Johanna Robinson Oct 2020 First Prize

Blessings, 1849

by Johanna Robinson

You remember how you counted your steps as you planted: one step, one potato. The years God gave you babies, the steps were smaller with the weight in your belly, on your back. The years He took them away before you could count a single breath, the steps were smaller still, the potatoes fighting for space and soil. Those years, you ate such small potatoes.

In the barn, in the dark, you’d count the rungs, so you knew how far up you were, how far down. Sometimes you felt you could climb forever, out through the roof-hatch, inching up the sky until your hands brushed theirs, tiny, grasping.

You’d count stitches and rows: hats, jackets, bootees. Seed stitches, garter stitches, cable, plaited, travelling vine. Casting on, and on, and on.

You’d count the steps around the kitchen table, through colic, through cries, until the minutes unravelled, flat like ribbons, and your heels blistered.

Every morning you’d count:

the eggs and then the chickens, and

in the evening, brushstrokes, dividing your hair, weaving it into one heavy rope, and

at night, stretchmarks like rungs across your belly.

And now there are no potatoes for anyone, you take uncertain steps, quay to jetty. You walk gently, the baby’s head on your shoulder. You walk steady, like you used to carry eggs.

You lean on the ship’s rail, wet with spray, your faces already salty. On the quay, people wave, and you wave back as though you know them. The children count down and other passengers join in. The rope sags, like a stitch dropped. You clap, clasp hands, cast off. You leave behind bone, blood and eggshell, but your history is more than that; it is ploughed through you all. You count the days, knots, miles until land. You will reap again.

About the Author

Johanna is an editor/proofreader from Liverpool, and has been writing short fiction since 2016. Her novella Homing, about a Norwegian family in the Resistance during the Second World War, was runner-up in the Bath Novella-in-Flash Award in 2019, and is published by Ad Hoc fiction. Earlier this year she won the TSS Cambridge Prize for Flash Fiction and her stories have been included in a number of magazines and anthologies, including SmokeLong, Ellipsis Zine, Reflex Press, Retreat West, Strix and Mslexia.She is currently working on a historical novel-in-flash, and ‘Blessings, 1949’ is a chapter from that. More of her work can be found at

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