New Year’s Wishes: a story for our times

It took me a bit of fumbling to get the locker door open; I never can see well without my specs. But I seemed to have got the wrong locker. No clothes, and something else in there. Something yellow. Something squeaking.

‘What the–?’

More squeaking. High-pitched. ‘I’m your fairy duckling.’

I stepped back, rubbed my eyes. ‘Okay, so I suppose I get three wishes.’

‘Correct. Three wishes for the New Year. How did you guess?’

‘Cut the wisecracks. Where are my bloody clothes?’

‘Your wish is granted. Look on the bench.’

I whirled round, holding onto my towel as a girl walked past me. ‘Nice duckling,’ she said. I scowled at her. On the bench was a pile of clothes, covered in dried blood.

The duckling had jumped down from the locker and waddled across the changing room.

‘Okay, Mr Cute,’ I said. ‘I don’t know how you’re doing this, or who’s behind it, but it’s not funny. I need decent, dry clothes.’

‘Your wish is my command,’ squeaked the creature. It waved a little wand with one of its wings.

Now there was another pile of clothes on the bench.

‘These are women’s clothes,’ I said, picking up a pink skirt.

‘Yes, and they’re mine,’ said the girl who’d walked past before. ‘Get your hands off them. Why are you talking to yourself, anyway?’

‘I, I–’ I stuttered. ‘I’m not talking to myself,’ I said, firmly now. ‘I’m talking to the duckling. Where’s it gone? You saw it.’

‘Why don’t you sit down,’ she said, patting my hand. ‘I could fetch you a glass of water.’

‘Now you get off. And I don’t want to sit down.’ I was beginning to feel hysterical. ‘I want to get out of here.’

Which was how I found myself out on the street on an icy December day with only a towel round me, explaining to a police constable that no, this was not a New Year’s Eve prank and no, I did not need to be escorted anywhere, thank you and yes, I would go quietly.

I could have done better with my wishes. Much better. We’re in lockdown now. Gyms and swimming pools are closed. Pubs too. Just as well, my wife says, after the incident with the so-say duckling last New Year’s Eve.

I’ve just looked out of the window. There’s a yellow duckling on the path. Waving a magic wand. I’m drawing the curtains before it sees me. Time to pour a drink.

Cheers! And a Happy New Year!

Cath Barton

Image by Chris Franklin from Pixabay

My photo prompt for Retreat West

I was delighted to be invited to put forward a photo prompt for the Retreat West Micro Fiction competition in April, and even more delighted that it inspired 139 people to enter, the largest number since the monthly competition has been running!

It was fascinating to read the shortlisted entries, and I loved both the winning entries, which you can read here.

I thought people might be interested to know where I took the photograph. It is at Borobudur in Central Java, Indonesia.

This famous Buddhist site is often referred to as a temple, but it’s actually a place for walking meditation on the stone friezes, which are on seven levels.

When I visited, back in 2013, we got there very early in the morning because by soon after 9am it is too hot to be up there. We were not alone – there were, as you can see in the photograph above, masses of school children too! Here’s what I wrote in my travel journal at the time:

Children kept asking if they could take my photograph and I kept saying ‘no thank you’. My friend said – ‘You should photograph the monument, this is your heritage, we are just human beings’. They didn’t get it, of course, how would they? To them, West is best. Wrongly of course.

The photograph I offered as the story prompt was taken with my back to the monument, looking out towards Mount Merapi. It looks peaceful in this scene, but is Indonesia’s most active volcano!

Java, from Borobudur
Mount Merapi, from Borobudur, Central Java, Indonesia

 

 

Story competition: 2

New year, new writing, and a new competition from me.

You are invited to write up to 300 words (not including title) inspired by the photograph below. Send your entry in the body of an e-mail (no attachments please) by midnight (UK time) next Wednesday, 15th January, to cath.barton@talktalk.net. No bios, but include your Twitter handle/link to your Facebook page. Subject line of your e-mail should be: Friday story submission + story title.

