Friday, August 30, 2013

Flash Fiction Friday


Yes! I punch the air and run around in circles and Fran jumps on top of me like they do on telly. The sun is really bright and for a moment even this scrubby patch of dried-up grass looks like a real football pitch. I can smell the turf, hear the crowd roar, chanting my name over and over. Then Pete throws the ball in and we’re off again, feet pounding against the packed earth, cold air hurting my lungs as I breathe in hard. The stained concrete tower blocks stare down as usual but I am sure that there are people watching. This is the best match we’ve done. Jon is attacking, legging it up to our goal. Matt tries to tackle him but he’s too slow, his fat legs wobbling under his tracksuit. It’s too small for him now, stretches tight across his arse. I go for it, speeding across the pitch to intercept the ball, but Jon sees me coming and belts it one. It’s a long shot but it almost goes in, bouncing off the top of the post and out into the road. I stop for a moment, heart racing, hands on my knees, breath pushing loudly. I’m nearest. I put my hand up to show I’ve got it and start jogging over to the parked cars. The blood is still pumping in my ears but someone shouts and I turn around, shit. Blue mercedes, shiny symbol, scratched bonnet. 

by Sara Roberts

Snake Road by Sue Peebles

Greetings Aphraites!

I wanted to take this opportunity to recommend Sue Peebles' new book, Snake Road. Sue was one of the tutors on our last writing retreat in Scotland together and she has been enjoying following this blog, in particular our 'A to Z' series.

Snake Road, which has just come out, is published by Chatto and Windus and looks excellent. I loved her first novel, The Death of Lomond Friel, and this one seems to be another winner.

Here are the opening paragraphs of a review in The Scotsman by Lesley McDowell to tantalise and tempt you...

"THE psychological intelligence that informed Sue Peebles’s remarkable debut, The Death Of Lomond Friel, just two years ago, is what also holds together the strands of her second novel.

As with that debut, we focus on a younger woman struggling to cope with the illness of an older member of the family: in Lomond Friel, it was daughter Rosie, come to look after her father after he suffered a massive stroke. In Snake Road, it is Aggie who finds herself wholly absorbed in what appears to be her grandmother’s encroaching Alzheimer’s.

Both novels are about families, how we negotiate our relationships with those who made us, and how we cope when the previous generation can no longer manage. This family-focused theme allows Peebles to dig deep, to give the lie to the claim that the domestic arena is a trivial one, to observe and understand the daily, the ordinary, the seemingly inconsequential..."

Link to the full article:

Friday, August 23, 2013

Flash Fiction Friday

Refuge in Etiquette

When my wife was dying nobody came. She spent weeks in the hospice and every day another fraction of her dissolved into the sterile air. The lack of support contributed to her surrender to the end. She had no one to make an effort for anymore. Occasionally our neighbour would come, but her awkwardness in such a terminal atmosphere was palpable and soon those visits ceased. The hospice was a neutral, anonymous place. The walls, floor and curtains were all varying shades of cream, emphasizing the concrete grey of Helen’s skin. She lay on the bed in the centre of the room, tucked under the covers like a child, sleeping through the pain for most of the day. This was easier for her but it seemed such a waste of our remaining time together. I sat and watched her evaporate.

It was uncomfortably warm. Weak pastel cards and bright flowers arrived with worthless messages from absent friends. But nobody came. I think they were afraid. Afraid of seeing death in their lives. Afraid of the silences they would feel the need to fill and of the uselessness of any words they could think of saying. They were more concerned with their own discomfort than Helen. Only I was there when she eventually left and I was angry at the loss and the waste and the pitiful, ugly cowardice of other people.

I was repulsed by the crowds at her funeral, all dressed in immaculate, brutal black. I looked at them in the church, bowing their heads in farewell to my wife whom they had left long before she had. They were here now because there was a protocol they could follow. They sang the hymns and nodded at the eulogy. Some even had the audacity to weep. There was a code of behaviour at a funeral so they felt safe enough to say goodbye. Refuge in etiquette. Afterwards my rage was assumed to be grief. I could find no eloquence in my fury so kept my mouth shut and my hands tightly against my sides. Helen was not with me to hear their words now. She needed those words when she was in that bed. I needed them.

Diane Scott
Previously published as part of National Flash Fiction Day 2013

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Growing Time

Welcome to the second Monday Poem where seasons reverse from depths of Summer to first intimations of Spring. Our first Flash Fiction Friday post was set in darkest Winter, so please submit a poem (up to 40 lines) or a piece of flash fiction (150-500 words) inspired by Autumn  for publication on Cafe Aphra soon.

