Flash fiction. Reenactment, by Andrew Wickham. Image: silhouettes of four people gathered around an ornate bed in which a woman with tousled hair is lying. On the wall are a framed picture of a man, a cross, and a clock.


Reading time:

The history books said that it must take place on the twenty-second of January

Lying in bed, dressed in a plain white gown, head covered by a lace veil decorated with myrtle leaves, Alex Osborne wondered if people would be angry.    

At the head of the bed, Malcolm had hung a circular black and white photograph of a man’s face and upper body, encased in a frame of porcelain flowers. Next to the frame was a cross. Next to that, a small round clock.  

The curtains were closed, and a lamp glowed dimly from a corner forming angular shadows across the walls. Though not original, the lamp was permitted, Malcolm had reassured her, because electric light bulbs had been patented by Edison in 1880, a full twenty-one years before the date Alex would be working with

‘We’ll allow it,’ he had smiled, ‘just this once.’

That was fortunate. Alex had no wish to argue with Malcolm. He was a nice man. Empathetic. Something deep in his eyes. However, the lamp was non-negotiable, something only her mother would understand, and Alex would have stood her ground if needed.  

It was pathetic, Alex thought. A lamp, her only valued item. What else was there? A laptop in need of a new battery and a Wi-Fi converter. A small TV with a DVD stuck in the slot. A wardrobe that housed little but shapeless jeans and old tops with sweat stains at the armpits

For a time, it felt as though there was a choice of some kind, a daily battle between brain and body, but now? People just did not appreciate that she could not do it, any of it. An imposter at work. A charity case among well intentioned friends. No more.  

The Group understood. Obviously. And she had even peeled herself off the sofa to assist in the reenactments. One each month. They were not all as friendly as Malcolm. A couple of them could actually be quite rude. But they were all damaged. Her people 

Alex sighed. She had caught herself sighing a lot in recent months; an involuntary action, it always took her by surprise.    

She fixed her gaze on the dried damp patch on the ceiling: ‘”Another year begun, I am feeling so weak and unwell, that I enter upon it sadly.”‘

Voices, and the front door closing. Malcolm had taken the keys last night. Alex thought she may have been asleep, awoken by the noise, but could not say for certain. Her sleep was so erratic; short bursts; the recurring dream of a clock falling – there being no time to put it back in place.    

More sounds from below. Careful steps on the thin stair carpet, past the other flats. Key turning in the lock. Coats rustling. Water running. Kettle.    

Alex closed her eyes

Sensing presence in the room, she heard a respectful hush descend. Some of them must have remained in the kitchen; muted voices and clinking teacups were just audible through the wall.    

There was some shuffling, a dead thud like a book dropped on carpet, and the creaking grumbles of an inflexible frame bending to retrieve it. Then, hesitant at first, the solemn chanting of prayers by two men.   

Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…  

From rehearsal, Alex recognised the speaker: her doctor, Sir James Reid, a man with thinning dark hair, a bushy moustache joined to his sideburns, and a pair of pince nez. Since joining The Group, she had seen him as Prince Charles, William I, and John Bradshaw. In costume, his plain, forgettable features were disguised, and the man came alive.      

‘Your Majesty, my Queen; the Bishop of Winchester and the Rector of St Mildred’s.’    

‘Sir James,’ she said. ‘I am very ill.’

‘Your Majesty will soon be restored,’ replied Reid.    

She turned again to the sound of the prayers.  

Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with me in paradise… 

‘Good heavens, Nurse,’ said Reid in a pointed half-whisper. ‘You really must support her Majesty’s head.’  

‘Oh, I beg your pardon, Sir James.’ Alex tried not to let her body tense as the nurse shuffled into a kneeling position behind the pillows.    

And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit…      

Activity to the left of the bed caught Alex by surprise, and her eyes shot open. A uniformed man lowered himself noisily into a dining chair mouthing apologies to the room. He wore a moustache, sharp and severe, slightly off-centre.    

Abruptly he grasped her left hand so tightly it tingled.  

Oma,’ came the accent, pompous and stagy. ‘I came as soon as I heard.’      

