If Life Were Meant to Be Easy, All My Best Ideas Wouldn’t Come to Me in the Shower – Marissa Glover
My skin is dry from all the washing but I can’t put lotion on it because of allergies. I can’t cover the knuckle cracks with Band-Aids because adhesive leads to hives, and I’m not sure if my Epi-Pen’s still current. I know they expire after a while—everything expires after a while; usually it all goes bad just when you need it most.
Right now, I don’t know what I need. I’m supposed to be working but can’t think straight. My brain cells are arguing with each other, tugging the hem of my skirt for attention, saying my name over and over like a child says Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom in a store. She finally yells, WHAT? But it’s not the child’s fault she’s angry. After all, Mom ignored the child for two solid minutes when the kid only wanted to show her the monkeys on the yogurt bottles. How silly the monkeys look!
I feel sad for those kids—they only want to say something, to be heard, just some kind of acknowledgment, but then I realize they’ll get their revenge in about twelve years. Mom will tell them to do something over and over and over again, but they won’t hear a word she says through their earbuds or gamer headset. Karma, bitch.
I don’t know why I have tennis elbow now, twenty years after I retired from the game. I’ve tried every internet suggestion plus hive-mind advice. I moved my laptop from the study to the bar to the dining room to the couch. Doesn’t matter. Comfortable is an impossible position.
All this moving in place, you’d think I’d be able to keep track of things, like my cell phone, or my glasses. Sometimes I wonder if my brain cells are killing each other, if their bickering has come to blows, and whose side I’d be on.
The glasses thing became such an issue (since I can’t see without them) that I bought those eyeglass chains, and now my kid says I look like an old lady, even though I got the really cool-looking beaded ones, ordered a set of sixteen different colors before Amazon stopped delivering. Today I’m wearing periwinkle.
Part of me wants to scream, That’s because I AM an old lady! but part of me wants to show him pictures of when I was young and beautiful because if he could see me then, he’d know. He’d know how pretty his mom could be, how she changed and maybe this would make him sad too, how everything changes, how he’ll wish he had a box like mine, how everything looks better when you’re looking back.
At the bottom of the box, I found a photograph of the first boy I ever kissed. A boy who didn’t love me when I wanted him to but said I love you two days ago—now, when the world is dying and maybe we are too. When you’re poor, there’s nothing to unload before the market tanks.
Marissa Glover teaches and writes in Florida, where she is co-editor of Orange Blossom Review and a senior editor at The Lascaux Review. Marissa’s work appears in Rust + Moth, SWWIM Every Day, Okay Donkey, and Whale Road Review, among other journals. Her debut poetry collection, Let Go of the Hands You Hold, is forthcoming from Mercer University Press in 2021. Follow Marissa on Twitter @_MarissaGlover_.
Paul Daniels’ Stream of Suggestion – Mike Hickman
I stand in the alleyway with Paul Daniels wrapped in plastic at my wrist and the rain comes down and I wonder why I am out, and why I risk the downpour for this.
Now the stream is interrupted.
Jonny. Calvin. Andrew. All gone – some more literally than others, and they’re not standing there with me. Not then/not now. But the tar of the fence panel in front of me still haunts as I keep out of sight and I can see the spatter of more than rain down the front of my jumper and hear the shouts of those who’d pursued me into the ginnels because we’d – my friends, me (always me) – wanted to put on a show for the school, like that’s something eleven year olds do. For charity. With our own egos as the benefit. They said that, those who’d pursue. Those who still did – until recently. I stand and wait for the voices to recede and Mr Daniels, bewigged, twinkling, hefting a magic wand that isn’t as plastic as the one in the box, peeks through the Bejam carrier, capital-S-suggesting that there’s a route out of this. I believed him once – like I believed all the shiny floor telly we watched at home. You too, Paul said with a wink. You can, Paul said. They don’t matter.
