Flash fiction – Grace’s bag of shells – Anna Spargo-Ryan

Flash fiction – Grace’s bag of shells

Flash fiction – Grace’s bag of shells

(From this writing prompt)

After school mum took us to the train station and we sat on the bench to wait. The backs of my legs were burning on the metal because my shorts didn’t cover them anymore, but I was pretty tough so I just read my book. Grace cried because she didn’t want to hold her backpack, but mum wouldn’t hold it either, so I held it for a minute. It was heavy. I guessed Grace had taken her shell collection again, because she liked to show it to Amanda. They sat on the back steps and looked them all up in a big book: this is a scallop shell, this is a periwinkle, these are pippies. Grace loved the shell book.

The train came and it was packed with people wearing suits and high heels, and there was nowhere for mum to sit down so she stared at a man with a briefcase until he stood up. She groaned when she sat down, like a cow, and her huge stomach bounced and it was pink and shiny like Amanda’s Christmas ham. Mum said the baby was the size of a bag of rice, which didn’t seem that big. She asked Grace to come and sit next to her, but Grace was talking to a lady with a fur coat. “I’ve got six pink shells and two blue shells and a big one with stripes on it.” She was always talking to people about her shells.

We got off at Seaford station and I held Grace’s hand when we crossed the road. It was a hot day and there were people walking the other way with beach towels and umbrellas and beer. We went around the corner and past the shops, and Grace waved to Mr Lee in the fish and chip shop and mum slapped her on the hand so she cried again. Sometimes Mr Lee gave her the scallop shells from his window when they had got old and yellow, and Amanda helped her clean them up.

It was a long walk to dad’s house from the station. Grace said, “Why couldn’t he pick us up?” and mum sat on the side of the road with her face all red and shiny. “Because he’s a dickhead.” but I knew it was because he had to work because I had passed on the message anyway. My back was sweaty under my backpack and my hand was sore where I was carrying Grace’s backpack with the shells in it. “Couldn’t you just take half the shells?” I said. “No. I need all the shells.” So I held Grace’s hand and carried the bag of shells up the hill, and when we got there we turned around and mum was still on the side of the road and she was shouting into her phone. When she saw us she waved and yelled “I’ll pick you up from school tomorrow!” so we kept walking.

It was so hot that the power lines were buzzing above our heads and the cicadas were whistling even though it was only four o’clock. Grace said she was tired and she sat down under a tree with her hand on her back and groaning, like mum. I said “Come on Grace. Amanda will be worried about us.” and she said “Just a minute.” and then “Tell me a story.” so I told her about the time dad had taken me to Wet ‘n’ Wild when I was six. She said she was thirsty. I said “Dad always has Coke in the fridge.” which was true, except sometimes it was Solo and other times it was just Tonic Water.

Some people still had their decorations out. Dad had a blow-up Santa that was meant to look like he had fallen into the chimney, only dad didn’t have a chimney so he made out like Santa had his head stuck in the grass instead. Amanda had put up the flashing lights around the verandah. She did that every year on account of dad’s bad back.

Amanda told us dad would be back from work for dinner. She said there was a tree down on the power lines and he had to get it off because no one else was qualified. Grace took out her shells. Amanda said “Have you got any homework?” and I only had maths so it took five minutes. When I was finished I watched Deal or No Deal on the upstairs TV.

Dad got us a pizza. He forgot Grace was a vegetarian, which kind of made sense because sometimes Grace forgot she was a vegetarian, but she went and sulked in her room anyway. Amanda had to bribe her to come out with a Maccas ice-cream. I said, “But they have pig fat in them,” and dad said, “Good one, idiot!” but Grace ate it anyway. After dinner she got out her school bag and gave Amanda the card she’d made her for Valentine’s Day. On the front it had a big red heart, and inside it said “I LOVE YOU”, except that Grace was six so it looked more like “I LIW3 VOV”. I hadn’t made Amanda anything, so I felt bad until she told me I was handsome enough to have other valentines.

When the sun had gone down a bit and it wasn’t so hot, we went to the beach. I just had shorts and thongs on so I went in the water and let it get into my jocks. It was very cold. Dad said you needed four days in a row of really hot weather before the sea water would heat up. Amanda said, “It’s a bay, not the sea,” and dad kissed her and they laughed at the same time like it was a song they both knew.

In the morning I heard dad’s ute go down the driveway and it was still dark outside. Amanda walked us to the train station and she let me borrow her cardigan so I wouldn’t burn my legs on the bench. When the train came, I reminded Grace not to leave her shells behind, but she whispered right in my ear, “I left them behind on purpose.” and the train was packed so we stood together right near the door.

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