The short fiction in The Chemist’s House is very evocative and very colourful.
“A collection that pokes softly at the spaces between people: sister, brother, father, mother, neighbour, friend. Higgins’ stories reveal moments where small truths, and lies, dwell. Understated and quiet, these small fictions paint lives gently, but oh so colourfully.” Michelle Elvy
“In interconnected, finely wrought flash fiction stories, Jude Higgins creates a coming-of-age tapestry — of family love and conflict; and of a girl’s passage into womanhood. Higgins' flash pieces blend into one masterly and moving whole: poignant, loving, and profound in emotional impact.” Meg Pokrass
A sample story from this pamphlet, 'Out of bounds', can be found below.
Longlisted in Saboteur Awards 2018 Best Short Story Collection category!
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"Jude Higgins has created a particular rendition of the universal experience of childhood and adolescence, a microcosm explored with a light but thorough touch, and in particular through taste and smell."
Cherry Potts, Sabotage Reviews, full review here.
Out of bounds
That day, my brother dared me to put pennies on the railway track. I lay on the bank waiting for the train to steam by, close enough to hear the crunch as the pennies flattened out. Because I didn't have my sweet money anymore, my brother dared me to nick liquorice and sherbet lemons from the sweet shop while the slow old lady fumbled out the back. I scooped two handfuls from the open jars and refused to share them with him. So we had a fight and he prised open my fingers and snatched away most of the liquorice.
At home, our parents were busy in the pharmacy so we went into my brother’s bedroom to drop marbles on people walking down the street. We were already in trouble after our father came out of the shop and shouted that we could kill someone doing that. But my brother dared me to go into the attic when everyone was asleep. The attic was out of bounds because that’s where Mr Perkins, the previous chemist, had stored arsenic for sheep-dip. It was still there, in cardboard boxes. My father didn’t know what to do with it, now it was banned. My brother said I had to stay in the attic for an hour even though he knew Mr Perkins’ ghost came roaming at night. And while I was up there I had to taste the arsenic. If I didn't do that, he’d say I stole the sweets.
That night, I crept up the stairs while my brother watched from the doorway of his bedroom, timing me with his new watch. Even though I tiptoed very softly, the floorboards in the attic room swayed and creaked like my grandfather’s dentures. The room smelled of dust and something sweeter, like gone-off cherries. Moonlight filtered through the cobwebbed skylight and lit up the staring eyes of the toy lamb used for window displays. I thought I saw a shape in the corner of the room, heard a rustle and froze. But it was only my brother coming in to watch. He pointed to the boxes of arsenic.
“You’ve got to tell me what it tastes like,” he whispered. “Then you can have the last piece.” He dangled a string of liquorice in front of me. “I'll tell on you, if you don’t.”
I poked the tip of my finger into the white powder and licked up a few specks.
“It doesn’t taste of anything.”
“It won’t hurt you, then.”
When I’d gone downstairs, eaten the liquorice and swilled out my mouth under the cold tap, I looked in the mirror and opened wide as if I were at the doctor’s. My tongue was still black, like the inside of an oak tree struck by lightning.
I wanted to show my brother, but when I opened his bedroom door, he was already asleep.