October 19, 2021




“Swaddle” was a finalist in The Waking’s Flash Prose Prize


CW: Self-harm



You didn't realise how many sharp objects were in your flat. Staples. Knives: not just carving but penknives, steel cutlery, and those curved fish knives from Grammy. Drawing pins. Needles. Fishing hooks. Craft scalpels. Scissors of every size. Razors. Something in every room. It was nearly midnight when you discovered this, and collected them up. 

Earlier in the evening, you sat outside, amongst the webbed shade of your backyard, below a canopy of hornbeams and oaks.  The light was sepia. Swifts cried. Midges regathered. She, your only child, a ghost of a teen, bone-thin, shuffled about. How quiet she had become. Once upon a time, she could never keep still, bouncing, calling, crawling, always giggling.

Ever burdened, you sat there, flustered, flame-cheeked, yawning. There was never quite enough of anything, especially money and you were always tired, overworked. You said that a lot—I’m so tired, so tired. Your daughter didn't speak and you didn’t look up. She lingered a while, then folded down into a silhouette, onto the metallic chair beside you. 

Honeysuckle crept across your fence, perfumed your air, dogs whined, sleepy children whimpered but it all passed by unnoticed. You picked at artichokes, olives, pickled peppers, small lumps taken from a long plate, it all tasted the same—vinegared. Your phone hummed and the gate rattled but your eyes closed. Momentarily you dreamt. A gossamer daydream, back to your Spanish father’s home where his budgerigars pecked at one another inside a bell cage. Those birds watched two flea-bitten tabbies rolling contentedly amongst gritty dirt. You reawoke when your daughter took your hand. The salty breeze flew inland. Then you saw it tapping onto the dusty sandstone. Neon red. Blood red. Dripping from lines on her arms, from gashes in her legs.

You tried to speak, she hushed you. No, Mum! Rattling her head until her peppery hair re-covered her eyes. 

You wished she could return, back: into the premature baby you fed; into the chubby toddler you nestled; into the pig-tailed girl who fell asleep in her bowl of pasta. But how could you swaddle her once she’d become taller than you?





Emma Kinnear's writing has appeared in various publications, and her flash fiction/short stories have been shortlisted, longlisted, or received an honourable mention prize for competitions run by Lunate, Strands International, Cambridge FF Prize, Retreat West, Reflex Press, Ruminate, and Spider Road Press.

She has published articles on environmental justice, legal aid cuts, and land rights in international law journals. Emma trained as a lawyer but deviated to work in the charity sector at law centres, for mental health charities, and at foodbanks. Emma, her novelist husband, kids, dog, and cats currently live in Norfolk, UK



Read more Short Fiction, fiction on familial trauma, pieces in spanish homes on The Waking


Photo by Mayank Dhanawade on Unsplash


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