You grip the old picture from the mantelpiece. Despite staring at it every day you’ll never tire of it.

Petre grows more handsome every time you admire his newly-pressed suit, him standing, chin held high, next to you, whilst you clasp a bunch of white lilies, matching your dress.

His mother Ileana had been a fortune teller, travelled with the Romanian circus, and you’d been in the audience when Petre strode into the ring with his top hat, red coat and whip, followed by two tigers and an elephant.

You’d watched in awe as he controlled the animals with a skill you’d never seen before. To have such power over an animal had made your heart race.

It was with mixed feelings that your parents had welcomed him into their family, a much older man, but you’d always been strong-willed and they’d finally given their blessing… on one condition.

Your younger brother Tomas had taken the photograph that had been standing on the mantelpiece for 57 years, 15 of those after Petre’s death.

Petre had had Ileana’s smile, the smile she’d given you when she first met you, and nodded, knowing before you did how your life was planned, but not even she could have foreseen the change in him; from a man of such strength to weak, rasping; lungs caked with asbestos from the years in your father’s factory – the price Petre had paid to become your husband.

Climbing the stairs, you rasp for breath, your lungs caked from ironing his clothes. As you enter your bedroom, your grip tightens on the old picture from the mantelpiece.


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Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) 🙂 on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are weekly episodes, usually released Monday mornings UK time, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.