Jo Withers February 2024 Second Prize

All The Things That We Are Not

by Jo Withers

The soldiers came quickly, took us to the shelter (not a house, not a home). Said we’d be safe here (not happy). Inside, women and children (not men, not husbands, not brothers, not fathers) huddled together (not together, in the same space).

We’re all the same now (not people). It had always happened somewhere else before (not real, not us).

We knew each other by our clothes (not names) what we were wearing when the bombs fell (not like snow, not like tears). Some in business suits, some in school uniform; a waitress in her coffee-stained apron, a baker with flour splattered up her arm (not white, dotted red with blood).

We ran into the streets at the sound of the explosions, torn from our past lives (not present, not future, gone). The sky filled with smoke (not birds, not clouds, not sun). We ran from the explosions and the screams (not away, just further, still heard, still haunting).

They pulled us into trucks, drove us to safety (not sure, not certain). Took us to the bunker with no windows (not night, not day) gave us water and food. We were grateful although we were cold and scared because at least we were here (not outside, not captured, not dead).

Yesterday we were at work, at school, at home (not cocooned weeping in the dark). If today was like every day before (not shredded, not eviscerated, not annulled) I would meet my sister after work. Her office was south of the city where the damage was worst (not hopeful, not likely) and whole streets were now gaping holes (not pathways, not roads) and although the soldiers return every hour, bringing more people, reuniting family and friends, each time the door opens they are strangers (not her, not her, not her).

About the Author

Jo Withers spent the first thirty-five years of her life in Northern England before moving to South Australia in 2008 where she now resides with her husband, children and a motley crew of elderly pets.She works in her local kindergarten and finds the children’s quirky comments are a constant source of inspiration for her ‘world off-kilter’ brand of fiction.Jo has previously won prizes at The Caterpillar, Reflex Press, FlashBack Fiction, Furious Fiction, Retreat West, Molotov Cocktail and SmokeLong Quarterly. Her work has featured in Best Microfictions 2020 and Wigleaf Top 50 2021. She has also been nominated several times for a Pushcart Prize. Her novella-in-flash, Marilyn’s Ghost, which was a runner-up in the Bath 2024 Novella-in-Flash Award is forthcoming from Ad Hoc Fiction this spring.

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