Category Archives: flash fiction

Compassion

Giant: illustration by Arthur Rackham

Giant: illustration by Arthur Rackham

When Mick was little he thought of big Gus as Shouty Man.

All he could think of while growing up was being big enough to give Gus a taste of his own medicine.

Only now, as a six footer, with Gus shrunk to a little wizened man, Mick realised what being Big truly meant.


· Flash Fiction Fifty Five, a short story of only 55 words (including title), first published on Calmgrove 9th December 2016. © C A Lovegrove

More on giants in this review here

Book blurb

Photo by Buse Doa on Pexels.com

From the front flap of a dust jacket of an uncorrected proof of an unpublished anonymous memoir

In 1984, the author took a sabbatical from his job as an indexer to research a famous biographer and historian who’d recently died. In the archive of her notebooks and papers he was astonished to discover she was preparing his own biography. Up till then he’d had no illusions that his life was anything but humdrum, ordinary and unworthy of note.

As he shifted through her clippings and jottings he found she’d painted a word portrait of him as an individual whose every word and deed had unimaginably far-reaching effects. This was the life-story of a man who’d inadvertently caused murders to be committed, injudicious political decisions to be made, markets to tumble — in other words, he’d been someone starting to change the course of world history, and he’d had absolutely no idea.

As he compares his ordinary life (as he sees it) with the biographer’s inexhaustible documentation and her critique of his actions he wonders at her obsessive chronicling and stockpiling of material — letters, emails, certificates, news clippings, photographs — and starts to think he’s noticed a note of derision and sarcasm creeping in.

There’s only one thing to do to get to the root of the matter — he has to start writing a biography of his would-be biographer and be as obsessive about her as she was about him. And she turns out to have even more secrets than he apparently had.

Continued on back flap

© C A Lovegrove

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com

Report

Report on Einstein-Rosen bridge experiment #1, Ganymede, Jupiter

Preamble

• I am Albert, a 31st-generation artificial intelligence robot built expressly to enter the Einstein-Rosen bridge constructed on the Jovian moon Ganymede.
• My mission is to be in position at the event horizon at point T (0.00 temporal units, recalibrated). This horizon will be artificially created to be optimally functional at point T to allow passage along the Einstein-Rosen bridge.
• This report will be transmitted at T direct to station Juno in Jovian orbit.
• For this experiment I shall also be internally transporting this report for the duration of the passage along the bridge. If delivered intact and uncorrupted it will demonstrate that the shielding design has been successful.

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Colour palette

For TV dramas set in hospitals the general rule is that nothing – neither sets, costume nor location shots – should include the colour red. Why? This is because it may limit the impact when blood is first introduced into the action. Apparently the shock of that crimson fluid staining a largely monochrome palate produces an atavistic reaction in most people, especially when it’s allied to a storyline that raises expectations of an immanent coup-de-théâtre.

Of course, I knew all about colour palettes, the theory of which all Art students must have in order to make it instinctive in practice. Maybe you imagine I was a struggling artist in an airy garret; the truth is I had to make do with a basement flat in a Victorian semi, with only a little light coming in front and back. This wasn’t ideal, but as it was billed as a ‘garden flat’ at least I got a consistent green tinge to that light through most of the year. And as it was all I could afford in my last year at Art College, hey, who’s complaining?

There was little to complain of. I got negligible hassle from my landlord, who lived above. I tried to be a model tenant – no loud music, no raucous parties, TV kept down at night. He himself was rarely noisy, though I did sometimes hear him pad-pad-padding around, there being little carpeting on his wooden floors. He rarely bothered me, only popping down occasionally to check if everything was alright. The flat’s Spartan conditions were no bother to me: in any case, that particular day I was far too busy trying to get work completed for my final exhibition to worry about tired décor in need of an overhaul. As every space was crowded with artwork being prepped for the Degree Show the anaglypta wallpaper and mismatched furniture were the least of my concerns.

Mr Legge came down a couple of times while I was laying out the work – mostly two-dimensional – which I’d selected for the show. I sensed little genuine interest; he hardly spoke but seemed preoccupied. A couple of hours later he came down for the second time. After some desultory conversation I asked if anything was on his mind. After some umm-ing and ah-ing he mumbled something about rent. As I’d paid upfront till the end of term I was somewhat puzzled. It turned out that he was asking if, after paying the rent, I had any spare money; naturally, as a near-impecunious student I hadn’t. Clearly embarrassed he mumbled some more — sorry he’d asked, he’d try other sources, forget about it, didn’t mean to disturb – and slowly went out, the door clicking quietly behind him. I heard some quiet steps above, some muffled thumps and bangs, and then the accustomed silence.

