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From Jumbo by Curved Air (written by Darryl Richard Way/Sonia Kristina Linwood)

A Short Sequence of Strange Events – Nora Nadjarian

On my walk this morning, I saw a soldier’s uniform hanging on somebody’s balcony. Together with a pair of silver boots. Why hang up boots? Why silver?

It rained hard last night and I had a box of books out. And they got soaked. I hung them out to dry today. A passer-by might ask: Why books?

An old man was looking at his feet as I walked past. It died, he said, and I had no idea what he meant. A small white dog next to him was wagging its tail. An old man and a young dog have things to say to each other.

During the meeting, someone called i-Phone had his face muted. He could be the faceless man who sent me a friend request on Facebook. A ladder was visible behind the speaker. He wants to escape, it’s obvious.

Go all the way to the end of your mind, and back again. Dust off your memories and sweep the strangest bits into a little shovel.

The sky is a masterpiece this afternoon but I don’t know how to re-create it using blue curtains. I’m still learning to create masterpieces out of rubbish.

Nora Nadjarian is an award-winning Cypriot poet and writer. She has had poetry and short fiction published in international journals and anthologies.

Birthday Cake – Sara Magdy Amin

It was my 120th birthday. Yes, my birth-day. I was the last of my generation to have been “birthed” out of my biological mother. She made the call on the 9th of May of the year 2120 – some of you surely remember – it made headlines, went viral on the Cloud. Back then, traditional conception was still elective, still out there on the table. Current research has found this “an absurd choice in the face of scientifically recognised alternatives”. Ectogenesis is now the safest (and the only) way to populate our species.

You could say that my mother was very much a technophobe. I mean, she did try to keep up appearances. She did have her first grain implanted at the age of 16 (the legal age for consent before it was made compulsory), we had droids at home that helped out with the cleaning and the gardening and the dreary housework. She even went as far as buying some of the more senseless devices. But I wasn’t fooled when I heard her cursing under her breath, when I saw her scoffing at the promise of (some new device) “augmenting our lives” and becoming “a thing indispensable to the modern world”. I knew, as she violated the “Act of Unity” when she was caught in possession of a cross, that she unequivocally and absolutely detested it all.

She died when I was 18. Poisoned. A grain imploded under her skin on account of some faulty design, or as I always speculated, “attempted self-removal”. She died by the very thing she deplored. I sometimes think she died for being too earnest. You simply could not live in our time and carry yourself with such conviction. I would, however, on occasion, find myself rationalising her ways. The things she showed me, on the Cloud, about how it was over there in her world; I came to the conclusion that growing up, at the time of my mother, must have been a little bit strange.

In the few hours following my birth, the Chiefs announced that foetus farms where now fully functional. They demonstrated that they could replace the entire female experience of pregnancy with tubing, one biobag and a nourishing broth. Incubated and immersed in these artificial wombs, these foetuses grew, over the years, with the help of gene editing, to a genderless, raceless offspring with superhuman strengths. Greatness was the new normal. They were able to do what previous generations couldn’t, be who they could never become; one singular, unified species. I am told, on the other hand, that I am a man, though I’m not entirely sure what that means.

Still. I was haunted by my mother and her will to live in the past.

“Xen.” I called into my Agility Series 5X arm enhancement. “Disable functions.”

It was always her tradition, on my birthday, to bake me a cake. A simple white cake. 1 cup of white sugar, half a cup of butter, two eggs, two teaspoons of vanilla extract, one and a half cups of flour, one and three-quarter teaspoons of baking powder, half a cup of milk and her bare hands. I made a promise to keep up with that tradition.

I sat opposite the cake, took one long deep breath and blew out the candles.

Love the Most and Act the Worst – Mike Hickman

“Don’t you piss on your chips, son,” the old geezer said, but – from the state of the kid’s hands, the result of the nappy dangling from his behind – it wasn’t piss that he needed to worry about.

