Featured Flash Fiction: ‘Spines’ by Paula Hunter

Reading Time: 2 minutes

2016 Flash Fiction Competition Winner

It had been a question of climate, really. He’d wanted flowers and you’d tried growing bougainvillea and pelargoniums but really it was so dry, so near the sea that that was never going to work. The grasses and cacti simply thrived. Who were you to blow against the wind?

Paul Simon. It was one of the things that drew you together, you and Bobby, listening to Graceland in the seafront café when he came down from the city on weekends. You were waiting tables that summer before college, not like, as a job. But you were happy to shoot the breeze with a good-looking guy too shy to know how to spend his money. And he kept coming back. Bought this place and that was that. Your Daddy loved him. You never did go to college. No need maybe, and he wanted you close. But the babies didn’t come and he didn’t like that much. Not much at all. He started coming down later on weekends or staying in the city with friends. You were physically forgotten. In between shifts at the café, you took up gardening, as more of a regular thing, learning about the soil and the wind, how to bring on the little ones and encourage them to flower, how to protect the big ones from the squalls, so their spines didn’t break.

It was probably a fit of pique took him out there after your fight. He’d never shown much interest or spent time out there, which was not your fault. He’d eyes and ears like everyone else. He did do laundry now and then, to be fair to him, usually after he’d been staying with his friends in the city and didn’t want to trouble you with his shirts that reeked of cologne but not enough to hide the smell of her. Even so, hanging out clothes in the middle of a storm? Lame, by anyone’s standards. It probably hadn’t crossed his mind what was below him. And maybe the wind made him disoriented. Hard to say how it could’ve happened otherwise, you know. Tripping over his own feet.

You were at your sister’s or you would’ve heard his grunting, the plaintive cursing. Or maybe not. It was a windy day. The cops decided it was a freak thing, those spines being that sharp. Not something anyone could’ve anticipated.

There was a view over the bay where the line used to hang and you’d put a bench out there instead. Below, the cacti were flowering. You couldn’t help thinking how he’d have liked the flowers, their great red blousy blooms nodding in the wind.


Paula Hunter grew up in Glasgow and defected to Edinburgh where she still lives and writes. She has been a lawyer, charity fundraiser, butcher and florist but is usually at home with kids, or up a mountain. She is writing her first novel, a thriller about stalking. Contact her on Twitter @hillsnspills.

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