My Mother’s Ashes by Elaine Chiew

A cold front is coming in. The columbarium calls to say they’re open Monday to Friday, 9:30-12:30, for collections.  I recognise the urn when I go there; it’s Mother’s Ming Dynasty replica from her one trip to Hang Zhou she thought was such a ‘thrilling bargain.’  The negligently-dressed director sits me down to go over some do’s and don’ts: sports grounds, waterways, and National Trust grounds are popular choices, but “it’s not great for the next person who wants a picnic.”  His tone is jocular, but he’s not remotely funny. One grieving relative blew up ashes in fireworks, another pressed it into vinyl. Just imagine. I could tell him I’m driving to Venice, heading for the canals and I might trigger an anthrax scare, but I don’t. 

 It’s 1647 kilometres and will take approximately 16 hours. Mother’s strapped to the passenger seat, riding shotgun. In Warley, when I tank up, I explain to Mother we’re not flying because I can’t abide the thought of her sitting on my lap for two hours. She hates big bodies of water, anything looming large above her head. The urn wobbles all along the M25 to the Channel Tunnel (double-whammy there) but once across, the lid finally settles. Passing Calais, I see several car accidents, the wreckage looking like hulls, bodies. “Do you remember we’d taken a trip to see the German bunkers?” Where our words were slung as raw wounds—me, how does it feel to have everyone hate you! She, well at least they bother to hate me! But why shatter our fragile détente? Another road trip memory intrudes: detouring through Lyon, she demonstrated the art of the quicksilver word (your simian children) and the wounding minute gesture (the elegant shift of the body away from speaker mid-sentence).  Celestial accusations against one’s forebears can be heard, and the urn shakes from side to side, as we’re buffeted by sleet and wind down the A4.

The rental car stalls somewhere near Reims. A French mechanic shows up, quite dishy in a nondescript fashion: my type, as Mother might sneer. He shakes his head at my babbling, disrespecting my French. I finally work out I’ll have to hole up in a B&B while waiting for a new rental car. Mother always loved the Italians and hated the French. Every year she’d disappear off to Venice, and it’s a mystery what she did there. I imagined her roaming around St. Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace—gaining auras, bargaining like a cheap shrew for embroidered linen, flirting with the camarieri in the piazza while cursing tourists, family and pigeons. Well, there you go,” I say to the urn, just desserts,” and deposit her on top of a chest of drawers.

A pock and a thwack against my window-pane at night.  A mystery awaits in the dark. Gasping out of deep slumber, I stumble against the chest, trying to turn on the light. The urn falls and shatters.  I cut my foot on pieces of blue-washed Chinese hills and tiered pagodas. Blood smears the carpet but there’s no ash.

Shock. Where did the ash go? Then a sharp pain, tentacling away from my foot. Spreading. My heart shifts, locks. It’s my mother, still jabbering, not letting me go.


Elaine Chiew is a writer based in London and Singapore.  She’s the editor/compiler of Cooked Up: Food Fiction From Around the World (New Internationalist, 2015), and her most recent stories can be found in Potomac Review, Smokelong Quarterly, and Jellyfish Review. She’s also won prizes (most notably the Bridport Prize) and been shortlisted in competitions, including the BBC Opening Lines, Mslexia, Fish, etc, and named Top 50 Microfiction by Wigleaf and Top 25 in Glimmer Train’s Emerging Writer’s Award. She has a law degree and an M.A. in Asian Art History.

Tigers by Kathryn McMahon

Blue, green, and yellow roses bloomed over my grandparents’ sofa. Napping on it, I once saw a sapphire tiger there among the musty blossoms. My grandfather and uncles crawled around, hunting for a paw or tail, only to tell me it had been a dream. I asked where my grandmother was. “Out,” they answered. Tucking me into bed after dinner, my mother told me her parents were getting divorced. “They don’t like each other anyway,” she said, jaw popping. My grandmother went to live with a man who wore mutton chops and served lamb with mint jelly at Easter. (I did not dream that.) Then a woman came to sit among the blue and green and yellow roses. She smiled commercial lips and smelled of a department store flashing jewelry and dizzy lights. The sofa cushions were no match for her perfume, but I still fell asleep in her lap. My grandfather soon left for California with the perfumed woman, but before he did, he sang to me one final time and gave me a tiny gold ring with my emerald birthstone. I begged to wear it on our last walk. Perched on his shoulders, I dipped under the kitchen threshold, and we stepped out into the wide backyard that melted into a park. Somewhere along the way, the ring slipped off. My grandfather and uncles crawled into the night after it, but never found it. Wiping my face in the shy, summer dark, I looked up at the perfumed woman. “The emerald is camouflaged in the grass like a tiger’s stripes,” I said. She knelt down and smoothed my cheeks. “There you go. Now you’ve made a treasure for another little girl.”



Kathryn McMahon is an American writer living abroad with her British wife and dog.
Her stories have appeared in Syntax and Salt, The Cincinnati Review, The Baltimore Review, Jellyfish Review, Necessary Fiction, and others. Recently, she has received nominations for Best Small Fictions, Best of the Net, and the Pushcart, and she was a finalist in the 2017 Wyvern Lit flash fiction contest. She also reads prose for The Adroit Journal. On Twitter, she is @katoscope. Find more of her writing at

Nine Pancakes by Melissa Fu

1. My very educated mother just served us nine pancakes

Well that’s a real slap to the poor woman, isn’t it? What’s the point of all that education if she just ends up serving pancakes to snot-nosed kids?

This is to help you remember how to keep things in their place. This is the order of the planets. This is the order of the family. This is what the women do. This is what the children do. This is how you make the pancakes. From scratch, not from the box.

