Short Fiction ~ Cath Barton
Honourable Mention, Strands International Flash Fiction Competition - 16
It was terribly hot on the top deck of the bus. Miriam thought she would faint, but what she saw two seats in front jolted her into alertness, and she elbowed her sister, pointing at the curly-headed man and the lion’s tail, though there was no sign of a lion’s body. The women looked at one another. As Miriam was about to speak there came a blast as of a circus band, and the man held up a banana to his ear:
‘Hello bra, I’m on a buskin full of pepsins. It’s very noisy. Much worse than anything in the cirrus.’
The man laughed, a high nasal sound. As he did so he half-turned; his face was painted white and he had two red circles on his cheeks, which creased with his smile. Miriam and her sister looked at one another again and leaned forward, but whatever the person on the other end of the call was saying was just a series of squeaks to them.
‘What’s that? I can’t hear you. Speak up.’
The sounds from the other end got louder, but, to the two women, no clearer. When the bus reached the next stop the people in the seat between them and the man who was talking got off, and Miriam and her friend slipped in immediately behind him.
‘Yes, yes, yes. Don’t worry. I’ve got the camouflet with me. So if we see the querimony I’ll be able to bring you back a piddock or two.’
The man held the banana away from his ear as there was something like an explosion from whoever was on the other end of the conversation. Then he laughed some more.
‘Yes. No. No. No procacity!You want anything else?’
Static on the other end. Then a woman’s voice.
‘Hello, Phyllis. Like I said to Clip, don’t worry. You go and attend to your poonacs.
See you later.’
As the bus approached Victoria Station the man turned.
‘Is this where I get off for Buckingham Palace?’ he asked, in perfect English.
Miriam nodded, her voice somehow stuck in her throat. The man pulled out a rose from somewhere, twirled it in his fingers and held it out to her.
‘Thank you, dear lady,’ he said. As he stood up and moved down the gangway of the bus the lion-tail twitched behind him.
Miriam turned to her sister, wide-eyed, and as she did so water squirted up out of the rose and fell on them both like a refreshing shower of rain. At least that was what she told people afterwards. She couldn’t remember any of the strange words the man had spoken, though. It was as if the water had washed them all away.
Cath Barton is an English writer who lives in South Wales. She won the New Welsh Writing AmeriCymru Prize for the Novella 2017 for The Plankton Collector, now published by New Welsh Review under their Rarebyte imprint.
Her second novella, In the Sweep of the Bay, will be published in November 2020 by Louise Walters Books.
Cath’s short stories have been published by print magazines including The Lonely Crowd and Strix, as well as in a number of anthologies.
She is also active in the online flash fiction community.