Waves coming in from the sea.

#300DaysofFlashWriting: Day 24 story on ‘The sea’

Here’s another piece for the #300DaysofFlashWriting challenge, where participants write for ten minutes only on a prompt posted online by my friend Shekina on her blog and social channels. This was written from the Day 24 prompt, ‘The sea’.

If you’re wondering whether this was influenced by John Banville’s The Sea, perhaps it was, somewhat unconsciously!

The Other Us

When we were little and on holiday in Blackpool, Dad told us that every single person in the world had another version of themselves who lived beneath the sea.

“And just think,” he said, “there’s more sea than land. Think of how much room they’ve got down there.”

That wasn’t what got our attention, though. 

“So there’s another set of twins under the sea?” Laila asked. “Who look exactly like each other, and exactly like us?”

“Sure,” Dad said. “Like a set of quadruplets.”

“And do they like all the same things as us?” I asked, thinking of strawberry ice pops, kittens, seashells, sky blue.

“Not exactly. They’re just like you, but they’ve grown up in a different place, see? So they’ve come across different things to you and your sister.”

“Like crabs and fish?” Laila asked. Her expression mirrored my own feelings: bewilderment and an edge of disgust. We hated eating fish.

“Sure. They probably only eat fish.”

“But maybe they still like collecting shells. Will they come out of the sea to see us?” I asked.

“Maybe. Maybe not.” Then a man leading some donkeys came past us, and we forgot all about the twins under the sea.

Well, Laila did, anyway.

Later, when we were at university, we stopped being the same. Clothes, hair colour, music, lipstick, food – Laila became different in every way.

“Am I just a triplet now?” I said, half-jokingly.

“You don’t still believe that rubbish Dad used to tell us, do you?” 

“It’s a nice idea.”

“A ridiculous one. There aren’t any people under the sea. We’re all on our own. Don’t you see? Even we’re not exactly the same. We’re different people.”

I never knew what it was that she was looking for, but one day shortly after graduation, she announced she was moving to London.

“What’s in London?” I asked jealously.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I’ll tell you when I get there.”

She didn’t. She left us behind, me and the other twins, our hearts breaking.

I looked for her in Blackpool once. It was a silly idea. But I thought maybe I’d see her standing on the sand, looking for us in the sea.

© 2021 Dipika Mummery

Image by Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay

See all of my pieces for #300DaysofFlashWriting.

A space rocket launching from Earth.

#300DaysofFlashWriting: Day 23 story on ‘Adventure’

Here’s another piece for the #300DaysofFlashWriting challenge, where participants write for ten minutes only on a prompt posted online by my friend Shekina on her blog and social channels. This was written from the Day 23 prompt, ‘Adventure’.

One Small Step

She was the most brilliant coder in the entire corporation, if not the world. Of course it was her job to ensure every single system onboard the billionaire owner’s spacecraft did everything it was supposed to do. 

But she had noticed that there weren’t as many birds flocking to her garden in the warmest months. 

That the pond in the local park had started to dry up, leaving scum-covered detritus around the edges of the water. 

That sometimes it rained for weeks at a time, and the headlines were flooded with anguished faces and solemn promises by government ministers to do more. 

That refugees were fleeing droughts and rising sea levels to the countries that had caused all of this and were being turned away.

And here was her boss, about to go on the greatest adventure of his life. He would board the spacecraft that his company had spent billions developing, then escape from the dying Earth in search of somewhere else to ruin. This was a test run with just the billionaire boss onboard, but next time the ship would be followed by others holding cargo, people, seeds, food.

She couldn’t let it happen.

There were protocols and safeguards to swerve, but she had built them herself, so they were easy to dismantle without any alarms going off. It was also easy to put the tiniest bit of extra code in one particular system and write more code to hide its existence.

Launch day. The spacecraft sails off into the black void. Billions watch it on TV at home.

The distress signal comes two hours later, but none of the scientists on Earth can work out what’s wrong.

It was easy for her, you see.

So easy to ensure that the autopilot couldn’t be overridden.

So very easy to programme the ship to turn back as if it was returning to Earth, then to steer it towards the sun.

She was the most brilliant coder in the entire corporation, if not the world.

© 2021 Dipika Mummery

Image by WikiImages from Pixabay

See all of my pieces for #300DaysofFlashWriting.

A magic lamp on sand.

#300DaysofFlashWriting: Day 21 story on ‘Photograph’

Here’s another piece for the #300DaysofFlashWriting challenge, where participants write for ten minutes only on a prompt posted online by my friend Shekina on her blog and social channels. This was written from the Day 21 prompt, ‘Photograph’.

