A while ago I sent off a piece of fiction to Books Ireland for consideration in their flash fiction anthology. It’s a teeny, tiny story called ‘Touching Freckles’ and I’m very fond of it. So it was a marvellous surprise to get the email saying it would be published on their website for the flash fiction series this year. I don’t know where it came from (or why I chose something a little sad) but I like the characters so much that I might let them live longer in another format some day. Meantime here it is – telling a love story in 250 words.
“Okay, sheepskin? Or velvet? Oh, pressing your fingers down hard onto a hedgehog!” There’s a snigger.
“Where would I even get a hedgehog who’d let me do that? Seriously, you’re shit at this!”
She’s frowning now, I can always tell. I can feel those knitted brows as if I’m holding onto her pretty face, spreading my fingers along her forehead, like old times. Know what I miss most of all? Her freckles. My clumsy fingers stroke and press but - nothing. She sighs, leans into me. “Sam,” she says.
Disease is fast, until it’s slow. Falling over is funny, until it’s not. Sally is no longer frowning, I know this, like I know my heart still beats. Her freckles. A sky full of stars, I said once, and we fell about laughing. “Stars!” Sally shrieked.
We saw our long future up ahead, the path clear and lined with flowers. Not for us, the thorns that would prick, the darkness that would swallow.
What did we know?
“Blind as a bat?”, I asked. The doctor frowned (they never laugh, do they?) We held hands the whole way home. What else is there? Darkness descended, slow and heavy and soundless. I live in the dark. But the light is fuzzy around the edges.
Those freckles. Stars.
Remember black and white TV? Me neither. But imagine what it must have been like to see things in TECHNICOLOUR for the first time. Watching the snooker, in particular, was surely much improved.
I’ve always thought that Belfast was a grey old place. Grey sky, grey buildings, even grey faces. Growing up in seventies Belfast was a dark time, of course, in more ways than one. Then on the Big Trip a few years ago I’d gasp in awe at all the European colour: ceramic tiles in doorways, oranges that seemed too bright to be real, sunsets that lit up the sky. I told myself that I was being shaken awake with colour that didn’t even exist back at home.
But isn’t this the emerald isle? Green fields aren’t so common, and they’re rather beautiful. There’s art here too. Colour is all around. I had a lovely chat with a new neighbour the other day who said how much she loves walking past our door with its bright yellow paint. She’d always wondered if an artist lived here. Isn’t that something? Splashing colour around the place brings joy.
Turns out the sky here is something other than grey on occasion too. I’ve been taking a photo of the ash tree outside my bedroom window every morning since the start of the year and I’d expected it to prove my theory right. But the sky is quite often blue. Who’d have thought? I don’t think I looked properly before. Or maybe I had coloured it in using grey childhood memories to leave only smudges.
Good things, colourful things, are waiting to be found. Sometimes they hide, but seeking them out will bring joy. Spread the word: colour is here.
I spent the weekend in a glamping pod with best mates and their kids. Waking up to a big sky as trees wave through the window, avoiding rain showers by cuddling under blankets, barbecuing very (very) slowly, playing silly ‘would you rather’ games over fish and chips, sitting by the campfire with whiskey, staring at the stars. It was all rather blissful. Spending time with loved ones while out in the fresh air is surely one of life’s greatest pleasures.
And more than anything it was a reminder that I want to live more simply and take up less space in the world. Those clever little living pods were adorable and cosy. They had everything you could need. Most of all, they were small. Living in Hans the Van for a year and a half taught me so much about tiny living. We spent less during our travels than ‘normal’ life, we bought less (it wouldn’t fit in the cupboards) and we didn’t waste food because we bought fresh and local. I’d like to keep these lessons at the forefront of my mind these days. Now that I’m back to living in an actual house, I’ve noticed that I’m accumulating stuff yet again. It’s not a massive home but the cupboards and loft and shed are filling up.
Modern life has pushed us towards debt: the big house, the big car, the big family holiday. Big, big, big. But what if we started to shrink things and see magic in the small? I’m keeping an eye out for a tiny cabin home (preferably in an equally tiny forest) and I’ll need to be able to fit all my worldly goods inside. So it’s time to clear out while remembering the mantra: the best things in life are free.
Laughing with friends, stroking a cat, noticing new flowers starting to bloom, staring at the stars. Big things are small. Small things are big. Let’s start to get them the right way round.
How do you feel about maths? If you’ve just broken out in a cold sweat, welcome to my world. Numbers have never been my friend and I’ve now accepted that they never will. It’s as if my brain is wired to treat them as a threat – should any wander innocently into my head it will attack them and turn them into mush.
It’s often the way with creative types who see the world in words and colour so I know I’m not alone, but I’m still jealous of people who can do sums in their head (in their head! With no calculator!). Even if someone asks me to add up a very simple sum I freeze and panic.
When I went to a university summer school a few years ago we all gathered in the lecture theatre and the professor of psychology welcomed everyone and outlined the plan for the first day. Turns out we were all going to introduce ourselves and then do some quick mental arithmetic and add it to the board at the front.
Well. Eyes widened. Hearts raced. And some (me) even began to reach for their coats. But she laughed soon enough and explained that some of her research also involves ‘maths anxiety’ (she gets to wire candidates up to monitor their physical reactions to doing equations). This summer school was not going to involve such things (thank heavens) so we gratefully moved on.
Numbers. I don’t like them. But this might be a good thing. Since stepping into the limelight last year I’ve purposely not looked (too hard) at viewing figures or levels of engagement. How many people are reading blog posts, engaging with the newsletter, liking Twitter posts? It’s exhausting to monitor such things – the numbers go up and down and my fragile ego likewise. Ignorance is sometimes bliss.
And more than that, it’s an acknowledgment that small is not necessarily worse than big in this game. Small numbers are cool. Just one person who laughed at a tweet or was moved by a story – that’s the sweet spot. Real connection is where it’s at.
One plus one equals? Lots of happy readers and one happy writer.