Published 2017 by Needle in the Hay
This work is licensed under The Creative Commons License:
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
For more information, see .
Authors: Tobias Madden, Sophie L Macdonald, David R. Ford, Jeanette Stampone, Andrew Szemeredy, Katarína Krajcirovicova
Cover art: Martin De Biasi
Edited by: Martin De Biasi
Introduction – Martin De Biasi
Moving Day – Tobias Madden
Darling, I Wish You Hadn’t Done That – David R. Ford
Roses For My Love – Sophie L Macdonald
Time To Go – Jeanette Stampone
The Sentence of Love – Katarína Krajcirovicova
“Swirl” – Andrew Szemeredy
Martin De Biasi
“Breaking up is hard to do.” – Neil Sedaka
Stories of people coming apart are the bread and butter of fiction. From the unreliable narration of The Good Soldier (Ford Maddox Ford) to the humour and pathos of High Fidelity (Nick Hornby) and romance of Under A Tuscan Sun (Frances Mayes) stories of separation and coming apart can be tragic, revealing, funny and twisted.
Our shortlist for the Separation Anxiety Award ran the full gamut of emotions and story types. Tobias Madden’s Moving Day is a bittersweet parting with a twist, while Sophie L Macdonald’s Roses For My Love is a supernatural tale of romance from beyond the grave.
Both Andrew Szemeredy and David R. Ford are darkly humorous in their efforts, at a contrast with Jeanette Stampone’s deeply moving Time To Go.
Tobias Madden’s Moving Day was the eventual winner for the Separation Anxiety Award, with one judge remarking:
An easy to like story well executed with the author making all the right decisions. Moving Day works on many levels though it did leave me with a sadness despite the somewhat whimsical revelation.
Despite Tobias’ win, it was a closely fought contest, and every story on this shortlist has something that makes it worthwhile. Full details of the brief below, then on to the stories.
Compose a piece of flash fiction about a situation where characters are considering a break, split, an end to a contract, relationship or friendship.
Consider the motivations that each character has, and how they might conflict with what is in their hearts.
Write in the genres of literary fiction, romance, realism, surrealism, fable or folk tale (so basically no hard genre.)
Up to 600 words.
(Inspired by this prompt? Let us know at )
‘Please,’ Aaron said, pacing at the foot of the bed, ‘just hear me out.’
Tom sat silently, facing the wall.
‘I wish that we could just be together forever and live happily ever after and all that fairy-tale bullshit,’ Aaron said, running his fingers through his thick brown curls, ‘but real life just doesn’t work like that.’
Tom stared at the photo of the two of them on the wall.
‘We’ve been through a lot of shit together, Tommy, and I will always love y—’ Aaron’s voice faltered. He paused and rested his face in his palms, breathing deep. ‘I will always love you. You mean the world to me, but this thing – us – it’s run its course. What’s that line people always say in movies? “If you truly love me, you’ll let me go” or something? Well… that.’
Aaron felt the sting of tears in his eyes. He walked around the side of the bed and sat next to Tom, looking up at the photo on the wall. Tom didn’t say a word.
Aaron smiled. ‘One of my favourite days ever.’ He took Tom’s hand in his, and squeezed it gently. ‘I screamed until I lost my voice on that bloody rollercoaster, remember?’ he chuckled. ‘And you weren’t frightened at all. Nothing scares you.
Tom stared at the photo.
‘Which is why I know you’ll be okay,’ Aaron said, ‘when I’m gone.’ He glanced around at the moving boxes sprawled all over the room. Books. Computer. Salvos. Rubbish.
‘Plus, you deserve someone who’ll love you the way you still love me,’ Aaron said, standing up. ‘The way Jack loves Rose. The way Satine loves the penniless sitar player.’ (Titanic and Moulin Rouge were Tom’s favourite films.)
Aaron started to grab bits and pieces that were still strewn across the floor and place them into boxes, continuing to pour his heart out; the packing somehow made it easier to speak honestly.
‘I literally don’t think I’d be here if it weren’t for you, Tommy. There’s no way I would have made it through high school without you by my side. You were my friend, my study-buddy, my bloody psychiatrist, my rock, my – my everything. Tommy, I’m serious. Look at me, please.’
Tom looked straight ahead.
‘Okay, I get it, you’re angry. Be angry. It’ll make this easier, at least for you,’ Aaron said as he tossed a wad of papers into the Rubbish box. ‘But you have to know how much I care about you. And I wouldn’t be doing this if I wasn’t certain that it was the best thing for both of us. School is finished now; I need to move on. But mostly, I just need to find out if I’m any good without you.’
