Each week, we pick a short fiction piece from our Fairlight Shorts archives to feature as our story of the week. This week, we’ve chosen a story about remembering by Helen Salsbury.
Helen Salsbury’s fiction explores the complexity of relationships and how we are shaped by the environments we live in. She is a spoken word performer, trained community journalist and the founder of the Pens of the Earth environmental writing project.
Helen started writing pretty much as soon as she started reading – or perhaps it’s more true to say that she lived imaginatively, and at some point started trying to find words for it. Over the years she has written poetry, novel manuscripts and eventually short stories. Her first novel, Sometimes When I Sleep, was published in October 2021. She is currently working on final edits for her second novel, The Worry Bottles.
Her manuscripts have been longlisted for the Myslexia Novel competition and the Impress Prize for New Writers. Her shorter fiction has been shortlisted for the Bedford International Short Story Competition and longlisted for InkTears.
‘Persephone in Winter’ follows a woman struggling to reconnect with her family.
The city museum is free, and that’s one thing. So far this morning they’ve spent no more than five minutes in any of the places they’ve visited, chased by the cold and the crowds. Sephy had forgotten how bleak it was in England at this time of year, so close to Christmas. Some of her sunny, New Zealand-made plans feel naive now.
‘Here, Dad,’ she says. ‘It’s warmer in here, isn’t it?’ She pats the hand resting on her arm and, when her palm opens over his knuckles, she can’t tell which of them is trembling. ‘It was a bit cold on the seafront today, but there’s always tomorrow.’
Or perhaps they should go inland. She has a list of places, a spreadsheet actually, one she composed and recomposed in the weeks of waiting between the shock of her brother’s phone call and the actuality of being here. Which is also, if she’s honest, a shock.
And yet she knows it takes time, remembers this from the two-and-a-half weeks in August with her family in tow. It takes time. Ridiculous to be so shaken by the failure of today’s visits: the steps up to the Square Tower which proved too steep, the breeze on the seafront which made Dad shiver and ask when they were going home, the closed ice-cream shack where he always bought her triple cones, even though they melted before she could finish them and dripped multicoloured splodges onto her clothes.
‘Old Portsmouth wasn’t as we remember it, Dad.’ This time she manages to bite off the was it? ‘Those glass-fronted shops in the old arches took us by surprise. We’d forgotten they’d built into them and obscured the stone. I guess because during our summer visits Ella and the boys always clamour for the Gunwharf Quays outlet shops or the funfair.’
In truth, her boys are teenaged now and too cool to clamour for anything, and Ella isn’t talking to her. But that’s the funny thing about memory, it doesn’t distinguish between yesterday and five years ago, and Dad is nodding; she can see him seeing them.