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To Those at the End · Original Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
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All Deafening on the Home Front
An army of sewing machines chatters inside the school gymnasium. If she closes her eyes, Mrs. O’Hare can pretend she’s sitting alone in a greenhouse, listening to the rain drive against the clear corrugated walls, unable to get in. She can reach out and touch the leaves. But the smoke is in her throat, the heat of bodies and work has her brow all wet. And it isn’t rain, it’s machinery.

And there is much more work to be done.

A pile of fabric sits wedged between Mrs. O’Hare’s legs. On the table next to the sewing machine sits a small wooden box full of names. Harmless rectangles of fabric that turn these jackets from warm clothing into uniforms. She doesn’t read them anymore. She lays them underneath the breast pocket and stitches them in—long side, then short side, other short, other long—and pretends they don’t say anything at all.

She used to be better than this. Calmer than this. She could shut the world out and relax whenever she pleased. She could sit on a bench by the cliffs and listen to the waves down below, isolate every sound and listen to them each on their own. A squirrel battling against a chestnut. The breath in her nose, and out her mouth. The waves. And, if she concentrated hard enough on one thing, she could hear a pin drop when no-one else could.

“Are you alright?” beside her, Sharan asks.

“Yes,” Mrs. O’Hare says, though what she wants to say is, Never talk to me. Don’t remind me I’m here. She takes a drag of the cigarette smoke in the air and relaxes second-hand.

She turns her sewing machine back on so it can chatter with the rest of them. Taking a new sheet of fabric, she feeds it into the machine to give it broad shoulders.

An idea hits her, to simply shove her hand into the machine. Stitch a gash into her ring finger and be escorted out like a wounded soldier. Better to leave clutching a bleeding hand than her own crying face. But what was there for her at home? Only Francis in his whining wheelchair, and Xavier cooped up in his bedroom, only coming out to check the mailbox for letters from his friends.

Friends who had lied about their age.

And what good was she at home? All she did there was trap Xavier in hour-long hugs. All she did was fail to convince a fourteen-year-old boy that war wasn’t the adventure his teachers said it was. And his father was right there, in the kitchen, in his wheelchair, with his missing leg and his empty eye-socket. If that didn’t convince him, how could she?

Or maybe she would go to her bookshelf again, to pretend she has the stomach for some fiction. Pretend she could sit down with a nice cup of tea and her favourite Jules Verne.

As she cuts the ends of the shirt and stitches the edges closed, her mind catches on the idea of books, like a fish caught on a line and dragged upstream. She once read a story where a book saved a young man’s life. In fact, she’s read several. It’s almost a cliché. Novels lining pockets, journals stopping a bullet from entering a kidney, a bible protecting the heart from inside the breast pocket.

And she wonders how many books she would need to save them all. She wonders how many books she would need to line every uniform from the shoulders, down the torso, and along the sleeves, so that every square inch of them is protected by a wall of words and paper. She wonders if there are enough books in the world.

“Are you alright?”

Mrs. O’Hare doesn’t answer. She holds the finished uniform up for inspection. It’s brown, already stained with lantern oil. Dreadful thing to wear just because you were told to. Dreadful thing to die in.

Just the name, now.

She reaches out, but her arm goes numb, and she swipes the basket of names onto the floor. They spill out, and she sees one.

A. Ginty


She gets to her knees and turns them over.

M. Morrison, B. Kilkenny, E. Monk


She stops. Her eyes find a name. The chattering army of sewing machines continues marching all around her. She picks up the harmless rectangle of fabric and sits back on her heels.

X. O’Hare

And she could hear a pin drop.
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#1 · 1
· · >>Miller Minus
Very evocative:

And I love that we only know her as "Mrs. O'Hare" rather than by her actual given name. It says so much about the character's self image and about the time and place.

I do have a couple questions, though. I don't understand what provokes her reaction to knock over the basket of names--which was a box earlier in the story. The wording doesn't suggest to me that it was an accident, but if it's on purpose, what's triggered her to do it here and now instead of at any other time? I also wondered at the line "She turns her sewing machine back on". If she's been sitting there not working in a room full of sewing machines rattling away, I'd like to see that at the beginning rather than only hear about a third of the way through...

Still, nice stuff!

#2 · 1
· · >>Miller Minus
In which war is a terrible thing.

I have to admit my bias when it comes to stories like this since I have a penchant for commentary on war. With that out of the way: wow! I love how you build the atmosphere and Mrs. O'Hare up until the last few paragraphs of the story where it all switches to the devastating revelation. All the details in the build-up seem to just serve their purpose as worldbuilding, but then to pluck out one or two details and to remind us of them in the ending revelation, and the thematic and repeating words of "
And she could hear a pin drop."
sealed the deal for me at the end.

Another thing of note here is this line: "An idea hits her, to simply shove her hand into the machine." Such a surprise to have there and yet it makes sense given how, with the information already given out, I should've expected it. Perhaps she's bored out of her mind or otherwise just dying to get out of there, and this is like a mental version of suddenly raging out but without the physical trashing.

