The Horseshoe

It sat below the bench, propped up amongst last autumn’s leaves, now ignored like so much else. She was not superstitious but when the postman knocked it over, leaving a parcel of books bought to distract from her grief, the last of her luck leaked away.


Written for The 50-word Fiction Competition (August 2017 – prompt ‘Horseshoe’) run monthly by the Scottish Book Trust. The winner, and the latest prompt, may be read by clicking here.

Test Results

I am frightened. I need to be hugged. To be held close by my husband, told that I am loved.

He puts his arms around me. Grateful, I snuggle in. Unfettered now, my tears flow.

I am thinking of our children, ask, “Do we still have life insurance?”

I tell him I love him. Receive no reply.

I say, “We’ve been all right together, haven’t we?”

But he is angry now. “You’re not going to die! You’ve probably got what your mother has.”

Always so sure of himself.

Unlike me.

I need to be told that I am loved.

Bringing home the bacon

As I fed the severed limbs of my fourth victim into the grinder, I realised I had stopped caring about being caught. After the first time, which hadn’t been a part of the plans I had for my life so may not even be categorised as murder, I spent weeks expecting the arrival of the cops. The fear followed me. I would break out in a cold sweat in the grocery store when a passing patrol stopped to pick up a sandwich or grab a coffee. I avoided the town when I could, although my family had long been inclined to live apart.

And maybe that was what enabled me to carry on as before. The delivery guys were used to me signing for their loads. When a buyer collected our produce they might ask after Pa but accepted he was sleeping off the night before’s indulgences. Pa had a vicious streak when disturbed and they harboured guilt at triggering previous rages and the human damage caused. I’d stare straight into their eyes and drive the lie home.

He was a drinker was Pa. After he knocked his third wife down the stairs he didn’t dare risk another woman’s demise. Ma died when I was four having miscarried a baby a year since I was born. Her replacement moved out after a beating put her in the hospital for nearly a month. Cops made their threats but nothing more. If Pa hadn’t turned his attentions to me I would have walked out the day I legally could. Funny how the law once influenced my plans.

I don’t think any murderer believes they will remain uncaught forever. There’s always a looking over the shoulder for whatever exposes what’s been done. My biggest crime was being a girl with a figure men felt entitled to. I learned from Pa there’s a moment when primal need makes a man vulnerable.

We had always run the farm with minimal help. I could stun and butcher a full grown pig from my early teens. A man on his own need only be taken by surprise. The tricks I could turn when cornered grossed me out more than their aftermath. It helped that I had equipment on the farm to deal with a body and the mess of disposal.

One day someone is going to work out that missing men maybe visited with me here. I only kill the ones who try to take me by force. Whatever our faults we’ve always slaughtered livestock humanely, and the fattening pigs benefit from the added protein. The quality of our meat is talked of locally with pride.

Wedding Day

Peirene Press are running a flash fiction competition on their Facebook page which you may check out here. Entrants must submit a story of no more than 30 words on the subject of Cake.

I haven’t written any fiction in a long time but decided to give it a go anyway. This is what I came up with.


The cake had cost more than her second-hand dress; it fell like a rock.

Her bridesmaid crawled from the car, sparkling now with bloodied glass.  

His injuries were life changing.


A visit from Mother

She loves to opine. She sits back on my sofa sipping tea from the best china cup and proclaims. With each hard won breath disapproval flows sharply through her browning teeth, now loose in her gums. Dissatisfaction with the state of the modern world emanates from every pore in her increasingly fragile body. This isn’t how her life should be. She has paid her dues and deserves better.

Opinions radiate around matters of health, a care system on its knees. There are infections in hospitals which, once caught, cannot be cured. It is no longer safe.

It is the fault of the cleaning staff, all foreigners, why were they allowed into this country? It is the fault of the doctors, a different one every time, no interest in sitting down and chatting to their patients as they once would. It is the fault of the nurses who huddle together while patients are ignored. What they need is a matron to keep those youngsters in line.

