The Lighthouse – Nicki Blake
I have a photograph by my bed that everyone has seen before – the classic lighthouse by French photographer, Guichard, the one from a thousand inspirational motivational posters (I hate those things) with the lighthouse jutting out of a milky green sea, the waves crashing up around it reminding me of the lace in an extravagant Elizabethan ruff which makes the lighthouse a skinny brown neck. We all had this picture back in the day, we Gen Xers, along with our copies of Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Fleetwood Mac albums, back when metaphysics was cool, the summers were simpler and we had the time for self-discovery – such a very sixth-form thing to do, to go into ourselves and mouth off at the cosmos under the influence of cheap cider and cigarettes. We sat on the edge of the cricket pitch and stubbed our cigarettes out on the grass so we could have our hands free to make daisy-chains which we placed on our heads like little crowns.
The Latin word for crown is corona and I told someone recently how strange it is to see a connotation shift, not in a sneaky creeping way as with some words and their etymologies, but within the space of weeks. Before, the only time I knew corona was from astronomy, meteorology, when there was a circle of light around the sun or the moon. Another way of saying it is ’22 degree halo’ but corona sounds more impressive, or at least it did. The ruff of lacy waves around the Guichard lighthouse could be a called a corona too, I suppose.
There were no drones in those days, so I imagine the photographer with his camera equipment hanging out of the helicopter door in the kind of Atlantic storm that would send the waves two storeys high. And all to give us a lesson in what? Humans versus nature? Fortitude? Endurance? Up and down the coasts of France, collecting lighthouses, repeated symbols of warning and of our care for those at sea.
I wonder what the helicopter pilot thought? When the photographer came to him and asked to be flown into the maelstrom? How much do you charge for something like that and what kind of mindset do you have to have to take on such a commission? Does he brag about it in his old age? “I was Guichard’s pilot – he was insane, made me do all these low fly-bys in the worst weather!” Did he get any credit for his role in creating the art? Look at me, assuming it was a man who was the pilot – though, in those days, it probably was. I wonder if (s)he reminisces now, in mandatory lockdown in some apartment in France, lonely as a lighthouse keeper, remembering taking on the elements with Guichard and thinking they’d conquered them, never imagining that when defeat finally came it would not be through great waves but in tiny droplets.
Nicki Blake is an emerging poet and writer of short stories based in Perth, Western Australia. Her work has been published both online and in print anthologies. Nicki’s writing draws on her lived experiences of working with words, as well as a heritage that is both European and South-East Asian.
100 Days of March – Vincent JS Wood
March went on for 100 days, morning after morning trickling into one another in a syrupy haze. It took half the year, but we’re now in April and everything is exactly the same. I feel like dead meat in formaldehyde, just a useless hunk of flesh, not visibly decaying but certainly not alive. Everything around me feels like it’s covered in a thin layer of amber so that you can’t touch and test how it really feels, like a world lightly honey glazed.
For the past three days (or is it four? five? six?…) I’ve had thoughts of chain-smoking in the sun. Flicking discarded butts into the scum collected at the bottom of the, now defunct, pond at the heart of the garden. Hearing the sizzle, then hiss, and proceeding to light up another to pass the time, is a recurring vision that appeals in both its grotesque imagery and its promise of fulfilment that it could never live up to. The irony of desiring lung hardening apparatus, to turn my chest to wheezy black dust, is not lost on me during a time of contagious respiratory disease. It’s odd because I don’t physically crave them either, I haven’t smoked in quite some time, but the thought of them has resurfaced as a cure-all to boredom and it scares me just how deep that hook goes. If that particular vice remains embedded in my muscle memory, what other sharp barb is waiting to resurface from a forgotten wound at any given moment?
I spend a lot of time in the garden now. Just to be outside is a tiny freedom in and of itself at the moment and I try to busy myself with labouring in the unkempt, overgrown peripherals of the property. An inherently absurd task given that I have the patience, demeanour and physicality of a man whose lower-middle-class parents actively encouraged his ridiculous notions of becoming a writer and, subsequently, has avoided doing a single day of ‘proper’ work in his life. And yet, I have a particular penchant for destructive work; cutting, digging, uprooting and the like. I know that creating something will overcome this boredom, it may not be anything special but the joy of the craft is its own reward and yet, I always opt for demolition which may also explain the part of my psyche that wants to smoke the days away. Destruction is a form of creativity I suppose.
Of course, people are dying and you’re here making flippant remarks about your own mortality and not contributing anything to the situation so perhaps you are an arsehole. Perhaps you’re just another self-involved moron postulating on being isolated with a mental illness when really all you need is a cigarette and to shut the fuck up. Perhaps destruction isn’t creative at all, perhaps you’re just digging holes because it’s all you know how to do.
March went on for 100 days, I pray to the unknowable void that April doesn’t too..