2. My very educated mother just serves us noodles

What kind of mother only serves noodles? That’s what happens when you let education and women mix. Bet you anything the noodles aren’t even proper pasta. Ramen, probably. Just add MSG and hot water from the tap. Yo mama’s so educated she neglects her kids.

3. My very educated mother just serves underhand

This is what she has learned: It’s better – more efficient, more tactical, less hassle, fewer headaches – to conduct her business on the sly. Like Austen hiding novels under needlework. She uses the low expectations of the well-fed as trip wires. Underhand, she serves balls to catch the Old Guard off guard. She makes them scramble across the court when they thought this thing was going to be doddle.

4. My very educated mother just sighs

when once again, assumptions are being made. Assumptions about who the doctor is, who is speaking on the phone. Sighs when she sees only one female and two brown faces in the lecture theatre when she derives the Schrödinger equation. None of this is new. She started sighing years ago when a boy marched around study hall shouting ‘She’s wrong! She’s wrong!’ to anyone who would listen to him and even to those who wouldn’t. She wasn’t wrong. She just didn’t solve the problem the same way he did.

5. My very educated mother jumped

from discipline to discipline. From continent to continent. To the front of the queue. To the back of the pack. Over the candlestick. Out of the Ivory Tower. Again and again. Why did she keep climbing up that spiral stair case? What was she looking for each time she leapt from those parapets? There she goes again – falling, tumbling, twisting, turning, head over heels over head. What does she see this time? She was not pushed. She jumped.

6. My very educated moth

flies toward the flame. Not such an enlightened act, when you think about it. On the other hand, maybe it’s the only thing to do. There comes a point where there is no other draw, no other lure. The moth cannot undo its education, it can only go forward, into the light. Even if it blinds. Even if it burns.

7. My very existence

I owe to my very educated mother. Each time she hopped orbits, from the pancakes to the flames, she learned something, became educated in a different way. If not for her circumnavigations, I wouldn’t have my owl-like ability to look at life from all angles.

8. My voice

has within it the voices of my mother and her mother and her mother’s mother. Although it comes from just one body, it is layered with the wisdom of generations. When I speak, all these voices ripple outwards, carrying our words into greater spheres of influence.

9. Me

I stand, not on the shoulders of giants, but on this stack of nine pancakes. I can see for miles. If I have seen further than my mother, it is because of her pancakes and the way she served them.


21430243_1430595740393902_3471833617508160878_nMelissa Fu grew up in Northern New Mexico and lives in Cambridgeshire UK. Her work has appeared in many publications including Bare Fiction, The Lonely Crowd, International Literature Showcase, Gnarled Oak, Loss Lit and The Nottingham Review. She was the regional winner of the Words and Women 2016 Prose Competition and was a 2017 Apprentice with the London-based WordFactory. Other honours include a Pushcart Prize nomination and shortlisting for the Wasafiri New Writing Prize 2017. Find her at or @WritingCircles.

The Undecided Colors by Tara Isabel Zambrano

We rode the bus all night long. Outside it was wet, the irritating summer drip. The bus felt safe and dry. Remy, my second cousin, drove it around the block and then went around the town in circles. Benches, lamp posts, schools and drug stores, occasional open fields nestled with puddles. We passed by the graveyard where his mother was buried. He slowed down but didn’t stop. At the bus stop, some people screamed and ran after the bus. I rested my cheek against the window and laughed. It made me feel important and in control.

Remy was driving the bus for the first time. He let out a long sigh every time he turned and went over the curb. “Great timing, there’s nobody on the road.”  His arm, tattooed all the way down, his head angled as if listening to someone whispering a secret into his ear. He came back from Afghanistan not too long ago and smelled like a turned vegetable. He told me he’d smelled worse. I could tell he was better with cars.

Around midnight, the rain stopped and the tar roads shone as if paved with diamonds. I thought about my mother; saw her face in the dark panes of empty buildings, her shadowed eyes fixated at me. I always thought she was depressed, the undecided colors in her eyes. And yet the only one who could see right through me.

Out the window, a cloud veiled a gibbous moon.

“How’re you doing, babe?” Remy hollered and honked. “Fine,” I hollered back. “I still see sand everywhere, the meds drive me nuts,” he said. Then he raised his right hand and shook his fist at the night.

When I was twelve, my mother and I used to walk to Hare Rama Hare Krishna temple in the downtown, lunch was free on Sundays. I watched the bone-thin priests and eager devotees rushing through the corridors. There were the indigo-colored paintings of Krishna playing with his mother, Yashoda, whose face didn’t look anything like my mother’s face. But I hoped someday it might. The food tasted delicious after hours of walking. I felt sleepy on our way back and my breath smelled of potato curry and garam masala.

Caution, the yellow sign read as the bus rode up the hill. Even though I knew every bit of town, I wondered where Remy was going. Where he had been and why I was here with him at this hour. After a few years, I’d figure it out, I said to myself.

The trees on both sides of the road looked like ghosts, waltzing in the pregnant air. I pulled out cigarettes and walked towards Remy. The pale shrubs quivered as the bus drove past them and the headlights made small moons ahead. I could see Remy’s face, flickered orange through the curling smoke, his left hand firm on the steering wheel and his steady, purposeless gaze. I wanted to know what he was running from.

Outside, a thin streak of light sliced the chest of darkness. For a moment, I didn’t know who I was, or where I was.  When it came back to me, I imagined my mother sitting at the kitchen table. She was waiting for me. Her face was sagged around the edges with the weight of our failure in finding love. And I thought of Remy’s tongue in my mouth, a whiff of his stinking sweat in a way I’d find both repulsive and attractive.



Tara Isabel Zambrano lives in Texas and is an electrical engineer by profession. Her work has been published in Wigleaf, Moon City Review, Lunch Ticket, Storm Cellar and other journals. She reads prose for The Common.