Dodo’s on the piano, hammering out “Keep the Home-Fires Burning” while Florrie sings to an audience of three. Each show, she’s hoping the bottle that Max passes round will come back with more than toffee wrappers and a grubby linen button. Her delicate voice competes with rumbling, the artificial thunder of a distant salvo.
Across La Manche, Florrie’s cousin Tom is deeply entrenched.
Florrie shudders beneath her pompommed hat. She tries to project her voice like she’s been taught, tries to send it back home to Smethwick to her uncle’s bakery, where oven fires are burning and loaves prove like she wants to prove herself. Where she wrestled with Tom that time – don’t send me back to the front a virgin, Florrie. Don’t make me wait. Her voice soars with her escape from the smell of yeast and wet serge. When, if, he comes back, he won’t find her.
Tom’s sheltering in mud and muck, feet rotting, skin crawling, a hundred miles from Brighton as the crow flies, eighteen years old, no longer a virgin.
Backstage, Florrie rubs at greasepaint with a cloth. Her exposed skin is young and red raw. She doesn’t want to believe that Tom was only doing what was expected, signing up, pushing her against the wooden kneading table, play-acting at being a man. The words of the song, its relentless sentiment, have turned her stomach.
Tom takes the curl-edged photograph from his breast pocket, kisses it. “Can’t wait to get back?” his mate says. “She’s a pretty little thing.” Before Tom can answer, the earth shakes, splinters.
“Two farthings tonight,” Max tells Florrie. “Could be worse.” Florrie stares out at the pink sky above the Channel, shoots Tom dead with her gaze. It’s not enough.
This flash was longlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction Award and was first published in the award anthology, Restore To Factory Settings, Ad Hoc Books.
Anne Summerfield writes short and long fiction and poetry. She has had work published in various print and online journals such as Bending Genres, Flash Frontier, Flashback Fiction, New Flash Fiction Review and Jellyfish Review and in anthologies, such as 100 Voices for 100 Years (Unbound:2022). She has been shortlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction Award twice and has been nominated for Best Small Fictions and the Pushcart Prize. She lives in Hampshire, England.
The Ekphrastic Review
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