‘Steve and Nick’ by Michael Lacare

They sit in the Dodge, Steve and Nick, eating hamburgers and chomping on fries. The engine is running and the radio plays Blondie’s, Out in the Streets.
       Steve is in the driver’s seat, peering down at his food. Next to him, Nick is chewing and staring out the passenger window at the First Federal Bank. An older man with a cane wanders up to the doors and a woman with red hair and a blue dress holds the door open for him. The older man nods at her and slips inside; the woman follows.
       It feels warm in the car, and Steve turns down the AC. He picks out another fry and jams it into his mouth.
       “It’s a good day,” Nick says, eyes still glued to the bank.
       “It is,” Steve says.
       Nick takes the last bite of his burger, crumples up the wrapper. He tosses it into the brown bag the food came in on the floor by his feet.
       The parking lot is nearly vacant except for the employee vehicles and the customers patronizing the adjacent shops. To the right of the bank, a woman in the window of a flower shop is arranging long-stemmed roses in variant colors: yellow, white, red, pink, placing them in equally brilliant vases.
       Nick wonders about the last time he had brought home flowers, not that Sally cared for them. “They’re not my thing,” she’d say and would rather have him bring her cigarettes, and she’d sit at the small wooden table they kept outside their single-wide trailer, gray smoke dancing above her head like drunken ghosts.
       The car reeks of meat and salted fries and stale cigarettes. Nick cracks open the window.
“Hey,” Steve says.
       Nick looks at him.
       “The AC’s on,” Steve says.
       “Yeah. So?”
       Steve swallows the last bit of his fries. Says: “You don’t open the window when the AC is on.”
       “Who says?” Nick takes a sip of his Coke.
       “Everyone knows that,” Steve says, pitching the wrapper at him. It bounces off Nick’s shoulder and lands on the seat. Nick rolls the window back up. “It’ll stay cooler in here,” Steve adds.
       The Blondie song ends and The Who is singing about My Generation.
       Nick says, “What day is it?”
       “Thursday,” Steve says. “Why?”
       Nick shrugs. “Feels like a Friday.”
       Steve thinks it feels like a Thursday because on Fridays he’s usually at McCallister’s about now, shooting pool and tipping back a cold one, while he tries to score with Donna, one of the servers, but ends up scoring with Lacy instead. She’s older than Donna by a decade. She has long black hair with streaks of gray in it, and prominent lines that bracket her mouth like parentheses. She lets him pinch her nipples and stick his tongue in her mouth. He can taste the chicken with barbecue she’d had for dinner. They do it in Steve’s Dodge like horny teenagers, and when they are done, Steve pulls away from McCallister’s before Lacy has a chance to get back to her car.
       “Sally’s pregnant,” Nick says matter-of-factly.
       Steve glances at him but doesn’t say a word.
       “We’re going to be parents,” Nick says.
       Steve turns and looks through the windshield. A mother pushes a stroller up and over the curb of the sidewalk. She’s young and pretty, hair tied back away from her face in a ponytail. It bounces against the spot between her shoulder blades.
       Steve thinks to himself: How will they ever manage a baby? They can barely take care of themselves half the time, what with all the arguing and fighting and Sally calling the cops on Nick, and Nick always between jobs because God forbid, he keeps one for more than a month.
       “Happy for you,” Steve finally says.
       Nick nods his head. “She’s pretty excited.”
       Steve can picture her sitting in front of the trailer, barefoot, the bottoms of her feet black from walking back and forth on the dirt road that leads from their mobile home and the cluster of faded mailboxes at the entrance of the park.
       Nick glances at his watch. It’s two in the afternoon. “Beau,” he says.
       Steve looks at him.
       “That’s his name,” Nick adds, “if it’s a boy.”
       Steve wonders which of them came up with the name. “What if it’s a girl?” Steve asks.
       Nick says, “She wants Doreen, but I’m partial to Michelle.”
       Steve nods once and looks out the window again. “It takes a lot of money to raise a kid nowadays,” Steve says, letting the words sink in.
       “Tell me about it,” Nick says.
       All that formula and diapers and insurance and clothing and saving for college Steve wants to say but doesn’t. You’d have to be a goddamned Jeff Bezos to afford it. He doesn’t know how these people do it, some with two, three, four children, in fact.
       The older man with the cane exits the bank. He walks past the shops and disappears around the corner.
       Nick fires up a cigarette, cracks open the window again, blows the smoke out. “We hittin’ McCallister’s tonight?”
       Steve thinks about it. He thinks about Donna and Lacy and if returning to this town after his release was the right thing to do because not much has changed, that’s for sure. Not in twelve years. The people are the same, all doing the very same things. No one lives here, he thinks to himself. They just exist.
       “Aren’t you tired?” Steve asks.
       Nick glances at him. He’s not sure what to say.
       “Of all this?” Steve adds.
       Then it dawns on him what Steve means. “Yeah, of course I am.” Nick exhales the smoke. There are three cigarettes remaining. He will bring them to Sally, even though he’d prefer to smoke them all now, one after the other.
       “You really want that baby?” Steve says, and this catches Nick off guard. He shifts in his seat, turning in Steve’s direction. “What do you mean?”
       Steve shakes his head. “It’s a life changing event. Is it what you really want?”
       Nick thinks about what Steve says, his eyes focused on the worn leather seats. He tosses his cigarette out the window.
       “I thought about it,” Nick says.
       “Yeah?”
       Nick’s eyes meet Steve’s. “I want it.”
       “OK,” Steve says.
       “I love her, you know,” Nick says.
       Steve hesitates, then says: “I know.”
       “I’m not saying I ain’t scared though,” Nick says, that wry smile beginning to form at the corner of his mouth that Steve knows so well.
       Steve nods, cuts the engine off. He removes the keys from the ignition. In a few minutes, the vehicle will get warm again.
       Nick takes a final look at the flower shop. The woman in the window is gone. He thinks about bringing Sally home roses, after all.
       “You ready?” Steve says.
       Nick nods, and they climb out of the Dodge together. Steve walks back to the trunk. He pulls out two ski masks, hands one to Nick. Steve reaches inside again and hands Nick a Mossberg 500 Tactical shotgun. It feels heavy in his hands. Steve grabs a Desert Eagle .50 Caliber handgun, shoves into the front waistband, and pulls his shirt over it. He slams the trunk lid closed.
       They exchange a look. Nick takes a deep breath, slowly lets it out. Nick looks at his watch again. Sally would be outside their trailer by now, hanging the day’s linen on the line, and as they approach the bank, Nick thinks to himself that maybe the name Doreen isn’t so bad.

