The brambles? Kept pigs out of the gardens.

The story? Got my parents out of a jam.

“My gosh,” I said to my aunt, “haven’t they bollocksed it up now!”

She gave that ginger-and-lemon laugh of hers. “They can lie themselves silly,” she said as we set out cabbages, “it’s a boon to the local economy. Your uncle’s guild is delighted.”


I was born into others’ expectations and swaddled in their dreams. Bad fit. If they wanted me mild they should’ve named me Buttercup. They called me Rose and got what they deserved. I have plenty of spine.

My parents — like a pair of dessert soufflées — were sweet but nothing to them. I’d have pretended to be a changeling if that could’ve spared their feelings. But I’ve too much family resemblance of all the wrong kind.

“Right there on your naming day,” Nurse told me, merry at the recollection; “blew in like a Mongol horde.”

Aunt Feryal — rippling with scorn as if dressed in molten ribbons — unhanded me from my mother and bestowed her own blessing.

She’ll choose for herself too!” Feryal said, waving me like a flag, and my mother fainted.

That was the unspeakable curse — and almost no one spoke of it. But ideas are like dust, they get in everywhere. They couldn’t clean fast enough to keep me safe from thinking.

Nurse fed me bits of family history along with my egg and toast.

“Knotted up her trousseau into a great long rope, scarpered out the window and found herself a lad from two towns over. I embroidered her a duvet cover and six matching pillowcases. It’d have been a waste of my good time,” and she glinted at me like a randy sparrow, “sending fancy nightgowns to her.”

I’ve manners but I’m not dainty, and didn’t improve with time. A bridegroom’s their standard remedy.

The cousins sent their likeliest spawn to woo me.

“‘Plow the field well,'” giggled Nurse, over her glass of perry, “‘and sow it.'”

“Fine help you are,” I said, rubbing my forehead. I had vertigo from curtseying to leggy blond behemoths.

“Forsooth, dad,” I said, after a week of it, “got a Handsome Swain captive breeding program churning ’em out in our basement? Show me a few with dueling scars, at least!”

They sent for the doctor, alarmed I was delirious. I’d forgotten they couldn’t digest irony.

Finally my father came in stamping to say I had to choose. Couldn’t resist the fatal word…

I made my break for it. Nurse told the gardener’s boy, who sneaked off to let Feryal know, and she sent Uncle Paul to fetch us.


Uncle Paul’s a blacksmith. “You want a man who’s handy around the house,” Aunt Feryal said, waving a pizzelle iron to prove her point. Who’d have thought her so domestic?

I didn’t inherit that part of it. I liked the garden, though, and Nurse, now that she could teach me something I might actually want to learn, was lo and behold a whiz with medicinal herbs. Uncle Paul cut some lumber to lengths I could wrangle on my own and I banged together a drying shed.

I had been taught to sew a straight seam, and surprised myself by finding that useful too. Cut up all my dresses and turned ’em into trousers. Aunt Feryal’d never bothered; she’d pinch Uncle Paul’s or the older boys’ if she felt like wearing them.

We hear the rescue parties from a mile away when they charge up the king’s highway. I can’t stop myself, sometimes, from dragooning a couple of young’uns to make up a peanut gallery, and we’ll sit by the road munching blackberry tart and cheer the cousins on.

Awfully hot to find me, those big bold brawny beauties, but they never even glance our way.

Sarah Crysl Akhtar‘s shtetl forebears gifted her with the genes that impel her to make much from little. So of course she writes flash fiction, cultivates orchards on her windowsill and bakes fabulous shortbread. Her son gives her what’s immeasurable — the best of all possible worlds. (Less miraculous fruit of her labors has appeared on 365tomorrows, Flash Fiction Online and Perihelion SF Magazine.)

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Every Day Fiction

  • Carl

    Ha – I’m first! I always look forward to your stories, Sarah, and this did not disappoint. (“Bollixed” is the spelling I’m accustomed to, and confirmed it by checking the Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, but I’ll allow for regional variation.)

  • MaryAlice Meli

    I’m with Carl, Sarah, I think your writing is the best, the stories, too, but your writing glows. In fact, if you published a chapbook of your stories, I’d actually buy it and I’m currently self-banned from buying any more books until I clear some space. Thanks for delighting.

  • I’m afraid I found this piece all over the place and hard to follow. The overuse of similies and metaphors didn’t help.

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    Good spunky story. I thought “bullocks” was about bulls in china shops.

  • For those across the pond (and other locations) who might not know, ‘Bollocks’ is a vulgar British word for, er, testicles. It’s also used to express disbelief (as in ‘No way!’) and to convey that you’re in pain, for instance if you hit your thumb with a hammer, instead of saying ‘@£$%’.

    More recently the word has been used as a verb meaning to mess something up well and truly. I’ve heard it used a couple of times in movies, so it seems to be moving into accepted use rather than obscure slang.

  • Harry Packer

    …and I’m waiting for Paul A Freeman to translate “spunky”…(see point 4)

  • Harry Packer

    …which in English is known as a “hospital pass”.

  • Another great story, Sarah!

  • JenM

    Really gorgeous writing as always, Sarah. I loved the characters and felt for Rose and Aunt Freyal right away. This one’s a fiver.

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    Harry Packer – It wasn’t Paul – I’m the one who wrote it. Spunk is easily ignited tinder or in other words – full of spirit. I haven’t looked it up in in the online dictionary yet because I have a suspicion it’s out to get me. RSG

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    The online dictionary is out to get me. The spunk and I am in agreement.

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    9th line – “My parents – like a pair of dessert soufflees – were sweet but nothing to them.”
    Dessert souffle is made with whipped egg (meringue) and very high in protein.

  • Harry Packer

    I’m sorry Roberta, I wasn’t clear in what I wrote.

    Because Paul A Freeman took the time to explain, (beautifully), how us Brits define the word “Bollocks”, I was hoping that he’d do the same for (your use of the word) “spunky”.

    I am guilty of being mischievous towards Mr Freeman…and inadvertently rude to you.

    Sometimes that pond between us seems huge.

  • Another wonderful Sarah story to brighten my day. My granma had a ginger-and-lemon laugh.

  • Gorgeous writing as always, Sarah