‘Aaron?’ came a woman’s voice from downstairs. ‘You good to go?’
‘Two minutes, Mum,’ he shouted in reply.
He finished folding the old, grey hoodie he’d just picked up, and placed it into the box beside him. He dashed around the corner of the bed and sat down, turning Tom to face him.
‘This is it, Tommy: our big, cinematic goodbye.’ He kissed Tom lightly on the forehead. ‘I’ll never forget you.’
Tom said nothing; his eyes stared blankly over Aaron’s shoulder.
Aaron picked Tom up by the arm, walked around the corner of the bed, and carefully placed him on top of the grey hoodie in the box marked ‘Salvos’.
Aaron sighed as he closed the cardboard lid over his teddy’s worn, smiling face.
‘I hope the next kid loves you as much as I did, Tommy.’
Tobias Madden on Moving Day
Website: | Instagram: wordsandthoughtsblog | Facebook: /tobiasmaddenwriter
“My story, Moving Day, was written whilst onboard the Legend of the Seas in China. It was inspired by a very special gift – given to me by an incredibly important person in my life – that I had brought with me on my travels.”
David R. Ford
The excruciating silence that smothered the woods was sharply broken by a shovel coming down on the soil, as a guillotine would on a neck.
‘How did we get here, Steven?’ she asked through her hands, hands that were tired of supporting the weight of her guilty head.
‘Damned if I know,’ he replied, wiping sweat onto the sleeve of his plaid shirt. ‘Here, Molly? What about these?’ he asked, turning the wedding ring around his finger as he leant on his shovel. Molly looked at her own, then turned her head back into the boot of the car and shuddered.
‘Sell it, you’ll need the money,’
‘So this is actually happening?’ Steven said, going back to digging, throwing the dirt on top his feelings.
‘It has to be,’ Molly had no such distraction. The cold metal of the car boot chilled the back of her legs below her dress. Neither were clothed for such a damp, wintry night in the woods. The tears rolled from her nose onto the mismatched coat she threw on, or straight into puddles left by tyre tracks in the mud, adding a little piece of herself to her macabre setting.
‘I just don’t see why we can’t go together,’ Steven said between heavy breaths.
‘After this? Are you serious? I can barely look at your shadow, the thought of touching you makes me gag. No, this was the last nail in our coffin,’
‘So what do you suggest we do? Molly, I love you, I always did, I always will. What do I have to do to make you stay with me?’
‘There’s nothing you can do. This isn’t something you can just fix, Steven,’ Molly sunk her head back into her hands as Steven added a piece of himself to the hole he was digging.
‘What’s the plan then?’ he finally asked, as he stepped out of his pit.
‘We go back to the house together, you go straight to the spare room and don’t come out till the morning. By that time I’ll be long gone. Then you can do whatever the hell you like, you’ll be single then,’
‘So that’s it? Over, just like that? Ten years of marriage just gone in a suitcase?’
‘You must have known this would happen. I can’t be around you after what you’ve done,’
‘Hey! I did this for you! Don’t try and pin it on me, I was trying to make you happy. Please, I can’t handle feeling it was all my fault,’ Steven lumped himself down by his wife on the edge of the car boot. His complexion porcelain. His demeanour pathetic. In one final act of compassion, his wife took the gravediggers hand in her own.
‘We were so happy. What happened?’ Molly said, staring into the hole to avoid her husband.
‘She did,’ came his sombre reply.
‘Shall we get this over with?’
‘Can I just enjoy being married to you for one more minute?’
‘No, Steven,’ she yanked her hand away. ‘We haven’t really been married since she came along, have we?’ she stood up and looked at her beaten down husband struggle to function.
‘I loved her so much, why did…’
‘Just get the body, Steven,’ Molly ordered and he went deep into the boot, pulled out a bundle of blankets and carried them carefully to the hole he dug. Then, under his wife’s glare, placed the baby inside its grave, picked up the shovel and laid her to rest.
‘Our little girl,’ he sobbed. ‘What do you think she’d have grown up to be?’
Sophie L. Macdonald
I am holding a red rose, and sitting on the doorstep of what used to be our house. The removal van has long gone, and all that’s left is for me to stand and walk away.
We said we would love each other forever. We whispered it during our wedding waltz, and promised it in church. We wrote versions of it on every Valentine’s, birthday, and Christmas card we wrote.
