Second place: A Migration by Lydia Benson

In the beginning it was just you and me. Perhaps just me, from my perspective. You were the extension that was warm and singing. You were black hair and green eyes. 

At first, we were in the back room of the old Victorian house. You fed me in bed against the red wall, illuminated by the last of the evening sun. I was small, I was yours. 

You carried me to school, held me to your chest zipped up in your jacket like a baby bird. We walked up the big hill and chattered to one another over buses and cars and the sounds of the city. You dropped me off and I became one of them, in amongst it all, until I could leave. 

One day you gave me your cardigan to hold, to stop the tears. I smelt it for the rest of the journey. Soon after, it faded. You became a voice on the phone. You said you loved me infinity times a million. I sat on the stairs and tried to remember your smell. 

You had gone there to set things up. Far far away. You were finding work and a house. 

I was painting my nails glitter green and listening to techno with the au pair. Paloma. She shaved off her red curls and died the stubble blue. Paloma. Wild and young. She loved me and you weren’t there, so I drank it up. PalomaWe bathed together. She ran naked into the sea. 

Later, I was colouring in with the welfare officer, answering questions. She sat me down, handed me the paper. Draw a line, she said, fill the page with it. Then we coloured it in. Whilst I was reaching for pencils, trying to keep within the lines, she made me a little informant. It was fed back. 

Around that time, you came back to the city. To court. To answer questions. Then you won. 

We were suddenly in the silence. In the moon and stars and lambs in the fields. There was space then. You gave me my own room and we made friends at the church. Squeaky clean friends who shared their sweets. They were the parallel universe us: Irish parents, still together. I was small and grubby, faulty somehow. Loosened stitches and misshapen on a forgotten corner of the toy-shelf. Alone in a dark wood, overlooking a ravine. The sweets made me sick. 

Years passed. You worked all day and then the evenings. You lost your dad. You became quiet. Then withdrew. Piece by piece. 

Your eyes were veiled with cataracts of thought. 

Once a double-glazing salesman came over. You were his dream, vacant and looking for instant gratification. I sat with you on the threadbare sofa in the front room, cold in the blue light of winter, and listened to the pitch. He was right. He understood you. You did want us to be warm; you did want to spend less, eventually; you did want to do something that might help with the damp, the creeping black in the top corners of the rooms. He was bursting out of his buttons, eyeing me cautiously each time I said I wasn’t sure you had to decide right now, laughing and joking that I was a little adult already. You signed the papers. 

Darkness slipped in after that, more and more. You were barely there. You ploughed, unseeing, through pensioners in the street. They looked back at you disgusted or shocked, but you were somewhere else entirely and no-one could come with you. Panic fluttered around the edges of the house. I watched you in high alert, then sloped off to the woods to get high with the glow worms. 

You went off sick.

It was a different kind of space then. The sun came back. 

In the mornings, you were home in the kitchen drinking coffee, listening to the radio. Unfurling. You told me about your childhood and cycling your Hi Ho Silver. You cried about your dad. 

We went to Barcelona, just you and me again. You got the dates wrong and I missed school, but we saw moonscapes and buses with standard lamps on, so it didn’t matter. We walked everywhere and drew everything and you talked. And listened. A little window. 

At eighteen, I left. You took me and we drove all the way with my life in the boot. I came back less and less, moved further away. When I remembered, I called you. From airports, from mountains, from ancient neon cities. Standing at phone booths, I touched number pads greasy from other fingers, and burnt under the sun of a different hemisphere as I filled you in. Sometimes you struggled to hear me over the racket of cicadas, or the fragments of strangers. I became the voice on the phone. And as time went on, I left bigger gaps in between.

Sometimes, at night, I think wild birds have been let loose in the house. Their heavy wings batter through the rooms until they rest messy in my rafters. I open the window to let in the air. The sky is indigo twilight. Flaming balls of orange ignite one by one. I see you. Small, white hair, green eyes. You look keenly around, taking everything in. You draw the sea. I’m glad you’re here, I want to say. 

Very strong, evocative, fine emotional detail, sense of complete life and emotional trajectory. Compressed but fully ‘there’. 

Dr Clare Morgan

A story told with tender detail, and an awareness of the spaces between people that extends through time. Fluid and touching language, a remarkable voice. 

Catherine McNamara

The last paragraph is what sealed it for me. It’s an almost magical realist relinquishing of the world that had been carefully built up so far, as if blurring like a mirage of memory.

Adam Lowe

Lydia is an emerging writer and illustrator, brought up in Cornwall and now based in a small, coastal town in the South-East. She is currently working on her first novel. Through writing and illustration, she explores memory and place.


Published by FJ Morris

Author & Director of Oxford Flash Fiction Prize. West Country bumpkin who can't kill anything but characters. Loves to grow big stories and big plants. Always looking for omens and four leaf clovers.

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