Shooter Flash: “Where the Sun Doesn’t Shine” by Claire Schön

‘They’re at it again, sir?’

‘I do wish you’d call me Dick, old chum.’ I wince; it just doesn’t seem fitting for a prime minister, although often it does. As his press secretary, I spend a lot of time in the prime minister’s company. I am very much in the background, but what I do is essential, especially for this prime minister. I still pinch myself every now and then, to remind me sometimes of my luck and other times to bite my tongue.

‘Mary, can you bring me a knife for the butter, please,’ he shouts to Mary, a former lawyer and now his long-suffering personal assistant. ‘Always hovering around, that one, but never brings me the required utensils to eat these silly little breakfasts that she serves up.’

In front of him is a feast fit for a large family; he likes his food. 

Dick came in on a campaign for green and healthy England: more walking, less talking. To think that swayed the electorate. I suppose there wasn’t a great deal of competition after the last lot crashed and burned in a quiver of catastrophic contradictions. It seems everyone just wanted something simple and straight. Dick is simple alright, and we think he is straight. At least, his wife does.

‘Dick, the northern electorate are complaining that the promised infrastructure and development programmes are not being delivered. I’ve had an endless round of journalists requesting an update at today’s press conference.’

We are at the prestigious opening of the UK’s largest solar power station in Kent, another southern project. I’d told him we should time it better, but he needed to cover up the latest husband-swapping scandal involving the Minister for Children and Families and the Minister for Women and Equalities. Personally, I think the latter took it all a bit far, and the former had only been married five minutes and had no idea about children or families. However, they were ‘old chums’ of Dick’s from Oxford.

‘What do you think of this wallpaper, Sally? Jemima is in raptures about them both but can’t decide which. I’ll be buggered if I can see a difference, can you?’

I sometimes wonder if Dick might be colour blind. The press has been lenient on him up until now, describing his dress sense as ‘flamboyant’, but I can understand that Jemima must despair at times. 

I pick one of the wallpaper samples to move things along. We are running late for the power station.

‘Definitely this one, sir, um, Dick.’

‘Thanks, Sal. What would I do without you?’ I don’t feel important.

‘Getting back to the complaint from–’ 

‘The miserable northerners. Yes, yes. Well, what am I supposed to do if it is dull and dreary up there and the sun never shines? It’s a solar power station. That’s it! I’ll announce, at today’s press conference, that if they sort out their weather, they can have their own power station. Ball back in their court. We have to think of the environment, you know.’

I can just see the headlines now: Prime Minister tells north of England to stick their complaints where the sun doesn’t shine. I’ve just recovered from the last pounding from the women’s rights lot, after he tweeted that ‘some things are gender-specific, like mini skirts, you wouldn’t want men’s big, hairy legs peeping out of those, now, would you?

‘I take your point, Dick. You are the voice of reason. But we do need to keep them happy.’

‘Then let’s build another bridge for a high-speed train. The northerners can come and work down here, get a bit of sun and earn some money before they make their drab way back.’

He seems to have forgotten that I come from up north, although he persuaded me to lay the accent on thick for PR purposes.

‘The last bridge was very expensive, Dick, and we can’t stretch to a high-speed train.’

‘Then they will all have to drive.’ I am about to remind him of the environmental factor, which has slipped his mind again, but he ploughs on, enamoured by his own wisdom. ‘We will have to observe them closely; the universities up there aren’t as good as ours. Not sure what they learn in those neglected institutions.’

I went to one of those neglected institutions.

‘Mary, where is my butter knife?’ he screeches. ‘Honestly, it is a wonder that I can come up with such cracking ideas with this lack of competence from the waiting staff,’ he says in a lower, though not much lower, tone. Mary is in the same room, fussing with something or other in the corner. She leaves quickly. ‘She’s a northerner, you know.’ Mary is also not part of the waiting staff, but they refuse to travel with him after the cream cake incident.

‘Just put something together for me to read out, good girl.’

Mary joins us as we walk through the power station. She lags behind looking frazzled. 

The station is quite spectacular and in line with our environmental policy; I breathe a sigh of relief.

‘What’s with the sheep, gents?’

‘They provide natural vegetation control, and they are very cost-effective.’

‘Messy bleeders, though. Look at all this poop. And we need to think of the northerners. We’ll have to get rid of the sheep and replace them with northerners and petrol lawnmowers.’

