The Bystander

Tag: flash fiction


“I’m going to tell you how we’re going to make everything better”

Said the woman with the wide mouth like a whale shark.

Margaret thought for a moment that she saw a cockroach crawling in between the rubbery lips and the teeth of the whale-shark woman, but when she squinted and leaned forward it disappeared. Probably a trick of the light, she thought.  The fire cast shadows in the room, which refracted and bent the edges of people and objects, so that nothing ever really kept still.

The wide-mouthed woman was still talking, and Margaret wrapped her hands around her cup of tea, trying to concentrate.


Great Britain [repurposed]

Don’t listen to the pig farmers, whatever you do. They look trustworthy, with their jolly cheeks, tousled, sun bleached waves. But they cannot be trusted. Do you even know about the farmers, what they do, what they are? You think there’s something noble in pig farming, something rustic and true. You like those russet-hued Jamie Oliver photographs, where his fat face and tiny, glinting eyes preside in the long-angled evening sunshine over slabs of rare breed pig meat. You like his farmer friends, those portly men in their wax and tweed, who merrily coax the foetus-pigs into existence, massaging their little jowls and haunches into succulent maturity. But you are in such peril. You cannot trust those affable, dangerous pig farmers. They turn from the camera, licking their lips, and they wink to one another across golden fields. They make for home through the dusky farmyard, rubbing their chubby hands together as rivers of undulating pork fat ooze their way across the country, soft, silent fingers extending over vale and furrow until they reach the city, tightening their grasp.

Originally published here on 30th September 2014

Thursday [repurposed]

She left work and she just kept on walking. She walked straight past her house, and straight down to the edge of town, close to the shops. And she did this sometimes, went straight to the shops after work, but this time she walked right past and carried on towards the edge of town. Her mobile phone juggled in her pocket and she took it out, stopped for a moment. ahead she saw a drain and made towards it with the phone which she then slotted neatly between the bars of the drain cover. It thunked into the water below, and she carried on along the tow path which leads out of town, where the skeletons of shopping trollies poke out of the river bank, and where moth-eaten, half stuffed ponies gaze fixed and mute.  And she realised that she still had her laptop, so she took this out (still walking) and flung it in, with one smooth motion, where is sloshed into the canal.

Her bag was lighter now. An arm ached, a small pulsating in the muscle. But she carried on, deciding that the bag too could go, because what did she really need that for? And then she stopped. And she thought. And she considered what she really needed. And she crouched down beneath the railway bridge, squatting on her ankles.  It was dark now, and small animals were coming out in the gloom, snuffling near to her feet. But she kept very still, and thought hard about what she really needed. And she stayed there in the dark, until she’d thought of what she was going to need. And then, it was morning, and the grey-blue dawn sidled in. And slowly she got up, and opened up her bag, and she took out her laptop charger, and her phone charger and her wallet and her mascara and her lipstick and her car keys and her notepad and her tampons and she threw them all into the canal.  But she kept hold of her debit card, and after everything except the card had been hurled into the canal she took off her shoes and flung those in too.

And her feet kissed the damp, sandy path. She strode slightly and quickly like a fox, towards the end of the path, where it re-joined the main road. And out across the ground fog, she could see the lights of the train station. And she breathed in, deep into her lungs. And she breathed in all of the mist, all of the fog, until it was a clear morning. Grey and clear.

There was a cash point at the station. So she took her debit card and she withdrew the maximum amount of cash. And then, stuffing this into her jacket pocket, she made for the ticket machine, bought a ticket and boarded the next train. The train joggled and shuddered on the tracks, shifting impatiently on its feet – to and fro. And then it juddered into life, and the landscape smudged and stretched into a long smooth blur. And when the train had gathered enough speed, she opened up the window, and she threw out the debit card.

Originally published here on 23rd September 2014

Guests [repurposed]

In the lights outside the bar she looked softer, prettier.  In broad daylight she had an anaemic complexion and hard angular features, but outside in the metallic evening air, under those lights, she looked different. Softer somehow. She would grab your hand and run with you. Head back, laughing.  You tasted blood in your mouth when she kissed you.

Somehow, she moved in, to the paint-clean box whose carpets you’d wallowed in on that first day.  Whose balcony smiled down on the gleaming river. But you didn’t mind so much.  She would lounge on the balcony smoking long thin cigarettes, her hair catching the evening sun. And she’d laugh at your jokes.  And she had nowhere else to go, she said.

At parties, she’d pose in the corner like an angle-poise lamp. Never properly listening.  This began to irritate you, and you started dropping hints that maybe she should think about moving out, and maybe you both should think about moving on.  She’d say nothing. Squared-jawed and smiling.

One day you return from work to find her sitting, wrapped in a blanket, on the sofa.  She has her back to you; silvery hair curtains her face.  As you walk over you realise that she is holding something in her arms, cradling it.  You peer over her shoulder, and she smiles up at you, her pallid face flushed, her eyes dancing.  The bundle in her arms stirs, and in a dark, plummeting moment you realise that she holds a living thing.  Someone else is here.  To your horror, she beckons for you to sit next to her on the couch.  She looks different somehow; the pointy features seem to have rounded, softened.  This is no longer a trick of the light.  She rocks her bundle to and fro, murmuring and cooing – softly and privately.

She tucks the blanket tightly around it in preparation.  You still cannot see its face. Your skin creeps and crawls.  In a dulcet voice, like waves kissing the moonlit shore, she invites you to hold out your arms.  Your arms are made of lead, and are bound, by ropes, to your sides.  She asks again, more softly, coaxing your limbs upwards.

Originally published on 25th August 2014 here

Bees [repurposed]

In the garden there was a swarm of honeybees. You went out into the garden to look and see if you could count them all there in the bushes but you got bored and came inside and played on the x-box instead.

Later on when we were eating dinner, you said “I definitely saw the queen”.  I don’t believe you, the swarm will always hide the queen.

Originally published on 2nd August 2012 here