Open Short Story Competition 2021 - Runner Up

Christine Griffin

Runner Up
A Flip-flop and a Bandana
Open Short Story Competition 2021


Christine enjoys all forms of writing, particularly poetry and short stories. She is widely published including in Acumen, Snakeskin, The Dawntreader, Graffiti Magazine, Poetry Super Highway and Writing Magazine. She has performed her work at the Cheltenham Poetry Festival and the Cheltenham Literature Festival and pre-pandemic she regularly read on local radio.

A Flip-flop and a Bandana By Christine Griffin

It was still early when Arnold Jenkins walked into his daughter’s cluttered kitchen wheezing slightly after his dawn walk.
‘Police car down by the canal. Near the old wharf. Wouldn’t let me near it. There’s a bit fenced off too with that tape they use.’
            Phoebe Broadbent hand shook slightly as she looked at her father hovering in the kitchen. She fiddled about with teabags and mugs before she answered.
‘You sure, dad?’
            ‘I may be old, but I do know a police car when I see it. Took me aback if truth were told. Started me thinking if it’s anything to do with that other stuff.’
            Phoebe fixed him with a stare. ‘Oh no you don’t. That business is over and done with. No use stirring things up.’
             Arnold glanced out at the dirty yard. ‘You’re right. There’s nothing to be gained now. It’s done with. Probably nothing to see anyway.  Kids chucking bikes in the canal or something.’
            Phoebe handed him a mug of tea. ‘That’ll be it,’ she said. ‘Kids round here. Now, how do you fancy a trip to the market later? I’ll call for you.’
            ‘OK.’  He looked up at the ceiling. ‘Don’t suppose that idle-good-for-nothing is up yet.’
            Phoebe grimaced. ‘As if.’
Upstairs, Lee Broadbent was being far from idle. There was no privacy in this house with its thin walls and cheap carpet. He’d heard every word his grandfather had said and was messaging his mate.
cops down the canal meet me soon as
He usually spent most mornings in his room under the covers, curtains drawn. His ma thought he was asleep but he wasn’t. He was lying rigid, with one ear cocked for the doorbell which never rang. As each day passed and there was no doorbell, he became just that bit more confident.
But now this. A bloody police car by the canal. His grandad was an old codger but he wasn’t stupid. If he thought it important enough to call and tell his daughter about it at 7.30 in the morning then there must be something in it.
The market was busy that morning and there was plenty of gossip about the police and the canal.  Arnold turned from the fruit and veg stall to see his old mate Don hanging round ‘Nutz’n’Boltz.’
 ‘Wotcher, Don’
            Don waddled over, a bag of nails in his hand. ‘Putting up shelves for the missus. What you up to?’
‘Here with our Phoebs.’ He paused, wondering how much Don had heard about the police operation. ‘Coppers down by the canal this morning. Saw them with my own eyes. What’s that about do you think?’
Don took his time replying. ‘Yeah all the old biddies nattering on about it. Probably kids mucking about if you ask me.’
            ‘Yeah, that’s what our Phoebs said.’
            Neither of them said anything about what else it might be. There was no doubt though that the whole town would be thinking the same thing. Don tapped the side of his nose as his gaze slid sideways.
            we look after our own here the look said. always have done always will
Arnold nodded his acknowledgement. ‘Best get back to Phoebs,’ he said.
When the police had given up on the search a few weeks ago, the townsfolk were quick to take down the posters. Job done. They’d done what was expected of them. A reluctant gang had turned out for the search, bashing through the scrubby wasteland, letting their dogs loose in the old mines and derelict factories.  Arnold and Don had gone with a group along the canal before reporting no sign of anything unusual. Lee and his mates turned out with the others in a half-hearted search, proclaiming loudly that they’d seen the guy in the woods on Saturday at about midnight. Nobody thought to ask them what they were doing there, but if they had they would have just said they were mucking about not harming anyone.
Nobody knew who’d produced the posters and tacked them up over town. Rumour had it that it was Don’s missus who always had a soft spot for ne’er- do- wells, but it was never proved. They were crudely written with uneven lettering and a fuzzy photograph.
 Have you seen this man?  Goes by the name of River. Last seen in the woods on Saturday night.

