Tiny Tuscan Tale – February 2018

Tiny Tuscan Tale is a monthly flash fiction contest run by Florence Writers.  Submissions are open to all — local and international writers — and the winner will be published each month on The Sigh Press. The prompt for March 2018 is ‘Yellow Umbrella’, check out Florence Writers for info on how to enter.

February 2018’s winner is Back and Forth by Christina Coster-Longman.

Christina Coster-Longman came to Florence from London to study and is now a resident with family. Three years in Africa stimulated her to study Natural Sciences at Florence University, where she gained a doctorate in animal behaviour. Her career includes teaching, translating and a series of junior science books.


Photo Liz Shemaria.


Back and Forth

by Christina Coster-Longman

I am plump.  Breast well padded.

I have a small but comfortable bed-sit where my family and I snuggle up tight.  A highly desirable residence, in a south facing barn nestling in the gentle Tuscan hills between Siena and Florence.  The sweet fragrances of lavender, rosemary, fennel and vetch swirl around me, the musty smell of silver grey olive groves and vineyards fills the air, all forever imprinted in my mind.   Nearby a brook empties into a small pool alive with pond skaters, whirligigs and a million dancing midgets. The farm meadows, frequented by sheep and a few cattle, provide me food-a-plenty and emergency building supplies with which to repair my abode.

Summer has been stifling but generous. Now those long fertile days are shortening, the balmy nights progressively cooling.  Soon I will no longer be able to support my family, nor myself.  I must leave. Go home and find new supplies.

Autumn is approaching.  Kith and kin, striking in resilient new designer white shirt and deep forked tails, enhanced by a burgundy neckerchief up to the forehead, flutter restlessly and line up. We know our route.  Almost a thousand miles, a dangerous six week journey.  Cautiously, we test the meteorological conditions, wind force and direction, approaching fronts.  At last favourable conditions and my biological clock strikes “now”.

I embark on my first two hundred miles, cruising at 22 miles an hour.

Many of my comrades travel by night, clandestine to avoid predators, navigating by the moon and stars.

We prefer to travel by day, in-flight meals, then stopping when we find a good reed-bed and breakfast.

By day, we follow the same familiar landmarks of the peninsular, coastline, hills and woodland.  We too can use the sky to guide us, the path of the sun. Grey clouds may block our view, our star will slip below the horizon, but still we can orientate by the streaks of polarised light.   When all these cues fail, we feel the tingle of earth’s magnet field, pulling us towards the equator.

Ahead the Mediterranean, that great geographical barrier, crammed with adventure and history.  I can hear the ultrasound of crashing waves to guide me. We cannot refuel, so now is the time to burn up our summer reserves.  A treacherous passage, tragic for too many inexperienced young and frail, older individuals, their last crossing.

Soon I recognise the bright blinding reflections of the scalding desert.  No food, no water but familiar life-saving oases.

Then at last the aromatic odour of tropical oils, acacias, baobabs, locust beans.  Dark skinned sinewy children play in the red dust; oxen pull carts loaded with livestock and sugar cane.

I drop down. Exhausted, dishevelled, bedraggled, a thin and hungry migrant.

I am home.  To feast again, to rest.

But I will be back, promise. And when you see me skim the Arno, return to my nest, you will know that spring is here again.

My name?  Hirundo rustica …. or simply call me Barn Swallow.