Luckily, I was sitting down when Aunt Jane wandered over to me, pushing her way through the crowds of relatives chattering merrily in the airy, sun-filled hall, and plumping herself down on the flower swagged seat next to me.
‘And when is it your turn?’ She stares at my stomach, its resolute flatness is a slap in the face for my family, who breed so freely that it would shame your average rabbit.
‘We’re not sure we want kids yet.’ I always say this. It’s easier.
‘Well, you don’t have long now dear, you’re not getting any younger.’
The joker held the olive under one arm and fired the starting pistol. I ran as fast as I could, but was overtaken by a purple zebra.
‘What are you doing?’ I asked it, panting.
‘I’m running away,’ the zebra said.
The olive had been set free now and was running behind us, catching up quickly.
‘Run faster,’ the zebra said. It sounded like Patrick Stewart.
The field slowly turned into a road, which sucked me into it like glue. The harder I tried to run, the more resistance there was, until I was dragging myself along by my fingernails.
My mother painted our house to resemble an enchanted wood. The sitting room had a stream which wound its way around behind the fireplace, burbling merrily to itself. There was a small bridge behind the TV cupboard, and the sofas appeared to be set in a sun-dappled glade. The kitchen had distant mountains, snow-capped even in summer, and swaying grass which we could almost hear rustle in the warm breeze as we ate dinner. …
‘Oh my god Mark!’ Ollie was gazing at the over-engineered headphones in wonder. ‘How on earth did you know I wanted these exact ones?’
In the subtly lit bar, filled with expensive people clinking understated glasses of wine, his amazement made him look like a child again.
Mark smiled and calmly lied that Ollie had mentioned it a few weeks ago — the truth made people uncomfortable. Mark didn’t see the problem, it’s not like he’d stolen the information, and besides, this new ability to be liked by his peers made up for the years of bullying he’d suffered.
‘I don’t have to explain myself to you!’ Defensive is not the best start, but here we are. My fingers are sticking to the table — which I clearly haven’t cleaned recently enough — ruining my attempts to drum them irritably. How is Andy meant to know that I’m irritable if he can’t appreciate my drumming fingers?
‘I’m not asking you to explain yourself.’ Andy is using his reasonable voice, the one I hate. ‘I’m simply asking why there’s washing powder all over the floor.’
‘Oh shit, I forgot about that.’
‘Haven’t you been paying attention? …
I know that Edward died in this room, I found the press cuttings when I was looking up the history of the house. Brewer’s Son Dies From Mystery Illness was the headline, above a fuzzy photo of an earnest-looking young man with a high collar.
It was back in 1911 that he had keeled over with a fever. His baby sister — Evelyn, the only other surviving child — was not allowed to see him in case she caught it too. …
We’re sat on the beach, the late afternoon sun beating down, and chatting about Deni’s new job when we hear the row start. It’s odd how angry voices cut through everything, there’s something in that level of rage that makes it unignorable.
Before then, the surf had been filling our ears — that solid roar which swells and fades slightly on the wind, but never stops for a second, day or night. There’s the odd squawk from the seagulls wheeling in the thermals above, and our hands are trailing through the hot sand, letting it run through our fingers as…
I have my own personal ghost. It’s not tied to a place like a normal ghost, it’s tied to me. I feel it behind me, breathing in my ear, ruining dates and job interviews by distracting me with inappropriate comments and rude laughter.
I thought it was normal when I was young. How would I know differently after all? I made the mistake of talking about it at school and soon learnt the hard way. Crazy Ada. That’s me. Crazy Ada no mates. …
Every day I wake up and the box I’m in is a little smaller. The boundaries of my world shrink around me, cramping in on every side, clenching my arms to my side and my knees up to my chin, but it’s still not enough.
I curl myself inwards a little bit more, trying to take off another corner, another sticking-out ear, or unfortunate elbow, but nothing works. The box just gets smaller to fit me and I still take up too much room.
The telly is on when I get in from my walk with Jane. Ollie and Luna…
Editor of The Crystal Palace, top writer in Short Story and Fiction