Girl - word count 463 (prompt - rich)

On Christmas Eve, Tessa arrives at the Heads Up salon an hour before opening. Her first errand of the morning is to walk seven blocks to the patisserie and collect the savoury and sweet treats that she will offer to clients all day. As Hair Salon Assistant she does all the jobs nobody else wants. Minimum wage. Tuesdays and Sundays off.

By noon, all ten chairs in the salon are occupied. Clients arrive with gifts that the stylists hand to her to stash in their lockers in the back. No one brings anything for her and that is what she expects.

“Girl!” calls Charles from the front of the salon. When it is just the two of them he calls her by her name but in front of clients he likes to show how unimportant she is.

“Yes, sir?” She trots to his side and flashes her most obliging smile.

He nods at a large parcel on the table in front of his client.

“Dr. Hamish has brought me this lovely present.” Neither he nor Dr. Hamish even glance at Tessa as he speaks. “Please put it in my office.”

Tessa picks up the silver box up and finds it’s very heavy. Probably some sort of exotic grog. Two-hundred-year-old wine. Scotch filtered through organic peat. Rum made from sugar cane handpicked by virgins. Rich people blow their money on any manner of stuff.

She is sweeping the floor next to Charles as he sprays a cloud of style fix-it over Dr. Hamish’s golden highlights.

Dr. Hamish touches her ear. “My earring!” she gasps. She pushes her hair behind her ear as if that will make it reappear. Then she pushes the hair behind her other ear to reveal a ruby and diamond Christmas wreath, the size of a nickel.

“Girl,” Charles says quietly, “go through all the hair you’ve swept up and find Dr. Hamish’s earring.”

Tessa spends the next hour thumbing through a giant bag of floor scrapings. While she is doing that, Dr. Hamish is soothed with Crystal champagne and promises that her precious jewels will be found. Charles takes a photo of the remaining earring and helps Dr. Hamish into a cab. She is flying to Maui that night.

By the time Tessa leaves at seven, every single towel in the salon has washed and folded. The floors have been swept and re-swept. The u-bends under the sinks have been taken apart and emptied.

No earring.

The hour-long bus ride home stretches into two because of heavy traffic and swirling snow. Tessa crawls up the stairs to the small apartment she shares with her sister. When she stops at the door and removes her shoes, she finds a ruby and diamond earring lodged in the tread of her thick-soled shoes.


© Maggie Bolitho

Image from Wikimedia Commons: Mosaic in Jerusalem by zeevveez from Jerusalem

Nine Tenths the Law - word count 484 (prompt - running stitch)

The squat was the grandest thing Willa had ever seen. With its sagging roof and silvered walls, it looked like it was waiting for the kiss of life. It was Willa’s first time out of the city, off the mainland. She hadn’t seen a deserted farmhouse before.

She’d met KJ that morning at a Street Art Festival, waiting in line to pay for a spot where a person could busk or sell crafts. After two hours, neither of them got a place.

“One girl told me she’d been here since six,” Willa said.

KJ shrugged. “I’m on my way to Spirit Bear Island tonight anyway. I know a special place there. Wanna come?”

Willa, who’d run away from home with a sack of knitted clutch purses, two changes of underwear, and her life savings of $250, said yes.

On the deck of the ferry, KJ sang lively verses about new days dawning and better times ahead. Willa perched beside her, knitting needles marking time to the music.

They hitchhiked to the top of a steep hill and KJ led the hour-long trek through the bush to the deserted house. There were sleeping bags left from some other squat which they dragged into the sun to air. KJ had almond butter and crackers. Willa had bags of raisins and peanuts. In the neglected orchard, the branches of the trees bent under the weight of rosy McIntosh apples.

The next day KJ busked at the Sunday market in the bustling tourist town. Willa spread a towel on the ground under a cherry tree and laid out her purses in tidy rows of rainbow colours. After three hours, all of Willa’s purses were sold and KJ had hauled in over $200. They also sold apples. Plus: $30. They’d scored groceries, weed, yarn, and guitar strings. Minus: $187.

Spurred by success, KJ wrote and practiced new songs every day. Willa bought golden thread. She joined the two sides of her clutches with it, using a decorative running stitch.

The following Saturday KJ doubled her take and Willa sold forty clutch purses.  

