20 December 2021
Posted by Chrissy Sturt
Life at the short end
I was loopy with delight to discover the poets and I would be tackling flash this week. News journalism keeps me straitjacketed within measly word limits, so I’ve discovered that these espresso story shots seem to play to my strengths – two pieces published in real-life books, and several listings.
But of course, the so:write midweekers took to flashing like true pros.
A pocket-sized story, flash can be anything from a few words up to about 1,000. Stories the length of a tweet are madly popular in these anything-goes days. Whatever your views on diminishing attention spans and disposable story, life at the short end is a great place to practise precision prose.
As usual, Natalie got us started with a free write.
Following on from A light snow was falling as I – she dropped in these words as we groped our way into the fabled dream space – ice, scarf, barking, small cake.
The results were magical.
A light snow was falling as I set off down the garden to the compost bin. I was always glad of this walk, short though it was. It was a way of greeting the outside world, checking in on everything. I liked seeing the snow trying to settle on the leaves, and the winter flowers of the viburnum beginning to push through. Ice was forming on the pond, and the holly berries were reaching the brightest peak of their redness. Noticing the chill, I looped my scarf more tightly around my neck.
I lifted the lid, pouring in peelings from the vegetables I'd been preparing for a lunchtime soup, and after them handfuls of leaves that had fallen from the big oak. Barking from beyond the fence startled me. A warning or a greeting? I couldn’t tell, but I felt content standing there for a moment, beneath the canopy of trees. I began to think about everyone being home, and real snow, the kind that buries your footprints deep, deep down and covers all the dull grey and the deadness.
I went back to the kitchen, resolved to bake a small cake, or perhaps even a big one, in celebration of the turning of the seasons, and the solstice, and togetherness.
Free Write by Rhiannon Hopkins
A light snow was falling as I walked uphill towards the village where mum was born, where the sister I never knew died, where the first dog mum ever owned is buried. Pilgrimage, a laying of personal ghosts, a memorial visit. I’d called it all those things. None of them were true.
Lost in my thoughts the sound of approaching hoofbeats startled me. I tried to step off the path, slipped on a patch of ice and went base over apex into the long grass at the path’s edge, tall dry stems of once glorious summer vegetation cracking under me as I fell. I lay winded, mercifully uninjured if my level of pain was anything to go by, only my dignity shattered. And as I lay there, as the hoofbeats came closer, all I could think was - how very a la Jane and Rochester’s meeting in Hay Lane this was. As if to complete that picture, with a snuffle and a large paw on my upwards facing backside a woolly black Tibetan mastiff shoved its nose into my face in concerned canine enquiry. The horseman rode straight past me, the dog ran off in pursuit. So much for Jane and Rochester, I thought as I struggled to my feet and pressed on, wanting to go back more than ever now the village was so close.
The crest of the hill was lined by a line of horse chestnut trees. The village crouching behind them, lurking, peering through a gap in the stand of trees here and there but for the most part, trying not to be seen. I stepped between the trees. The hoofbeats sounded again somewhere far away or close by, I could not tell. Was my Rochester coming back? Forget him, see what’s in front of you, I tell myself. I could see it and I did not want to see it. I thought of the old man who used to make me little cakes -white or pink or yellow icing - he’s the real reason I have come here.
Next, we considered how you can convey story in just a few choice words. Everybody loved this one:
I kept myself alive.
For sale: baby shoes, never worn
(attributed to Ernest Hemingway)
The ever-incisive Sue Curd gave us the wonderful title of I dropped my baby – and my five word response was, And wires came spewing out.
From there, we were swept up in this dizzy, disorientating scene.
Give it Up! Franz Kafka
It was very early in the morning, the streets clean and deserted, I was walking to the station. As I compared the tower clock with my watch, I realized that it was already much later than I had thought, I had to hurry, the shock of this discovery made me unsure of the way, I did not yet know my way very well in this town; luckily, a policeman was nearby, I ran up to him and breathlessly asked him the way. He smiled and said: “From me you want to know the way?” “Yes,” I said, “since I cannot find it myself.” “Give it up! Give it up,” he said, and turned away with a sudden jerk, like people who want to be alone with their laughter.
This took us all sinking deeper into the dream space, and surreal pieces poured from our pens:
The Little Minute by Natalie Young
I ran for the train, but I couldn't find my ticket to start with or anywhere. I thought it might be in my pocket but somehow I'd put my trousers on wrong or backwards or the pockets were all sealed up, so I jumped over the barrier but the barrier was higher than I thought it would be - it was very much a door or a door-shaped gate, and I knew that I wouldn't make it over so I crawled underneath and there was shouting behind but only the laughter came out of my mouth as I ran along the platform, on and on, and it wasn't so much that the train had left so much that there wasn't and hadn’t been a train at all.