Further away, at the far end of the bed, a hammy bluster: ‘If I may speak candidly, Wilheim, nephew; I must say I am very much surprised to find you here. How exactly did you hear that mother was unwell?’   

‘Bertie, please, at such a time as this… It is rather ungentlemanly of you to–’      

‘I don’t know that I am much interested in your– But hallo! Sir James, do I deduce that you informed this upstart Prussian against our wishes? How utterly ungentlemanly of you.’ 

Schweig, old peacock.’ 

‘Be off with you, Willy.’

‘Bertie, my dear fellow–’  

A stagnant stillness quieted the room.

Alex listened to a groan from the chair as Wilheim transferred his weight; muffled bustle from the kitchen; the ticking clock. It was almost time. She should say something. This was her moment

But authenticity was the rule. As far as possible. Alex had taken part in the bemused eye-rolling on previous occasions when others had strayed from the script. So, she said nothing.

Soon, soft-socked footsteps approached the bed, names announced individually by Sir James Reid. ‘Your Majesty. Helena. Louise. Beatrice.’ Then Bertie, Wilheim, the two Churchmen. Alex felt her hand lifted and kissed. In turn the steps padded away. Then the sound of sobbing.

The Bishop and the Rector resumed their prayers.    

Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me… 

Alex spoke, but not accounting for the dryness of her mouth, the words croaked indistinctly and seemed not to be heard. Clearly, it would not be correct to ask the Queen to repeat herself. However, the group were experienced in, when necessary, improvising their way back on track.     

‘Nurse, did you hear Her Majesty?’

‘If you please, Sir James, I believe she said Turi.’   

‘Ah, quite right, quite right. Bring him in.’ 

After a beat, the softest nudge as something was placed on the bed. It was a stuffed toy of a small Pomeranian.

Alex shifted. The hands that held hers gripped even tighter.

It was very warm in that small room.

Someone cleared their throat.    

A pause in the prayers was followed by a quiet scuffle, during which Alex’s right hand was released and fell to the bed. Some sharp-edged whispering, then the chanting resumed.   

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want…      

‘Do you know, it is gone half-past?’ 

‘Six thirty-four, to be precise.’

Alex Osborne was late.

She was aware of the charged atmosphere; fidgeting around the room.  

Would she fail even at this?

She relived the forbidding sense of being alone – or perhaps, more alarming, not being alone – the previous evening. Malcolm had left. A sleepless night in the kitchen. The benign hum of the fridge

Shaken from her thoughts, Alex started as her hands were clasped again. Pumped. It was the affirmation she needed

Authenticity. Take control. Speak that final word.   


The prayers ceased. The sobbing died away. There was movement towards her. The brush of chair legs against carpet.

Alex lost herself in starlight: reds and blues and pinks flashing inside her eyelids.    

A soft padded weight was placed over her face, supported by many hands. A pillow. It was always a pillow when she had been on the other side of it: gentle, respectful, but pushed downward, firmly.  

Alex’s body responded, then became still.

In the kitchen, Sir James Reid peeled off his moustache and slid the pince nez in the pocket of his dress coat. He approached another man, younger, with a full, greying beard, still attached, and significant cushioning around the stomach of his waistcoat.    

‘How did you find that?’ Reid asked.

The man cleared his throat. Blinked. Exhaled. ‘Powerful,’ he managed

‘Yes. Indeed.’ He clapped a hand on his shoulder. ‘It is a service. A service that we are providing, really it is.’ Reid noticed the group hovering, awaiting permission to leave. ‘Right, everyone, thank you. We meet next month on the sixth for George the Sixth. An early one I’m afraid. We need to be in place for seven-thirty. I will send the details round. Don’t forget the dog.’      

The Rector of St Mildred’s met the gaze of the group. They knew.

He smiled, something deep in his eyes. ‘My turn.’

Andrew Wickham. Writer. Reenactments.

Andrew Wickham

Andrew Wickham is a writer and part-time music teacher.


He is interested in writing about the strange occurrences taking place under the surface of everyday life.


Andrew currently lives with his family in Cambridgeshire.

Love this?

Subscribe to our monthly newsletter

Read next: