She could already picture his face. They’d played this game before.
He’d try and fail to mask his initial shock before something else chased it away; disappointment perhaps, but more likely anger. She’d have to wait on his weapon of choice. If it was fire, she’d bow her trembling head and let his rage burn itself out, her whispered sorry far too inadequate a cover. If it was ice, she’d wrap up in burning shame against the days of cold rejection. Either way she knew the drill. Apologise and accept the consequences.
She was caught, bound so tight that she couldn’t remember the last time she spread her wings and soared. So she stayed, cared for him while the cancer hollowed him out, fed and bathed him when his strength was too far gone to waste it on cursing her. Some nights she watched him drowse in bed, unfamiliarly gaunt and weak but somehow still on top, pressing down on her.
Not long now, the hospice at home nurse said.
There was one more thing to do. She left him with the TV playing for company. Soon she sat facing a mirror with a cape around her shoulders and a feverish look in her eyes. Or perhaps the rosiness of her cheeks was excitement. She couldn’t remember.
“You’re certain about this?”
She nodded. “It’s for a cause very close to my heart.”
He’d always loved her hair, how it fell in a dark glossy curtain that almost reached her waist, and never allowed her to cut it. She emerged blinking and unfamiliarly youthful, liberated from the weight of her history as the hairdresser snipped and shaped her new pixie cut.
“These bundles will make a beautiful wig for a cancer patient,” the hairdresser said. “And you still have wonderful hair.”
She smiled her thanks and floated out of the door with her bag full of hope. What would he say when he saw her? It didn’t matter anymore.
With her locks gone, the door cracked open. Not long now.
Commended (just missed the longlist) in the Reflex Press Winter 2019 Flash Fiction Contest and first published by them 15 Feb 2020
Inspired by your greatness, loyalty assured
I nailed my colours to your standard, marched
towards the promise of much better times.
Long days and many miles went by
foot sore and weary, always hopeful
for the new dawn.
You strode ahead, eyes fixed on far horizons
I followed willingly
but while I watched my step
mended my boots
tightened my belt
held the line
a sea change was afoot.
Now I raise my head and look around
so far from home, no map or compass
this unfamiliar place, soot-dark and grim
not where I should be
and though my feet still move
I seek a different path.
Goodbye my friend. I failed the test
for this far I have come, but no further
your proud forces pause at the gates of hell
and you go on, as you must, without me.
I’ve trained myself to illuminate the things in my personality that are likeable and to hide and protect the things that are less likeable. – Will Smith
Introvert or extrovert, you’re a social creature.
You have to interact with other humans in groups or one-to-one, whether you like it or not. You might be able to avoid parties and skip the small talk, but few of us live in total isolation from others.
When interacting with colleagues, employees, or new acquaintances in a group setting, you want to make a good impression and feel more comfortable with these relationships. Here are 11 ways to show your likeable side.
A genuine smile
A smile is the universal welcome. – Max Eastman
A warm smile isn’t just attractive, it encourages the other person to smile back. Smiling can help you feel better and is a great start to a conversation. You are inclined to trust a smiling person more so use that to your advantage.
Use their name
Words have meaning and names have power. – Unknown
Most of us complain that remembering names gets harder over time. Yet addressing someone by name tells them that you find them important. Focus on the name, repeat it, and link it to something else. When first introduced, shake hands if appropriate and repeat the name as in, “Hello, nice to meet you, John.” Focus on receiving the information. Try creating an association in your mind between the name and the person that helps recall. For example Jack = tall, Sarah = glasses. You can find more tips on remembering names here.
Be an active listener
When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen. – Ernest Hemingway
Active listening is a set of actions that makes the person feel heard. It means paying attention and then reflecting what you heard. Give nonverbal cues such as nodding and smiling, then summarise what was said. This shows you’re listening and makes the other person feel important.
Recall earlier conversations
Stop and listen. The story is everywhere. – Thomas Lloyd Qualls
Because you remember Anne’s name and listened when she mentioned she was training for a 5K, the next time you meet ask her how the race went. Linking past and present is essential in building long-term relationships, whether closer (your partner’s friend) or more distant ( a co-worker you see daily.)