I die inside. The head engineer leading us around is from my neck of the woods and an environmental expert. He looks livid, and I fear another press leak. My carefully scripted speech for Dick at the upcoming press conference might not cover this one.

‘Mary, I need a snack,’ Dick shouts, without turning. At that moment, my day is saved. The headlines I am dreading never materialise. They are replaced by events I could never have imagined:

              Prime Minister stabbed in buttocks with butter knife by PA

Thank you, Mary.

*

Originally from the UK, Claire Schön now lives in Austria. She studied German and Spanish and is now fluent in the former but useless in the latter. Claire started writing in her mother tongue in 2020 and has short stories, flash and micros published or upcoming in a number of anthologies including Funny Pearls, Fudoki Magazine, Blinkpot, Grindstone Literary and Reflex Fiction. She has been shortlisted and longlisted in various international competitions. Twitter: @SchonClaire.

Shooter Flash: “Roar” by Alison Wassell

A small child with two candles of snot dangling from her nose tugs at Maggie’s cardigan. She takes her thumb out of her mouth.

“Miss Elton, why is your shoes different?” Maggie, grabbing a tissue from the box on her desk, looks down at her feet. She is wearing one black shoe and one brown one.

“I was just testing you all, to see if anyone noticed,” she says. Having wiped the child’s nose she sidles toward the cupboard and pulls out the trainers she wears for PE. They look ridiculous with her tights and tweed skirt, but slightly less ridiculous than odd shoes.

It is a relief when the afternoon arrives, and she has an excuse to change into what she refers to as her “slacks”. The children form an orderly line, and she leads them into the hall. They find spaces and sit down. She does not even have to remind them, today, that a space is somewhere she can walk around them without standing on anyone else. She has them well trained.

Maggie gets down on her hands and knees. This takes longer than it used to. The children giggle. Maggie emits a ferocious roar. So ferocious, in fact, that a couple of the children recoil in fear. Maggie hauls herself into a cross-legged position.

“Who can tell me what kind of animal I was pretending to be?” she asks. Hands are raised and faces turn red as breath is held and children compete to be asked. Maggie smiles  as she tries to remember what question they are clamouring to answer. Lately this has been happening more and more. She chooses a girl with blonde plaits whose name eludes her.

“An elephant?” guesses the girl. Her classmates titter, and Maggie gives them a reproving stare.

“Not a bad guess, Eleanor,” she says. She remembers now, the girl’s name is Eleanor. Relief washes over her. Elephants are interesting creatures, she tells the children. It is said that they never forget. Maggie envies the elephants.

“Who wants to have another try?” she asks. She tells them she is thinking of an animal that is a member of the cat family. You can see them at the zoo. The male one has a sort of fringe of fur all round his face. Eager hands wave in the air again. Maggie points at a boy who has turned puce.

“Lion,” he says. She nods gratefully. Of course. Lion. She tells the class that they are going to practise being different animals. She turns on the music and off they go, growling and howling, screeching and tweeting. Some of them grow a little silly. She calms them with a single look. At least she has not yet lost the power to do that. She glances out of the window at the rainswept yard, and it occurs to her that she should have done playground duty this morning. Someone must have covered for her. Fear forms a fresh knot in her stomach.

In the classroom the children change back into their uniforms and Maggie distracts herself with the tying of ties and laces, the struggle to pull t-shirts over too-large heads, the battle to return two correctly named plimsolls to each PE bag. She re-plaits several heads of hair and carefully wraps a lost tooth in a tissue. She writes a note to the tooth fairy, hoping she will be generous.

As the children scramble to hang their bags on their pegs the Deputy Head appears at the classroom door. She surveys the chaos with pursed lips. Almost young enough to be Maggie’s granddaughter, the tasteful tattoo on her shoulder is visible through her white cotton blouse.

She summons Maggie with a jerk of her head. They need to have a chat, as soon as possible, she says.

“There are a couple of issues.” She turns and clip-clops away on her inappropriately high heels. The children gather on the carpet and Maggie selects a picture book to read to them. It takes a while for them all to be settled and Maggie fills the time dreading the meeting that lies ahead. She knows what the “issues” are. The forgotten playground duties, the day she arrived with two rollers still in her hair, the nonsensical lesson plans that seemed to have been written by someone else entirely, when she came to read them. Someone must have complained. She has let things slip. Her hands shake slightly as she sits up straight, setting an example. The class falls silent.

