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Painters by Emma Purshouse

Painters is the Flash Fiction category Winner in the 2020 Matchgirls Creative Arts Competition run in partnership with Pen to Print

She stops by the bench, her dog yapping at Bow Churchyard pigeons. She glances at my Tesco Express name badge.

​ “Lunch hour read?” she asks.

“I wave my book at her. “Yep.”

“You into art?”

I give up. “Yes. You?”

“Me…?” She’s distracted by council workers arriving.

“Maybe… a little.”

​ “You draw?”

​ “More of a painter.”

​ “What kind of things?”

​ “Hands mostly.”

​ “Difficult things, hands.” She looks at me then, sharp eyes staring straight into mine.

​ “You an artist?”

​ “God, no! Unless you count arrangement of product onto shelves.”

“Oi!” She makes a sudden beeline for the workers.
“Leave it!”

The workers ignore her, clean stains from a statue’s upturned palm.

She looks shaken.

“Let me buy you a coffee,” I say. “From across the way.”

I return, find her sitting on my bench, dog snuffling at her veined hands. I perch beside her and out it pours, her tumbled, jumbled lunch hour history lesson. Now. Then. Blood on hands. Slaves. Matchgirls. Coffee beans. Zero hours. Sweatshops. Remembrance.”

That night she foots the ladder. I re-daub Gladstone’s hands match-head red. As I attempt to return her paint, she refuses it, pats my hand. “Yours now, dear.” she says.


Emma Purshouse is currently the Poet Laureate for the City of Wolverhampton. She writes for both children and adults. Her most recent poetry collection is ‘'Close’ (Offa’s Press). Her first novel ‘Dogged’ (Ignite Books) was published early in 2021. Emma has performed her work at spoken word nights and festivals across the UK.

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