Candy floss

I find out I’m allergic to bumblebees the day I’m stung. Eight years old, ambling home from school, leaning over to smell the pink roses that look like candy floss in our neighbour’s garden. Ours is paved over, front and back, one of the less noticeable ways we’re different from the other people who live in the cul-de-sac. I don’t feel the sting.

“Don’t be a baby,” Mum says, as I struggle to roll my white pink cotton sock down over swollen flesh. She smells like burnt cumin seeds. My tongue has dried in my mouth, a thin spun string, a fragile stem.


I wake up on the floor with carpet burn after the first night we meet. Reaching for something, I’ve fallen out of the unfamiliar bed. It’s a dense wiry carpet, more like a scrubbing brush than something made to sink your toes into. The burn lasts for days and I can’t stop touching it.

I spilled some tea, I tell my flatmate. It’s some kind of allergy, I tell my mum. It’s nothing, I tell you that morning, when you return with coffee and toast, a trick of the light.


I end up in the wrong swimming class in my second lesson. I cling to the side, bobbing haphazardly as we practice widths of breaststroke. Last week I spluttered when we put our faces in the water, feet firmly on the bottom. In the break, ears ringing, I tell my father I’m out of my depth. He says I get my courage from my mother, the one who didn’t travel 5000 miles from Mumbai to start again.

“Didn’t you do well,” says the lady in a pink swim cap as I follow my father out, too out of breath to smile back. The fire has spread to my throat, is creeping through my aching limbs.


I realise after you’ve moved away that you took my ant farm with you. It’s not far to go, an hour out of London, beautiful scenery, perfect for long bike rides, you’ve said it won’t change anything. We’ve never discussed how I feel about bicycles.

The pros and cons of visiting seem simple but are difficult to weigh. You’re better at looking after things, you learnt to make masala tea, you never ask for anything. Nothing fits in the gap the ant farm left.

I practice explaining about bicycles.


I wait for a turn on the shiny silver bicycle our uncle gave us. My sister goes first, the oldest. My brother goes next, as the boy. I lean on the handlebars—someone has trodden on a snail at the start of the path at the edge of the dew-spangled grass. It’s a glistening wreck of shell and slime. I can’t tell if it was emerging or retreating, and which is worse.

I put my feet on the pedals, but can’t push down on them as ants troop past with fragments of leaf, and spiders scuttle on their way back home.


I stand at the schedule board on the day I’m travelling to see you to tell you this is not what I want anymore, I’m bringing all the half-finished letters and a box big enough for an ant farm. I can run for the delayed train that’s on the platform now, or wait an hour for the next on-time train. There’s no one to ask why the train was delayed. I decide to wait.

Anita Goveas is British-Asian, London-based, and fueled by strong coffee and paneer jalfrezi. She was first published in the 2016 London Short Story Prize anthology, most recently in Flash Frontier, Third Point Press. and The Ilanot Review She’s on the editorial team at Flashback Fiction, an editor at Mythic Picnic’s Twitter zine, and tweets erratically @coffeeandpaneer Her debut flash collection is forthcoming from Reflex Press, and links to her stories are at

© 2020 Anita Goveas. Published by LITTLE FICTION | BIG TRUTHS, May 2020.

Editors: Troy Palmer, Beth Gilstrap & Alvin Park. Images from The Noun Project (credit: Viktor Fedyuk).

The 2020 Flash Issue:



by Anita Goveas
Plot Points on the 
risk reward matrix