113. Small Blue Thing

blue is the colour

A series of four flash fictions on the same theme.

one

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Photo by Robert Anasch on Unsplash

Alex remembered when she used to get a big bag of those sweets when she went to the cinema. No, it wasn’t a bag, it was more like a big paper coffee cup, with a plastic lid. They were banned at school because her friend would die if she ate just one, or even if she kissed someone who had.

The last time she’d had any was for her birthday the year before last. She’d gazed at the unopened crumpled, yellow packet with the same adoraration as she did her newborn. After a week, she’d added one sweet to her rations every day. Twenty three peanut chocolates. Six red, four orange, four brown, four green, five blue. The packet was faded and squashed, with an eat-by date of six years ago. Some of the peanuts tasted bitter and the chocolate was greasy with a white bloom on it. 

That was her first proper raid. She’d been desperate for so long, but teenage girls were too valuable to lose. It felt odd that after she’d birthed, she was allowed to go on a run, but when the day actually came, she didn’t want to leave him. Two day’s travel there, two back. Seeing places with her own eyes that she’d only ever heard of. The journey home was when you had to watch out for bandits. Why take all the risk when you could just tax someone else?

 

two

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Photo by pan xiaozhen on Unsplash

“Mummy? Mummy? Where are you? I’ve found the cake I want.”

“Just a second, darling.” 

Alex’s mum entered the room, drying her hands on a teatowel. “Show me?”

As soon as she saw the photograph, an almost imperceptible flicker of disgust wrinkled across her lips.

This is the one you like best?” She asked, holding the phone out to her daughter.

The screen showed a photograph of two circular cakes in the shape of a number eight, with smooth, creamy white icing and the number holes filled with bright blue sweets. 

“Yes, I’ve looked at hundreds and that’s my favourite one. Please Mummy, can I have it?”

“Let me send it to myself and I’ll have a proper look later.”

Alex’s mum already knew that this wasn’t the cake her daughter was going to get for her birthday. It was far too ordinary. After all, a person was only as good as their last event. She couldn’t afford to slip down the rankings. Not now. Her daughter would have lots more birthdays to have average cakes. This party had to be picture perfect to maintain her benchmark of 400 likes.

 

three

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Photo by seabass creatives on Unsplash

“Alex, this is important. You have to pick out all of the blue ones. Every single one. I’ll have to check it before their tour manager sees it”

“Why? Is it because they are a red pill kind of band?”

“No. Well, that’s one rumour. There’s a clause in the contract that if there are any blue sweets in the bowl, the band can cancel at no cost to them. It’s to see whether the promoter has read the terms and conditions properly. They were sick of not being taken seriously and getting ripped off because they were women. Now they get called divas, but at least they’re getting paid. What can you do, eh?”

 

four

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Photo by Anastasiia Ostapovych on Unsplash

“You’re not going to choke. I promise. But you have to take your pills. Look, why don’t you practice with these? They’re about the same size. Watch me.”

Alex swallowed a small sweet then said, “Easy. You eat bigger pieces of food than these every day. You can do this.”

The woman’s eyesight wasn’t what it was. She would never have noticed that her nurse had swapped the sweets for her sleeping tablets. They both had the same sugary, crispy shell. They practiced with four now, then a few minutes later, Alex came back into the room and did the same speech again. The woman had either forgotten, or was easily convinced that she was confused because of her illness. About ten minutes later, Alex’s watch beeped. “Tablet time!” she said cheerfully. It was nearly bedtime so the woman was due two sleeping tablets.

“That should do it,” thought Alex.

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Photo by Mark jackson on Unsplash

 

… then two come along at once

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Listen up guys,

I haven’t been entirely honest with you and I want to come clean.

I didn’t share everything I had.

I kept back some of the good stuff. 

I gave them to other people, and guess what?

They liked them. So much so that a couple of my original stories were chosen for anthologies, and the book launches were coincidentally about a week apart!

Wednesday 30th October 2019. 

Prana Vegan Cafe, Leicester, UK.

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Photo by Matt Seymour on Unsplash

Brexit had been temporarily banished and Halloween was still too far away to think about. I felt like a comedian given their first 10-minute slot. I spent ages that morning, wringing my hands, choosing which 8-minute segment to read from my story, ‘May Settle in Transit’. I couldn’t do the bit about gentrification, nor the bit about a different coffee shop. They didn’t feel right.

When I had settled on the most perfect chunk of prose, I read it out loud, recorded it, listened back, recorded it again, slowing my speech down, once more with feeling,  enunciated, realised I hated the sound of my own voice and accent, tried not to fidget, remembered to smile, made notes in the book, and then did it again. I think I recorded it about 8 times in total. I wanted to take my time and not rush through to get it over with. I knew I would regret it if I did that. I kept telling myself that this was all practice for when I do my own book tour for my own novel. It’s little steps towards a future goal.

To get me into the zone, I tried listening to Eminem, like Obama used to before he went on stage, but the ‘Villains’ album by Queens of the Stone Age did the trick brilliantly. I went out for a pizza and large glass of Malbec with my super-positive friend for distraction, gossip and support, and continued to practice my deep breathing to calm my nerves.

It had been almost 30 years, since I had spoken in public (with the advance knowledge that I was expected to speak) and reading aloud something I had written heightened the nerves. Why does knowing beforehand make the fear greater? That time around, I was  a singer in a local band, and I now have no idea how the 16-year-old me ever did it. I suppose acting in school plays were still fresh in my mind.

As a local sweet shop got a mention in my story, I bought “a quarter of spice” (100g of boiled sweets – rhubarb and custards) for the audience to pass around.  That morning’s practice helped me to pace myself, and I looked up at the audience every few seconds, how I’ve seen professional public speakers do. To stop myself being overwhelmed, I bought myself time by handing over my business card to anyone who spoke to me. A “thank you” and a smile covered my panic.

