Summer in Anna Wood’s ‘Francine’ means festivals. It means pitching a tent and creating a base camp, going with the flow, drinking pints of cider and stretching out for a snooze on a shady patch of grass whenever the mood suits. A group of friends head to an unnamed festival for a long weekend of hedonism, and they throw themselves straight into the thick of it with henna tattoos and pitchers of cocktail, settling in for a weekend of music, dancing, and staying up all night. It’s idyllic, a playground for grownups. When a stranger pitches her tent on the fringes of their camp, it feels like an imposition, but keen to shed their ‘London snark’ and embrace the free-wheelin’ Glasto lifestyle, the group adapts to let the mysterious Francine into their circle. The brilliance of this story is that Francine doesn’t actually do anything: content to sit on a hay bale, she doesn’t seem to have any needs or desires of her own. Happy to accept cups of tea, flapjacks, joints and drinks, she takes from the group but gives them nothing but a bright smile in return, and this unnerving presence casts a shadow over the weekend. ‘Francine’ is the perfect summer short story, drenched in sunshine but simmering with tension.
Picked by Alice Slater. Alice is a writer from London. She’s co-host of literary podcast What Page Are You On? and writes about short stories for Mslexia. She edited the short story anthology Outsiders for 3 of Cups Press. You can read her individual Personal Anthology here.
First published in Outsiders, ed. Alice Slater, 3 of Cups Press, 2020