So Many People

Many people forgot he was a Russian spy. They enjoyed his coffee. They said, “How do you make it so...?” They sipped and grinned at him and he poured and offered around biscuits which many people found so astonishing they dreamed about them. “Those biscuits,” they mumbled to themselves in the mornings, deciding to ask him for the recipe, wanting to be there always, in his living room, where everything was best.

Many people forgot he was a Russian spy. They enjoyed his conversation, he was so funny, and he had read every book they had read and every book they wanted to read but couldn't get hold of. They said, “How did you find ...?” And he smiled and passed around more coffee, biscuits, promising he would source it for them. 

When they were alone, sometimes one of them would say, “But isn't he...?” And another would immediately jump in with an anecdote, or talk about how they'd been experimenting with the biscuit recipe. “I'm nearly there,” they said, “it almost tastes like...”

 Many people forgot he was a Russian spy

When the Russian spy was found not to be a spy at all, and not even to have been Russian, many people were – although they would not say so – disappointed. That he was not who he never said he had been but who they thought he was and tried to forget but never truly did, this was a letdown. His soirees began to thin, no matter coffee, biscuits. They began to dream of other things, of swings and cross-country chariot-races, of cats that stood on their legs and spoke.

His soirees began to thin,
no matter coffee, biscuits

They lost their taste for novelty, returned to the foods of their childhoods. “We do love these,” they said to each other, passing around the hot dogs at their outdoor barbecues. Many people wondered, though, while eating burgers, laughing and talking politics, who was that person who passed them a napkin, who was that woman standing in the corner they'd known for twenty years, who was that man at the grill who had always lived next door?

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Robert James Russell is the author of the novellas Mesilla (Dock Street Press) and Sea of Trees (Winter Goose Publishing), and the chapbook Don't Ask Me to Spell It Out (WhiskeyPaper Press). He is a founding editor of the literary journals Midwestern Gothic and CHEAP POP. You can find him online at and on Twitter at @robhollywood.

2018 Flash Fiction Contest

Tania Hershman is the 1st Place Winner of our 2018 Flash Fiction Contest! Her story, ‘So Many People,’ was chosen by judge Lara Williams. Tania will also be joining us here at Synaesthesia as our Resident Writer 2019. Here, we spoke to Tania to find out more about her winning piece, her future writing plans, and her advice to other writers.

Tania Hershman is co-author of Writing Short Stories: A Writers' & Artists' Companion (Bloomsbury, 2014), curator of ShortStops ( and has a PhD in creative writing inspired by particle physics. Tania’s third story collection, Some Of Us Glow More Than Others (Unthank Books) and debut poetry collection, Terms & Conditions (Nine Arches Press) were published in 2017. Find out more: