Last month was a big month for flash, and in July we offer, as an addendum to our 2014 national flash issue, stories by the judges of this year’s National Flash Fiction Day competition, Frankie McMillan and Mary McCallum. Both Frankie and Mary are award-winning and widely recognised poets and fiction writers. Their achievements are many, and their most recent accomplishments include Frankie’s inclusion in the forthcoming W. W. Norton Flash Fiction International — an anthology including the world’s best flash — and Mary’s highly acclaimed novel for children, Dappled Annie and the Tigrish, currently enjoying glowing reviews.
Readers can also hear a radio interview with Frankie McMillan here; she’s in the second half of the programme, with an added bonus of hearing Owen Marshall at the top.
The winning stories from the 2014 NFFD competition can be found in this month’s special issue of Flash Frontier.
Frankie McMillan, Truthful Lies
Ask me what I had for breakfast. Go on. I’ll say what you want to hear, something ordinary and safe. Like Weetbix with chopped banana, milk and a teaspoon of brown sugar. Toast, wholegrain with Marmite. You’ll understand that. You’ll think I’m just the same as you. Okay, now ask me something personal. Go on.
Have I ever been engaged to a dwarf? Yes. No. Choose yes.
His name was Stan and he wore a black suit and had to jump for the doorhandles. He jumped with both feet so you could see the pink flesh between sock and suit leg. The door would swing open and he’d march on through. The only sign of this little accomplishment was in his hands. For a moment his pudgy hands would flare out like startled starfish. He could kiss. I think his tongue was thicker than normal. Ask me. Ask me what you want to know.
He had special shoes made; his feet weren’t long but his fat toes made them wide. Stan could have worn sandals. Get a pair of Roman sandals I told him. No one wears brogues anymore. Only dentists who commit suicide wear brogues.
Ask me about my kids. One day I’ll tell you I had four kids. Another day I’ll say three. So what happened to the fourth one? Look at me. Watch my cheeks, not my eyes. See the two bright spots of colour? That’s blood coming to the surface. I’ll tell you I lost him. You’ll think I was careless. Left baby on the bus. Or at kindy with astranger in a checked shirt, open necked.
My baby was born in a garage. Stan and me did it up – had Frank Zappa posters on the wall, a batik cloth hung over the ceiling.
Looking at the colours while I was pushing the baby out. Stan running for the doctor because there wasn’t a phone and next door didn’t want a fuckin’ circus on their hands. The dog licking the baby clean and me laughing and crying and not knowing if dogs should be licking new born babies.
You asked. You wanted to know. Anyway he died.The dog – run over by the milk truck. He was a good dog. Stan took the baby because it was the same as him. Ran off with the baby one night. It was raining. He had an umbrella. You wouldn’t think a man would run off carrying an umbrella and a week old baby boy. Stan did.
My breasts leaked milk for months. The mattress smelt of stale milk; the smell followed me everywhere.
People understand lies. I lost my baby. I had a miscarriage. A loving lie gives you a picture in the head. A dwarf, an umbrella a garage will give you a headache. You will look at me sideways. You will wonder if I’ve lost the plot.
I lied when I told you I was lying. You knew that. I let you think that I was lying in order to lie some more but you knew. Because you lie too. Your lies are trivial lies.
Tell me you’re made of truthful lies. Let me believe in the goodness of your lying. Go on. Lie. Make it good.
Mary McCallum, Dead Space
Catch the boy out there standing like a bird with one foot tucked behind a calf looking at the sea. He isn’t at soccer practice. He isn’t on the scout tramp to Chatham Creek. He isn’t playing Dead Space 2 while Bridgie practices her scales. Up and down, up and down. The boy, Jesse, is allergic to scales and allergic to Bridgie who squeaks like a bird when he interrupts her. Dead Space 2. Necromorphs for god’s sake. I need to concentrate.
But she just squeaks and then she squeals and then Mum comes wiping her hands on a tea towel, and she wants to know where he got the damn game from. Then it’s all over red rover, as his dad says, and he’s outside, like his dad usually is, smoking, except Jesse’s not smoking because he’s run out of smokes.
Catch the boy before he leaves. Not the boy leaving. The father leaving. Country Road bag in hand – Bridgie’s bag for sleepovers. He says to the boy, ‘Bye, Jess’, and he says to the boy, ‘Be good for your mum.’
And his dad puts down the stupid bag, and the look on his face is that sort of look he gets when he comes home and it’s his birthday and Mum’s made a special dinner. Hopeful. Or something. He blinks too much, thinks Jesse, his breath smells like shit. When his dad hugs him, Jesse puts his foot down so he won’t topple. The scales have stopped. Jesse thinks of Necromorphs. He smells sweat and smokes. That’s how Necromorphs would smell, he thinks. And they’d blink too fast. His father used to play the piano. He bought the piano for Jesse to play but Jesse didn’t want to play. He just didn’t.
Third place winner, 2013 NFFD comp and previously published in the July 2013 issue of Flash Frontier. More about Mary McCallum here.
Thank you to Frankie McMillan and Mary McCallum for helping make the 2014 NFFD competition and awards ceremonies such a success.
For this year’s NFFD winning stories, please click here.