There were chips, though. Paul’s were served up on a paper plate and he said thank you and then waited for Matthew to be given his. He watched his schoolmate. He was already wrinkling his nose at the cousin with the mucky hands. He was bound to disapprove of the fat chips from the fryer. Paul had seen him notice the lard. But he didn’t wrinkle his nose. He just mumbled “thank you” somewhere into his lap and his grandfather smiled his nicotine-stained, gap-toothed smile, and then turned to the others round the table, stopping another cousin flicking spit wads at his sister and telling his wife to get a move on and dig in. Which she did, slapping spit wad cousin round the head on her way to the table.

“Happy days,” she said, cracking a Special Brew, and indicating the spread. “Knock yourself out.”

“You’re going round his?” Joanna had asked Paul at last break on Friday.

“He invited me,” Paul had told her, “and it’s not his. It’s his grandparents.”

“Same difference.”

“He doesn’t think so.”

“Got a cob on, ‘ave you?” the old geezer was saying.

Matthew looked up, worried that it was addressed at him, but it was spit wad cousin again.

“What is it with you lot? Getting lairy the whole time. Giving me gyp. You should be more like him.” The old geezer’s teeth fair rattled when he talked. They didn’t fit. He waved a chip fork at Matthew as his wife poured HP on her chips like it was gravy.

“Yeah,” spit wad cousin said, ‘why not be more like him? Scrimshaw.” He said the name like it was a swear word, but if he’d meant to swear, he’d have sworn, and he’d have got away with it, too. Matthew’s mother’s side were the Scrimshaws, he’d explained to Paul. But he didn’t get to go to theirs anymore. Not now he was with his dad.

“Why’s he want you to go?” Joanna had asked.

Paul had shrugged, but she’d had the answer anyway.

“He’s going to show off. Posh boy. Hey, you get to see how posh boy lives. Take photos.”

Paul watched Matthew as they cleared the lard chips and they caned it through the Vienetta and they talked of Chav Nav and Sheila down the road with her cob on and how she’d get her upcommence one day. He watched Matthew smile into his lap and never once meet their eyes.

“So?” Joanna asked on Monday morning, “how was it? Did he take you to the theatre or summing?”

Paul shook his head.

“So what’s his lot like, then?” Paul looked over at Matthew in the corner of the playground, with his Harry Potter.

“No different than you’d expect,” he told her.

Mike Hickman is a former academic and (very much current!) writer from York, England. He has written for Off the Rock Productions (stage and audio) and has recently been published in the Blake-Jones Review and the Cabinet of Heed.

New Beginnings – Simon Shergold

Eric walked past the familiar building, the one he knew so well, and turned the corner. Facing him were black iron gates and the stream of maroon jacketed children seemed to pick him up and carry him with their momentum, until he was standing in what could only be described as a non-playground. No climbing frame, no raised beds with vegetables … and no coloured markings on the floor to tell him where to stand. As his brain adjusted to this new world, a blur of tangled limbs wheeled past, spinning him around and landing him on his not so insubstantial backside.

‘Fuck’, he exhaled.

He knew two things about this word. One, he wasn’t supposed to use it. Two, it was the word his mum used when she watched Arsenal on the telly and his dad used when he saw their neighbour, Mrs Otterby, walking up the driveway. Experience told him the word was a sign of bad things – and so was entirely appropriate for him to use now.

‘Fuck’. It came again, indicating the seriousness of the situation.

He felt a tug at his arm and he looked up to see his best friend, Joe, staring down at him. Suddenly bells rang, loud and insistent, and the throng of children started to disperse in all directions, weaving around Eric like water round a rock. Joey hauled him up and guided him to the nearest building and up a flight of stairs. There were already 20 or so boys lined up outside the room – and in the doorway was a grey man with wispy hair and a crooked tie.

Eric looked at him with some confusion. He didn’t seem the sort of man who would play the tambourine in the class song first thing in the morning. He also didn’t appear to be dressed entirely appropriately for the days’ events with paint, water and sand. Eric’s sense of unease only deepened as the class filed in. He took his coat off and looked for his peg. The one with his name on and the panda above the hook. Nothing. Not a panda in sight. Just a row of green metal pegs, most of which were being hijacked by the mob now pushing past Eric.