My friend said it didn’t look like I was nervous, but I felt it. I think it’s obvious from my social media names I am well aware how my social anxiety manifests itself as uncontrollable babbling.

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(Not actually giant cards, but mini play food)

It felt strange to read out something that was written a year ago, but now may be the first time someone else has heard it. It was great to meet some of the other contributors and hear their stories.  I still have the original flyer seeking contributions.

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Me and the Editor Jon Wilkins 

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You can buy a copy of the anthology, “An Attempt At Exhausting a Place in Leicester” here

Thursday 7th November 2019.

Nomad Books, Fulham Road, London, UK

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The book NO GOOD DEED gets its title from the quote

“No good deed goes unpunished.” Clare Boothe Luce

When I first started this blog, I obviously didn’t have much content to share, so I created a page of quotes I like, called ‘these things I know’, and this one was the first on that list. Fate eh?

So, I now know the London village I want to move to when I win the lottery or have a best seller. I won’t get much change from a million quid though.

I did a recce via Parson’s Green tube to get my bearings a few weeks ago and had a little nosy around Nomad Books. This little indie bookshop has a wonderful vibe. It’s not just the big name bookshops that get the big names. Anthony Horowitz had his launch here this very week!  Their massive children’s section is a great place to hold a book launch.

This was the first time most of us had even seen the book, let along held it, so it was quite a special evening. I wasn’t doing a reading (thank goodness) and my head is still buzzing trying to remember names to faces I know from social media, to bookmark their websites. I could get used to this little world of super-supportive writers, editors, and proofreaders!

No Good Deed is the latest charity anthology by Retreat West Books  The theme for contributions was ‘help’ and  Indigo Volunteers is this book’s chosen charity. £2.99 on kindle or £8.99 in paperback. It makes a great stocking filler!

If you like the direction some of my more recent stories have taken, then I think you would enjoy ‘Say When’. A little bit darker, grittier with hints of past violence…

Amanda Saint – Publisher at Retreat West Books said of my contribution, ‘Say When’

“Very clever twist we didn’t see coming and great distortion of time.”

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Amanda Saint from Retreat West Books and me. Sorry, to Sophie Duffy (my editor) as I unfortunately forgot to take a picture of us two.

‘Say When’ is published in the anthology, ‘No Good Deed’ by Retreat West Books, available here

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112. Touch Wood

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Photo by Zbysiu Rodak on Unsplash

You know when you’re on a long journey and although you’ve done nothing but sit and eat all day, you’re utterly spent? Those times when you reluctantly allow permission to let yourself wander into those dusty, little crevices of your mind that you usually ignore or forgot you ever knew? Or when you’re in a strange place and you see memories of features or expressions of people you used to know in the faces of strangers? I hugged someone I’ve never even met before, at Chrissie’s funeral because she looked so much like her. I thought this holiday would relax me but I’m still so tightly wound and raw. I cry whenever anyone touches me. I hope it doesn’t put off the new kitten from loving me. I need a new friend.

Four hours into an overnight, trans-atlantic flight from JFK to Heathrow, it hit me. I’d worked it all out. It was so simple that it couldn’t possibly be true. The realisation almost winded me. I felt like a nervous tourist who kept patting their pocket to check that their passport and foreign currency were still there.

“Are you awake?” I whispered.

“I am now,” he replied, opening one eye. “What’s up?”

“I think the chest of drawers in the spare room is haunted.” I blurted out.

He breathed out heavily, opened both eyes and wriggled in his seat. “Is there any of that pepsi left?”

“Yeah, it’ll be a bit flat though.” I said, reaching into the seat back pocket. He yawned, scratched his head, gulped some of the sweet black liquid then said,

“go on, then. You’ve woken me up now, so you have to tell me.”

“Ok, right, so the people who lived in Mum and Dad’s house before them were Russian. She was called Joan but her real name was Zia. Josef was actually called Yosef and their son Alex was actually Xander. They all died in that house. The chest of drawers in the spare room was already there when Mum and Dad moved in. Remember when my uncle Alan came to stay last year and he had a heart attack in that very room? Then our cat died. Babs napped on that window seat all the time in winter because of the sun, and Chrissie had slept in that bed loads of times but nothing bad happened until after Alan died. X, Y, Z, A, B, C. Don’t you see?”

He makes a snorting noise like he’s read something funny and shakes his head, smiling. “Aw babe. C’mere.”

I don’t need to say any more. He gets me. He puts his arm around me and I breathe him in as I sob on his chest.

“I think you’re just tired babe. Honestly, furniture can’t be evil. I know it looks like it makes sense right now but it’s just a coincidence. Cool story though. But really, babe, it sounds like you need to get some sleep.”

He was probably right. I was exhausted. I desperately needed answers but the Drs couldn’t give me any, so my mind was creating them out of nothing.

A few hours later, whilst I was in the queue at Passport Control, I switched my phone on for the first time since yesterday morning. I had a few notifications about roaming charges, a couple of texts from Mum and a picture of our neighbour’s newborns.

“Saw Danny and Georgie’s twins, Freddie and Ella. They’re absolutely gorgeous! I’m already knitting! Mum xx”

“Spare room finally finished! Dad took that chest of drawers round next door for the twins’ room. How come babies are so small but they need so much stuff? Mum xx”

Watching people lift (apparently identical) black suitcases off the conveyor belt, my phone pinged with a new text alert. Mum again.

“Blue light ambulance and police car next door. Don’t know what’s going on. Hope those kiddies are ok. Text me when you land Mum xx.”

 

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Photo by Susan Holt Simpson on Unsplash