The first of the autumn rains rolled in under a black cloak. Willa looked up when a raindrop landed on her forehead. More drops tap danced around the kitchen floor. KJ swore and stowed her guitar in its case.

“Put your purses in the bag or they’ll be ruined!” she yelled at Willa.

They covered their packs with a tarp and hitched to town. The double-sided tent they bought was guaranteed waterproof and fit into the vacant living room as though engineered for the space. KJ drove the pegs into the floorboard with a large mallet.

That night Willa drifted off to sleep, warm and dry.

KJ spoke into the darkness. “Do you like it here, Willa? Do you? My gran left me this place when I was sixteen. We could stay forever if you wanted to.”

© Maggie Bolitho

Photo from Wikimedia Commons: McIntosh apple tree in Harvard, Mass by ashstar01


Detour Ahead - Word count 471 (prompt: guess)

I’m sitting in the Hungry Rosh waiting for my almost-ex-mother-in-law to join me for lunch. I’m halfway through my sabich, a pita stuffed with eggplant, hardboiled egg and tahini, and she’s not here yet. When she called this meeting I reminded her that my lunch break is only thirty minutes. The other flagman is waiting for me to come back so she can get something to eat on this pissing wet day.

Yep, thirty years old and I’m a flagger. That’s one of the reasons I’m a soon-to-be-divorced man. Beth thought she could make a silk purse out of this sow’s ear. She likes a good home improvement job, Beth does. Originally she said it didn’t matter that she was a teacher and I had no ambition. The only thing I really enjoy is drawing comic strips for my own amusement. Beth said all she wanted was company, someone to make a home with.

We’d been married about a year when Beth came home with an application for art school.

“You should develop your creative talent.” She pushed the paperwork toward me on the sofa.

“Nope.” I tossed it on the floor. “I hated school. Never going back. My comics are revenge on the idiots who almost kill me at least once a day.”

At that moment I'd captured perfectly a guy in a Beamer giving me the finger as he raced through our construction site.

“Look at this fool.” I held up a masterful caricature. “He can’t see the cops waiting at the other end of the block. They had a blitz on road safety today and this loser caught a $250 fine.”

Beth didn’t even glance at my sketchpad. She stomped out of the room and slammed the bedroom door behind her.

A bulky SUV squeezes into the parking spot right out front of the Rosh. I recognise it as Millie’s. That’s what I call Beth’s mum: Millie, short for Mother-In-Law. I’ve got fifteen minutes to visit with her which is a relief. I figure she wants to talk to me about going back to Beth. It wouldn’t be the first time and my answer never changes. No. I’m not someone’s makeover project.

“So how are you?” She kisses my cheek and sits down across from me, doesn’t even bother to order lunch at the counter.

“About the same.” I shove the last of the sabich in my mouth and make a production of checking my watch.

“Sorry I’m late!” she says. “You’ll never guess what kept me.”

I shake my head because my mouth is full.

“Remember I told you I went to school with the guy who started the Dilbert comic strip? We skyped this morning and I showed him some of your strips. He wants to syndicate them. Are you ready for a career change?"

© Maggie Bolitho



Photo from Wikimedia Commons: Flagger on M-124 Walter J Hayes State Park near Brooklyn Michigan by Dwight Burdette

Reflection in an Alley - Word count 490 (Prompt: key)

“Now let all your images and thoughts dissolve like a cloud in the sky. Let your mind rest and when you’re ready, gently let your attention come back to the present.” The teacher breathes the words and a ripple of wakening energy rises over the crowded room.

Nick visualizes the sign on the wall: Yoga’s greatest gift is the vulnerability that fills your tender heart after a deep practice. When he opens his eyes he feels tenderness and vulnerability like no one had ever experienced it before. Good bye Mr. Corporate Raider. Hello Mr. Loves-his-Fellow-Man.

He tucks his silk scarf into the collar of his cashmere overcoat and shoulders his way out of the meditation studio. An icy wind whips his trouser cuffs around his ankles. Nick remembers to smile.

He marches straight to the bank machine a block away. With $400 in his pocket, Nick heads to the Artsee Java Joint. Sure enough, the homeless guy is still out front. The beggar rarely shows his face, just sits there, knees pulled to his chest, and head bowed. Between his feet sits a baseball cap with a few loose coins in it. A crudely-lettered sign beside it says Please help.

