Flash Fiction: Strangers

By Tina Morganella

The African man selling trinkets looks less out of place than me. In jeans and slippers he lopes over the sand, going between beachgoers calling out, “Signora, buon prezzo”, promising a “good price” in an accent that will never sound Italian. His smile is docile but nervous as he approaches three elderly Italians, plump and soft, golden and wrinkled, walking along the sand in their bikinis. He calls one of them by name. Regulars. They pluck at the jewels on offer – great hoops of gold-coloured earrings, chunks of necklaces with matching bracelets. They slip them on and turn their wrists this way and that. They gently prod each other and admire or admonish. The trinket seller senses a sale. He nods and offers other similar items. He’s gently insistent, but there are also unnerving silences that sound to me like desperate appeals for help. 

One of the ladies starts to haggle over the price of a bracelet. She halves the number and he looks betrayed and disappointed. He offers her another number in return and she shakes her head. She’s starting to move away now, waving her hands dismissively. He tilts his head to one side, holding out the bracelet, willing her to take it. She hesitates and takes it in her hands again. But then she makes a decision and brusquely hands it back to him. She says once more, sternly “No”, and walks away. One of her friends lingers for a moment, still listening to his appeal, trying to be kinder and smiling at him apologetically. But then she too turns and joins the others.

He looks angrily after them, “What do you want lady? You talk and talk and talk….” He rearranges his wares, shrugging them on his shoulder, over his forearm, around his neck, and lopes on. “Signora, buon prezzo, buon prezzo.” The call is woeful. The sun forces him to squint as he forges on.  

When he approaches me next my sympathy melts in the sun. I barely glance up from my book, my mouth a line, my eyes unsmiling, avoiding contact. When he, in English, offers me matching sets, I say no, no, several times, loudly, clearly. Annoyed. And as he walks on I’m immediately ashamed. Forgetting that in front of me was a man earning a living.  A man who felt the sting of “no” like anyone else would, and who perhaps heard it ring in his ears long into the night, disturbing his sleep. I watched him move slowly down the beach, hovering gently between groups, being waved away, sent on.

Under a hat and glasses, shaded by an umbrella and mostly clothed, the trinket seller had immediately recognised me as a fellow foreigner. I am overdressed, over cautious. On my own. Pale and cloudy, not sharp and strongly outlined like the Italians. They are minimally dressed, drowsy and lolling in the direct sun – professional couples on holidays feed morsels to small dogs; couples stroll hand in hand, slick with love and affection; and teenagers scoff and jab at each other, all bluster and swagger. The murmur of the ocean is a gentle and lulling hum, still discernible over the laughter and chatter. But behind me violent cliffs loom skyward, the blue sky presses down, heavy and suffocating. I’m half way between the wide expanse of blue, both sky and sea, and the menace of the earth.

Someone asked me earlier whether my beach at home looked out to the ocean or the sea. I had no idea what he was talking about. Confused I kept asking him to repeat himself. Voices were raised. When I finally understood what he meant, I faltered – I didn’t know the answer. What does it matter? He smiled patronisingly at me: “Never mind.” But what does it matter? I want to know. He wouldn’t say.

A shadow falls over my book. Before I can even look up an elderly woman is saying, in Italian, “Scusa signorina, can you look and tell me if my ear is completely covered by the bathing cap?” She assumes I will understand, and I do understand enough. But I still stare at her for a moment, processing. That she assumes I will recognise her words, her request, pleases and puzzles me. She has a sweet face and a patient smile. She is very plump, and is very pale for an Italian. Despite her obvious age, her eyes are lit with youth. She is standing quite still, waiting for me to get up and check her bathing cap.

“No, it’s not….,” I tell her, “wait”.

“Oh thank you. I’ve had an ear infection and my doctor said not to get water in it. But I have to go for my swim, of course.” She is serene.

The nape of her neck looks damp, threads of silver hair escape the cap. I try to tug the plastic over her ear. Her skin is soft and hot. I realise I have to tug reasonably hard and she braces herself and nods encouragingly. I touch her earlobe, brush her cheek. Then I gently nudge her to turn, so I can check the other ear. She obliges; it’s ok. She seems unmoved by the intimacy but I shiver at touching a stranger. Not in revulsion, but breathless and moved by her trust. 

I tell her, “You’re ok now,” in English. She pats her covered ears, satisfied.

“Come ti  chiama signorina?” she asks.

“Mi chiamo Serena.”

She nods once and smiles, “Grazie Serena.” Then turns towards the sea. I sit down again and watch as she shuffles slowly towards the water, wades in up to her thighs and then pushes herself under. I see her arms move rhythmically, her cap peaking above the gentle waves. I watch her until she becomes a pinpoint and I can no longer recognise the stranger.

