We’re delighted to reveal the 10 shortlisted stories in this month’s micro fiction competition. There were so many brilliant takes on this month’s theme of RECOVERY, provided by Jan Kaneen whose gorgeous memoir, The Naming of Bones, we are publishing this week!
It was a great month for titles too and there were some really amazing ones.
Don’t forget that all the stories we are publishing are also now eligible for the new Retreat West Awards, see all the info here, and winners in each category will be announced at our first ever Online Flash Fest in September.
Many congratulations to all of the writers who made our longlist, and really well done to the writers of these 10 stories. No telling anyone which is yours though! Voting is now open for you to choose your favourite for the People’s Prize vote.
The garden is desolate: a wind-whipped patch of dry earth. At the perimeter, bare trees twist and groan, their branches raking dark claws across pale sky.
‘Try to get outside’, the doctor had said, not unkindly. ‘You’ll feel better for it.’
She notes a rusted spade, a sheet of flapping black tarpaulin.
The hole yawns three feet deep and twice as wide. Her weary body tells her that for now, this is enough. The sun sets. The days will grow longer, the air warmer. There will be clear water, frogspawn, wriggling tadpoles. Tiny froglets glowing jewel-like in her muddy palm.
Degrees of Corrosive Fanaticism
First: salves to smother the agony. Second: a patchwork of acid burns and grafts. Third: stretching this taut encasement to accommodate my spirited femininity. Infinity: echoing insults.
Mother used to call me thick-skinned. A slip of my veil and now I wear a permanent shroud.
I don’t carry a sign at the rally. My deafening scars are loud enough. Injustice inscribed on my flesh. Unexpectedly, his hand takes mine, cradling it like a delicate bird. A precious thing amidst the chanting crowd. The gift of touch. It pulses. His blood flow, my heartbeat. Feathers shudder and my grip tightens.
Her reading chair sits neglected in a nook by the window. I settle into it, running my fingers over the threadbare arms, imagining her elbows resting in these spaces as she devoured novels whole. It’s the only thing I take.
At home I pour over material choices, finally selecting a soft velour; I want it to be comfortable, comforting. Reupholstered it looks reborn. I place it in the bay, lots of light, a view of green.
I sit there hour after hour, feet up, reading, reflecting. I imagine my daughter taking the reading chair when I’m gone, recovering it, recovering.
Martha Takes Her First Drive In Frank’s Car
Five miles from home, Frank’s car loses the will to live. Unused to driving, Martha blames herself, then concludes that the car is grieving.
‘I miss him too,’ she tells it, stroking the steering wheel.
There is a ninety minute wait for recovery. To pass the time Martha tidies the glove compartment. It is the small things that break her; the half-eaten Mars bar, the screwed up receipts for the burgers and fries he swore he had given up.
Martha rests her head on the steering wheel and prepares to wait. Recovery, she thinks, may take longer than ninety minutes.
Pieces of Our Boy
We, five sisters, cut our dead brother’s clothes into six-inch squares for a memory quilt. From Woolworth’s, we stole an extra pair of pinking shears, and four thimbles.
The denim from his jeans made us smile, one pocket’s contents—a four-leaf clover—made us cry.
His flannel jammies smoothed our edges as we cut them into flower shapes.
The stripes and plaids from his shirts we used as borders.
The corduroy, we scratched with our fingernails, and remembered him biting his own and ours.
We laid the quilt on his bed taking intermittent comfort underneath his short life.
Searching for a blazer on the school’s donated clothing rail
The hooks of wire hangers click and scrape along the metal bar. They are question marks rising from the collars of second-hand sweaters and blazers. Is it here? Is this the one?
The corridor is deserted, halfway between bells. Closed doors deaden the sounds of laughter, a shout, singing.
She’d donated his blazer without a care when his wrists shot away from the cuffs like shoots springing out of the ground. Pulled out. She gathers the black material in her hands and kisses the washing label where he had carefully inked his name.
A relic of a life lost, recovered.
She Will Recover Her Wings
My daughter begs me to save the bird cradled in her palm. Pink is visible between yet to form feathers the colour of buckwheat. Its yellow-edged beak gapes but doesn’t move. My husband offers to kill it. An act of mercy, he says.
We place it in a shoebox, but while she’s at school the nestling dies. And unsure what to do, I bury it.
When my husband says our daughter needs to understand that life ends, I think of the shadow on my lung, and I know she’s too young to learn that some things can’t be recovered from.
The only way I can make sense of the word ‘recovery’ is to smash it into pieces
a recreation ground
‘It’s dark when we walk, hands clasped, past the rec to our home.’
‘It replays in my mind, endlessly.’
‘They surround us suddenly, hateful faces so very close to our own, their breaths hot, words dangerous.’
‘They want us
smaller quieter lesser.’
protection sought by people in danger
‘We try to cover one another, but a body is not a shield.’
return to a normal state
‘To recover takes time, we’re told.’
‘But it’s never over.’
The Sea Change
At last he returned. His tide-tumbled, surf-soaked body washed up seven miles down the coast, weeks after the wreckage of his boat came ashore.
I knew him by his wedding ring, not his tattered, bloated, white flesh. Sea creatures had made his features unrecognisable, but he would not have begrudged them their feast.
His ashes safe now by my bed, I take the ring down to the shore and cast it into the spindrift. I do not curse the sea for taking him, for he was hers long before he was mine; rather, I thank her for giving him back.
What They Recovered, and What They Didn’t
- An umbrella. Plain black. One snapped arm, rendering it useless. And yet, when you grip the handle, smooth and worn, scented faintly with Givenchy, you can almost feel his hand in yours.
- A tie. Royal blue. Adorned with pineapples wearing sunglasses. His lucky tie. You don’t look at the brown bloodstain. You don’t think about your daughter, eyes bright with anticipation on the day he unwrapped it.
- A wallet. Walnut brown. An oval outline in the faded leather, beneath which nestles a silver pendant. St. Christopher. His mother’s religious superstition.
- Your husband. Her daddy. Their son.
So time to choose your favourite! Vote using the form below, or if you have any problems using it you can also vote on this link: https://form.responster.com/9dEmz0
Voting closes at 23.59 UK time on 26th April.