August 2019 Micro Fiction Shortlist
It’s been a tough decision this month and we’ve gone back and forth a few times. Really well done to all the writers on the longlist and especially to all whose stories appear here. VOTING IS ANONYMOUS so please don’t tell anyone what your story is called if it appears here.
Voting is open until 23.45 on 26th August 2019. Results will be announced on the 27th. Now it’s time to read and vote for your favourite!
At the Lights
Red. Knuckles grip the wheel.
“I’m trying to be good,” he says.
And yet, you always end up falling to your knees; pressing your dirt-filled mouth against my thighs, repenting.
The woman in the car beside us is alone. Singing.
“You’re mine,” he says.
I’m the rocks you gnash your teeth on, the land you fell trees on. My rivers ford at your touch.
He transfers his grip to my wrist.
“Your place is with me,” he says.
Amber. She straightens up, looks ahead.
He releases me. Green.
“Never say those things again.”
A Day in the Country
He’d been asking me out for months. Dark, brooding and impulsive, too complex for me, but he wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Whisked away from city smog, I breathe slowly as he turns another corner, deep within the countryside now. Scents of earth and citrus drift inside as the long, undulating roads take us far from people, noise and normality.
I mustn’t mess this up, I’ll only get one chance to ensure that there’s a happy ending.
The moment he opens the boot, I’ll spray him in the eyes with the perfume from my purse, scramble out and run.
Change of Direction
I have no idea where I am: parked in an anonymous lay-by on an unfamiliar road. He will expect me back soon. I always go back.
My overnight bag sits forlornly on the passenger seat, bulging with items stuffed in randomly in my haste to get away. I probably don’t have deodorant, a toothbrush or a clean pair of knickers.
Defeated, I start the engine and turn on the satnav. Home – the default setting.
“Turn around where possible,” says the unbearably smug voice.
I switch it off again and drive straight on.
Lost can be a destination too.
Driving Down to the Med
Charlie spotted the rusty Escort abandoned underneath a chestnut tree; flat tyres, roof plastered in pigeon droppings, windows smeared with grime. Passenger door opened with a metallic creak, musty smell inside. Stained rear seats showed heavy usage. As dusk descended he returned, his sleeping bag and possessions in a plastic carrier. Sat in the driving seat he gripped the steering wheel, pumped the pedals and rocked the gear stick. He remembered driving down through France and Spain. Sandra sat beside him, music blasting from the stereo, tapas in the front and romps on the back seat. They were good years.
Her Tiny Fingers
The curl of her four tiny fingers is wrapped round one of mine. Her eyes are closed. They’ve been closed for hours. I lean down again to listen for her breathing over the car engine. My Caesarean wound tugs. She’s only two days old.
He guns past a van on the dual carriageway. He’s never driven like this in his life. He never breaks the limits.
Her fingers are limp on mine now.
The hospital is still half an hour away.
She’s wearing a suit of rosebuds. Tiny pink rosebuds.
I can no longer feel any grip on my finger.
Every single journey, as you sit on the frog-faced Rover’s middle seat, your brothers – with their smell of grass, and earth, and Doublemint – jam angled legs into your knock-kneed limbs. Every journey, rage builds as steam inside your stove-top-kettle chest. But never boils. Not when, years later, some pin-striped pig hangs his rain-sodden garment bag on the rail above your seat so water drip-drips into your lap, declares you ‘high maintenance’ after your protest; not when your tongue-tied son sucks you sleep-dry; not when – despite First Class degree and immaculate appraisals – work squeezes you out like a pimple. Go whistle.
Never Buy a Car from a Shaman
Because my dad’s an idiot, he bought my car from the shaman.
Now, as well as smelling like a pond’s arsehole, whenever I press in the cigarette lighter, Tom Hanks appears in the passenger seat.
I was into it at first, because it was a young Tom Hanks and we did some kissing and he’d tell me about celebrities who were shitty.
But then, don’t ask me why, he started telling me to run people down. Once he tried to grab the wheel.
I know I could just stop pressing in the cigarette lighter. But really, what would that solve.
The Day the Sat Nav Broke
Thirty miles in, my map-reading skills are blown. We are lost up a country road of cowpats and potholes. It takes him an age to find civilisation and we miss lunch as penance.
Another wrong turn and he goes berserk, ranting about Russian roulette roundabouts while I sigh over our marriage – it’s been going in reverse for a while.
A sign. He thinks it reads Bath, but the words Divorce This Way are neon bright and beckoning.
He grinds into gear, hissing, ‘The sooner we get there the better.’
I settle back, smiling, as he swerves into the fast lane.
The End of the Road
A spider lives behind the wing mirror. For fifty miles I wonder: has it been blown away? Is it curled into some crevice?
Inside the car it’s toxic with argument. Always, before, we’ve walked out our differences. You park; open the window.
It’s not you, you say.
Look! The spider, fragile, resilient, baby-fingernail sized. Tenderly you lift it, cradled safe in your palm.
I just don’t see myself, you say.
Filaments of spidersilk float on the air.
I’ve never wanted children, you say.
My heart fractures, breaks.
I’m sorry, you say, releasing the spider. I can’t change how I feel.
The Evening Before Driving Back from a Camping Holiday, Mid-August 1977
I’m refusing to sing along when the radio interrupts: The King has died on his Graceland throne.
You pull the car over. Your hands grip the steering wheel so tight your knuckles go white.
You rock and sob down sorrow.
Mom’s fine. She’s always been a Barry Manilow fan.
Around the campfire you’d curled your lip, shook your hips.
Me and the crowd clapped and cheered for more.
Later, I spot you through a window.
In a camper that’s not ours. With a woman who isn’t Mom.
It’s a different, though somehow similar, performance.
That’s really when the King died.
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