Tina Morganella is a freelance writer and copy editor with an MPhil in creative writing from the University of Adelaide, Australia. Tina is most interested in short fiction, memoir and travel literature and has most recently been published in Rush (US), STORGY Magazine (UK), Tulpa Magazine (Australia), Sky Island Journal (US), Entropy (US) and Sudo (Australia). She also has nonfiction articles published in the Australian press (The Big Issue, The Australian, The Adelaide Advertiser).


Flash Fiction: A fight

by Eduard Schmidt-Zorner

winter’s arrival means fight

he does not knock on the door

he smashes it

A line of rocks marks a ridge overgrown with heather which leads down to a sandy bay at the headland. On an elevation, behind a patch of marram grass, a dilapidated cottage.

The walls are made from natural stone, the roof shingles are covered with moss, the frames of the small windows are jammed and swollen having been exposed over years to moisture and rain. In the nearby water bobs an open boat with fishing lines and nets. 

Close to the house stands a rusty fish trap and a few lobster pots.

There are remnants of red paint on the door. Next to it leans another door, freshly painted in blue.

The shed is open and shows shelves, barrels, carpenter equipment and fishing tackle.

Across the forecourt, covered by weeds, lies a broken mast and next to it an anchor.

The fishermen have moved away from this area, left with memories of the rattling and ringing of the rigging, the whispering wind and the lashing, roaring surf, the rubbing of the oars against the rowlocks.

The sight of the lonely, ugly and abandoned neighbouring house fills him with melancholy. The absence of sounds of other people does not bother him.

There is only the clinking of the aeolian harp hanging from a sycamore tree.

He steps outside the door and smokes his pipe. A tame magpie hops beside him. She has only one wing. He found her and took her in. He is her protector.

She jumps around and uses her remaining wing as a crutch. She hopes that he will unfasten his boat and row out on the water, because this would mean fish for her meal.

But on this day, he does not row out. A storm is forecast.

The sky shows a display of all shades of grey, from light grey, through dark grey to deepest dark grey.

Gusts blow sand and loose grass over the shore stones.

He pushes the door further open. It jams, the house has settled. He had smoothened the blue-painted door and made it fit to be installed when the paint has dried.

Inside a table, two chairs, a cupboard, an unmade bed, logs stacked up next to a round iron stove. On a side table an old-fashioned radio running on batteries, no television, in the corner a heap of books.

The old radio is only there to hear the news and weather forecast. He is not interested in talk and sermons.

In the country which he had left behind, he had hated television. He hated all those newsreaders, all those and other types of “teachers” with their eyebrows and forefingers raised, who all rebuke those who think differently, giving marks or awarding points.

The exclusion of TV was part of his fight against the system.

It becomes stormier.

A new fight is waiting for him.

He hastens to pull in the boat and turns it over so that the storm cannot catch and lift it. He carries the blue door into the house. He is particularly worried about the shed gate. It is exposed to wind and weather. A hinge is broken.

Inside the shed he pushes a heavy chopping block against one wing of the gate.

Outside the storm blows up its cheeks. A gust runs against the shed. Light falls into the shed for a moment because the gate gives way. He braces himself against it.

The magpie, he brought to safety, jumps excitedly back and forth on a shelf. In the lower shelf she has a wooden box in which she sleeps and rests.

The storm begins, it roars and rages.

He battles against the wind force, holds the gate with one hand and fetches a lumber to prop it up. He nails a batten right across the two wings to the frame on both sides thus strengthening the gate.

It works, the gate is not moving an inch.

The fight against the element, this old battle of mankind against wind and severe weather conditions is won, for the moment.

The house gives shelter, the storm’s voice is less audible. He lights the stove to make hot water for a tea, which he will thin down with some whiskey, and to boil a few mussels.

The magpie follows him into the house. He caresses her plumage. Poor little bird, he says.

He lights a candle in a lantern. The cottage is not connected to the mains, that means no bills and no visits by the meter reader, who would disturb his seclusion.

Making frugality the purpose of life.

For re-collection. Re-flection. To spell nature, to give nature its meaning back.

Eduard Schmidt-Zorner is a translator and writer of poetry, haibun, haiku and short stories.He writes in four languages: English, French, Spanish and German and holds workshops on Japanese and Chinese style poetry and prose.

Member of four writer groups in Ireland and lives in County Kerry, Ireland, for more than 25 years and is a proud Irish citizen, born in Germany.

Published in 76 anthologies, literary journals and broadsheets in USA, UK, Ireland, Japan, Sweden, Italy, Bangladesh, India, France, Mauritius and Canada.

Writes also under his pen name: Eadbhard McGowan