Flash Fiction 1st Place: Soar, Swoop, Fall by Karen Jones
Annette and her mum are like twin porcelain dolls. They wear their hair the same way and have the exact same smile and the bluest eyes. Annette always comes top of the class in school, but Lorna knows that’s because Annette’s mum does her homework for her, and Annette cheats in tests. Lorna knows, because Annette cheats at everything – even games in the playground. Everyone knows about the cheating, but because Annette lives in the street where houses have names instead of numbers, and because Annette looks like a doll, and because Annette’s mum is sleeping with the teacher, and because Annette’s dad donates prizes for the school raffle, nobody says anything. Most people don’t know about the affair with the schoolteacher, but Lorna does. Lorna keeps it in her book of secrets she’ll never tell. Probably.
Lorna closes her mud-brown eyes, sucks at her sore, yellowed teeth, and imagines she’s like Annette, but as well as long, curly hair, white teeth, and blue eyes, as well as winning at everything in school, Lorna can fly. She sweeps over streets in the village, laughing at people below – all those people who usually avoid her, call her dirty and smelly – she’s above them now. She swoops down at some of the bullies in the playground and they duck and dive to avoid her laughs and curls.
When she’s had enough of tormenting the tormentors, she lands at her house. It’s the same tiny house, but it’s freshly painted, and the garden is full of flowers. Her mum is at the window, wearing a nice dress, holding the baby and smiling and waving. Dad isn’t home from work yet, and Mum is making stew, Lorna’s favourite, but this time there’s more meat than veg, and it’s a good cut of beef. There’s a dog waiting to lick her hello and drag her to play in the garden. It’s a small brown dog, fluffy, with white patches over its eyes. It’s a mongrel, but the most beautiful dog ever – and clever too. Lorna has taught it to count with paw pats. Lorna and the dog run around the garden, Lorna’s long curls flow behind her, the smell of the stew wafts out through the kitchen window making her stop and sniff, sniff, sniff the air. She looks up to the sky and wants to fly again.
But clouds gather and it rains hard – sore hard – and the dog is soaked and shrinking and disappearing and the baby is crying and the paint is washing off the walls and Dad is in bed, struggling to breathe and Mum is trying to make the mince stretch by adding carrots and onions and she’s counting the potatoes, working out how few she can use today to leave enough for tomorrow, and Lorna’s curls are falling onto the grass and she’s scratching at the eczema patches on her shaved head and Lorna’s house has a number and Lorna will never, ever be Annette.