But I’m still here. The tar reek at my nose and the rain down the back of my parka and the fear that I’ll be called out – again – for what I am and can’t help being. Hiding here, tucked in, not breathing, when I’m supposed to stride forward as the Year 11s round the corner, wielding the wand at them and shamelessly wearing the TV magician toupée of power which will put them where I’ve been told to put them.
They can only hurt you if you let them, son.
The second arrow thing that the woman in the cardy and the day-glo Crocs would tell me in Group. I’ll look it up one day. Seems profound.
This all matters – even now, with the stream interrupted. I stand in the alleyway with Paul Daniels wrapped in plastic. Jonny, Calvin and Andrew, they all head home – no-one goes for them with Kwik Save’s battery farmed finest. It’s alright for them – even standing up there in front of the school in assembly – because they’re embarrassed, they don’t want to be there, they’re not even very good at it. So that’s alright, then. Me, though? It matters and the pursuers smell that – they smell the desire for the shiny floor and the taking Paul Daniels seriously – and that’s why they go for me. When such things mattered to them. When there weren’t other things. Like now, when they have to Let Go. When we’re all supposed to.
I stand in the alleyway with Paul Daniels wrapped in plastic at my wrist and the rain comes down and I wonder why I am out, and why I risk the downpour for this.
A spider on my sleeve – Steven Patchett
I have a spider on my sleeve. I didn’t really notice until someone pointed it out to me.
Of course, I’ve known about it all along, caught a glimpse of it in mirrors as I walk down the high street. I haven’t actually done anything about it. It has sat there, bulbous and fat, black legs hanging on tight around my bicep, looking at me with an expression I can’t even begin to translate.
I didn’t want to brush it off, it had settled there when Mum had died. I might even have picked it up from her. They often said that she used to see things that were not there. Special eyes, she had said.
But at least I had confirmation now, I wasn’t just making it up. They told me, it’s got its fangs deep in your arm, doesn’t it hurt? But I wasn’t sure what they meant. I hurt all over, all the time, so it was hard to say if it was just the spider’s bite.
After mum had died, and the lawyers took her estate, I was sort of grateful to have something left to remind me of her.
Even if I’d considered it imaginary.
But now, of course, it wasn’t.
I took it to the zoo, to see if they could work out what to do with it. But they looked frightened when it ran up my arm onto my head, the long hairy legs wrapping under my chin. It tickled, and kept my ears warm.
They couldn’t help me in the end, far too interested in creatures they knew something about, like Black widows and Tarantulas.
I could have taken it to the cat and dog shelter, but I doubted they could have helped. They were probably less qualified than the zoo had been.
So we went to see the Doctor, the one who was prescribing the pills. I had them to make me forget, though I’ve forgotten what it was so important about remembering. The Doctor rolled her eyes and told me I was imagining things. But when I looked into the mirror I saw the spider staring back.
Have you been taking your medication, the Doctor asked. The spider looked pissed in the mirror.
Of course I have Doctor, the spider told her.
Before I could leave for home, the spider is on the move again, just leapt up onto the doctor and wrapped its legs around her head. I was so embarrassed, I pulled the spider off and told I her was sorry, meaning every word, while she sat in her chair, a funny look on her face, her mouth a big red O.
I was so mad with the spider while we rode the number 37. Everyone is looking at us, with the same funny look on their faces, as I shouted at the creature as it sat next to me.
When I got home the police were waiting there for me. Maybe they can help with the spider.
Steven Patchett is an engineer, husband and father living and working in the northeast of England. He can be found on Twitter, being encouraging, @StevenPatchett7.
Mission Accomplished – Ami Hendrickson
Today, I will not dwell on my problems.
This is the task I have set myself. In my mind’s ear, I can hear the “Mission, Impossible”-style voice intoning, “Your mission, should you choose to accept it…”
I do not always choose to accept it. Today, I do.
I will not focus on the current mandatory quarantine that keeps me inside when what I really want to do is meet my friend Kim for brunch at The Mason Jar, order their clove mocha – “candy coffee,” she calls it – and parse the state of the world over savory French lentils, poached eggs, and Paesano toast.
