Shards Picked from the Floorboards

by Malina Douglas

(publishing December 18th)
A Handful of Glistening Stream
(publishing December 19th)
Frozen Moments
(publishing December 20th)
Molten Gold Memory Poured from the Sky
(publishing December 21st)


Nadiya’s gut lurched as she remembered it was almost Easter. She was supposed to be dyeing eggs and preparing a feast with her mother, niece and aunts.

Yet she was alone, in a cavernous apartment that echoed its emptiness back to her.

Her mother was stranded in a faraway village, her niece was submerged in the tunnels beneath Kyiv and her aunts had scattered across Hungary like seeds.

Nadiya sat at the kitchen table. The dark-grain wood was gouged with knife-marks and an anti-nuclear sticker had been slapped onto its surface.

Memories hurtled her backwards and she was back in her childhood home, on a stool in the kitchen, legs swinging and her mother beside her, marking patterns on eggshells. When Nadiya was five and her mother guided her hand to make pysanky, eggs dyed and decorated in intricate patterns. When she was eight and she copied her mother’s assured lines and made faces at her wobbly ones, then fourteen, drawing bold jagged lines in defiance of tradition.

Then she was twenty, back from university to make pysanky with her mother because that was what they always did, and as the years unfurled like round, complete eggs, no matter where her path took she was back every Easter afterwards, making pysanky as relatives orbited, blinking in and out like planets and stars.

Then she was thirty-four, sitting in an apartment in Dresden that gaped empty like a wound.

She was not sitting in an apartment in Dresden. She was sliding off her chair, lying on her belly and pressing her ear to the woodgrain of the floor as if listening for a heartbeat.

This was not, she decided, how her housemates would find her.

She forced herself up. To slide on boots and her dove-grey coat, pull the heavy door open and let it click shut behind her. To wind down four flights of stairs, trail her hand down the tongue of the bannister and listen to the echo of her footsteps.

Beneath the everglow of fluorescent lights, Nadiya opened each carton and her fingertips brushed the eggs. The palest and roundest, she purchased.

She sat down to begin and she was back at her mother’s table, chatting and singing songs till they lapsed into silence, and the only sound was the scrape of their tools against eggshells.

Nadiya rubbed her eyes. On the centre of the table was a candle wedged into a bottle of green glass, covered with wax in layers like frozen water. She lit it.

She picked up an egg and traced patterns onto its surface. Her pencil wandered.

Of all the impractical things she had packed, at least she had brought her kistka. The slender tool was hollow and used for drawing with hot wax. She held it to the candle flame to heat the funnel at the end and pressed the hot metal to a lump of beeswax. When the wax became molten, she scooped it into the funnel and traced over her lines.

She drew in wax over her lines and halted. How would her mother draw them? Smoother somehow, more delicate. She drew over a curl and the curves came out sharp. She scrunched up her nose but went on. In the landscape of the eggshell, there could be no erasure.

When the wax dried, she lowered the egg into a bowl of yellow dye.

Layer upon layer, she drew with wax and dipped the egg, into cadmium red, royal blue and snail shell purple.

Now her life had broken open, it was as if she had hatched, to a strange new world, where all of her attention was drawn downwards, gathering shards of eggshell as she pieced together what no longer fit.

She coated her egg with polyurethane, for strength. With the tip of a knife she made an incision and drained it of fluid.

How precious it was, like a miniature world.

She held the egg beside the candle flame and watched as the wax liquefied and dripped from the surface. As the lines beneath the wax were revealed, she squinted at them, frowning.

Wax dripped onto her fingers and she let it, each drop a searing reminder of what came before, of what she sought to remember, and the yearning for all she could not reach compacted inside her as pain and the flame was a tiny searing sun and she held the egg closer, made it drip faster, wax falling away to reveal cramped curls of pure, solid colour, till a crack zagged across the surface and the egg shattered in her hand.

A Handful of Glistening Stream

Yulia walked, eyes searching for a flash of russet fur. Her road ribboned into the forest, till high slender trees rose to surround her, shafts of sunlight lasering between vivid spring leaves. She had slunk out of her flat on sock feet, before Nadiya or Kseniya were awake, before they could charm their way into joining.

True, the three shared a bond. They had fled Kyiv together to the safety of Dresden. 

Kseniya had been plucked on the cusp of blooming from her life as a student while Nadiya and Yulia had been separated from their husbands.

Their harrowing escape should have brought them closer. Yet every time she saw Nadiya, she appeared like a brooding raincloud on the verge of unleashing her troubles. Eyes wide and haunted, brow jagged, hands clenched.

Yulia knew what Nadiya expected. To float around her, soaking up the tides of emotions that Nadiya released and propping her up every time she overstrained herself.

