The Cafe Irreal: International Imagination 

Issue Twenty-One

Three Stories from the transformations of mr. hadlíz by Ladislav Novák
Time Machine by Guido Eekhaut
Three Stages in Learning to Fly by Vanessa Gebbie
It Says Here by Mickey Z.
Flylephant by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky


irreal (re)views


Three Stages in Learning to Fly
by Vanessa Gebbie


It was a night in August when my wife became an ant. I found her on the pillow in the morning. I smelled the pillow; it smelled of my wife.

"Suze?" I said. Of course, she didn't reply, just waved her antennae as ants do.

It had been a dreadful year for ants. We'd tried everything with varying degrees of success, sprays, boiling water, powder. But now, of course, things had to change. I persuaded her onto a white saucer and chose a bright nail varnish from her dressing table. Then with a single hair from my own head I marked my wife with a mote of "New Dawn."

I took her outside to the terrace where I put her onto the soil in a large pot containing a slow-growing cactus, one we'd brought back from honeymoon in Acapulco. No matter what we did, there were always ants in that pot.

Now, sometimes, when I'm reading on the terrace, I find myself watching these ants. Sometimes I see my wife. She is always busy; always going somewhere.


Midsummer. The crickets, my wife always said, sounded like telephones ringing endlessly.

"No they don't," I said. "They sound like crickets."

She said I'd see, one day.

Then, that one day arrived and my wife became a sound in the grass. Perhaps she was a cricket. She'd always been a little person, self-effacing. Ask anyone. They'll all say, "Who?"

Now, her sound rises from the grass and spills out of our garden into the next. Up and out until our whole street, then our neighbourhood, then our city is filled with the sound of my wife.

Ringing. Ringing. Ringing.


The flock of birds that was my wife wheels from roof to tree to roof.

I think she is starlings. Each part of her now flies. Her fingernails, knucklebones, fingers, hands and wrists—so on and so on—she makes a dense and shifting cloud.

One bird is her heart.

As the flock crazes, mosaics, wheels, this bird is now at her centre, then her edge. Sometimes it breaks away altogether, flies away from the rest. I can see it, a dark arrow against the city sky.

The flock circles, plunges, swallows her heart again, so fast I lose exactly which bird it is.

But it is back where it belongs, I believe.

Vanessa Gebbie is a prize-winning short story and flash fiction writer. She’s recently started writing monologues and stage plays. She lives in Sussex, in the UK, where she teaches Creative Writing to several groups of marginalised adults. Her recent competitive successes include firsts at Willesden Short Story Competition (Judge: Zadie Smith), BBC Southern Counties/Guildford Book Festival, Asham/Charleston Small Wonder Festival Slam. She’s been short listed for the Fish International Prize and long listed for the Bridport Prize. Her work has been published in the 2006 Fish Anthology (Ireland), The Safe Life Gone Anthology (Honno,Wales), Absinthe Literary Review, Aesthetica, Buzzwords, Bravado (New Zealand), Zeugma! (Canada) Smokelong Quarterly, Steel City Review, Momaya Review, Gator Springs Gazette and many others. Her stories have been broadcast on BBC radio and distributed on London Underground in the Litro initiative. She is owner/editor of Tom’s Voice Magazine, an ezine for writing from those whose lives have been touched by addiction. She is Assistant Editor of Cadenza, a small press literary magazine.

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