And so many fat people taking up space, demanding treatment for avoidable illnesses. Greedy and selfish like so many in this world. Taking without giving.

Why do they not take more care of themselves? Resources that would be better used on the undeserving ill being diverted to care for the obese and the depressed. Life is easy these days, not like it was for us. What have they got to be depressed about?

She bemoans the lack of stoicism, accepting your lot, working harder to make life better. Eat less and exercise more, it isn’t hard. They should be made to lose the weight before treatment.

I am riled enough to respond, gently pointing out that obesity often has underlying causes. She glances my way, her body language screaming disapproval. I whisper that without treatment they may die.

The smile is thin, the eyes hard. “Let them”, she says.

At my age she was slim and beautiful. Money was never plentiful but she was always neatly dressed, hair coiffed, make up on, smiling coyly at the lens. Perfection was captured. The camera never lies.

She married at nineteen, was a good wife. She loves to tell of how the men opened doors, gave up seats, but I know there was a cost. Those neatly presented bodies would be silently groped, no fuss made about something that should flatter. Lewd comments passed for humour and the women were required to laugh. Their women. Ownership for coveted protection.

She looks at my body with its rolls of fat, its make up free face. Uncut hair is pulled back into an unflattering knot. Androgynous clothes are stretched over a despised shell, for comfort rather than appeal. She sees everything that disappoints her about this world.

I will not tell her about the scars on my arms. I will not mention the pain of a cold blade drawn from wrist to elbow, the gasp of anguish and then release as the blood flowed.

I will not tell her of the resources I wasted. Those medical staff gave me the best care in the world. They did not opine or complain as they patched my hated body back together.

She would call me selfish, and I was.

She would believe that had I truly wished to die I would have succeeded. She would look at me with those familiar, contempt filled eyes and wish I had.

So do I.



She had considered suicide on more than one occasion.

What put her off was the effect on her kids. She did not wish to burden them with a legacy of guilt, although she was unsure if they would harbour such feelings. She could imagine anger, frustration, disappointment. They treated her with such contempt it was hard to know what impact her demise would have.

And then there was her husband. He treated her well and she knew that she was useful to him. She cooked and cleaned even if not with the skills he could admire. Sex was another chore. He was still handsome enough and solvent in a world filled with debt. He could easily find a replacement although not perhaps one as compliant as she. He may relish the change but, as ever, she worried about the impact on their kids.

The aches and pains she felt, the blood she passed, it was probably just her age. If not then death by illness would be so much more acceptable to those left behind. There would be no public shaming even if her choices could be surreptitiously blamed by the spiteful. She knew that she drank more than was good for her but cared little for the effects on her body. If it shortened her life then so be it, at least she would have lived.

It had been a good life. She loved her husband even after all these years of marriage. She was proud of their kids whose lives stretched out before them, filled with such potential. They seemed normal, happy, ready to spread their wings. Didn’t their desire for independence, their strong but considered views, show that she had done her job well? She felt accomplished that they no longer needed her. It hurt that they did not want her.

She considered going to her doctor but saw little point. She was overweight for her age and height, obese by the helpful charts she consulted on line. Both her mother-in-law and her sister opined that the obese did not deserve free healthcare, that they should help themselves by losing the weight. She had been trying to lose weight since she was fourteen years old. Only occasionally did she succeed.

She did not agree with their point of view believing that these issues were often an outward sign of more complex problems. She wondered if she suffered a mental health disorder then berated herself for indulging in such thoughts. Her husband considered depression to be a first world problem, a sign of weakness. He had no interest in such nonsense.

They rarely talked about how they felt. They rarely talked of much at all. When the children discussed politics or the economy she would try to engage but her oratory skills failed her. They became exasperated, running rings around her stumbled opinions before dismissing them. Their father, when he joined in, always sounded so sure, so knowledgeable. She felt a failure for her inability to counter his neoliberal perspective with the same conviction.