Yet Yulia could not express her emotions as Nadiya did. Instead of gushing like a fountain, her experiences propelled her inward, and Nadiya’s tirades only drove her deeper. Like a snail delving into a spiral shell, she wound out of reach.

For disappearing, Nadiya would blame her. We’re in this together, she would hiss between clenched teeth. Only Yulia understood that they inhabited worlds of fire and mist, that their realms did not mix.

Now she followed the traces of her secret.

The first time she saw him was in her childhood, deep in the forest, with mud on her knees and sticks in her hair and the path irretrievably lost to her. When, on the brink of despair and exhaustion, she had called out for guidance—and received an answer.

The answer was fluffy with fur in the red-brown of leaves set alight by autumn.

A pair of large eyes beneath a set of sharp ears gazed into her. Then the fox plunged into the forest and Yulia understood she should follow. In the trail of silent paws, she moved till the forest unfurled like a hand and she found herself safely returned to its edge.

The fox turned to look at her, wide eyes gazing into her soul. Then it faded till the trees became visible through it and was gone. 

From then on the fox was her guardian spirit. She named him Mirko meaning glorious peace and drew him in her journal, on papers her mother stuck to the fridge and in the margins of her assignments.

In times of crisis, Mirko appeared and led her to safety. Soon, she reasoned, he was due to return.

Yulia walked into theDresdener Heide.

She crossed a flat wooden bridge and followed the gurgling Prießnitz.

A feeling drove her forward. To delve, like a flower rewinding into its seed. To discover something she could not yet express.

She walked as the sun rose in strength and was buried by cloud. She found the tree-ringed Silbersee, filled with a pale sky’s reflection. She sat on its edge and watched the ripples spread outward as dreams unwound like cotton-wool spools and drifted. She nibbled Schwartzbrot and herb-speckled Frischkäse, walked on and lost track of the hours that passed.

She wanted to curl up on the forest floor and feel the cloud of the foxtail on her cheek. To dig herself a burrow, pile dry leaves on top of herself, and hibernate till the following spring, when she would walk out of the forest rubbing sleep from her eyes to discover the war was over, that planter boxes of flowers filled the streets with a profusion of yellows and pinks, that songs rang out from every balcony and the streets thrummed with people in vivid hues, lifting their voices to the same sun that flooded Ukraine’s silent skies with gold light.

The vision faded to grey-brown tree-trunks and darkening leaves.

Twilight was falling and she was alone.

Yulia walked faster, but she did not turn back. The stream had darkened, water flashing as it flowed over stones. She thought of the storm engulfing her world. Bombs falling over Kyiv, roofs collapsing, windows shattering, people cowering, running, screaming, watching from afar as if covering one eye as her homeland was ripped apart.

 If at any time he should appear…

 Her breath caught like wool on a thorn as she saw him. Lifting his head from the water’s edge to fix his luminous eyes on her.

“Mirko,” she called, and his pointed ears twitched.

“Mirko, lead me out of this.”

The fox flicked his tail and led onwards. 

“Tell me he’s okay,” she whispered, as she thought of her husband, his unpractised hands closing over a gun, as bullets flew in a hailstorm of fire.

As she walked, she stretched out her hands.

She would pull Mirko to her and breathe in the scent of autumn from his fur, cloves and damp earth, tart apples and cinnamon.

She knew she would return to Nadiya’s questions. That her excuses of fresh air were thinning and fading like mist. That one day Nadiya would corner her, and she would not be able to put into words her experience, as futile as snatching handfuls from a swift glistening stream. The water would flow through her fingers till they stiffened and released. Till her hands gave up grasping and fell to her sides. 

At least for now, she had eluded her huntress.

Yulia walked on, as the leaves joined together into a canopy of shadow. Mirko padded ahead of her, tail a paintbrush on a canvas of charcoal. As darkness erased the lines of her worries, she felt her footsteps lightening.

Mirko stopped at a large blackened tree trunk. A bolt of lightning had split it into two jagged parts. 

Yulia frowned. “This is not the sign I wanted to see.”

The fox only gazed at her.

“Show me something else!”

Mirko faded to an outline and Yulia found herself alone, in a forest thick with shadows.

Frozen Moments

Nadiya returned home with a thick Manila envelope. Standing before a blank, cream wall, she opened it and took out photos.

There was Anton, eyes slightly wide because she’d caught him unguarded, lips curling upwards, blond hair ruffled because he’d just sat up from bed.

Then he was beside her on their honeymoon, at the seaside at Yalta. He wore a forced grin because taking the picture had interrupted his sunbathing, his chest bare and ruddy. Nadiya looked at her own face and saw the way she squinted into the camera, the white lines on her shoulders, the rest of her skin an angry pink, the loose strands of blonde hair that had stuck to her lip. The long thin legs beneath her minidress, upper thighs paler.

She stuck it to the wall.

A photo of her mother from Nadiya’s last visit, looking over her shoulder from the batter she was stirring. Then she was standing before the oven, smile tired and palms pressed to her skirt, smoothing out wrinkles even when they were invisible.

Then both of her parents, her father’s arm slung around her mother’s, standing in the garden of their dacha. She saw her father’s steady blue eyes, his sparse grey hair and the smile lines etched into his cheeks. Her mother’s eyes filled with love and pride, with the same button nose that Nadiya had inherited.

There was Anton in deep discussion with Yulia’s husband Sergei, taken from the entrance of the kitchen when they were not looking. The way they sat, hunched forward, elbows on the table, empty cups scattered around them, Anton detailing architectural schemes as Sergei listened, head tilted and lips poised with his response. Captured before her was Anton’s earnest enthusiasm, a remnant of how she imagined him as a boy, and Sergei’s amusement, wry smile lines etched in the sides of his mouth.

There were moments to treasure like insects in amber. Sergei’s mouth, wide open in laughter, the way Yulia snagged his arm and pulled him towards her, the eyes that said you’re mine.

Before both couples were parted at the border. Before Anton and Sergei were sent to war. She and Yulia had been forced to go on without them. And then there was Kseniya, like a long-legged colt and just as unpredictable. A photography student who had joined them in flight from Kyiv.

In a photo she stood outside her apartment, dark-haired and lanky, her arm around Yulia, half a head shorter and gold hair in curls. The pink tones of Yulia’s skin contrasted with Kseniya’s milky features, lavender silk beside wine red, a pair of flowers plucked from different gardens. The innocence of their expressions that could no longer be reclaimed. The home they could not return to.

Nadiya missed her apartment with its flower-painted kitchen and views of a leafy park. The gold domes of St Sofia Church and the wide Dnieper, sipping cocktails from a lounge chair from the river’s pebbled bank while a salsa band played. 

She yearned to go back but bombs were falling, erasing landmarks and leaving rubble like dark splotches on a map. 

Her suitcase stood at the foot of the bed. A sentinel, a gargoyle. The embodiment of her refusal to accept. This was not home. She disliked how Dresden was changing them, Yulia’s retreats and Kseniya’s growing recklessness. Kseniya was growing into the daughter’s she’d never had, and the more protective Nadiya grew of her, the more Kseniya resisted.  

Nadiya could not go back but refused to go forward so she remained in an in-between state, frozen. The photographs returned her to the sweet, simple times that were lost.

There were moments Nadiya had wanted to capture but couldn’t—Anton’s eyes, wide and luminous, just after he kissed her and before he turned away.

A roadtrip in earlier, carefree days, Anton’s arm on the ledge of the window, the wind sweeping his hair back, the quirk in his mouth as he told a joke she had long since forgotten.

Driving to the top of a high, rocky cliff, that she photographed but failed to capture Anton’s light, bouncing stride, the look he gave her when she tossed a handful of flower petals onto his head. The feeling as he chased after her, laughing, as he caught her and tickled her, how she curled her arms inward, squirming away from him till she squeezed her eyes shut and opened her mouth in a burst of surrendering laughter. 

Nadiya’s shoulders sank and she sat on the edge of the bed. She squeezed her eyes shut and thought of her parents, shoulders bowed and eyes sunken, confined to their village because it was too unsafe to leave.

There were moments she did not want to capture, the moments her camera had missed. Anton during a rare storm, eyes fire-bright and mouth twisted into a snarl. Her own pitiful look as she stood before him, pleading.

The resolve that hardened in Anton’s eyes, as he turned away and she could not reach him.

When she got into the car and saw Yulia wide-eyed with fear. Kseniya hugging her knees to her chest. Yulia’s face puffy with tears. Sergei’s jaw clenched as he bashed his fist into the seat.

Yulia’s expression on the first days without her husband, a mirror of Nadiya’s own pain. Her own distant look that Nadiya could not see, as she walked through strange streets submerged in memories, of loved ones severed from her, too far to reach, as the sun shone on and flowers cascaded from hanging baskets with a beauty she did not see. They were moments frozen inside her that no amount of sunshine could melt.

She turned back to the photographs. Her wall was now covered with a mosaic of joyful memories. As her eyes scanned the smiles of the people she loved, she saw in them surety, optimism, and love, and she kept gazing, until there was nothing else.

Molten Gold Memory Poured from the Sky

She didn’t trust him at first. Not till after they had danced and she felt the sway of his hips against hers, when she had pressed her palm to his shoulder blades, felt the movement of the muscles through the dampness of his shirt, when he had murmured words like breadcrumbs over the thud of the bass, led her out of the dark steaming club, and onto a wide, smooth street. 

