Boxing Day

Mairead Robinson

As he opens the gate he notices that she has replaced the broken tiles on the path, and the tree, usually erected in the hallway, stands in the window. He rings the doorbell and glances at his reflection, spangled in lights.

The living room is a chaos of gifts opened the day before. Scraps of wrapping paper still strewn about the floor and tangling the sofa legs, but the children are excited at the bright packages he has brought; a remote-controlled car for Tommy, and a silver necklace for Elise. Rose frowns when he passes her the beribboned box, but she smiles as she withdraws the red cashmere sweater from its folds of tissue paper. ‘It’s nice, Joe,’ she says. ‘Really nice.’

‘Why don’t you try it on?’ he suggests.

‘Maybe later,’ she says, placing it carefully back in the box before excusing herself to finish preparing dinner in the kitchen.

It’s late afternoon but the sky is already darkening as Joe takes Tommy outside to race the toy car up and down the pavement. A neighbour raises his hand in greeting, but doesn’t stop to chat, at which Joe feels a jarring blend of disappointment and gratitude. Tommy jams the car’s controls and sends it flipping off the kerb to land on its roof, wheels helplessly whirring. 

Dinner is left-over turkey with green salad and rice. The children chatter about the day before, about school, and ask if they can leave the table to play with their new treasures. Rose makes coffee, and he tells her about his new apartment, the wallpaper he has chosen, work. 

‘Is it okay if I read the bedtime stories before I leave?’ he asks.     

‘Elise is too old for them now,’ she tells him, ‘she reads on her own, but Tommy will like that, and it’ll give me time for a shower.’ 

As he sits in the big armchair in his son’s room, he hears her over the sound of his own slow voice. Her quiet humming beneath the drum of the water, her rustling movements as she walks to their bedroom – her bedroom – to dry herself.

Once he’s kissed the children goodnight, he comes downstairs to see her sitting at the kitchen table in a blue bathrobe, a floppy knot holding it closed as she leafs through a magazine, a glass of wine beside her. ‘Thanks,’ he says, ‘for inviting me over.’

‘The kids have loved having you here,’ she says, ‘and it’s okay for you to spend time with them here now and again. It really is.’

He nods. He doesn’t recognise the bathrobe and wants to ask if it’s new, but her phone rings.

‘I’ll answer it in the living room,’ she says. As she brushes past him, he catches her familiar scent of sandalwood soap, the damp fragrance of her hair, and is left staring at an empty glass vase on the windowsill. He remembers buying it for her from a car-boot sale when they first moved into this house together. Elegant, pale green glass, just large enough for a single stem. 

He hears her light laughter from the other room. ‘No, Joe’s been fine,’ she says. ‘I know, but we’ve got tomorrow,’ she says. ‘Yes, I miss you too,’ she says. 

He lifts his overcoat from the back of a kitchen chair and puts it on. He can smell the wine from Rose’s glass, and feels nauseous. She’s still talking on the phone. He glances at his watch. He should be going. 

He lifts the empty vase from the windowsill and slips it into his pocket before leaving. On the long walk back to his apartment, it gently bumps against his thigh. He can feel the weight of it. 

Author: Mairead Robinson writes and teaches in the South West, UK. Her work has been published on Ellipsis Zine, Full House Literary, Crow and Cross Keys and some other places. She can be found on Twitter @Judasspoon

Mairead’s advent calendar prize is a ticket to the Online Flash Fest in March 2024.

All I want for Christmas

Cole Beauchamp

Ellie slammed her hand on the Roberts radio, silencing that saccharine voice, the peppy percussion. So fake. All she wanted was five more minutes’ sleep. Okay, and exams cancelled. No global warming. And Meghan Phillips.   

She drifted off sleep, her brain a jumble of genies, lamps and that annoying song on the radio. Three wishes that were all Meghan. All I want… 

“Ellie it’s eight o’clock!” 

“I’m up!” She slid off her bed in a thump, unable to tug her hands free of the duvet in time. 

A splash and a brush later, she shouted down the stairs, “It’s jumper day! I need a Christmas jumper!” 

“On your dresser,” her mum said.

She picked up the penguin sweater, its red and gold sequins winking at her in the morning light. “Penguins? Seriously?” 

“You’re welcome.” 

