Editor’s Note from Jan Kaneen: I’ve been an admirer of Ali’s writing for ages. I love her use of lyrical and often startling language, her musical timbre and strange combinations; but I chose this piece because it opens with what might be called a cliche, or an often-used phrase that teachers of flash might steer writers away from using. Its use here feels just right to me – Ali’s first-person narrator would use this phrase and where she takes it next is made all the more poignant by the everydayness of it; and as for that last, coming-of-age observation – well to my ear, it’s pitch perfect.
It’s raining cats and dogs. I don’t know why they call it that. Feels more like blunt needles. Luckily, I don’t bruise easily. Tough cookie, my mother says.
You’re not sugar, you won’t melt, she tells me, when I complain about having to walk home from school in the rain. After supper, I measure out fifty grammes of sugar and leave it by the back fence, heaped on a sheet of blotting paper to soak up the water. I’m going to be a scientist. Study the way the world works. Observation and experiment.
I keep watch from under the apple tree, the stink of last year’s rotten fruit rising from the long grass around my feet. Sure enough, the sugar dissolves into a cloudy mush. It takes three minutes and thirty-two seconds of downpour. I dip a finger, lick to check for sweetness. A thunderclap rips. One of those long deep rumbles that seem like they could shatter your bones from the inside. I count the seconds till the flash.
I might not be sugar, but I already know a whole heap of stuff, whatever my mother says. Like how her driving ban is connected to the way she drinks wine from her half-pint coffee mug so no-one will notice. Like how she left the house this morning, pretending to go to the job she got fired from yesterday. Like how her voice cracks when she sings old songs about lovers and heartbreak and getting through another day. Like how sugar melts faster in hot water. It’s hard to know what to do with all the stuff I know.
I scoop up the sweet mush and carry it to my room. The second part of this experiment is to see what happens when it dries out. To test my hypothesis like a proper chemistry professor. I’m still sitting on the fence about which hypothesis I’m testing. Do I think the sugar crystals will reform once the water has evaporated, or do I think there’s no going back to the way things were?
Ali McGrane lives and writes between the sea and the moor. Her work has appeared in anthologies and online, including Ellipsis Zine, FlashBack Fiction, Janus Literary, Splonk, and on shortlists including the Bath Flash Fiction Award. Her Bath shortlisted flash novella, The Listening Project, is forthcoming from Ad Hoc Fiction Find her on Twitter: @Ali_McGrane_UK.