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Winners: Katherine Latham - Sugar Snap, Broad Bean, Runner Bean

Katherine's heartfelt and potent writing were what struck home for us. Though perhaps many of us haven't yet been stung by the barb of age, we've all experienced it. Known someone who's suffered the slow descent. We really resonated with this piece, and that in itself goes a long way to showing why relatability, humanity, and honesty are all of the utmost importance in great writing. This piece was enough to secure the win for Katherine, and it was well earned.

Flash Fiction 1000 - Winner

Sugar Snap, Broad Bean, Runner Bean

Katherine Latham

After he retired, my husband didn’t know what to do with himself. For days he sat in his chair, checking to see if work had emailed him. When they didn’t, which they didn’t, he fiddled with the settings. Passwords. Firewalls. Security. His computer became a fortress. He couldn’t get in.

He phoned up random companies to comment on their marketing strategies. Cuprinol. Colgate. Nestle. You need to tell people about the good things, he insisted. 

He held up the postman to discuss motorway junctions. Don’t turn off too soon, take the next turning, it’s slower, much more scenic. Just - take - your - time. 

He trapped the Tesco delivery man in an argument about sell by dates. They are never long enough, he said. We need more time. The poor boy didn’t know how to respond.

My husband was restless, I could see. He wouldn’t sleep. 

“Go outside, my love” I said, “Get some fresh air. Plant some seeds.”

So he headed for the shed. After a week, there were rows and rows of little pots. Each filled with compost, each with one tiny seed. Sugar snap. Runner bean. Broad bean. Out of sight, the months slid by, from spring to summer to autumn, until he had built a terracotta castle around himself. A jungle of stems held the pots tight. He couldn’t get out. 

I broke through with a shovel to make a doorway of sorts. When he came into the daylight, he squinted. He was covered in mud. His nails. His clothes. His hair. 

“You’re filthy!” I told him. He went to look in the mirror. Who’s that? he asked. He scrubbed himself with a nail brush until his skin was red raw. Then he wiped down the bathroom. It’s filthy! he cried. It’s filthy! From that moment on, he spent his days cleaning the house. It became an obsession. He disinfected the kitchen, steam-cleaned the bathrooms, plunged the toilets, bleached the drains, wiped the skirting boards, hoovered the rugs, brushed the sofas, dusted the dark places.

Insects became his enemy. Woodlice. Spiders. Flies. He annihilated whole cities of cobwebs that had been built over centuries (in spider time that is, to us about ten years of top shelf neglect). He swatted mosquitos with a ferocity I had never seen in him before. Ants were massacred. Roaming ladybirds were beaten to death in cold blood with a rolled up paper. One lone earwig escaped and never returned. My husband said it had built a nest in the shadows, just like when he was a boy and they’d found a nest in the attic. He could hear it scratching about. He jolted at the noise. I heard nothing.

My husband bought all sorts of dusters. Short fluffy ones for the surfaces. Long-handled ones for the high up places. Thin flat ones for the inbetweeny spaces. He began to sweep away belongings. Shoes, glasses, DVDs. He complained he couldn’t find things then forgot he was looking and continued his rampage. Toothbrushes, magazines, the remote control. He shouted at the television. Turn on, godammit! Crockery, the kettle, towels. After his bath, he stood shivering, not knowing where to turn. I put his dressing gown around his shoulders. 

“It’s alright.” I kissed him but he just looked at me. A flash of anger. It wouldn’t do up. The belt was gone.

He swept up the cat, the car, our friends, the world outside. All brushed away and never mentioned again. I thought he would miss the cat.

Then he dusted our children away. Sarah. James. Michael. First Sarah, our eldest. She had always been his little monkey, hanging round his neck. But he whisked her into the air, just a speck floating helplessly. Then the babies, now grown of course but always our babies, James and Michael. Wiped away and lost in the ether. 

“Look, there they are, playing amongst the bean poles,” I showed him photos in the hope that he would have fond memories, even if they were no longer in his life. But he tore the pictures into pieces and hoovered them up.

I thought that was it, there was nothing left to lose. Then one pink evening, of the very last day, as the light faded from the world, after long hours of scrubbing and sweeping and steaming and wiping, he took up the fluffy duster. And I was gone.

We floated like dust in the stale air of the house, myself and all the others. Sometimes, we were lit up by the sun as it filtered through the gap in the curtains. Sometimes, I came to rest on his skin. His hand. His cheek. His lip. Sometimes, for the briefest of moments. Then a breeze would lift me into the air again and away. 

Sometimes became almost never. Almost never became not at all.

He rattled around in that house for some years. It seemed to grow larger as the emptiness expanded. The dark places became gloomier, the scratching deafening. 

They found him alone, curled up in his bed. All that was left were a few faded photographs of himself as a boy and a scruffy old teddy that smelled of his mother.

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