Winners: Roseanna Whitty - This Beggar's Opera

We loved the way that this story played out. It's rawness and honesty and vivid imagery, combined with its desire to be what it was, how long it was, and not over assert itself were enough to score it a place in our shortlist.


Flash Fiction 500 - Shortlist


This Beggar's Opera

Roseanna Whitty


A beggar sits, fetched up in the marketplace. A point of stillness in the crowd. Wrinkled face, dirt-streaked hair, eyes of chipped topaz. Carts clatter past, churn dust with wooden wheels. Pebbles strike skin. He lets them land, cloaks himself in filth. Likewise the flying spittle and feet that kick in passing, a rain of casual blows. He stays. And watches. Across the square, a puppeteer’s stall. Brightly painted marionettes dance on strings. Children gather. Their laughter swells above the shriek of gulls, of vendors hawking. A child strains from her mother’s arms to better see. The beggar smiles, tasting peace, bittersweet. Remembers stolen days.


A coin presses to his palm, he nods in thanks.


The sun arcs. Dusk, a rosy sky. The market folds itself shut. Bright cloths stored, fruit piled in crates. Coppers counted, never enough. A weary donkey accepts harness. Stiff, hungry, the beggar stands. Still gazing at the puppet stall. The puppeteer emerges, hand to back, rubbing out the kinks. Packs up. Dolls wrapped in paper, knots tugged from string. Tired fingers working frayed thread in half light.


The beggar crosses the square, a sea of space on hobbling feet. Seen but invisible. He stops, studies his coins. Six coppers and a battered bronze. Reaches up, places them where puppets played. Almost nothing. All he has.


Soft notes of joy, old and new, echo in his ears. He limps away.


It was a good trade.

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