It's done, it's gone, the Flood is over for another year.
But, wasn't it good? Wasn't it?
The stories will, as ever, stay up here for you to read in the months and years to come. This journal has become something amazing with over 254,000 page views at the time of writing, and still most of National Flash-Fiction Day to go. Who knows, by the time the dust settles and you've made your ways through this issue, we may have topped the 300k mark. That is quite amazing, and we thank you for your support, your stories, and for reading all the wonderful words we post.
Thanks also to the amazing Editors: Annette, Sue, Cassandra, Caroline, Shirley and more, who do such sterling work here every time.
The Flood might be over, but the celebrations for National Flash-Fiction Day haven't quite finished.
In Dublin, on Sunday, there is the Flash Dash at Big Smoke. On Monday, Verbose will be flashing in Manchester. And on Tuesday, Paul McVeigh will be hosting a flash workshop in Belfast. (All details on the website.)
And, if you haven't quite had enough to read, there is always the new anthology, A Box of Stars Beneath the Bed, available in paperback and ebook.
But, for now, from the Flood, that's it.
Thank you and Good Night!
Editor and Director of NFFD
Saturday, 25 June 2016
After the funeral, Dhuka gathers her clothes and goes outside. She throws her robes and dresses onto the floor. The embroidered sleeves, brightly coloured materials and beaded qabbehs are muted by a veil of fine sand.
Beyond the garden and the gate, she sees Manaal approaching. The woman is weighed down by her age and the tin bath in her arms. The hem of her smock is orange with dust. It sweeps the floor as she waddles heavily.
Dhuka does not help Manaal as she struggles to open the gate. Instead, she steps back and loosens the tap under the windowsill. It takes two hands to break the seal of rust, and Manaal drops the bath down just in time to catch the rush of water.
‘Like the ashes of his body. May the water carry him safely.’ Manaal says this with her eyes closed in prayer, as she throws black powder into the bath. The dye curlslike smoke as she lowers her hands into the water. She gathers the robes and submerges them one by one.
Dhuka weeps as the dye bleeds into the fabric’s pores, turning white and blue and green to black.
‘Your tears are good, Dhuka. Cry for your husband’, Manaal says this as she pulls the dresses from the water like bodies.
‘The sun will drink the dye away eventually. You would never know these were black once.’ She tugs at the breast of her own smock and leaves behind grey fingerprints. Dhuka cannot cry for the husband she did not love. For the husband who did not love her.
From inside the house, she watches her dresses flap on the line like caught shadows. Her first night alone is dark and silent, but she sleeps well knowing that her best robe, the red one with embroidered stars, is sewn safely in between the sheets.
He’s throwing another major tantrum – because of Lego. If I’m honest, I’ve had it. I duck to avoid a couple of bricks he’s thrown at the wall.
‘What’s the problem now?’
‘The pieces. They don’t fit. They’re supposed to fit.’
I check the packaging.
‘No surprise. These were produced in late November while those were made in September. Everybody knows that Sagittarius and Virgo make a bad match.’
‘Oh, Marie, grow up. Astrology’s for teenagers.’
Says the man playing with children’s toys.
I don’t know the manufacture dates of the pieces. But I know that he’s Virgo.
And I’m Sagittarius.
My brother Gus and I ripped off our clothes and raced each other down the road. We ran like the wind, dangly bits flapping freely, waving at the neighbours as we passed. Gus was just behind, desperate to win, but – yes! – I reached the finish line first. I’d won! I raised my arms in victory, giving Mrs Jones a good look at my winkie as she stepped off the bus. It was only then I realised that when dad had said to me and Gus that ‘You two have a competitive streak’, he hadn’t meant it as an instruction.