Michael Lacare has been published in numerous literary magazines as well as nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He currently lives in Florida with his wife, where he is at work on a novel. Follow him on Twitter.

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'Goodnight, then.' by Kelsie Colclough

Annie realized that she would have to divorce her husband, Richard, on the day of her little sister’s wedding. That was in July. Now, it was the middle of September and she was lying in bed next to him, looking at pictures of days she’d never get back.
       The first photo—what used to be her favourite—was of Richard sitting on their leather couch, gin glass in one hand and one half of a torn Christmas cracker in the other. An obnoxious wreath of neon green tinsel was wrapped around his shoulders. He was laughing. His laughter, when he threw his head back like that, never failed to make her laugh too. It was one of the big reasons she had proposed to him by putting the ring in a handmade Christmas cracker.
       She pinned that photo back onto the corkboard above her vanity. There were others there too—snapshots she’d taken of their holiday in Spain three months ago, mostly—but they were dotted around the apartment like scattered leaves in autumn. Annie imagined grabbing a broom and sweeping them out of the front door, only to have them push back inside with the breeze.
       ‘You coming to bed soon?’ Richard asked.
       ‘In a min.’
       Richard turned off his bedside lamp. His phone kept some light in the room for a moment. She glanced over the corkboard again. Annie had taken a lot of bad photos. Objectively speaking; blurry and shaky shots from when she’d had too many shots, photos with bad lighting and worse—tired make-up artists, she’d just kept those out of her portfolio. But, by far, the worst photo was another of Richard.
       Richard, sitting in the pews, holding Lily in his arms. The little flower girl was still tossing the few rose petals she had left onto the grass, although the wedding was over. The dimming sunlight of the August afternoon fell beautifully on the scene. Maybe if she could ignore the smile on Richard’s face then she wouldn’t hate it so much.
       ‘Goodnight, then.’ Richard sighed.
       She wrapped her nightgown around her. It lacked the warmth of his arms, but at least she could breathe. In and out, steady now. But that face! It crept in on her mind, like spiders, it wouldn’t leave. The cobwebs it spun couldn’t be swept away with his reassurances, instead they trapped her thoughts constantly until they were consumed when she closed her eyes.
       ‘Would you want a boy or a girl?’ she asked.
       ‘Oh, are we talking about that now?’
       She dug her nails into her arms. ‘I’m trying to imagine it. I really am.’
       ‘Well, I’d want a boy. Name him after my dad—Liam. You’d be a good mom, Annie. I don’t know why this is affecting you so much.’
       Annie sat on the bed. It was good that it was too dark to see the frown on her face.
       ‘I just—we said at the beginning, right? Neither of us wanted kids. And it feels like, out of nowhere, you’ve changed your mind,’ she said.
       ‘It’s not out of nowhere—’
       She interrupted, ‘And what about my work? I can’t just take all that time off. I wouldn’t even want too. And all the money—childcare isn’t cheap. God, Richard, what if the kid is sick or something?’
       He reached out and took her hand. ‘You worry too much. See? Already a great mom.’
       ‘You’re not listening to me at all, are you?’
       ‘Look, he said, squeezing her hand. ‘It’s not out of nowhere. We’ve been together for over ten years now. We’ve grown so much together. I thought you would have changed your mind by now.’
       She pulled away. He couldn’t mean— ‘This whole time? And you didn’t think to say anything?’
       He reached for her hand again. ‘We should have a kid, Annie. We’d be great parents.’
       ‘We should get a divorce,’ Annie said.
       Richard sighed. ‘You know if you stopped and just thought this through—’
       ‘I am thinking it through,’ she mumbled. The cobwebs spread out and out, across their bed and through her memory, spinning threads out of his white lies.
       He turned on the light. There was no glint in his eye that she could see in the low lamplight; in a way that was a relief.
       ‘You won’t change your mind?’ he asked.
       ‘No.’ She rolled over and faced the vanity. ‘And clearly you won’t either.’
       He pulled her back, just a little closer, into his chest. His hands were shaking but became still when they linked with hers.
       He leaned his forehead against her shoulder and took a deep breath.
       ‘Let’s talk about it in the morning, Annie,’ he said. ‘We should talk about it in the morning.’
       ‘Goodnight, then,’ she whispered.
       Annie turned off the light, then closed her eyes and wondered how much it costs for autumn leaves to be swept away.