The guy has been there for as long as Nick can remember. Nick used to badger the owner of the coffee shop to get him moved but she said the guy was harmless. Nick almost stopped going to Artsee after that but no one else got his crema just right. Instead, he sometimes nudged the guy with his toe as he walked past. One Christmas, when the man seemed particularly unresponsive, Nick scooped a ten dollar bill out of the ratty cap.

Today Nick is making amends. He kneels beside the guy and touches his arm.

“Hey buddy. It’s going to be cold tonight. Here’s some dough. Get yourself a warm room.”

The man lifts his head and piercing blue eyes meet Nick’s.

“Wow, thanks, man!” The guy snatches the money from Nick. “I’m going to call it a day.” He struggles to his feet and hobbles away.

Nick has made a difference in the world and satisfaction rushes through him. Maybe he can do more. He might be able to find the guy a job. He runs after the man who has ducked down an alley. The beggar’s limp is gone now and he walks fast.

The guy pulls something shiny from his pocket and Nick halts. Is it a weapon? No. It’s a silver key chain. The guy points to a Mercedes Benz at the end of the alley and the trunk opens from a distance of twenty feet. Nick stops dead. As he watches, the beggar wipes the dirt from his face and hands. He changes to clean jeans and a leather jacket. He slides into the car and starts the engine. Before he drives away, he looks in the rear view mirror and waves to Nick.



Image from Wikimedia Commons: psyberartist—haunts of solitude—uploaded by russavia

Protected - Word count 472 (prompt: visual - see below)

Sylvia’s mother’s house is so big it takes five minutes to walk from the conservatory on the west side to the library on the east. Not that anyone uses the library much. Every sunset a hostile, keening presence arrives in the room and the temperature drops five degrees. All of the servants leave before four in the afternoon.

Sylvia’s mother waited for years to buy the house, watching the price drop and drop. Finally she scooped it up for little more than land value.

“Stupid, superstitious people.” She talks with a mouth full of coq au vin. She has opened a bottle of fine champagne to celebrate their first night in the stone mansion. Sylvia pats her mouth with a linen napkin and says nothing.

After dinner, Sylvia’s mother leads her through all the ground floor rooms. “One day, my darling, this will all be yours. You will never want for anything in your life.”

Sylvia would like to remind her mother that the one thing she really wants has already been denied to her. Her courage fails and she follows her mother’s mincing footsteps through room after room. At the entrance to the library, she balks.

“Don’t tell me you’re as silly as these peasants!” Sylvia’s mother says crossly. “Okay I’ll close the door and we’ll never go in here.”

An icy laugh echoes from the darkness and the door slams shut before Sylvia’s mother can touch it. She glares at it. “These old houses are prone to drafts. I’ll have the carpenter fix that door tomorrow so it can’t be shut. Then we’ll show the world who really owns this place.”

When then they walk up the sweeping staircase to their bedrooms, the sound of that laughter reverberates in Sylvia’s ears. Does the ghost know her mother has brought her to this isolated place to keep her away from the world of music and laughter? Does it feel her pain and longing for the daring and beautiful Charlotte?

That night Sylvia’s mother sleeps soundly on her king-sized bed, happy in the knowledge that she is the richest woman in the land.

In Sylvia’s dark dreams Charlotte has climbed a tall tree. Sylvia hears her calling and follows the voice outside. The bark of the Garry oak scrapes Sylvia’s hands and bare feet as she climbs the gnarled trunk.

“Come closer, my love,” Charlotte coaxes. She’s in plain sight now, hovering over the end of the branch. Sylvia stretches, anticipating the warmth of her lover’s kiss.

“Sylvia! What are you doing up there?” her mother yells from the ground below. Sylvia wakes with a start and twists as she falls. She catches a low branch and her arms almost wrench from her sockets.

“You can let go now.” Charlotte’s voice swims in her head. “I’m waiting for you in the library.”


From the series Anonymous by Argentinian photographer, Sofía López Mañán



Boundaries - word count 123 (Prompt: pillow)

On my pillow, another woman’s earring. Her Bolt of Lightning perfume, mixed with the heavy scent of sweat from vigorous exertion, assails my nostrils. I touch a long silken hair that cuts a black line across the white pillowcase.

Acrid frustration dries my mouth. Swallowing is an effort. I hate working night shift, leaving my side of the bed empty. It’s an invitation to injury.