Finally, he hung his coat and turned to find his seat on Giraffe Table. He’d been king of Giraffe Table for five years or so now and was hoping that –

The tables were in rows. All facing the front. No group setup. No early morning chatter. There was only one seat left, right in front of the grey man. Eric hurried over and stood behind his chair in silence, like all the other boys.

‘Abbot?’ The teacher barked, looking down at his big book. The absence of ‘Yes, Sir’ hovered in the room. Funny, thought Eric. Someone has my second name as his first name.

‘Abbot?’, ‘ABBOT?’ ‘Eric Abbot???’

Suddenly the truth dawned on Eric as eyes turned to him.

‘Fuck’, he answered.

Our Hollowed-Out Past – Mark Sadler

“I feel absolutely no connection to it,” complains Agnes Carr, two decades after her death in the bedroom a few feet from where she now perches, atop a small downward step. She stares into the short, sunlit corridor of the new extension, where she cannot go.

Brian Currie lost his entire right hand after he put it through the wall, into a first-floor room that did not exist when he was alive, pushing some unread books off a shelf in the process.

‘Good thing I didn’t put my head through,’ he says to himself as he stares down at the stump, amused by the thought. He wonders what’s become of his hand; whether it was erased from existence, or if it’s still there on the other side.

Adrian Foyle came down from the attic after they laid floorboards, emerging into the ebbing familiarity of his former home. He found a dust-grimed fragment of old wallpaper clinging to the tanned plaster, behind a vertical pipe, in one of the landing cupboards. He holds onto its curling edge like a security blanket, while the renovators advance through the house, eating up the interior landmarks of his past, leaving its shell intact.

Lin Cozens said “sod it” after they closed the ice cream factory and converted the old building into luxury flats. She went on into the clouded opacity of a light that glimmered a reluctant welcome.

Anthony Crab used to flick his percussion cloth at the drum kit of his old jazz quartet, to the irritation of his replacement. The group has long ago disbanded, its members drifting apart into continents of old age.

“What about the clutch of poisoners that used to be buried under the mistletoe, in the yard at Morleystone prison?” says the Reverend Mary Tomlin. “Don’t think for one moment they were grateful when they were mixed in with the hoi polloi in that choleric sunspot.”

The metal diamond lattice of the round patio table is projected as shadow onto her bare legs, making it look like she is wearing fishnet stockings; a hybrid of vicar and tart.

Mary brooks no argument in her exorcisms. She shoos the dead outside with her cardigan.

“The bishop of Canterbury once told me to do something useful with the shin-bone fragment of St Edward,” I remark. “He said that, if I planted it upright in the vicarage garden, it would banish every ghost within fifty miles.”

“If you did that, it would certainly save me a lot of bother.”

“What do I do when a member of the public turns up wanting to view our holy relic?”

Mary ponders my dilemma for a few moments.

“Buy some spare ribs from the supermarket. Whittle down one of the bones, then stain it with some tea. I doubt anyone will be the wiser.”

Inside, my housekeeper opens the front door to fetch the milk off the step.

A few feet away from me, the back door slams shut.

Ou konn kouri, ou pa konn kache* – Hannah Storm

I knew Haiti I told my editor when I heard about the earthquake. I knew Haiti I told myself boarding the plane, hiring the car to cross the border, passing hillsides stripped of trees and people stripped of everything.

I knew Haiti, I thought as I eked stories from this land where tales transfer between generations and few write down the words.

A decade taught me I did not.

How can anyone know somewhere when the ground is pulled from beneath its people? How can anyone know a place to which they have no legitimate connection but the perverse promise of returning to make amends?

I had visited Haiti twice before in 2004. The first time was with the Brazilian football team, playing a ‘peace match’ against the Haitian side: a fawning display of foreign muscle where Brazil led the peacekeeping mission without keeping peace. The lone female, I rode with other journalists in an armoured personnel carrier. Infront, the world’s most famous players sliced the sewage strewn streets and lifted the golden World Cup. Men, women and children clung from skeletal trees, stood in festering trash, climbed on corrugated roofs for a glimpse. In the greens and yellows of their heroes’ kit, they chanted and waved Brazilian flags with the misnomer ‘Ordem e Progreso’ [Order and Progress]. My mini disc recorded the magic, while I played back the previous evening in our fancy Dominican hotel, across the border. I’d stepped from the lift, and a man in Brazilian kit had pinned me to a wall. My memories are blurry. But I remember studying each player during the match, wondering was it him? Meanwhile the wealthy sat and the poor waited in the heat and filth for their heroes.