When the world turned black you cradled me in your arms, and said it firmly to the universe.
‘This is just a setback, Emmy. I’m not going anywhere. I will love you forever.’
Again, at the hospital, you gripped my hand—weaker than you’d ever been—and said it again.
‘I’ll never stop loving you.’
Hot tears run down my face and make spots on my jeans. I’m holding the rose so tightly the thorns are pushing holes in my palm, and I can see bright red dots of blood. I don’t let go.
At your funeral, your mother hugged me so hard I lost my breath.
‘He loved you so much,’ she said. I could only nod. Love felt pointless then—ephemeral. It couldn’t save you or keep you with me. From that moment in the doctor’s room, you grew smaller and sicker. You were slowly being taken from me, and all the love in the world couldn’t harness you and pull you back.
‘I won’t ever leave you,’ you promised, in those final days. ‘I’ll find a way to come back. I’ll haunt you!’ We kind of laughed.
‘Nothing scary,’ I said. ‘I mean it, David. If lights start going on and off when I’m alone I will never forgive you.’
And then, two weeks after your funeral, it was my birthday and I awoke to the smell of your aftershave. I smiled for a moment, in that hazy state, and rolled over to find you, but of course you were not there. Instead, on your pillow, was a red rose.
No one could have come in and put it there. I knew instantly it was you. As promised, you had found a way to come back to me.
It happened again at Christmas, and on Valentine’s Day. Each time, I awoke to your smell and found a rose on the pillow. Sometimes if I was sad, or if I had cried myself to sleep missing you, the rose would appear again.
I never told anyone. It was our secret, and it warmed my heart on those days when I thought it just might break.
Two years have passed, and there is someone I talk to at work. You’d like him—he’s funny, and he’s nice, and he likes all the same weird movies you do. But something tells me you don’t like him, because I have been receiving rose after rose every night since I agreed to go out with him.
Sometimes there are twenty, piled up on your pillow and spilling on to my face, and one time there was only a pile of petals thrown about the room.
I don’t know if you will follow me to the new house, but I have to go. The sickness and guilt are consuming me. Will you understand? Will you turn up, rose in hand, and find I am gone? How can I leave a ghost?
I am still holding the last rose you will give me, and I hope you can forgive me. Your love really was forever, but it seems mine is not.
I stand and place the rose on the step, and I walk away.
Sophie on Roses For My Love
Website: / | Twitter: @SophieLMac | Facebook::// /
“As is often the way, an image comes to me before the story starts to take shape. With Roses For My Love the story began with an image of rose petals scattered across a bedroom, and I liked the way this could either be interpreted as a classic romantic scene or as a scene of anger and violence: romance gone wrong.
What if that which comforts us could turn into the thing from which we run? What if our safety blanket became heavy; oppressive? Most things left untouched decay over time, so why not our feelings too?
I looked at the ways in which we make promises we cannot keep, and wondered if eternity seems longer when you are alive than when you are dead. A story took shape from there. I wanted our narrator to be the girl that most of us would be: genuine in her grief and guilty at her ability to move on. Life always moves forwards: it is in death we remain unchanged.”
I find you settled in your favourite spot, silently gazing out of the window to the streets below; the hum of traffic increasing as the morning rush hour reaches its peak. Your armchair is bathed in sunlight, its threadbare fabric now faded to soft green.
‘It’s time to go,’ I say.
‘Evelyn, darling. What a pleasant surprise. Come join me.’
With a sigh, I wander across the living room to the chair beside yours. As I sit, you grasp my hand; eyes glimmering with anticipation.
‘Tell me. Where are we going? I hope it’s not the pictures again. I would much rather go to a dance.’
How I wish we were going to a dance. I would give anything to feel the air rush past my face as we spin across the floor. To feel wooden floorboards bouncing under thumping feet. To hear laughter and music filling the space.
I squeeze your hand and swallow hard, forcing back the tears.
‘We’re going to that lovely home, remember?’
Startled eyes stare into mine. Clutching the arm rest, you push yourself up, legs trembling under your frail body.
‘What on earth are you talking about?’
My voice is calm. ‘The place we visited yesterday. That nice lady, Patricia will be there. You like her.’
Your head swings around. ‘Who are you? Where’s Evelyn?’
