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Eating Strawberries with Strangers by Pia Ghosh-Roy


Our readers and editors were impressed with the tone and control in Pia Ghosh-Roy’s compact and surprising “Eating Strawberries with Strangers.” This story builds tension through a simple syntax that erupts into beautiful imagery. The narrative voice is completely in charge of this flash fiction piece and though not much happens, something does happen and there’s this exceptional turn in the last paragraph.

There are many strong craft elements at play in this fine piece of flash. The brave turn at the end wouldn’t work so well without the echoes and consistent narration, standing beside the allusion to Woolf and Mrs Dalloway that give shape to this piece. —CRAFT


I was walking with the broken pieces of my day in a thin cloth bag when I saw them sitting by the river, three women with the sun setting on their hair. They were eating strawberries, drinking rosé in cheap plastic glasses, and laughing with their heads thrown back. The rosé was the same colour as the clouds in the sky that day.

I walked up to them and said, Hello, you don’t know me, but I think I could somehow get through this day if I sat with you a while and listened to you laugh.

They looked up at me, into my eyes, all three of them. Come, they said. Not a beat or a breath of a pause. They patted the grass and poured me some wine, as if they’d known me far longer than half a midsummer’s minute.

They asked me nothing. So, I said nothing of how I’d been broken and split open. We ate strawberries and talked of river songs, songs that could make you smile and tear up at the same time. We talked about not talking about Harry and Meghan and the royal wedding. We talked about bright yellow mushrooms that grew on the bodies of big old oaks and ate the trees hollow from the inside, till one day the big old oaks gave up and died, their long years felled by parasitic mushrooms that looked like delicate Chinese paper fans. We talked of this, and many other things. Of how the frantic wagging of a dog’s tail has the power to make you feel an intense and uncomplicated joy, the kind you felt in your childhood while rolling on buttercups and giving names to clouds. We talked about their bookclub, and about reading Mrs Dalloway—they said they were reading it now because Mrs Dalloway was fifty-one and they were fifty-one and it seemed right. I did not mention that the river we sat beside fed into the waters of the Ouse where Woolf had drowned herself by stuffing her overcoat pockets with stones.

One of the women took a copy of Mrs Dalloway out of her bag and asked if I wanted to hear a few lines. I said I did. The lines she read were as soft and sharp and green as the grass between our toes. As true as the beginning and the end of a ripple when a stone hits the river.

So on a summer’s day waves collect, overbalance, and fall; and the whole world seems to be saying “that is all” more and more ponderously, until even the heart in the body which lies in the sun on the beach says too That is all. Fear no more, says the heart. Fear no more says the heart, committing its burden to some sea, which sighs collectively for all sorrows, and renews, begins, collects, lets fall. And the body alone listens to the passing bee; the wave breaking; the dog barking, far away barking and barking.

We let the words sit next to us on the grass, and we sat next to the words in silence. Till a bee passed between us and a dog barked, far away barked and barked, and made us all laugh.

How did these women, whom I did not know, know that I needed these very words? Fear no more, says the heart. How did they know that I’d needed this conversation, this absence of questions, this impermanent sisterhood? That I needed it before the sun set and the day turned dark? How did they know how to save me, or that I needed saving at all?

When I left them, I had Mrs Dalloway’s lines and our shared laughter in my thin cloth bag. It cushioned the broken pieces I’d been walking with, and muffled their jagged sound. I could hear the sounds of dusk; I could hear the air being beaten by murmurations of a million birds. And for a long time after I reached home, I could smell the sweet, ripe strawberries on my fingertips.


I was walking with the broken pieces of my day in a thin cloth bag when I saw them sitting by the river, three women with the sun setting on their hair. They were eating strawberries, drinking rosé in cheap plastic glasses, and laughing with their heads thrown back. The rosé was the same colour as the clouds in the sky that day.

And I thought, This is what I need today, these women I know nothing about and who know nothing about me, this is what I need—the kindness of strangers, a bit of borrowed joy. And I thought, What if I could walk up to them—what if we could all walk up to strangers—and say, Hello, you don’t know me, but I need your company today, just for a little while, to get me through my day, my week, my year. Would you mind if I sat here with you?

