Esprit de l’escalier

How to write flash fiction

Esprit de l’escalier*

I know today’s the day. I thought I’d have another two years, but the train has slowed down, a sure sign that the terminal station is at hand. As a child, I used to fantasise about swimming to where the sun was going to set, and pushing it out to stop it plunging into the sea at sunset, if only for a few minutes.

And I couldn’t even swim!

But I’ve had a long life, and am not going to waste the few minutes left wishing I had gone for one treatment rather than another.

A long life, but was it a happy one? Not really. My marriage was not a harmonious one. No doubt my fault. My children never much cared for me. Again, what had I done to earn their love? Professionally I was a failure too. Not that my pupils all despised me or thought that I was useless, but unlike my colleagues, I am not much given to banter. I used to stammer as a child, and although I don’t do it as much now, under stress it comes back, which makes me avoid unnecessary conversation. In class they tease me all the time. I know it’s not malicious or unkind, but it never stops. They imitate my accent, repeat my stock phrases. When I say homogeneous equations, they laugh and call them homosexual equations.

Why did my colleagues gang up against me, I’ll never understand. I am not a show off, and as far as I know, I never had BO, nor did my mouth stink of rotting teeth. It was just one of the mysteries of life.

One time, there was a spate of thefts, when stuff was disappearing from the Computer lab. Transformers, adapters, ink cartridges. Frank H. the computer studies head tried and failed to stop the rot. He started doing spot checks at the gate as the kids were going home, asking them to open their bags. I don’t recall his catching a single culprit.

One day as I was leaving the lab and locking it, he approached me. Can I look into your bag? he asked. But he had the grace to add, Perhaps you put something in it by mistake. I took a deep breath, and eyeing his own bag said, Let’s look inside yours first, perhaps you put a printer in it by mistake. And he started blinking.

No, in truth, I never had the guts to say that. I meekly opened my bag to show him. Now, sixty years after the event, five minutes before I expire, this response occurred to me.

*esprit de l’escalier: a witty remark or retort that comes to mind after the opportunity to make it has



Prizewinning playwright. Mathematician. Teacher. Professional Siesta addict.

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San Cassimally

Prizewinning playwright. Mathematician. Teacher. Professional Siesta addict.