Archives for category: Flash fiction



…One Saturday night, walking back from town, they came to a ballroom on the south side.  They bought tickets to go dancing.  A big glitter ball slowly spun and cast it’s drifting polka dot shadows over the dance floor.   A small orchestra was playing waltzes, foxtrots and tangos for the accomplished dancers –well dressed people in their 50s and older – that generation who met and courted in dancehalls.   Men in collars and ties, smart suits and shiny shoes who knew how to hold and lead their partners, women with set hair in flowing mid-calf dance dresses and heeled shoes who moved in time and with grace in their arms.  Practiced partnerships,  nifty footwork taking  them effortlessly around the dappled dance floor – straight backs, delicate handholds.  They watched this enchanting scene as if it was from another age then, looking at each other and smiling, they took hands and walked on to the floor.   Her Dad had taught her to waltz and foxtrot – her parents were part of that generation – but Camera Boy’s flat feet were a challenge.  He was no dancer but they held each other close and she guided him around.   The slow dances were the best.  They could get away with just holding each other tight,  shuffling around the side of the hall and steering clear of the others.   They did hug each other very, very  tightly, cheek to cheek, body to body, but after a while there was more than that –  love squeezed out of both of them,  stuck them together and brought their already scarce dance steps to a halt.   They both felt it very strongly, drew back their cheeks and looked each other straight in the eye  – knowing something – right there in the Plaza Ballroom in 1973…

Plaza Ballroom 2

Extract from the Guys of ’73


They always called them peeny roses.  Elspeth’s big sister Jean looked after them in the sloping ‘L’ shaped tenement  garden and that’s what she called them.   The O’Haras didn’t bother with their garden on the opposite side of the stairs to the close like Jean did.  Jean was an awful lot older than wee Elspeth, she worked but she didn’t stay in the house in Auckland Street.   She looked after the house and Elspeth, and liked doing the garden;  she was struggling to keep the brambles and weeds at bay. You could see the ghost of where the garden used to be, a gate and wee paths leading around  the slopes with a cliff dropping to a hedge at the bottom.

The peenies under the windows were the best though,  still blooming and strong amid the dark green tangle on the last clear bit of path in the used to be garden.  The big beautiful blossoms full of petals should’ve  had a lovely perfume but  didn’t.  Jean let Elspeth and her wee pal  Catherine play in the garden once when she was weeding and tidying.  She carefully cut two of the finest  red peeny roses and gave them one each. They failed to keep  them behind their little ears while they were pretending to be Spanish dancers,  they held them in front like brides,  each wee girl with her very own bouquet.  They   curtsied  low and graciously whilst holding the hems of their frocks out with the other hand-  beautiful  princesses accepting  them from their  adoring, imaginary subjects. Kidding on they were fainting  they breathed  in the pretend perfume from their one-flower posies then fell  about giggling at their own exaggerations.  In summer cotton dresses, white ankle socks and t-strap sandals,  the children pranced about, away with the fairies in a  garden labyrinth magicked  out of the sleeping beauty briars by the sumptuous crimson richness of the magnificent peenies and their glossy green petals.

Elspeth’s house always seemed really dark, Catherine didn’t go in there  much.  She  had never seen such dirty beds, unmade  with rough blankets and once-white sheets  now grimy black. She didn’t know where Elspeth slept.  There was a Daddy around somewhere, sometimes,  in the shadows,  and a big brother too.  They were big gruff Irish building workers  in rough working clothes who didn’t speak except to call ‘Elspeth!’ in their deep voices.  Catherine wasn’t sure where Elspeth’s Mummy was.  It had been a home once, she could make out ornaments on a sideboard, holy pictures on the walls, cold ashes in the living room grate.  Jean tidied up when she came, cooked food.  Catherine wondered if Elspeth was often in the dark house by herself.   Once, Elspeth asked Catherine and some other children to come into the house  to play strange games with their bodies.  Catherine didn’t want to and ran out.  It was  dark and horrible in the scabby living room.

Jean gradually stopped coming to Elspeth’s house.    When Catherine and Elspeth started school they used to look for each other at playtime from their own side of the high fence separating the playgrounds of St. Cuthbert’s and Saracen primary schools.  They both quickly made new friends and stopped going to the fence.  Elspeth didn’t come out to play down the back much after school. Then Elspeth moved to another house a few streets away in Hamiltonhill – to an ‘intermediate house’.  Catherine’s  Mummy and Daddy said she wasn’t allowed to go there to play with Elspeth.  She used to pass the house often on her way to visit her Aunty Agnes  hoping to see Elspeth but she never saw her again.

The peeny roses hung on for a few more summers before succumbing to the advancing  thorny darkness of the brambles.  The new people in the house didn’t rescue them.  The garden outside Elspeth’s new house was a flat dirt rectangle.  Catherine still thinks of Elspeth when she sees  peeny roses – she never calls them peonies.


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