Honesty on Flash Fiction Magazine

cocktails

Photo by FlemingsMayfair (Flickr)

featured

It’s been a long time between drinksposts… Various commitments including work, study, and writing what I hope will be my first novel have precluded me from coming up with a worthwhile blog post. However, my short story “Honesty” — which was originally written for #FridayFlash and appeared in my eBook They Don’t Talk About It — has been published at Flash Fiction Magazine.

Here is a brief extract:

“Why are guys such jerks?!” The young woman smacked her palm on the counter with a thunderous thwack.

Behind the bar, Evan spun around, startled and amused. “Can I get you anything?”

Read the rest of “Honesty” at Flash Fiction Magazine.

It’s been a while since I wrote this, but I do remember being quite proud of writing a bar story as a non-drinker. “Honesty” was partly inspired by a conversation I had with a bartender about two years before I wrote it, as well as a few things my naive, romantically-challenged self had begun to observe at the time of writing.

journaling

My journal, my best friend

journaling

Journaling – Photo by Julie Jordan Scott

My journal is my best friend.

It’s probably a bit sad to admit that your BFF is an inanimate object, but hey, welcome to the solitary life of a writer.

I recently read this article on Lifehacker, Why You Should Keep a Journal (and How to Start Yours). I’ve been journaling on and off for more than 10 years, and keeping a regular journal for two years and counting, but this article reminded me of why I do it. For example:

  • It’s good for your emotional well-being and mental health. Few people have someone they can spew all their thoughts and feelings to at all hours of the day and night. A journal can be invaluable in times of pain and confusion. Sometimes writing everything down helps you find some peace or figure out what to do in a situation.
  • It helps you brainstorm and develop ideas. For me, this applies mainly to my attempts at writing fiction or poetry, but for you it could be about your job, a DIY project, or anything you happen to be doing.
  • It acts as a memory trigger and learning experience. If you record how you feel, what you observe, and events that occur while they’re fresh in your mind, you can revisit your journal at a later date. You can notice patterns that weren’t apparent at the time, or reflect on changes.

I spend a lot of time at a computer for work and play, and as a child of the digital age, I can’t remember ever being without access to a computer in my home. But I do often find it cathartic putting pen to paper, so my journals are handwritten in the scrawling, bastardised version of Victorian Modern Cursive that I’ve developed over the years. You can buy specific journal notebooks, with Moleskine and Rhodia carrying a certain romanticism for writers. Perhaps even couple it with a quill or fountain pen if you want to feel like your favourite legendary author.

I personally just use Spirax A6 hard cover spiral notebooks and a ballpoint pen, which I like to clip into the spiral binding so I’m not scrambling around for something to write with. Plus they’re a good size for my handbag, they don’t get dog-eared and damaged too easily, and you don’t need a desk to lean on to write in them.

notebook

My journal – Photo by Lee-Ann Khoh

Other people may, of course, find their smartphones or tablets far more useful for journaling. These days it appears more socially acceptable to be doing something on a mobile device than it is to simply take out a notebook and start writing while you’re in the company of others. People who know me well understand now, I hope, that I’m not deliberately being antisocial when I suddenly start journaling while I’m sitting in a cafe, bar, park, on a train, or at the dinner table… I’m just trying to capture the moment or record a sudden thought the way a photographer or sketch artist might.

Nevertheless, I did include this dedication in my poetry chapbook Words I’ll Never Say, just in case:

This chapbook is dedicated to the amazing friends who let me scribble away in my notebooks at inappropriate times. You know who you are.

Do you keep a journal?

The History of February 14 on Every Day Fiction

The History of February 14

Photo by Alvimann (morgueFile)

My sombre Valentine’s Day short story “The History of February 14” is now up on Every Day Fiction. Here’s a snippet:

It’s February 14 again. Have you been lying awake at night, watching the days tick over like I have? Or did you manage to block it from your thoughts, only to be assaulted today by an overpriced barrage of sickly sweet candy sentiments masquerading as love?

Maybe you’ll receive a card from a secret admirer who’s spent the past year mooning over the quiet ginger-haired boy in the corner, and you’ll smile and feel normal and loved. I hope so, if only to push down the pain for a few moments. But February 14 will always be the day your dad died and your mum was taken away, and there aren’t any greeting cards for that.

