Highly Commended in the Cambridge Flash Fiction Prize 2021
Instructions for Overcoming a Fear of Darkness
Aged 24, fall in love with an astronomer who comes alive at night, kisses the scar on your face and teaches you to name the stars. This may not be your happy ending but it is definitely a new beginning.
Aged 23, begin seeing a therapist, even if you must beg and borrow to pay for it.
Aged 18, learn what happened to cause your fear of darkness. Spend the next five years trying to forget in a haze of drunken sex and hungover underemployment. This bit is painful. You could try to make it shorter. You certainly shouldn’t skip it altogether.
Aged 13, start calling your grandparents Pam and Simon again. Argue with them about everything. Insist on keeping your nightlight even if it is not something a teenager should need. Smash crockery. Cut up your clothes. Rip books to pieces. But try not to break yourself. When your nightlight disappears, do not smash your face against the bedroom window. The astronomer will still love you without a scar for him to kiss.
Aged nine, agree to call the couple who are raising you Granny and Grandad even if you don’t accept that’s who they are. Be careful not to let them catch you sucking your thumb. In return, you will get a nightlight. You should be able to sleep soundly now. You may even stop wetting the bed.
Aged six, give up asking when you will be able to see Mummy again. You will not get any answers. Instead, listen to what they say when they don’t know you’re there. Hear sobbing and words you don’t understand. Store this up for future reference.
Aged four, watch TV while you wait for Mummy to wake up. Remember not to disturb her while she is sleeping. Eat cereal straight from the packet when you feel hungry. Put a blanket over Mummy when she is cold. When all the lights and the TV go out, try not to be afraid. Remember this happened before and Mummy fixed it when she woke up. Remember she hugged you then and told you not to be afraid of the dark.
Ruth Bradshaw writes short stories and creative non-fiction and works part-time in environmental policy. Her writing has been published in a number of journals, anthologies and websites including Reflex Fiction, The Clearing and Thorn Literary Magazine. When not writing or working she can often be found in the woods near her home in South London and occasionally on twitter @ruthc_b
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