That stupid radio song frothed in her head as she pulled on the penguin jumper, snagging her hair in the process. You, baby. Like you could ever have anyone for your own. What Ellie wished for now was for Meghan to be ill, blinded for 24 hours, struck by amnesia. She could not be seen in this jumper.

Ellie’s luck held until fifth period. She was bobbing down the corridor, trying not to drop her A3 Art portfolio, when Meghan sailed by in a sparkly red jumper. No tacky Arctic animals in sight. 

Make my wish come true. Make me disappear. But no genie popped to her rescue. No floor swallowed her whole. Instead, she blocked the penguin with her big black portfolio and smiled like she hadn’t a care in the world. Until she lost her grip on the portfolio. It bounced, crashed, sliding papers across the hallway. 

“Oh my God!” 

“So embarrassing!”

She kept her head down until the crowd around Meghan passed, until her tumbling curls were disappearing around the corner, until all the whispers had subsided. 

As if, Ellie muttered to the gravel pathway as she crossed to the Art block. You don’t stand a chance. 

After school, she threw on her black choir robes, grabbed the sheet music and filed into the alto row. Why glancing at “Once in Royal David’s City” should remind her of Mariah Carey’s song, she didn’t know. But there it was again, the earworm from this morning, the dah-dah dah-dah dah-dah dah beat like a horse galloping. 

Someone had decorated the chapel with holly and candles for their concert tomorrow night. The soft glow of the candles and the leaded glass of the chapel windows soothed her.  She shuffled along the row, chairs squeezed tight. 

“Steady!” a voice called as she bumped along the row.

Not paying attention. Again. “Sorry, sorry!” Ellie said without looking up. 


Ellie glanced up to find Meghan smiling at her. 


“Thought you were soprano?” Ellie’s voice came out a squeak.

“Not anymore.”

They sang for the next hour. Ellie choked out answers to Meghan’s questions while the tenors got shouted at, again. Yes, she’d heard about Nelly breaking into the Sixth Form Centre. No, she didn’t have a brother, but could just imagine. Yes, Lizzo was an icon.

Ellie wanted to pinch herself. It was coming true. Here she was with Meghan, singing and holding their “s”s until the very end of the note and giggling at Mr Robertson’s terrible Latin jokes. 

Meghan mentioned Pride. Sam Smith’s corset. Def dropping clues, right? Ellie wished she had someone to ask.

At the end of choir, shuffling out of the alto row, sweat prickled Ellie’s forehead, threatening to trickle down. She hoped Meghan would chalk it up to the heat of so many bodies in the room. Meghan Phillips was, wasn’t she? Coming onto her??? 

They dumped their music books into the box and peeled off their choir robes. Ellie was tugging off the sleeves before she remembered her penguin jumper. She half spun, hiding her shift from view, searching for her backpack. She needed camouflage. She needed it now. 

Do not let me blow this, she prayed. God, genie, Houdini, whoever, if you are up there, please. 

“Hey!” Jonno, captain of the rugby team, stopped behind her to talk to Meghan. “You coming to mine tonight?”

Oh God, Ellie thought. Not Jonno. Not that thick shouldered, thick headed asshat.

“Yeah, I think so.” Meghan’s voice sounded noncommittal but Ellie couldn’t see past Jonno’s bulk. Was she actually friends with him?

“Great. Don’t be late! Shots!” 

Of course it was like this. Of course all the popular ones got together for their popular drinks. Ellie grabbed her backpack and turned around, no longer concerned about her tacky jumper. 

“Penguins, sweet!” 

She searched Meghan’s face but couldn’t detect any sarcasm. “You and Jonno close then?” 

“Jonno?” Meghan laughed. “Known him since nursery. But close? Nah.”

Ellie fiddled with the straps of her backpack, uncertain what to say next. 

“Did you think we were-?” Meghan thumped Ellie’s shoulder. “Seriously?” 

“Well-“ Ellie’s face flamed. 

“You, my friend, need some fresh air. Come on.”  

Ellie tried not to trip as Meghan led her out of the chapel, side by side, hand in hand.  The crisp December air was a balm to her flushed cheeks. She looked dowen at their entwined hands. She hadn’t been making things up. She needed to get her act together and say something. Anything.