I ought to have questioned him more, but my mind too was elsewhere: the Degree Show loomed. I went back to laying out the canvases and mixed-media pieces. To catch the most of the natural light these were placed across the floor, the walls being too much in the shade. The theme I’d adopted to link the pieces was Metamorphoses, and I was trying to sequence them to create a narrative. Adjacent pieces would reveal commonalities while simultaneously shape-shifting and evolving across the collection. The palette was muted, some greens, purples, pale lilacs, but mostly a lot of greys across the spectrum, from ash-white to lava black. I experimented, leaping up and down from the vantage point of a bench pushed against the wall, moving and rearranging, considering, finalising.

The sequence was complete. The largest canvas, the most starkly monochrome with bare hints of leaf-green and lily-white, was placed at the climax of the sequence. I felt both elated and quietly satisfied. It was done.

I was suddenly aware something wasn’t right. There was a darkness on the canvas where I hadn’t expected it. A rusty patch was apparent off-centre, a Venetian red which upset the subtle colour balance I’d worked so hard to achieve. It seemed to expand, accompanied by a soft but insistent pat-pat-pat, as if Mr Legge was pacing his room. And at that moment I thought – no, I knew – that it wasn’t Mr Legge’s footsteps that I was hearing; and that it wasn’t red paint that was disfiguring the picture.


This is my effort for the short fiction assignment on the theme of red that we were given for creative writing classes. First published 4th February 2016 on Calmgrove. © C A Lovegrove

Telling tails

Once upon a tern three birds went into a pub.

Said the landlord, Godwit you three, pelican I help you?

Are you raven mad? they crowed, Of course you toucan, a nightjar of your finest!

Wren they were served they were swift to reach out. Suddenly sniped the landlord: Hoopoe do you think you are, pay the bill before you swallow, or you’ll egret it!

Puffin out their cheeks they craned their heads this way and that and tried to stork the stork but the landlord began to owl: Stop swanning about, you bustards, or flamingo away before I skua you all!

They groused but they had to empty their pochards for change, eider that or duck.

Then, Cuckoo, said one, this ain’t half bad, what a lark!

You know, you’re twite, said the second, I’m really choughed!

Think gull avocet, quailed the third, I woodpecker another, let’s have some moorhen! Ptarmigan, landlord!

After they’d wrynecked their pints, Good heavens a dove, came a shrike, Look at the time! Good nightingale, we must pipit! And off they flew.

Penmanship

WordPress Free Photo Library

Long before smartphones, laptops, computers, typewriters, there were pencils to scribble with and ink pens to dip into bottles and ink wells.

And faced with a blank sheet of paper and contemplating the bottomless well of a blank brain he might have resorted to chewing the end of the dipping pen or pencil. Impossible now, of course.

His grown-up children had long exhorted him to write up his memories of childhood in exotic places when the world was young, before they were born. But what he couldn’t settle down to, what had eluded him so far, was the voice to use.

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Dressing-gown

WPC Wendy Bowyer spoke briefly on her radio before she stepped up the garden path of number 19 and knocked on the door. A tear-stained Mandy flung open the door almost immediately – she must have been waiting in the passageway – and starting gabbling, sobs breaking up her sentences.

“It’s alright, Mrs Winstanley,” Wendy politely but firmly interrupted, using the calming approach born of long practice, “we’ll do the best we can to sort this all out.” Shutting the door behind her she added, “Why don’t you show me his bedroom?” Mandy stumbled up the stairs, Wendy noticing she’d had time to throw on a t-shirt, jeans and t-shirt. The compact room led off the first-floor landing; a stick-on label was attached to the door, the figure of Darth Vader pointing at the stencilled name SAMMY in block capitals.

“Have you touched anything?” she asked, while motioning Mandy to stay by the door. “Only the window, to open it a bit more…” was the almost whispered reply. Wendy took in the scene – the rumpled bed, the few scattered Lego bricks on the floor, the illustrated encyclopaedia open by the bed – all the usual pre-teen paraphernalia. Already she was forming a picture in her mind: the open window, the boy taken out of his bed, the intruder carrying him out onto the low roof outside and away. Her initial suspicion was estranged husband rather than unknown abductor – but best not to tell Mrs Winstanley that just yet, keep it formal.

Instinctively her sweep of the room took in the abandoned slipper by the window, the lack of a counterpart for the left foot, the empty clothes peg on the back of the door. The relatively tidy room told her volumes about the boy, enough to suspect that he was not yet the careless teenager her own son had developed into. Her next methodical question to Mandy was therefore consistent with logic.

“Does Sammy normally put on a dressing-gown when he gets out of bed?”

