in the Dark
by Dini Armstrong
Saskia tried to look defiant while she was grating the
shrapnel against a stone, careful to collect the fine metal dust on the cloth
below. She wasn’t sure what defiance looked like exactly, but Dad had said that
what they were doing was an act of one. Her hands were frozen.
Dad was by the fire, boiling up rabbit skins for glue.
perfectly at peace, stirring and stirring as if in a
trance. It made Saskia sleepy to watch him, and she let out a yelp when she
grated her own skin against the rough surface of the stone.
“I guess that’s a good sign,” said
Dad, smiling at her.
“How?” she snapped back, sucking her
knuckles. Her stomach was growling. Even the disgusting slime he was cooking
started to smell good.
“Means you’re still alive, snoepje.” He continued to
stir the gunk.
He always called her snoepje,
sweetie. When she was little, he had chased her around the house, pretending to
gobble her up, and it was strange to think she had been squealing with delight.
Saskia looked around. The war had been over for months
they were still in the displaced persons’ camp. Which was funny, because Saskia
and Dad were not the ones in the family who were lost. They knew exactly where
they were. They didn’t know where Saskia’s baby sister was, or their mum. Not
long now, Dad had said, not long, and they were all going to go home.
The woman in the tent next to theirs was having a baby.
on Christmas Eve, Dad had said to her worried husband, who had been pacing
outside the tent. It’s like a Christmas miracle. The man had just stared at him
with that face that people made when Dad told them that everything was going to
be okay. Dad had tried to keep him busy by enlisting him in cutting out star
shapes from bits of cardboard. It worked for an hour or so, but then the
woman’s groans became so scary, that the man jumped up and forced his way into
the tent to see what was going on. The old rules no longer applied. To be
afraid of a bit of blood and suffering. The idea seemed silly these days.
Saskia was expected to go to school when they were back
She tried on the thought in her head, but it was hard to picture it. Five years
old when the men took her away, there had been no schools where they took her,
even though they called it a children’s re-education camp. Almost nine now, she
had heard stories of teachers using rods for discipline. She wasn’t scared.
The woman’s groans turned into high-pitched screams.
Dad started to whistle. His face lit up, and he stopped
“That’s it, just right. Are you ready,
They both squatted on the frozen ground, and Dad arranged
pot of glue, the metal scrapings and the cardboard shapes in a little assembly
line. He dipped his calloused fingers into the hot gloop and smeared glue all
over the stars before handing them to Saskia, who sprinkled some of the metal
powder over them; careful to hold it over the cloth, in case of spillages. Her
dad held one of the finished stars up high — and a beam from the floodlights
set it alight.
It sparkled and twinkled, and Saskia thought, Hold it higher, dad, hold it so high that
mum can see it and find us. She was mesmerized. Memories came flooding in
from a time far away, when the world was not grey and ashes, but gingerbread
men and pink and white aniseed sugar sprinkles, and sweets stuffed into boots
That’s when she noticed that the screaming had
stopped. The man
emerged from his tent, his face ashen, his shirt covered in blood. He slumped
down next to them, shaking his head before burying his face in his hands.
Saskia stood up. She grabbed a handful of glitter and
over to the man.
“There,” she said, sprinkling it over
his head, “all better.”
Dini Armstrong, now Scottish, has worked
in journalism and
psychology. She is currently completing an MA in Creative Writing and has
published short stories and flash fiction. Her pithy style got her into trouble
from age six, when, after writing a particularly seditious piece about a
vengeful cat with explosives, she had to promise never to write again. She