One Wish

Aisha hated having her photograph taken so much that she was at a loss when the genie told her what her one wish had to be.

The lamp had called to her from a dusty shelf in her parents’ house, where she was spending the Christmas holidays. She didn’t remember ever seeing it before. Despite the dust around it, the lamp itself looked brand new. She could see her face in its smooth surface, stretched wide by the curve of the lamp.

She rubbed it, of course. Why wouldn’t you?

The genie looked nothing like the cheeky blue one in Aladdin, which she had watched over and over as a child. The genie was a woman, for a start. Young and pretty with an hourglass figure and rubbed-pink lips, but still disappointingly like a normal person. Not a granter of wishes.

“Huh,” Aisha said.

“Huh? HUH?” the genie said, her voice rising, her accent unremarkable. “There was a time when my kind was revered by yours.”

“Well, you know.” Aisha shrugged. “I thought you would look different.”

The genie sighed. “Of course you did.”

“So, do I get three wishes?”

“It’s just one these days.” At Aisha’s disappointed look, the genie added: “What can I say? We’re overworked and understaffed.”

“One wish, then.” Aisha looked thoughtful.

“Before you get too excited, there’s only one type of wish you can have.”

“Oh?”

The genie gestured around the spare room. “There are photographs in this humble abode, yes?”

Aisha nodded, thinking of the faded photos of her parents’ wedding day in the living room. The formal black and white portraits of long-dead ancestors hanging on the wall. The numerous albums stuffed with photos of relatives she couldn’t even name from trips to India.

“You may pick one of those photos, return to that setting and the age you were in the photo, and proceed to live the rest of your life from that point on.”

“Huh.”

The genie rolled her eyes. “A woman of many words, aren’t you?”

“The problem is,” Aisha said, “I’m not really in any photos. Not after the age of twelve, anyway.”

“So?” the genie said, inspecting her red-tipped nails as if already bored. “Go back to being twelve. You’ll have plenty of time to get rich. Play the lottery, bet on the horses. You know what’s going to happen now.”

“Is that what other people do?”

The genie shrugged. “Yes, mostly, although you do get the odd one who just wants to go back to when their friend took their photo at a party the previous week so they can pout at the camera in a more becoming way.”

Aisha had found the albums while the genie talked. She opened one to a random page and squinted at it. There she was, aged twelve, eating kulfi in an ice cream parlour with a blissful look on her face. She thought about her life now: dull job, no boyfriend, a houseshare with people who refused to clean the bathroom.

She loved kulfi. Always had. 

“Ah, go on then,” Aisha said. “I might as well. It’s not as if I have anything better to do.”

© 2021 Dipika Mummery

Image by Karina Mannott from Pixabay

See all of my pieces for #300DaysofFlashWriting.

Train rails.

#300DaysofFlashWriting: Day 20 story on ‘Train journey’

Here’s another piece for the #300DaysofFlashWriting challenge, where participants write for ten minutes only on a prompt posted online by my friend Shekina on her blog and social channels. This was written from the Day 20 prompt, ‘Train journey’, partly inspired by certain events in the news this week.

This Saturday Night

She walks down the near-empty carriage towards the toilet, lights speeding past in the pitch black of this Saturday night. The train is going to Manchester and she has had three double vodka and cokes (which doesn’t matter). Sometimes she has to reach out to steady herself by grabbing the tops of the seats near her. She is travelling on her own (which doesn’t matter).

Her mind is elsewhere. She is still in Blackpool where she has just left her boyfriend to make his own tipsy journey back home in the opposite direction. This is what they do: she goes to Blackpool for the day, or he comes to Manchester for the day. They go to the cinema and a restaurant and around multiple pubs, intoxicated on each other. Then they part ways like the dirty tide ebbing away from Blackpool beach and spend the next six days working and sleeping and arguing with their families, before coming together again the following Saturday.

She is so occupied with these thoughts, with the memory of his lips and his hand in hers, that she jumps when she feels a hand running lightly down the back of her leg. She is wearing a minidress, a short jacket and thin tights with ballet pumps (which doesn’t matter). A recent nightmare of a giant spider crawling down her back shoves itself into her mind, and she shivers. She pulls her leg away and turns to look at the table of four twenty-something men, empty cans standing between them.

The man whose hand it is speaks to her. “Alright, love? Nice legs.” His friends laugh. 

She quickly glances at his friends – no help to be had there – and gives him a dirty look. “No, not really. What do you think you’re doing touching me?”

