The Wokingham Writers’ Group ran their first internal Flash Fiction competition, which Miranda K. Lloyd, a freelance writer, editor and proof reader, kindly agreed to judge. She gave us the theme of ‘Stormy Weather’ which we could interpret as we wished, with a limit of 300 words. The winning piece, called ‘Stormy Weather’ was by Tom Williams. My entry, ‘Oh, Barbara!’ was one of two Highly Commended pieces, the other being by Harry Dunn, also called ‘Stormy Weather’. They are all below.
Stormy Weather – Tom Williams (Winner)
I had been here before, a lifetime ago. The summer before I went up for my third year. Six idyllic weeks walking the Normandy countryside, drinking cider out of cups in tiny cafés, trying out my French. Mont Saint-Michel in the dawn or squinting in the moonlight at my battered copy of Proust until I fell asleep under the stars.
A lifetime and a war away.
In the darkness of the night sky, there was a liminal band of warm orange above the horizon: it would be dawn in an hour or so. The German groaned in his sleep. I had found him in the shell-hole and fired first.
I didn’t want to know his name, I didn’t want to make it personal, but he told me anyway. He wanted to talk. His English was rather good. We talked about literature, art and jazz, mainly jazz. He had seen Cab Calloway play in Berlin and the Hot Club play in Paris. ‘They were wonderful.’
I said I had seen Elisabeth Welch just before the invasion.
‘Elisabeth Welch, very good, Richard, but Ethel Waters’ version of Stormy Weather is so much better.’
I begged to differ. I knew both versions well but he was stubborn. I noticed that he was blowing little bloody bubbles when he spoke. I had thought he would die in the night.
I was leaving him my water bottle and the last few cigarettes when he woke. His eyes were clear but his complexion was deadly pale. I said some guff about meeting in better times, maybe going to listen to some jazz. He laughed painfully, more bloody bubbles.
‘Isn’t life strange, Richard. You can kill me, ja, but you cannot make me change my mind about Stormy Weather.’
I couldn’t say anything. I left.
‘Oh, Barbara!’ – Linda Fawke Highly Commended
Someone to turn to. A shoulder to cry on. That’s me. A repository of worn-out clichés. My adhesive labels. They phone me with their troubles and I comfort them. Seems it’s my role.
‘Oh, Barbara! I can’t stand being alone. It’s grinding me down. I’m sleeping badly and I wake to find I’ve clawed my arms until they bleed. Red spots on the sheets. Then I can’t be bothered to change them. So I go to bed in bloody bedding and that upsets me.’
I listen while my dinner burns then we go through changing the bed and she feels better. I hear the next day she slept well. I didn’t.
‘Oh, Barbara! You’re the only person I’ve spoken to this week. I have this heavy cloud around me. I miss my son. He could phone me but he doesn’t.’
So we talk about her making the call. No, she says. He should do it.
I persuade her while my washing gets soaked in a heavy shower.
‘Oh, Barbara! We had such a lovely chat!’
I try not to sigh.
And a couple more cries from a couple more friends. I should be glad – I was once – but it’s not enough. There’s a storm inside me. I stand in the shower to wash away the panic. In water and in tears. I can feel the thunder in my head and flashes like lightening make me screw up my eyes. Who helps the helper?
The phone rings. Yet another ‘Oh, Barbara!’ call?
I search for my compassionate voice.
‘Oh, Barbara! Just thought I’d give you a ring to see how you are. I love talking to you. It’s been too long. I’ve got some good news to share…’
She didn’t realise what she had just achieved.
Stormy Weather – Harry Dunn Highly Commended
‘Bob the Bass’ liked to fish off the rocks whenever he could. He might only catch the occasional sea bass but when he did, it was always a meal to remember.
He shouted to his wife, ‘Just off fishing, love. I’ll be back before it’s dark.’
‘Which spot are you going to?’ Fiona called from the kitchen.
He made his way along the uneven path before reaching his favourite rock and began baiting up his hook. After an hour, he sensed the onshore wind was beginning to strengthen and as the sea began to roar in front of him, he noticed the fast moving and darkening clouds swirling above him. Checking his watch, he decided to give himself another half-hour and adjusted his stance to counteract the sudden buffeting. He was annoyed for not making his usual weather check but decided to have one last cast.
When the bite came he knew he’d caught something big. In his excitement, he didn’t notice the gigantic wave forming to his left. The last thing he saw was his biggest ever bass leaping into the air, mouth twisted and hopelessly struggling to be free of his hook. As the wind howled, the massive breaker crashed onto the rock, sweeping him under the raging currents.
The thought of cooking fresh sea bass for supper gave Fiona a warm feeling as the sound of the wind intensified and the windows began to rattle. She looked out her largest frying pan just in case he’d caught the big one.