Absent Without Leave by Susan Bradley Smith

The featured flash story this month comes from the European Journal of Life Writing and is by Australian author Susan Bradley Smith.  I just ordered Susan’s latest book of lyric poetry, Super Modern Prayer Book, which was shortlisted for several distinguished literary awards.

Here’s the first passage of Absent, which begins in the Brisbane airport …

September is the month of birthdays. Tomorrow it is my mother’s, and today is mine, and my eldest daughter’s. I have promised not to write about her ever again even in my diary, it was at the top of her 14th birthday wish list: “please don’t ever write about me again”. I canvassed this concept with my Creative Non-Fiction postgraduate students this week, researching (the straw poll method) my coming conference paper on confessional ethics. “Writer first mother second”, they accused me! I feel I am nothing first. Or everything: marker of essays all through the night, lover of husband in the mid-morning light, shrieker at lost socks, cutter of locks, the mummy who sleeps in lots of strange cots. Because despite the day of the double birthday, I have to catch a plane (as usual) and head off somewhere foreign for work. And while I am away I will not write home every day. And while I am away the younger children will have to go to endless after-school-care afternoons of glum, fatigued horror. And while I am away I will miss my mum’s biblical birthday bash on Saturday, and my Aunt’s 60th the following weekend. And and. So in between looking for socks I wrote a poem for that favorite Aunt of mine, and posted it on her Facebook page. Hardly glitzy, but I do not have time to phone or buy ink for the printer or go to the post office so it will have to do. They will read it at the party, and I will wish I was there for her, with them all. I am ignoring missing my own she-who-can-not-be-named’s birthday, but I have written her a letter to open. She maybe will not read the letter properly, but she will like the money. I hate Skype. What is that? Skpe?: it sounds like a 23rd-century plague. I will just phone: I have packed my mobile and it has international roaming.

I did not write my mum a poem. I bought her a pair of drop pearl earrings from my favorite jeweler, and a pair of black suede pumps to match her new party frock we had gone shopping for together months earlier. It is not my fault I will not be celebrating her 70th birthday by her side. I simply can not. There will be family at her party who have hurt me and the pain is not going away as I age. No one warned me about this endless amplification of grief. I am going away today because I love my mother and she could not choose me over these others and I do not blame her but I cannot cut cake with them. Any of them. Ever again. That is why I said yes to the conference invitation, and that is why I am sitting here on the floor at the airport in a yoga pose, sad that it has come to this. That I am on a cold floor, a gruesome long-haul flight ahead of me, without even a scrap of poetry between me and my thin excuses to piss off. Did I say it was her birthday today, she who can not mentioned? This time 14 years ago I held her in my arms all night long, my lips pressed to her precious head. I wish someone would tell you as it was happening, “it won’t get any sweeter than this”. Instead I get loud messages like “Final Boarding Call”. And quiet ones like the soft swank of my heart, “go on, go on, go on”.

Continue reading as the story moves to Budapest, Slovakia, and more.

As a bonus, also read one of Susan’s lyrical poems, Mr Fucking Rocket tires of saving for a mortgage

And, if you haven’t had enough yet, read more featured stories here.

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Categories: sample stories

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