Unattended men were never seen in the underwear department of Messrs Marks and Spencer unless in the company of formidable matrons whose capacity to wither a frisky thought at birth had been practised under their mother’s tutelage. In fact even a somewhat tottery thought asking vague questions about whether it was tea time yet would have been hard pressed to survive and would most likely have gone home for a sit down with an iced fancy instead.
This story was a finalist in Flash Fiction Chronicles’ 2014 String-o-Ten and, like many stories, it has a history. This meant very little at the time, beyond personal awe at the way the cosmic forces of gravity and the motion of the moon and planets become crystallised at the turning of a tide on a river. Finding a bunch of roses lodged in a shrub on the river bank where they would not be swept out to sea or blown away sparked the theme – a woman investing hope in those forces following a deep tragic loss. If magic exists anywhere in the universe, she wants to believe it will be here.
The river is the Adur in Sussex and the shrub just a few hundred yards from the A27 which, this last week, has been the focus of world attention after a jet ploughed into traffic lights there*. Eleven people died, many more were direct witnesses waiting at the lights just behind those who were hit, or travelling on the eastbound carriageway. Others saw the ball of flame from the airport where they were spectators, and thousands sat in shock at home as social media and TV put out video, photos, and stunned analysis throughout that day and the several that followed.
The road is partially opened today (August 30th) and on Tuesday I will be on it taking kittens for their vaccinations. I will be feeling simultaneously selfish and grateful that I was not there on that day and nor was anyone I know**.
This is the story:
Here the Magic Must Be
The river was almost at its zenith, that tipping point between the heaving press of the sea from the coast and the thundering weight of dark, fresh water draining from the hills. It glittered and sparkled along its banks as if strung with fairy lights.
The woman twiddled her handkerchief until it knotted and then pushed it into her pocket. Twice a day, every day, all of heaven and earth balanced here on this point, she thought. For reassurance, she felt for the handle of the knife that sat quiet next to the handkerchief and watched a pair of terns shrieking and wheeling overhead. They landed on the river, drifting up-stream at opposing angles until the tidal cusp caught them, held them, suspended them in the moment.
The woman saw it. With sudden urgency, she pulled out the knife and reached to one side where a small regiment of roses lay swaddled in cellophane. She lifted the pale tag to her mouth and breathed her warm breath into the name written there, pressed it between her palms to remind him of her flesh, and pierced her finger on a thorn to give him her blood.
Then she stood, cut the flowers free of their wrapping, and approached the water’s edge. If magic existed anywhere it had to be here at the turning of tides, in the repeated drowning and birthing of land. She crouched down, touched the petals to the water and wished.
*Approach video clips with caution
**Eight victims have been named so far; one is the son of a friend’s close friend. Like me, many will be waiting and hoping not to recognise the last three names when they come but some will not be so fortunate.
The truth, the half truth, or nothing like the truth? It depends, says the pseudonymous author, on whether you recognise yourself. But if you didn’t leave the gate open to cavorting cattle on a rural bridge, or become unsettlingly aroused at the sight of a Saab, you’re probably ok. You can find it on Amazon (UK and US) Barnes and Noble, and also eBay. Childishly grown up.
I am a fraud because I don’t think I’ve actually written about dragons. Much of the time though, I’m not too far removed from the fantastically speculative sphere in which they might be found, and I do have several. They spend their observable time in static states – metal, ceramic and the like – transforming to wreak havoc at times only cats can see and who are mostly complicit in the resultant wreckage. Also, if it hadn’t been for the raining thread, I would have moved to Pern and got myself a flock of fire lizards. So I am accepting this award, kindly conferred by Sarah Higbee, on those spurious grounds, and to be consistent with my roundabout qualification for it, I’m going to mess with the rest of the rules too.
Let’s get the fifteen onward nominees out of the way first: as I know of very few (my problem, not theirs) and Sarah is one of them I’m going to risk setting up a perpetual loop in which WordPress continually refers to itself by citing the ones on her list – minus me, of course because that would be proper silly, wouldn’t it?
– Mhairi Simpson – Crazy Creative
– Lizzie Baldwin – My Little Book Blog
– Michael D. Griffiths – Yig Prime
– Joanna Maciejewska – Melfka
– Leiah Cooper – So I Read This Book Today
– Anastasia – Read and Survive
– Zeke Teflon – Rip-roaring reviews
– D. Parker – yadadarcyyada
– Ionia Martin – Readful Things Blog
– Siamese Mayhem – Musings on YA novels and pop culture
– Humanity’s Darker Side – A book review blog
And Sarah, of course.
I’m going to add some favourite stories too, in case you haven’t come across them or their authors. First up, Sara Maitland’s Moss Witch and Other Stories. Sara often injects real science into her stories but so expertly woven that you’d never guess. Then there’s Margo Lanagan’s Black Juice collection the first of which, Singing My Sister Down, demonstrates the sideslip of Lanagan’s imagination. And what about Catherynne M Valente’s Thirteen Ways of Looking at Space/Time? This is an extraordinary mix of SF, fantasy, and philosophy – and it’s in audio too so you can sit back and listen instead of taxing your eyeballs. Another mind-grabber is Aliette de Bodard’s 2013 Hugo nominated Immersion which is about wearable avatars. Finally, Ken Liu’s The Paper Menagerie which swept the board of SF awards in 2012.
So now the facts-about-me thing.
Ok, here’s one: I was a Captain in the Territorial Army for a short while and was put on standby for the first Gulf war. They sent the other field hospital which was fortunate as no one had shown me how to wear all the various hats in the manner befitting.
Albert’s teeth are opinionated, unlike Albert. All day they clack on about things for which Albert has no interest or that he considers they should keep to themselves. In LA Review of LA, issue nine, June 2015. 299 words #literary #noir
It’s the time of year for them isn’t it, tiny helpless little balls of fluff that seem to have been abandoned? But we’re told to leave them be, they were put there, the parents are watching. Perhaps these people should have done the same with what they found, out there in a capsule in deep space. From the recycler, Baby Bird was published by Read Short Fiction in 2012. About 1500 words.