He smirks. He smells like the greasy men who prey on women in cheap pubs: too much aftershave, hair gel, a metallic note of arrogance. She should be scared, but she isn’t (which doesn’t matter). She thinks she’s got the measure of him. Of men like him.

She waits for his answer, but he keeps looking at her. His friends keep laughing. She snorts and carries on down the carriage, suffused with anger and something like shame.

He is waiting for her when she comes out of the toilet armed with a determination to complain to the train guard. She can see a light sheen of sweat on his forehead, and he wobbles with the train despite having one hand on the wall. It is obvious that he is drunk (which doesn’t matter). 

*

She tells her boyfriend that she is too ill to see him the following weekend.

*

When she finally gets up the courage to go to the police two weeks later, they ask her about all of the things that don’t matter, and refuse to listen to her about the things that do.

© 2021 Dipika Mummery

Image by Hands off my tags! Michael Gaida from Pixabay

See all of my pieces for #300DaysofFlashWriting.

Apples.

#300DaysofFlashWriting: Day 19 story on ‘Fruit’

I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus of late, but here’s another piece for the #300DaysofFlashWriting challenge, where participants write for ten minutes only on a prompt posted online by my friend Shekina on her blog and social channels. This was written from the Day 19 prompt, ‘Fruit’.

Offering

Chhaya had associated fruit with the temple for as long as she could remember.

Her mother would buy three pieces of fruit before every visit. A banana, usually, the least blemished one in the shop. A tangy, crunchy green apple. An orange whose skin stayed firm beneath squeezing fingers. 

In the summer, when their heating bills were lower, Chhaya’s mother would occasionally splash out on a small punnet of grapes. Red ones, always. Chhaya didn’t know what was wrong with the green ones.

At the temple, Chhaya would trail behind her mother as they walked barefoot across the lurid red carpet towards the arrangement of statues at the front of the mandir. Both mother and daughter kept their eyes firmly forward, away from the looks and whispers of the other worshippers who sat cross-legged in untidy rows across the width of the room.

Chhaya would obediently copy her mother’s movements: tucking the heads of flowers that had been snipped from their bodies into the garlands around the statues’ necks, arranging the fruit among the other offerings, bringing both hands together in prayer with eyes closed, prostrating themselves, standing up with a peaceful, intense expression on their faces.

Chhaya didn’t exactly know why they had to do all of these things. Whenever she asked, her mother would say it was because they were Hindus, which wasn’t exactly helpful.

“But why do we offer fruit to the gods when we only eat it ourselves afterwards?” Chhaya had asked once.

It was true. At the end of every visit, each worshipper would go home with a little sandwich bag filled with dried fruit and nuts, and another with chopped fruit. Nowhere near the same amount of fruit that they brought, Chhaya noted.

“It keeps them happy with us,” her mother explained. “They accept the fruit, then we eat it because it’s holy.” She paused. “And to avoid waste.”

Chhaya took this to heart many years later, after she had gone to university and came back with a boyfriend, Alan, and a huge basket of fruit that she had put together from bargains at the market. 

“What’s all this for?” her mother had asked irritably, stealing glances at the bespectacled white man standing in her tiny living room, shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot. 

“An offering,” Chhaya said. “Like to the gods.”

“Hai ram,” her mother responded in dismay, eyes rolling towards the ceiling. “Blasphemy, too. What did I ever do to deserve this? Is it not bad enough that your father left me to bring you up on my own?”

Still, her mother accepted the fruit basket and, two years later, she went to the wedding too.

© 2021 Dipika Mummery

Image by Marco Roosink from Pixabay

See all of my pieces for #300DaysofFlashWriting.

Eggs and a whisk.

#300DaysofFlashWriting: Day 14 story on ‘Stare’

Here’s another piece for the #300DaysofFlashWriting challenge, where participants write for ten minutes only on a prompt posted online by my friend Shekina on her blog and social channels. This was written from the Day 14 prompt, ‘Stare’.

The Figurine

Laila hated the figurine with a passion that almost outweighed her love for her husband.

He had found it at a car boot sale in Chorley. “A bargain!” he’d said triumphantly as he placed it on the mantelpiece next to a photo of them on their wedding day seven years ago.

“What even is it?” she’d asked, distaste on her tongue. “It’s kind of… ugly.”

He shook his head. “It’s fine art, that’s what it is. It’s probably worth thousands. The idiot I bought it from didn’t have a clue.” He paused and looked at Laila. “It’s a mother holding a baby, I think. An original. Not a replica. Says so on the bottom, see?” Laila squinted, but she couldn’t make out the words on the sticker.

She stared doubtfully at the figurine. It looked like a misshapen white lump with eyes. Eyes that stared back at her. 