She felt a failure in most things: as a wife, a mother, a worthwhile member of society. She sat upon this earth consuming resources and giving little back. If her body was now failing her then she would allow it to wane. The costly treatments that could be offered would channel finite resources away from those who deserved it, those who wished to live.

What is it her son had said when she had told him she did not expect to achieve old age? ‘At least you won’t get dementia.’ This had always been her fear, that she would become a burden to those she loved.

Some days she did not wish to die. Some days she felt the warm glow of happiness, a momentary sunbeam, breaking through the shadows that threatened to engulf her waking hours. Some days life still felt good.

And it had been a good life; she had no regrets. She had achieved so much even if her family did not now hold any of it in regard. She had not made any sacrifices but had offered her all willingly and with infinite love.

This then would be her first, selfish act.



Sins of the Father

The taxi drove past the house at a quarter past eight every weekday morning. Annabelle could see the girls sitting stiff and upright in the back seat as they went by. They reminded her of mannequins with their blank expressions, always staring forwards, never seeming to see what was ahead. She wondered how much of all that had happened they understood.

The experts consulted by the court had decided that their daily needs would best be met in another town amongst strangers. The few friends that Annabelle had managed to keep, those who had not joined in with the general condemnation and subsequent ostracisation, reported that the girls were calm but unresponsive in this new setting. The staff had tried at first but with so many challenging cases in their care it was easier to let the quiet ones be.

It would have been easier for Annabelle to let things be except then she couldn’t have lived with herself. She had a stubborn streak and a desire to do what she thought was for the best whatever the cost to herself. This latest attempt at improving the world for those she cared about had cost them dearly.

When she had first arrived in town and the twins had ignored her she would not accept that this could never be changed. Her predecessor had warned her to expect nothing more but she observed the girls ability to understand each other’s needs and slowly learned to join in. It had surprised everyone when, at the age of eight, they had uttered their first words.

Words can be dangerous weapons.

When confronted their father denied everything and threw Annabelle out of their comfortable home, angrily terminating the contract that she had naively imagined would offer them all some protection. The unwanted attention of subsequent investigations sent the girls back into their own little world. It was clear from the medical evidence that they had been abused but not by whom.

There had been seven carers since their mother had hanged herself from a tree in the back yard one sunny afternoon in the summer of the girls’ third year. None had noticed anything amiss.

The townspeople were suddenly noticing a great deal.

Some claimed that Annabelle’s non-existent advances had been spurned by the father, others that the stress of caring for the girls had driven her over the edge as it had their mother. Some speculated that the mother had made the same discovery and could not live with it, cruelly pondering why she had not taken her damaged daughters with her.

Annabelle had watched the storm that she had unleashed spin wildly beyond her control leaving nothing but hurt and destruction in its wake. Her beloved girls, spurned by society for being born different, were now beyond her care. Their father had completed his time in court by taking out an injunction to ensure she kept her distance.

Perhaps she should have moved away. Perhaps she would have done had the father not courted his defence lawyer, now pregnant with their first child. Annabelle’s hairdresser had eagerly disclosed that the early scans showed a little girl.

Annabelle understood predilections, especially the sins of a father. She would bide her time.




True Colours

The grass tickled the back of my neck but I was more concerned about spiders. I hate spiders. It’s all those legs propelling them along as they dash for cover. I clean the apartment so thoroughly because I worry that they could run up my legs or crawl into my ear while I sleep and eat my brains.

Dan had his arm around me so I didn’t want to move. He likes it outdoors. He tells me the names of all the birds and the types of trees we walk by. I bought a pair of boots when we started dating because he worried about me walking any distance in Keds. Those boots gave me the worst blisters I’ve ever had.

Lying in the sun I tried to relax but the grass was annoying me. Dan was talking some nonsense about the earth spinning and gravity but all I could think about was how much I needed a blanket. A picnic basket would have been nice too, with a bottle of wine, some fresh bread, olives and a selection of cheeses. That’s the sort of outdoors I like.

I was picturing myself looking glamorous in a floaty dress when Dan jumped up all excited.

‘Look over there, in the oak!’