There’s a perfectly good coffee maker in my kitchen. And plenty of coffee. “This is a blessing,” I say aloud, “not a problem.”
We’re low on bread. I take two yeast packets from the cupboard and set them near the warm coffee maker. I have yeast. I have flour and oil and water. What I usually don’t have is time.
I haven’t made bread in three years – since the last time I was in the house day after day, month after month. It was a bit like quarantine, wasn’t it? Staying with you. Always within earshot. Taking care of you as your life seeped away like water from a drying sponge…
The smell of rising dough and of baking bread fills the house. It’s the smell of heaven, but it only makes me miss you more.
Today, I don’t want to think about that.
I don’t want to contemplate the logistics of how Anne Frank and her family stayed inside, hidden from the sun, teetering on the brink of existence, peering daily into the black hole of hell, for two years. (I don’t want to, but I know that by dinnertime, I’ll be wondering, for the thousandth time, if they painted a yellow circle on the ceiling somewhere, for reference. Or could they only see the sun in their imagination, when their eyes were closed, shuttered to their reality?)
I will not close my eyes. I will keep them wide open.
I will look at the dogs, happily snoring beside me, unaware of how privileged they are to be allowed on the couch.
I will drink in the sight of our daughter doing her course work online because the schools are all closed. She’s so grown up now. Seventeen. The same age I was when I met you.
Today, I will say a grateful prayer for fresh-baked bread, for a roof over my head, for friends, and for family. I will not obsess over the fact that my employer is looking for ways to cut my hours. I will not worry about paying the bills. I refuse to fracture. I will not complain.
Not just yet.
For now, I am going to eat these strawberries in a glass bowl that was my grandmother’s while listening through the cracked window to the bluebirds sing “chirr-chirr-chirrry” as they build their nest in the little cedar house by the mailbox.
Ami Hendrickson writes books, screenplays, and endless to-do lists. She also writes for famous horse trainers. Some of her favorite pastimes involve horseback riding, playing with her dogs, and teaching writers workshops. She lives in Southwest Michigan, where she pines for a working TARDIS.
Mrs Average – Ellie Rees
‘Five foot two, eyes of blue, but oh what those five foot could do. Has anybody seen my girl?’
‘I had green eyes, reader; but you must excuse the mistake: for him they were new-dyed I suppose.’ (Or was it ‘dear reader’?)
Such things stick in my head: not a jot of originality, just the dead leaves of other writers, scraps of ancient songs. I’ve always been ‘Mrs Average’: green eyes, five foot five (now five foot three) weighing in at a steady nine stone four, shoes 5 ½ and dress size, 12. Average. Dead ordinary. However, judged by my age (another number) I have suddenly become ‘Mrs Vulnerable’, can feel the strength seeping from the tips of my fingers and even the garden secateurs hurt!
… Note to myself: Why have you not given your age? Is it possible that even at your advanced time of life you still worry about how the unseen, unknown reader might judge you? Vanity of vanities; all is Vanity!
I need to look up when to use the numerical symbol and when to write it. Why are shoe and dress sizes written one-way and other measurements the other?
Now is our Pompeii moment – I seem to have changed the subject – the sun is shining and it’s Spring. I have enough to eat and everything appears to be normal. Yet… I am obsessed with statistics. How many dead in Italy or Spain in the last twenty-four hours? I wash my hands singing two choruses of Ring-a-Ring-of-Roses and remember we are only two weeks behind Italy.
Ah, so now both the Heir to the Throne and the Prime Minister are afflicted; I wonder what the statistical chances of that happening are? Come to that, I wonder what the odds are on my super-fit, first-born having the virus, while – thank God – my second son, paralysed from the chest down, remains fit and well with me, in isolation.
