Quick as a flash

I entered this flash fiction piece in this year’s Fish Publishing Flash Fiction Prize and it made it onto the shortlist. I love short form fiction, both to read and to write, and need to remember not to neglect it. Competitions can be really useful because they impose both a word limit and a deadline.

Virginia?

I didn’t recognise her at first, what with her being on the other river bank. And her being dead too, dead since 1941.

I went to an exhibition in London once and the final display case had her walking stick in it. She left it on the bank of that other river, the one in Sussex. It was making people cry. Mostly women, middle-aged women, were stopping by that case and holding on to it like it might keep them afloat.

So I don’t think I can be blamed for taking a few minutes to realise who she was, that thin woman, curled like an apostrophe on the opposite bank of the North Esk.

She was sitting on a fallen tree trunk, in a dull grey raincoat. I stopped absolutely still and watched her, the way I watched the deer in the woods. She lifted her head by the slightest of angles and shot me a look.

‘Virginia?’

She shifted then, turned away from me a bit more.

‘Virginia?’

OK, so you’re probably thinking this was a wasted opportunity, that I should have been more eloquent. I should probably have jumped in quick with at least one of the questions I’d like to ask her. But would you? If you suddenly saw a dead genius of twentieth century literature, would you be ready with your insightful question about The Waves? Or maybe your prurient interest about Vita in bed or how much she was threatened by Katherine?

I didn’t say anything more. She cracked suddenly, all over like something made of porcelain. Inside was all this light. And then she was gone. She didn’t drown. She didn’t take one of those big stones and force it into her pocket, lie back in the cold water and drown. She didn’t.

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