Maggie begins to read. It is one of her favourite stories, a tale she almost knows by heart. Today, though, the words jump about on the page and some of them have suddenly grown unfamiliar. She halts, stumbles and, mid-story, gives up and sets the book aside.

“Who has some news to share?” she asks the class, with a half-hearted attempt at cheerfulness.

She welcomes the home-time bell in a way that she never used to. She bundles her charges into their coats and matches them up with their book bags. Clinging weakly to the door frame she watches the last of them disappear through the school gates.

Maggie shuts her eyes for a moment. She remembers her mother, in the home, unable to remember the purpose of her own legs.

“I want to stand up, but I can’t remember how,” she had said, tears coursing down her cheeks. She had not recognised Maggie for the last five years of her life. Maggie is thankful, finally, for her childless state. 

She opens her eyes and stands up straight, preparing herself to face the Head and Deputy. She imagines their glee as they confront her with her shortcomings, and the gossip that, as thick as thieves, they will have about her later, over a bottle of wine.

Right now, though, Maggie is defiant. She stretches her jaws as wide as they will go and roars like a lion into the silence.

*

Alison Wassell is a short-story and flash writer who has been published in various places, both in print and online, including Retreat West, Reflex Fiction, The Cabinet of Heed, NFFD, FlashFlood Journal, and Litro.

Shooter Flash: “Showtime” by Chella Courington

It all started with the ring. Not the ring Radney gave Roshelle over lasagna in candlelight ten years ago in September. Nor the gold band he gave her a year later. But the wrestling ring he built in back of their split-level ranch home with blue shutters and salmon brick in Montgomery, Alabama. Radney wanted to be a professional wrestler since he first saw Hulk Hogan with a blond mane and protruding pecs glistening on TV. Roshelle wanted Radney to be one too. When she was a kid, her dad used to take her to the armory every other Saturday to sit in the front row and watch grown men in speedos pin each other to a bouncy floor. Their sweat soaked her red dress, cotton sticking to her legs. “How’s that for a good show,” her dad always said as they walked into the night, the air chilling her wet skin.

When Radney announced he was going to build the ring, Roshelle was elated, absolutely over the moon, hugging and kissing him as if it were their wedding night. They hauled posts and plywood, tires and turnbuckles, rope and tarp to their backyard, cutting away all the grass and shrubs for their dream. After six weeks of digging holes, fitting wood, and stacking tires, they had their ring – posts stained dark brown and the cushiony mat creamy white. To celebrate, they brought out their fluffy bed pillows and flamingo quilt bought at a sample sale to christen the mat under the stars. They didn’t even notice the mosquitoes.

Now was the time to begin sparring. Radney called three of his wrestling buddies, who said they were busy with wives or sons. But Radney heard them bluffing – they’d lost their love for the sport. No more long nights and yells for clinch fighting. His friends were scattered. No more sharing tales of how the Hulkster pinned Nick Bockwinkel for the last time. Like a kid who’d lost his first dog, Radney dragged himself to the kitchen and opened a Miller.

“Come on, I’ll spar with you.” In her gray shorts and burgundy T-shirt, Roshelle was eager to take to the mat. He knew she loved the sport, going to matches with her dad then with Radney, screaming until she could barely whisper.

“Sure, let’s go,” he said. “I’ll be easy on you.”

“OK. But you’re going to get all of me.”

They stepped into the ring ready for practice. She danced around him, one leg sliding into the other, tapping his chest but ducking before he could take hold. Finally, he grabbed her and tossed her against the ropes. She rebounded and came in low, dodged his kick and took his feet out from under him. Falling on him, her elbow knocked out his breath. Blood drizzling from his face, his lip split and his nose scuffed, he rolled over just in time to see Roshelle launch herself from the top of the post. As she descended, arms spreading like an angel and wind blowing through her hair, Radney realized that he had never loved her more.

 

Chella Courington is a writer and teacher whose poetry and fiction appear in numerous anthologies and journals including SmokeLong Quarterly, X-R-A-Y Magazine, and New Flash Fiction. A Pushcart, Best Small Fictions, and Best of the Net nominee, Courington was raised in the Appalachian south and now lives in California. Her recent origami micro chapbook of poetry, Good Trouble, will be available soon at http://www.origamipoems.com.