It was as they passed the last courtyard arch that Ellie noticed the mistletoe. A little bundle of silver foliage, a few berries. What the hell. She reached for Meghan and pulled her close, close enough to see the line of glitter just above her black eyeliner.

Sleigh bells ringing. Angels singing. Stars bursting. Pick your Christmas metaphor. Ellie was kissing Meghan Phillips and she was kissing her back. 

Author: Cole Beauchamp (she/her) is a queer writer based in London. She was shortlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction Award and has stories in The Phare, trampset, Janus Literary, Ellipsis Zine, Sundial and Free Flash Fiction. She lives with her girlfriend and has two children. Twitter: @nomad_sw18

Cole’s advent calendar prize is a 6-month subscription to the Retreat West Substack.

Image by Hans from Pixabay

These are all the things I think when my sister tells me she’s pregnant

Fiona Dignan

That she is Sunday’s child, and I am Wednesday’s. That she glides through life with the grace of a swan. That I am the swan’s feet desperately flapping beneath. That I despise the fullness of her, the flatness of me. That it’s my fault my womb is a burst balloon. That it was she who accompanied me to the clinic when I was barely sixteen. That it was she who held my hand as the doctor said complication, infection, scarring.

That she is offering me the chance to love the nearest thing I will ever have to my own child.

This story won First Prize and the People’s Prize in the November 2023 Monthly Micro Competition

Author: Fiona Dignan started writing during lockdown to cope with the chaos of home-schooling four children. This year, she won The London Society Poetry Prize and The Plaza Prize for Sudden Fiction. She was a finalist in the LISP poetry competition and is Puschcart Prize Nominated.

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

The Ages at Which Her Faith in Justice Will Transform into a Plaintive Wish for Good Luck

Liv Norman

Watching her father’s shrug, his creeping smile, as he checkmates her again.
‘Fair win,’ he says. ‘Do better next time.’

Standing at the student bar with her boyfriend, his hand edging up her skirt as he drains pints.
‘Just my fair share,’ he winks. ‘Wear lace next time.’

Leaking breastmilk and tears in the meeting room, while her colleague announces his promotion.
‘Fair’s fair,’ he whispers. ‘Show up next time.’

Comforting her weeping teenage daughter, who should be safe at school, but wasn’t.
‘It’s not fair,’ she says.
Hoping that there won’t be a next time.

This story won Second Prize in the November 2023 Monthly Micro Competition.

Author: Liv Norman is a writer of short fiction and lives in Surrey with her husband and three children. Credits in Splonk, Retreat West, NFFD, Paragraph Planet.

Photo by Felix Mittermeier on Unsplash

Eve and Adam, 1955

Emma Phillips

There was a bonfire but instead of Guy, they torched an effigy of you. My mother’s hot dog lips fixed in a grimace as your straw goatee fizz crackled. The Waltzer churned my stomach; I vomited apologies into the grass.

When they ran you out of town, they thanked the Almighty for my release, as if God could ever take me Ferris wheel high.

You were the devil’s own, pinking my cheeks until I was spun to candy floss. They hollered good riddance to flames as you burned. I licked my lips, longing for that toffee crunch of the apple.

Author: Emma Phillips grew up by the M5 in Devon, which led her to big cities, then Asia, before she returned to her roots in 2013 to bring up her son. Her work has been placed by the Bath Flash Award, Best Micro fiction 2022, Free Flash Fiction Competition and her words appear in various places in print and online. Her flash collection Not Visiting the SS Great Britain is forthcoming from Alien Buddha Press. She tweets @words_outwest.

Photo by Mark Fletcher-Brown on Unsplash

Fairground Distraction

Julian Cadman

Watching the passing plane, Sarah pondered whether the turbulence on their honeymoon flight had been an omen.

A passing unicorn, dipped in front of her, as if mocking the trajectory of her marriage. Had ‘I do’ become ‘I’m done’?

She waved as her children passed by, then looked over at her husband, back turned, engrossed in his mobile. Maybe his secret mobile, she’d discovered last week.

Looking back at the children, she smiled as their horse and racing car began slowing down on the carousel.

Was her marriage going round in circles as the attraction was coming to an end?

Author: Julian Cadman lives and works in Hampshire and took up Creative Writing as a hobby seven years ago. He particularly enjoys writing flash fiction and short stories.

Photo by insung yoon on Unsplash