From the bathroom I hear her singing. She throws open the door and races to me.

“Sally! Love!” She throws herself into my arms. We hug like sisters reunited after decades apart, not lovers separated by a graveyard shift.

“Mei,” I sigh. “If you have to sleep on my side of the bed, could you please shower first?”


© Maggie Bolitho

The first line of this story is a ‘6 word story’ that I wrote for a twitter challenge by Sherman Alexi about 3 years ago.


Image from Wikimedia Commons ‘Austrian Postcard 1901’ uploaded by Szczebrzeszynski.

Random Luck - Word count 394 (prompt: paper cut)

‘Paper cuts rock?’ Oakley’s shoulders tighten and he wishes he’d stayed with scissors.

‘No you moron, paper covers rock. Either way, you lose.’ Jacob punches the air. ‘Now go ask old man McKinnon to give us our ball back.’

The other kids shuffle their feet in the dust and laugh nervously. No one really likes Oakley. First of all there’s his name. Then there’s the garlic that he eats like apples and the purple sweat pants he wears almost every day. Lastly there’s the weird way he speaks English, even if he is a maths genius.

Still, no one should have to disturb balmy Mr. McKinnon. Even the Jehovah’s Witnesses won’t walk up the faded stairs to his peeling front door. The cricket players look at the sagging house, almost hidden behind tall trees. The donkey drop sailed over the thorns of the wild blackberry bushes. When the boys climbed up the hill, they spotted the ball sitting in a weed-infested window box at the back.

Jacob shoves Oakley. ‘Hey tree boy—go get it.’

The rumours say the old man hasn’t left the house since his wife walked out on him about a million years ago. Groceries are delivered to the warped garage door and people claim to have seen a claw-like hand drag them inside. Everyone knows McKinnon is seven foot tall, skeleton skinny, and his orange eyes glow in the dark.

Oakley knocks loudly and the rapping sounds like gunfire in the quiet street.

‘Go away.’ A voice thunders deep inside the house.

‘Excuse me, sir,’ Oakley says through the keyhole. ‘Sir, I’m sorry to be a bother but our ball landed by your back door.’

His pulse pounds in his ears as rattling and thumping echoes inside. He peers through the keyhole down a long hallway. From a room faraway the blue flicker of an old TV or computer monitor offers the only light. Then a short, rotund figure darkens everything. Oakley leaps back before the door is ripped open.

‘You—boy.’ A Santa-like man steps onto the porch. He wears a white t-shirt stretched over the top of purple sweat pants. ‘You called me sir?’ He juggles the ball in the air.

Oakley swallows. ‘Yes.’

‘I’m sure you’re a decent lad. But don’t ever call anyone sir, unless you’re in the military. It makes people think you’re a freak.’

© Maggie Bolitho

Photo from Wikimedia Commons: Cricket Ball on Grass by Matthew Bowden

Cover Story — Word count 288 (Prompt: slowpoke)

Ainslie runs a thin finger along the spines of the old books. “Take as many as you want,” Gran said. Ainslie frowns. There must be a kajillion books here and not a single graphic novel or zombie story in the entire mess. The shelves overflow and more books erupt from cardboard boxes. Some are stacked into a side table for the worn armchair.

“C’mon slowpoke.” Her mother’s hectoring voice booms up the stairs.

Gran’s downsizing or, as she calls it, getting ready to die. She wants her only grandchild to take some of her most prized possessions, her books. She’d let Ainslie take all day but Mum has less patience, with everything.

“Don’t rush her,” Gran says, her tone soothing. “I want her to make good choices.”

Ainsley upends one of the boxes. Frankenstein ! This is more like it. The pages crackle with age and someone has scribbled their name on the inside but it’s the best thing she’s found so she tucks it into her backpack. Below that is a copy of Peter and Wendy  with old-fashioned black and white plates. The hinges are split in places but she likes the pictures and bags that one too.

“Get a move on.” Mum’s words prickle with irritation. Next she’ll be threatening to leave Ainsley behind. She’s done that before today and it took Ainslie an hour and a half to get home by bus.

Ainslie flips the books fast until one with a plain cover catches her eye. The Story of O  by Pauline Réage. At last, something modern. She’s played The Land of OOO  at her best friend’s place several times. She’ll have to stop there on the way home and show her this prize.