On second thoughts, Pompeii is not a well-chosen comparison: that happened with a bang, not a whimper (sorry!) It’s the knowledge we now possess about their quality of life, before the pyroclastic flow, that seems apt. They were so much like us in their sense of security and their love of material possessions.
I will start to count my material possessions. That should pass the afternoon. Perhaps I should put my diaries together somewhere so that my granddaughter will find them and be able to get to know me when she’s older. On second thoughts, (for the second time) perhaps six years old is a little young to have such a responsibility. She might not take after me; might even be a mathematician.
My mother-in-law stuck a label on the back of all her china – Moorcroft, Clarice Cliff, Gaudy Welsh – giving its make and age, thus hinting at its possible value. Clever. I’m still stuck with all her possessions now and they’re about to survive yet another generation.
Ah Life, ‘How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.’
So Let’s Build A Mother And Her Son – miss macross
So let’s say that there is a robot who looks just like a man, meticulously constructed down to his wet eyeballs and rubber squishy cheeks. His cheeks are so squishable that if he had an aunt to squish them when she visited on holiday, she would feel like the Queen of Aunts Who Squish Cheeks. Let’s say that this robot is self-aware; he knows that he was, say, created by a genius woman whose son was kidnapped by his evil wealthy grandfather and that, uh, this wasn’t a concept stolen from a hit Korean drama. He calls his creator “Mom” because she programmed him to, but he also believes that since she was the one who brought him into the world, she is, in fact, his mother. It may not be normal, but what is a normal mother? Some of us have mothers who [insert trauma here]
so, really, he’s right and he was, in fact, instilled with an unshakable sense of right and wrong. This makes it difficult for him to write poetry. The Hallmark cards he finds at the corner pharmacy each May make no sense to him: broken guitar strings strumming banal covers in the wrong chord. Because the person hired to write these verses isn’t the child of the recipient, these cards hold no meaning. Therefore, the robot tries to write his own, his understanding of emotions being
close enough but no cigar smoked by the poet writing about their cheating lover or their lover’s cheater or the death of their
He does not understand death; to be more specific, he does not understand the pain associated with death, though he intellectually understands that once some things are lost, they cannot be fully replaced. His mother has installed a Kill Switch in his rustproof abdomen, a method of nonconsensual self-destruction that will deploy on the day when his mother is finally reunited with her real son. He is real in the sense that when he dies, it will not be taboo to hold his funeral. The robot is unaware of his kill switch; most of us are unaware of the ticking bombs in our bodies, or rather, which bomb will be The One.
If he is alive next Mother’s Day, he will write her a poem that contains line after line of observations cited by sources, and his mother-creator will be horrified. She will think that it is a suicide letter. But he can’t leave her yet; she has not been reunited with her Real Son, the one who may or may not be slowly killing himself several countries away, each glass of soju another shot away from his memories of a beloved mother who his grandfather has told him is long dead. The robot, with his spring water coolant eyes and carved dimples, will think that the words that he organized on those lines were Right.. As she cries, he will ask her if they are tears of joy. He will wish her a happy Mother’s Day.
Interlude – Michael McGill
Steven, it’s the cars that I miss most. They would glide past my window at night and I’d listen as I treaded softly towards sleep. But they’re gone for now; they are parked on other streets. They are still, and they are silent. And waiting.
Steven, I write this letter from a strange place. A stream of consciousness, if you will – and will you? I have set myself a limit of five hundred words. Please don’t take this personally! I type as the news is on over there – the other side of this room. It plays in a loop – over and over, the same faces, the same hairdos, the same Union Jacks behind the same suits.
An empty vase sits in front of me. A Mother’s Day card, and a teddy bear on the window sill.
Each day brings a video conference call. Each day one of us comes closer to cracking. Each day waiting.
Steven, you left the house last Autumn under a cloud. It was a light cloud, really, but still. Things fester over Winter. Darker thoughts ferment.
After this is over, you must visit. I will cook. And if that doesn’t put you off, nothing will!!
