Through the forest in the night blackness they crept in single file. “Turn that torch off!” he shouted, then saw the light was shining from the other man’s eyes.
I grabbed the Althings sceptre, bit the stone from its setting and swallowed. “Don’t worry,” said the guard, “we can wait.”
I held the old man’s hand. I had never asked his stories and now, as his last breath left, the library inside him burned.
[The doorbell rings]
Who is it?
Daniele. Come down, I’ve got something for you.
Can’t you come up?
No, come down.
[I go downstairs and out of the main door. Daniele is standing there in the midday sun, a cardboard box in his arms. He holds it out to me.]
Here you are. It’s for the anniversary.
Thank you. But you shouldn’t have.
Take it, take it.
[I take the box. It is the size of a shoe box but lighter than a shoe box with shoes in would be.]
What is it?
It’s for you. For the anniversary.
[Daniele starts up his Vespa and rides away. I stand in the midday sun and take the lid off the box. It is not sealed. I look inside.]
[Later, on the telephone.]
Thank you Daniele. What’s his name?
I called him Twenty-five. That’s how many years it is, isn’t it?
Yes, yes, twenty-five. It’s twenty-five.
[I stop talking and look down at the tortoise walking across the floor.]
Hello, Twenty-five. Here’s to us.
M fell onto the bed and fell asleep. As he fell, his last thoughts were of the story he had been told. The story of the cicalecchina.
It was summer and the wind was from the south. From the desert it picked up dust and from the sea moisture. When it arrived on the peninsula it dropped its dust on everything clean and on your lips and in your throat. The water it held became sea fog, low clouds, mist in the narrow streets, and rolled down to the lowest olive groves where the fates danced. Don’t go into the olives alone when the wind is from the south and the people are asleep or you may not return as you were.
But this was not the story M was thinking of and which now filled his dreams. That was the story of the cicalecchina.
At five in the morning the thermometer was wedged into the red paint as it was until past one o’clock at night. And for most of those hours the cicadas, called cicale here, squeaked and whirred and ticked, a deafening squeaking and whirring and ticking from every part of the countryside. How can people sleep in the afternoon with such a noise, wondered M the first time he visited. And then he lay down and was asleep. When he woke he had no idea where he was, nor where he had been nor for how long. His head and his blood were thick and his tongue filled his mouth.
There was the story of how the peninsula heat hit you if you were new to it the first time or newly new to it again. It struck you as you walked near your bed or a chair or a flat piece of ground not near a snake hole or an ant nest or a haunted olive tree. It struck you like a club of oak or a sniper’s bullet from a previous war and you fell without a sound or thought, slaughtered flesh without a bone to hold your body together. And the word for sniper was cecchino.
But then (another story told) it was the song of the cicala which brought the sleep. Sleep sounds so peaceful, thought M, but the violence of the coming of the oblivion should never be forgotten, though it almost always was. The song of the cicala that deafened you from every degree spun a web of sleep around you until your eyes had no choice and again you fell, unconscious.
But what to call the creature that sang this song, that sawed its legs, that called the heat until the heat brought sleep? Of course, the singer of the song that brings the bullet, that closes down the senses, the sniper cicala, the cicala cecchina, the cicalecchina. And so that became the name. But though people had told him to run from the bullet until there was safety for sleep, as his eyes were closing M gave himself willingly to the story and to the dreams that would come.
The story of the taxi that takes you where you need to be rather than where you want to be finally came true for Nathan. Finally. “The story is true, it’s true” he shouted. “Please let me in. Please.” Inside the house a light came in. He banged on the door again. “The story’s true!” The door opened. “Hello again Nathan. I thought you would never come.” Nathan turned and tried and tried to run away.
First published on www.paragraphplanet.com on 17 April 2017
Jon was irate. “It’s a scam, I bet you. How stupid can people be? There’s something behind it. I’m sure I read about this. Some people say that Hemingway wrote it, others have researched it and say he certainly didn’t. So why’s it on the evening news website now? It’ll be someone trying to set up a sweet little scam – they’ll say they are crowdfunding for baby shoes for the workshy or writing flash fiction for charity or something like that and who knows where all the money will go? ‘After costs’, that’s what it’ll say, I bet you. For sale baby shoes (never worn). People are stupid.” He carries on, but Sophie isn’t listening any more. Behind him, silent tears stream down her face.
First published in For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never worn: A Collection of Flash Fiction Based on A Single Theme Buy it on Amazon here All royalties from sales of this book are to be donated to Make-A-Wish® UK Charity Registration Nos. (England & Wales) 295672 / (Scotland) SC037479
Jay tried cycling on ice and walking on windy cliff tops. Kay tried swinging from an oak branch and jumping over rivers. Then, and only then, they thought they would chance spending their lives together.
Now, whose day could he ruin today? Mrs Smith? She never cleaned up after her dog. Mrs Khan? She gave him a funny look when he walked by. Yes. Jimmy Mackenzie. He’d show him. He opened a new document, clutched his chest. His neighbours peered in through the window.
The printout on the publisher’s desk was his autobiography. One day, she thought, it could be famous and she could be rich. But only if the writer somehow, mysteriously, died. She looked at the nervous, eager man.
Yes. Yes, I think we can, she said.