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A grey slipper

Mrs W was sobbing when she answered the door, trying to tell me what had happened but in her distress unable to get a coherent sequence out. I tried to calm her, speaking in an as matter-of-fact tone as possible while remaining sympathetic.

I let her lead me upstairs to the bedroom. “Have you touched anything, moved anything?” I asked her. “Nothing, nothing,” she began, then, “I, um, opened the window wider to see if I could see him, or anything…” Her voice trailed away.

I left her in the doorway and stepped carefully into the room. The bed had obviously been slept in, but the bedclothes had been roughly thrown aside, as though the boy had been pulled out of bed before he was fully awake. There was a picture book lying open on the floor, with a scatter of plastic toys – Star Wars Lego, that sort of thing.

I glanced out of the open sash window. There was a lean-to roof just below the sill, making it easy to climb in and out of the window. “Is this usually locked?” I asked Mrs W. “If was quite warm last night,” she offered as an excuse.

My eye fell on a grey slipper by the window, as if dropped. Where’s the other one, I wondered. A quick search under the bed and under the bedclothes didn’t reveal anything. Did he have time to put on his slippers first? Does this mean he knew his visitor?

“What are you looking for?” whispered his mother. Instead of answering I checked behind the door: the clothes peg was empty.

“Does he normally wear a dressing-gown out of bed?” I asked, but I already knew the answer.

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First snow

Foel Cwmcerwyn

Foel Cwmcerwyn, the highest point in the Preseli Hills, Pembrokeshire, after a fall of snow

Overnight the snow fell softly, steadily, remorselessly. In the early hours of the morning she awoke, confused by how hushed everything was. It was as if time had stopped and her bed was floating in a bubble that was her room.

She slipped out from under the duvet and into her slippers, and padded over to the window seat.

Flakes floated past the pane, then more, and more, and still they came. She knew the covering would be thick in the morning. Though, come the dawn, the house would be even more isolated, for now she felt cocooned, insulated even — insulated from outside interference, noisy visitors, passing traffic.

If she stayed awake she would go down later, light the kitchen fire, perhaps let the hens out early. But for now she would take in the unearthly light reflected off the settling snow, bask in the stillness, watch the frozen sky feathers floating down onto the vast white coverlet.

Later the phone would ring and she would ignore it, and if it continued she would take the receiver off the hook.

At present she would contemplate eternity for a while longer.

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Grandma

Grandmother and grandson circa early 1949

To me, now, she was an old Russian babushka or, rather, Baba Yaga. Fierce gimlet eyes, teeth mostly missing, nose and chin almost forming the horns of a crescent moon. Thinning strands of hair mostly hidden under a scarf. Her rickets-riddled bandy legs, covered in rumpled hose emerging from under a woollen skirt, seemed barely to support her; a dowager’s hump completed the picture.

She had been a governess to young Indian princes back in India but was now confined to a bedroom in my parents’ home — a room which, though lacking the fowl’s legs of Baba Yaga’s hut, sat fug-ridden between the front and back of the house.

I rarely went into my grandmother’s room and if I did I always took a deep breath outside before entering the smoke-filled room, and left as soon as was possible after shallow breathing became a strain.

I dreaded my mother’s insistent command, Kiss Grandma! and tried desperately to avoid any drool which had migrated from the cavernous mouth to the sunken cheeks.

I thought I had got away with hiding my feelings until my sister maliciously reported back to her my comment, “Grandma smells!” There was no love lost between us siblings, or between Baba Yaga and me.

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Adèle and Sophie

Édouard Manet, Gare Saint-Lazare (1873)

Adèle, Make sure you’re keeping your frock clean, don’t lean against those dirty railings…
But Sophie, isn’t this so exciting? I’m so, so, sooo excited!
Mind you don’t get your head stuck between the…
Look, Sophie, this train is getting ready to go!
Come away from the railings, Adèle…
And is it true, the boat we will go to England on, will it too have a big chimney with black smoke coming out?
I expect so. Come away…
And will I be sea-sick? And will I like England?
Ah, that I cannot tell, Adèle.

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Sophie

Édouard Manet, Gare Saint-Lazare (detail)

Adèle is happily wittering again, she so loves it here, and it gives me a chance to read some more of this roman.

Wish she didn’t have to bring the puppy though. But at least the walk here exhausts it enough so it has to rest quietly in my lap.

I wonder how she will feel when we have to sail to England by packet-boat. Will she be travel-sick? Will she manage to learn some barbaric English phrases? And will I too? Will she, like me, miss France? and will Monsieur Rochester keep his word and stay long enough at the house to be a proper guardian?

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