© Maggie Bolitho

Picture from Wikimedia Commons: Frontispiece to Mary Shelley, Frankenstein published by Colburn and Bentley, London 1831. Steel Engraving in book 93 x71 mm.

Author: Theodor von Holst

Playing Possum - Word count 395 (Prompt: school)

Just because you shoot something doesn’t mean it dies right away, thinks nine-year-old Diego as he plays dead in the gravel of the schoolyard. He counts to thirty slowly because that’s the rule when you’ve been hit in this game of zombies vs soldiers.

Three years ago he crossed Guatemala into Mexico. He was on his way to America, looking for the mother who’d been forced to leave him as a child. Along the way he saw many other kids, alone and vulnerable like himself. The lucky ones were only beaten and robbed. He saw two boys shot and left to die from their wounds. They didn’t grab their throats and fall over in crumpled heap like his classmates do. The iron crush of death tightened much slower. He held Felipe’s hand for hours as life seeped out him and the ground stained red. That’s where La Migra, the Mexican immigrant officer, found him before putting him on El Bus de Lágrimos* back to Honduras.

Diego closes the door on the nightmare memory and tries, yet again, to be a normal American boy. He plays the silly game where everyone lives to eat brain-food snacks at mid-morning recess. He wants to belong. He wants to bring honour to the kind-hearted woman who adopted him.

The first bell of the day rings and Diego jumps to his feet, happy to shrug off the pantomime of violence. While the other kids chatter around him, Diego takes one last look at the list of words for the morning’s spelling test. He’s ready for another perfect score.

At ten o’clock shots ring out in the hallway, just as Diego is dotting the i in the word kindle. His head flies up, his eyes round. He knows the sound of gunfire. At the front of the class, the teacher’s stands, ashen-faced.

‘Everyone—behind me—under my desk,’ she yells.

Diego flies to the floor and the others pile on top of him.

When the shooting is over and the emergency responders have removed the injured and the slain, they find the limp body of a small Hispanic boy. His pulse is strong and his eyes are responsive but he does not acknowledge their words.

Finally his adoptive mother is there, holding him, stroking his hair. ‘It’s okay now, Diego,’ she says. You’re safe. You don’t have to pretend any longer.’

© Maggie Bolitho

Photo from Wikimedia Commons: boys at play from Hampshire and Solent Museums

* the bus of tears

Footnote: this story was inspired by the nonfiction book Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario. 

Champ - Word count 383 (Prompt - owl)

“Send me an owl,” Josie said and, with a flip of her long dark cape, vanished. That’s how she saw it anyway. Sniggers from her schoolmates reached her ears. Despite her most fevered efforts, she couldn’t raise a bedazzling hex to hide herself in the background.

Heart pounding, she sprinted away from the pick up zone where parents double-parked to wait for their darling children. Darling children like Summer and Britany who called her freak and pinched her arm until it was covered in bruises.

Just when she thought another day of torment was behind her, Summer had sidled up to her, smelling of grape-flavoured bubble gum.

“Wanna come to my birthday party on Saturday?” she said, her voice sweet and slick.

“Um. Maybe.” Josie stared at her feet, noticing a green sock on one foot and a yellow on the other.

“Give me your phone number. I’ll ring you tonight and give you all the details.” Summer shoved a bright purple pen and a piece of paper at her.

That’s when Josie blurted the first thing she could think of and dashed away. Running was the one thing she was really good at. If running was magic she would have disapparated a hundred times already this week. She raced into the woods, to the small lean-to where she kept spell books and a collection of herbs. When daylight started to fade, she stashed her cauldron and camouflaged the entrance to her hideaway with branches and leaves.

At home her father was working with his office door shut. On the kitchen table sat a golden treacle tart.

“It’s better with custard,” said a tiny voice from the hallway.

“Britany! How’d you get in?” Josie edged toward the back door.


The unlocking charm. A sickening wave on envy washed over Josie.

“I’ve been waiting for ages. I thought your dad would catch me.”

Josie studied the pie. Was it poisoned? Was this some new trick?”

“I brought you this to say sorry.” Britany stepped a little closer. “Summer's had an entrancing enchantment on me all term. Can we be friends again?”

“I guess.”

“Then maybe would you tell me how you did that this afternoon?”

“Did what?”

“Are you an animagus? How’d you change into a jaguar and run away so fast?”

