129. A Nata and a Natter

A #ShortStorySeptember tale for a new year. Freshly sharpened pencils, new notebooks and all that. It’s also for anyone embarking on a brand new life at University or emerging, blinking in the light, from their cocoon as Lockdown opens up.

I thought a black coffee would be the cheapest, and as it was a universally unquestioned drink, I would always have a legitimate and innocent reason why I didn’t know the difference between a latte and a cortado. But why did the barista give me a little bowl of candy floss? 

Mum was right, £12 a day wasn’t nearly enough for food. Getting into a good school was one thing, actually being accepted beyond a pity pet project was another. I’d noticed every small detail between us. I’d read the books and seen the films, but some considered my life still to belong below stairs. I couldn’t absorb, only observe. If I bought the same bag it wouldn’t have the rich patina of their experiences. How could I possibly know if I had “summered well”? At least my nickname of ‘Tom Ripley’ hadn’t followed me here. Well, not yet, but it’s a small world.

The waitress in me made me sit at a table for two, and I faced the door, so my new friend could see me when she entered. I watched her through the window as she embraced each of the couple in turn then smothered their baby in mwah mwahs. Then she looked up and waved at me. The bell above the door of the coffee shop dinged as she entered.

“Sorry I’m late. I bumped into some old friends and got chatting. You know how it is. They have the fattest, most edible baby I’ve ever seen. Anyway, Happy Birthday!”

She unravelled herself from her hand knitted, cashmere scarf, then peeled off various layers until she was down to a t-shirt and a pair of cords. I wished I’d picked a bigger table. She piled her coat, scarf and jumper onto her chair and then fumbled around in her bag for her purse. I spotted a small turquoise box wrapped with white ribbon in her bag.

Photo by tommao wang on Unsplash

Her necklace cost more than my rent, her watch worth more than my car. A shabby leather strap on a vintage Omega. Two Cartier Love bangles jangled on her wrist, and although she once claimed they were fakes, I very much doubted that was true.

“Is it me or is it hot in here? Do you want anything? Ooh, they do those little Portuguese custard tarts in here that I like.” she said while fanning her face. She stuck out her chin and tried to blow air upwards towards her hairline.

“Could you get me some sugar please?” I said.

She cocked her head, raised her eyebrows and studied me for a second. Then she pinched a bit of the pink candyfloss and popped it into her mouth. Clawing up the rest of the nest, she dumped it into my cup. It dissolved immediately to nothing.

I looked up to see her perfect, high ponytail flick a spin. Her dancer’s body turned first, then her head. Muscle memory.


SHORT STORY SEPTEMBER FESTIVAL

I’m dead chuffed to be part of the Short Story September Festival event on Saturday 25th September 2021. Although I won’t be reading, I am part of the ‘A Brief Pause’ Writers Showcase, and have a short story included in the anthology, ‘Small Good Things’, which is published by Dahlia Books on the same day. You can order it here.

Tickets to the event are available here.

Dangles a carrot of a 2-hour Kathy Fish flash fiction workshop.

It’s an odd feeling (pride, fear, gratitude), just before a story is released into the world. I know every word so well, the plot inside out. It’s finished, tidied, polished with a bow on top and now out of my hands or control. If you want to read a bit more about how I was inspired to write my weird fairy tale, then click here.

Here’s one of my favourite songs. ‘Maps’ by Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs. It’s been viewed over 69 million times on youtube and I just love Karen’s vibe in it.

Do you have an artificial friend? If so, then you may like this book. I did.

Modern sc-fi (like ‘Black Mirror’ or ‘Never let Me Go’) is one of my little obsessions in life.

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