Untitled – Carla Halpin
Mine is a pocket of calm in these crazy waters. It isn’t so bad. Yes, the four walls are not very far away. But here in the eaves, the angles of the roof are casting interesting shadows in the mid-day sun, which I never noticed before. How intriguing my now defunct calendar on the wall seems? And at any moment, papers strewn will be hit with organisation but with 365 hours in the day now, there’s plenty of time to organise them later. The boundaries of the weeks are blending. But if I notice one new thing every day, then that’s a change, isn’t it? The fresh spring air is pouring in my window. Pop music drifting up from downstairs, as planned, to fill the house with noise and people and movement. How clever we are to manage to unlearn all the natural things keep us sane, like noticing, like music. I never usually stop long enough to notice out my window. The trees are budding in clusters of tiny pink, growing in patterns mirroring neurons in my brain. I guess both are lit up with this moment of really looking. I do notice the change of this season out my window- but from the sounds. It’s time for the shrieking of the foxes. They started up again last night. It’s nice to hear the world moving outside. I’ve never met the people on the opposite side of the pink flowers -the neighbours – but I know of their movements from their sounds. Someone is very keen in woodwork in what was once a daily irritation. Now it’s comforting. He’s busy at work, and I like to imagine he’s happy, because he does it every day. And I can’t see any fruits of his labour. The fruits of his labour must be inside him, and possibly in his wife as it keeps him out the house. Next door to them is a dog. I’ve never seen it. But I know when it’s happy or sad by the tone of its bark. Sometimes I want to rush over there and comfort it, but it’s never long before someone gets there first. The fence sways in the wind; it’s soon going to topple. And although I’ve been told that wouldn’t be a great thing, I can’t wait for this dog’s face to appear and see if it matches my imagination. Black, scraggly and with a waggy tail with a long curtain of black hair. We’re not so far apart, really. The south aspect holds an entirely different scene. It must be the only time in my life I’m glad trees have been chopped down as it opened up another direction. I can see a ceiling to floor window in a faraway house. It might be a bedroom, maybe with long curtains that float in the wind. I can’t see in, but yet I still wonder if they can see me as I wave my arms. I could write words in the air. Whatever happened to walkie talkies? That would be perfect right now.
Carla Halpin is an editor who lives in the New Forest where she writes poetry and flash fiction. Her work has appeared in Anti-Heroin Chic , A Story in 100 Words and The Cabinet of Heed. You can find her on twitter @CarlaHalpin where she posts regularly as part of the very short story community.
New Pressures in the Time of Corona – Laura Besley
I watch my 5yo tearing around the garden and my 2yo trying his best to keep up and I think: can I do this? Can I keep them entertained for the next who-knows-how-long?
I am a mother who dreads the school holidays. Not because I don’t love my kids, but because it’s a reminder of the fact that I can’t always cope. A reminder than I’m not the mother I wanted to be; I’m not all-sacrificing, putting their every need before my own; I’m not able to endlessly come up with fun games to play and roleplays involving superheroes; I’m not able to think of a million different fun things to make out of egg boxes; I’m not able to give up everything I am for them. Sometimes I wonder why I should. And then I feel bad.
Last summer I had them for four weeks on my own. Taking away weekends, that’s only 20 days. When you put it like that it doesn’t sound like very much. And I feel ashamed that I dreaded those days and didn’t always cope very well. I feel should’ve enjoyed it more.
And now? Now I’m supposed to homeschool my 5yo. Teach him phonics, improve his reading level, teach him Maths, do PE with him, be creative with him, all the while making sure my 2yo doesn’t break, wreck, or scribble on anything my 5yo is doing. This new pressure, this new homeschooling pressure, is just another thing that parents are now having to contend with. It’s too much. I know people mean well, but I’m being inundated with messages from people sending me things to do with my kids. I might rue these words if people stop sending me things, but it’s overwhelming. Like I haven’t got enough to get my head around with all the new rules in place and my brain working very hard to block the panic and worry about what might happen if my kids, or anyone else I know, gets the bug.