Read the rest of “The History of February 14″ at Every Day Fiction.

I’ve been getting EDF delivered to my inbox for quite some time but this is the first flash I’ve actually submitted to them so I’m thrilled they published it, and I’m hopeful of contributing more (and better) work to them in the future. I’m also somewhere between anxious and terrified, as I always am at the thought of people judging me by my writing, even while I crave honest feedback because it’s the only way I’ll improve my craft.

Words I'll Never Say

Words I’ll Never Say: Reflecting on 2013

Towards the end of the year, Facebook provides a link on your profile of your “Year in Review” – what is deemed to be your 20 biggest moments of the year. As I looked at my 2013 according to the world’s most ubiquitous social network, I realised I only post the parts of my life that make it look awesome. Yay for social media bragging.

Not that amazing things haven’t really happened. I ticked “Travel to Europe” and “See Bruce Springsteen live” off my bucket list. I participated in NaNoWriMo and, while I didn’t achieve 50,000 words in November, I wrote more than I ever have in any 30-day period. As a writer, it’s a start. Words I'll Never Say

One of the lows that discoloured part of the year was getting my heart broken by someone who, for me, will always be that unforgettable “first love”. Funnily enough, it happened on the day that my other beloved, Jon Bon Jovi, celebrated his birthday… so let’s just say there were a lot of stars that didn’t shine and words that didn’t rhyme blasting through my headphones that night. ;) I also became a victim of cyberbullying three years after presenting a conference paper on that very topic. One can’t help but laugh at the irony of that.

But life is full of ups and downs (which all serve to help you discover who your true friends are) and writing about it is how I’ve made it this far. 2013 also saw me quietly publish my first poetry chapbook, Words I’ll Never Say on CreateSpace, Amazon and Smashwords. At least it was quiet until my extended family overseas found out about it! I haven’t really marketed my chapbook, partly because I hate self-promotion (I need to get over that) and partly because it was purely done as a labour of love, but it’s a fair reflection of how I currently view the world.

’13 was unlucky for some, lucky for others, and probably somewhere in between for me. I navigated it with the help of several pens, a computer, great music (as well as some terrible music that felt good at the time), and the amazing support network I’ve been blessed to have in my life. 2014 is going to bring a lot of changes, both professionally and personally, and I don’t know if I’m ready for all of it, but life waits for no one. I’m a little worried about jinxing the future by wishing everyone a “Happy New Year” so I’ll just say… Be grateful, be passionate, and remember to love. See you on the other side.

New Year’s Writing Resolution: A completed draft of the novel I started in November by the time NaNoWriMo 2014 starts.

In Their Eyes

Flash fiction: In Their Eyes

In Their Eyes

Photo by Sandra Trajkovska

They say eyes are the window to the soul. I’m not convinced people have “souls” but in your eyes, I find a mix of disgust, embarrassment and curiosity, and that’s all I need to know about you.

Like when I tell you I’ve never been in the kind of relationship you change your Facebook status over, but I do get some extra cash in my purse every time I’m with a guy. (Based on anecdotal evidence, it was probably your guy.) But you see, I’m in control while you’re in tears trying to salvage a lie.

We’re not that different, you and I. All the guys in my life — from the scrawny teenager behind the science block to the careless executive whose wife finally caught him with a roll of hotel receipts last week — have one thing in common. Their eyes. The way they stared at me, consumed with desperate desire.

The first time I saw those eyes, I felt powerful. Intoxicated. I caused that look in his eyes. You’ve probably felt that way too.

Back then I wanted to believe I was special, that it was me they wanted and not just my body. But it never is. I could have been anyone or anything with boobs that happened to catch their attention. A bunch of shapes to be pounded and discarded like a broken toy.

When I first realised the truth, I cried for weeks. Then I ran out of chocolate and Nicholas Sparks film adaptations, and had to leave the house.

On the way to the shops, I saw a woman about my age crying on the phone to her indifferent boyfriend. I saw a man who could be my father, a gold ring on his finger, with one arm around his wife and an eye on the teenage girls sauntering by. And slowly I learned another truth.

I’m not special and neither are you. And if we’re destined to be pounded and discarded like broken toys, we may as well get some new shoes out of the arrangement.

I wouldn’t know how to be someone’s girlfriend. But these days, I’m content with the power I get from their eyes. And their wallets aren’t too bad, either.

Best Friends

Flash fiction: Best Friends

Best Friends

Photo by woodleywonderworks

Isabella asked me today if her mother and I had always been best friends. I almost said yes, but then I remembered. When we were eight years old, Amanda was just some kid in my class, and I made her cry.

Amanda’s grandmother had given her an opal pendant for her birthday, which she proudly presented to the class for Show and Tell. She even let the roomful of sticky fingers pass it around the class, following its progress with a watchful eye. I glared at it when it landed with a clink on my desk.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Opals are bad luck,” I told her.

“No, they’re not!”

“Yes, they are. Dad said.”

Amanda broke into loud wailing sobs that pierced my eardrums. The teacher scurried over, horrified. My face burned and I refused eye contact with her for the next month.

But it’s funny how life works out. It turned out we both loved Star Wars even though little girls were not supposed to, so we decided to go to her house after school to re-enact the lightsaber duel between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader in her backyard. I lost because I was Obi-Wan. I also grazed my knees on the grass when I fell over, but I didn’t cry because Obi-Wan wouldn’t have. Amanda said I was a powerful Jedi and fetched me some band-aids and apple juice in a yellow plastic cup.

“I’m sorry I said opals are bad luck.”

“That’s okay. You’re wrong.”

I didn’t argue.

“Come on, let me show you the mulberries.”

Amanda’s neighbour had a black mulberry tree in their front yard. “Pretty, isn’t it?” She started to pick the fruits off the tree and popped them into her mouth. I shuffled my feet nervously as powerlines hummed overhead. She poked a stained hand towards my face. “Do you like mulberries?” she asked.

“I don’t know. Never had them.”

“Try it.” She held one near my lips.

I shook my head. “What if the owners come home?”

“We’re not doing anything wrong. We’re outside the house so it’s allowed.”

I wasn’t sure about that, but I took the mulberry from her and slipped it into my mouth anyway. The sweetness lingered on my tongue long after the berry had disappeared down my throat. I was about to take another when the grumble of a car engine alerted me to her neighbour in the driveway.

Amanda stared at the car, stared at me, then screamed: “Run!” She grabbed my wrist as we tore past the car and down the road, cackling nervously.

And somehow we’re still running together, albeit a little slower these days. I think somewhere in that story I was supposed to remind Isabella that stealing is wrong, but I guess there is always an exception to the rule.

old graves

Flash fiction: The Ghost of Uncle Bud

I attempted to meet two challenges with this story: Focusing on Touch for the Senseless Challenge and writing about a fourth anniversary for FFDO’s Fourth Anniversary Blog Hop.

Friday Flash 4th anniversary blog hopAlone at last. Exhausted, Rick sank into his sticky leather couch and squeezed his eyes shut, praying that sleep would rescue him for once.

It was four years to the day that Uncle Bud had died of cardiac arrest — Rick stole a glance at the clock — almost to the hour, actually, although his uncle’s heart had stopped much earlier. That was the only way Rick knew how to justify the man’s entire existence.

Rick was about to stretch out on the couch – one day he’d get a bed for this apartment, he promised – when his feet grazed against soft fleece. Rick sat up. It was his mother’s white acrylic jacket draped over the armrest. She must have forgotten it. Despite Rick’s protests, Mum had insisted the family all gather at his place this year to watch their collection of sickeningly happy home movies featuring Uncle Bud. And when his sister started to tease Rick about how he lived in the middle of nowhere and never had a girlfriend, it had taken every ounce of Rick’s willpower not to punch her.

Rick reached over and pulled the jacket towards him. Its woolly texture felt soft and snug against his fingertips.

***

old graves

The Ghost of Uncle Bud – Photo by imagina

Uncle Bud’s hands were rough and clammy. “You’re growin’ up real fast, Ricky,” he said, patting his nephew on the shoulder. “You want me to teach you some grown-up games?”

Ricky nodded.

Uncle Bud placed a callused finger on Ricky’s lips. “Grown-ups have to be good at keeping secrets. Can you keep secrets, Ricky?”

“Yes.”

“Shh. Come with me.”

In the safety of his room, Uncle Bud slowly crept his hands up Ricky’s Hey Arnold! T-shirt.

“What are you doing?” asked Ricky.

“Well, sometimes your Uncle Bud feels sad in here,” Uncle Bud explained, stroking the skin over Ricky’s pounding heart.

Uncle Bud slipped his hands down. Ricky trembled at his touch. “Does that feel good, Ricky?”

“I… I don’t know.”

“It makes me feel good. You want your Uncle Bud to feel better, don’t you?”

Ricky gave a quick nod.

“Good boy…”

***

Rick strangled his mum’s jacket between his fingers as painful sobs shook his body. For the next decade, the mere thought of family gatherings would make him physically sick. He thought Bud’s death would have brought some kind of closure but four years on, his uncle’s crusty paws still haunted him.

A knock at the door pulled him back to the present. He did his best to dry his eyes and nose with his sleeve before opening the door.

“Rick, I left my jack… Rick? Ricky, what’s wrong?”

The dam finally burst. Heaving through years of suppressed tears, Rick choked out an overdue whisper.

“He touched me…”

the taste of water

Flash fiction: The Taste of Water

This story is my late contribution to the Senseless Writing Challenge, where each Friday in May is dedicated to a different sense. I didn’t participate in the first three weeks (Sight, Sound, Smell) but this week’s focus is Taste and I decided to give it a try.

the taste of water

Photo by demondimum


Water wasn’t supposed to taste like anything.

Krista sipped from her glass, closing her eyes as the tepid liquid passed her lips, flowing over her tongue and down her throat, settling uneasily in her stomach.

It tasted thick and dirty.

It tasted wrong.

It tasted like him.

Krista took another slow sip. Jake had used this glass last night. Krista had managed to sneak a bottle of her dad’s cheap Scotch whisky into her bedroom after Jake climbed through the window just after 10pm, crying about how Rachel never wanted to see him again. Jake drank too much for his own good but it was all Krista could offer to make him smile.

Krista drained the water then poured the last of the scotch into the glass, wondering when her father would miss the bottle and if he’d know to blame it on Jake. Her parents had disapproved of the friendship ever since Jake followed her home singing “So Hott” in his best Kid Rock voice back when they were 14. But Krista knew she was all Jake had whenever Rachel decided it was over yet again.

She took a sip of the scotch and winced as the warmth seared down her throat. How did Jake drink this for anything other than corporal punishment? It was like swallowing a spoonful of Vegemite.

Although his tears had mostly dried by the second glass, Jake’s face had tasted salty when Krista planted a soft kiss on his cheek.

“Thanks, Krista,” Jake slurred. “You’re a good friend.”

“That’s me,” Krista replied. Jake flashed her a lopsided grin, squeezed her shoulders and went to the window to light a cigarette. Krista prayed her parents wouldn’t notice; they despised smoking almost as much as they hated Jake. Truth be told, Krista wasn’t a fan of his little habit either but he had bigger issues than that.

As Jake breathed smoke out her window, Krista slipped her phone out from under her pillow. She frowned at the mobile uploads in her Facebook news feed of Rachel clubbing with friends, although it was hardly a surprise anymore. Similar photos popped up every time she broke up with Jake. Krista shook her head and put her phone away, wondering if Rachel had any idea of the power she had. Did she relish it?

“She kills me,” Jake muttered from the window. “I’m done. It’s over.” He doused the cigarette and flicked it outside onto the lawn, before sitting back next to Krista on the bed. “Over,” he repeated. Jake leaned towards Krista and kissed her. He tasted sour on her tongue.

There had been a note on Krista’s desk when she awoke, but with Jake conspicuously absent, she didn’t even need to read it to know where he’d gone.

Krista finished the scotch and went downstairs for more water. It tasted cool and bitter in her mouth.

Flowers

Flash fiction: Flowers

Flowers

Photo by Paul Copeland

Aiden turns four today.

Your little boy is growing up so fast. It fills me with a cocktail of pride and terror. Am I doing this right? Am I a bad mother? Who will teach him how to be a man?

Soon he’ll be at school and I’ll be helpless to shield him from the battles of the playground, from the afternoon he comes home crying because the class had to make Father’s Day cards and he has no words to put inside and no one to give it to.

Or maybe those are just my tears I’m imagining.

Believe it or not, the roses and azaleas you planted two weeks before you left are still there. I was never the one with the green thumb but I feel you watching over us when I tend those flowers, keeping us safe like you did all your life. Sometimes I pick a few to brighten up our existence. But as always, it’s bittersweet.

