Jo Gatford October 2021 Second Prize

The Mothers

by Jo Gatford

At the birthday barbecue the mothers all talk to the other mothers because they are the ones who bought the gifts and the burger buns and made the salad and remembered the condiments and the napkins and baked and decorated the cake and they are acutely aware of which milestones a three-year-old should have achieved by this momentous day and so they talk in crushed glass voices about assessments and spectrums behind the hostess’s back while the fathers spray lighter fluid onto the coals and chase the children with snapping tongs and cure crying with ice cream that was meant to be for afterwards and from this distance you can’t really tell the difference between them aside from the way the mothers all watch the birthday boy as if they’re waiting for something to happen and even though they say all the right lines like he’ll get there in his own time and he’s still so young and you know so-and-so’s niece didn’t talk until she was four the mother at the centre of the circle has to fasten the edges of her smile with clothes pegs to keep it stretched tight and when the platitudes threaten to burst her eardrums with the pressure of what is not being said she excuses herself to refill the cooler and holds her hands beneath the ice until her wrists turn numb and she knows that later in a series of splintered messenger groups the other mothers will discuss all the things she’s doing wrong and what they would do differently if he were their son but afterwards, unmasked, the boy curls into her and they lie nose to nose breathing in one another’s air until tiny particles of him line her lungs and she can finally feel her hands again.

About the Author

Jo Gatford is a writer who procrastinates about writing by writing about writing. Her work has been published most recently by SmokeLong Quarterly, Pithead Chapel and Trampset, and previously won the Shooter Lit poetry competition, the Flash500 Prize, the Bath Flash Fiction Award and The Fiction Desk Flash Fiction Contest. Her first novel, White Lies, was published by Legend Press in 2014. She is one half of Writers’ HQ ( and occasionally tweets about weird 17th century mermaid tiles at @jmgatford. She feels very strongly about puns and Shakespeare. Read more of her work at

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