I love short stories and flash fiction.
They feel like little snippets of life; moments of breath that come into focus while what goes before and after remains chugging along in the background. Pieces of prose are somewhere between a story and a poem – some even become prose poetry. They are vignettes of life, character, memory… evocative, thoughtful… words that create pictures in one’s mind that will hopefully echo for some time to come.
In 2022, I won the London Independent Story Prize with my short story ‘Nothing Happens Until Something Moves’. You can read the story here. There is also a short interview that was published at the same time. You can read it here.
I hope you enjoy the pieces of writing (that are aimed at adults not children) and which I’m happy to share with you.
CHEZ NOUS ANTOINE
Nestled down a quiet backstreet of Bayswater, Chez Nous Antoine is a tired reflection of the ostentatious café that opened its doors one late summer’s day in 1934. Most days, these days, it is filled—if filled is an adjective that can be used for this establishment—with decaying ladies whose husbands once were; clicking their way down the scuffed marble floors to air-kissed hellos from their un-coiffured friends. They perch their once-pert derrières on the pink velveteen seats and dream together of those long gone days. These are not the ladies of lattes and Land Rovers but lay claim to the title of the original ladies who lunch.
Chez Nous Antoine had one been owned by the great Antoine himself and the ladies had swooned over his jet-black hair and twinkling winks. They had inhaled his perfume like it was a gift from the gods and each one knew he was their most fervent admirer. They had practised their ooh-la-las and nibbled iced fancies, and the room had rung with their giggles and sighs. Today, their sighs tell of backache and bunions, the perfume they smell is Dettol and dust. The most they expect is a brushed off “hello” and the once gleaming brass is as dull as their lives.
Hailed back then by those in the know, for ‘enriching London with its Parisian chic’, the café had greyed as had Antoine himself, as the tables chipped and the mirrors darkened, as the ladies widened and, then, one by one changed their bright clothes to black. Now, one by one they, too, disappear; just as Antoine had done when his hair had turned white. Now the fine china cups have been changed for pottery and Antoine’s replacement is a Spaniard called Juan. But sometimes the ghosts of their youth return and their eyes sparkle with tears of the past. And those ladies—those wonderful ladies—well, just for that moment, they glimmer and shine.
A path, hidden by the herbaceous border, runs parallel with the lawn. The sun never finds its way there. Instead, moss and fern thrive in the dank half-light. The baker uses it on his weekly round; his wicker basket, piled high with fresh loaves, bangs against the neighbour’s fence as he squeezes past the overgrown shrubs. On special days, mum let’s her choose a cake. Battenberg is her favourite. She likes picking off the marzipan crust, then eating the pink and yellow jam-edged squares one by one. Afterwards, she plays with her brother – cops and robbers, cowboys and girls – whooping down the footpath with their imaginary guns. Lurking in the shadows, waiting to leap out.
Turn left where the path ends, past the hedge where the wasp’s nest was, and you enter the vegetable garden. Today, the soil was turned for planting; dark clods raked fine, loosened stones heaped on one side. Last season’s leeks are blanched and tied, their green tops spilling like mop heads. Further down, just before the gate, the fruit bushes have been planted. Raspberry canes, gooseberries, redcurrants, juicy blackberries. Hints of fresh green burst along their bare branches. In the summer she hides under the netting, gorging herself until her stomach swells and her hands turn purple-black.
On holidays and weekends, she runs to the gate when the cows are coming up for milking. She stands on the second rung and leans over to watch their noisy procession up the lane. They walk like doleful old ladies, tails swishing away the flies, stopping to bite the cowslip heads when the farmer’s not looking. She can hear him behind them calling “Coooommmme BAAAAASSS” and flicking their rears with his willow switch. Sometimes the cows draw near, sniffing the air with their fat, wide nostrils. They scare-excite her. Don’t let them lick you, calls her brother, or you’ll catch the lurgy.
When the cows have passed, she slips off the gate and makes her way down the farm lane. Today she’s wearing red wellies for puddle jumping; there’s an extra deep one at the turning to the top field where the tractor tracks have made deep ruts. Next to the field is the pond where she went frog spawning with mum, scooping out the bobbly globules with her bare hands and carrying them home in the huge jam jar. They are starting to wiggle themselves free now from their jelly and turn into tadpole babies.
The lane winds its way towards the big field where the hill tumbles towards the river and, if you squint, way beyond the woods you glimpse the church spire. In summer the larks sing high above the ripening wheat, and she lies, sun-warmed, amongst the golden stems watching the white puffed clouds.
Today, though, is different. The air hangs with unfinished rain. The lane splish-splashes as she wanders down, past the nettle patch where she fell last year, round the old oak that drips drops on her head.
The gate is chained to keep the lambs in, but she scrambles over by the hinges and jumps down the other side. The lambs in the side field spring around, giddy with life with their ticky-tocky tails. Keeping close to the bramble hedge, she makes her way to the hill crest until there before her lies a vast lake, swallowing up the lower pastures with its blacken water. The egg lady had told mum this morning. Burst its banks, the old lady said. Flooded the town. She runs to the water’s edge, where the driftwood mixes with the flatten grass. How far from the riverbank she still is.
She hears her name. Mum comes down the slope with her brother. They stand side by side looking at the flood. The wind carries softened church chimes towards them. The sky is elephant grey and huge. How will it ever get back inside? she asks. Mum laughs and takes her hand. We’ll come tomorrow and have another look, she says.