Overall, this is great! I'll be surprised if I don't see this at the top.
#3 · 1
· · >>Miller Minus
I really, really like the scope of this minific. The twist feels neither too small nor too large for the general breadth of the story, and overall I just feel like my time was well-spent reading this. All the little statements that come straight out of Mrs. O'Hare's consciousness really give the piece a sense of inhabiting someone's head, and it makes the reveal all the more impactful.

Now, I think it's worth mentioning that during my first read-through, I completely missed out on the fact that Mrs. O'Hare doesn't want to read the name tags, and I was kind of confused about why she was so upset when she spilled the box. On my second reading, I noticed that there were a couple of sentences explaining it at the very beginning of the story, but I simply hadn't thought that it was very important when I first read it. I would personally suggest a couple of more mentions of her wanting to avoid reading the names, just to make sure that you're signaling their significance strongly enough to the reader.

I also have to note, that for some reason, the "shove her hand into the machine" bit felt a little jarring to me. Not exactly sure why, but it might have to do with the fact that all of her other idle thoughts are attempts to calm herself, and this one is the opposite. In any case, the fact that it stuck out so much made me pay a lot of attention to that paragraph, which did not end up being as important as it seemed. Just an observation.

Overall, despite my little reading hiccups, I thought this was a great piece. Like I said earlier, it really has a good sense of payoff and scope, and it definitely satisfies by the end of it.

Thanks for writing!
#4 · 1
· · >>Miller Minus
A nice, gut punching twist that was well set up and well executed. I kind of figured out where it was going based on some clues dropped in the beginning, but that didn't hurt my experience too badly. I guess I kind of am questioning the odds of everything playing it out the way it did, what with the timing of everything and all (They're making his uniform before he's notified that he's been drafted? Or does he already know and hasn't told his mother?) but again, I think the emotional impact makes up for it.

I liked the way the character of Mrs. O'Hare is developed, with little lines that show us how she really feels about this. I personally would like to see more of this, but given the word count I think this is fine. Nice job!
#5 · 1
· · >>Miller Minus
It’s a good story, but still I’m not completely at ease with the way the events collide. I understand the story would not exist if either the introspective or the factual part were pulled off, but the coincidence between the two feels a bit contrived to me. It’s not like I was expecting the end from the exposition, but there was something of it floating around, and the message feels a bit too heavy handed, even to me, a resolute pacifist.

Now, of course, this is more carping than anything else. The overall feeling is one of skill and mastery, and the story is very touching, although it would probably appeal more to a European audience than an American one. Also thumbs up for mentioning Jules Verne. :)
#6 · 1
· · >>Miller Minus
In which I'm reminded of high school, because I had to suffer through All Quiet on the Western Front.

Something I liked:

Since this seems to be a favorite for the gold medal, I'm going to get rather specific about what I like about this entry, because I don't think it needs too much more praise aimed at it. It's clear to me that the author both has an excellent grasp on English prose writing, and also pacing with so few words. While the style of narrative is rather tell-y, it's one that I feel is nicely suited to the flashfic format. We get to know everything we need to about Mrs. O'Hare, and we're given just enough time with her, her job, her problem with her son, and her state of mind to get a proper glimpse of her pain at the ending. The first paragraph in particular is excellent, and I feel like a lot of deliberation went into word choices and metaphors here.

Something I didn't like:

Let's talk about cliches. One of the key things to remember when writing is to avoid cliches. If something reads as tired, used, about to be thrown away, don't go with it. Some people seem affected by the ending, but I wasn't. As Mono said, the way we find out about the fate of Mrs. O'Hare's son, aside from it being able to be predicted from practically the beginning of the story, feels... tired. Like we've seen this exact thing be played out before, and we don't need to see it again. I've seen and read a lot of "war is hell" stories, and while there's clearly an attempt to freshen the message up by having it be viewed through a civilian's eyes, it still feels unexceptional. Yes, the reference to All Quiet on the Western Front is very much intentional, and thematically this entry does fall in line with that book, but the book came out nearly a century ago, and the entry here adds very little to it.

Verdict: Admirable from a technical standpoint, but as a story I find it unsatisfying upon a second reading.
#7 ·
>>Baal Bunny
>>Comma Typer

Thanks you beauties. Happy to hear this was well received. This story was an exercise in relieving some of the stress of the covid lockdown, and the sort of frantic boredom born from feeling useless I've been feeling. But it was also an exercise in flexing out some of the bad habits I've developed over a few months of not a lot of writing--get them out in the open for people to criticize--and reading the reviews it looks like I was right to. Thanks for your help.

Also, sorry I wasn't around for this round. I don't really have any excuses. I'll take my community service or $200 fine or 50 lashes or whatever you guys think is best.

See you in the fiminis!