Kelsie Colclough holds a BA in English & Creative Writing from Staffordshire University. She has been published in Palm Sized Press, Corvid Queen, and Variety Pack. She can be found on Twitter @klcolclough. 

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'The Old Pine Tree' by Thomas Morgan

My mum’s boyfriend sat me and my sister down at the kitchen table. He told us that he was going to propose to our mum while they were on holiday in New York. I wasn’t exactly thrilled about the news because I didn’t want him to marry my mum. I suppose there’s nothing wrong with him, but at the end of the day, he isn’t my dad. And he never will be.
       Me and Dad had always talked about cutting down the old pine tree in the back garden. He needed me to be old enough to help him without getting in the way and being a burden. But by the time I reached that age, he became ill, and the plan to cut down the tree fell by the wayside.
       We did have some good times with that pine tree. I remember having what can only be described as an epic pine cone battle with my dad when he was still well enough to be at home. And I remember playing with that tree the first time my parents left me in charge of my sister. We went outside and peeled away thick layers of bark, exposing the sticky tree sap that was hidden like treasure underneath.
       I can still feel it on my hands.
       But that pine tree had also caused a few problems. My sister was playing out in the garden a while back when she decided to climb up the tree. She got about halfway up when she lost her footing and fell. She broke three bones in her wrist. That’s when I decided that it was time to get rid of it.
       I waited until my mum and her boyfriend were on holiday in New York. My dad never really had any tools of his own, so I borrowed a chainsaw from my neighbour Ian. Dad and Ian were friends, so he didn’t mind lending me the equipment that I needed; he trusted me completely. He even offered to help me cut it down, but I declined.
       I knew that it was something I had to do on my own.
       I cut into the tree at a slight angle, creating a triangular-shaped wedge on the left-hand side of the tree trunk. Then I moved over to the other side of the tree and used the chainsaw to cut a straight line across the right-hand side of the tree trunk, leaving a small gap between the triangular wedge and my second cut. Then I gave the tree a gentle nudge and let gravity do the rest of the work for me.
       Once the tree was on the ground, I removed the branches, taking extra care to avoid causing any unnecessary damage to the chainsaw or the surrounding turf. I put the branches into one of those wood shredding machines. It cost me a lot of money to hire that machine, but my God, it was worth it. There was something strangely satisfying about watching those branches being shattered to pieces in front of my eyes. I felt like I had great power – like a god or a young king.
       When the branches had been disposed of, I got to work on the tree trunk. I made six even cuts about eighty percent of the way into the trunk. Then I turned the trunk around to finish the cuts. I made sure that I cut the tree trunk into manageable-sized pieces so that they would fit in the boot of my car.
       I decided to keep a small chunk of wood from the tree. I didn’t know what I was going to do with it, but I thought it could be used for something.
       All that was left was the stump. I looked online at the best way to remove a tree stump from the ground. One method suggested drilling holes into the top of the stump and then filling them with vegetable oil. After leaving the oil to set overnight, the method suggested setting the stump on fire. But that would’ve taken far too long, and I didn’t have time for all the hassle that went along with it.
       It was clear that I had a number of different options to choose from. So I chose the one that I thought would work the best and began to tackle the stubborn old tree stump.
       With one of Ian’s shovels, I dug a hole in the ground around the outside of the stump.
       Then I took a rusty old handsaw and cut across the stump a couple of inches below the soil line. It was far too delicate an operation to use my neighbour Ian’s expensive chainsaw.
       Using a rusty old handsaw was proving to be a difficult task. In hindsight, I probably should have picked a different method or used an electric handsaw. But I would change a lot of things about my life if I could.
       With the red hot sun beating down on me, I continued to dig deeper and deeper below the soil and made another cut across the stump. No matter how hard I tried, it just didn’t want to move. It was safe to say that it wasn’t going to go down without a fight. I grew tired of the arduous and lengthy process of cutting. It took me about twenty minutes or so just to make a small incision in the stump. I started to get angry with the tenacious old tree stump, so I got a sledgehammer and gave it a few good hits until it finally flew out of the ground.
       A small piece of the stump still remained in the ground, but that was fine by me. You wouldn’t be able to see it, anyway. I used some odd pieces of turf to cover up what was left of the stump. Then I used the garden hose and poured a generous amount of water on top of the turf until it looked as good as new.
       I knew that my dad would’ve been proud of my efforts. Even to this day, I still can’t believe that he’s gone.

My mum came back from her holiday in New York and showed me her engagement ring.
       ‘Congratulations,’ I said.
       ‘Thank you,’ she said. She looked outside and noticed that the pine tree was gone. ‘You got rid of it?’ she said.
       ‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘Me and Dad always talked about it. I thought it was time.’
       ‘I suppose you’re right,’ she said, as she stared out of the window.
       ‘I’ve got something for you,’ I said. I took a necklace out of my pocket and gave it to my mum. It had a heart-shaped pendant on it that I had fashioned out of the old pine tree. I was pretty proud of my handiwork.
       ‘I love it,’ she said. ‘Thank you.’ She kissed me on the cheek and gave me a big hug.
       About a year or so later, I stood in the back garden and watched as my mum married my step dad. They were facing each other and standing in the spot where the old pine tree used to be. And even though it had been gone for months, I could still feel its spirit watching over us.

