A work of flash-fiction can be any length from a few sentences to 1000 words. Flash-fiction short stories are not undeveloped or incomplete, but short works of fiction in their own right. They can tell the story of a nation, of a moment in time, a community, where you live, a thought or conversation you had with someone you know. Flash-fiction is short but it can be precise and have real impact, whether the story told is real or imagined.
What’s your story of Scotland? Take part in the flash-fiction project and share it with us.
The best contributions will be collated to create a printed anthology.
HOW TO GET INVOLVED IN THIS PROJECT
- E-mail a link to your contribution, along with your full name, age and location.
- Your stories can be from a few sentences to 1000 words.
- DEADLINE: 4th July 2012
She didn’t want to live with him anymore. It had been a difficult relationship from the start he’d always been a bit of a bully. He always struggled to understand her. There were points when he’d tried to rein her in, get her to behave herself, “A bit of decorum for God’s sake woman, a bit of common courtesy.”
He’d always resisted her true nature while sometimes praising her beauty, sometimes abusing her, often ignoring her. Much of the time, she felt she puzzled and irritated him and wondered why he bothered. However, it seemed that even if he did not want her, he wanted no one else to have her, least of all herself. He often disliked it when he saw her happy.
There had been some bleak and bloody times in their past, that she shuddered to think of now, where she had acquiesced. If she was honest, more than that, taken his presents and smiled for him, dressed in the exotic silks he’d offered her.
There were even darker moments when rather than take the beating herself she had walked arm in arm with him and cheered him on, even, whisper it, participated in his bloody sport; his thieving and banditry, his buccaneering. She had known her shame and sometimes covered it with gay bravado and protestations of endearment. She had wept inside at her folly.
But through it all she had kept a little core of herself hidden away in a safe place and slowly, slowly she had built on that fragment and grown in confidence. It wasn’t always easy, there were times that her courage faltered but now she finally thought she was ready.
Hazel Clark, Glasgow
Whenever Brora was confronted with an edge, she always contemplated throwing herself from it. There was something alluring about the fall, or luring her into the fall, the need to be in the air, or the push, or the impact. There is a pier in St Andrews that stretches out like a middle finger to the heaven and the North Sea crashes upon it was a dull roar. On Sunday mornings, students leave the chapel and walk along the top, shunning the safe path, always shun the safe path as you can see where it leads, wrapped in a red cloak, the cloak of ignorance. Or so was the rumour, for Brora didn’t attend the Church of Scotland nor did she make a habit of leaving the land of nod so early, but the idea of foolish young religious students, enveloped in red ignorance, like a target on their backs, being blown off the pier in a gust of wind and dashed on the jagged and broken sea crockery below…well it was amusing.
But the smell of seaweed and something fouler wiped the smile from her face; scum in the water. The sea’s depths, limitless in the cold Baltic waters, icy and shimmery, dark and inky green. She would fall, a few moments in the brittle air before she smacked against the hard surface. And then she’d sink down into it, pulled down by the weight of her clothes, her tiredness, her weaknesses and flaws, but she knew, even though she had never touched the brine water, she would swim. She would swim, despite becoming entangled in the strong current, despite the bad taste in her mouth and the difficulty of breathing, she would swim to the shore and drag her cold and aching body onto the cold, gritty beach.
I was in Scotland Once
It wis Hogmanay in Berkeley, California, an I wis in the supermarket buyin importit shortbreid for the firstfitters. Nae that I wis expectin ony, bit tradeetions are hard tae brak, even aifter 30 eer awa fae hame. Nooadays, I tak in the bells on the Internet wi baith Moray Firth Radio and Robbie Shepherd on BBC Radio Scotland
Fin it wis my turn, the checkoot loon said tae me, “I was in Scotland once.” Noo eiss loon is usually kyne o grummly an he hid never spoken a word tae me afore. “I have Celtic genes,” he telt me. “Both my parents have Scottish ancestry.”
“Oh, Aye? Far in Scotland are yer ancestors fae?”
He shrugged. “I used to know, but I don’t remember. But I do have the family crest. I bought it when I was in Scotland. “
“An far did ye ging fin ye were in Scotland?” I thocht it wis a reasonable question.
