Flash fiction - or not...

>> Thursday, 13 October 2016

I'm taking an online writing course.  (And yes, I've finished the Great Work, but bear with me on this; we can all benefit - especially me - by being taught by professionals).

One of the tasks we've been given this week was to deliver a piece of 'flash' writing; that is, to use a writing prompt of only a few words to deliver a piece of writing completed in only 15-20 minutes. 

Here's one of mine (and you'll see why it's relevant to this blog - and that I'm still not over Russia - if you read it...)



I’ll never forget my first day in Moscow.

The snow fell thick and fast as we woke the boys that morning, seemingly coming down sideways, and I wondered aloud how we would manage to get them to school without a car.

‘Walk, of course’ Husband said, shovelling down spoonfuls of the sugary cereal that was the only local substitute for muesli we could find, rushing to make the minibus that would take him to the nearest metro station. 

I stopped as I rooted through one of our many over-stuffed suitcases in the hunt for the Weetabix we’d brought with us.  (Never let it be said I’m unprepared on the kids’ breakfasts.)  ‘But – isn’t it really cold outside?’

‘Well – it’s still snowing, so it probably won’t be any lower than -18degC.  You can walk in that.  We’ve got hats for them, haven’t we?’

I looked at him blankly.  Yes, we had hats for the children.  But we’d only got off the plane from London the previous afternoon; in the cliff-face of luggage stacked in the Ikea-furnished sitting room, I had no idea where they were. 

Half an hour later I located them lurking beneath the sitting room sofa under a pile of coats, soaked through after yesterday evening’s walk.  Turns out when you’re 4 and 6 years old, putting wet kit onto a radiator when you come inside after half an hour spent throwing yourself into snowdrifts isn’t top of mind. 

Cursing under my breath I emptied two more suitcases, adding to the impossible starburst of clothes across the living room floor, before finding the woollen back-up beanies I had packed ‘just in case’.  Now we were running out of time; the first day of term started in just 20 minutes and it was at least a 15 minute walk from the house to the classroom door.

I shoe-horned the boys into their snow gear; layer on layer of padded goretex over already bulky trousers and sweatshirts.  Then we crammed on their snow boots, taking care to pull the straps of their snow pants under their feet – wouldn’t want them to get wet socks before they even arrived at school – and tugged the zips of their coats shut.  As a final touch we pulled the ridiculously flimsy-looking woollen hats onto their heads and fastened the Velcro straps of the hoods of their coats over the top, just to be sure.

My London-bred sons looked like nothing so much as little Michelin men in their Moscow winter gear.  Not that I minded; wouldn’t all that padding be an advantage if they slipped on the thick ice that, as I had already learned to my cost, lurked beneath the freshly fallen snow?

‘OK boys, say goodbye to Dad – he has to go to work – and then it’s off to school.’ 

‘Is it far, Mum?’  Boy #1, worried, looked at me with big grey eyes.

‘No, of course not.  We drove past the school on our way here last night, remember?  It was the building like the lighthouse – the one we could see on the corner from the road… Come on, put your rucksacks on and we’ll be off.  And guess what?  You get me to pull you there on a sledge, remember?’

That did it; they started jostling each other excitedly as I laced up my snowboots and pulled on a pair of gloves.  Opening the heavy metal front door – the one with the thick layer of frost on the inside of the lock - was the bit I wasn’t looking forward to, but I knew that the longer we stayed in the too-warm brick-built house the harder it was going to be set foot outside.

At last, layered up and channelling my own homage to the Michelin man, I snapped open the wooden sledge.  Steeling myself – I hated the cold – I opened the door and stepped out with my children into what I can only describe as Narnia.  And against all my expectations, right there and then, I fell in love with the Russian winter

It was quiet, oh so quiet;  Muscovites take their time to get going in the morning, especially if – as on that first day – the snow ploughs haven’t made it to their street yet.  We stood, entranced, surrounded by clouds of glitter; in the yellow of the sodium street lights flakes of snow spun lazily in the still air, floating gently to the ground and settling prettily on the top of the boys’ hoods.  I’d never seen such enormous ice crystals before, their crenulations clearly visible, each different from the last and perfect in their imperfection. 

‘Are these real?’  Boy #2, seated on the front of the sledge in front of his brother, held out an arm decorated with drifts of enormous flakes.  Used only to the rather damp approximation of snow we had back in London, he was fascinated by the way these sparkled, holding their shape on his jacket for minutes at a time in the polar temperatures.

Leaning forward slightly to take the strain as I tugged the sledge along the tyre-rutted track, I nodded.  ‘They certainly are darling.  Get used to them – they won’t be the last you see…’

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