Thomas Morgan is a writer from Worthing in West Sussex. His short story Promises was published in the 2019 Leicester Writes Short Story Prize Anthology, and his flash fiction story Encounter was published online on Visual Verse. Follow him on Twitter: @tommorgan97

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Clover & White publish short stories, flash fiction and poetry every Sunday. If you like what we do, share the love and let others know about us. Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram & Twitter, and join our Mailing list!

Have a short story, flash fiction or poem to submit? Awesome! We would love to hear from you. Visit our submissions page for all the details.

Plastic Breath by Alfredo Salvatore Arcilesi

After seven days of intolerable confinement, Izzy decided that this foggy afternoon was the right time to free herself. And, if she could manage, Clara.
       She had been testing her crippled body since the morning darkness, inundating her extremities with signals to flex, and, with any hard-earned luck, move. Her weak arms appeared up to the task; she guessed her weight to be just shy of one-hundred pounds. Her legs, however, remained stubborn, anchoring her to the bed. For all the training she had subscribed to these counterparts, none was more rigorous, more vital than her breathing regimen.
       Izzy’s relationship with oxygen had always been of a toxic nature. A university athlete who had relied upon her immaculate lungs for victory, it had been an unreliable ankle that decided ten metres from an important finish line was the time to snap, end her career, sink her into the depths of depression, and enrol her in a new, lifelong sport: smoking. Three packs a day, four when she was feeling particularly good (or bad), for fifty years.
       And now the ghosts of cigarettes past were preventing her, in spite of her cooperative arms, from liberating herself, and, more importantly, Clara.
       Izzy exhaled a laboured breath, painfully inhaled another. She should have been accustomed to it by now, but the air filtering throughout her sanctuary still tasted as artificial as it smelled. She felt the rather stale intake race through her mouth and nostrils, hoping to reach the pair of black bags that kept her going for no real purpose.
       Save for Clara.
       The clean dose of oxygen reached her ashen lungs, then exited her mouth and nose in another laboured exhalation. Izzy imagined the polluted molecules warning the new wave of respiration about what corruption lay within her.
       She looked to her right, locked eyes with the never-blinking Clara, and, with a look that said “Don’t you dare move now”—she couldn’t risk precious breaths on her roommate’s deaf ears—began the arduous journey.
       Izzy watched as she willed her right arm across the centimetres that felt like kilometres of bed. The feeble limb made pitiful progress before stopping entirely so she may regain what energy she could.
       A surge of anger propelled her arm against the plastic sheet dividing her and Clara. Her hand slid down the thick material until it landed in the crevice between the sheet and edge of the bed. Using this newfound leverage, Izzy began pulling her weight with her right arm, while pushing against the mattress with her left. The juicy idea of giving up had crossed her mind, just as it had when her former severely fit self, besieged by physical and psychological cramps, had desired to slow her run to a crawl at the three-thousand-metre mark. Her conditioned lungs had burned then. Now they were volcanic.
       But the agony and certain death would be worth it. Not only for herself, but Clara, who had never felt a pang in her endless life.
       Izzy now found herself at a ninety-degree angle: the top half of her body sprawled laterally across the bed; the bottom half remained affixed to where it had been since she embarked upon this suicide mission of sorts. After a quick mental team huddle with her barelyworking parts, she used her right hand to push against the plastic sheet. The damn thing was like a wall of concrete. Her reluctant body threatened to pull the plug on the whole operation, but a little bit of that wholesome anger, and a lot of thinking about what would happen to Clara if she failed, helped free the bottom of the plastic sheet from between the mattresses. Izzy exhaled so deeply, the fog outside of her only window found its way to her eyes.
       One breath.
       Her vision slowly…
       Two breaths.
       …slowly…
       Three breaths.
       …returned.
       She felt her old nemesis oxygen assisting her rushing blood to restore her vision. But she knew better; death had brushed past her.
       Move it, she urged herself.
       Izzy hadn’t intended to escape by falling on her head, but as she shimmied herself closer… closer… closer, then over… over… over the edge of the bed, it seemed the only way. Her head free of the plastic sheet, the faint aroma of cooking bombarded her olfactory. She couldn’t help but sacrifice a valuable breath to take in the recipe she had shared with her daughter long ago. You’re using too much garlic powder, she thought, the seasoning burning her sinuses. But that was Isabelle: too much or too little of everything.
       Her shoulders hanging over the edge of the bed, thinned blood rushing to her head, Izzy wondered—not for the first time—what Isabelle would think when the time came to trudge upstairs, check on her dying mother, and find her however she ended up. Hopefully, with Clara in my arms, she thought.
       She wondered if her daughter would even care.
       The pair of Izzy’s had lived a life of few kisses and plenty of bites. Izzy had made the cliche attempts to live via her namesake (Isabelle’s ankles were still intact, after all). Her daughter had indeed run; not on the track, but away from home, turning the typical one-off act of rebellion into a quarterly sport. When she was home, Isabelle would blame Izzy for all of her life’s unwanted biographic details: the casting out of her father, the selfish act of naming her after herself (never mind the tradition), the reason for her isolating unattractiveness, the asthma and other varieties of respiratory ailments courtesy of her chain-smoking. That her only child had decided to punish her by never marrying, never having children, was not lost on Izzy. Still, when Izzy had become too ill to breathe on her own, it was Isabelle who rushed her to the hospital; and it was Isabelle who brought her home, tucked her into bed, and made sure the oxygen tent kept her alive.
