Cocktail by Lesley James – Selected Flash Fiction


LJ is a new-old writer. She was first published aged 12, winning several competitions (London Carmarthenshire Society Poetry Award). Life’s roadblocks, severe illness, being a carer and needing to pay bills meant getting published was low on the list. Not anymore.

Ooh I love a maraschino cherry. Not the vivid sticky candy glacé jobs people who don’t know anything about it pass off as maraschino cherries. No. I mean the dark succulence of a burgundy velvet juicy globule of joy. Dark as black tulips, rounded as rum. There is only one cherry for me.

I blame my father, thank him for teaching me the glamour of forbidden fruit, the delight of a teeny-weeny flight glass, the pleasure of sneaking a drink behind my mother’s back. For a few moments, we had a shared activity we both enjoyed: Sunday Cocktails.

I was six.

Sundays were precious time for pub maintenance, rest, recoil, springing back into action Monday morning. My father cleaned the pipes in the Cocktail Bar after the Saturday rush. I wanted to be with him because it was the only time I saw him. He was patient with me: learning about ullage and spiles and bungs and the tiny sponges on a journey through beer pipes on a mission to flush out scum. Sitting on the bar. My job to count the sponges as they popped out of the pipes while he did whatever there was to do to force them up from the cellar. Proud of my daddy and his knowledge. He was funny, sober, good fun. Really good fun. 

And the names of the bottles and learning to say them properly: Amaretto, Tio Pepe, Galliano, green cocktail onions, red or white cocktail onions (we’d tried those and they didn’t quite do it for me in our version of Dry Martini-weeny.) Maraschino. When I read it, it was love. That was my cocktail garnish of choice. And he made me a dry martini, of probably lemonade, perhaps a whisper of Extra Dry, but I doubt it, a cocktail stick and the kind of wizardry only a daddy can exude.

Carefully husbanding the small V shaped glass up the thirteen-landing-plus-seven steps to our sitting room hopefully embellished ‘Lounge’ in caramel on the scumbled door. My daddy could run up the stairs two at a time. I was much more cautious.

 A clear, fizzing liquid swayed up the side of the glass. And there, swirling dark juice delicately from the cocktail-stick piercing, was the best part, the cherry. I was focussed. This, TV, cartoons from the Sunday papers just the other side of that door. I was concentrating so hard on not tipping it that I didn’t see her coming. Or perhaps she was lying in wait. She caught me.

And what the bloody hell d’y’think you’re doing?

Daddy gave it to me! (fear alarm wide eyes paralysis watch out for the hand oh maybe she can’t because I have a glass and it will spill) Thwack. Spilled. Cherry tumbling through the air in slo-mo in a tiny hammer-throw.

Give me that. Daddy gave it to me for Chrissake! You’re turning into a right little madam.

I crept down the stairs, seven-steps-plus-landing-plus-ten of the thirteen, to listen to them fight.

Related Blog Posts