Ask questions and hear the answer
There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing. – G. K. Chesterton
Most people like to talk about themselves, so let them. Ask about their interests or activities and actually listen before responding. Ask a followup question that allows them to reveal a little of themselves. For example, “So how did it feel to complete your first 5K?”
Resist the urge to one-up people. You can talk about your half-marathon or trip of a lifetime another day. Save it for when you’re asked directly.
Give sincere compliments and praise
Nothing else can quite substitute for a few well-chosen, well-timed, sincere words of praise. – Sam Walton
We all love genuine praise. You’ll gain likeability as a boss or manager if you praise good work, like delivering on time or under budget. A few words will go a long way. Creatives in particular often doubt their work, and pointing out something you liked in a project gives much-needed validation. Give what you’d like to receive because karma is real.
But we can all sniff out fake praise. If you don’t mean it, don’t say it.
Be tactful with criticism
Shout praise and whisper criticism. – Don Meyer
It might be your job to bring up areas for improvement. Offer suggestions without attacking the person. You are focusing on the work, not the character of the worker.
Don’t rush the process and give it some thought beforehand, so that you come up with a considered response.
State the issue in neutral language as you see it and allow them to respond. Define the desired outcome and discuss how you can support the person to work towards it. Remember to acknowledge improvement.
Ask, don’t give orders
In most cases being a good boss means hiring talented people and then getting out of their way. – Tina Fey
Maybe you are the boss, but most people hate to be ordered around. Saying please and thank you doesn’t make you appear weak. Be clear about your request. If you need the report by Thursday 10 am, say so.
Don’t expect people to read your mind and then get angry when they didn’t deliver – that’s manipulative and a fast track to being disliked.
The cure is as simple as this: Live your words and live your belief system. – Shannon L. Alder
Others might get away with insincerity with some people some of the time, but most of us can spot it – so why would you want to be insincere? Be your genuine self with everyone. You don’t have to share every facet of your personality, but don’t change for every person you meet because fake people aren’t likeable. Find what works for you and stick with it.
Ask for advice
Ask better questions. Get better answers. – Richie Norton
Asking for advice shows that you’re humble enough to seek help, and it flatters the person asked as it shows they have greater knowledge than you. You win twice because you gain information and make the person feel good about themselves.
One rule; be respectful. Don’t interrogate or expect detailed professional advice for free. Nobody likes to be used for what they know.
Learn to tell stories
A thrilling story can be dull if told badly, but even the most mundane event can be elevated into a tale of epic scale by a good storyteller. – Johnny Rich
Likeable people can tell stories well. Whether it’s an account of their holiday or a summary of their project, they know what they want to convey. Practice makes perfect here. Concentrate on your point and don’t ramble. Observe your audience’s reaction so that you can do better next time.
Not A Popularity Contest
It is better to be likable than to be talented. – Utah Phillips
Popular is not necessarily the same as likeable. If you prefer to connect with small numbers of people, you can still be likeable and memorable. The essence of likability is paying attention to the person in front of you. As Keanu Reeves says, the simple act of paying attention can take you a long way.
Be intentional in social situations. Pay attention, focus on the other person, treat them with respect, and watch your connections grow to the next level.
It’s always been considered bad luck to make your own wedding dress. It implies a life of want if you can’t outsource such an important task, or maybe a life of never-ending work. That means a steady procession of happy brides-to-be in my bridal shop. These days I leave the actual stitching to my dedicated and skilful seamstresses. I prefer to interact with my customers and bask in their excited energy, spilled without any thought to the cost.
Being married isn’t essential in this business, but it definitely helps. My engagement ring is not just a symbol of love, it’s one and a half carats of trust. Brides love to buy their wedding dress from someone who understands their mindset after all. And the man who gave me his promise is six feet of wonderful who loves me dearly. Sometimes I pinch myself, because how did I get so lucky?
My last customer of the day is radiant. Accompanied by her mother, Rosalind wants only the best. They haven’t set a date yet but she can’t wait to start looking. I pull eight gowns and she looks truly wonderful in all of them.