       But after seven days of intolerable confinement, seven days of embarrassing baths and changes, seven days of no words exchanged save for begrudged greetings and farewells, Izzy had decided that this foggy afternoon was the right time to free herself. And, if she could manage, Clara.
       Beloved Clara.
       She could no longer see her only friend, but knew she was right where she had left her. I’m coming, she thought, hoping the suffocating air out here wouldn’t render her a liar.
       Like in the old days, when slower competitors somehow cruised past her, good oldfashioned anger fuelled her cause, and she writhed her dangling body further over the edge of the bed like a fish out of water. A fish that wants out of her damn bowl! she goaded herself, and grew angrier at her handicap. The fingertips on her right hand touched something cold, hard. It took her a moment to realize she had touched the floor. Her left hand, still pushing against the bunched-up comforter, worked alone to send her over the rest of the way.
       In the space of seconds, Izzy saw the ceiling, then her abdomen, then her legs, the latter two crashing down on her. Within the same seconds, she had felt emptiness beneath her, then the same cold, hard floor forcing itself into her neck and spine. Precious breaths were knocked out of her, and the fog returned, this time most certainly accompanied by death.
       It took her a few moments to realize that death smelled an awful lot like garlic. A few more moments, and Izzy understood she hadn’t died… and that her daughter wouldn’t have heard a thing if she had. She remained alone. On the floor. Alive. For now.
       Alive enough to save Clara.
       Slowly, surely, Izzy wriggled away from the bed until her dumb legs hit the floor. Still, her daughter remained downstairs, oblivious, or willfully so. But in case obliviousness turned to awareness, Izzy needed to move as quickly as her lame body would allow at this late stage in the race. Last one-hundred metres, she implored.
       Since sitting herself up was impossible, she needed to figure out how to get Clara to come down to her level. Could’ve just grabbed her, and brought her into the tent, she scolded herself, save yourself this stupidity. But she knew it wouldn’t have been fair to Clara, to have her lifelong companion go from breathing one brand of plastic air to another. No. She wanted Clara’s first breath to be one-hundred-percent, certifiable oxygen… even if it was tinged with garlic.
       Izzy flexed the fingers on her left hand, expecting to feel a break, akin to that long-ago ankle, that would prevent her from crossing this finish line. Everything felt in working order. Hand shaped like a spider, the fingers crawled along the floor until they found the nightstand’s feet. They climbed past the bottom drawer, then the middle, then-
       She stopped, having reached as high as she could go. She looked at the progress her hand had made, and was angered and disappointed to see the tips of her fingers so close to the top. So close to Clara.
       No longer able to uphold itself, her arm fell to the floor for her daughter not to hear. Her shallow, disparate breathing became shallower, more disparate. The retinal fog grew thicker. And she was certain the last time she would see Clara was in the memories she had very limited time to relive:
       Sneaking into her late mother’s bedroom—this very same bedroom—to sneak a peek at Clara, high on her shelf.
       Receiving Clara on the eve of her mother’s passing—in this very same bedroom—on the condition that she pass Clara on to her daughter, should she have one, when her own end was near.
       Asking Isabelle to take Clara off the shelf, and sit her on the nightstand; the plan to release Clara had been confirmed, all the more so by her daughter’s routine sneer and remark: “Ugly thing.” Even had Isabelle loved Clara as much as she had, Izzy felt it her duty to finally free her.
       Come on, you useless cigarette-holder. Last fifty metres.
       Her nicotine-stained spider-hand rediscovered the nightstand’s feet, and, once more, began its ascent.
       Past the bottom drawer.
       Forty metres.
       Past the middle drawer.
       Thirty metres.
       Past the bottom of the top drawer.
       Twenty metres.
       Finding the top drawer’s knob…
       Ten metres.
       …where it hung…
       Come on.
       …unwilling to move.
       COME ON!
       Her hand sprang back, the drawer with it.
       Sliding.
       Sliding.
       Sliding.
       Until the heavy piece abruptly stopped, having reached its limit. The nightstand leaned slightly forward, and Izzy glimpsed her legacy as the dead meat filling of a floor-and-nightstand sandwich. But the nightstand had other plans; before it settled back into place, it made sure to shake free the tall, glossy box.
       The impact was painful, a sharp corner hitting her perfectly in the eye, but nothing compared to the torture her lungs were putting her through. Instead of fog, there was rain. Izzy blinked the burning tears away, bringing not the nightstand into focus, but a face.
       And what a beautiful face it was. Skin made of meringue. A faint smile on pink lips barely formed. Rosy cheeks forever pinched into dimples. Black eyebrows arching over a pair of unblinking bejewelled eyes. Had they seen Izzy? All the Izzy’s? From Grandma Izzy to this sorry-excuse-for-an-Izzy?
       They stared at each other for some time, Izzy refusing to blink, like her little friend, lest she slip into death during one of those slivers of blackness. The smell of garlic was fading. She couldn’t tell if her daughter was altering the recipe in some way, or if her senses were gradually shutting down.
       Last ten metres, she thought. Perhaps her final thought.
       Izzy used the left hand that made this final reunion possible to locate the pristine cardboard flap above Clara’s head. Not with anger, but love, Izzy tore open the lid that had sealed the doll in her prison for three generations, and watched as Clara took in her first-ever breath of fresh air.