Steven, I know. He was a mistake, of course, but still. Each of us needs an interlude. And he was mine. He sits now in a plain room with a chair and a window, a bed and a blanket. I miss him, but there we are. He was young once, I’m sure, but his voice deepened. And he became more plain, and he became more cold. He was my mistake, and I’m sorry.
I am typing in the dark and I am dreaming. Of better days when the pavements are fuller, of warmer evenings when crowds gather again. Of meetings with faces and voices and vibrations. When friends and colleagues are no longer little boxes on screens. When people will talk again in sync; faces and lips and voices. There will no longer be a time lag.
Steven, it is dusk. I have put on the light in this room, but the curtains are still to be drawn. Passers-by can watch me type if they feel so inclined. Or they can wave to the teddy bear instead!
Today, I watched a friend on film. She was in a field near her home with her dog. She smiled at the camera, and warmth filtered through the lens. I miss her.
You will be eating now, I imagine, as you read this. You will open this email, I hope, and you will read. You will scan for typos, and I pray you won’t find any! But therein lies the problem. The wood for the trees. The resolute failure on my part to ever see: The. Bigger. Picture.
Steven, I still remember the day you left. It was dark by the time you walked away. October brought in the cold and it felt cruel. You caught the last bus, I’m sure, and you disappeared.
Michael McGill is an Edinburgh poet who has recently had work published by 24 Unread Messages, Funhouse Magazine, The Haiku Quarterly and detritus. His overheard comments and photostory projects regularly appear on Twitter and Instagram. He has also performed his work on the Lies, Dreaming podcast. Twitter: @MMcGill09 Instagram: michael7209
Lockin 30/03/20 – Jason Jawando
see, get up and have a drink, sometimes a second after breakfast, and then catch the bust to work. At work there’s naohter one before I go about my day. Then a few more when I get bored and need a break. At the weekend it all goes to pot, bit there;s one at brealtast, more during the morning when I;m reading and listening to music; in the afternoon when I start writing there’ll be more; and again in the evening. See, it’s this working from home – or at home strictly – that’s making everying different. M body has made the transition well enough. IT extpect it’s drinks when it gets them. That means everything is in the same place. Morning, eafternootm and evening, sitting ath e same desk, with the same cup of the same tea sitting in front. That’s not realy a hardship. In the midst of all this coronavirus outnreak, the greatest tragedy is hardly Jason drinking a cip of tea at the same place all day. It just begins to feel wearily familiar. Here we are again: another cip of tea, with te same view from the same window (it’s dark now, so that’s not literally true. Except it is tru 0 ) close the bracket. Forgote to close the breackter when I meant to. It is the same view outside the window, even though it’s fark now. Nothing has actually changed in any ontologival sense. I can’t really see anything now. There are lights on inside the room and the curtains are closed. Through the small gap in the curtains, I can see s white streetlight, which spreads a glow on the darkness immediately surrinign it. I now see. I know what surrinds it because I;ve lived her for years and I know what the road looks like. It’s the last road in the West Midlands. If you cross over it, you’re in South Staffords Hire. I don’t leve on the road, but on a cul-de-sac, off a cul-de-sac, off a crescent. The main road passes a few yeards from the house, on the other side of a hedge. I can see through the window o the study, which hasn’t always been m study, and I travel along it every day on the way to worl. So I thin I know it pretty well. I don’t always fo that way. Some days I walk in the opposite direction and catch a different bus. Cathing no busses at all aright now. The bus company have agreed to suspend the Direct Debit though, so I won’t be out of pocket. By the time I get to catch the bus somewhere, then the world will have started to look different, There;s no way that it can’t. I worked in Birmginahm for seven notnts, the year before last, and when I came back to WOlverhamptn, everything looked different, which was odd as I was still living in Wolverhampton. And spent weekends there. My sense of strangeness doesn’t emphasise sense at the expense od strangeness.
