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A short short story

Thursday 14th March 2013

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There’s something very satisfying, and quite difficult, about achieving a whole story, complete with beginning, middle and end, in the barest minimum of words. Some writers, like Raymond Carver and Alice Munro, have chosen to spend their working lives mastering it, eschewing the architectural rigours of producing a novel in favour of the watchmaker-like craft of short fiction. So as a hat-tip towards this delicate art I’m putting this out there, a tale with more than one twist, the biggest of which is off the page and is the sort of surprise that, once you’ve read the story, will make you catch your breath. For this perfect jewel of a story was actually written by Roxy, my nine year old daughter, as her entry in the Radio 2 Chris Evans 500 words competition. I could attempt to put into words the surge and swell of pride and amazement I felt when I first read it but, judging by this, Roxy would probably do it far better than I ever could.

THE STARLINGS OF WEST PIER

The further I trudged down the deserted beach away from my parents, the unhappier I felt. The weather matched my mood – cloudy, gloomy, miserable. I was still in the dark clothes I had worn to my beloved Granny’s funeral. We had been too fond of each other to part, and she had died before I could say goodbye. The more I thought about it, the more I felt a sob well up in my soul.

I stopped, and looked across the darkening waters of the English Channel. The West Pier stood in the bay, black and rusty. My Granny had told me stories of her past, when the pier was new and beautiful and she had danced in the great ballroom. I tried to picture it now – beautifully decorated. The furniture, elegant, the dancers, gliding around, waltzing without a care in the world: and my Granny, a little girl like me, dancing through the legs of the adults, smiling and free. All that is left of the pier now is a steel skeleton, all its history lost.

A rustling startled me – the noise of thousands of tiny wings, beating in and out of time. The West Pier Starlings, were returning home to roost.

Over the sea they came, a cloud of black, slim bodies, all focusing beady eyes on their destination. They flew past the sun, which was sinking into the murky depths of the Channel, and flocked around the rafters of the West Pier like a ball of living smoke, twisting and shifting in the evening air.

It surely must have been a trick of light – for as I watched the Starlings seemed to take the form of men and women (or so I thought), who each found a partner, and started to dance.

They moved with the same beauty and grace my Granny had so often described, and as I watched I imagined the music they danced to and felt an urge to plunge into the sea and swim out to the pier to join them. Then I saw a figure among the movement – a young girl who looked about the same size and age as me. I watched her, this girl made of Starlings, slipping through the silent dancers and moving towards me. She stopped at the end of the pier facing me, then she smiled and waved.

Looking at me.

Waving at me.

I raised my hand and waved back and felt warm comfort flood into my heart as I finally said my goodbye. Then the birds found their roosts – and the little girl melted away.

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