“Dublin and I really enjoyed my visit to the Guinness Brewery!“
Weel, since it wis Hogmanay, I hid tae spier at him if he’d managed a trippie tae the Speyside distilleries.
He looked puzzled. “No. What’s there?”
I see him noo an then in the supermarket, bit he disna speak tae me aboot Scotland onymair.
I have been slumbering, longer than Rumplestilskin, for I’ve slept over 300 years. I didn’t go int0 that sleep quietly, although it gets forgotten now, as it’s been so long since I fell asleep. Now I’m stirring, dreaming dreams of days gone by when I saw the blue sky above the battlefield and knew victory, dreaming dreams of words echoing down the centuries that proclaim freedom and equality, dreaming dreams of a future that I can write for myself.
My story is long and there are many parts of it I might wish to be forgotten, but there are many more that need to be remembered, parts that gather dust, sidelined by this long sleep of mine, buried in the half-light of collective amnesia. My story is long, but there is still much yet to be written.
Soon I might wake, blinking in the dawn of a new day, still dazed and sluggish from hibernation, but hungry, alive and awake. The long past might flash before my eyes, or the problems of the present, or the fears of the future, I cannot yet tell, but at least I will no longer be dreaming.
My Ain Folk
He came to get a job done. Scotland – so far from his home and his world it might have been the moon. His Scottish nanny had told him about the hills, the heather and the happy childhood she had growing up in Inverness-shire and so it seemed like a good idea to head for the highlands to get his licence. His privileged life had made him wary of people. From a massively wealthy and equally reviled and feted family, he had worked hard to make his own way in life, and he had been successful. But at a price, few people got close to him, few knew the real him and he lacked “mates” but he was happy – his wife and family were his joy and it was the move to France which sent him to Scotland – the auld alliance his nanny had called it. He needed a European bike licence and he didn’t speak French so Scotland it was.
He turned up the first day and was given the bike. He was suspicious of the tyres although he knew they were legal he was used to new tyres on his bike every two months, offering to buy new ones, he was surprised when the guy teaching him laughed. “I can afford it” he explained his circumstances without boasting but the guy still laughed. “This is the Highlands” he said – “it takes two days to get these tyres delivered”. The instructor gave him the choice of the bikes and so he picked one which looked like it had new tyres.
The lessons surprised him, he had to learn things he had known for years without knowing he knew. He was given instructions in basic maintenance of the bike. Bored, he shrugged and said “I just get my mechanic to do this stuff” Again the instructor laughed and replied “Well you can fly your mechanic over here if you like but he can’t take answer your examiners questions for you” then slapped him on the back and began talking about tyre pressure and oil leaks.
The ride outs were magnificent – the hills, the lochs just as he had seen them through the eyes of his nanny but the real surprise was the conversation. Miked up inside his helmet he had an intimacy with the instructor that he had never experienced before. The conversations were not simply about the bike; the jokes, the interesting stories, the listening and talking began a change in him. Never one for closeness he warmed to this country and this crazy guy and talked about his life, his experiences and his hopes. He became more relaxed in this place than he ever imagined. He watched his instructor disappear off at the end of the day, telling him of his evenings in easy friendship with others, stories of firesides and tea with friends. He was a little envious – his lonely dinners at the best restaurant felt empty after the intimacy of the bike helmet and the space of the hills.
“Come for dinner” his instructor said, “just a family dinner I’m going to with some friends” And so he went. Another bike instructor – this guy was as quiet as his instructor was loud, A chaotic house with grown up children, small children and dogs and grannie and granddad. Dinner wasn’t haggis, thank goodness, but roast dinner and chocolate dessert, laughter, stories and family. He couldn’t remember the last time dinner was like that never probably but he knew that this was what he wanted for his family, noise, happiness, laughter. He loved it when his wife cooked and he smiled to think how much she would like the warmth. When he left everyone hugged him. He was touched and delighted.