"Joyce isn't really a 'Burger King' type of person.""What's that supposed to mean?""Well, I just wonder if perhaps you might have considered bringing her somewhere slightly more salubrious. When a young lady is taken out to dinner, she doesn't expect to be asked if she wants to 'go large for 30p extra'. That's all."Martin hid his irritation behind his cappuccino. He had expected his mother's indefatigable attempts to pair him off would abate when he moved out of home and into his miniature city centre apartment. But in fact, if anything, activity had increased.Moira, Martin's mother, had a seemingly inexhaustible supply of friends from her golf club, her bridge nights, her charity work - all of whom, it seemed, had at least one single daughter of marriageable age (a concept Moira had stretched to breaking point, and beyond, on more than one occasion) who was bright, funny, pretty and available. In Martin's experience, few of these prospective paramours scored more than one out of four by this measure, and while being 'available' was certainly an advantage it was hardly a sole basis for a successful relationship."Joyce," Martin said, steering the conversation back on topic, "is an insufferable snob."Moira snapped her kid leather gloves tighter onto her hands with surprising vigour, a gesture Martin knew indicated that she knew he was right."And your response to the fact that Joyce.....has standards was to bring her to a place that's full of hoodies, self-harming and smacking themselves with heroin in the toilets? I have no idea what I'm going to say to Jean when I see her again, I really don't.""It was Joyce who wanted to see that godawful foreign film, which meant we had an hour less to eat than I expected. Fast food was the only viable solution.""Only viable solution!" Moira repeated with ill-disguised disdain. "What on Earth am I going to do with you, Martin?"It was clearly a rhetorical question and Martin felt no obligation to offer a response."So I won't be taking Joyce out again," Martin said eventually."No, and I can't imagine why she would want you to," Moira replied, wiping scone crumbs from the corners of her mouth viciously with a napkin."In fact, you can stand down entirely from your position as self-appointed Matchmaker General.""Ah, don't give up, Martin. She's out there somewhere, I'm sure she is. And I'll find her for you.""I don't need you to find anyone, Mother. As a matter of fact I've found someone myself.""Martin!" Moira almost screamed, so loud that the other patrons of The Silver Lounge coffee shop looked in their direction. "Well aren't you the dark horse! I had no idea. I'm delighted. Delighted! What does she work at? Where does she live? What about her father - does she come from a good family? Oh - her name! I haven't even asked you her name! What's she called, Martin?""Brian."
The orange fell apart with a single push of the thumb; the segments, juicy and firm, their pungency piercing the air. She let the aroma envelop her in a sweet embrace. Even the cicadas in the long grass were music to her chambered ear.
How she had missed them on those cold silent nights when the snow had smothered her world. How she had yearned for the rhythmic clicks that rose to meet the stars with orchestral inclination.
It wasn’t her idea, or even her wish. Decisions like that were never made by children.
‘We are no longer a family,’ he’d declared. ‘It is time to go and you are coming with me.’
She opened her mouth to argue but only howls of pain emerged.
Of the journey, she remembers only the dark hull on a black sea, waking up to the sound of the ship’s horn echoing against the walls of a foreign harbour.
The new home was a place as harsh as the marram was razor sharp, as unforgiving as the barren dunes that were set like concrete in the constant freeze.
She always knew she would return but had never known how or when. Ushered into the corners of her mind, old memories pervaded her deepest dreams.
Now, she was back amongst the groves of olives, nuts, the vineyards. But she was unable to speak – her tongue’s memory was lost, swallowed by a language of juddering syllables, guttural utterances, sounds that petered.
Until one evening, oiled with rich wine, the old words began to rise from a place deep inside her. Released, little by little through the gateway of her throat, cradled for a moment on her palate, released in mellow chords; the words.
She had arrived home.
Previously published in Deep Water Literary Review, 2014
The little dog is tethered in the sun. From a distance, she has a rough coat. But when I’m close enough to stroke her, inside the pool of her reflection on the slow-baked sand, she is soft.
You tell me not to touch. “Fleas, Simon,” you say.
I drag your case up the hill. So many clothes. All from the cheap shop so you can justify their number, their casual disposability. I hoped you would spend all week in your white swimming costume. But you want changes, multiple changes.
The room disappoints you. The humming fridge disturbs your sleep. The toilet gasps and gurgles. The ceiling fan struggles to stir air thicker than Brown Windsor soup.
“I can’t breathe,” you say.
The little dog cries all night.
You burn on the beach, so you stay in the room. You smother your skin with cream, but refuse to let me baste you. I buy you more lotion—"Too watery, too melon scented"—from the shabby shop. Down the hill, up the hill. You want stifado in a carton. Down to the jaded restaurant, up again. You want medicine to send you to sleep. I brought some along.
No one has changed the dog’s water.
You slam the blind shut, flimsy slats flinching like ice-lolly sticks on a string. I wait for further instructions—sparkling water, orange sweets, a book with hundreds of cheap, unchallenging pages—and begin the descent again.
Sky-blue crowns of churches, iced minarets, milk-white walls with peeling, thirsty doors and far below, the satin ribbon of the sea where the little dog strains on her leash, waiting for my hand to stroke her warm head.
You spend the week planning sweeping changes, to be implemented upon return. You will landscape our garden, open a bistro, learn to stuff an ox-heart. I make my plan within the resin-breath of cooling pine groves.
By the eve of departure day, a heap of redundant viscose cringes in the corner of the room, the hard case empty. I carry your bulky holdall this time and sit on the sand all night, to be certain of catching the dawn flight. I gave you the stronger medicine last night.
On the plane, the scenery below is less beautiful than the empty sky, the pure, unhindered sense of distance.
You are quiet. I am thankful.
At home, I open your holdall. The zipper was not fully closed. I left space for air. When I fold back the flap, you let out a shy, grateful yelp as I cup your warm, soft face in my hands.