Writing

Short Story: “Three”

My ‘Australian Writers’ Centre’ Furious Fiction entry for February. The parameters for that month were: 500 words or less; the first sentence must have three words only; there had to be a candle; and a “first” of some sort in the story.

Here’s my effort:

THREE                                              by Denise Newton

 

“Three, three, three!” Lily punctuated each word with a clap. She skipped around the room, her pink tulle skirt fanning out around chubby knees.

The chant was becoming annoying. Sandra tried to breathe through her irritation. Like in yoga: breathe… in…and… out. Mustering patience. Birthdays were thrilling when you were turning three. When had she stopped being excited by them? She couldn’t remember. She put the third candle on top of the pink icing and placed the tiny ballerina in the centre of the cake.

“There, what do you think?”

Lily executed a clumsy pirouette, hands fluttering. “Beautiful, Mummy!”

Sandra started to say, “Let’s show Daddy…” but stopped, bit back the words in time. That familiar swooping inside. Like on a scary ride at the funfair, without the fun. This was another of those hideous “firsts” that had to be endured for a year. An entire, damnable year. And then another, and another, and another…

She glanced at her mother, seated at the table. Eleanor was watching her granddaughter dance her excitement across the kitchen. There was a fond smile on her lips and a tiny furrow between her brows. Sandra arranged her own face into a matching smile.

Her mother wasn’t fooled. “All right, love?” she said.

Sandra nodded. Her smile widened, cracked, dissolved. The tears came.

“Damn!” She tried hard to swallow them, force them away. They were disobedient, not to be stopped. They tickled as they ran down past her nose. She wiped her cheek with the back of one hand, furious with herself.

“It’s to be expected, you know.” Her mother’s voice was soft. “Times like this, birthdays and anniversaries. They’ll be hard for a while.”

Sandra gave a small sigh. “I suppose so.” She looked at Lily, who was still twirling. “You’ll make yourself dizzy, Lil.”

Lily stopped mid-turn, breathless, laughing up at her. “It’s fun!”

“It looks fun.” Sandra attempted another smile. “Come on, help me make the fairy bread. Everyone’ll be here soon.”

Together they buttered bread. Lily hummed as she shook the ‘hundreds and thousands’ container, sprinkling the tiny coloured pebbles over each slice. Every now and then a rush of them spilled out, forming a little kaleidoscopic mound, stuck to the butter. Lily squeaked in delight each time. Sandra cut the fairy bread into triangles and arranged them on a plate.

The smell of the fresh, buttered bread, the sugar in the toppings, the cake…The scene transported her to when she was a small girl, helping her mother prepare for a birthday party. The fizzy excitement. It was all so real.

She looked at Lily, giving her a proper smile this time.

“Come on, Lil. Let’s put up the balloons.”

As she passed the kitchen dresser, she touched the photo of Dan in its frame, and knew they’d be OK

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