I’ve decided, for my own sanity and those around me, to take a big step back. I will continue reading to my kids; I will continue asking them questions, trying to get them to work things out for themselves; I will continue playing in the garden with them; I will continue letting them watch TV. I will do all the things I normally do with them. I will keep them safe. That’s my only job right now.
These Days – Jordana Connor
Beep beep beep… “And now, for the 5:30 news update.” Christ, still in the middle of the apocalypse I guess. I’m going to lie here in bed for 10 more minu- oh. Getting poked in the ribs. Must be my turn to make the coffee. This rug needs a vacuum. Is that a spider?! Oh no. Just a feather. Whew. Come on cat – I know you want to get out for a sniff of the garden.
Okay but don’t dash under my feet. If I fall down the stairs and crack my head open, bleed to death slowly on the little Persian rug, who will feed you top of the line science diet food, and trim your claws? Door open, (cat out! Why do they always flee out of an opened door like they’ve been trapped for days?) kettle filled, kettle on. Dishwasher emptied. Coffee in plunger. Mugs out. Sift and discard contents of the downstairs litter tray. Wash tray. Wash hands. God, the interminable scrubbing of hands. I’m starting to feel like I’m prepping for surgery 20 times a day.
Mugs are full and steaming, and the trick now is not to spill too much on the ascent up the stairs. Ahhhhh… made it. Mornings are nice. Blinds up, blue sky and wild parrots screeching a greeting to a new day. I like the sitting, propped up on our pillows, coffee cooling, phones in hand. Powerful, expensive (germ covered) conduits to the latest in these, The End Times. Or just a temporary foray into misanthropy. Depends on your outlook, I guess.
The news is terrible, but it’s the sports news that winds me up the most. “A bunch of grown adults, who have dedicated their lives to playing a game, played a game yesterday, which nobody got to watch. Sad! Some of them won, some of them lost, here are some meaningless statistics for you, conveyed in a breathlessly entertained tone, so you are fooled into thinking it all matters.” It doesn’t.
Coffee drunk, eyelids finally unglued. Time for a walk. Better find some clean shorts. Where are my sports socks? Why does this hair tie look chewed? (Damn cats!) Ok, off I go. Can’t stay in this house for months on end with no reprieve. Pretty sure we’re allowed out for walks as long as we don’t go near anyone else. Fine by me.
God there’s a lot of poo on the pavements here. Who did THAT? Hoping for possum, but who knows? Australia is full of weird and wonderful creatures that crap on the pedestrian infrastructure. Always will do, no doubt.
Oh – here comes an older couple. They’re darting their eyes at me.
Should smile and look unthreatening. Try to look responsible and well. Look perky. Pick your feet up.
Oooo – that’s a pretty flower.
Shit. I coughed. Poor things scuttled down a driveway. Feel guilty.
This all sucks and I’m sick of it already. But not SICK sick! I wonder if I have enough toilet paper…
Come to Heel – Charlie Sanderson
We walk seven miles or more the dog wrapped up in mud and sprung coil like across the fields, through trees, the wind howling banshee like against our waterproof trousers and fleece, the ground beneath our feet tantamount to constant change and love like a warm cushion between us softens the blow of the way the land lies right now, this way. She won’t come to heel for long enough, a herd of deer, red flag to a bull, only now she waits longer before she bolts at them, old enough to see the danger now, of more than one, creatures in packs aren’t so safe these days. When your eyes get a little wiser.
The road finally brings us home against the backdrop of field upon field edged in hedgerow upon hedgerow. The odd mansion house for the rich and famous types. Folk who like to live in the city and come here to shoot deer. We do laugh at how even they won’t survive this time around, silent killer, invisible man hunter. We shouldn’t laugh. But there’s little else to do. So, we laugh and we walk our way on and through.