Alfredo Salvatore Arcilesi had spent a decade penning an eclectic bibliography of award-winning short and feature-length screenplays, before transitioning into the world of prose. His work oftentimes explores the lives of everyday people who find themselves trapped in the complex labyrinth of physical, mental, and emotional illness and isolation. Currently, several of his short fiction pieces are enjoying stays in multiple publications. Follow him on twitter at @libraryscent.

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Clover & White publish short stories, flash fiction and poetry every Sunday. If you like what we do, share the love and let others know about us. Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram & Twitter, and join our Mailing list!

Have a short story, flash fiction or poem to submit? Awesome! We would love to hear from you. Visit our submissions page for all the details.

‘White Tablecloths’ by Emily Prince

During our last week in Europe, we spent all our money. We were in Paris, the City of Love and Light, drunk on the feverish adrenaline that comes with knowing it’s about to end. Our flight home to Australia was booked for Friday evening. Back to the share house and the call centre and the university course that I was failing impressively. 

We sought out the fanciest-looking restaurants. We ordered dishes from menus written in French, guessing at the translation and hoping they’d be palatable. Creamy pastas with seafood and dainty serving sizes were plated up before us. We drowned the taste of escargot in red wine. Drops of crimson flecked the white tablecloths and we snorted into our serviettes, afraid of drawing attention. Our nicest traveling clothes were not so fancy, but the staff saw our handfuls of euro and that was enough. Jason put his nose in the glass. 

Fruity,’ he confirmed, and I kicked him beneath the table, knowing that if I laughed, it would be the braying, drunken laughter of a tourist. 

Pastries for breakfast, chocolate in our coffees. Baguettes stuffed with soft cheeses and pricey meat bought from the delicatessen and assembled in the street outside using a blunted pocketknife. We ate them by the Seine, dodging the dog shit and leaning over to stickybeak in the windows of the boats. 

The taxi from the airport smells like stale bread and carsickness. Jet lag makes us ill. I sweat despite the Melbourne winter and my muscles clench like teeth as I drag my bags up the front step. Our room is musty, the house empty of housemates. Traffic chugs through our street, a bird sings and the rubbish needs to be put out. Jason puts his hands inside my top and I don’t stop him despite feeling like my brain has been distilled in time. Afterwards, we fall asleep without changing our clothes and wake up at 2am, hankering for grilled cheese sandwiches. 

The call centre is the same. My classes are the same. Our housemates are the same, and we continue swimming through the day around each other. We meet occasionally, an itchy-rehearsed tradition, to converse, share food if there’s extra going, ask about the day. Jason comes home late, smelling of cigarettes, and we share red wine on the balcony and pretend the tablecloth is white. I sit up after he is in bed, reading heavy textbooks I’ve borrowed from the library. The overdue fines increase with my lack of comprehension. 

The morning of our departure, we took the train to Versailles. The crowds were thick and slow. We went for a walk instead. We bought more food, more wine, and stuffed our aching bellies with overpriced macarons that tasted of clouds and roses. We grabbed our bags from the hostel before rushing to the airport, almost too late for check-in. 

‘Let’s just stay.’ Jason was hassled. I pulled out my last ten euros and bought us coffees while we waited for the plane. It tasted bitter and rich, like Melbourne. I missed the taste of chocolate. Two months of backpacking, the result of a years scrimping and saving. I was ready for my own bed, the familiarity of routine. 

I get my results back from the first semester, subjects I can barely remember the names of. A chasm of experience lies between then and now. My marks are paltry, my care for them more so. I return the library books and duck away from the building with the anticipation of discovery, hoping the massive fines I have incurred are not written across my face. I walk faster as I leave the university and wonder if I go fast enough, will it disappear? There is another pub night, another set of going away drinks for a co-worker leaving the call centre. We drink too much and stop for hot chips on the way home, spewing into the gutter at 3am. I wipe my mouth. Jason throws his head back and shouts at the sky, unintelligible roaring. 

I count my money obsessively. I take extra shifts. I have not been to a class in five weeks and the house needs a vacuum. The housemates have complained about the roster (which was my idea in the first place) and how Jason and I have not been keeping up with our agreed chores. I am woken one morning at 5am, the sound of passive-aggressive vacuuming being completed outside our door. Jason rolls over and goes back to sleep. I lie awake until I hear the shower start. Then I get up, reach for my purse, and leave the house. 

Berlin by day was sobering, the memorials and monuments stealing the air from my lungs. Berlin by night was electric. A pinwheel of colour and music and texture. Amsterdam was the same, the women in their red painted windows and the smell of weak pot making for a sensory circus, one I could lie down in the middle of and absorb. The early morning train stations, with coffee breath and messily folded maps, sleep-soft eyes and moving so slowly we were almost somnambulant. 

Trains in Italy running late, sipping limoncello out of the bottle. A man in Florence asked us for money and lunged for my purse when I opened it. Racing each other up dark streets when we’d missed the late night bus and eating Pot Noodle for breakfast the next day, our stomachs surrendering in defeat. Sitting up by myself while Jason slept, crying without knowing why. 

The traffic to the airport is thick and tight. Halfway there I realise I’ve left my passport at home and what I’m doing is stupid anyway. I’m still in the clothes I fell asleep in, and my old t-shirt is no help against the wind chill when I leave the taxi. Breakfast has all the decadence a credit card can buy. The cappuccino is strong. I wish for creamy pasta and red wine.

