Read Anne's story on Fictive Dream to avoid spoilers: 'Baggage.'
Anne’s story is the sixth story in Fictive Dream’s Flash Fiction February 2019: a sequence of twenty eight flash fiction stories released one per day. Fictive Dream, along with the artist, Claudia McGill, have gone to great lengths in helping promote flash fiction and great story-telling. (Make sure you take a look here.)
‘Baggage,’ had an immediate effect on me, and has stayed with me since. A woman takes her bird (possibly a peacock), perched on her shoulder, with her everywhere she goes. When she tries to take ‘Percy’ on board an aeroplane, she is denied entrance and has to take a coach instead.
Anne does an excellent job at making us see Percy in the story’s opening: ‘Such shades of blue and green, shot through with the warmest black. And tipped with what, in certain lights, looks like pure gold.’ From this moment on, the reader has a distinct image of the bird.
The story then moves cleverly, exploring the relationship between not wanting to be seen, at the same time as wanting to be free to choose how to behave. The narrator sees the bird as both ‘an invisibility cloak,’ but at other times is aware of how Percy, ‘draws people to [her].’ This gives the story the extra layer of meaning you find in good flash fiction. I'm sure this is a leap of my own making, but I can't help see this as a comment on the process of writing itself. In the first instance, writers find themselves alone with their writing, only to then send it out into the world to find readers. Here, there is a real tension between introversion and extroversion that I find interesting.
The conversation between the narrator and the ground crew is brilliantly done. When the narrator insists Percy be allowed on board, the response is a simple, but very effective: ‘He’s a bird, Madam.’
Then, the ending of the story is perfect. The simplicity of the final sentence when I first read it made me feel both warm and sad, and continues to do so: ‘Percy watches the landscape flash by and dreams of some day soaring freely above it, without a care in the world.’ Without making it too explicit, Anne draws a thread between Percy and the narrator, alluding to the relationship between introversion and extroversion setup earlier in the story.
'Baggage,' is a clever, warming piece of flash fiction that will stay with me for some time.
Note to self: When done well, a story that appears simple on the surface can allude to complexity beneath.
If you enjoy these Favourite Shorts blog posts, please sign up to my mailing list for reminders of future posts, short fiction news, and updates on my own published stories.
Click on this to sign up to mailing list.
Read Mary's story, 'Ladybird,' on 'Spelk,' to avoid spoilers.
Some flash fiction pieces are all about mood. Mary’s story, ‘Ladybird,’ offers up a taste of a dreamy, hazy mood in the very first line: ‘Let’s say it’s one of those rarer than rare days when the sun beams white out of a buttery sky.’ The sun ‘beams,’ and the sky is ‘buttery.’ Wonderful. I’m there.
This warm tone is expanded in the next line with reference to a ‘beach where you sunbathe and burn.’ Not only does the story give us a clear sense of where we are, but the mood is filtered through nostalgia and the clever technique of repeating the phrase: ‘Let’s say.' For me, it’s as though, with each sentence, more of the painting is filled in.
I love that Mary chose the title she did, because this is the image that stays with me: ‘Let’s say you spot a ladybird with two perfectly round dots inching its way slowly up the window and watch as he traces a line down the window onto your toes and up your thighs.’ This is a powerful, delicate, and sensual image. It is one of those moments, in its rarity, that would stay with you for a long time. There is something positive and life affirming about pausing and focussing on this moment.
The scene shifts part way through to ‘the Union Bar.’ And if there is a sensation of light in the first part of the story, now there is a darker tone: ‘dark, beery,’ ‘snakebite and black,’ ‘purple stuff,’ finally culminating in the wonderful simile where both light and dark are brought together: ‘and the white sun streams through and the drinks glow crimson like a beautiful wound.’
So often when writing flash, I look for the big moment, or the pivotal and life changing event. But sometimes, as Mary shows, creating mood can be equally as effective.
'Ladybird,' is a delicate and quiet painting of a flash fiction.
Note to self: Take the time to be deliberate with tone and mood.