I will post the story I like best here as next week’s Friday story, with a big shout out to you and your writing.

Tip: Discard your first idea. Discard your second idea. Go with your third idea.

Please don’t send anything racist/sexist/sexually explicit/gratuitously violent.

Looking forward to reading your stories!

Comp photo 3
Photo copyright Cath Barton @2020

Looking back at 2019

I’m not keen on counting, but it’s good to review the year and consider some very lovely times.

Month by month, here are my writing highlights and a celebratory photo for each.

 

January

Delighted to have a rare poem published in Visual Verse

Bristol Old Vic
Saw Emma Rice’s company in the brilliant ‘Wise Children’ here

 

February

Had three flashes published this month. Particularly proud of The Man I Am Not Marrying, published in Spelk

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Miri, one of the cats at Ty Mawr convent where I went on retreat

 

March

After a nail-biting time, signed a book deal with Louise Walters Books for my second novella, In the Sweep of the Bay, due to be published on 17th September 2020.

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Walking in our lovely hills on the first day of Spring

 

April

Took part in both the Abergavenny Writing Festival and the Llandeilo Litfest.

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Abergavenny welcomed friends from our twin town in France, Beaupréau, for an Easter weekend of sunshine and music

 

May  

A wonderful week at Palazzo Forani in the village of Casperia in the Sabine Hills, north of Rome, led by ace flash fiction writers Kathy Fish and Nancy Stohlman. New writing, new friends, new food!

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Learning to make pasta, Italian-style, with Gianna and Carla

 

June

Spent a day at the Flash Fiction Festival in Bristol. More great writing experiences – and lovely to meet so many writers I knew from internet connections.

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Dear Feely, enjoying a lazy June day

 

July

Spoke at another LitFest, this time in Caerleon.

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Visited a lovely garden on my birthday

 

August

Structural and line edits of In the Sweep of the Bay completed.

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In training for September’s big walk!

 

September

Copy editing time for the novella. Challenged myself to write a (long) short story  of which of which I was given paragraphs 1 and 20. Could be the bones of a new novella…

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Trekking on Hadrian’s Wall with Elizabeth, Eileen and Jane to raise money for the charity PSPA

 

October

Busy weekend at the beginning of the month: up to Leicester for the launch of this anthology one day and at the Crickhowell LitFest talking about novellas the next.

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Wonderful kippers for breakfast on a little trip to Whitby

 

November

Finally started writing the story of my Auntie Phyllis, internationally famous circus artiste!

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Having a drink at our local vineyard with OB and the Three Amigos, visiting us on their world tour

 

December

Five flashes published this month, after a lean time.

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Origami Christmas star  – and a lucky stone with a hole!

 

 

My picks for 2019: 3) Books

The Lonely Crowd invited me to contribute to their Books of the Year feature. Here’s what I wrote:

I’ve very much enjoyed some of this year’s Big books: Lucy Ellmann’s Ducks, Newburyport demonstrates how the full stop might actually be getting in the way of the energy of many a story, Ali Smith’s Spring examines frankly the awfulness of our times and conjures heart-rending tenderness in spite of it, while Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other celebrates Black British women with a vitality and rhythm that is all her own.

But the book which stands out for me in what I’ve read in 2019, over and above these giants of the literary world, is Adèle by the French-Moroccan author Leïla Slimani, the 2019 English translation of her first novel, originally published in French in 2014 as Dans le jardin de l’ogre. I devoured this one afternoon back in March and it locked onto something in me. As an exploration of a woman’s search for meaning in her life this is – in my opinion – peerless. If once or twice Sam Taylor’s translation juddered, for the most part it was crystalline. Do not think this novel is about a sex addiction; it is about a quest for authentic feeling. Adèle is a 21st century Emma Bovary, and Leïla Slimani’s book deserves to be read as widely and remembered as long as Gustave Flaubert’s.

 

Coming next: My top writing websites of the year