Echo Hall

By Virginia Moffatt

Three generations of women experience love, loss and conflict in times of war

Monday, 20 June 2016

Flash Fiction Marathon (3): Up on the roof.

To celebrate National Flash Fiction Day next Saturday (25th June). I am taking story prompts people send me and turning them into stories, publishing one a day.

The third prompt is from my husband Chris Cole: An ladder is left abandoned on the side of a wall leading to the roof of a set of flats.


Up on the roof.


Clang!  My spade made no dent in the frost-hardened earth.  

I never was very good at gardening - that had always been Helen’s domain.

Clang! A plane flew overhead, not for the first time I wished I was on it. I pushed hard at the ground but had no impact.

I hadn’t even wanted to buy this flat in the first place. That was all Helen too.

Clang!  This was useless. Each attempt was more difficult than the last.

I’m only really here because I don’t know where else to be.

After ten more minutes I finally admitted defeat and threw the spade down in disgust.  If Helen had been here she would have told me the job was futile before I even started. But Helen was gone. Had been for six months. Knocked over by a bus when she stepped out into the road one day.  Leaving me sisterless in this stupid town living in stupid flat with a stupid garden that – despite my lack of skills - I somehow feel obliged to tend.


‘Can we really afford it?’ I had said, two years ago, when we first considered moving here. Our bank accounts were still bulging with the legacy Dad had left us, but, even so, the monthly outgoings were eye-watering.

‘If we take the fixed rate deal.’

‘That ties us in for years.’

‘Only five, by which time, our salaries will have gone up, the property will be worth more and we’ll have options.’

Typical Helen. Pragmatic to the core. Arguing that Dad would have wanted us to use our money wisely,  investing in a home so we had a secure future. We might be buying in the worst part of town but it was by far the most practical thing to do. Much more sensible then spending it on backpacking as I'd suggested, only half joking.

‘You will fritter it away, Chrissie.  And then what? You’ll come back to no money, no job, no chance of getting on the housing ladder. At least this way you have options. Besides we’ll have fun.’


She always was very persuasive.


So we bought the flat. In the summer we’d hosted roof top parties beside her blooming garden, a riot of red and gold roses, purple hollyhocks and orange firepokers. In the winter, we’d curled up by the fireplace, telling each other stories of our childhood. And she was right, it was fun. Right up until the day she died, it was fun.


I left the abandoned spade and walked across the roof, gazing down at the vista of grey concrete below. God this was an ugly town. Even Helen had admitted it was an ugly town. But still her voice was in my head telling me to think about the bigger picture: a home, security, a guaranteed future. Though none of it mattered without her, I couldn't help feeling she was right. Anyway, couldn't afford to leave.

I wandered back to pick up the spade, and it occurred to me looking at the shrivelled up shrubs and rose bushes, that, no matter how hard I tried, I'd never bring the garden back to life. Perhaps it was time to stop trying. It was getting cold, I climbed down the ladder and hurried inside. Despite everything, the flat was cosy on a cold day. I made myself a cup of cocoa and sat down to a box set marathon of  'Sex in the City'.

The next day, when I left for work, I glanced up at the roof and saw I’d left the ladder out. It was still propped against the wall, pointing upwards towards the cold grey sky.

I must remember to put it away later, I told myself. I wouldn’t be needing it again.


Thanks Chris for giving me the idea that has been hardest to write!

If you'd like to give me a prompt leave one below or on my Facebook page (Virginia Moffatt)

To find out more about National Flash Fiction Day please visit their website

The National Flash Fiction Day anthology 'A Box of Stars Beneath the Bed' is now on sale.

On Saturday 25th June I will be Writer in Residence at The Albion Beatnik Bookstore, 34, Walton Street, Oxford. Come down between 12-4, buy a book and order a piece of flash fiction while you're at it. All welcome.


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Heather Speight
 Heather Speight says:

Haven't yet really understood this one. Is it, or is it not totally depressing?!

posted 21st June 2016

Virginia Moffatt
 Virginia Moffatt says:

It depends which way you look at it...She is stuck in the life her sister has chosen for now, perhaps due to grief, apathy, lack of a coherent plan, but she has chosen not to tend the garden. So...first steps?

posted 21st June 2016

Virginia Moffatt
 Virginia Moffatt says:

PS 'Up on the roof' is also an optimistic James Taylor song so... & thanks for reading & commenting :-)

posted 21st June 2016

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