He was pointing but I had no idea what at. I also had no idea which tree was the oak.

‘It’s a buzzard, right at the top.’

Dan was pulling his camera from the backpack he always carries. I don’t know why he doesn’t just use his phone. He grabbed one of his bulky lenses and set off without even helping me to my feet. He looks pretty cute but is so easily distracted.

I guessed we were going to walk on. I had hoped to find a pub but all we had passed were some farm buildings and an old church. Dan had told me that the church was why he had chosen the route. We didn’t even go inside.

He was beside a tree looking up when the spider dropped down from my fringe on a single thread. I screamed and jumped backwards catching my foot on the uneven ground. It twisted painfully and do you know what he said?

‘Shit, Becca, you’ve scared it away now!’

Not a word of concern.

I couldn’t even make the exit I deserved leaving him all alone and regretful. We were in the middle of nowhere and I hadn’t a clue how to get back to the car.

After that I didn’t feel bad about tricking him into marrying me. Once the baby is born he’ll have to look out for my needs. I know he’ll do right by us, everyone has told me what a nice guy he is. I wonder if he’ll ever realise that the boots were an investment.




Life and times

She told me that we would have plenty of time. Time to travel, build our careers, get married, have kids; if that was what we chose to do. She laughed when I told her that I loved her, when I held her hand on that deserted beach and looked deep into her eyes, those beautiful, mesmerising eyes reflecting the oranges and reds of another fiery sunset.

‘Why so serious?’ she asked.

She ran away from me then, barefoot and laughing, diving into the waves with abandon. I followed, always I followed.

My heart aches when I think back to those days, those carefree days before our savings were spent and we were forced to return to the greyness of London. She swapped her rainbow sarongs for anonymous, sharp suits and dived into the financial waves of a burgeoning economy. We would glance at the light polluted sunsets from the twenty-third floor of a monolith to corporate greed. She smiled when I told her I loved her, holding her hand as we drifted into another exhausted sleep.

‘I know’, she murmured.

It was a marriage of convenience. They would only pay for a spouse to join her on those long stints abroad, not a partner. I made a fuss, told her that I needed to be with her more than I needed to further my own career. I worried about who would ensure she got home after the benders she claimed kept her sane. She frowned when I told her that I would always be there for her, whatever she chose to do.

‘You may not have that option’, she replied.

We would have made such beautiful children but it was not to be. The disease she picked up caused too much damage. Her redundancy cheque cleared the debts but we knew that we could no longer manage the payments on our neglected home. I told her that I would look after her, that we could make a fresh start.

In silence she looked away.

The monotony was more than she could bear. I suggested she go out on her own but we both knew such a move would require capital we could not raise, contacts whose trust we had lost along the way. We were cogs now, frustrated and alone.

She told me that we would have plenty of time and perhaps we did. Why did we squander those precious days? If she had a distant dream then she never shared it with me. Looking back, she never shared.

I asked her, ‘What time is it now?’

‘Time for you to leave’, she sighed.

And I did.

Family ties

Gwen eyed the turkey with distaste. She had grown to hate turkey. Turkey meant big family gatherings, a day spent in her kitchen preparing to feed the masses who would descend on her home expecting to be welcomed and entertained. It was always the same. She had the fine house in the home town, the big table that could seat all who wished to attend. They would breeze in through her front door brandishing bottles of wine, six packs of beer, and noisy bonhomie. Tired from their long drives they would hug and stretch before filling her sofas and relaxing with their drinks. She was never consulted. They would give her their arrival time and expect her to play her part.

This past week had been spent cleaning every room from top to bottom, clearing out cupboards and disposing of anything that could be remarked upon. She knew exactly who would feel justified in rifling through her things, who would claim they needed some small item and hadn’t wished to disturb her. How many times in the past had they appeared in front of everyone brandishing an unexpected find that could feed their gossip, feigning interest or concern? She was determined not to provide them with ammunition.