There was something in his eyes that asked her to believe him.

Looking back later, she was not sure why she took the risk but she let him lead her, in steps light and smooth, their conversation nimble, spurred by curiosity as she teased out the facets of this intriguing new man beside her, this Anton, and from beneath the smooth square jaw, strong brow and soft lashes his character emerged, in small gradual portions like a gem shifted towards the light.

She remembered how they spoke, in a late night café of blue glowing lights and vinyl seats, drinking tea spiced with brandy and cupping her mug between two hands as she gazed across the table at him, his blue eyes drawing her inwards like the tug of an undersea current.

She dove.

Into his childhood, seaside trips in the roselight of cherished memory, when his father was still with them. His dreams of sailing brushed aside to study medicine, his fear of heights and love of skiing.

Little synchronicities that fizzled like sparks between them. How he had studied at the same university yet never met her because he finished three years ahead of her. How he’d bought a flat in the neighbourhood she had always dreamed of living in. The name of a film he’d jotted down three weeks ago and not got around to watching, that turned out to be the film that she loved most.

They marvelled over the parallels of their lives, living as if leaving gaps for the other to nestle into.

They talked until she set down her mug, long since empty, set her hands on the table and he took them in his, and she was surprised how warm they were, how soft, and still holding one hand, he led her out of the café, down a lane and up a hill, the hill he had told her about in a voice that transmitted his excitement, and the feeling imbued her body and quickened her stride.

She sat beside him on the hill’s cusp as the dawn bloomed, pale as a fingernail, then flushed as it set the sky alive, leaned into him, his arm around her shoulders pulled her closer and when she turned her head their lips met, as the sun rose and its soft warmth brushed her cheek.

They stayed, till morning light lit up the dirt path beneath them, glistened off the dewdrops that beaded the grass and leant a golden glow to Anton’s skin.  

Their surroundings took on a strange, wondrous quality, as if Nadiya had been reborn, and they walked down the hill with their hands interlinked, past pastel buildings and rows of doors sealed, to the entrance of the metro where his fingertips slid from her shoulders like the feathered brush of wings.

Nadiya woke, noticed the chink of light through the curtains, and rolled over. She was alone.

She lingered in memory because that was all she had. A meeting that had blossomed into love, to marriage, to a year that had flitted by in swift, light-filled frames.

Since her parting from Anton, she had met the days weary and sullen, never earlier than nine. Days bloomed into weeks like the mould on the tile of the shower. Tears streaked her face and rimmed her eyes red. Shards of love turned inwards and her body swelled with hurt.

Missiles and gunfire were tearing apart the fabric of her homeland, and Anton was with them. She had a hazy impression of him running while explosions bloomed around him, but did not know the details. It was better, she told herself, not to know. But at times it was worse.

She walked through the city in a haze of memory, a city borrowed and worn for a while that she hoped to soon shrug out of. A city of secondhand history and foundations that rattled like bones, patched with sleek constructions to fill the holes left by buildings destroyed, with a domed church like a frosted cupcake.


A city rebuilt from ashes and thick with ghosts, that drifted after Nadiya and gnawed on her sadness, though she could see only shadows and feel only emptiness.

Nadiya slipped out of bed when the sky was like a dreamer stirred from sleep, the cerulean of Anton’s eyes, lightening by degrees.

She stepped out to streets steeped in silence, wound her way to the edge of the Elbe, sat on a bench and gazed, as a distant sun flooded the bank with golden light and tinged a spread of scalloped clouds peach. As it softened the edges of the buildings on the opposite shore and poured peach light into the mirror of the river.

Nadiya felt something catch within her. She gripped the armrest of the bench as tears streamed from her eyes.

All this time, thought Nadiya, the city had been unfurling its mornings as if waiting for her to see.

She did not know how long she would wait to return to Anton. Only now could she begin to accept it. That she was here. That beyond her stifled longing was a place she could love.

It was an opportune time, when the city was fragile, poised on the cusp of waking, the day was malleable, and only now, when her groggy eyes were impressionable, was the time Dresden’s beauty could touch her most deeply, when a love for her surroundings could be birthed within her heart.

Back to the Contest
What’s New
home/ Bonafides

Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssby feather
Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmailby feather

One Response to “Shards Picked from the Floorboards”

  1. Ludvig Cimbrelius Says:

    Profoundly beautiful writing Malina. I receive vivid images from the scenes through your carefully chosen words. <3

Leave a Reply

Welcome to
Defenestrationism reality.

Read full projects from our
retro navigation panel, left,
or start with What’s New.