Short Fiction ~ Jan Kaneen
Honourable Mention, Strands International Flash Fiction Competition - 13
Its 1983 and your stepmother’s slapping your sixteen-year-old big sister round the head in the backyard, screaming into her face that she’s an evil bitch for writing such wicked things about her in the diary she just happened to find lying open when she was tidying up the filthy midden that is your sister’s bedroom. Do you
a) Listen from the kitchen breathing in the terrible scents of false accusation and Blue Grass perfume, weeping silent tears of impotent rage that choke in your throat forever.
b) Stride outside keeping your voice as steady as you can, saying ‘Chrissy can write what she likes in the privacy of her own diary which no-one has the right to read without her permission.’
c)Record the outburst on the state-of-the-art tape recorder dad bought at the weekend because he loves a gadget, so when you tell everyone that your widely-respected nursing angel of a stepmother is actually a deeply troubled, mentally unstable ticking time-bomb, they believe you, rather than thinking you’re some sort of deluded fantasist.
d)Fly at your stepmother like a thing possessed grabbing her arm as she aims another swipe at your cringing sister shrieking, ‘Leave her alone, you nasty old cow.’
It’s a sweltering Saturday afternoon in 1976, and you and your new step-mum are chatting to an old lady in a cool pew at the back of a fusty old church before the wedding of one of your step-mum’s colleagues. The old lady asks your step-mum how she met your dad and your step-mum replies, quick as sixpence, without even mentioning your dead mother, that she and your dad were childhood sweethearts. Do you
a)Keep quiet and never mention it again so it festers like a suppurating wound that only starts to heal years later when you revisit the moment in therapeutic short stories and flash fictions.
b)Tell the old lady in as grown-up a voice as you can muster, that your step-mum feels insecure about her place in your dad’s affections and is under a lot of pressure at work which is why she makes up these stories that continually omit your real mum from familial narratives.
c) Keep quiet but in the car on the way home ask her why she said it?
d)Call her a big fat liar and storm out crying.
It’s 1987 and your sister’s left home to go to university so there’s only you and your step-mother indoors most breakfast-times. One morning, she oversleeps so you’ve already eaten your cornflakes, washed-up your bowl and put it away when she comes downstairs. As you leave for school, she follows you to the front door, blocks your way and accuses you of leaving with an empty stomach, saying you’re going nowhere until you’ve put something proper inside you. Do you
a)Eat whatever it is she wants to keep the peace, then go upstairs to put your fingers down your throat which takes ages to do in complete silence so you miss your bus and the start of A level physics, as well as triggering a ten-year struggle with bulimia.
b)Say, ‘Just because you didn’t see something doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, now pull yourself together and stop with the control freakery.’
c) Take a slice of toast by way of compromise because you can always bin it as soon as you’re round the corner.
d) Tell her to FUCK RIGHT OFF because she’s a madwoman-nutjob who means nothing-nothing-NOTHING to you, spitting the words into her face until she slaps you hard but you don’t react despite the peppery sting but stand rigidly still as you hiss into her ear that you felt nothing because she is nothing, worse than nothing, a ghost of nobody, a shoddy simulacrum clinging to a dead woman’s legacy, then push past her taking in her pale waxwork face as you run outside into the syrupy sunlight feeling the heat of the moment surging through you like electricity - like energy - like power.
Jan Kaneen's short fiction has won prizes in places like Segora, Molotov Cocktail, Retreat West, Bath Flash and Fountain Mag, and has been published widely in places like The Fish Anthology, Comma Press's Dinesh Allirajah Prize Anthology and Aesthetica. She has stories forthcoming in The International Sort Short Story Magazine, Retreat West's The Weight of Feathers and Molotov Cocktail's winner anthology and her debut Memoir-in-flash The Naming of Bones is published by Retreat West and available to buy here The Naming of Bones (retreatwest.co.uk).