Fifteen Minutes Till Film’s Out – Duncan Hedges
Fifteen minutes till film’s out. Oh, you’re going for the shoulders again. Okay, it’s piano time. Ha-ha. Any excuse for a bit of physical contact. Yes, I know the score. You’ll pretend that my shoulders are a piano keyboard and I have to guess the tune and when I say something ridiculous like ‘Macarena’ you’ll fake disbelief and then go back to the start and do it all over until you get bored and tell me it was actually ‘The Flight of the Bumblebee’ or some other obscure crap and I’ll laugh and pretend to be interested in your deliberately goofball tastes that aren’t tastes at all but just an attempt to be different. Oh good, you’ve found your wheelie chair so I can get back to my admissions till while you gab on about something or other and think that I like you more than I do, because of that one time I stroked your hand and called you sweet. But tell me this: how else do you get rid of someone if not by feigning endearment? And there was no way I was going to walk the length of the foyer to collect the next day’s pre-books and give you a forty yard arse goggle. Oh, you’re off. No hand stroke needed today then…just the sight of the team leader. Great. So substituting teen lust for married lust. Ten minutes. Let’s see if he can get by without mentioning his ding-a-ling today. Ha-ha. Yes very funny, rummaging in your trouser pocket for your ding-a-ling and offering me a fiddle and then when you finally pulled it out, it was some outdated musical device with a tiny handle that turned and played ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’. Yes, very clever and of course I thought you were going to slap your married penis out on the desk, didn’t I? Yes, of course, ha-ha. Oh what a shame, your mobile’s ringing. Five minutes. And leaving just in time for teen lust’s return. And okay, teen lust, you really are hurtling down the foyer like an Olympic sprinter and yes, you’re going to hurdle the crowd control barrier and announce your arrival with the loud slap of your size tens. What a shame the work rota grabbed my attention at the very same moment. Nice to see a shift with Stevie next week and one with Jed as well. On separate days. Bonus. Twice the fun. And I think I’ll study this rota a little bit longer. My shoulders tightly hunched over the desk, just until you make it back to your chair. Oh good and there we are. And maybe I should tell you that I’m working with Stevie and Jed next week. Maybe you’d like to know that. But I can’t leave you on a thought like that. Zero minutes. No, so I’ll give you a friendly pat on the shoulder when film’s out. Until next week, teen lust, until next week.
Duncan Hedges lives and works in Leeds, West Yorkshire. He writes short stories in his spare time and has been published online at The Cabinet Of Heed, Ellipsis Zine, Spelk and Bending Genres.
Nocturne – Elodie Rose Barnes
Sometimes, the end of the day feels like the end of the world.
The word ‘apocalyse’ means ‘the lifting of the veil’. Ancient Greek. I wonder if it also means this, now; the caving in of the darkness, the silence of the moon, the soft falling of dew from nowhere. I wonder if this is the shore on the other side of silence. Even the streets turn away their faces and disappear. I am alone.
Bells count the hours; they know this strange thing called time better than me. Minutes pass from one corner of the room to another. My feet, pacing, syncopate with the seconds. How are the bells not exhausted? But so much passes between fleeting chimes, and eventually darkness splinters into this thing called dawn. Like ice cracking and then thawing, trails of moon-melt streaking the sky. My reflection distorts itself in a thousand watery mirrors. Bell-chimes fade to whispers, vibrating in silver droplets of light, and I miss them. They didn’t even know my name. All night I have been listening to voices that never called me by my name. Take away my name and this is left: a shadow waiting for a woman to come home.
The tree outside breathes slowly so as not to wake the blossom. In its branches a bird sings to a distant sun.
Elodie Rose Barnes is an author and photographer. She can usually be found in Spain, Paris or the UK, daydreaming her way back to the 1920s, while her words live in places such as Dust Poetry, Bold + Italic and trampset. Current projects include two chapbooks of poetry, and a novel-in-flash on the life of modernist writer Djuna Barnes. Find her online at http://elodierosebarnes.weebly.com