Pretty Short, Trifecta Challenge

The Green Line

Your ex has a weak case. Flimsy, my lawyer says, and gives a little snorty laugh into her coffee mug. The mug advertises her services as a ‘Law Diva‘ and she sets it down on a photograph of a baby, made into a mouse pad. The bubbles on the surface of the coffee pop softly, one by one.

I can’t lose my son, I say.

Don’t worry, she says.

Her mobile phone rings. She makes an apologetic noise and swings her desk chair around to face the window. I can see the top of her head, stiff with hair spray.

Well, she says, did you take her temp? She snorts again. No, I can’t come home now. I have three more clients.

Outside the window, a crane hauls something heavy upwards.


Let’s take the tube to the end of the line.

His eyes widen.

Where does it stop?

I don’t know. Let’s find out.

He stands in front of the colourful map, chin straining upwards, straight blonde hair falling back from his face, and chooses the line that goes furthest away.

It’s not to scale, I say. But green is his favorite color, so that’s the line we choose. I buy him a packet of crisps and a Mars Bar, because he asks.

Don’t you have to go to work?

I shake my head. He munches thoughtfully. I help him push through the turnstile.

When we get there, it’s what I expected. I think I may have been here before. We cross a car park and over a triangle of grass, dotted with broken-off saplings, each inside its own battered wire fence. On the other side there’s a brick wall. I lift him onto the top, holding him round his waist while he dangles his legs over the other side. He points at things: a church spire, a shop window, a bright red sports car.

This is the best day, he says, with a slow starting smile. Where do we go now?


Trifecta Challenge


So I had to get rid of the dog. I didn’t want to, but I had to, so I put an ad online and the next day I get this call.

“Kinda dog is it?”


I glanced at Rusty, flat out by the TV, wiener dog body twitching under collie dog fur. “Survivor” always put her to sleep.

“She’s a….”


“Yes… She’s sort of a….”

“A bitch?”

“I’m sorry?”

“She’s a bitch?”

“Yes… I guess, a girl dog, yes…”

“Kinda name is that for a bitch?”

Rusty stirred. Her stump of spaniel tail quivered. On the screen, the competitors were gathering for the tribal council. Torchlight flickered on anxious faces. She whimpered.

“Where you at? I’ll come git ‘er now.”

When the bell rang, twenty minutes later, I’d decided not to answer it, but Rusty woke in a fury of barking and flung her pug snout at the door. A small bald man stood on the stoop, looking as if he was going to ask for an odd job, then stuck out a hand, in a martial arts move that stopped just short of my solar plexus. The back of the hand was covered in dense orange fur.

“Howdy. Name’s Rusty.”

I ran into him a few months later, on my way out to the bus stop.

“Thought you were leaving town,” he said.

“Well, I… there was a delay. Visa trouble…”

He looked cynical. I went to pat Rusty’s grizzled red head, but she shied away from me and pulled back on the rope that he was using as a leash. I was sure I gave him her leather leash when he left.

“C’mon Daisy,” Rusty said.

“I see you’ve resolved the issue,” I said, forcing a smile.

“Wasn’t going to change my name, was I?”

“I like it,” I said.

He nodded, pleased. Daisy got tangled up in his ankles and he aimed a kick at her head.

“Don’t think much of this dog though.”


Trifecta Challenge – 333 words – Rusty

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Starting Over

Wednesday at the Club, Selma pulls up a wicker chair, looks at me over the table number (our regular – 23), says: ‘I’m breaking up with you, Leonard’ – and I just about bust out laughing. It’s the way she says ‘breaking up’ all serious, and pulls a paper square from her purse, the edges secured with tape. Makes me think of schooldays, grubby pawed-over notes, passed hand-to-hand under desks. When breaking up meant the end of the world. Around here though, surely, nobody breaks up anymore. There just isn’t time.

But, because I catch something, an increase in the moisture that lately seems to be constantly brimming in her eyes, I don’t laugh. Not that she’s sad: the tears are something hereditary, she told me, an ailment that strikes in later years, malfunctioning ducts. She dabs at her eye with a lace handkerchief. (A fine looking lady, she’s got a lot of class, always turns out nice for brunch, no jogging pants or those nasty shuffly slippers.)

She lays her hand next to the note. Her fingernails are hard crimson shells. She’s looking over my shoulder. It’s hard to twist my neck (shrapnel wound, Pork Chop Hill, June 1953) so I kind of shimmy round in my chair. And there’s George Malone’s ugly mug at table 25. Jesus wept. Who let him in the Club?

He’s wearing a baseball cap (‘Combat Veteran – Korea’) which he pushes back on his liver-spotted forehead with knobby knuckles. He winks at me, the old bastard. Combat? He saw just enough to make him put his dick between his legs and jump the first trooper home, faking something colorectal. I’ve got his little number. Then I swivel back to that look in Selma’s eyes and realize: no, I don’t. The scar on my neck gives an electric twang.

So that’s the deal. I’m eighty-nine years old, weigh a buck five on a good day, have to sit down to piss, and now, goddammit, I’ve got competition.


333 words

Trifecta challenge

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‘There’s nothing. There’s noone there.’ A tight twist at the edge of Paul’s smile. Condescension? She thinks so. He is forever trying to make her feel as if she is delusional, or worse: crazy. She pauses, in the act of handing off the binoculars, unwinding the strap from her wrists. Was crazy worse? Or was it the same thing, really? Why is she even thinking this way? She knows what she’s seen.

He pulls the binoculars from her, a little roughly, and the strap, not fully disengaged, pulls her hands together, up and towards him. She has the strange impression of supplication, a cameo she sees from the outside. Like the peeling Madonna in the chapel from which they emerged ten minutes ago, blinded by the Tuscan sun. She shakes her head to free herself of the shadow of the idea. She shouldn’t have to beg. ‘I saw him,’ she repeats. He screws the binoculars into the sockets of his eyes and sweeps them over the teeming piazza below, twiddling savagely with the focus.

She was not religious, not really, not even in the time she had most needed to be, had prayed to become. Winding their way up the hillside that morning, she pulled a handful of poppies from a ditch. She made a point of the abandoned roadside shrine with its headless saint and dry jamjar of faded silk flowers. You see, she said to him, how your God bleaches the life out of things. But in the gloom of the chapel, golden rays poured down on the Virgin’s face like arrows.

‘He’s not there, Mary, he’s gone. You have to stop this.’ He’s bending to pack up the binoculars. He’s turning towards the steps. Leaving without her. The bright certainty drains from her in an instant, leaving nothing but a small, muddy pool of doubt. ‘You’re right,’ she tells his receding back, the line of sweat between the broad shoulderblades. ‘It was just a trick of the light.’


333 words
Trifecta challenge

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The first time she sees him, as he climbs onto their train (crawling west through a blazing summer), she unlaces her damp fingers and spreads one hand wide on her husband’s thigh, momentarily amazed at her own audacity. The second time, as he moves through their carriage, she loosens her wedding band, to see another ring underneath, pale and humid as the skin of a drowned man. Stepping onto the shimmering platform of a prairie station, she glimpses him for the third time, and feels a detaching – almost believes she can hear it too – the minutely perceptible fraying, the final unraveling, of nine years, three months, and one intolerably hot August afternoon.


Trifecta challenge: story in 3 sentences