Flash Fiction: What can you hear?


“Draw the curtains,” said a voice from the bed, papery with age and illness.

Viv rose from her chair and pulled aside the heavy cloth. Sunlight flooded into the room and for the first time she saw him properly: sheet-thin skin laid over bone, the surface mottled like a boulder which had tumbled from a mountain and lain for years in the wind and the weather.

“Window,” he whispered.

With an effort Viv lifted the sash.

“Shh, listen,” he said. “Can you hear it?” Viv caught the far-away slap of the sea. “The carpenter’s plane,” he said. “He’s making the coffin outside the window.”


Top marks for those who get my literary reference this week. Maybe it’s really obvious, especially for any American readers.I’ve had a few comments so far, none of which knew what I was going on about, so I’ve changed ‘Making the box’ to ‘He’s making the coffin’.

I’m delighted this week that Rochelle has chosen one of my pictures. It’s one of a series of statues in Stowe Landscape gardens – a wonderful place to wander around, owned by the National Trust and full of odd folies. More information here.

For those who don’t know how Friday Fictioneers works, this picture is our inspiration for our weekly online writing group hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. Each story is only about 100 words long, so why not read a few others: click here to read some more or to join in.

And please comment below with any suggestions on mine, or just to show you’ve visited.

52 thoughts on “Flash Fiction: What can you hear?

  1. Enjoyed your story. Are you referring to Hemingway’s “Old Man and the Sea”? I don’t remember anything about “working the box’ but your story reminds me of Hemingway’s novella. I may be wrong. Lucy


  2. I’m going to leave the reference to others, given my jet lag and inability to think! Love this photo, Claire. As I tour all these royal sites, I’ve seen my share of kingly statues this past week. This one really rocks!

    Your story is very compelling. I felt the period, the time, in your writing. Or, I imagined one… really excellent, Claire!


  3. I’ll be honest and say I’m not getting this. I thought of a coffin being made outside the window, or maybe a gallows – but it’s not ringing any literary bells for me. Nice picture though Claire.


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  5. The carpenter’s plane and the sound of the sea makes me think of Lewis Carroll’s “The Walrus and the Carpenter”.
    Beautifully written, and wonderful photograph. (And thank you for telling us where you took it.)


    • Thanks Melanie, I’m pleased you like the picture and my story. The reference though is to As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner, where the dying mother hears her son making her coffin outside her window. Obviously too obscure – no one else got it either!


      • Oh man! Of course it’s Faulkner. “My mother is a fish.” Vardaman is the one who stick with me the most. Poor kid.
        I knew my guess was wrong, and I even went back and read that Carroll poem after I left my comment and it didn’t fit at all.


  6. sheet-thin skin laid over bone What a lovely use of words. Sad story. Or a tale of impending relief.

    Great picture, Claire. (P.S. My sister’s name is Clare – I’ve always thought of it as a warm and friendly name.)


  7. Haven’t read the Old Man and the Sea in a long time, so I didn’t get the reference, but I liked the images nevertheless. What I wasn’t sure was whether the old man is upset that he hears a coffin being made (how dare he plan for my death when I’m still here?) or was looking forward to the release he’s going to feel.


    • Ah, that’s because the reference wasn’t the Old Man and the Sea, it was As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner – but no one else got it either.
      That’s a good point – I’m not sure what he thinks either.


  8. Claire, Very well written as usual. I didn’t have any idea what the story referred to, but according to the comments I was far from alone. I haven’t read Faulkner, but I’ll have to in future. I’m wondering what the son has against his parent that he acts the way he does. I can’t believe it wasn’t on purpose. Well done. 🙂 —Susan


    • In an odd way I think the mother finds some comfort from hearing the noise of her son outside – I don’t think she complains. What happens after she’s dead is pretty horrendous – well worth reading.


  9. Beautifully done Claire and a reference that conveys so much more than what we initially think of. It’s been a while since I read that wonderfully complex book, maybe it’s time for a revisit.


  10. Another great idea in a nutshell. I went to an opera at Stowe once and I remember wandering round the gardens and meeting guys like that. I didn’t pick up the literary reference. I started reading Faulkner as a teenager at a girl’s boarding school. I was appalled by the world he described and for a while thought that the whole world would be like that. I haven’t read any since.


  11. What a lovely story you’ve written! Very moving and such a clear image! Thanks for your photo for this week’s Friday Fictioneers! I had fun with it 🙂


  12. Claire,
    Good one! I guessed probably Faulkner or before him, with the making of the coffin/box, but like a good-for-nothing lit major, I haven’t actually read As I Lay Dying. My time in school seemed to have been more taken up with reading the likes of Shakespeare, Wordsworth, the Brontes and Dickens, with only a few Americans in the mix.

    With or without the literary reference, this flash stands nicely on its own. Well done.

    And . . . I love the photo this week. Thanks for sharing it with all of us.


    Marie Gail


  13. This a beautifully written sad story. Wonderful take on the prompt. By the way, I love your photo. It was the first thing my husband commented on when he read my story. I told him he wasn’t supposed to like the photo more than my writing. 😉


  14. your description of the dying person, very vivid and puts the reader right by the bedside. very sad that the coffin maker is just outside. great story and thank you for the photograph.


  15. Dear Claire, I love your picture this week – it is a great one! Also, I thought it might be William Faulkner (he changed the spelling of his last name and added a ‘u’ to it so he would appear more continental). I didn’t remember the name of the story, but I remember the story because I always thought it was morbid and sad. Good job this week Claire! Nan 🙂


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