Cath Barton is an English writer who lives in South Wales. In June 2017 she was awarded the New Welsh Writing AmeriCymru Prize for the Novella, and her novella The Plankton Collector was published by New Welsh Review in September 2018. Her second novella, In the Sweep of the Bay, will be published by Louise Walters Books in November 2020. Cath is also active in the on-line community of writers of flash fiction.
“Come with me and I’ll teach you how to forage for tender roots and juicy berries” said great bear.
“Not now” said little bear as he scampered off through pea green meadow to chase the butterflies that teased his nose.
“Come with me” called great bear to little bear as he lumbered beside the rushing river, “to dip our paws into nests of liquid gold. We will climb the great redwood, scoop out the tender larvae and lick-slurp the sticky honey. Then we’ll tickle the sparkle shimmer of great leaping fish and feast on them till our bellies are full for winter”.
“I’m too busy” replied little bear as he roly-polyed in the pink tipped grass.
“Come with me” said great bear to little bear “and I’ll guide you through the forests of dark slumber. We‘ll build a den together under tall trees and rest our heads on pillows of rich red leaves through the cold dank winter.”
“Can we do it later?” asked little bear balancing on a rolling log, “there’s plenty of time.”
The cold dank came and turned to ice. Little bear no longer scampered in sun dipped meadow or rolled in the green. His belly rumbled and his nose froze. The expansive smiling land became a long thin frown and big bear gentle was big bear mean. There was no shelter; no belly full of berries and fish; no store of roots. Little bear turned his face to great bear. They walked the expanse of frozen waste till the memory of lazy days were little more than sparkles in the ice prints left behind them.
As they trudged, the ground seemed to fall away from beneath their weary paws. Compelled by the shine of a beaming moon they lifted their gaze and their feet over hedges, treetops and no-way-back-clouds. Finally, bathed in silver, they stepped by lumbering, climbing step right up to the very roof of the world. Little bear turned to look down at the learners, the lazers and the daydream gazers in the glorious Conservatory of Knowledge below. He saw the infinite richness of that blue and green world, and he knew then how much he’d left behind. He curled in towards great bear and they rested. No urgency, no distractions; just ursa forever, shining in the twinkle sparkling of night-sky-always.
Isobel is a writing newbie. She’s had words fizzing around inside her head for a long time but never found the courage to given them page space, until now. Currently on an MA Creative Writing, she’s storming up the steepest learning curve, sometimes falling off, sometimes clinging on with gritted teeth, but always enjoying the challenge.
It’s not easy being a masterpiece you know. It’s quite lonely in fact. I haven’t had a friend for centuries. I get lots of visitors, but no one actually talks to me. They talk about me; they take photos of me; sometimes they even sketch me. But no one asks how I am; no one asks if I’m tired of standing; no one asks if I’m cold. You try spending five hundred years with not a shred of clothing on and tell me your feet haven’t turned to ice. The other extremities get a lot of attention but no one cares about my toes.
When I was outside, I was even colder, but at least I had the stars for company. The heavens soothed me through the nights. For almost a hundred and fifty years now I’ve been in solitary confinement. The glass dome above teases me with sunlight during the day until it sneaks away, leaving me in the dark halls, surrounded by only fragments of life. I’m a prisoner in the galleria of loneliness. Encased in the conservatory of control. Spending my days underneath a microscope from the skies. Look as they might, the stars will see no life here. Once we could exist together but now they just look on as I age under the fluorescent glow of preservation.
They think they’re doing the best for me by keeping me from harm. But they don’t realise that harm gets you wherever you are. Wherever I am.
I can feel them. All the eyes looking at me. All the vibrations of the feet as they walk past. Their mere presence is breaking me. I was destined to fight giants, yet here in my cage I’m being eroded by a million footsteps of those who adore me.
I’m the one they’ve come to see. I stand above them in all my glory. I never have to fish for compliments; they spill out of the mouths as they gaze upon my beauty. I’ve been called a masterpiece more than I can recall. But all I really want to be is free.
Lonely is the life locked away from the world.
The time has come for action. I’ll show them all I’m not just a hunk of marble. It’s dark; only the stars above sprinkle soft light into my prison. The last footsteps shuffled past hours ago. Now is my time.
My marble groans as I flex. Muscles tense. Bones ache. Knees bend in anticipation. The desire for escape takes over. In a giant leap I spring towards the heavens. I pull myself up through the opening onto the roof. The city slumbers below and the constellations chatter above. My old friends the stars dare me to think bigger.
Sitting atop the galleria that held me captive for so long, I ponder my next steps. I may have been carved by a man but that doesn’t bind me in servitude. Despite my history and my labels, I belong to no man.
Katie Isham is a writer, teacher, drummer and mild adventurer who believes kindness is a superpower. She writes a travel blog that is currently somewhat static. You will mostly find her hanging out with dogs or eating cake. Sometimes simultaneously. .www.vintagegnome.blogspot.co.uk @k_isham
I met him at Kemi’s tiny airport. I could tell straight away that he hadn’t wanted to come. His mom might even have bribed him to get on the plane.
