It’s that time again when we have 10 brilliant micros on our shortlist that need your vote. The Retreat West Reading team decide the winners of the cash prizes but it’s over to you to decide who gets the surprise People’s Prize!
Well done to everyone who was longlisted and congrats to the writers of the 10 stories below – no telling which is yours though and voting must remain anonymous!
Voting is open until Monday 27th September and we’ll announce the winners on Tuesday 28th. Good luck everyone!
Five Uses for Milk We Hadn’t Heard of Until Louise’s Wedding
Skin softener (two to three cups added to hot bath) –
Lengthy soaks to soften anxious bridal skin,
Silver polisher (tablespoon applied on rag) –
Ninety place settings in fairy-tale marquee, rubbed until they sparkled perfect,
Secret messages (brushed on paper, left to dry) –
Or sent by text, or whispered breathless into pillows – ‘Don’t marry her, I still love you’.
Stain remover (soaked into affected garment) –
Wedding morning, lipstick on collar, ‘Frivolous Fuchsia’, the bridesmaid’s shade,
Teeth preserver (submerge in small glass, dash to dentist) –
Engagement ring flashing, she slammed her fist into his jaw, sending incisors scattering through the bridal bouquet.
How To Grow and Care for Grapevines
The neighbours aren’t collecting their milk.
We’re hello-how-are-you neighbours. Nods and smiles neighbours. They sign for packages then leave them on the doorstep. I hold theirs for days until they ring the doorbell. They never step inside.
When their grapevine grew over the fence, I pruned it. Winter then summer. The fruit ripened well, cones of fleshy globes. On their side, it grew wild into the gutters. They cut it down. Without asking. The grapes shrivelled and fell.
Their house is silent. They might be in Greece. They might be dead. The milk goes rust-yellow and sour as unripe grapes.
The milk bottle cracks hard against the grey, flagstone flooring. Opaque white liquid haemorrhages over the splintered glass. I reach down to clear the detritus; a shard splices my skin and crimson blood spools into the lukewarm fluid.
I snatch my hand and am drawn to the rivulets of red plasma coursing through the lactose delta. A memory is stirred: strawberry sundaes and gingham tablecloths.
Something now pops in the distance. Not champagne corks this time but airborne gunfire. More soldiers will arrive, but I will tend to their wounds and cream their bruises, comforting them like my own sons.
She selects a glass jar from the cabinet, opens it with practised care. The liquid inside swirls like viscous fog. Slowly, slowly, she unwinds the largest snake— a yellow-eyed cobra, twisting from the nape of her neck— and eases it over her shoulder. It hisses and wiggles, flashing needle-sharp fangs as she hooks it to the lid. Venom dribbles down the insides of the glass, milk-white, and Medusa breathes a sigh of relief.
It’s not the snakes that worry her; it’s their bite. Each belligerent little pinprick.
Curses, she thinks, bring a whole new meaning to the term Hair Care.
Mixing Milk Thistle Tea
Peat-smoke drifts from the fire, as she crushes tiny milk thistle seeds with a pestle.
He groans in the bunk; a sheet bunched by his pale feet. His complexion that of cream gone sour. No longer fit to roar that the neighbours call her a witch.
She adds boiled water and sets the cup to his lips.
‘For your liver,’ she says.
He gulps. A dribble trickles across his cheek. She wipes his greying stubble with a cloth.
‘Tastes foul,’ he manages, before slumping against the mattress.
Elderberries gleam, like beads of black jet scattered across the table.
Notes Left for My Sleeping Husband in the Final Six Months
Last night was fun. I’ve missed our adventures!
Didn’t want to wake you.
I’ll be late from work tonight.
Love, C x
The milk is off. I’ll get more on my way home.
Couldn’t find the back door key to put out the bins. Can you sort? Ta.
Milk was off again. You can sort. Buy one pint not two.
I’m stopping at Janice’s tonight. Don’t call. I won’t answer.
Dear J, Thanks for sorting the boxes for me. I’ll post my key through the letter box. My solicitor has your email.
Pineapples and coconuts are pretty ornaments, but her blown-glass avocado-half gives guidance. Her husband yells, “Hey! How about some…” something she can’t hear.
Her pit throbs, so she goes. Rides hard across the mangrove bridge, halts below the mansion, panting. Her gaze rises to the rainbow-painted balcony. Spindle colors come in waves.
Arms akimbo, naked yoga man takes in the breeze. She watches his vinyasa. Cobra. Tree. She ponders an exchange then settles on her banana seat and pedals home.
Her avocado whispers welcome. Pewter, silver, Bristol blue. A million milky moons pull at her like a tide.
I bathe in creamy liquid scented with rose and jasmine. I rub a dripping sea sponge about my body contours and wash myself free from the linger of you. Submerged in virgin white I rinse you clean away. And when I step from the tub opaque rivulets trickle down my limbs leaving tiny pearl droplets clinging to my skin. I pat them dry with soft Egyptian cotton.
Cleansed from the ache of you I slide between cool silken sheets and drift from consciousness. But inevitably you enter my dreams and once again the persistent residue of you curdles upon me.
Till Death Do Us Part
They had been dead for days.
As you and I began our married life together, their bodies had lain rotting on the other side of the wall.
Untouched milk bottles on the doorstep alerted us. Rancid yellow liquid spilling out of pecked silver foil tops.
An ebony bloom of bluebottles buzzed out when the police knocked the door down.
I can hear those insects now, persistent, tinnitus trapped inside my skull.
My palm against the wall vibrates as the couple’s suffering leaches through.
I pour tea, hold the milk jug towards you.
You flinch from the pervasive scent of decay.
The Winter of Relationship
A harsh white blanket spread across the sky and every grassy blade.
Penny’s fingers numbed sticking posters to lampposts.
Missing Cat. Freddy.
Later, her husband, Rob, said, ‘I never wanted that cat,’ and dumped Freddy’s dish in the bin. Penny fished it out.
A dead rat was on the doormat in the morning. Penny whispered, ‘Freddy?’ and hid a saucer of milk behind her bike. Rob turned the engine of his car, drove off in a snowstorm. Penny buckled in the silence. No goodbye, kiss or smile.
Three days later, Rob still wasn’t home. Penny didn’t put up any posters.
Vote for your favourite using the form below. If you have any problems using the form, you can also vote on this link: https://form.responster.com/hdvFIY