Flash Fiction 1st Place: Sometimes there’s Compassion in a Punch by Peter Burns
When Da booked our first holiday, a weekend in a caravan in St. Andrews, Ma wept.
Sometimes people cry without being hurt.
It took three hours, two trains, and one bus to get there. Da bought cans of beer on the last train. Ma tutted about the price, but kept on smiling.
Sometimes you’re best not knowing the course ahead.
Da was drunk when we arrived at the caravan. Picking up Ma, he carried her through the door. Ma said it was fifteen years too late, but, still, better late than never. Da wasn’t angry when he put her down.
Sometimes surprises swell up so fast you’re almost swept away.
There was only one bedroom. The couch in the living-room pulled out to become a mattress. They said I could sleep there and watch telly until the national anthem came on. But Da was snoring by nine o’clock and Ma nodded for me to come into bed beside her.
Sometimes it might seem calm, but it’s still there, circling under the surface.
We went to the beach, next day. Me and Ma paddled in the sea, splashing its cold saltiness into each other’s faces. Ma’s cheeks reddened and a tinge of blue struck through her lips, yet Da was sleeping far behind us.
Sometimes good things become memories too.
At a wee shop on the way home, Da bought me and Ma an ice-cream. A plastic bag filled with cans of beer swung from his wrist. We’re all happy now, he said. Ma smiled, shivers streaking her bare legs.
Sometimes your body tells more truth than your face ever could.
The couch in the caravan was C-shaped. Da was stretched out across one side, nearest the telly, and me and Ma sat across from him. The middle part was no man’s land.
Sometimes fighting can be silent and small.
Last evening of the holiday, Da took us with him to the pub. Ma said in fifteen years that was another new thing. We sat at a table outside, looking over a cliff to the sea. We had fish and chips and I was allowed as much ginger as I wanted. Ma had a glass of wine, but it was nowhere near Christmas. Da drank beer like a drowning man needing air. The sky was a scarlet and purple bruise on our way home, Da staggering far behind us. Just before the caravan park a rabbit lay at the side of the road, twitching and bleeding. Ma covered her mouth, clasped her stomach. Da came and bent down, stroked it with one hand, made a fist with the other. Ma pushed me behind her. But I wanted to see. I wanted to see what had slowed Da’s breathing, what had furrowed his brow, what had heaved his shoulders up before they curled downwards like a wave.
Sometimes there’s compassion in a punch.