Then you stop, eyes fixed ahead to the open suitcase on the table. Within it, neatly folded clothes and polished shoes lay in perfect rows. And on the floor a grey holdall brims with possessions; photographs, trophies and the wooden toy train you made when you were ten.
The bags you packed last night.
With a panicked voice, you yell my name. ‘Evelyn!’
‘Evelyn will be there,’ I say. ‘She’ll be at the home. She’s waiting for you.’
I hate that I have to lie to you, to play along with what your mind decides is real. But to resist causes you more pain, I know that now. You stare at me. The sparkle, the glimmer of recognition fades from your eyes.
I’m just a stranger now.
‘She’ll be scared,’ you say. ‘She doesn’t like being on her own.’
‘No, she doesn’t. But she’s not going to be alone. You’ll be there soon.’
The tense muscles in your face soften slightly. ‘Do you know her?’
‘Yes, a little.’
‘She’s a pretty girl,’ you say, scanning the room, as if there may be someone there, hiding in the shadows. ‘Can I tell you a secret?’
I nod. ‘Of course.’
Fragile fingers cup my ear, your lips brush my cheek; and as you lean in, your musty aftershave lingers between us.
‘I’m going to ask her to marry me,’ you whisper. ‘I saved up every cent. Took me a year but now I have enough for a ring and a proper wedding. I hope she says yes.’
I didn’t know you saved that long. I would have said yes, even if you had given me a ring-pull from a can of soda. I would have said yes, even if we got married in a registry office. I was always going to say yes.
I smile and stroke your arm. ‘Of course she’ll say yes. How could she resist? You’re such a handsome man.’
A broad grin spreads across your face and the laughter lines deepen as the familiar gleam returns to your eyes. And then you gently kiss my forehead, before tottering towards the table.
Placing your hands on the suitcase, you slowly pull the zip closed. Then turning to face me, you smile through teary eyes.
‘I’m ready now,’ you say.
Jeanette Stampone on Time To Go
Twitter: | Facebook:
“My first full-time job was in a dementia-specific residential home. I was only 19 but it had a huge impact on me. There were residents who could recall parts of their lives in incredible detail, yet they couldn’t recognise their relative who had come to visit.
The Separation Anxiety Award was a great opportunity for me to create a story around the theme of dementia, with the focus on the feelings and memories of a spouse.”
‘I need to go! I need to go to see her!’ Gejza’s frustration made him almost scream. He wanted to grab his brother by the shoulders and shake him hard to make his brother see how important it was for him to leave the Slovak borders and get to Austria.
‘It’s 1948. Do you know what it means? You’re not only responsible for yourself, but for the whole family.’
As much as Gejza tried to make Tom, his brother, understand, Tom was trying the same. The faces of both brothers were marked by grievance and the hopelessness of the situation. Getrude left Slovakia couple weeks ago, just before the borders were closed by a communist regime. Leaving with her whole family, Gertrude made it seem like she was leaving nothing behind, but the opposite was true. The dreams of the future she had with Gejza stayed in Slovakia and now the memory of them haunted Gejza night and day.
‘I know exactly what it means,’ sighed Gejza.
‘I’m not so sure, Gejza. It means you’ll lose your job, your position in society, and our family will be labeled as offenders of the state.’
‘I know, but…’
‘There’s no but. Our mother is terminally ill. I’m doing what I can to sustain the family, but if we lose your monthly wage, then we’re done.’
‘There’s nothing you could say to change my mind. They won’t catch me—before they realize I’m gone, I’ll be back. It’s only one weekend. Moreover, Getrude’s father could help us to leave this country for good.’
‘Really? Why would he want to do that?’ As much as Tom was losing the last bits of patience he had with Gejza, Tom also knew also knew that Gejza wouldn’t listen to reason. Gejza’s mind was made up and there was truly nothing he could say. They could argue as much as they wanted to, but they both knew Gejza would pack his backpack and illegally cross the borders that separated him from his love.
‘I don’t know much, only that a friend of Gertrude´s father could prepare new passports for our family. I will tell you more about the details once I am back. I promise you, nothing will happen. On the contrary, I will obtain for us a brighter future.’
However, jumping fourteen years forwards and looking back at the events of the past it might be said that the brighter future how Gejza imagined it was never obtained. Gejza was arrested in his family house as soon as he got back from Austria. No one really knows what truly happened, but rumor has it that the neighbor overheard the conversation of the two brothers and turned Gejza in to the police. Suffice to say, Gejza has never seen Gertrude again.