Emily Prince is a writer and librarian from Australia, currently living in Scotland. She came runner-up in the 2017 Emerging Writer Award facilitated by Moniack Mhor and The Bridge Awards and her short fiction has appeared in GutterSonder, and Voiceworks among others. She tweets at @miss_e_prince

Let’s stay in touch…

Clover & White publish short stories, flash fiction and poetry every Sunday. If you like what we do, share the love and let others know about us. Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram & Twitter, and join our Mailing list!

Have a short story, flash fiction or poem to submit? Awesome! We would love to hear from you. Visit our submissions page for all the details.

Little Boy Lost by Alison Frank

Every few hours, a question. I allow myself that much. ‘What did you do all that time, by yourself?’ He has to start talking again soon. His return from kindergarten used to come with a breathless monologue of minutiae from the past three hours: he’d drawn a picture of a lorry in purple felt tip and Mrs Fryer had pinned it on the bulletin board; Gareth had to stand in the hall because he called John a liar; Laura cried when Sunshine the goldfish died.

You have to be patient. Keep things as normal as possible.
But I want to make up for all the kisses I missed giving him over the past three days, celebrate his return with his favourite brownies, a trip to Legoland, the little electric motorbike we’d been saving for Christmas. Anything he pointed to at the supermarket. Whatever television programme received his nod of approval.

Looks like Paulie’s ruling the roost.

It’s hard for Ken too – the whole thing was his fault, after all, though I’m not sure he sees it that way. We’ll come back for him in five minutes, he’d said, as I shouted and tried to open the door of the moving car. I pulled his arm so hard, we nearly swerved off the road. When he turned around and returned to the clearing, Paulie was gone. If my heart hadn’t been beating its way out of my chest, I might have felt a small satisfaction at Ken’s shift from smug self-assurance to wan panic.

No two cases are the same. We can’t make any promises, or predict which way the committee will rule.

If one positive thing has come of this, it’s that I’ve regained the upper hand over my own household. I’d let Ken take the lead when I was feeling low after Paulie was born. Strict sleep training, out of diapers aged one, reading by three. For every problem a child posed, Ken had a solution. But children aren’t like computers he spends his days programming. I cup a palm over Paulie’s perfect crown, yearning to know what thoughts and images churn inside.

We’d gone to pick wild strawberries in the forest. We turned around and he was gone. Just wandered off – you know what kids are like.

My phone in the pocket of my dressing gown, a knot in my stomach, tremor in my limbs as I waited for news, good or bad, from the police. I washed fresh sheets and pyjamas for Paulie every day. Ran a damp cloth over every shelf, each toy in his room, pushing away the image of an older version of myself doing the same thing day after day, refusing to accept the truth.

Would you like to tell me the story of the day you got lost? … I understand you spent three whole days and nights by yourself! That must have been scary.
Paulie nods, intent on the glossy new Transformer clutched in his hand.
Remember Sergeant Ryan, the army man who found you? He was so impressed with your survival skills. He said you could become a special forces soldier one day, didn’t he?
Paulie’s head snaps up, eyes now alight.
I scared away bears, and wolves, and tigers!, he shouts into the caseworker’s face.
How did you do that?
He jumps to his feet and mimes throwing stones, shouting and raising his hands above his head.
You threw things at them? And made yourself big to scare them away? That’s a very good plan. And what did you eat all that time you were by yourself? Did you find berries in the forest?
There weren’t any, stupid! It was only just springtime.

I’m sure I can read the caseworker’s thoughts on her face. Strict parents who put their child in danger then lie about it. Good candidate for foster care.
And where did you find something to drink?
A stream.
Clever boy! And the hide where the soldier found you: is that where you slept?
It’s my cabin, I’m going to go back and show it to Mummy and Daddy.
It’s not your cabin, it’s where hunters sit patiently waiting for an animal to shoot.
IT’S MY CABIN!
Ken, let him pretend it’s his. Paulie, when the weather gets warmer, you and me and Daddy will go to your cabin together. We’ll have a picnic and you can show us what you did when you were there.
I’m sorry, but this is all a bit much. Paulie misbehaved, so we punished him. It was a miscalculated punishment, I accept that. But he wandered off! After all we taught him about staying in one place if he ever gets lost. What kind of message are we sending now, showering him with praise and rewards?

The caseworker must think I’m absurdly indulgent, Ken impossibly strict. What kind of couple are we to raise a child?

Ken, did you say anything to Paulie before you drove away? Do you remember what you said?
If you don’t follow this family’s rules, you’re not part of the family anymore, Paulie jumps in, clear and matter-of-fact, before Ken can say anything.
No, no Paulie. That’s not right. You’ll always be a part of this family, no matter what!
Good, Ken. Could you repeat that please? Look Paulie in the eye. Make sure he hears you.
Paulie, Daddy said something he shouldn’t have. He lied and said that you weren’t a part of the family if you didn’t follow the rules. That’s not true. Not at all. You’ll be a member of our family forever, whatever you do.

Ken slides Paulie off his knee and goes to blow his nose in the kitchen. The caseworker stands up, with what I interpret as a grim kind of satisfaction on her face.
You’ll hear from us in the next few days.

Originally from Toronto, Alison Frank lives in London. Her previous publications include ‘Stop Staring’ in The Bohemyth, ‘Meet Me at Cafe Bambi’ in Confingo, and ‘A Present to Herself’ in So to Speak. She is also the author of the non-fiction book ‘Reframing Reality: The Aesthetics of the Surrealist Object in French and Czech Cinema’. You can follow her on Twitter @alisonfrank

Let’s stay in touch…

Clover & White publish short stories, flash fiction and poetry every Sunday. If you like what we do, share the love and let others know about us. Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram & Twitter, and join our Mailing list!

