I submitted the following piece to the fantastic Litro magazine for a flash fiction competition they were running. The word limit was 700 words, and I snuck in with 699 words.
Although the piece didn’t win, it was long listed which was nice.
It is a revision of an earlier piece of short fiction I published which has since turned out to be the most popular post ever on my website.
It was the scar I noticed first. Across the room a molten pink marshmallow coloured scar, six inches long and visible below the cropped brown hairline, sitting above a smile.
I looked down again at my phone. I was live tweeting, throwing hashtags to the wind, thumbs flurrying across the touchscreen and bearing witness.
“What are you doing?” Came an exuberant shout in my face.
“I’m telling people what you’re all saying. Do you want me to say something for you?”
“Who are you telling?”
“I’m telling everyone. The public, journalists, politicians. We’re trying to tell people your thoughts.”
He moved next to me and lowered his eyes to my phone. My timeline flickered as people favourited and retweeted and he asked why they were interested.
“They want to listen to you, find out what you want, and to help you get that.”
“Can you tell them I like being in care because I’m a naughty boy? I’m a naughty boy and my parents couldn’t look after me anymore.”
I hesitated too long before starting to type and he noticed.
“Tell them. That’s what I want to tell them.”
“I’m sure you weren’t.” I stuttered in response.
“I was. They told me I was and then I got taken to live with new people.”
I started to type, his more insistent tone worrying me. I didn’t want him to think he was being ignored and I wanted to get on with my job.
I tapped and 136 characters later I showed him what I’d written.
He nodded, smiling. “Thank you.”
And he walked away, his scar glinting in the sunlight coming through the bay windows at the back of the community hall we were in.
I didn’t press send.
“He’s not naughty you know.”
I turned to find a tall man with a balding head and a gentle weariness next to me.
“I’m his foster carer. He’s been with us a few years now, and he’s cheeky – definitely cheeky, but he’s never naughty.”
“Then why did he want me to say that he was?” I asked cautiously.
“Because his parents told him that he was, and it’s all that he remembers now.”
I adjusted my tie, desperate to not hear anymore.
“They were being watched by social services his parents were, and he used to come and stay with us on some weekends to give them a break.
“He started coming to us with bruises and he was withdrawn, but he kept on saying how much he loved his parents.”
The sun is getting to me now. Clouds have shifted and it’s in my eyes and making me squint.
“One day I got a call from his social worker. I drove straight to the hospital and waited until he got out of surgery.”
There was no air-conditioning in the room and beads of sweat were making my shirt cling to my back.
“He came out and he had bandages around his head where they’d had to open his skull to give his brain chance to swell. Then when he woke, he just didn’t know what had happened.”
As he continued to talk telling me how the boys Dad had been in a rage and thrown the boy down the stairs, I focused on the middle distance.
His words penetrated my ears but I couldn’t hear them.
The boy doesn’t go to a mainstream school, he’ll probably never get a job or marry. He just carries his scar around, the only possession he has left from his relationship with his parents.
And again I looked across the room and saw the boy, permanently crowned by the horror of his past, talking animatedly to a faceless man in a suit.
“It’s better he doesn’t know, and it’s a secret I don’t mind keeping from him.”
I nodded, smiling the best I could, and shook hands with the bald man before finding a seat at the edge of the room.
I couldn’t help but let tears creep from beneath my fluttering eye lids, and I touched my head where his scar lay and then ran my fingers through my hair.
I deleted what I had typed and put my phone away.