S is for Short Stories

We've spent a lot of time writing about writing. Today it's time to just write.

In honour of National Flash Fiction Day which begins at midnight tonight and will see micro-fiction posted on their blog every twenty minutes for 24 hours (look out for some familiar names around 1, 3 and 4am!), we are going to post some short pieces written by our many and varied Café Aphraites over the course of today and maybe tomorrow. If you would like to post something, email it to cafeaphra@yahoo.com as soon as you can and we'll try our best to get it posted up here.

Off we go....

 The Children 

The train rolls along beneath my feet, rumbling along the track through the birches.  I sit slumped in my window seat, listening to the music through my headphones.   

I think about Elsa.  Last night in that dark grey techno bar she spilt her cold red wine down my shirt, as she leant across the table, whispering frantically while smiling, flashing her eyes as if we were in a very different story. The sticky wine trickled down my neck.  I leant across the table and stared at Elsa’s eyelids, closed with pain.  I arranged my face as if I were trying for a kiss. ‘Got a smoke?’ I asked. 

She blinked, then passed me her tarnished cigarette case.  I took out a neatly rolled cigarette and put it to my mouth, while I memorised the map engraved underneath the lid. 

They may have been watching.  Maybe not.   

We’ve emerged from the shadows of the woods.  Outside the window I see white-streaked grey sky, barren fields.  Carrion crows swoop down to pick at last year’s gleanings. I’m completely lost now but if we get through the tunnel, I should be able to recognise the landmarks.  I should be able to find the path.

The children are quieter now.  The guard’s dog patrols the corridor of our carriage.  It snaps its jaws at the children’s frail, bumpy knees.   

I pretend that I’m not with the children—that it’s nothing to me if that dog tries to eat them alive.  I slump against the window, looking out at the flooded fields. I listen to my music.   

When we get through the tunnel, I’ll jump.  I can hide in the marshes. 

It’s a long game we’re playing.  I can’t save the children.  They can’t save me. 

I turn up my music.  I close my eyes.  The guard has administered the drugs now.  The children are sleeping.  I pretend to sleep as well, but I’m still listening to my music.

The train shudders beneath my feet and then stops completely, quite a ways before the tunnel.  The sleepy dog lifts up its wolf-sized head and growls. 

I try to remember the path, where it forks, how to avoid circling back toward the station.  I recall silver cobwebs on the bridge, and the silver scratches on Elsa’s cigarette case, showing me my path, my way out. 

I know where this train is going.  But I can’t save the children.

I have one job and one job only.  I have to find that path by the river.

I am the child, the true Baby Moses.  I need to hide myself in the bulrushes. 

If we are to win this thing, I must forget all about the children.

The train starts up again, jerking forward.  The pig-tailed girl in the seat in front of me wakes with a cry.  The dog leaps.  The guard strikes.  The girl screams.  He shoves her toward the other end of the carriage. 

I turn up my music to the loudest setting.
Frances Hay
Specks are the local name for glasses here. I am from the north east of Scotland and lots of words have different meanings from their English origins.  Some don't even exist in the dictionary! 
For me I have had a little jolt into the future and the realisation that I am getting just that little bit older, and things don't last forever, however old I don't feel on a good day. 
I remember my dad coming home from the hospital with the news that due to his long existing condition of diabetes he was now faced with his eyes failing and pending blindness. I am a positive person and suggested to my father that he would be fortunate in that he knew the colours and shades of life as he had been visually drinking them all in for years. Sadly for my father he never got to use his wonderful imagination, he passed away long before his eyes gave up.  So my dear dad I am now walking down the road behind you, with the realisation that...... 
I need glasses and the fog  has been lifted for me today! For the past few months I have been thinking I was going crazy.  Fog would come and go as I was trying to read, no headaches or other symptoms showed up.  I do suffer from ME and have been told in the past that as I am tired the muscles in my eyes will take longer to adjust.  I have been putting it down to that.  The optician did inform me that if you are lucky enough to get over forty years of age without glasses, when you do need glasses it is a sudden realisation that kicks in.  This is the case with me! 
Working in an office with figures, one cannot just guess what we are seeing.  Points in the wrong place can mean trouble for everyone! The brain is a wonderful organ. Mine had been busy working out what I wasn't seeing and filling in the gaps for me.  I never fail to be amazed how our bodies perform beyond all expectations.  
Having grasped the idea that glasses were needed, which ones to choose?  The lady in the shop informed me 'for a start the lenses will be £68.  Fine, but why would I buy glasses without lenses? Then there was an array of options in coatings and types and colours of just the lenses! A student appeared and asked if she can sit in on the consultation.  I believe that everyone has the right to learn and had no problem with a second opinion on which glasses might be best for me.  
Firstly, she says, do you want to look like you are wearing glasses or not?  Mmmmmm, tough one.  
Some glasses were easy to dismiss.  They were uncomfortable or they slipped down my noses, too tight, don't like the colour, just don't like! However there were far too many in the maybe pile. On the second run I was able, with a little assistance, to reduce the pile to a manageable 6 pairs.  One pair I had allowed to be in there was a pair that Elton John might have been proud of!  Bright red frames with black and white side flashes, they did look great but I chickened out.  Maybe just not that confident! Got them down to a pair that felt comfortable and looked ok on.  Then was informed a second mortgage was required to pay for said glasses.  
I will be off to pick them up next week.
Sandra Murdoch

On Monday mornings I stride over tiny pieces of coloured tissue paper that pour down the steps of the Town Hall on my way to work.
Looking closely at the piles of confetti, I can identify horseshoes, hearts, fluffy clouds and stars in a tangled mass. By the time I arrive at my desk I am adrift within the fresh, warm joy falling, like clean sheets, upon the newlyweds. I smile at the luck they feel at finding each other, shade my eyes from the sparkles that fill their eyes as they gaze at one another, flush slightly at the image of their bodies curved together.
As the week goes by the fragments become muddied and torn, scatter in the wind. Those couples; how will time weather their relationship?  Will affection and tenderness be blown away in the breeze caused by repeated irritations and maddening habits?  Do the differing needs of men and women tear at the thin lining of their union? Have the responsibilities of a mortgage, bills and children dulled the gloss of their love?
By Friday there is nothing left, the steps are clear, ready for Saturday.
Diane Scott


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