This afternoon I went shopping with my son. He hauled his fifteen-year-old body in and out of my shadow, careful to avoid my footsteps, side stepping my presence, me, seeking, suggesting, him dismissing. Two people dancing the clothes racks in every shop; the assistants hopeful seeing me, suspicious seeing him.
Finally, his forehead corrugated rigid with a frown and only a box of floppy discs to show between us; no shoes to house size eleven feet, no clothes to garb his new extended body, we came into land at Waterstones.
I bought him a Sherlock Holmes tape, me ‘A House on Mango Street.’
He suggested a drink, clear his head; together we sat dunking biscuits into Brazilian coffee.
After that, we bought his clothes: a hooded top, a bandanna for a £1, two pairs of jeans and an unsuitable pair of trainers.
When it got dark, he went off to breeze the streets, show off his new self.
The streets were empty. He came home. Sat hooded on the sofa.
I asked him if he wanted to come out with me.
Said he would rather have his tongue tenderised by a steak mallet.
Glad things are back to normal.
This story is titled: ‘Shopping’, and including the title, is exactly 200 words long. It is one of a series of linked flash fiction stories that I have written under the collective title ‘Tales Around my Son’. ‘Shopping’ and another story, ‘A New Urgency’, were published in Matter 3 and performed at The Festival Hall, London and at Hay on Wye with the poet Sean O’Brien and students from Sheffield Hallam University.
The stories, being short, are especially suitable for performance, and I also think the form works very well in a linked format. For example, I created a series of stories around a mother's relationship with her teenage son. Because of the nature of flash fiction, I find it a great platform for irony, the word limit forcing the writer to leave some elements unwritten or implied.
I was drawn to flash fiction when it first became popular in the early nineties, and I had very limited time in which to write. It has proved to be an excellent way in which to hone my skill as a writer. Everything has to be pared down to the minimum: no extraneous words!