A place of safety – Microfiction challenge #11


ALI142426 Interior with a figure (oil on canvas) by Cecioni, Adriano (1838-66) oil on canvas Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, Rome, Italy Alinari Italian, out of copyright

“Ssh, Annetta, shh! he will find us if you don’t stop making that noise!”

I could hear my sister coughing under the bedclothes, her whooping cough consuming her in the tiny pocket of hot air under the blankets. I wanted to feel sorry for her, almost more than anything – almost. After all, I knew only too well how the paroxysms felt. My chest was still weak, I was still exhausted after my own sickness.

But still…

I held my own breath as the stairs creaked like the ageing tall ships that shuddered into the harbour down below, exhausted and depleted from their travails on the high seas.

If only he had been on Defiance, which despite its name had been swallowed by waves as tall as mountains. But no. He was a charmed man. He had returned, like a bad penny, pickled in brandy and stinking of the harlots he had visited in every nasty, fetid port along the way.

“Olivia! Olivia damn you! Where’s my food? Why is the table not laid? I’ll skin your hides, you and that miserable runt of a changeling. I swear she ain’t mine…”

The same old, same old refrain. I crouched behind the bed, hating my sister for alerting him to our presence with her chest-rattling cough and the whoop as she tried to suck in more air. For God’s sake, Annetta!

I reached up, felt the profile of her forehead, her nose, her mouth gaping like a hungry bird’s underneath the covers. I pressed down, trying to smother her noise, to just shut her up for a moment, just one, blessed moment. Perhaps he would get tired once he reached the second floor, perhaps he wouldn’t bother with the servants’ quarters if we were quiet as church mice…?

His footfall stopped, I heard a thud as the final door on the landing below was slammed open, I could picture him straining to pick up on the slightest noise from us, his most definitely unloved daughters.

I held my breath. Thankfully, Annetta had managed to stifle her noise too. I heard Father trudge unsteadily down the stairs. He would fall into a drunken slumber soon enough. I exhaled slowly as I heard him kick the kitchen door shut behind him, far below. We were safe for now. I released my clamp of a hand from Annetta’s mouth and shook her gently.

“It’s safe, sweetheart, you can come out now,” I whispered, peeling back the blankets, ready to hug my little sister, to reassure her once more.

I knew, as soon as I saw her. She would never need comfort from me again.

Father had killed her, with my own, death-grip hand.

Sweet dreams, little one. Sweet dreams.

Here’s my latest entry into Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge, where this week, she asks us to write in response to the picture above. Wow, it evoked something dark in me (not so surprising to anyone who has read my blog for a while…). I found this painting truly unsettling, as you can tell.

Please do head on over to Jane’s blog to see how others have responded. No two entries will be the same, I’m sure.

Thank you Jane, for the inspiration!

Dream catcher – dVerse Quadrille


this jar contains my dreams

lid screwed tight

to protect them,

to keep them safe


the discordance,

the noise,

the interference

the slings

and arrows.

I crouch, ensconced within glass,

part of the world

yet separate.

Ethereal dreams, will-o-the-wisp,

you are my saviour.


It’s Monday and time for the quadrille over on dVerse. This week, Bjorn (welcome back!) invites us to write on the theme of ‘jar’, in whatever form inspires us.

At the moment, the film The BFG is all the rage, coinciding with the 100th anniversary of Roald Dahl’s birth. In the City of London I came across the engaging installation  you see above outside The Royal Exchange, which is on my way to the office. A Dream Jar Trail is all over London, and will raise money for Save the Children, to help children’s dreams come true. So, as soon as I saw ‘jar’, I was inspired!

Please do head on over to dVerse to delve into other quadrilles, and why not take part yourself?

Cancelled stamp* – SoCS May 21/16


Morning break was always Ella’s favourite snippet of free time. It lasted fifteen minutes, so Mrs Fothergill had told her, showing her what that looked like on the grandfather clock standing at a perilous yet comforting lean in the schoolroom. Its left feet were on a firm footing, planted on the red, cream and not quite navy blue diamond Victorian floir tiles, its right feet touching nothing but thin air, hovering above that place where the neighbouring tiles had mysteriously disappeared long ago.

Fifteen minutes, one quarter of the way around the dial with its smiling sun and moon faces painted perfectly in the middle of the Roman numerals. Fifteen minutes was just about long enough for her to watch the other children running round and round, the boys arms outstretched pretending to be one of those marvellous new aeroplanes or, every now and again, chasing after Polly, the prettiest girl in the whole school. All they wanted was to be in her presence, bask in one of her glowing, all-encompassing smiles.

All Ella wanted was to watch. She didn’t want the attention of the boys or the other girls, for that matter. She didn’t want to face their obvious delight at her threadbare blouse, her skirt with the pocket that was obviously a patch meant to disguise a hole that could no longer be darned, her shoes that had been soled and heeled beyond the life of the cracked and worn leather, her stockings that should have seen the bin last winter. Worst of all, she had no coat, no scarf, no gloves. She wore the same clothes season upon season. She was poor.

Miss Fothergill watched Ella hovering in the shadow of the schoolhouse wall, knowing without being told that the little girl was trying to soak up any warmth that might be seeping between the bricks at the back of the fireplace, where the coal fire burned merrily indoors to keep the schoolroom warm. She wondered if she could find a coat to fit the poor child, alter one of her own even, but knew it would be in vain. Mrs Adams (and everybody knew that she’d never been married in her life, everyone knew that Ella had been, as some more kindly put it ‘an accident’) was far too proud to accept. Miss Fothergill sucked her teeth in momentary disapproval at Ella’s plight and shook her head. She supposed the little girl would have to learn. Life wasn’t going to improve that much for her, given her wretched start in life.

Such a shame. She really did deserve a break.

Hello! Welcome to my entry this week to the lovely Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday, where we were invited to use break/brake as our inspiration.

Do you know what I love about these prompts? I have absolutely no idea what Im going to write until I’ve tapped out the first few words, and even then, the end is rarely what I thought it would be when I first began! It’s so much fun.

Please do consider taking part, or at the very least hop on over to Linda’s blog and enjoy the writing – our entries are in the Pingbacks at the bottom.

*And in case you were wondering, ‘cancelled stamp’ was 1920s slang for a shy, lonely female, a wallflower. I think it’s quite sad.