And so he passed his test – he thought a handshake and a pat on the back would see him on his way, but no, a night out was arranged and so he found himself drinking whisky in the pubs in inverness, hot, noisy with chatter and fiddle music which played the songs he remembered his nanny singing – the songs of his childhood. He sat in the company of the people he had met the last five days and wondered how he felt so at home. He loved these people – how did that happen? He hadn’t even known them a week ago… was it the whisky he wondered – making him drop his guard? He found himself offering tickets for next year’s TT race, and wasn’t surprised when the guys said “That would be fantastic“. People liked to be taken out by him – hotels, restaraunts, the works – he was however surprised when the next comment was “We can take the tents and camp it will be great” and he found himself being swept along with enthusiasm but not expectation. He very quickly pointed out that he didn’t do camping there would very definitely be no tents – a hotel! They looked disappointed for goodness sake – he threw his head back and laughed long and loud – he knew there would be no begging letters, no business propositions no inflated prices, Just what his nanny had described as Scottish hospitality – what she had sang about when she sang “ my ain folk” he struggled for a minute as he remembered the words… he had thought it corny and silly when she sang it but he had never thought he would understand why she loved it so much. As he looked around he knew he would be back. For here “in dear auld Scotland he had found his ain folk” for the first time ever.
Quarter pound o Wiltshire, please.
Thae stoolies yer mither bocht frae Woolies micht look awkward, but if she can get her airm atween thae legs… they micht be heavy, but they was a richt bargain. But she’s nae hands, sae it has tae be you gaes intae the wee shop in Castle Street for ¼ pound o Wiltshire, please, sliced very thin?
The kitchen’s nae big, but the stoolies’ll stack, yer mither thinks as she humphs them ower the brig.
‘God, whit a stink!’ ye says.
She’d clip yer lug, if she could. ‘That stink’s frae the foondry an it’s fu o iron. Breathe it in an get the guid o it.’
A crowd o laddies is playin fitba i the terrace. Mrs Corsar opens her windae and shouts. The laddies run tae the cellars, you follae. Shod Milne’s big laddie ca’s ye somethin bad but sticks-n-stanes’ll-brak-yer-banes-names’ll-nivver-hairm-ye. ‘Aw, just let her play,’ Alan says.
They chase awa roond the gairdens. Ye catch up at the tap o the terrace, but the game’s feenished. Somebodie minds he saw an auld bus at the back o Alexander’s garage.
Ye’ve never been there afore, it bein very dangerous, buses gaein backerties and OWER THE MAIN ROAD, and you NOT allowed tae cross by yersel. But ye’ll be fine if ye’re wi the big laddies.
There’s nae auld bus ava. A mannie chases the laddies awa, but you’re tail-endie sae he daesnae think ye’re wi them. Some gae ae wey and some the ither, alang the Inch Burn. Ye dinnae ken whaur tae gae… there’s nae sign o Alan. The mannie’s lookin richt at ye… gees, maybe he kens yer mither! Ye get yersel back tae the main road, cross it by yersel.
Fit a wey-o-daen! Somebodie’s been playin i yer Dad’s punt., and yon thingie’s got broke. He’s in a stushie, and aa the wifies at the Co-opy van is shakin their heids. Somebody says it must hae been they big laddies.
Yer mither says you was playin wi thae laddies. ‘Did you touch yer Dad’s boat?’
‘I did not.’
‘Whaur hae ye been?’
‘Whaur did ye gang?’
‘Up the terrace.’
‘Wha was ye playin wi?’
Jeesy peeps, ye never kent their names, just Alan Smith and Shod Milnes’s big laddie.
She kept on at ye. Ye’d hae tellt her whaur ye was, if ye could mind the name, but ye couldnae, ye was that feart. ‘I was ahent somethin.’
‘I hinnae been there afore.’
‘Near the brig?’
‘The railway brig? I’ve been there.’
‘The ither brig?’
The word I’m lookin for jumps intae my heid. ‘The garage!’
She folds her airms. ‘Near the brig then.’
Ye work it oot. Ye’re aye near a brig on Rossie Island… there’s fower, twa railway and twa road. The back o the bus garage micht be quite near the auld brig tae Ferryden. ‘Aye!’