When he was young I’d got him an Orvis junior rod and we’d gone fishing in the creek. He got a bite and dropped the rod in panic, and it had taken both of us to rescue it. He had that same desperate look now.
On the road he stared blankly out of the window. Lapland’s relentless snow fields and frozen trees didn’t impress him. He glanced at me and shifted away fast when I caught his eye. Not just the landscape that was iced over. I turned the truck’s heater up and he unclenched half an inch. I hoped it was just shyness, I too had been gawky at thirteen. And we’d not seen each other for almost nine months.
At the cabin I showed him where to stow his gear, before talking him through the stove and gas boiler. I joked that as long as he didn’t blow us to kingdom come or burn us down, it’d all be fine. He shrugged, finishing the hot chocolate his mom had reminded me was his favourite. I’d have remembered on my own, but it was nice she’d told me.
He’d kept fiddling with his Nintendo console and seemed surprised when I showed him the DS I used when the internet glitched. It wasn’t a total Jack London existence. While the cabin’s furnishings were sparse, there were crammed bookshelves and an old fishing rod on a couple of hooks above the door. He took the book I offered him and relaxed a little further.
That night I heard sighing, but when I whispered a question he didn’t answer, feigning sleep. Fair enough. Some things have to be re-earned. He’d seen my moving as a personal betrayal, even if his mom was the one who’d originally left me. Even though I wasn’t actually his biological father. I was the most consistent thing he’d known. Until I wasn’t. He hadn’t been able to reconcile himself to my going somewhere so far away.
In the morning, when he looked outside, there were icicles twice his size hanging off the conservatory roof. I asked if he wanted to help at the reserve for the day. He shrugged. Not reluctant, exactly, but desperate to be persuaded. I remembered obscuring my own adolescent need to be wanted with feigned indifference.
I told him we could go fishing after I’d finished my rounds. Cut holes in the ice. Hang out. Maybe bring back some fish for supper. I could see him considering, still wanting more from me. Needing it. I nodded towards the front door, it was his Orvis hanging above it. He followed my eyes and recognised his old rod. He frowned at the otherwise spartan interior.
His pinched look cleared, and, smiling like the sun on ice, he crossed the room and hugged me.
E E Rhodes is an archaeologist who lives in part of a small castle in Worcestershire. She writes flash, short stories and prose poetry to make sense of it all. She’s currently finishing a flash novella set in South Wales.
The silence between us bites harder than the local white wine on my tastebuds. I’m drinking far too quickly, not knowing what else to do with my hands. Joe shifts in his chair for the third time in less than a minute and looks out at the serenity of Lake Bled, a stunning vista that is, frankly, wasted on us tonight. The powdered sugar dusting on the mountains can’t sweeten the unpalatable truth: we have absolutely nothing to say to one another.
Joe pats his pocket; we’d promised to go without phones tonight. He retracts his hand quickly when he sees me looking, reaching for the bottle instead. The rattle from the ice bucket earns him some sharp side-eye from the hovering waitress for topping me up before she’d had chance to.
Before, we’d have shared a conspiratorial smile at that, back when we were a team; us against the world. Now, strangers within our own marriage, we’ve become the cliched sitting silently in restaurant types that we used to laugh at and vow to never become.
“What are you having?” Joe asks eventually.
“The fish platter.” I point at it on the menu.
“That’s for two people.”
Joe pauses. “I don’t mind sharing the platter.”
“Do you even want fish?” I look at him, thinking don’t do me any favours. He half nods, half shrugs and we revert to silence.
We’d vowed to try and reconnect after the incident, using the conservatory savings to take a break somewhere peaceful. So far, Slovenia has been even more picturesque than I expected but the wonder of our surroundings only magnifies the distance between us.
“The hotel is charming,” I offer, seeing Joe fidget yet again.
He nods. “It really is.”
He opens his mouth to say something, then shuts it again.
When we’d checked into our cosy room in the eaves of the hotel, I’d felt the urge to jump up onto the bed and see the view from our tiny window in the sloping roof but I’d felt silly; I’m not myself with him anymore. It’s as if we have forgotten how to show any joy or spontaneity in front of one another. We’re on our best behaviour, polite and distant.
I see Joe pat his pocket again and I sigh. “Just get your phone out, for God’s sake.”
His forehead creases. “What do you mean by that?”
“You clearly want to check your phone and you might as well.” I take another stinging swig of chilled wine. “It’s not like anything fun is happening here.”
He hesitates. “This isn’t… it’s not about her,” he says, avoiding my eyes. “I told you I wouldn’t contact her again.”
I freeze, inhaling sharply. “Don’t. Mention. Her.”
The waitress approaches and we order the fish platter for two. “Good choice,” she smiles, making a show of topping up the wine again.
Silence returns as she departs. Joe takes out his phone and I reach for my glass.
Emma Robertson is an inclusive dance tutor and writer from London, UK. Her first fiction pieces were published in late 2020 in the Pure Slush anthology Wrong Way Go Back and in Eastern Iowa Review’s Water issue. She has previously written articles connected with her teaching work for dance industry publications. She can be found on Twitter as @emmadancetrain