day, Cephony was playing at being a dolly with the snap-on hair, just like Mindy-Mae. She had a choice, and she wanted pink bunches. Teresa had looked at Gillian, then, but they’d plumped for Golden Corn. Gillian jushed it up a bit and tied on a ribbon. They looked at the packet together. “See, that’s what it says, ‘Golden Corn.’”

Cephony thought Golden Corn sounded mighty fine. She looked in the mirror and saw another little girl, just like her, who looked quite princess-like, except she was dragging around the Pishka Machine. The Pishka machine went Pishka. That’s what it did.

“When you stick the blood out and back in. Where does it go?”

“Into this tube,” said Teresa. “It’s dirty, then it’s clean. Then we pop it back in.”

The bear nodded thoughtfully. It was watching Cephony’s red stuff going round and round.

“Hello bear”, said Cephony.

“Hello Ceph,” said the bear.

Teresa was fiddling with the Pishka machine. It had needles, and tapes, and lots of tubes, and the Pishka bit, of course. Meanwhile, Gillian – wearing blue gloves – spirited away a gauze pad with a spot of blood on it. The blood was all hashed up like a pretty tartan dress.

Cephony was often informed she was a very brave girl when dealing with the Pishka machine, but it was kind of okay, really. And it did mean sweets. Twice a week ‘analyzing’ meant two strawberry pop-pops, in crinkly wrappers with strawberry men on. The strawberry men were smiling – they were giving two thumbs up to all the happy boys and girls. Even so, some of them – like the boy in the bed next to hers – cried quite a bit.

“Um, do you want one?” said Cephony. In truth, she’d kind of gone off strawberry pop-pops.

“No thanks, Cephony. I’m all lollied-out. Thanks, though.”

“Okay.” Cephony didn’t have the heart to say she’d meant it for the bear.

When the big day came, and Cephony’s mummy was crying, Cephony heard it had been ‘a million one ants’.

“It was a million to one chance darling. A million to one!”

Piles of black, red, and wet hankies were gathering around her like multicoloured snowballs.

“What’s a millions one ants?”

The bear hunkered down. “Another little girl had to die, so that you could live, Ceph.”

“Why?”

“She was in a car, and the car crashed.”

“Oh.” She looked in the bear’s huge brown eyes. “Did she know what’s dying?”

“Not really.”

“What’s this?” It was the beginning of a familiar game…

“Your sternum.”

“What is it really?”

“It’s your chicken chest bone.”

Really?

“Really.”

“This?”

“Medial malleolus.”

“Really?

“Your ankle poppers.”

Cephony laughed and slapped her knee.

“You’re so silly!”

She thought some more. “What’s a kidley? Where’s that?”

“In there,” said the bear, pointing at her pink t-shirt with a claw. “They’re what you’re after. Your old ones are broke.”

Cephony pulled out the pink material and frowned. It had a daisy on it. “Broke?”

“Yes. Broke.”

“Um, why broke?”

“They just are.”

“And the girl kidley?”

“The other girl? Hers are as good as new.”

“Oh.” Cephony looked around with interest. “Will there be a million one ants, now?”

The bear held out a paw. “We could go see, if you like.”

“Okay.” She took the proffered paw, feeling warm kiwi fruit and blisters.

“Is the man with the brushes –”

“Dr Anderson.”

“Yes. Does he have the ants?”

“Well, he’s doing his best. Your mother is there, her friend from her poetry night class, and your sister, Claire. That’s the other girl’s mum and dad. They’re all waiting to see.”

“Waiting to see?”

“To see if you have the ants.”

“That’s good,” she nodded. “That’s very good.”

January 29, 2011   12 Comments