© Maggie Bolitho

Photo from Wikimedia Commons: Treacle tart with custard by Peter Smith

Reunion - Word count 473 (Prompt: gun)

The last time I saw Jeremy he was striding away from me, spine unnaturally straight. The tails of his long sweeping overcoat flapped in the November rain. I’d offered him a ride home but he said he’d rather walk. What he meant was I wasn’t getting into his apartment come hell or high water.

We’d had one of our usual fights. Words are important to me and it bugs me when anyone—but especially a bright guy like Jeremy—uses them wrong. He’s like a singer who’s always off-key.

The first thing he said to me that day was, “Give my regards to old Parkway” because I was going to New York for a week. If he said that as a joke, it would’ve been okay but he just doesn’t pay attention. I think if you’re going to use the words of great people you should try to get them right. Plus where the hell is Parkway?

“Broadway,” I said and stepped away from him. He’d just planted a big kiss on my mouth, right there in public. It’s no secret I hate that.

“Broadway, Parkway. Same-same.”

“It’s not the same, Jeremy. Broadway exists, it’s the live theatre capital of America. Probably the world. If you can’t get the words right, why not keep your mouth shut?”

Okay so maybe I went a little far. He sulked for a while but when we reached the box office, I paid for both our movie tickets. That cheered him up and of course we didn’t talk for the next two hours. Afterwards we went for drinks and I paid the first round and he got the second. When we walked out of the bar he shivered and said, “Wow this is real bronze monkey weather isn’t it?”

The way he lifted his chin said he knew he’d got it wrong.

“Pardon me?”

“You heard me.”

“Jeremy, you are probably the smartest idiot I’ve ever known. If you could think just once before you opened your mouth, you’d be a genius.”

After that, things got nasty. We ended up yelling insults at each other, right there outside Tony’s Bar and Grill. Then he was gone.

It’s been a dark cold winter without him. At Christmas he FedEx’d me a box of silk underwear. I sent him a single Cuban cigar. He loves Latinos.

So now it’s Valentine’s Day and we’ve agreed to meet, back at Tony’s. “Let’s kiss and make up,” his card said.

He walks towards me, super model slender, ruggedly handsome. I stand, smooth my new wool trousers, and hope he doesn’t notice the way I suck in my gut.

A megawatt smile lights up his face, “Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?”

“Jeremy,” I say through clenched teeth, “the word you want is pistol.”

© Maggie Bolitho

Photo from Wikimedia Commons: Broadway Theatre by Luigi Novi


Cornered - Word count 419 (Prompt: club)

Terry has been sitting for most of the afternoon, staring at the recipe book. He lights one Marlboro Light after another until the pasta bowl beside him overflows with butts. The whole time he thinks about Georgia, she of the thick braid that hangs to her waist. He sees himself beside her, trotting to keep pace with her long, impatient stride. He falls asleep with this image in his mind. When a cigarette burns his fingers, he shakes himself awake.

Hells’ bells it’s 6:00 and he’s promised her dinner. Optimism had inspired him to list gourmet cooking as one of his interests on his Plenty Fish in the Sea profile. Yes, he’s interested in it, but just from the eating point of view. When she asked him to cook for her, he was confident he could meet the challenge.

But look at this stupid recipe: start with a Sicilian eggplant. Sicilian for crying out loud, like it talks with a different accent and idiom than a regular eggplant. This is why people give up on fancy cooking. Every single recipe in this Easy Epicurean cookbook calls for at least three ingredients that he either doesn’t have or, worse still, hasn’t even heard of.

Now it’s too late to get the skills he needs before dinner.

Georgia is bringing Marjolaine, a dessert he has eaten once, in Paris. The flavours of  nutty meringue, chocolate ganache, and coffee-flavoured buttercream rise in the back of his throat and his mouth floods with saliva. Terry wanted to make a dinner to complement Georgia's family recipe.

He tips his cigarette butts into the rubbish bin and gargles with mouthwash before snatching his keys and running, breakneck, to the gourmet restaurant down the street. He phones ahead so they expect him. Only favourite customers can order takeaway and Terry qualifies. There is enough time to wait for the cassoulet, so fragrant it makes him want to cry, and get back home before Georgia arrives. He takes his usual seat at the back of the dining room and plays Candy Crush on his phone to pass the time.