‘…And that is worse than the fourteen years I had to serve in jail and in the uranium mines,’ Gejza said to himself while seated in the living room immersed in the thoughts of his youth. Once again like every day after Gejza’s release, he came back in thoughts to the time he was the happiest – when not only he loved, but also was loved. Now, after fourteen years, those times were indubitably gone, with Getrude being married to another man. On the contrary, the years in jail made Gejza a loner who sought comfort in a fabric chair and in memories that, although painful, were the only thing that could make him smile.
Katarina on The Sentence Of Love
“I was inspired by a true story of my grandfather. As in the story, my grandpa was arrested for 14 years for crossing the borders to see his girlfriend. I decided to share the story as I thought it really fitted the theme of separation and anxiety. However, not all events were accurate and some of them were only a result of my imagination to convey the story effectively. For example, my grandfather never had a brother, his character is purely a result of my imagination to give myself a possibility to tell the story of struggle, lost hopes and fears.”
“Swirl” or The Mystery of The Missing Host
‘Tiborrr! Tiborrr!’ Anne-Kathrin helplessly screamed the name of her old lover into the tenement of emptily echoing, bare, brick walls.
She had come to visit the old charmer, the rescuer of her life, who stole her out on a red-cross train from Lithuania to Germany when the front was moving west and the Germans were speedily retreating from the advancing Russian troops.
Tibor, then, in the war, was a young and dapper sous-sergeant; she, a seventeen-year-old blonde and blue-eyed innocent girl, had been sent by the Reich to teach the Polish people German, as complete germanizing of the region was the plan.
Tibor left Germany at the end of the war, went back to his home country, got married, raised three kids, had a fulfilling and busy life, being a lawyer, in the diplomatic service, and later in a medium-high ranking civil service job.
His wife, also a rescue woman, from one of the forced labour concentration camps somewhere in the German Reich, to where she had been wagon-transported during the war, stayed at home, raised the kids, had coffee with the neighbours, cleaned the house, until she died suddenly of a brain hemorrhage after over only twenty years of marriage.
Tibor was devastated, and the kids, in shock. He slowly regained his life’s momentum, and in a year’s time he was looking for a wife, a suitably honourable and hard-working woman to love and cherish, and who could take care of his kids reasonably well.
This search for a new wife took him to Anne-Kathrin, a by now happily married woman, residing in Cologne with three kids and a journalist husband. He visited her, and she accepted his invitation, with her husband’s knowledge and agreement, to visit him for a fortnight.
Now, then, nearly thirty years after they first met, she, a married woman, became his guest, there, in the back country of a deeply communist state. She was in a state: in a communist state, naturally fearful for her safety, and completely taken aback by the incomparable poverty to her West German standards which the widowed Tibor lived in with his three kids.
‘Tiborrr! Tiborrr!!’ Anne-Kathrin frantically called his name, as she roamed from room to room in Tibor’s and his family’s apartment. He was not to be found. He had disappeared.
Andras, his youngest son, was the only member of the family privy to the to truth of his disappearance. ‘Son,’ Tibor had said to him a few minutes prior, ‘watch my back. I’m going to the privvy. For a number two. I have been unable to get away from her even for five minutes since she arrived yesterday.’
Like all great love stories: Romeo and Juliette, Tristan and Isolda, The West Side Story, my father’s also ended up, like millions before had, and millions later would, with getting flushed down the toilet during the intermission.
This concludes the shortlist for the Separation Anxiety Award, which ran from July 12 to July 19 2016. As mentioned in the introduction, Tobias Madden was the winner, but as an editor is was great to see a broad range of stories passing through this award.
If you liked the stories in this volume, were inspired to write your own story based on the prompt, or just want to check us out, head over to:
And thanks to all our writers and readers who continue to support our little writing community!
Inspired by themes of separation, six authors put their own spin on things coming apart. One topic. Six authors. Six very different tales. Tobias Madden - Tobias' Moving Day gives us a bittersweet separation with a twist at the end. David R. Ford - Darling, I Wish You Hadn't Done That puts a dark spin on a familial parting of ways. Sophie L Macdonald - Roses For My Love is a supernatural romance from beyond the grave. Jeanette Stampone - Time to Go is a deeply moving tale of an unwanted yet inevitable parting of ways. Katarína Krajcirovicova - The Sentence of Love looks at the lengths people will go to in order to stay together. Andrew Szemeredy - "Swirl" or The Mystery of the Missing Host is a humorous tale that will leave you with a smile.