The Little Minute by Angela Chicken
Was all I needed. Having found the corridor, the lights were dimmer and the music a thud. My hands felt the cool wall in the dark and I leaned back against it. Respite till I could make it to the toilets. A squeak and a door opened on the right, down at the far end. Bright light flooded in aound the outline of a couple. Noticing me they turned and marched down the hallway, shoulder to shoulder, the door banging shut behind them. Swallowing I looked at the floor, avoided eye contact. If I could just get past them, there was a chance.
The Little Minute by Rhiannon Hopkins
The tall, drooping trees are strange like me a stranger in this town. I am here for a job interview but I’ve lied on my C.V and it is that which makes me nervous. I have One Little Minute to get there and I am lost. The map they sent me is a liar. Across the street is a patch of waste ground. One wall of the house that stood there still stands there, a length of wallpaper flapping banner like in the breeze. Across the street too is a shop - Anwar’s News and Varieties. Perhaps Anwar knows where I must go? I cross the road, intending to ask him. Slanting sunlight hits my eyes so I can see nothing clearly. But as I step up onto the opposite kerb I am out of the light. Now I can see. On that remaining wall I see my name written in blood red paint
Natalie continued to mess with our minds, reading out this strange one:
Bang Bang On the Stair by Diane Williams
I said, “Would you like a rope? You know that haul you have is not secured properly.”
“No,” he said, “but I see you have string!”
“If this comes into motion—” I said, “you should use a rope.”
“Any poison ivy on that?” he asked me, and I told him my rope had been in the barn peacefully for years.
He took a length of it to the bedside table. He had no concept for what wood could endure.
“Table must have broken when I lashed it onto the truck,” he said.
And, when he was moving the sewing machine, he let the cast iron wheels—bang, bang on the stair.
I had settled down to pack up the flamingo cookie jar, the cutlery, and the cookware, but stopped briefly, for how many times do you catch sudden sight of something heartfelt?
I saw our milk cows in their slow parade in the pasture and then the calf broke through with a leap from behind—its head was up, its forelegs spread.
“Don’t leave!” Mother screamed at me, and she had not arrived to help me.
She tripped and fell over a floor lamp’s coiled electrical cord.
There’s just a basic rule of conduct that applies here—also known as a maxim—so I held out my hand.
She gripped and re-gripped my palm hard and all of my fingers before hoisting herself by pulling on me.
She kept tugging on my hand on her deathbed also for a long stretch, until she died. For don’t little strokes fell great oaks?
A girl from the neighborhood rang the bell today to ask if I had a balloon. I didn’t have any and I hadn’t seen one in years.
“That ’s all you need?” I asked her. “How about some string?”
I noticed that the girl’s eyes were bright and intelligent and that she was delighted, possibly with me.
I went to search where I keep a liquid-glue pen, specialty tape, and twine. I kept on talking while I pawed around for some reason in the drawer.
While we were still scratching our heads, Natalie asked us to write about a drawer full of stuff, and to include some dialogue. Again, great results:
Holiday drawer piece by Madeleine O’Beirne
The holiday drawer had lost its way. The passports were out of date, inside them slips of paper on which random, almost illegible numbers were written. Vaccination slips, she remembered. Passports to night clubs she had never visited – why would she? And to theatres that had long been closed. The paper slips were grubby, curling, torn in places, and the passports were buried amongst the muddle of a past she couldn’t let go. There were rolls of tape dusted in crumbs of toast and ancient glitter, rubber bands and shreds of string battling to find space in a shabby cellophane wrapper, tubes of paint and glue dried up since her children had left home. There were broken biros, letters and postcards she’d always intended to read again. She dug deeper, eager hands settling on an old mobile phone. Its keys were worn, and sticky with jam, but she pressed them with renewed hope, dialling the number without thinking. “Mum?” came the startled reply.
The Everything Else Drawer by Chrissy Sturt
An American friend told me of a nanny she interviewed. When invited to ask her own question she said, “Where might I find your everything-else drawer?” Delighted, my friend hired her on the spot. Since then, I’ve worried less about sweeping everything into this drawer during a Rage Clean. But how often do you stop, and look at what’s inside? Because beyond plugs and chargers and dog leads and worming tablets and highlighters and sharpeners – you might find something that can take your breath away. “I love You Mummy.” Written wobbly-neat. With a rabbit and a heart, uncarefully-carefully coloured in. So many of these little messages. They should have their own drawer really. The Love Drawer.
So, those were our adventures in flash.
Why not give it a go?
More reading here: