Three examples of flash fiction

Karen Jones


Number 1

Smoke Signals

I’m not supposed to climb up here. I’ve been told before. I’ve been told about balance, about making rash decisions, about not listening. I’ve been told lots of times about not listening. There’s a lesson there. Of course, there are lessons everywhere.

Life’s lessons. Those are the ones I can’t learn. I can learn maths and French and how to drive and all those things that have logic and rules. Life does have rules, they tell me. But the rules are obscure, I respond, and everyone seems to be living by different rules – it’s too confusing. Just live by our rules, they say, the ones we give you. And I smile and promise I will, but I know there’s no point because their rules only work in here and I’m not always in here. Sometimes I’m out there and today I’m up here, studying the chimneys.

I spend my life looking up. I bang into things and people, but it’s worth it to see the beautiful chimneys; those funnels, those conduits for clearing away the bad, for sending up smoke signals, for painting the sky with wisps and puffs.

I’ve never ventured out this far onto the roof before. This chimney looked better from far away, but I wanted to run my hands over the roughcast. I’ve always wondered if it would be hot to touch. I had to know.

The roof tiles are slipping under my feet and I can feel myself being dragged down. I know the guttering won’t be able to stop me and I know it couldn’t take my weight even if I did decide to try to grab on to it as I slide, face down, points of shoes scuffing, hands scrabbling for grip.

And so I will fall. The ground will rush towards me as I rush towards it and there’s nothing anyone can do about that. It’ll be chaos. No rules. Just me, fast air, hard ground, bones breaking, hot blood pouring, feet running, heads bowing, tears falling.

If she had just followed the rules, they’ll say. If she had listened, just this once, about this important thing, she’d still be here.

But now I know chimneys don’t feel hot on the outside, so I’m okay about the falling and surely dying. I have my answer. I’m always content when I have answers.

As I finally go over the edge of the roof and flip onto my back, I wonder if that was a working chimney I examined. Didn’t the janitor tell me one day? Which ones are working, which not?

I’m falling, dying and it turns out I don’t know the true answer to my question after all. As the last few feet of fall dash on, I realise I could just have asked someone. Probably wouldn’t have listened to the answer though. No matter. At least I’m falling with my back to the ground, still looking up, still looking for smoke signals I’ll never understand.

©Karen Jones First published by HISSAC 2016

Number 2


Mrs Mclean disappeared when I was the only one watching.

At first she just got smaller and smaller. Never a tall woman to begin with, her clothes hung on her, as though borrowed from an older, big-boned sister. Even her head looked shrunken, hair too full and candy-floss fluffy for the skull it adorned. I remember trying to tell people.

“Dad, Mrs McLean is tiny.”

“Wheesht, Siobhan, I’m listening to the radio.” He didn’t even look at me when he spoke.

“Mum, Mrs McLean is teeny, tiny, toaty now.”

“Away back to reading your book, Siobhan, I’m busy with the cooking.” She didn’t even take her eyes off the dough she was kneading on the board.

“I’ve finished my book. But Mrs McLean, she’s…”

“You’ve finished another book? Jesus, that librarian must be sick looking at the pair of us. Well go and play then, but leave poor Mrs Mclean alone, do you hear? She’s had enough to deal with.”

And so she had. I’d heard them talk about all the things she’d lost: her son in a war somewhere far away that Dad said wasn’t even our fight; her daughter to a sickness they only ever called the big C; her husband to one of the special hospitals – there were three surrounding our group of villages, so I always thought she’d find him one day if she just looked in the right one – and her sisters and brothers to the four corners of the world. I knew the world was round, but never argued when I ear-wigged on the adults. Then we were all losing Mrs McLean but no one would listen.

One morning I stood at my bedroom window and watched her walk down her garden path. With every step she shrivelled until her clothes dragged along, her head lost inside her cardigan, just the fuzzy hair sticking out of the hole. Then the wind rose and her hair scattered across the grass, like dandelion fluff when I blew it to tell the time, and her shoes stopped walking as her skirt and top crumpled onto them.

Mrs McLean disappeared because I was the only one watching.

© Karen Jones First published Flash 500, 2013 and in Words With Jam, 2014.

Number 3

The Beachcomber’s Daughter

My eyes sift sand, shingle and silt for signs of her.

Sometimes I see her on the carousel, hair flying out behind her, a candyfloss held tightly in one hand, the reins of her horse clutched in the other, her face serious, as though she’s really in control.

Or I see her paddle in the sea, dress tucked into her knickers, socks and sandals abandoned to their fate, jumping in mock surprise as cold water ripples over bare feet.

If I hold a shell to my ear I hear her skip, dance, sing a soft siren song of selling sea shells on a shore I’ve never seen.

I feel her tugging at my hand and my heart, begging me to build castles we both know won’t stay any longer than she did.

Too early, too small, too ethereal.

I look out to sea, then back to the carousel. Will she come to me by water or revolution? Will she have seaweed between her toes or candy floss in her hair? Will she find me, or leave footprints in the sand for me to follow?

I’ll wait, watch, catch, hold onto her, and this time I’ll never let go.

©Karen Jones. First published Reflex Fiction 2018