Short Fiction ~ Olga Wojtas
Third Prize, Strands International Flash Fiction Competition - 16
“Splice the mainbrace!” ordered Sylvester.
There was no response from Alexis, who was making patterns in the dusty earth with a twig.
“You have to say ‘Aye, aye, Captain!’” Sylvester prompted.
“I want to be the captain,” said Alexis. “You’re always the captain.”
“You’re always older.”
“Of course I’m always older, stupid,” said Sylvester.
Alexis turned his back on the lake and the boat. “I’m not stupid. I’m tired. I want Lucy to put me to bed.”
“That proves you’re stupid,” said Sylvester. “I told you Lucy’s not going to put you to bed ever again.”
“I don’t believe you!” said Alexis. “You’re a liar!”
“I’m not a liar!” said Sylvester, shoving him.
Alexis shoved him back, and they tussled for a while until Alexis began to cry and called for his mother. She turned briefly and told them both to behave, before continuing her promenade round the park with their father. Alexis retrieved the twig and returned to his patterns.
The light was fading and Sylvester noted with satisfaction that they were now the only children there. Most of the grown-ups were in couples, but Sylvester particularly admired the single gentlemen lounging on benches, surveying the smoke curling up from their cigarettes. One day he would be a gentleman, able to do exactly what he wanted. But this was almost as good, being taken out to play at the very moment when he would normally be sent to bed. He had managed to snatch his boat just as they were leaving in the hope that he would be allowed to play beside the lake. And now he was imagining himself to be Great-Uncle Granville aboard HMS Minotaur at the Battle of Trafalgar.
“A Spanish vessel is approaching!” he called to Alexis. “Stand by to fire cannons!”
“I’m cold. I’m tired,” said Alexis. “I want Lucy.”
“She’ll be gone by now. Mother said she wanted her and every last scrap of her belongings out of the house by the time we got back.”
“But we need her! Who’ll put us to bed? Who’ll dress us? Who’ll give us breakfast? Who’ll give us lunch? Who’ll give us supper?”
“We don’t need anyone. We’ll sleep under the bushes. We’ll forage for berries and mushrooms in Kew Gardens, and fish for trout in the Thames. And we’ll catch rats and roast them on spits.”
Alexis’s lip trembled. “I want Lucy,” he said. “You’re making it all up.”
“If I’m making it all up, why are we playing in the park in the middle of the night? I heard every word. Mother said Lucy was a sludge and had to leave immediately.”
“What’s a sludge?”
“You’re such a baby! You don’t know anything! It’s a girl who kisses boys.”
Alexis thought. “So if Lucy promises not to kiss us again, can she stay?”
Sylvester snorted. “Boys, I said, not babies like you.”
“I’m going to ask Mother,” said Alexis, scrambling to his feet and running across the path to his parents. He was already babbling excitedly as he caught up with them. “Mother, Mother, if Lucy - ”
His father’s voice cut across him. “Go and play with your brother!”
Alexis crept back to the lake. It was virtually dark now, but he thought he could see some roses in the distance. In the spring, he had picked a pansy, yellow with delicate mauve streaks in it, and brought it home to Lucy.
“Here,” he had said. “I chose this present specially because it’s pretty just like you.”
“Oh, Master Alexis!” she said. “It’s the most beautiful present I’ve ever had. I’ll press it and keep it in my prayer book.”
Sylvester continued to battle with the Spanish naval vessel, exchanging volley after volley but ultimately confident of victory.
“Sylvester, where’s your brother?” came his mother’s voice, sharp and high.
Sylvester scrambled to his feet.
“Just here, Mother. I – I don’t know. He was here - ”
Alexis stumbled on through the dark in search of a perfect rose.
Olga Wojtas is a journalist and writer, half-Scottish and half-Polish. She has spent most of her life in Edinburgh, but has also lived and worked in Aberdeen, Grenoble, Newcastle and Washington DC. She has had more than 20 short stories published in literary magazines and anthologies in the UK and USA, including Gutter, New Writing Scotland and The Mayo Review. She has won a New Writers Award from the Scottish Book Trust and was an Edinburgh City of Literature Story Shop reader at the 2015 Edinburgh International Book Festival.
Author photo by Antonia Reeve