But the ither garage, that mends cars, is even nearer that brig, and it never occurs tae yer mither ye’ve been ower the main road. She gets the wrang end o the stick.
‘Whaur the punt was moored. And Shod Milne’s laddie was there?’
Ye didnae see whaur he went, but ye see what she wants. ‘I think he was.’
And that’s how: Shod Milne’s laddie got the blame for brakkin yon thingie in yer dad’s punt: the smell o Wiltshire bacon aye minds ye o Annie Milne comin tae the door on Sunday mornin wi her laddie’s alibi: you got yer doup skelped for tellin lies.
Playing For Scotland Now
He ran like mad, his father close behind, and despite his own breathlessness, he could hear the louder wheezing of his dad at his heels, but he was in front, and leading the way, and he reached the victory mark of the flagpole first.
He put his back to the pole and slid down to sit at the base, his father now walking, bent, hands on each side, but laughing. He knew his dad had let him win and waited for the quip.
‘Dogs pee on that flagpole.’
‘Not since they changed the flag,’ he answered.
The flag above billowed in a breeze that both cooled and reinvigorated him. They had passed the flag pole every week they walked in this park, for years it seemed, yet it never meant so much as to warrant a second glance. The flag had been replaced though, shortly after the referendum. The Saltire flew there now, above, and bright, and new, and for some reason it made the park more appealing, a walk there not so much a waste of time when his father came to visit, it was a sign of better things to come. He looked forward to his father coming to visit, and he looked forward to walks in the park now.
‘Tell me again where you work, dad?’ he asked.
‘I work for the Government, son,’ his dad replied, as he always did so, ‘the Scottish Government.’
‘Tell me what you do there, dad?’ he said, and his father reached down and patted his head, and ruffled his hair.
‘Ah, if I told you that, I’d have to kill you,’ replied his father, looked at him earnestly, and then laughed again.
His father was a civil servant, which his mother said was an office worker, but he worked for the Government, the new Scottish Government, so to him, a ten year old boy, that meant a world of spies and secrets and agents.
‘C’mon,’ said his father, and pulled him gently up by the arms. ‘Time to go back to your mother.’
Mum and Dad were always arguing before, but things were better now, his Dad was working now, his mother smiled more and worried less. Just maybe, please maybe perhaps, they would get back together again. He hated they were apart.
Surprised, they met his mother at the entrance to the park, she had never done this before, and she had a bag with sandwiches and a flask of coffee for his father and a can of juice for him, and she had brought the football they had forgotten. They walked back into the park along the path, he in the middle, a hand in each of his parent’s. Things were better now, and getting better all the time, even his reports from school made them happy.
They sat at a picnic table and his mother opened and passed out the sandwiches. He waved over at Michael, a friend from school. Michael’s parents hadn’t wanted independence, but it came anyway, and according to his friend they were ok now it had happened. Most everyone he knew was ok it had happened.
He didn’t let them see he’d noticed, but he was thrilled when he saw his father take his mother’s hand. He grabbed the ball from the bag and leapt up and kicked it towards Michael. Michael ran from his side of the park to meet it. He chased after it. He was playing for Scotland now.
Maddy was home from Canada for the first time in ten years, she and her sister were enjoying themselves reminiscing about old times.
“Remember Aunt Clarisse? Maddy asked.
“Who could forget her? Emma retorted “She was some woman, born before her time, sly old thing.”
“I have to tell you Emma, I’ve thought about that day a lot over the years.
“So have I!” Emma exclaimed and started to laugh as she remembered.
The two sisters were working their way through Aunt Clarisse’s house contents. She had died at the ripe old age of 96, and they were her sole heirs. Madeline had come home for Clarisse’s funeral.
They had come to a tenement in the Shawlands district of Glasgow, where Aunt Clarisse had lived. After the funeral they decided to stay for a further week to clear out her room and kitchen and ready it for selling. A skip had been delivered and neighbours had been invited to bid for furnishings at a small auction in a few days time.
Clarisse had been an independent woman, living alone most of her life; she had a little money and had lived in the small tenement quite comfortably for the last 50 years.
Her house reflected her way of living and the girls, who had known her when they were children, were surprised at the minimalist style she had chosen for her house. There was a functional kitchen, modern gleaming coffee maker, matching kettle and containers and bins. There was a small glass dining table and chairs where the old kitchen bed recess had been. Shiny blue tiles on the splash back beside the sink and cooker, and pine wooden cupboards. They had piled the utensils, dishes, bake ware and pots and pans on the dining table, ready for the auction.
The lounge was comfortable if slightly old fashioned, it also had a bed recess where Aunt Clarisse had slept, curtains were drawn over it, and underneath was crammed with boxes, cases, bags and an old flat trunk.
The one thing Aunt Clarisse had spent on with abandon was the carpets, they were luxurious, an inch thick in the hall and lounge.
“God Lord, you’d think she knew we were coming, everything’s perfect.” Said Maddy as she made up their bed the first night they were there.
“That was Aunt Clarisse, everything in its place. Do you remember what an old fuss pot she was? A true spinster to the end, a perfect picture of a maiden aunt” Laughed Emma and threw herself on the bed. “I was always a bit afraid of her you know! She could do no wrong and expected us to be the same. Bit of a tartar, with her church and that choir she went to.”
“I don’t think she had much of a life, looking after gran and grandpa. And she was a great to us when mum and dad died in the crash. She did always seemed to be fussing about. Remember her appearance? The long, shiny, brown hair, centre parting, plaited and drawn to the crown of her head, like some Swiss peasant.” Maddy grinned.
“She was anything but peasant looking; she looked like a stern school teacher with her rimless glasses, straight back and sensible clothes and shoes. Tasteful jewellery though.” Emma got up and went through to the wardrobe in the hall and open its door.
“We should send the clothes to the charity shop, we’ll need to buy black bin bags in the morning.” The two girl s went through to the kitchen to make tea.
They made good progress during the next two days and went to the reading of the will at Clarisse’s solicitors; it was as they thought, it was all theirs. They returned home and over coffee they decided to tackle the bed recess junk in the lounge that afternoon.
Maddy pulled the heavy curtains open.
“God I hope this isn’t going to take too long, there’s quite a lot of stuff here.”
She started to pull bags out.
“Come on, a little bit of help here.” She reprimanded Emma.
Emma pulled out a suit case.
“There’s not too much stuff, a couple of hours should do it.” She said.
“Well let’s get to it then, the sooner it’s gone through the better.” Said Maddy, opening a cardboard box.
“Ornaments! For the auction.” She pushed it aside.
They had been working for about ten minutes, hauling the various containers and bags from under the bed, when Maddy muttered to her sister.
“What’s this?” She was sitting on the trunk looking at an old fashioned, large chocolate box with a faded picture of a woman on the lid. She pried it open and flipped through the papers in it.
“Look! Letters, news paper cuttings, photos, theatre programs.”
“Lets see.” Emma sat down beside her.
For the next five minutes the girls laid out Aunt Clarisse’s early life on the floor.
“I’m, speechless.” Maddy stared in astonishment.
“Jings, crivens and help ma boab, she was a dancer!” Emma screamed with laughter.
“She was a bloody Tiller girl Emma…danced at Follies Bergere in Paris, and in Berlin, London, New York. She was one of the elite, look at these programs.”
“Let’s check the pictures,” Emma was looking at names on the back of the photos. “Here’s one of her, she is about 16 and fabulous. That costume and these legs! …Wow!…Who’d have thought it? Good old Aunt Clarisse.” Emma smirked.
“We’ll take all this to the kitchen and study them later.” Maddy said, starting to repack the box. “A bloody Tiller girl? My God, the opposite of everything we knew about her.” She laughed. “Wonder what’s in that trunk?”
Emma flung back the lid, Maddy pulled back the cotton wrappings and there they were…layers of Aunt Clarisse’s stage costumes.
Both girls were beyond astonishment, they gasped in disbelief. Nothing else was done that afternoon as they smiled, laughed and celebrated that marvellous, surprising episode in Clarisse’s life.