Flash In The Pantry: Pushing Up Daisies by Michael Murray

‘No, no, no,’ he was thinking as he was waking. ‘Too early.’

‘Damn birds. Damn, damn.’ His protestations lacked the vigour to drive him up and doing. He pulled the covers over his head. But he lay there tense. He knew; that was enough. Too much light. Too much…busyness. It was in the air. And it was stifling under there.

‘Someone turned on the heating? I’ll kill… The bills!’

But it wasn’t that. What it was, he knew, he had to shell-out for a new mattress. Sticking into his back again.

‘Memory foam. Not one of these…with metal bits sticking up into you…’

But at least this got him up and dressed.

‘Something…was it King Albert? Edward? Someone who shoulda known better, died through…tetanus…septicaemia…from a bed spring?’

And that had him washed and dressed, and presenting himself downstairs.

A cheer as he walked into the workshop. Sarky lot, he groused. He looked at their beaming, lively faces.

‘Come on, Granddad. Get this down you.’ A mug of strong tea. Too strong, His constitution…there’s a word from his younger days, when he had the gift o’ the gab… Well, his stomach could no longer take it.

They meant well. He looked at them again, felt a warmth for them. A part of him whipped out, ’Infectious. Infectious good-will.’ And that part of him knew that bode ill.

And then they brought out the chair. The wheelchair. He froze. That anger felt good; he felt better. Slightly. But he couldn’t sustain it. To his shame, and yet…relief, admit it…he slipped into it, as if into a made-to-measure suit. He thought about it, his old wardrobe, those suits up there. Maybe he could donate them. The styles, well. They say it all comes round every twenty years or so. So…

They were all looking at him. Their young, eager, and innocent expressions. It was an unhurried, but expectant look. Does that look have a name? He no longer cared…cared to follow through, find the lost connections. Is youth an expression? It’s…an age…thing…

‘Let him rest,’ they were saying, looking over to him. Benevolent, he thought, that’s it. That’s the word. He’d slumped. They’d left him near a window, and it was too bright, too hot.

‘Has one o’ yous put the heating on?’ But he couldn’t get the tone right. It came out like a snarl. Had he upset them now? But the bills!

‘Come on, old man,’ they were saying, gently – like to an old pet? No, there was respect in their faces, their manner. His students. And suddenly he felt proud of them.

‘Just this one last job, eh?’ They wheeled him to the engine room, lifted his hands to the iron wheel.

‘Easy, now,’ they soothed. ‘Just one last slow, steady push. Then it’s all over, eh. Plenty of sleep.

Those daisies don’t rise by themselves, Mr Winter.’

Flash In The Pantry: Jack by Andrew Williams

Birds sang in the bare branches of the trees. The air had a fresh, new smell to it, the very earth exhaling as the days grew longer. Mary pulled her winter jacket a little tighter around her shoulders. The sun was bright but it gave out little warmth. It would be a few more weeks before the jacket was no longer required.

Spring at last, Jack.’

She carefully set a canvas bag beside her and knelt down to tend the soil. She could feel the damp even through her denim jeans. They’d probably need to go in the wash later.

I thought that winter would never end. You’d like that, I suppose – school closing and all that snow for sledding.’

She took the gardening fork from her bag and began to dig into the earth. The cold and wet weather had left it packed together; no use for planting. Still, at least the weeds weren’t a problem yet, though they would be next month.

You remember that snowman we made last year? Ping pong balls for eyes and a carrot for a nose. I put one of your caps on it and said you looked like twins.’

The soil tilled, she put the fork aside and took a plastic wrapped bundle from her bag.

Crocuses,’ she said. ‘They’ll look lovely when they come up.’

She gently pushed the bulbs into the soil, then covered them back over. There was no need to water them; the ground was damp enough already.

She packed up her bag and stood up. A cold breeze blew over her and she shivered.

Mind you, the daffodils are coming up nicely. They should be flowering any day now.’

The birds sang. She breathed deeply, feeling the crisp chill of the air in her lungs.

How is daddy? I miss you both, you know. It hurt me so much when you went to join him. But that wasn’t your fault, I know.’

She wiped away a speck of dirt from her eye.

Your daddy left when you were so young. Did you even remember him?’ She sighed, her breath like steam upon the cold air. ‘I suppose that doesn’t matter. You’re together now.’

The wind blew through the bare branches of the trees.

I should have paid more attention to you. I should have listened. And now all I have are these visits. I can’t hug you like I used to. I can’t kiss you on the cheek before you walk through the school gate. I let you down, and you were taken from me.’

She fought off the tears. She’d cried too many already.

I’m sorry, Jack. Mummy comes whenever she can. And now that spring is here, I’ll come every week. I promise.’

She turned away, following the path that led out of the gardens. Behind her, the polished black marble glistened under a coat of morning dew.

Inky Flash Fiction: The Battle by Sharon Clark

Battle was being waged right outside Stephanie’s bedroom. Again!

She’d opened her curtains to a perfect Spring morning. Daffodils bobbed their happy heads in a gentle breeze. Blackbirds filled the air with their joyful song. The fresh green scent of awakening foliage drifted through the open window. All was harmonious except for the all-out war atop her potentilla.

The magpie was back. His head rocked to and fro as he attempted to wrench a slender spear of new growth from the bush. He was a powerhouse of a bird, strong and determined, the metallic blue of his tail and wings shimmering like armour in the early sunlight. Beautiful but deadly as he yanked at his prize, not caring about the curl of unborn leaf at its tip.

One for sorrow, Stephanie thought, as the stem was torn mercilessly from the defenceless bush. If this carried on her poor potentilla would be nothing but a skeleton. Why did this wretched bird have to pick on her garden?

Suddenly the wind chimes sang out. The bush quivered in the unexpected breath of air, shaking the magpie loose. In a flap of wings he dropped the torn-off stem, which promptly tumbled into the basket-weave centre of the bush. Two for joy, thought Stephanie, although she knew the victory was a hollow one. There was no way to graft the torn twig back onto its parent. Better that the magpie should have it rather than tear off yet more.

The magpie seemed to be in agreement. Landing again, his greedy eyes focused on the fallen prize, but before he could act a flash of dusty brown darted into the tangled heart of the bush, snatched the stem from its resting place and took off. A cheeky snip of a sparrow – faster, smarter and smaller than the magpie.

A caw of indignation rent the air as the magpie gave voice to this upheaval of the pecking order. Now it would definitely have to renew its attack on the bush.

Stephanie reached for her hairbrush and rapped hard on the window to scare the bird off. He glanced up, tilted his head insolently and then renewed his assault. Furious she raised the brush for another rap, but then inspiration struck.

A few moments later she stepped into the garden. The magpie eyed her suspiciously, shifting its weight from one foot to another atop the potentilla.

She held out her hand, palm up, a tangle of dark-brown hair from her brush clearly visible.

‘A peace offering,’ she said. ‘Stop attacking my bush and you can have this.’ She walked slowly to the bird table, and snagged the hair onto the hook of the peanut container.

The magpie watched her back away. Then, with a sharp caw, he flew to the table, snatched up the hair, and set off for a higgledy-piggledy nest in a silver birch.

‘Three for a girl or four for a boy?’ she mused, as she went in search of more nesting material.