We writers are a sensitive bunch; okay, what I’m really saying is I’m sensitive. I work hard at writing the best prose I can. It’s an obsession and a passion, and there’s nothing I love more, outside the actual the process of writing, than when a reader tells me they’ve connected with my story — whether they were entertained or moved — that’s my goal. But even so, validation from readers in the industry is something that writers seek—it gives us credibility and helps us believe in ourselves. To this end, I’ve entered a few competitions and generally never gotten anywhere.
Recently, I entered two flash fictions in competitions, and my stories failed to even make the long lists. It leaves me wondering what I’m doing wrong. Why aren’t the judges connecting with my stories? What the hell am I doing thinking I can write? There’s lots of writers much better than me, so why should I keep trying? Because I love it; that’s why. So, rather than spend more than one day moping about it (the time I give myself to deal with rejection), I’ve decided that I’d rather post my stories here for free than pay to get rejected (what other crazy bunch of people does that, right?).
I know some of my readers will enjoy these flash fiction pieces, and that means I haven’t failed. And, to be honest, I could never give up writing, as I love putting words down, one after the other, and see meaning and emotion fill the once empty space. Please enjoy these two flash fiction pieces, ’cause I’ll have to cheer myself up by eating a whole tub of ice cream if you don’t.
Just in Time
Tick . . . tick . . . tick. Elsie looks down at the small clock on the plastic tablecloth. Her eyes, even with glasses, can’t make out the numbers anymore, but the bright-red cherry motif decorating the tablecloth catches her attention, as do her wrinkled hands. Skin so thin, blue veins ghost through—a shadow of life glimpsed behind rippled glass. When did that happen? Her hands rest on the table, each one cupped around either side of the clock. She runs one thumb over the smooth plastic face.
Tick . . . tick . . . tick. “Bill, do you remember when we bought it?” she asks of the empty room. Her faded lips — more the pink of a dried petal than the lively pink of sunsets, lipstick and baby clothes, the pink of then — curl up. She lifts her head and looks away from the clock, her gaze slipping beyond.
Tick . . . tick . . . tick. The chair across from her is pushed in, vacated long ago. Alone is lonely. Waiting is hard. So slow . . . time, it passes so slowly. Will she keep fading until she’s invisible, like Bill? The clock, curved and lacquered black, its white face as pale as death, calls to her.
Tick . . . tick . . . tick. What is it like, in that space between the clear glass and the clock face? Even if she squints and leans closer, the time eludes her. Time eludes her. Blurry hands, blurry numbers. Always counting down to something, yet counting up.
Tick . . . tick . . . tick. So long. She’s waited so long. Her insides feel as hazy as the numbers she can’t make out on the clock face. As hazy as Bill, who now sits across from her. The clock is forgotten as Bill’s silhouette grows stronger.
Tick . . . tick . . . tick. She smiles—his face, it’s good to see his face. She reaches her hand toward him. Instead of cool plastic, she feels….
Tick . . . tick . . . tick. For the first time in so long, she can’t hear it. Silence. The ticking has finally stopped.
“Goodbye, mum,” Ellen whispers as the first thud of earth strikes the coffin. It feels like there is too much space in her mind, where reality escapes her desperate attempts to contain it.
She is a little girl again, snuggled in her mother’s arms, inhaling the scent of her perfume. Waiting for the bus, icy wind swirls around them. The little girl smiles, knowing the chill can’t break through and take her mother’s warmth. But now, standing at the edge looking down, past her sensible black shoes into despair, her tears join the clods beating a slow rhythm in the crisp July afternoon.
Another bitter wind blows at her back, and she knows it was all a lie — the cold has stolen her warmth. She shivers. Staring beyond the coffin, imagining the confines beyond, loneliness spreads endlessly in front of her, like an arctic landscape. She wraps tired arms around herself.
A warm hand grasps her fingers. Through blurred vision, she looks into her daughter’s blue eyes, so like her mother’s.
“I’m cold,” the little girl says.
Ellen crouches and gathers Ava into her arms, hugs her tight. Breathing deep to steady her voice, she says, “I’ll keep you warm.”