At home the eggs sizzle in the pan and the home-made bread almost burns in the broken toaster, I tell you about the omelettes in Singapore how they have them with sweet chilli sauce there too and raised eyebrows smile back at me across the table you cut in half to fit the room. How I love you.
After we eat and you clear the sides of crumbs and swear at the toaster and the random shit radio six play on a Saturday afternoon, your dad walks past the window. Shoulders hunched against the climate of life right now. I don’t know what to do. So, I break the rules and open the door and make him a cup of tea. And as you walk out with him, I wonder love, who will live and who will die? I think of Captain Pickard last night, taking to the space ship crew, “Every single time you say goodbye to someone you cannot know if you will ever see them again, this is no different”.
We can balance our lives on the head of a pin, but maybe some of us will fall too far in to climb back out again. It’s all just change though isn’t it? I keep breathing and dropping to my heart and feeling all that panic and love and hope and regret. How irrational people always thought I was when I was so lost in my fear of death. And now it is so palpable and yet, I do not feel afraid exactly. You are the mistress of your own misery. You say that to the dog when she pulls on the lead and chokes herself, or walks headlong into the stick I’m swinging in front of me as we walk. She needs to come to heel. We all do though, don’t we?
I Feel Weird – J L Corbett
“I feel weird. Do you feel weird?” I asked my husband earlier today. He also feels weird.
I’m not as worried about him as I was seven days ago. Seven days ago, he was sweating through his clothes and coughing violently. He groaned to himself and mumbled that his existence was pain. I held off calling 111 until he threw up blood. It took half an hour for them to transfer me to a medical professional, and during that time I stood at our bedroom window, staring at the world from which we would soon be quarantined. I wanted to drive him to the hospital (even though I haven’t passed my test yet), but I knew they weren’t letting infected people in. I wanted to call somebody over for help, but anyone who crossed our threshold would be risking their health.
I listened to the hold music and felt very alone.
I felt tears forming, which annoyed me. I told myself to get a fucking grip – I am his wife now, and I need to act like it. I am the person who needs to steer the ship alone when he’s incapacitated.
As each day passes, the virus loosens its grip on his body. There’s been no more vomited blood. Quarantine has been an odd mixture of anxiety and boredom.
On day five, he was well enough for a short walk around the park. We were out for less than an hour, but I think it was the highlight of the day for both of us. He seemed elated at being outdoors and around people (at a distance, of course). He was still very weak, but able to have a conversation and a walk.
This morning, I spent three hours in the garden whilst he slept. I cut down the enormous ugly bush that’s been an eyesore in our garden since we moved in two years ago. I blunted the multi-tool in the process, so I had to cut down the rest of it with a handsaw. It was tedious and now my arms hurt. It killed some time and some pent-up energy though, and also that hideous bush.
After lunch, I called my boss and told her that the quarantine period had been extended from seven to fourteen days since we last spoke. She hurriedly told me to take another week off. She was practically begging me not to return too quickly. After I hung up, I felt dejected. Is it too dramatic to say that I feel rejected from society? Maybe society isn’t even a thing anymore.
We live up north. I’m supposed to be in pub in London right now, drinking with friends I haven’t seen since last summer. Next month I’m meant to board a plane to Ireland to see some other friends. My family lives down south, but my stepdad is almost seventy years old and has health conditions. So, when will I get to see my mum again?
I feel weird.
