Flash fiction winner of the Spring 2021 F(r)iction Literary Contest.

Kate says it’s easy. All you have to do is pucker your lips. Push them out like a duck’s bill. Squeeze them together tight. Then suck the air in slowly, like drinking through a straw. That’s kissing.

I want to kiss Lauren. Her red lips. Her hair, black as empty space when you look between the stars. Long and straight and tied back with a pink velvet band. I like velvet. The feel of it on your hand, smooth and soft as a gerbil’s coat. And pink is a good color for me. Red too. Not like green. I hate green. The alien in charge of second year wears green: green jumpers, green ties, green jackets. I wish he’d go back to whatever planet he came from.

Lauren said hello to me on Thursday on the bus after swimming. It made me feel all funny inside. You get these feelings when you like someone. It’s called attraction. When we’re attracted to someone, we experience emotion. 

I’m learning about emotions. Joy is a primary emotion. Then there’s anger, fear, and hatred. Kate says it’s from these primary emotions that all the other more complex emotions branch out. It’s easy for me to learn the facts about emotions because I’m very good at facts, like I’ve no trouble understanding Euclid’s theorem that in a right-angled triangle the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the two other sides. That’s not a problem for me. But knowing what I’m feeling is difficult, which is why I have to be taught how to relate to people. For example, I have to learn how to relate to Lauren. And I’m practicing how to kiss, too. Just in case.   

Kate says the reason why people like me have a problem with feelings is maybe because there’s something wrong deep in the brain, in my amygdala. The amygdala is so good at detecting emotion, she says, it responds automatically even before the conscious part of the brain has worked out what is happening. Like if you see someone’s eyes wide showing lots of white, then you know they’re scared, and you should watch out too.

Because my amygdala is likely switched off most of the time, I don’t know for sure if Lauren likes me or not. Take last Thursday on the bus on the way home. There I was telling her all about my new telescope and how, when you point it to the night sky, you can see Venus. I told her how I was going to be a scientist when I grew up, like Einstein who was the greatest genius that ever lived. How I sometimes imagine he’s talking to me when I’m trying to figure out why nothing travels faster than light. How he wondered what would happen if a man traveled alongside a light beam with a mirror in his hand and got the insight that there would be no reflection in the mirror.

I look in the mirror now. Pucker up my lips. Push them out like a duck’s bill. Squeeze them together tight. Suck the air in slowly. Just practicing.

Kate says it’s important to look at eyes. That’s how I noticed that the snake’s eyes were green. Usually, I don’t look at eyes. I’m far more interested in noses or mouths. I would like to kiss Lauren on the mouth. John Paul Connolly says when you kiss a girl, you’re supposed to stick your tongue down her throat. I wondered about all the millions of germs we would share if we did that, so I asked Kate about it. She said best just stay with the lips for the moment, to see how things go.

I pucker up my lips. Push them out like a duck’s bill. Suck air in slowly. I can see my reflection in the mirror because the light bounces from my face onto it. It takes the light, travelling at one hundred and eighty-six thousand miles a second, eight minutes to reach my face from the sun. My mouth is open wide now and turned up at the corners, which means I’m happy. Like the happy face on one of Kate’s flashcards. When I think about relativity, space-time, and black holes, I’m happy. Sometimes I wonder why we have to bother with emotions at all, when thinking makes us happy. But Kate says it’s because being human doesn’t only mean thinking. We are also emotional beings, and it’s important to get the balance between the two. She says scientists have produced computers now that are able to beat humans at chess so very soon the only thing that will make us unique as humans will be our emotions. That’s a worry because I’m very good at chess.

On Thursday, after I was done explaining the theory of special relativity to Lauren, I noticed she had her back turned to me.  There she was leaning across the aisle, talking to Liam Keogh. Keogh has green eyes like a boa constrictor. I don’t like constrictors and if I saw one on a dark night, I’d tear it apart with my bare hands. Kate says that’s jealousy.

Maureen Gallagher
Maureen Gallagher lives in Galway. Her stories, poetry and literary criticism have been published widely in magazines and anthologies and broadcast on RTE radio. She has won many awards for her work, including in 2021, first prize for flash fiction in the F(r)iction Contest, and first for memoir in the Write-by-the-Sea Contest. Her poetry collection, Calling the Tune, was published by Wordsonthestreet Press in 2008. Her debut novel, Limbo, is to be published shortly by Poolbeg Press. She is currently working on her second novel in the trilogy. Her website can be viewed at

Art by ElisaRiva from Pixabay.