Welcome to Flash Fiction Friday and the one hundred and fifth-seventh piece in this series. This week’s is a 500-worder by Samantha Wilcox.
Sweetness and spice swept my senses as I lifted the lid. So powerful was the hit, I let my eyes close and breathed in, before looking up into the sky. The bright white as my sight adjusted soon dulled and I found myself beneath a hazy blanket, still standing on the street where I found it; a hush enveloped me where I stood holding the ornate vessel. Soon, though, the busy world around me broke the spell, its many voices strangling the air. I closed the lid carefully and negotiated the crowd to reach the shadows, away from the calling, sizzling and spitting.
I sat on rock shaded by Katsuras; I was on the outskirts of a park. Green stretched behind me scattered with white rocks, tall trees, twisted wooden bridges. It was beautiful. I breathed deeply; In…out… Something about this find was special, I felt it like a thrill as I let my breath release and re-lifted the lid.
Looking into the depths of the velvet lining, I saw the outline of another, much smaller, box. Its glossed veneer glinted in the darkness; gold leaf spiralled to its hinges. My desire to open it mounted but just as I moved to, the sound of an erhu stopped me. It was close, perhaps behind me, though when I turned I found I was alone.
‘Hello?’ I asked anyway, my voice tentative. Was this mysterious player the owner of the boxes? When no answer came and the music continued I felt wary. I placed the boxes down on the rock beside me and stood to leave. As I stepped away, however, I felt the pull of the boxes and the music stopped. My agitation grew as a small man appeared from behind trees. He approached me and I shivered, uncertain. Then he was before me, gesturing to the boxes, smiling.
‘I-I don’t understand’ I stammered. But I realised that I did. I did understand. It was a sign. I was supposed to find these boxes.. why? The man chuckled softly. I had felt lost; I had come to China searching, though I had not been aware.
Crack. Woken from my reverie, I saw the man disappear behind the trees. I reached out for the boxes; as I touched the wood of the first I felt my body lighten, my heart lift. I sat to pull out the small glossed treasure, stroking the hinges as I raised its lid.
The shock of colour as the tiny butterfly flew free from its confines held me raptured. Blues and crimsons and yellows and golds, silvers and emeralds and an array of oranges, warm as saffron and bright as apricot. When it had flown around a little, it hovered, poised above me, and so I held out my hand. And there it flew, landing on my flesh, soft and firm. The spice and the sweetness filled the air around us.
“Hello, little friend’ I said. And the peace of the world settled in my soul.
I asked Samantha what prompted this piece and she said…
What inspired me? Well, in 2009 I was teaching English as a Foreign Language in Wuhan, China. It was the first time I’d been anywhere outside of Europe, other than a five-day trip to New York at about age nineteen. It was a big deal. I had been feeling like a seriously square peg in a very round hole in my life around this time; I had a friend in China and thought that by rushing off to join her, I was suddenly going to escape, that I was going to finally understand what it was I was supposed to do with my entire life. I imagined I would be picking up Mandarin within months, hanging with the locals, living a healthy and perhaps semi-Buddhist existence.
In reality, whilst I loved my time in Wuhan, I hated it at the same time. I found it dirty, couldn’t hack the spitting and smoking in lifts, found some of the food hard to understand – let alone eat, and whilst teaching in one particular school in the midst of the city I found the toilet situation so frightening I held it – all day.
But when I say I loved it – I do mean it. The people were generally kind. The smells stayed with me – spice, sweet sugar, and dirt. The parks – they were the inspiration behind my story overall I would say. Such beautiful parks, and so peaceful, and on my early morning walks to teach at the private language school close to where I lived then, I would hear the erhu being played. Those parks were the tranquillity between the restlessness of the teeming streets that made up the city.
I first wrote A Box in China (now edited and re-named Xìngfú) when I had been back in the UK for a few months. The boxes represented what I think I had been searching for – the butterfly landing on the hand, representative of living happily to an old age, and finding the peace in my soul I had not yet found. The erhu, the scents, the oppressive haze of the polluted sky – they had a meditative quality. My love of meditation of late, and my relatively new-found interest in yoga and pilates, was in fact also an inspiration when editing Xìngfú. These activities give me a feeling of calm and peace, and affirm to me that I’m simply OK as I am.
I didn’t touch the story for a good few years after having written it. But as time moved on, the more I looked back on my experience with yearning and affection, and I re-poised my pen over the page.
I know now that in China I was searching for a peace that was hard to find when you’re jumping from tube to tube and job to job. I’m not sure I found it then, but perhaps I found myself on the way to finding it. You change, grow, when you try something so far from your comfort zone – or, at least, I did.
Thank you, Samantha. Evading comfort zones can often make brilliant pieces, and be more fun to write.
Samantha holds a degree in English Literature with Film Studies from Kingston University, London, which she gained at age thirty. Since then she has spent the last nine years writing seriously, having undertaken a fiction writing module via Open University and completed her first young adult fantasy novel, The Sister Worlds.
Samantha began telling stories from a young age, hiding herself away for an hour or so here and there while she spun her tales, living by her imagination (as much as possible within the bounds of reality!) whilst growing up. She began writing the odd poem during her teens, but it wasn’t until her late twenties whilst at university that she understood her true love for writing.
Her tastes are eclectic, not only in her own writing, but in the form and genre of the writing of others. She is inspired by Virginia Woolf and Christina Rossetti, amongst many others, including the work of Jane Austen, Philip K. Dick, Ellen Miller, and Zeruya Shalev. She has most recently been drawn to the work of Abraham Verghese. Her love for the magical and fantastical in fiction is relentless; she has particularly enjoyed the work of Suzanne Collins and Veronica Roth in this respect, and once studied Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep in relation to Ridley Scott’s film Blade Runner. Samantha also has a strong interest in human relationships and mental health, and a love for the innocence of young children and the life and hope they instill in tired-out grown-ups.
With experience as an editor, proofreader and researcher, Samantha is well accomplished and finds this useful when writing and, of course, editing her own work.
Her proofreading and editing experience comprises a website research and editing project for the charity Re-Cycle, the proofreading and editing of a website story – also for Re-Cycle – together with the editing of their August and September newsletters; also a novel, short story, and flash fiction piece for author Elizabeth Los, a novel excerpt for author & translator Jasmine Heydari, and the website area and biographies for global broadcast production company Clean Cut Media Ltd. She has also read and edited various documentation including minutes, website material, presentations and more, as part of her administrative background.
Samantha had her article, Manners, published in www.eatmemagazine.com, and she previously ran a creative writing group on a voluntary basis for Mungos charity.
She is currently writing her second novel and working on a series of children’s books for illustrator Ella Parry. She regularly writes fiction pieces both for her own website, and to be entered into various competitions.
- and guest blogs about short stories on this blog: Alberta Ross, Jane Hertenstein, Helen M Hunt, Morgen Bailey, Sarah Grace Logan, Warren Bull.
You can subscribe to this blog on your Kindle / Kindle app via Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com. You can also sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything (see this blog’s right-hand side bar).
You can contact me and find me on the internet, view my books (including my debut novel The Serial Dater’s Shopping List, various short story collections and writer’s block workbooks) and If you like this blog, you can help me keep it running by donating. Thank you.
For anyone looking for an editor, do take a look at Editing and Critique.
If you would like to send me a book review of another author’s books or like your book reviewed (short stories, contemporary crime / women’s novels or writing guides), see book-reviews for the guidelines. Other options listed on opportunities-on-this-blog. And I post writing exercises every weekday on four online writing groups.