Picnic at the End of the World – Sharon Telfer

When the sirens blare, we pedal hard up the hill. We’ve been paying attention. We chose this spot thirteen weeks ago. In the valley, the roads out of town clog like arteries.

I shake out my mother’s snowy damask. You slice the thickening air with your great-aunt’s mismatched silver. We lay out the crockery dug from the back of the cupboard, that pattern we loved so much when we put it on the wedding list but now can’t remember why.

We unpack the hamper and begin to eat…

…sourdough kick-started with a culture that bubbled westwards across Europe one step ahead of advancing armies, your Grandma’s pastry which we never tasted but everyone said was the best ever, crumpled bags of the Mary-Jane caramels my mother craved while she was carrying me, hedgehog cake with almond prickles and five candles, the biggest juiciest bramble you thought you couldn’t reach but which was worth every scratchy snag, that chocolate Easter bunny too beautiful to bite without weeping, sherbet dibdabs and white mice and flying saucers, tiny bottles of summer-curdled-winter-slushed milk, rice pudding with skin on for the last day of term, fluffy mints from Grandad’s pocket, leftover Yorkshires gilded with syrup, a licked-out cake bowl, Mum’s treacle pudding erupting like a suet Vesuvius, lip-smarting crisps and warm lemonade in the back of the Cortina waiting for the grown-ups outside the pub, mouth-sealing bonfire toffee, bangers on the barbecue half-charred half-pink like sunburnt noses, first kisses cherried with cola, the sudden obvious point of olives and anchovies, the devilish whiff of kidneys, the sour-shock pickle of someone else’s body, silky tongues of smoked salmon on Christmas morning, nostrils popping with champagne, Marmite, sleepy-eyed moussaka with chips our first morning barely awake but ravenous at that old-school Greek place that’s a sushi bar now, bitter aniseed that kept us dancing well past dawn, salt-rimed-lime margaritas under a stardust California sky, gelato masking the June sewer stink of honeymoon Venice, the wake-up chilli spike of breakfast in Kerala, the peace of tofu in your vegan phase, falling for the irresistible temptation of bacon sandwiches after an all-nighter, peat-smoke whisky burning away the heartbreak of the child who came too soon, amazing tea and buttered toast after the child who arrived right on time, cook’s-perk crackling chicken skin stripped from the carcass by the kitchen sink, wasabi’s eye-opening sting, the never-to-be-repeated-twelve-course-tasting-menu-treat from your father before you stopped talking to each other altogether, those oh-so-expensive Valentine truffles that tasted almost better than sex, HobNobs in bed to the Sunday clatter of rain and bells, three strawberries of perfect ripeness picked with my father in the care home garden, Mars Bars on the moors still a sodden drenching hour’s hike from the bloody car, cold beer, takeaways family-style with friends, warm beer, pastries dunked in gossipy lattes, soldiers dripping thick with yolk, a long glass of cool clear water downed in one…

We raise our toast in our one surviving crystal glass. It glints like ice against the dropping sun. As the earth cracks and the sea rises and the sky falls, nothing has ever tasted so sweet.


SHARON TELFER lives near York, UK. She has won the Bath Flash Fiction Award, the Reflex Fiction Prize and the Hysteria Flash Fiction competition. She is the 2018 New Writing North/Word Factory Short Story Apprentice. She is an editor at FlashBack Fiction.


Image via Pixabay 

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