Untitled – Lindsay Bamfield
I walk my daily walk, a different way each day through the maze of roads round here, that I’m still discovering. No-one knows me but a few of the other solitary walkers respond to my greeting as we pass each other, one of us veering onto the nature strip for our obligatory two metres. I hope to see the elderly gentleman who sings as he walks. Instead I hear rainbow lorikeets screeching as they fight over ripening figs in a tree, and a lone wattlebird sitting on a branch making a forlorn squawk. It is autumn here and the front garden flowers are fading but there is still loveliness to be seen. Fading flowers have their own beauty signalling younger, more radiant days in the past. My own past has disappeared now I’m in a country where there are only two people who knew me when I worked, made a difference in people’s lives. No-one else here is interested in my past. The few people who have got to know me here view me as someone’s mother and a grandmother, that’s all.
I am making a new present life for myself but my plans, like everyone else’s, have been interrupted by social lockdown. The holiday I’d booked has been lost, and the theatre tickets I bought have been refunded. The course I signed on for will now be online and the writing group I had just joined has been put on hold for the duration. So yet again I must rely on myself to keep alive, active and creative.
My baking has had to stop because there’s only me to eat the result. My gardening in my tiny garden connects me to precious nature. Even though I’ll have to wait so long for the outcome, I plod on in hope. My sewing calms me but my writing bothers me because I can’t get it right. I hadn’t realised how much I relied on being around other people to energise me. Not just people in the social groups I had joined but people on trains, in parks, in shops. Not just the people I was drawn to but the infantile, giggling girls who annoyed me with their loud music on the train, the noisy youngsters that barged into me on the road crossing, the dawdling mother and children who obstructed the shop escalator, the earnest young man who gave me his life story, mercifully quite short because he’s young, at the writing workshop when I asked him what sort of writing he does.
I continue my daily walk, looking at flowers, the trees, listening to the birds, saying hello to the few people who pass me or are tending their front gardens. I say hello to the dog who looks out through the gate of the house on the corner, and know that one day this too will be in my past and strangely this will connect me to the people I’ve yet to meet. One day when this is over.
Lindsay Bamfield relocated from London to Melbourne last year. She writes flash fiction and short stories and may one day even get her novel published.
I had children, only one of which I knew – Colin Alcock
I look down into the still water of the pond. The reflection is clear, but I take no narcistic pleasure in what I see. I see lines and wrinkles that are not ripples and the blue sky of summer behind me. And there the truth lies. If I look back the sun shines on high, but I lose sight of myself. Yet looking down, all I see is an illusion. And beneath it the unknown future. Except I know, that for me, there is no future. I am spent. I have thrown away the right to live. I have taken life away from another.
In my twenties, I was a butterfly sipping from a thousand flowers. I spread my wings and mirrored the beauty of the world, but never settled long on any bloom. Admirers only saw my brightest colours, never my dark underbelly that craved intoxication from the finest nectars. That saw me creep into the corners of the night, feared of predators who would demand their due, for what I had consumed.
In my thirties, I metamorphosised into a devious demon, plucking the strings of others’ hearts, leaving behind a trail of tears, twisting and turning my way through countless loves that I never loved and gathering their gifts, their coin, to feed my taste for luxury.
My forties came and my game had run. Bankrupt of soul; jobless; taking the handouts of the poor; theft and cunning carrying me in a downward spiral. A sycamore seed whirling at the wind’s pleasure. Until I met her. The real butterfly, who was as beautiful and generous inside as the myriad glints she displayed to my eyes. She made me believe what I could be.
I had children, none of which I knew, left behind in the darker days. And now another, on whom I lavished a love equal to my butterfly and through my fifties I watched him grow and sparkle in new sunlight. Until he emerged from the chrysalis of early teens with traits that I can only call mine. The same dark underbelly to the bright aura of his personality. His gift to attract beauty to his side, to take only the pleasure and live off the nectar of society. Never giving back.
I didn’t need a mirror to see myself. My face creased with worry, with horror and with regret at what I had spawned. He took no heed of my story; he had an even meaner streak and I watched him destroy lives, leaving his own trail of misery, until I could take no more. I lured him back with the promise of precious nectars, an offer of gold and brought him to this pond. Intoxicated. Incapable.
I’m in my sixties, now. Staring down in quiet isolation. I turn away from my mirror image, but still see myself reflected, deep below the surface, ripples now stilled, in the upturned face of my son. And, as dragonflies hover and butterflies alight beside me, I weep.
Colin Alcock is a septuagenarian storymaker, mainly of shorter works, who has published two collections and three novels. Swopped to fiction from copywriting, in retirement, and writes simply for the love of words and the images they can create.