“Excuse me, are you a member of the club?”  Georgia smiles down at him. Her loose hair curls and tumbles over her shoulders, past her elbows, like an auburn cape.

“The club?”

“The takeaway club.” She glances to where the maître d’ holds up a glass dish topped with dusty meringue. She waves at the host and turns back to Terry. “I hear there are very few members.”

© Maggie Bolitho

Photo from Wikimedia Commons: Ganaché de chocolate by Luisa Contreras

Played Out — Word Count 435 (Prompt: ice)

“Get that ice or else no dice,” Tanya sings in a sweet soprano voice. She looks up at the portrait of her guardian angel, Marilyn Monroe. Photograph by Bruno Bernard. (Archival pigment print, 30 x 40 inch, $3,700, bought online.)

“You were born too soon,” Tanya flashes her large rock (two karats set in platinum, $10,000, Argosy Manufacturing Jewellers) at the portrait yet again. “If you were a twenty-first century woman like me, you would’ve bought your own stone.”

“And you would’ve chosen your own husband, when you were good and ready.” Tanya uses the hem of her linen sundress (Eileen Fisher colour-block, $315, Nordstrom) to wipe a fleck of dust from the champagne flute (Waterford crystal, $99 each, Bloomingdales) at Neil’s place at the table.

Tonight is a special dinner celebrating the forth anniversary of when they met. Neil promised her a special present. Even as she straightens a steak knife (Wüsthof classic $75, Williams-Sonoma) at his place, she contemplates the text he sent from the parking lot: “Just say yes.”

She smiles up at Marilyn. “He’s the one, isn’t he?”

Marilyn’s image shimmers for a minute and Tanya nods. Yes, brainac Neil is the one. After the first time Tanya brought him home, Marilyn’s portrait glowed approval for days. Dr. Yates mightn’t earn as much as Tanya but he’s loyal, super fit, and a tenured professor.

After all this time, he is going to propose. She’s been hinting for the past few months that this is what she wants. So far she’s pulled the train in their relationship but now it’s his turn to take control.

Tanya fluffs her dyed blonde hair and perches on the side of a dining chair (Billy Haines, circa 1950’s, $2,500, Best Choice Antiques). When Neil blows in he pauses for a moment, as always, and looks from her to Marilyn and back again, as if he can’t tell which is which. Tanya loves this game.

In one hand he carries a bottle of champagne. Her smile broadens (Dom Perignon, 1955, $1,100, Vintage Cellars). In the other he brandishes an envelope.

“Happy anniversary,” Tanya says in a throaty, practised whisper.

“Happy anniversary.” Neil kisses her on the neck so he won’t smear her lipstick (Serge Luten, Mise a Mott, $75, the Beauty Spot). When they step apart, he slides the envelope into her hand.

She tears it open to find a card with a picture of Marilyn on the front. The legend looks unusually buxom as if someone has photoshopped her image. A thin slip of paper slides into Tanya’s hands. On the wall Marilyn’s portrait clouds over.

"This certificate entitles Tanya Monroe to a surgical breast augmentation to the value of $10,000."

© Maggie Bolitho

Photo from Wikimedia Commons: Barris Marilyn Monroe by George Barris

Descent — Word Count 143 (Prompt: heat)


It wasn’t the baby crying from dusk til dawn.

It wasn’t her name on the shortlist but not on the winner’s line.

It wasn’t the heat.

It wasn’t the clinging smell of the vinyl in the new car.

It wasn’t the Visa bill, $500 over limit.

It wasn’t the caffeine.

It wasn’t losing her grandmother’s ring, only to find it behind the jam jar.

It wasn’t cycling at the front of the pace-line in the relentless sun.

It wasn’t the chocolate.

It wasn’t the whine of chainsaws in the forest behind her house.

It wasn’t the stack of work, already two weeks late.

It was everything.

She looked at the small, pharmaceutical wonder in her hand: $30 a pop. She hesitated only a minute before she swallowed in. Soon the migraine’s light and thunder would recede and she’d sleep almost comatose for hours.

© Maggie Bolitho

Photo from Wikimedia Commons by Sasha Wolff from Grand Rapids

Indelible Ink — Word Count 395 (Prompt: Ink)

It was one year, six months, and three days before Miranda stopped driving past David’s house every day. She gave up reading his stupid blog about deep-sea fishing a month after that. Finally she discarded the last unwashed t-shirt he’d left behind.