I can’t cry, not today. I have to be strong for Aiden. I have to get his cake and presents ready and perfect. We’ll put on some music and play some games and he’ll dazzle me with that cheeky smile that reminds me of you. I know he should be having a party with everyone from kindergarten instead of being cooped up in this house all day but I’m not ready to let him go.

And I just pray he’ll be okay without you. I pray he’ll be okay in spite of me.

“Mummy?” Aiden peers up at me with wide, anxious blue eyes, and my throat tightens, wondering what I’ve managed to mess up today of all days. “Mummy, I made you a picture.”

He holds up his creation and I inspect the swirling landscape of crayon colours put together in a way that only our little artist can.

“It’s flowers,” he explains. “I seen you pick the flowers from outside and then put them in water and then they die and you get sad. But when I make pictures you put them on the fridge and you look happy again. I want the flowers to make you happy.”

I burst into tears; I can’t help it. Aiden’s lip starts to shake. “Are you sad, Mummy?”

“No, no,” I assure him with a kiss and a hug. “I’m just so proud of you.”

He bunches his face up, looking slightly confused but ends up in a smile anyway. I scoop him up into my arms and carry him to the fridge, where his flowers take centre stage.

“Happy birthday, Aiden,” I whisper in his ear, ruffling his golden hair just like you used to. His toothy grin warms my heart.

“What we doing today, Mummy?” he asks.

“Whatever you want, darling.”

He puckers his mouth, deliberating, then says: “Tell me about Daddy?”

My heart sinks. I want to tell him no, you’re not ready, but that’s not fair to him when I’m the one who isn’t ready. I take Aiden outside and sit him down on the lawn by the flowerbed, stroking his hand. With a deep breath I begin: “Daddy loved you very much.”

“The other kids said Daddy wanted to die. They said he made himself die.”

My throat clenches as I fight the urge to kick down the other kids’ doors, shake their innocent little bodies for saying things like that to my boy and smack their parents for gossiping about you when it’s my job to talk to Aiden.

“Daddy was sick,” I say, struggling to keep my voice steady.

“Did you put him in bed and read him a story?”

Tears slip from my eyes. “Daddy wasn’t that kind of sick, Aiden. He was the kind of sick you can’t see just by looking at someone. He had a sickness in his brain that made him very sad and mixed up until he couldn’t think of any way to feel better.”

The guilt seeps into my gut. Could I have done something? Tell me. Give me a sign other than that note on the pillow. Would Aiden have his father today if I’d been different?

Aiden frowns in thought, then with fearful blue eyes, asks me: “When you get sad, are you that kind of sick too?”

I think of the cold mornings waking up next to an empty space, wondering how I’m going to pull myself together for another day. Then I remember our son, and what will happen to him if I can’t. “I’m just sad because I miss Daddy a lot.”

“Me too.” Aiden crawls into my lap and wraps his little arms around my waist. “I love you.”

“I love you too, Aiden.”

“Don’t be sad, Mummy. It’s my birthday. We get cake and presents on my birthday, right?”

A short laugh trickles from my mouth in spite of myself. I gaze into Aiden’s eyes that hold our hopes and dreams and fears about the future. But right now, our little man is four years old and deserves to celebrate.

“Yes, we do. Let’s go cut some cake now.”

Chasing Summer

Lyrics: Chasing Summer

Chasing Summer

Photo by angy (morgueFile)


Do you remember Summer?
It was like a scene from Grease
Singing cheesy songs together
On that sandy beach
The days went on forever
We swore they would never end
But clouds are breaking
The seasons changing
Reality sets in

I see you down on the sand
With a board in your hand
Chasing Summer
But I want to be in a rock ‘n’ roll band
No back up plans
Just chasing Summer

Days went on forever
We swore they would never end
I recall that childlike wonder
And it drives me around the bend
Time slips through your fingers
Mother calls you to come on home
Then tides of star-crossed lovers
Turn to face the world alone

I saw you down on the sand
With a board in your hand
Chasing Summer
I wanted to be in a rock ‘n’ roll band
But Mother had other plans
When we chased Summer

You can do anything
Be anyone, they say
Until you hit some magic age
and they take it all away.