Flash fiction competition: the shortlisted stories (2)

The Melting Point

by E E Rhodes

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.

Icicles 2. Photo copyright Cath Barton











Flash fiction competition: the shortlisted stories (1)

Comfortable Discomfort

by Emma Robertson

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.”

“Oh.”

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.”

“Wonderful views.”

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.

It’s awful.

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.”

“Sorry.”

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

Sprats’ heads. Photo copyright Cath Barton