The following Friday she joined a dozen coworkers in the bar and ordered Tequila shots turbocharged with Cointreau chasers. Near closing time, she declared, “My addiction to the most toxic person on earth is cured and I’m getting a tattoo to celebrate. Who wants to join me?”

The skinny kid from payroll slid another shot glass her way and winked at her. When the pub closed they wound their way to the part of town that never shut down.

Miranda woke the next morning and lay statue-still, afraid that her head would crack if she lifted it off the pillow. Fragmented memories of the night before flitted across her brain: a fish and chips shop with hookers out front. A tattoo parlour with biker gang designs in the window. She’d bargained the tattoo artist down in price. The kid got a 3D bat on his shoulder. Everything after that was a blank.

She wanted Chapter 2 inked across her right wrist, to remind her that being a divorcee at twenty-five wasn’t the end of her life. She held up her right arm. Bare. Her left arm was uninked too. Maybe she’d changed her mind.

On shaky legs, she fumbled her way to the bathroom, stripping as she went. She glanced in the mirror as she turned on the shower. What was the black track that wrapped around her right breast and snaked down her stomach? Grabbing her phone she snapped a selfie and squinted at it. Spidery cursive script read: Whatever doesn’t kill us only makes us stranger. Stranger?  She stretched the photo larger. It definitely said stranger. In two-inch high letters. In fact it looked like the tattoo artist had gone over the letter ‘a’ twice, to emphasize it.

When her phone rang, David and a picture of her ex-husband flashed on the screen.

“Yes?” she answered tentatively.

“Hi Babe.” David’s deep melodic voice still made the hairs on her arm stand up. “Can you forgive me? I realize what a total idiot I’ve been. How about we go out for dinner some time and see if the flame is still burning?”

© Maggie Bolitho

Image from Wikimedia Commons: Toulouse Lautrec, The Tattooed Woman, 1894 (uploaded by Petrusbarbygere)

Barramundi Bet - Word Count 452 (Prompt: gamble)

Sienna squatted low under a scrubby bush. The sun had barely cracked the horizon but it already singed the red earth outside her small circle of shade. As she scraped the stubborn scales off the fish, she listened for sounds of anyone sneaking up on her. Those Shackleton boys had stolen her catch for the last time.

When Sienna had complained about their thieving, Gran lifted her eyes from the pile of math quizzes she was marking and said, “You can’t beat bullies, love. Find somewhere else to fish. It’s a long river. Just watch out for the crocs.”

Thinking about Gran’s live-to-fight-another-day logic, Sienna snorted. She’d fished at this spot for the past five years and knew every nook and cranny of the riverbed. It belonged to her.

She ignored the bruises on her forearms where Kris Shackleton had held onto her the day before. Purple circles marked where he’d dug his fingertips into her skin while his scabby brothers had rifled through her cooler bag and found her freshly-caught prizes. When she walked past the shops later, she saw her catch laid out in the fishmonger’s window. There was the big barra with the cut she’d made to release the hook. The boys probably got loads of cash for her patient work.

What if someone stole all Gran’s math papers, and took the money paid for marking them? She’d change her tune then.

Loud shouts rose from the road next to the river. Sienna shoved the last fish into her bag and ran to the top of a nearby dune. She flattened her body in a trench she’d dug out before sunrise. A row of thick grasses hid her from view. From where she lay, she watched the boys tear down the rough path on their bikes, tyres spitting up dirt.

“Stupid bitch has been and gone,” said Jamie, the small one with the bitten nails and high thin voice. He kicked a blob of fish guts at Kris but missed and hit Troy’s brand new boardies instead. Jamie giggled when a red stain appeared. “Oh look. Troy’s on the rag!”

Troy lunged at Jamie and knocked him to the ground. They rolled and flopped, throwing ineffectual punches and cursing like drunks. When they tumbled closer to the river, Sienna held her breath. Maybe she’d gambled wrong. Maybe they’d find her hiding place after all.

They hit the edge of the water and kept wrestling. Kris stood on the beach above them, howling for blood. Seen only by Sienna, a long brown snout glided along the muddy river, metres away. She waited for nature to prove Gran wrong. You could fight bullies. You just had to lay the right trap.

© Maggie Bolitho

Photo from Wikimedia Commons — Barramundi with Barcoo Grunter © Nick Thorne