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by Sandra Arnold

Serafina slipping out the gate at playtime. Running home to show her mother the star. Her first star. Bright and shiny on the page at the bottom of her story. Right next to THE END in her wobbly writing. Not wanting to wait until home time. Wanting her mother to see the star and read the story. Wanting to see her mother’s smile spill over the bruised lips.


Running through the kitchen door. Someone lying on the floor. Someone staring at the ceiling with wide surprised eyes. Serafina lifting her hands from the red halo around her mother’s head. Wiping them on her pink gingham dress.


Footsteps in the passage. Someone standing in the doorway.

“What. The. Hell?”

“Why won’t she wake up?”

“Why are you here?”

Her dad dropping a black plastic bin bag on the table. Gripping Serafina’s shoulders. “Wash your hands. Change your dress. Then back to school. And …”


“Keep. Your. Mouth. SHUT.”

Serafina wondering why he was talking in slow motion.


Coming back home at the proper time. The kitchen smelling of lavender disinfectant. Her dad in the back garden poking the rubbish bin with a stick. A freshly dug patch of earth where marigolds used to grow. Her mother’s dresses sprawled on the grass. Her coat, her shoes, her favourite bag. Bits of ash swirling. Slow spirals in the smoky air.

“Where’s …?”

“I said SHUT it!”

“But why?”

“Because I SAID so.”


Standing on tiptoe in her nightie looking out her bedroom window. Blue shadows on the bare earth. The moon silvering the trees. Stars raining down on the burning bin. The pencil in her hand. The paper on her desk.

Sandra Arnold lives in New Zealand. She is a novelist, essayist, short story and flash-fiction writer with a PhD in Creative Writing from CQ University, Australia. Her work has been broadcast on radio, published and anthologised in New Zealand and internationally and has won and been shortlisted for several awards. Her flash fiction appears or is forthcoming in numerous journals including Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine and Blue Fifth Review and was selected for the UK 2017 National Flash Fiction Day international anthology, Sleep is a Beautiful Colour.