They showed a smiling man sporting a dangly earring, with long twisted dreadlocks held back by a bandana. He was wearing surfing shorts and flip-flops and a cartoon snake writhed its way up his right leg.  He’d turned up in Blackbridge a few weeks earlier, taking a break he said from his walk round England.  The townsfolk took against him from the start. More than one person was heard to mutter about ‘decent folk’ and ‘who does he think he is?’ It made matters worse that he camped out in the old factory and lived off his wits. ‘Nicks things, more likely,’ they muttered. The vicar was nice to him but then he had to be didn’t he. Some people said it was the vicar who’d made the posters but no-one dared tackle him about it.
As it happened, it was the vicar who raised the alarm when he noticed that River’s dog was wandering the streets on its own. He reminded his flock in no uncertain terms that they were commanded to love their neighbour and persuaded the more able-bodied of his parishioners to join the search party. Not that anything came of it.
Lee’s heart was thumping as they walked along the towpath with his mate to see what was going on. The sight of the police cars terrified him though he’d never admit it. It was weeks since his gang had been down here. He noticed the undergrowth by the old towpath had grown back.  Nobody had bothered to replace the concrete milepost and why would they? Nobody ever walked to Millbridge Lock anyway.
Except River.
He’d told people that when he was ready to move on he’d take the towpath even though people sneered at him. ‘Good luck to you,’ they said. ‘Hasn’t been open for years. You’d know that if you were from round here.’ He’d just smiled and said he’d give it a go anyway.
And that might have been the end of the matter. Except for the dog. As the vicar pointed out, there’s no way he would have left his dog behind.
Phoebe had never told Arnold about the blood. There was an awful lot of it but it had soaked out overnight and she’d never mentioned it to anyone – not even Lee. She’d found the T shirt at the back of his wardrobe and dealt with it.
And Arnold had never told Phoebe about the phone he’d found on his early morning walk. He knew it was his grandson’s, and after he’d tidied the mess of cider bottles and fast food cartons on the bank he threw the whole lot into the canal, phone included. Gut instinct, he told himself. Old army training.
And Lee never told anyone he’d lost his phone. He just went down the precinct and nicked one. Neither did he tell anyone that he and his mates had tried to make it look as though someone had walked along the old towpath by trampling around in the mud and bashing down some of the undergrowth.
Don’s missus kept quiet about the poster. She knew it wouldn’t go down well.
And Don pretended he didn’t know she’d done it, even though she’d left snippets of card on the kitchen table. Didn’t want to lose face in the town.
The vicar did what he had to do. It was only a job after all.
There was a tent erected on the canal bank and the police were holding back the gathering crowd. Word had spread quickly and there was palpable unease in the air.
            ‘Not found anything yet,’ said Don’s missus to her friend, Elsie. ‘Wild goose chase if you ask me.’ 
            ‘Should be out catching criminals,’ said Elsie pulling on her rainmate as a cold rain began to fall.
‘Let’s go home, Els.  This is giving me the creeps.’
            ‘Come on, Phoebs,’ said Arnold. ‘You’re looking a bit peaky. Let’s get you home for a hot cuppa. They won’t tell us anything anyway.’
            ‘Let’s scarper,’ said Lee to his mate. ‘These old biddies are doin’ my head in.’
But before anyone could go anywhere the whispers started. And the whispers grew, passing from person to person
they’ve found a flip flop
a flip flop floating on the surface they’re saying
a stained bandana
looks like blood they’re saying
bringing in a diver
that’s what they’re saying

And the huge knot that had been building inside Lee for weeks burst out and he was violently sick, right in the hole where the milepost had stood before a gang of lads had wrenched it out. Really heavy it had been. Heavy enough to hold anything down.

except a flip flop
and a bandana.

Judges Comments

The way of what isn't said is expressed makes Christine Griffin's A Flip-flop and a Bandana an outstanding runner-up in WM's Open Short Story Competition. In this unnerving short story, the sinister way the community bands together in unspoken agreement to stonewall enquiries about a crime that has been committed is conveyed by oblique vernacular phrases, cryptic text messages and loaded gestures.

As Christine reveals through well-conveyed set-ups and scenarios, the story plays out in a tight-knit community suspicious of outsiders. Each scene reveals something to the reader about the cover-up, building incrementally into a story of how the presence of a stranger arouses the hostility of the people who regard him as an unwated interloper.

The Chinese whisper effect of the local rumour mill is wonderfully conveyed - snippets of verancular drifting through this wonderfully structured story, words on the wind, suggesting but never giving anything away, leaving impressions in the readers' mind that build up into a picture of the crime that has been committed.

The mounting tension as the hidden clues reveal themselves is palpable throughout this tense, unsettling short story whose key theme - that everything is hinted and nothing made explicit - is given voice on the page in a way that is  perfectly matched to the subject matter. A Bandana and a Flip-flop is a masterclass of matching theme and delivery in fiction, and an outstanding piece of short crime fiction in its own right.