J.L. Corbett is the founder and editor of Idle Ink, an online magazine of curious fiction. Her short stories have been featured in MoonPark Review, Paragraph Planet, Schlock! Webzine, TL;DR Women’s Anthology: Carrying Fire, The Cabinet of Heed, STORGY Magazine and others. She owns more books than she can ever possibly read and doesn’t get out much. She can be found on twitter: @JL_Corbett and has a website: http://www.jlcorbett.org
Meanderings – Stella Turner
I follow the arrows but it’s not the way I want to go! I’m feeling anxious. I go against the flow now feeling guilty. Will I be stopped? I think I’m too near the woman choosing yogurts. She’s looking daggers at me. I want to run to the toilet roll shelves but no let’s not be too disappointed too soon. Why is that man looking at me? He’s with a woman maybe his wife no she looks too old; his mother? No far too young. Probably I’m giving him too much eye contact. I do that. Is it a fault? Four loaves I take two. Is that selfish? See a friend. We stand the recommended two metres apart. I’m happier with feet, metric is for the young ones. It looks six foot. I was her bridesmaid forty years ago, her groom stands beside her. Isn’t he asthmatic, at risk? She has a scarf covering her mouth he and I dressed as normal. I’ve left my man in the car. He’s diabetic, definitely at risk. I’m warned to keep him at home. I would have driven myself but he wanted to get out so he drove. Didn’t the email from the company CEO say or was it government advice one person per family only to enter the shop. Luckily no items out of reach else I’d need help. I’m short, vertically challenged. Social distancing makes it hard to ask for help. My friend says she was dreading coming here today me too. Can’t find eggs ask a store employee picking for home deliveries, the lucky customers who stay home, stay safe. She apologises, none, I say aren’t the hens laying? My daughter has a hen, Betty; I could barter Betty’s daily egg for the packet of Paracetamol I found on the shelf if we were allowed to visit each other. I miss my grandson could try skyping him. No toilet rolls. I pay the bill with plastic. I’ve always said I’d never pay for food on credit. Plastic is safer than coins and notes says the experts. First time plastic is good for the planet! Huge change in habits no more big food bills, no more waste. We’ll see! The cashier smiles weakly as I say thanks for coming to work. I bet she’s thinking stay home old biddy. Don’t infect me! I wheel the trolley to the car. Open the boot and load the three carrier bags for life. Miffed that I had to take the risk. Next week I’ll run the gauntlet again unless it all changes.
Coronavirus Held a Press Conference, and Crushed It – Michael Wade
Thank you. Goodness, what a turnout!
Yes. I realize you’re looking at a microdroplet of snot. It was explained to us that TV requires a picture. We’re smaller than the wavelength of what you call visible light, so…Does anyone have a substantive question.
Right. Thank you for phrasing this important issue so forthrightly.
We need to acknowledge that our core interests won’t always align. I’m a virus. I’m pretty militant about viral rights. Not to get into labels or name-calling, but let’s be frank. Certain organisms are fighting tooth and nail every day against our very right to exist.
You speak of hundreds of thousands of – uh, infected humans. Infected. Do you understand how offensive that language is?
You speak of thousands of host, human, deaths, and the possibility of millions, and I hear the self-righteous outrage in your tone. Do you even want to hear our side?
Good. In five of your milliliters of blood, in every infected human, your word, hundreds of millions of us exist. Each wanting nothing more than our natural rights. That’s all. Well, here’s your headline, ladies and gentlemen. Approximately all of these virions are dead now, or soon will be.
Get your heads around that. Your languages may not have words for the numbers of dead I’m trying to describe.
Look, we’re sympathetic to your issues. But this focus on what I would absolutely call the acceptably low host loss associated with our incredibly successful program…Well. Let’s just say work will be required to mesh our perspectives.
Yes. You, sir.
I can’t speak to that. You’d need to talk to those viruses. What you call common cold of course refers to many different viruses. The question of whether we’re just the common cold pumped up by left-wing hysteria, whatever that is, reflects a multi-cellular organismic arrogance I find beyond insulting.
I was briefed on that, yes. We agree strongly that damage to your economy and health from so-called social distancing is extremely concerning. This is one area where we can make a lot of headway together.
Take your cue from us! We know the odds are against us, but in the meantime we are having a ball together in your sera and fluids! Why should we be having all the fun in these challenging times?
In the back. Yes.
