The Flight of Widow Gibson – Kirsti Wishart

The first prize winner in our recent Happy Ever After? short story competition is Kirsti Wishart. Here’s her story…

The Flight of Widow Gibson

Of all the city’s charity shops, this was the most popular because on entering, the smile of Margaret Gibson was there to greet you. It was a smile to be taught to doctors and nurses, policemen and saints. It promised comfort and trust, a person to confide in and marked Margaret out as someone who would listen to the most sordid secret without judgement.

Margaret knew her smile was both a blessing and a curse. When she was behind the till, the changing room curtain transformed into that of a priest’s confessional box. From behind it flowed tales of unrequited love, terrible childhoods, misspent lottery winnings, confused sexuality and wearying medical history. Afterwards, customers stepped back into the world feeling cleansed and strengthened, better equipped to deal with life. Margaret was left exhilarated and drained and in desperate need of a cup of tea. She didn’t mind too much. With her husband gone she needed something to keep her distracted. Increasingly though, her head pulsed painfully with the secrets of the city.

Walking home she’d glance at faces and wonder at what they were hiding; the landlord found in a tenement attic with a stethoscope listening for sounds of sexual activity, the granny cooking cannabis scones, the man who kept a goat on the fifth floor of a high-rise block.

After one particularly shocking tale involving the repercussions of a stolen stash of heroin, Margaret decided she’d had enough. She started selecting certain items from the shop’s stock. Bed-sheets, silk camisoles, petticoats, handkerchiefs, blouses, cagoules. At the end of each day she’d leave with a bin-bag full having fed a fair chunk of her pension into the till.

Then, one Monday morning, Margaret didn’t turn up for work.

This was unheard of. Concerned colleagues rushed to her tenement flat and found the front door to the block propped open, a small crowd gathered in the communal green. They surrounded a massive patchwork air balloon, stitched together by Margaret, who stood in the basket beneath it, blasting the gas burner and rising. She waved joyfully to her colleagues, the size of the balloon striking them dumb until it crested the rooftops and they broke into applause.

Margaret gazed down at the city and watched people on the streets below, unaware they were being observed, ignorant of what was happening around the corner, above them. How contained they were, how little they knew of one another. Sighing at their isolation, she pulled her scarf tighter about her. It was so wonderfully fresh and peaceful up there, the only sound the roar of the burner. She saw the people stop, tilt back their heads and take notice. She stuck her hand into the shopping bag at her feet, gathering up notelets on which were written secrets and confessions and threw them over the side. The wind took them gleefully and they fluttered like birds long held in cages, unsure of their freedom before falling to earth.


Kirsti’s work has appeared in New Writing Scotland, The One O’Clock Gun, The Evergreen and The Seven Wonders of Scotland anthology. Her story ‘The Brownies and the Faun’ can be heard in a quiet grove in Edinburgh’s Botanic gardens courtesy of the Echoes of the City project. You can follow her on Twitter @kirstiw

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