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
ZAHRA by Denise Newton
“Ma’am, would you please step to one side?” The official was polite but firm. There was no option: Zahra obeyed his directive. She adjusted her headscarf with her free hand. It trembled a little. She tried to hide the hand under a fold in her long jacket. Everything about her – her clothes and her spirit -had become a little creased on the flight from Kabul. She was very tired.
The official led her behind the bustling immigration area to an interview room. It was quiet inside. Zahra saw four chairs and a desk. There was a large round clock above the desk. The other walls were all white: blank white walls. Another official, dressed in the same uniform as the first, sat on one of the chairs. She indicated that Zahra should sit on the chair facing her. Zahra did so, slipping her hands – both of them shaking now – inside her sleeves. She would not show these people her fear.
The second official had Zahra’s passport. She leafed through the pages, glancing up once or twice. After several long moments she said, “What is the purpose of your visit to Australia?”
Zahra replied, carefully as she’d rehearsed “To visit my son. He is very sick.”
“And where does he live?”
“He lives in an apartment in Bankstown.”
“How long do you plan to stay?”
“Just one month.” Zahra’s mouth was dry. It was hard to pronounce the English words properly. She must say everything properly. For Hanif’s sake. For her son.
“Is your son an Australian citizen?” It was the man this time. He’d come to sit near Zahra. He was too close to her. His knee was touching her thigh. She tried to move back a little in her chair. She wanted to spring to her feet, to run outside and away from these people in the uniforms. But that would mean she would not see Hanif. She had to see Hanif. So she breathed out slowly and answered the man: “No, he is not citizen. He has temporary visa.”
“How can we be sure that you will return to Afghanistan at the end of the month? That you won’t try to stay here?” The man was frowning at her now. He frightened her. Did he mean to be frightening? Zahra didn’t know.
“I leave in one month. I see my son, then I leave. I want to nurse my son. He may die…he is sick. Very sick.”
“I’m sorry, Mrs.Asadi.” The woman stood up .”We cannot verify your visa documentation. We cannot allow you to enter Australia until this is done. You will need to stay in a detention centre until we have checked your credentials.”
The man took her arm to lead her from the room. Zahra turned her head to look at his face, searching for some understanding or compassion. The man had stopped frowning. His face was blank: it was empty.