Yesterday she had faced the crowds in town, wasted hours shopping for the food they would all consume. Her evening had been spent over a hot stove, preparing all that could be done in advance. Now she must deal with this loathsome turkey. She hated turkey.

Once upon a time she had enjoyed these family gatherings, had looked forward to welcoming the crowds to her home. Then Michael had decided that his perky little trainee was more exciting than her in his bed, his ego taking precedence over the well-being of their children. How she had laughed when she had heard that her replacement was pregnant with twins. How her family had berated her for letting him go, as if she had had a choice.

She still saw him sometimes, driving his sports car to and from his bachelor pad in town. She knew that he was good to all of his kids giving them everything he could except his time. Time was the one thing that she could offer in abundance but Beth and Robbie showed little interest in that now. They were too busy travelling the world, falling in and out of love, furthering their careers. Gwen was proud of her children, glad that they had found new lives away from the prying eyes and the small town mentality that had ground her down.

The ringing phone in the hall jolted her from her reverie. She guessed it would be Mother demanding to know when her lift would arrive. Gwen could picture the old lady sitting fretting by the window, coat by her side hours before it would be required. This was the third time in as many days that Gwen had explained the arrangements. Mother would not accept that her son was picking her up on his way through. Did Gwen not know that Mother did not care for his wife? She would continue to pick at this sore in the hope of guilt tripping Gwen into doing as she wished, ignoring the fact that someone had to attend to the food and welcome the unasked for guests. Mother always thought that her desires should take precedence over all else.

At least today she would have a new audience for her grievances. Twice a week Gwen would drop by to hear the same tales being told, the same complaints aired. Mother regularly made clear how bad a daughter Gwen was for not doing everything that the loving daughters of her acquaintances did. On this point Gwen would not acquiesce. She had no wish to do time for matricide which she feared would be the outcome if she allowed her mother to move into her home.

Today Mother would have all her children around her and most of their children too. She would berate Gwen for not insisting that Beth and Robbie be there, unable to comprehend that it was the guilt she poured so liberally on Gwen that had fed her determination never to inflict such treatment on her own offspring. They would be free to come and go as suited them with no feelings of obligation. Their visits may not be regular but they were happy ones.

Gwen returned to the kitchen and heaved the dead bird into the oven. With so many dishes to prepare for this afternoon’s feast the time would go quickly enough. Whatever efforts she made there would still be complaints, vaguely coated in supposedly well meaning advice. She wished that she didn’t care.


The post dinner kitchen looked like a disaster zone. Closing the door against the raucous good cheer Gwen poured herself another glass of wine. Mother had outdone herself. She now had three of her four children determined that the only acceptable solution to her sadly explained predicament was that she move in with Gwen. With so much space and time on her hands it made sense to everyone else that Gwen should become her mother’s carer.

Picking up her phone Gwen clicked on the number she had carefully saved but rarely used. As she listened to the distant ringing she willed him to take the call.


The silence was deafening. Gwen fought her desire to laugh at their stricken faces, aware that such a reaction may sound hysterical. For the first time in many years she felt empowered.

‘You can’t just leave her, she is an old lady, she is your mother!’ her brother implored.

‘She is your mother too.’ Gwen retorted. ‘She has spent the whole afternoon complaining about her current place, I’m sure that with a bit of effort you can find her somewhere she will prefer near to you. Maybe you could even have her move in.’

It took all of Gwen’s powers to suppress her smile as husband and wife exchanged stricken looks.

Mother looked from child to child. ‘I don’t understand Gwen. Why would you wish to leave this place at your age? Where will we all go when we need to meet up?’

And of course that was the crux of the matter. Gwen was expected to be there when the family wanted her to be, to serve them all as they saw fit, as she had always done before.

‘At my age? Maybe that is why’ she replied. ‘Maybe I want to see some of the places Beth and Robbie talk about. Michael is happy for me to rent this place out, he says he may even join me.’

Her sister-in-law eyed her quizzically ‘You never told us you were still in touch with Michael.’

Gwen looked her in the eye, ‘I don’t tell you a lot of things.’