Website: http://colinalcock.co.uk Twitter: https://twitter.com/ColinAlcock
neighborhood watch – Matthew Daley
Of course I remember when I took classwork home to a friend who stayed home from school because he wasn’t going to spread himself to others how thoughtful so considerate so his mother called the school and the message went from one to the other till I was prevented from joining in the straight line walk to the cafeteria because Ms. H- said I needed to take work home to S-and someone in the office confirmed with my mother by calling my mother at work that I could make the heroic quest to deliver homework if I wouldn’t mind and this was the seriousness of a combat medic getting to the front line to give a bite-sized kick of morphine and yes I was ready for the mission because I was born for this moment because heroes aren’t born they are chosen by time in its incremental mood so I took a different route home and don’t worry Ms. H- I know the way and I did and I stepped over different sidewalk stories and avoided breaking mothers’ backs until I knocked on S- door and no he wasn’t home or wasn’t answering and the woman in the other half of the divided house opened in a bathrobe confession with her grey wasp next hair and Lipton teeth wanted to know if I wouldn’t mind being so kind to help her move her couch it wouldn’t take but a minute but I knew she had a monster inside she had to feed and I ran because my parents didn’t buy milk so how would they ever know I’d gone missing
Nesting – Lindsay Bennett Ford
After he got sick he said “Don’t let me end up with a phone strapped to my wrist ordering food. I want life locked in here to seem real. Not on demand, scrolling and clicking like a fool. We’ll need to talk to get through this together.” She looked at his body soft and folded on the bed, sprained by the weight of the unknown – wondering how and when he would heal.
Outside, when she dares look, the birds flap and part ways suddenly as if caught in the act of something shameful, elicit like teenagers flying apart when the door opens on them unannounced.
The weeks before lockdown she had seen things: the boy with no shoes and soaking wet socks making footprints on the concrete steps; the seagull speaking in tongues with squawks of a misremembered song from years ago. The chalk rocks crumbling in the storm of silence while the wind howled all the ears shut.
That’s why she waited two moons to tell him about the baby.
The only time she leaves him is to get supplies from the warehouse of late capitalism. They sit in silence when she returns – the scene sits burned in the collective from too many movies when the end comes and fear brays on the doors smearing blood. Pinkish like sarsaparilla. Now the aisles are almost empty and she takes the last packets of dolmio sauces and whispers an apology to the pigeons nesting in the rafters; “Don’t leave breadcrumbs, save them for the hunger in you that will never be full.”
At night when the owl hoots they talk of the future. A precious jewel in her belly – they agree on only one thing; old ways will become new again.
On the balcony in the midst of someone else’s plan she sits dumbstruck in spring sunlight listening to the blackbirds making nests, preparing to be Gods once more.
I Miss My Mum – Sarah Day
I miss my Mum I miss my Mum I miss my Mum. I miss how she wouldn’t say anything I wanted her to say but would surprise me with something else. Always left field. Seeing our old house again, I remembered how my first years were spent with her, just the two of us. Just my Mum and I for most of the day and how even then I was aware that she was going out of her mind and trying to find distractions from this life with me, this relentless boredom that I seemed able to produce. It is a slight feeling, not a huge one, but it has always been there this feeling that I am not good enough to keep someone company. That I was not enough for my mother, or that I wasn’t what she had wanted. That what I wanted was a secondary thing. That I needed to get out of the way for her desires, that I needed to be quiet so she could think. That I was the reason she had to do all these boring tasks. That if she didn’t have me she would be living an exciting life, full of stories and books and adventures that she had all had to give up to be a mum. That our house wasn’t a permanent thing for her but a temporary structure because she had to do this tedious task of bringing me up. That she wanted to be elsewhere, always. Always elsewhere. That each thing she had to do during the day was tedious -– washing, cleaning, cooking, but she did it anyway hoping that soon it would all be over and I would be grown up and she could move on to the next stage in her life. Watching her drink her iced coffee with my plastic periscope through the screen window. She must have said that she wanted some time to read on her own, some ‘me time’ before people said that, and I felt so strange that she was now down in our new car port with its painted concrete floor and sofa made from wooden planks my dad screwed together and a foam they covered with an old sheet stapled round it. This new room that I thought might be for all of us was being commandeered as a room for grown-ups to have reading time, alone, sipping iced coffee.
She thought it was funny that I couldn’t leave her alone for one moment that I spent so long spying on her when she was only reading. She laughed at my constant needy energy. Perhaps touched that I needed her so much. That I missed her for that half hour she decided to take for herself.
Now I miss her all the time and always will as she has taken all the time for herself. She has gone to the carport of me time forever. Where the periscope can’t see her. Where even if I crouch down beneath the lip of the windowsill there are no mirrors that can reflect off each other to get the right angle for that. She is gone gone. Forever gone. And now I’m left feeling just not enough still for the memories. Just not enough of a person to hold down a life. Wondering if I was supposed to be brought here at all, and feeling slightly apologetic for taking up space. Reminding myself over and over again that this life is mine to lead. That I have every right to it.