Privately, she resolved to move it as soon as her husband went to work the next day.

She spent the next week moving it to a different room, one where she didn’t have to look at it, but her husband quietly moved it back to the mantelpiece in the front room each time.

Laila started to spend less time in the living room. She took up baking, spending hours and hours in the kitchen producing fluffy layer cakes, huge muffins, sticky brownies and crunchy cookies all through the week. Her husband complained that he was putting on weight. She took most of what she baked to her own part-time job in an office, and gave some away to the neighbours.

Still the figurine stared at her whenever she went through the living room.

One day, Laila decided that she couldn’t take it any more. She went out to buy the biggest cake tin she could find and some professional cake decorating tools. She then made an exact replica of the figurine out of cake. She looked at it critically. It didn’t stare back. The eyes were just indents in icing.

Up it went on the mantelpiece before her husband came home.

She strolled through the living room with the figurine in a box, her husband none the wiser.

“I’m just going to take this cake to the neighbours over the road,” she said cheerfully.

Her husband grunted, his eyes fixed on the television.

Laila went to the pond in the park and threw the figurine as far as she could. It made a satisfying splash as it entered the water and sunk to the bottom, never to stare at anyone ever again.

© 2021 Dipika Mummery

Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

See all of my pieces for #300DaysofFlashWriting.

An illustration of the sun and the eight planets of the solar system.

#300DaysofFlashWriting: Day 11 story on ‘Fight’

Here’s another piece for the #300DaysofFlashWriting challenge, where participants write for ten minutes only on a prompt posted online by my friend Shekina on her blog and social channels. This was written from the Day 11 prompt, ‘Fight’.

It’s another silly one today…

The End of Everything

It was the end of the universe, and the planets were locked in an epic battle.

Earth and Mars squared up to each other. Earth threw the Moon and entire seas at the red planet, hoping that the water would freeze and knock its rival straight out of the solar system. It succeeded in pushing Mars into the path of Venus, which was itself flying across space after running into Uranus. The collision obliterated both Mars and Venus, smashing them into several pieces that then went flying across the solar system and into the path of the other planets.

Plucky little Mercury darted in and out of the tussles going on around it, trying to trip up some of the bigger planets and causing even more chaos. Neptune had its number, however, and soon tricked Mercury into gliding into the path of Earth as it swaggered around the solar system, looking for another planet to destroy. Mercury was toast.

Saturn and Jupiter, whose gassy forms meant trying to fight was useless, slunk off early on after running out of moons and rocks to fling, creeping out of the galaxy while the others fought, prompting insults and accusations of cowardice from the remaining planets.

And Pluto? Everyone had forgotten about Pluto. It drifted around the edges of the arena, immensely glad that it didn’t have to fight anyone.

© 2021 Dipika Mummery

Image by Comfreak from Pixabay

See all of my pieces for #300DaysofFlashWriting.

A jar with chocolate shavings spilling out of it.

#300DaysofFlashWriting: Day 10 story on ‘Addiction’

Here’s another piece for the #300DaysofFlashWriting challenge, where participants write for ten minutes only on a prompt posted online by my friend Shekina on her blog and social channels. This was written from the Day 10 prompt, ‘Addiction’.

It’s a bit of a silly one today, but maybe someone somewhere feels exactly like this about chocolate…

Sweet Like

Everyone says they’re addicted to chocolate, but I bet they’re not. Not like I am, anyway.

Do they eat huge slabs of creamy milk chocolate all day long, for breakfast, lunch and dinner? Do they snack on packets of milk and white chocolate buttons in between?

I bet they don’t have hot chocolate made from grated dark chocolate instead of anything as boring as tea or coffee.

They certainly don’t drink chocolate milk in place of water.

Would they use cocoa shampoo and conditioner in the shower? Or lounge in chocolate-scented bubbles on lazy Sundays?

They wouldn’t spritz themselves with perfume made from the most pungent cocoa beans, or slather cocoa butter onto their skin as a moisturiser.

Do they use chocolate-scented fabric conditioner that releases a whiff of cocoa from their clothes every time they move?

Do they dream about chocolate morning, noon and night? Do they fantasise about the slip and slide of a piece of milk chocolate as it gently melts onto their tongue? Or about the snap of a thin, fridge-cold sliver of the highest quality dark chocolate? 

Have they estranged relatives and friends who simply don’t understand it? Who try to get them to cut back for just one day, or to go to the doctor or see a psychiatrist? Who visibly recoil every time they visit and are hit by the wonderful, seductive smell of chocolate?