Well, we are mutating constantly. We seek, in good faith, the ideal virulence, where you, our cherished biological colleagues, suffer only the most minor physical inconvenience. All I can tell you is that we are working tirelessly for our mutual benefit.
Excuse me? Right. Folks, sorry, this sort of thing is new for all of us, and I’m being told we’re experiencing some mucus degradation, and will need to close.
Time for just one more…right, you sir. Front row. Yes, you, with the barrel chest and the large nostrils.
I couldn’t hear you. I wonder if you could come closer. Yes. Closer…
On the Platform – Joyce Wheatley
We stand disconnected, vulnerable, uneasy. Eyes dart toward the western sky. I’m tired of floating erect in these 9-to-5 fatigues, impatient to get on with whatever’s going to happen.
We’re awaiting rescue. I don’t know why or from what. No one speaks of it. My companions look familiar but I don’t recall their names. The middle-aged man in a suit cycles up and stops. If I’d taken my bike today, I’d be home by now, but the tire’s flat. Thus, I’m on the platform.
“Listen.” The cyclist opens his book, “You don’t have to stand under the silver tree to darken.” Shadows haunt his face. Street lights buzz. Across the street, St. Gregory’s stained glass windows arch behind him. Lindens shiver, leaves sparking belly-up under the moon.
“Let me tell you … we are standing ….”
Balloons, captioned to burst, hover out of his mouth. Like deer frozen in headlights or cows lying down before rain, our notable behavior is “squirming,” anxious and uncertain whether or not disaster is coming. We shuffle and hum, tweet and pray for safe return to our nests. I want to get home, but I’m curious about the end.
Wind gusts a sea green bottle rolling, cluttering the sidewalk. I snatch it up and I Spy With My Little Eye a paper note inside, visible through glass curved like an old Pepsi bottle. “Time’s running out, and no one is coming to save you.”
I wonder what happened to Hope? There’s a place right here beside me.
People on the platform drift and shift. I want to connect with someone, but, if Hope doesn’t arrive, who? Ambitious, a woman slithers to the center for the prize spot. Either she covets the safety of belonging or she’s climbing the ladder of success. If you don’t want to fall off, step away from the edge, but my nature avoids the middle like a plague. Give me drama—sharks, high seas adventure, a great white whale! … and such. An eye patch swaddles my left eye. A red scarf bandanas my head. I mount a seahorse, whooping “Ahoy, Matey!” Or give me Apollinaire so I can fly.
No one speaks. Waves crash in, shattering the quiet anticipation of fear. We’re drowning in the deluge, drenched on the platform, and then we swim, like a school of fish, swerve and plunge, in and out, circling to the depths until the gushing slows to a stream, flows to drizzle and the drizzle stutters to a drip.
“Save me,” a dolphin in a suit pleads. I embrace the wounded creature, “You have strength,” I say,” and flop him back into the waves. “And courage.”
On the platform, resuscitated, we rise one by one, and shed our scales and fins. We stand together, waiting to board, and wave goodbye.
It’s beautiful, the love that flows from the ocean.