 ‘The Growing Time’

We stumble half-dead from winter’s withered wasteland
No march forward, we shamble into the light, blinking,
Counting losses, bellies empty, sickness survivors.
Is now the auspicious time?
Creeping light, shocks of colour, flashes of warmth
Promise change.
But we can never be certain.

Court good fortune, shape the growing year.
Propitiate our future with the right words
Quick now, make the blood token that marks
The end
The beginning
So that next dark-time, we will not starve or sicken

Familiar pledges fill the air
Fanning flickers of hope until belief blazes.

To appease, we take now one man, one woman.
Make them pliant with sweet drink.  Praise them for their purity,
Lavish them with words of honour and restrain their protests.
With arms, twine and whispers of hope.
Red splatters against unwilling ground
Liquid challenging dark and cold
                    Blood, light, life, growth
                    Blood, light, life, growth
                   Growing-time, remember us
                   Take account of our bargain this time.

Next, leave them, guarded, overnight - to be certain.
Spirits are suspicious after all.
At first light we’ll wrap them tightly,
Carefully, before placing them
Together – but not touching.
Never touching.  

Then, only then, can we breathe that it is done.
And make right honour to The King and Queen
of the Growing Time.
Did we do it at the auspicious time?
Absolutely and abundantly?                                                  By Q.  Irvine

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Snow Weaver's Daughter

She was made, not begotten. 

Her father, the Snow Weaver, had no wife.  He was a cold man of the snow and his bed needed no woman to warm it but his snowcraft was a heavy burden to bear alone.

He longed to teach his craft to an over-awed apprentice—but no youth from the lowlands would ever climb so high.  No, he must weave his own heir. 

On the longest night of the year he ventured down the mountain, listening through the wind for the voices of stray villagers, sniffing the air for the bitter scent of coffee steaming from their aluminium thermoses.  But all was safe.  He worked swiftly in the moonlight, gathering heaps of the softest, purest snow he could find.  He had no desire for an awkward, icy child.

He wanted a son, of course—most men would—but, as he followed the moon’s path across the mountain streams, he listened to low, muttering voices on the wind.  The gods had other ideas.

No weaver, no matter how clever his fingers or flexible his loom, can make a living being all on his own.  Fortunately, the gods enjoy watching men create new life.  They hover in the winter dark, when sweaty men and women twine themselves together in the dark.  Some say it is the gods themselves who decide which woman’s eggs are to be pierced that night, which man’s fate it is to do the piercing. 

The lowland folk trust the gods.  But the Snow Weaver feels sure the gods act mainly for their own amusement. Their voices on the wind confirm his view.  They laugh at him, blow hard pellets of sleet against his face, and whisper in his ear:  If he would be so bold to try to weave a child from snow, he must treasure snow’s purity and beauty and its quiet icy fire.  He should weave a daughter.

A daughter would be docile and have small cold hands.  He would be able to teach her to weave the snow.  A boy might be sturdy, but then again he might just be a shapeless, stolid block of ice.

As the moon sank and more flurries drifted down the mountain, the Snow Weaver gathered up enough snow to make a 5-pound infant and packed it gently into his frosty silver baskets.  He followed his own footprints back up to his cave, to his loom of fir branches and strings of mountain catgut. 

She should have snow-white hair and grey-blue eyes—the colour of the afternoon sky when new snow is falling.  With the gods’ help, he would craft her cells, her skeleton, her living organs.  Inside her icy womb he would fashion silver eggs, to be pierced one day.  Her own snow children would be begotten, not made.
There was much to do before she melted.

As he shaped her plump white arms and gently pressed down on the soft part of her infant skull, the gods’ laughs faded.

By Frances Hay

Flash Fiction Friday

Running out of steam by Friday?  Then, why not have a blast of Flash Fiction to open new creative pathways.  You don't even need to have a laptop or pen and paper to hand - try Flash Fiction on your iPhone. Write 150 - 500 words on anything.  Cafe Aphra's first Flash Fiction Friday piece is coming online tomorrow.  Inspire yourself and enjoy The Snow Weaver.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Monday Poems

So... following on from the success of our A to Z series, we've decided to launch a few new weekly and seasonal writing routines here at Cafe Aphra. More on this soon, but for the time being here is our first entry for "Monday Poems" - a better way to start the week. :)