Magnolia Breath – Karin Hedetniemi
There were deer tracks in our wet cement this morning. “They like to nibble on your magnolia blossoms,” our neighbour said as she walked past. I’m never awake so late at night, but I smiled at the thought of a buck, standing under moonlight, reaching up into the branches, and chewing the thick, soft petals. I took a picture of the carved imprints with my phone, so I could refer back to this moment again and again, whenever I need assurance the world is imperfect and kind of whimsical and never lets you forget this in small offerings you don’t expect and interactions you can’t control: squirrels that nest in your grandmother’s hammock and wasps that build a nest under the eaves, just outside your reach when standing on the tallest rung on your ladder and now this deer, who will probably be back again tonight when the cement is dry, but there won’t be any evidence it was here.
I actually saw a deer later this morning in the cemetery, standing motionless between the headstones, sunlight streaming from behind carving him into a cement statue. Different from an angel or an obelisk or a simple slab. More majestic, fitting of the landscape. Standing on someone’s grave, sinking imprints in the dewy grass and cool earth. Standing over someone named Eunice or Alfred or Elsworth or Adelia May. Someone who once lived in a house like mine, or maybe even mine, who surveyed the garden every morning to consider the growing wasp nest, or the branch sheared off in last night’s wind storm, or to cradle a tiny, cracked robin’s egg. Someone who now waits every night for tall trees to drop pine cones on their bed, and small creatures to nibble on their sheet of wildflowers. He was standing there, blink, now he’s slightly to the left, blink, further, blink, now I can’t find him.
I scanned the cemetery, but the deer was gone, camouflaged by hazy sunlight and shadows. The pup never even noticed, never picked up the scent, and trust me she smells everything, including the mere thought you might reach into your pocket to give her a treat. Suddenly her wide eyes are locked on you, and she’s commanding you with her doggie ESP “give me the treat” before you even involuntarily twitch a muscle in your arm or make a conscious decision, whether it will be here or after we round the next corner. She just knows, she’s onto you, she can already smell that savoury morsel in the future, now making its way to her mouth across time and space. She knows five minutes before someone’s coming home or when someone’s leaving, even before the suitcase is pulled from the closet. But she didn’t sense the deer at all. She didn’t bark last night when the trespasser stepped across our wet cement and stretched its neck and buried its nose in the sweet fragrant blooms of the hundred-year-old tree, making its moonlit offerings to ghost deer.
Karin Hedetniemi lives by the sea in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada where she photographs and writes about nature, inspiration, and being human. Her work has appeared in Sky Island Journal, Pomme Journal, Barren Magazine, Door is A Jar, and elsewhere. She publishes essays, photos, and stories on her website: http://www.agoldenhour.com
For Zip – Wendy Chrikos
What it means to disappear. What it means to die. What it means to roll around in the sheets and wake up gasping for fresh air, afraid that you’ve been choked, somehow, in your sleep. I don’t know what any of it means, frankly, or if our words and good thoughts and collective prayers even mattered — actually, of course they didn’t matter — but it feels especially harsh that the very last picture of you is you standing in the middle of an empty West Village intersection, donning a mask. Documenting your life ’til the end.
Save the memory, you’d say.
In the caption you wrote that you were off to the bank, needed cash, still had to buy groceries, y’know, but it was fine, you were fine, everything was fine fine fine fine fine fine fine…
What it means to show up. What it means to share. What it means to grab at the day with both hands so that it has been squeezed of its life by dusk, tucking each and every blessing inside the wrinkles of your pillowcase so that one morning, years later, you can see a familiar face on the 6 train and say, Oh, wasn’t it your birthday last week?
How did you know? How did you always know? I am never a person someone remembers, not ever. So how did you?
What it means to matter. What it means to make others matter. What it means to remember, to be the keeper of all of the memories, to understand what remembrance means. What it means that by doing what you love and loving what you do, you became our touchstone, the binding of our book, the connective tissue pulling us back to the best years of our lives.
Oh, God, I am sick and I am so, so sad.
Because what does it mean for us? To have our nucleus gone? What will it mean for us to spin out from you, unconnected? Who are we without you?
What it means to breathe. What it means to touch. What it means to be alive from the touch and the breath and to die from the breathing and the touch and…and can you regret a touch? Would you? Would you say it was worth it? That held hand, that hug, that impassioned kiss or familiar peck on the cheek, or, hell, that shared cup of coffee, whatever it was. Was it worth it, still, now that we gather on your page of memories, sending our hopes and prayers and declarations of adoration, believing somehow that it will reach out through this space and find its way to you so that you know what you mean — what you meant. What did it mean? What does any of it mean? And would you do it all over again, again and again and again and say yes, it did, it did matter, that you regretted none of it, not a single solitary breath of it?