And thinking this, wishing this, needing this, I walked past them. I walked past the three women with their strawberries and wine, past an oak tree with bright yellow mushrooms, past a dog chasing a butterfly, to where the river bent the road to the right. To where the sounds of their laughter disappeared, and only the jagged sounds of the broken pieces in my bag remained.


PIA GHOSH-ROY grew up in India, and lives in Cambridge (UK). She’s the winner of the 2017 Hamlin Garland Award. Her work has been placed in, and short- and longlisted for, several other prizes including the Aestas Fabula Press Competition, Bath Short Story Award, Brighton Prize, Berlin Writing Prize, Fish Short Story Competition, and others. Pia is working on her first novel, and a collection of stories. You can find her at piaghoshroy.com

Author’s Note

Sometimes, a story arrives so fully formed that your only job seems to be this: be present and alert to its knock, and have a notebook handy. I thought ‘Eating Strawberries with Strangers’ was one such story, but on closer inspection, what had apparently fallen to the page fully-formed was in fact an assemblage of (a) things stored in my head, and (b) events at the time of writing. For the sake of this note, I tried to dismantle it like a piece of furniture to see how it was put together (sort of like working out an IKEA manual, but backwards). Post dismantling, here’s a catalogue of parts:

#1 Stored Part

Months before writing the story, I’d finished reading a book of fiction that revolved around urban loneliness. However, the way it dealt with it left me feeling frustrated, its neatly resolved ending felt a bit flippant. I thought about it for a while, then shelved it, and moved on to another book.

#2 Place

I live next to a river and walk past it on my way to everywhere. On one such walk, I noticed from a distance three women sitting on the grass in the sun. They were to my left, the river to my right. They were laughing, engrossed in their conversation. I don’t think they were eating strawberries.

#3 Character

As I drew parallel to them, I saw an older woman walking towards me from the opposite direction. Like me, she was walking alone. Like me, she turned her head to look at the group on the grass. But unlike me, she did not look away. Her eyes stayed on them all the way till we crossed each other. Her expression stuck to me like a clump of burrs on a skirt after a walk through tall grass. It was wistful, a resigned and mellow melancholy. It turned her from ‘alone’ to ‘lonely’.

#4 Plot & Plotlessness

Walking on, I wondered what I often do when a person catches my attention. What kind of life does she live? What kind of day has she had? The story came then. I had a notebook in my bag, so I sat down on a bench, and scribbled it as it came. The sights and sounds in the story—the dog, the mushrooms, the waters of Woolf’s river—were all right there at the time, they wrote themselves in.

#5 Spare Part

A week or two earlier, I’d seen a copy of Mrs Dalloway in a bar in London, and flipped through a few favourite passages. When the women in the story start talking books, Mrs Dalloway slid in. I knew which passage I needed. I left a couple of empty lines with quotation marks, and wrote on.

#6 Unresolution

When I finished, I drew an arrow to the ending, wrote ‘FAKE’. I went home, typed it out, tweaking the odd word/phrase. Then added the second ending, which had been my only ending all along. I read through it, and before I could think/add/edit, sent it to CRAFT. It was one of those scarce and magic flashes of writing when you know the first draft is the right one, and let go of it.

During the dismantling, I realised that the second ending was my subconscious reply to that book I’d read many months ago. My need to say that urban loneliness, so increasingly acute, especially in the young and the elderly, is not something that can be wished away. It’s easy to resolve in fiction with a sudden turn in the story that brings the cure of life-changing friendships, but life doesn’t follow fiction in this case. There are thousands living with loneliness in cities heaving with people. And what they often need is not dramatic changes in fortunes and friendships, but small encounters of warmth and words, and the kindness of strangers.


PIA GHOSH-ROY grew up in India, and lives in Cambridge (UK). She’s the winner of the 2017 Hamlin Garland Award. Her work has been placed in, and short- and longlisted for, several other prizes including the Aestas Fabula Press Competition, Bath Short Story Award, Brighton Prize, Berlin Writing Prize, Fish Short Story Competition, and others. Pia is working on her first novel, and a collection of stories. You can find her at piaghoshroy.com