While Rosalind gets dressed her mother and I chat, the usual about luck and love and soulmates. A photo of them smiling together is proudly produced. Rosalind’s mother wipes away happy tears. Look, they’re made for each other. I look, and I can’t breathe. I lock and bolt the door after they’re gone but it’s too late.
Somewhere along the line, I missed something.
The day I leave, I pack everything except my shears. I take great care of my dressmaking tools even though I don’t use them often, because keeping a sharp edge is essential to a clean cut. His jackets will look normal at first glance, until he pulls them and finds sleeves removed and linings slashed.
When I reach the last one, his favourite Italian wool suit, I can’t bring myself to vandalise its exquisite workmanship. I know how much work it takes to construct something so beautiful. Instead I leave parting gifts; my wedding ring on the counter – and raw eggs smashed in each of the suit pockets.
We shared everything. Soon he too will discover something rotten hiding in the dark.
She’s always there, staring out of her front window. When I herd my children into the car for the school run or come home late from work, her gaze follows me. I’ve learned not to look because her answering smile is borderline creepy.
Sometimes her constant scrutiny angers me. I want to scream obscenities, smash the window, drag her outside. I want to get right in her face and tell her to get a life that’s not mine. However, polite society frowns on that kind of behaviour, not to mention it’s a bad example for the kids. So I swallow it all down with a gin and tonic on Friday night.
When the sale board appears outside her house I grin. No more weird old neighbour, probably been hauled off to a nursing home to stare out of a new window at the world going by without her. Of course I’m much too busy to think that far ahead but I’m absolutely certain that won’t be my future. Gotta keep moving. Don’t slow down, then those troublesome thoughts can’t catch up.
I silence it all, swallow it all with another gin and tonic every Friday night.
Susannah loved autumn. Trees shifted from dull green to vibrant yellow and warm amber, before catching fire in a blaze of triumphant red. Traffic-stopping colours begged her to pause and marvel at the culmination of a season’s growth.
She’d done her part earlier by hanging codling moth traps, feeding, and carefully pruning. But the real work of growing belonged to the trees that produced a harvest with or without her help.
It seemed a pity to dissect this bounty. Still, slicing through the scarlet skin and crisp flesh revealed buried treasure. When fruit ripened to its maturity, it released the seeds of its regeneration.
Smiling at the memory and anticipation of her grandkids’ demands for more, Susannah baked her apples into fragrant pies.
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Fishermen were prone to exaggeration. Long weeks at sea did strange things to a man’s mind, and he’d start seeing things. Night fishing might bring him face to face with things he couldn’t quite explain. The feeling of being watched, or the sense of something moving unseen below the surface.
Every fisherman accepted the unflinching right of the sea to bestow life or death upon those who dared venture from the safety of dry land. No wonder they drank.
Bryn thought all those stories were tall tales told over too many jugs of ale. Unusually for a fisherman he dismissed superstition. He taught himself first to swim, then to dive for crabs. In his free time he played a flute made from a piece of red coral he found on the sea bed.
One night he rose, unable to sleep, and took his small boat out. A fat white moon reflected in small ripples on the water, and he gazed at it for a while. There was no reason to cast his net, but he did anyway. A moment later something tugged at the floats.
Bryn hauled in his catch, spellbound by shining silver eyes and pearly skin, blue hair floating around her waist. He leaned closer and she wound her arms around his neck.
“Come with me,” she sang. “I answer your call.”
When his boat washed ashore days later everyone assumed he’d drowned. He should not have learned to swim, they said. He didn’t show proper respect to the sea. But afterwards some who fished on the night of the full moon swore they heard music, coming from below the waves.
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Queen Eleanore regarded the two knights recommended by her Master at Arms with her usual regal disdain, but inwardly she worried. She had few choices, and none appealed. Least appealing of all was marriage to the power hungry oaf who ruled the neighbouring kingdom.
But a year of war had exacted a heavy price, and she cared deeply for her people. Her father’s sense of duty ran in her veins. She would do what she must to secure peace, and a battle of champions would end the bloodshed.
“Sir Tauthe of Denham, why should I choose you as my champion?”
Tauthe returned her gaze with a bold look of his own. Eleanore schooled her features into well-practised blankness. She liked curly hair on a man and he wore his well, complementing a strong jaw and bright, clean armour.
