Stoke Newington Flash Fiction Competition: You Are Not Special

As this year’s Stoke Newington Literary Festival kicks off, we publish the winner of our Stoke Newington Flash Fiction competiton. Louise Tondeur takes us on a memory-filled stroll through Clissold Park and Abney Park Cemetary.

Photo by Malcolm Murdoch (copied from Flickr)
Photo by Malcolm Murdoch (copied from Flickr)

In Clissold Park the trees look like they are praying, Pentecostal-style, raising their arms to heaven. The green and grey has a hint of white today: white grass and a frozen stream. His breath mists as he wanders next to the waterless paddling pool, then trots over to the dusted playground. He trots to try to warm up but the cold air makes his chest feel like it could explode. He pushes open the orange gate and walks to the sandpit. He balances along a white log until a toddler fixes him with a hard stare. He thinks of his mother at the top of narrow stairs.

“You are not special” she said, before she told him to leave.

He goes to look at the slide he used to play on, with hard ground at the bottom, and at the crazy red climbing frame where random children reach the top, muffled with coat, hat, scarf and gloves. He doesn’t have any of that. He sticks his hands in his pockets. They look mummified against the frozen blue sky. There are slippery leaves on the toy pirate ship and hardly any pigeons today. He wanders towards the cafe and hears coffee spoons clinking and smells bacon sandwiches. He looks to see how much money he’s got. His hands are so cold it hurts to take them out of his pocket. Not enough. He contemplates stealing something but it’s not easy here because the food is lined up in front of the staff. He would have to pretend to be someone else collecting an order, and he isn’t in the mood today. He hears the sound of a brass band playing. Some couple are getting married. He stands and watches them go past. The guests are carrying balloons. He watches deer inside their houses for a while and then totters down the road, numb from the cold, people looking at him funny because he isn’t wearing a coat. He notices: coloured vegetables contrasting with the grey pavement, a shoe shop, a record shop, post office, chemist, the number 73 bus, smell of curry, coffee, pollution, piss, beer, a scrappy backyard, an alleyway, bread, cake, cats, and, for sale on the street, books, records and toys. There are people having breakfast outside, mainly smokers. He passes the toy shop and the bus stop and goes into Abney Park Cemetery. He is met by brambles and angels, some armless or headless. On the graves the giant vases, or maybe they are trophies, are crumbling. He hesitates next to a shifted grave lid, dead bindweed twisting up from inside, like impossibly thin arms. He breathes in the earthy, overgrown garden smell, and looks up at the leafless trees, the evergreen trees, and the cold sky. All around him are: trodden grass pathways, overhanging branches, singing, dead flowers, hard to make out names, in loving memory of, moss and lichen, safe in the arms of Jesus now, cold stone, a lone bird singing, beer cans, a homeless man’s sleeping bag, discarded, covered in ants, singing again.

The light is fading. You are not special is buzzing in his ears like a ringtone that gets inside your head, that grasps hold of your brain and squeezes. He goes back to the sleeping bag and spends time examining it, shaking off the ants. He’s going to need somewhere to sleep. He contemplates crawling into the sleeping bag here and simply lying on the ground but realises it’s going to get much colder. He finds a monument dedicated to loving wife and mother always with us but can’t make out her name. The door has fallen in, ivy creeping around the walls; he thinks he might be able to squeeze inside, then he sees a dead rat decomposing in the corner and changes his mind. He stuffs the sleeping bag under his arm and walks further. Along the end of the path, in the fading light, he sees a mausoleum. He rubs his eyes. It looks like it’s glowing. He tells himself it’s the sunset. His foot catches on a bramble and he stumbles forward, a crumbling angel lands next to him, its head leaving its body and narrowly missing him. He stands again and makes his way towards the glowing mausoleum, sleeping bag in tow. He realises the singing has been there at the back of his mind ever since he found the main pathway through the gravestones. He gets closer. The singing gets louder. Now he knows the singing is coming from inside. It’s almost dark now. The mausoleum is shining. He stumbles towards it and peers in. He sees damp stone walls covered in moss and ivy and a choir, lit by a floodlight, singing without music, their voices clouding the air.

The Stoke Newington Literary Festival takes place 6-8 June in various venues around Stoke Newington. The festival programme can be viewed here. Litro Live! will be presenting three of our most exciting emerging writers – Maia Jenkins, Reece Choules and Rebecca Swirsky – at a special event on Sunday 8 June, at 9pm. More details here.