Flash Fiction 3rd Place: High Time by Audrey Niven
North Beach Hotel — High Tea Menu
A carte that serves up memories so strong you can taste them. Flavours persistent with sea-salt and ozone and hot tears on sunny days when ice-cream was not for girls who wouldn’t stand still and have the mermaid knots combed out of their hair.
Breaded haddock with chips, garden peas and home-made tartare sauce, tangy with capers and gherkins.
‘Salad cream got up with fancy ideas,’ she said as she dipped her chips in it and pushed them into her coral-lipped maw. You can still smell the powder of her soft-downed cheek, see the thickening of it in the lines that gave away her age even then. ‘A late baby is a joy and a trial. No point pretending,’ she told the waitress as she placed your
Gammon steak & pineapple with salad garnish and chips. A whole pineapple ring that you carefully cut into segments, one bite for every morsel of gammon steak, carved with your grown-up steak knife. She pierced the cherry that sat in the middle with her fork and ate it, laughing.
‘There has to be some reward,’ she winked.
Vegetarian shepherd’s pie with buttered cabbage, the world pandering to fussy eaters.
‘Well seen you never knew a ration book, is all I can say,’ reminding you of the six months in your teens when you rejected meat, ate nothing but cheese sandwiches because that’s all she would make for you until you saw sense. She drew you out with sausages in the end and never let you forget it.
All served with sliced bread and a dish of butter in rippled curls that turn in on themselves like the feelings of shame she gifted you. Still you bring her here without the buffer of your dad in his jacket and cardigan because you think it will remind her of happier times.
Creamed meringues as brittle as her, easily shattered if carelessly handled.
‘It’s high time you realised,’ she says, scooping sweetened cream from between the shells with her teaspoon, ‘you were your father’s child, not mine.’ She lets her tongue lick up the cream from the bowl of the spoon and digs into the meringue for more.
Assorted tarts, among them your Aunty Liz, your mother’s sister with the high-piled hair and knee length boots. Liz with the sherbet lips and fingertips. Liz with the laughter and no interest in children of her own.
‘She was a slut, and your dad was a fool. It’s way past time you knew.’
Fruit and plain scones with home-made preserves. She takes one, butters it and slathers on the jam while you compose yourself, order your thoughts. You pay the bill and fetch the coats.
Coffee, tea or squash included
‘No need to thank me,’ she says as you help her into the car. ‘It turned out fine in the end.’
You find you have nothing to say as you drive the coast road home.