prickly pears

Competition Ten Shortlisted: Prickly Pears by

The bowl brimmed with orange, purple, and red prickly pears. Now that I was ten, I scraped the barbed tips with a knife and shaved the skins. But Mussolini and Hitler spoiled my appetite. A slippery red prickly pear landed in the middle of their black and white faces, smothering their partnership with juices and seeds.

Golden petals from prickly pear cactus decorated risotto dishes, chestnut curls, and the slopes looming from the floral balcony until spoke-less wheels, orphaned boots, and kaki blanketed my childhood. Abandoned railway tunnels became hotels. Pillows and rosary beads, our suitcases.

Mussolini and Petacci’s feet hung from a wire. I lifted my head toward a crack in the ceiling. Grandma poked my side with her broomstick,

“Wake up, watch what you’re doing with that knife.”

An orange prickly pear rolled over the assassinated dictator and his lover. I crumpled page three of the newspaper—an uncanny resemblance to Grandma’s terracotta carafe or the grenade I found amongst the mountains of rubble in the streets below.


Baskets brimmed with wildflowers between sanguinellos, and figs. Embroidery looms trapped cloth again and created Sicilian Carrettinos, ornithological art, and Saints in mid-air parades. Soldiers whirled Italian women across temporary dance floors. Farewells, promises, and lingering kisses occupied street corners.

Half-smiles unfurled.

Submerged in a sea of fear, Grandma hurried to my bedside at twilight and stayed until the cock crowed. She reiterated reassurances, squeezed my hand, and wrung my sweat out of hand-sewn towels.

“No more Mussolini. No more fascist bastardo. No more war, bedda mia.”

Dreams selected agreeable explosions—Etna replaced other blasts—but WWIII could lurk in our near future corridors. So, I became a prickly pear. Sweet and tender but a rough, stingy exterior ready to strike if an enemy neared.





Isabelle B.L is a teacher based in France. She has published a novel inspired by the life of a New Caledonian feminist and politician. Her work can be found in the Birth Lifespan Vol. 1 and Growing Up Lifespan Vol. 2 anthologies for Pure Slush Books, Flash Fiction Magazine, Visual Verse, FlashBack Fiction, The Cabinet of Heed, Free Flash Fiction, Cult Magazine, Inksac and elsewhere. Her work is forthcoming in, Alternate Route, Near Window and the Best Microfiction 2022 anthology.


Photo – melystu


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