The very least you can ever ask of a story is that it transport you, even if only for a short while, to another place. Just the title of this collection of flash fiction – Brightly Coloured Horses – transported me. Until I read the title story, which is number 14 of this 27 strong collection, I was not sure what it meant. It made me think of toys or a child’s dream. It immediately made me think I was going to go on a journey of discovery. And I was not disappointed.
Most of these flashes are about relationships; old ones, current ones, those that didn’t quite make it, those that hang on despite themselves, those that don’t despite your best efforts; abusive ones. We have all experienced them. What Amanda Huggins does is show us ourselves and our experiences in a way that makes us realise we are all the same.
Many of these flashes stood out for me. It is so hard to pick favourites.
‘Flight Path’ is about meeting someone again who you have never really stopped thinking about, someone with whom you share a special memory and a brief moment: Our flight paths momentarily crossed, our wing tips almost touched, but we did not collide. Such a beautiful way to say that this might have been, if only… something that has happened to most of us at one time or another.
‘Nelson’ is about trying to hang onto something you know you can’t have; clinging onto hope. Mourning a child that was so longed for but that never happened. There is beautiful language in this; achingly so: A boy in Rory’s image; caramel-skinned and lath-thin, like a shaft of sunlight; and His bucket was full of iridescent shells and polished pebbles that would fade to pale when they dried. The latter is heart-breaking metaphor for the reality of this boy who was so beautiful until he never really was.
‘The Perfect Word’ is the memory of a father, and how his legacy remains in the words he gave.
‘The Turquoise Silk’ is about that moment when you realise your parents are not the heroes you imagined.
The title story turned out to be my favourite of the flashes. It is so bittersweet. Often in life we find ourselves battling and fighting and kicking for something to last when we know it has no chance. The story is about a trip to save a relationship which will soon end. The brightly coloured horses of the title are the horses of a carousel, the memory of which the woman will cherish but that her partner will not… it would be her memory alone. She suddenly realises that although they are doing things together, they are always going to be at odds, and will always see things in a different way to the other … instead of watching for the reflection of a place in the other’s smile. I love that last phrase; seeing the reflection of something in your lover’s smile and loving their perspective of it. If that feeling is not there, then there is nothing.
This is the first work by Amanda Huggins that I have read, but I will definitely seek out more. This collection is a masterclass of flash – it’s an oft used phrase, but she does not waste a word. And every one made me feel something.
Brightly Coloured Horses, 2018, is published by Chapeltown Books.