Flash Fiction 2nd Place: Pumpkin by Gillian O’Shaughnessy
Mother has an old towel wrapped around her head to keep the dust off, a sledgehammer in her hand. You hear the crash of breaking concrete from up the street before you see her swing. She is smashing up the porch and the low brick fence out the front. Her cheesecloth caftan is crusted in dirt and as usual, even now, she wears no shoes. You quicken your pace, avert your head so the girl you’re walking with doesn’t guess where you live. Your mother spots you, shouts, hey Pumpkin and you blush to the roots of your hair. You mutter goodbye to the girl whose name you won’t remember and slink in the door without speaking. The plaster has been smashed from the walls in the hallway, the limestone is raw and exposed, you pick your way over chunks of debris, pull your shirt over your mouth and cough, then cough again, more loudly. This is not the house you are used to. You think of your father, of freshly painted weatherboard and neat Formica kitchens, of roast chicken for Sunday lunch and drives into town after. Of your best friend Jenny with the paper dolls who lived over the fence. Of your old bed with its blue tufted coverlet and the Hills Hoist clothesline out the back. Your mother dug up the line at your new house last week, she said it screamed country towns and cricket widows and she’d swing from the lampshade if she had to live like that again. Now you drape your clothes on the daisy bushes to dry them. You will ask for an iron for Christmas so you won’t have to press your school shirts under your mattress at night. You walk into the kitchen, sling your schoolbag over a chair. Your new stepfather is making dinner. He cuts an eggplant into circles, salts each slice before laying them neatly between sheets of paper towel. He is smaller than your father. You take two pieces of the paper towel when he is not looking, use it to line your dressing gown pockets and later at dinner, you squirrel away food on the sly from your plate. A piece of rough brown wheat bread. A roast potato, two if you’re careful. Some cheese. Once you have supplies, you are rude. You tell him he is not your father. You ask why he won’t cut his hair or wear underwear. You say you want to live with your dad. You tell him his feet smell, his beard is dirty, and you hate him. Your mother loses patience and sends you to your room. Here you can breathe. You’re reading Anne of Green Gables; she is praying on her knees next to a white bed with an apple leaf quilt. You pull your dinner out of your pockets and lose yourself in stories. You do not think: I want to go home, I want to go home, I want to go home.