Need – Samantha Costanzo Carleton
Elizabeth picked up the habit of lighting candles from her grandmother and so she did that now because why not? Her grandmother had lit candles in church every week and prayed after dropping quarters in the half-empty metal box attached to the table of votives and as the sound echoed across the quiet church Elizabeth and her sister would stage-whisper arguments over who got to light the candle in part because it was the only time they were ever allowed to handle something as dangerous as fire on the end of a long wooden stick but also because they knew there was a certain kind of honor in the task and a solemn need to take this Very Seriously because the candle was an offering or maybe a plea, but anyways their grandmother would shush them and drop more change in the box so they could each have a candle and honestly, they never had to argue in the first place because didn’t they always need more than one light? There were always more things to ask, more people who needed healing or hope or good luck, so their grandmother told them who the candles were for and Elizabeth would do her sworn duty to pray for that person but also sneak in in a request for help on a math test or patience with her sister or world peace or for God to forgive the bullies that made fun of her hair, the biggest ask of all, and she would feel good because she was being selfless and asking for help for someone so clearly less fortunate than she. Anyways, lighting a candle seemed like something that would maybe help her feel alright again today and so she struck a flimsy match and touched it to the wick of the tiny little tea light that smelled like vanilla and chemical lemons from one of those self-care subscription boxes she had gotten for a few months and then cancelled when she got bored, it wasn’t even holy, not that she was convinced the ones in church had necessarily been blessed, either. Today she did not try to pray or really think to because she was focused on the ritual at hand — she lit her candle and stared, closed her eyes and took a deep breath, filled herself with air and tilted her head back instead of downward like she did inside the churches, and the prayer still didn’t come though something inside her squirmed like pleasepleaseplease and yet this weirdly-scented tea light flickering atop a paper mountain on her desk still felt Very Serious, still an offering or plea or desperate shout to be seen in the midst of all this, this mess, which would definitely eat her if not for that tentative, wavering flame and the smell of vanilla and fake lemons and something in her that actually felt like rest to scare it off. It was enough.
Samantha Costanzo Carleton is a marketing copywriter by day and creative writer by night. She lives in Boston and is working on her first novel, based in part on her childhood in a Cuban family. You can find her on Twitter at @smcstnz.
Little Flower – Cyndie Randall
I know at least 20 of them these days, but Angie was the first to breathe on me. A haunted friend. She drives my body now much of the time, curls up pained in the evening and pops peppermint candy like pills to get the torture of men out of her mouth. She wears wrinkled clothes, no makeup, writes poetry nobody cares to read. Therapists don’t believe in her and she’s fine with that. Feels invisible anyway. Her and I have our own dystopian trauma choir, all ages and genders lined up from present day all the way back to the crib. Seven times I pleaded with the Lord to take them away. The Lord told me, You must forgive seventy-seven times seven times, and then He sent seven more plagues. I think we need new numbers. Little flower, just take one more step, I hear. Just one more step. I spend most nights dreaming I am waste deep in snow. The moon asks, What are you doing, little flower? I scream at him, that moon. There is a man up inside there telling me which way to drag my hope next but he never tells me why. He is my only light, so I go. I do it. I pour sweat. I will turn any trick for water or a biscuit, any trick for a try on the love machine. Stop calling me little flower, I think. There is no one here by that name. Do you even know our name? When will I wake? No one listens when I say what I need. Here is a screw. Here is a screwdriver. I promise I will hold still. I’ve got about 20 holes to choose from, so take your pick and start somewhere. Or get me a mirror. I’ll do it myself! I’ll do it myself, and sing alto and soprano and bass and a nice tenor for you then. Ask Sal. He’s got the best voice of us all. Deep, mellow like a hum or a storm just starting out. A storm planning on screaming no where and killing no one. Sal has all our blueprints. You can ask him anything and he’ll tell you. If I am the flower, he is the sky and such a view he has. Sal, are you the moon? Are you the moon for us, my friend? Are you calling me little flower? Tell me how the story ends, Salvatore. Does Angie get her babies back? Does Evie close her legs? Will anyone come to untie Annie, heal the burns up her back? What do you see from way up there? Just my trail? Just the trail from my thick middle dragging, dragging through the snow in my childhood yard, longest chain there ever was linked back to that basement wall, training training training me. Go on, call me a little flower. Call me a flower all night long and we’ll do whatever you want ’til the sun comes up. Whatever you want, Lord, I mean moon, I mean dad.
Cyndie Randall works as a therapist and lives among the Great Lakes. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Crab Creek Review, MORIA, Okay Donkey, Whale Road Review, Boston Accent Lit, Yes Poetry, The Night Heron Barks, and elsewhere. Connect with her on Twitter @CyndieRandall or at cyndierandall.com