“As your majesty knows I am unbeaten at the joust. My sword training was undertaken with the great Dirke of Greenhill, and I have proved myself in battle. It would be the greatest honour to defend this land as your champion.” He bowed low, one hand on the pommel of his sword. “My life and my sword are yours.”
Eleanore nodded and turned to the other knight. His bowed head revealed silver scattered among dark, cropped hair. His armour, though of fine quality, was marred by a scratched crest and dented breastplate. This was how he presented himself to his monarch?
She didn’t miss Tauthe’s sideways glance.
“Sir Gerann of Bree.” She looked him up and down, cool and distant. “Why should I choose you as my champion?”
Gerann raised his head. His left cheek bore a long thin scar, and another ran vertically on his scalp to a damaged right ear. Eleanore blinked at the fire in his eyes and he dropped his gaze immediately.
“If it please your majesty, I would give my heart and soul willingly for our land.” He drew his sword bright and unmarked from its battered scabbard, then knelt and offered it to her with both hands.
Eleanore weighed the confident ease of a man unbeaten in battle against the scarcely older but shabby, combat-scarred veteran. She had to choose the right one if she hoped to keep control of her throne and her life.
The queen took a breath. A silent prayer, and she nodded at Gerann. Master at Arms wore the ghost of a smile as he brought her pennant forward.
Eleanore needed a man prepared to get close enough to risk injury, and tough enough to fight on despite it. She trusted Gerann would fight to his last breath. And if he lost, they would each accept their fate with honour.
Despite everything, Jo couldn’t help but feel excited. She’d come to the amusement park with four friends, hoping to forget about Ben. So far it was working, though she missed having Molly by her side to share inside jokes and angry rants about her ex. They giggled through the haunted house and ate way too many sugary treats. She even won a bright blue bear at the shooting range all by herself.
When they reached the front of the line for the Ferris wheel, Jo hung back at first. Then she swallowed hard, took a deep breath and got into the last car. She should be strong enough to conquer her fear.
The car rose and she was too fascinated watching the people below to remember she was alone. Her friends were laughing, paired off in the cars ahead. Jo laughed too, until she spotted them. Far below Ben and Molly walked hand in hand, then stopped to share a lingering kiss. Right out in the open, where anyone could see. Like they hadn’t a care in the world.
Jo stared down at the couple, her knuckles white around soft blue fur. Her heart slipped its moorings and fell to earth. From such a height, it was bound to shatter.
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I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky, and all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by
It’s quiet, always. I miss birdsong more than almost anything else. Can’t be completely certain but I’m surely getting close now. There’s a salt tang in the air unlike the sour stench of the towns and the damp, gloomy forests – what’s left of them, anyway.
I hack and spit rusty bubbles beside tattered boots. Humans were made to move, but this slow trek is nothing like running and going nowhere for fun. Now I walk, escaping nowhere and carrying it within.
Rest is death.
Behind me, blasted trees stretch gaunt black limbs skyward, twisted and shrieking in the endless wind. My coat barely yields to the breeze, its fabric thick with secrets and stained with unbearable memories. There’s too much knowledge for one man to contain.
I should go on.
I settle on a fallen trunk and cough. Pain spikes hot in my chest.
Maybe we could never have proved ourselves worthy stewards of the universe when every call for caution was ignored, drowned by the triumphant roar of all the other wishes granted to man in his pursuit of mastery. The genie will never return to the bottle, because he exults in his freedom and terrible power to remake the world.
We were our own nemesis, and we refused to believe it. I look up, try to believe the sun still shines, high above the sullen clouds. If it has not forsaken us, why can I not feel it?
I hack and spit red. Red used to mean love. I could curl up here – find solace hidden between roots ripped from grieving earth – dream of all I have lost, and all that has been snatched away. I could rest.
Just a little further.
This desolate greying hill is the last, I’m certain. I will come to the sea, to the end and the beginning. My pack lies empty at my feet. The tighter I clutch my past, the faster it disintegrates in my hands.
What’s a man without a past? What’s a man without a future?
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover, and quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.