We received so many brilliant stories this month, so well done to everyone whose story was longlisted. And an extra congratulations to you if your story made it to the final ten!
Thanks to Emma Finlayson-Palmer, Amy Barnes and Joanna Campbell for helping to read and choose the lists – as ever, narrowing the longlist down to just ten stories was a very tough job.
We received 131 entries, so this month’s cash prize is £524. This will be split between the two winning stories, with first place receiving £157 and second place taking home £104. Both winning stories will be published in the Flash Fiction section of our website. Plus: all shortlisted entries will get free entry into next month’s competition.
Voting is anonymous, so please don’t tell anyone what your story is called.
Voting is now open until 23:59 on Monday 27th July.
Enjoy these great micro fiction stories and then vote for your favourite in the poll at the end of the post.
A Tale of Two Mangoes
The woman reached to cut the mango. She slid on the protective mesh and placed it in the basket, then stretched, trying to ease her tired muscles.
She quickly cut another as the foreman came over.
‘No pay for this basket!’
He pointed. The mesh had slipped off the last one in her hurry.
She knew better than to argue.
Some time later in a faraway supermarket, another woman picked up a mango for a diet recipe. Then she replaced it and reached for one slightly more perfect. She threw it away a week later, unused.
Do Not Open Anything Until You Have Paid For It
I am used to clamour, clatter, hustle, bustle. ‘What you want lady? You want this? Here. Here. I have freshest. Best.’ Colour piled rainbow-high, one thousand aromas mingling, unifying, skins soft, skins hard.
I am not used to these neatly ordered rows.
What is imprisoned in these identical cans? Confined in these jars and packets?
Peas without pods?
Then – a hint of home. A lone mango, discarded amongst the stacks of square bread. Something else in the wrong place. Its skin is bruised and dented, but I see now the core remains.
Flesh and Blood
His cheeks are like mango flesh, soft and spongy. Fragile. When I hold him in my arms, I know I’ll never let him go. That I’d peel my own skin away to keep him safe.
I think of when I first met his father, a tropical summer day, a cold lassi in hand as the sun seeded the white sand beach with its warmth.
‘This spot taken?’ he had asked with his sugar-sweet smile.
I felt something in the pit of my stomach then, like the weight of a stone being lifted away. A single moment, ripe for the taking.
‘Come on!’ you said. ‘It’ll be fun. We’ll pick vines by day then spend it in the bar at night.’
Two weeks into our year in Greece, I’m raw red while you’re rich mahogany. You scowl, go out alone.
‘Come on!’ you coax. ‘Benito will look after us. It pays heaps more than picking grapes. We’ll dance together, they love girls in pairs.’
I tell you ‘no’ (‘No!’, ‘NO!’) so you spike my drink. I see all of you that night, thick skin, cold, stone-hearted centre. Tomorrow, I’ll catch the first flight home.
The baby squeezes it like play-doh between chubby fingers, and lifts her slick-sticky fist to her gaping mouth. Lapping at her knuckles with a pink tongue, she giggles in delight at the sweetness.
Later, with thumb and forefinger, she pincers slippery pieces with precision.
Teenaged, she hacks and slices with a knife, draws blood and sucks, metallic-sweet, picks the scab and scars.
As an elegant hostess, she scores and inverts the flesh with practised skill, presenting regular cubes for guests to share.
Now, she slurps at tiny tastes from the proffered spoon, orange drips spotting her cardigan.
Lest We Perish
The border stopping dreams from passing into reality is not as clear-cut as the Dover Lorry Border Patrol. Marked only by half-drawn curtains, a baton of light. I can’t shake the dreams that night after night wrap me in sleep with layers of bandages, a hand-woven red sweater and inflatable vests.
I’ve a key worker, but no key. It’s breakfast time. He opens the fridge –
I see myself inside. Paling skin pressed against plastic. The driver knows anything lower than 7 degrees causes internal breakdown in his cargo of mangoes. Temperatures for storing humans don’t come in the manual.
The Cost of Progress
As a child, I play in the branches of the mango trees, my bare feet bruising the fruits, hiding from my brother, sucking the sweetness of my fingers until the dripping aroma gives me away. Spite and stinging bites from ants guarding their dark-leafed domain drive us out squealing. The golden fruits, turned heavy, loom behind our retreat.
We had too many mangoes then, they rotted under the trees. We threw them into the salt water and watched as the golden lines swayed and danced with the sea.
Now we work hard but fresh mangoes cost too much to buy.
The Delicate Chemical Imbalance of Life
Their friends gave each other chocolates for anniversaries. Ben gave her a mango.
They’d first met in Year 7 science class, assessing the chemical composition of an Alphonso mango. Ben had put the skin on his face as sideburns. She’d laughed. They’d got detention. When they walked home later, Ben had shyly kissed her cheek and run off.
They had married five years ago, at 10 mangoes in.
This year’s had been the last. Ben was gone. Felled by the dark spot on his brain; smaller, but even more chemically complex than the fruit that had shaped their lives together.
The Memory of Mango
Mango simmers on the stove. Steam rises in the kitchen, and Savitri’s wedding band slides around her finger.
In the corner, Satyavan droops in his chair, wrinkled eyes vacant.
Savitri stirs in turmeric and cumin.
Satyavan regards the dish. ‘Ma?’
Savitri shakes her head sadly but doesn’t correct him.
Satyavan takes a bite. Images dance behind his retinae: him in his sherwani, a young lady in red sari, a feast of ghee rice, potato masala… and that fruity flavour…
He takes another bite, rolls the morsels around his mouth. Aam. Mango. ‘Savitri?’ he says.
She smiles and kisses his papery forehead.
When The Girl on Seventh Avenue Offers You a Mango
She’ll tell you it’s an aphrodisiac. You’ll laugh, rub it against your lips and ask, Is this right?
She’ll giggle, and you’ll nuzzle a slit right through the skin. She’ll roll her eyes, but she won’t stop you. Not when the juices drip from your chin onto the cracked asphalt of the marketplace. Not at the first sign of swelling.
She’ll only be thinking about love and lips.
Years later, you’ll tell your grandchildren about the ride to the hospital, how your tongue grew three sizes, how your heart grew four.
You’ll tell them she still takes your breath away.