Have a short story, flash fiction or poem to submit? Awesome! We would love to hear from you. Visit our submissions page for all the details.

‘Neighbours’ by JP Sanders

I

“Mate! Mate!”
       It was a chap I thought I recognised from somewhere.
       About the same age as me, I suspected, although he looked a little older. He was wearing a grey tracksuit, top and bottoms, with dirty white trainers and I noticed without any socks. He had a black baseball cap on with gold writing on it. A smile.
       “It’s you!” he said. He stuck his hand out and said, “I’m Adam. From the flats, Adam. We get in the lift together sometimes, mate,” he continued, before laughing and adding, “only you’re in the posh flats upstairs, ain’t you? I’m the social ones.”
       I think I must have nodded, and although in truth, I couldn’t say it was the flat I recognised him from, it seemed as likely as anything. I shook his hand. “I’m Matt.”
Adam nodded to the door that led to the corridor where all the consultation rooms were.
       “You here with somebody?” he asked.
I shook my head.
       He scowled, looked confused. “What you doing here then, mate?”
       I did what passed for a smile and said, “I think I’m next.”
       He looked genuinely surprised. “You mean?”
       I nodded, before shaking my head and saying, “yup. Yup.”
       He stuck his hand out again for me to shake, saying, “I would never have guessed it. Not in a thousand million years. I mean, you’re in the posh flats upstairs.”
       “What brings you here?” I asked
       He said, “they keep saying I’ve got schizophrenia.”

II

       It was every day that week – crisis care, an alternative to hospitalisation – although it was never spelled out quite as clearly as that – but the threat still loomed large. I’d go. I’d wait my turn to see whoever was on the rota to see people who were waiting. I’d recap the story for them. They’d ask how I was feeling, and occasionally, when I was running low on meds, they’d prescribe me enough for another week – although a truth I did not tell them was that anything they gave me went in the bin, because this is how they control you – if they can’t imprison your body, they imprison your mind with medicine. I said what I thought they wanted me to say. I hid the rest because actually, I didn’t want to say it anyway. Every day.

III

       Adam was waiting for me when I got out, which struck me as being nice and weird at the same time. He asked if I was going home, and when I said I was, he said he’d come with me – he said he could do with the company. I wasn’t really in the mood for talking, but it seemed rude to suddenly change my plans or to tell him I wanted to be left in silence – I suppose I was worried about seeming like a snob. And so we talked. He told me about about his mum and dad, his family, the job he’d had years ago before he started hearing and listening to voices – as a trainee chef. He told me he’d seen me so often and had often thought he’d like to say hello to me, but the moment never seemed to come. Until today. And then he asked if I fancied coming back to his to have a smoke. I said of what. He laughed and said what did I think – and then without thinking about it, with that horrible impulsiveness I had back then, I told him, yes.

IV

       I remember the flat.
       I remember a mattress covered with a clean, white duvet, with clean, white pillows – and surrounding the mattress, there were neatly folded piles of clothing, there being no wardrobe or chest of drawers. I remember it was all really, really clean.
       I’d not smoked cannabis since I was at university. I coughed. He laughed.
       It seemed that things were happening to time and space. It seemed that some of the lines I’d been drawing to connect things together were actually way off the mark, because now, new possibilities were suddenly presenting themselves, new ways of looking at things, new ways of doing things too.
       I remember kissing him.

V

       “Please, Matt,” said Ruth.
       I didn’t say anything.
       I didn’t do anything – was just lying there in bed, not moving.
       “I am going to have to call the Crisis Team.”
       She shook my shoulder.
       “I don’t understand why you can’t get up this morning. You got up yesterday.”
       She shook my shoulder again, forcefully.
       “I’ll come with you. I don’t have to be at work today until 2. We can get a cab or something.”
       She started and stopped and started again drumming her fingers on my shoulder blade.
       “You don’t have to go if you don’t want to. But I’ll have to call them. Please, Matt.”
       I lay there as still as still could be – as still as death.

VI

       “Here he is!” said Adam chirpily. “I wondered if you’d be here!”
       I nodded, slowly, thoughtlessly.
       We were in a day room off the long, main corridor.
       I felt sleepy, which they said was the meds – which were now of course compulsory.
       “What a turn up for the books!” said Adam. He added, slightly sadly, “I never saw you.”
       I shrugged my shoulders.
       He smiled an easy, open smile and said, “I thought – well, never mind what I thought.” He brightened. “And now you’re here! What room you in?”
       I said, “end of the corridor.”
       He said, “well, that’s where I am too! Know what this means, don’t you?”
       I said, “what?”
       He said, “we’re neighbours again!”
       I looked beyond him to the nurses walking up and down the corridor and felt not for the first time so frightened, it almost took my breath way. I must then have said or done something, because the next thing I remember was Adam shouting for help, shouting, actually shouting, “help!”
       Like maybe I’d seen something new.

JP Sanders lives and works in London. He writes short stories, some of which are inspired by his experience of living with mental illness. ‘Neighbours’ is his debut. Follow him on Twitter at @jps126594

Let’s stay in touch…

Clover & White publish short stories, flash fiction and poetry every Sunday. If you like what we do, share the love and let others know about us. Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram & Twitter, and join our Mailing list!

Have a short story, flash fiction or poem to submit? Awesome! We would love to hear from you. Visit our submissions page for all the details.