Do they get the shakes if they go more than half an hour without chocolate? Can they never leave the house without at least four chocolate bars safely ensconced in their bags?

I bet not.

© 2021 Dipika Mummery

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

See all of my pieces for #300DaysofFlashWriting.

A typewriter, quill pen and framed picture on an old desk.

#300DaysofFlashWriting: Day 6 story on ‘Furniture’

Here’s another piece for the #300DaysofFlashWriting challenge, where participants write for ten minutes only on a prompt posted online by my friend Shekina on her blog and social channels. This was written from the Day 6 prompt, ‘Furniture’.

Haunted, He Wrote

He didn’t know that the desk was haunted when he bought it.

He found it on the top floor of the antiques centre, nestled between a baroque dresser and a faded art deco wardrobe. Huge, rectangular, sturdy, old. A subtle sheen to the worn red-brown grain. Three drawers with elaborately carved knobs. The desk looked out of place in the shop; it should have been in a panelled study in a stately home. The woman who ran the shop gave him a look when he handed over the cash, but didn’t say anything.

He installed it in the spare bedroom, throwing out years of accumulated junk to create a study of his own. Books were drafted on that desk – stories of serial killers and hardened detectives, of monsters and demons, of rogue assassins and robots. He was delighted with the variety his imagination spewed forth; he had never before felt inclined to stray from his usual works of dull, middling literary fiction that didn’t sell particularly well. This new direction pleased his agent and publisher and he grew rich, taking the desk with him as his family moved into ever bigger properties.

As he grew into old age, he felt the desk start to pull at him. There was no other way to describe it; he would be in the kitchen or in bed and then suddenly feel the urge to sit at his desk, even though he was writing less the slower his brain became as he approached eighty.

One day, he was trying not to nod off at the desk when the pull became more insistent. 

“What do you want?” he asked in his now querulous voice, not expecting an answer

He could have sworn that the desk whispered back. He hunched over it, bringing his left ear to the surface. 

“Say it again? Please?”

Close your eyes. Go to sleep.

The man straightened up again and looked suspiciously at the desk. Then he realised that he really did feel tired. 

He laid his head down on the desk and went to sleep for the last time, his life force spilling into the desk, where it joined countless other occupants to take up residence in the warm grain of the wood.

Six months later, the desk was back in the antiques centre. A twenty-something woman bought the desk, and was surprised when she suddenly felt the urge to write dull, middling literary fiction.

© 2021 Dipika Mummery

Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

See all of my pieces for #300DaysofFlashWriting.

Lots of books lying open.

#300DaysofFlashWriting: Day 5 story on ‘Body’

Here’s another piece for the #300DaysofFlashWriting challenge, where participants write for ten minutes only on a prompt posted online by my friend Shekina on her blog and social channels. This was written from the Day 5 prompt, ‘Body’.

If the title looks familiar, it’s because I’ve shamelessly adapted it from Carmen Maria Machado’s excellent Her Body and Other Parties. I just couldn’t resist!

Her Body and Other Stories

Her books just wouldn’t settle down.

“Can you please stop moving?” she said, exasperated. “I’m trying to work.”

But the books got up from where they had been lying on the shelf above her desk and started to do a little dance. The thudding of paper on wood soon became unbearable, and the writer took her laptop out of the study and into the kitchen, closing the doors behind her.

Still, the house reverberated to the rhythms of her books, the ones she had written and, out of vanity, displayed in her study. 

They had started to take on a life of their own after the fourth one was published. She had known what would happen, really. Other authors had warned her of the perils of keeping her own books in her house. When she was still unpublished, she had read the articles about writers losing their minds and moving to remote corners of faraway places to avoid their own works. 

I would never be that foolish, she had thought.

Yet she had been so proud when her first novel was published. She held the proof gently, carefully, as if it was a child. She had reverentially placed it on the shelf above her desk, telling herself that she was unlikely to publish any more. And if she did, she wouldn’t keep the others in the house.

But then she got a two-book deal. Then another. 

Now she was trying to write her fifth book, but it was proving difficult, what with the dancing and jiggling and riffling of pages that went on above her head. The sighing and tapping and shifting of position. Books lying down, standing up, wandering about.

She should have heeded the warnings. But the joy of seeing her own words printed and bound didn’t dissipate after book two, then three, then four. 

She remembered thinking, how bad could it be? 

But now, her brain weary and her eyelids drooping above dark shadows, her fifth novel nothing more than a jumbled collection of nonsensical notes, she understood. 

This was what it truly meant to have a body of work.

© 2021 Dipika Mummery

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

See all of my pieces for #300DaysofFlashWriting.