I couldn’t get over the disparity. I silenced the noise of my trauma in pursuit of the story of a place long abused by others.

Months later in my hotel high above the Caribbean, Barbancourt burnt my throat. My eyes watered, but I didn’t cry. No rum could negate the roar of gunfire or my guilt. As I drank, white men swaggered, arms tightening the tiny waists of local girls tottering like new born animals. I watched them talk, laugh and disappear into the shadows. I tried to navigate the story of something so normalised in this castle of privilege against a backdrop of pain. But I was scared.

By day, I paid a man with a golden capped smile to drive me to the slum Cite Soleil. In this place that meant Sunshine City, night meant no power and militias who raped women under cover of darkness. I wanted to tell these stories, but couldn’t find the words. I promised to return, but years past.

I knew Haiti, I told myself back in 2010, as I heard the hilltop hotel had collapsed, stealing lives. I knew Haiti I told myself when I returned home, wrecked and ragged.

A decade on, I know I was wrong. I had no right to suppose I knew this place – but with time, I have finally found a way to say I know myself.

(*Haitian proverb meaning: you know how to run, but you don’t know how to hide)

Blue Lagoon – Lou Adderline

Her new friend had called this monstrosity a ‘Blue Lagoon’. But she’d been to an actual lagoon, on holiday in Bali, and nothing there even approached the vivid shade of blue in the martini glass she’d just been presented with.

When she’d been told that moving to university would bring with it a whole swathe of new experiences, encountering new shades of blue was not what she’d thought they meant.

This particular radioactive looking drink must have been put in an inappropriate glass. A ‘Blue Lagoon’ wasn’t a martini. Granted she was not the most avid fan of the James Bond films but she would have remembered if one of 007’s defining features was a tongue the colour of a child’s after too many raspberry sweets. So, wrong type of glass, which didn’t bode well for the quality of the bar she’d been taken to.

In fairness though, visiting a bar was, in itself, a ‘new experience’. Bars had never been her thing. There was a pub at the end of her road where she’d sometimes found herself for family events, christening receptions, non-significant birthdays. That pub had always been familiar enough to be unthreatening, possibly because it had the same trodden paisley carpet as the church function room, as well as the same people.

She must have been eyeing the glass with suspicion for too long because her new friend ventured, “Not like the look of it?”

“I -,” she wasn’t sure what to say. It wasn’t as straight forward as liking or not liking it. Rather, she was just overwhelmed by everything. University was a new stage of her life, she’d moved to a new town, into a new room. She’d spent the last three days meeting a constant stream of new people. They’d asked if she wanted to go to ‘the bar’. A whole new setting. New settings had different rules, rituals, ways to be interacted with that she was having to learn on the fly. It was so loud. Crammed into a booth with the latest set of strangers having conversations in every direction. Her senses were at capacity. Brimming with anxiety that was threatening to spill over the rim if, on top of it all, she now had to interact with this whole new shade of blue.

Her new friend smiled gently from across the table, “You don’t have to drink, you know. You can stick with water.”

“It’s loud.” She replied. Then kicked herself for the non sequitur.

“Wanna go outside for a bit?”

They made their way out of the back entrance into an alley. There were a few sparse huddles of people smoking, the smell mingling with that of the open bins – but overall it was a significant reduction in sensory input.

They stood for a moment in the warm night breeze. She was still gripping the stem of her glass.

“You know – I’m sure those,” her new friend nodded towards the Blue Lagoon, “are meant to come in those big, wavy glasses. I mean, its vodka, it’s not a martini.”

She blinked, “That’s – exactly what I thought.”

She almost didn’t notice herself relax enough to take an absent-minded sip.

Lou Adderline is a recently lapsed academic currently trying to ‘write more’. This is the first piece of fiction she has submitted to a publication. She’s on Twitter @loufuchsia

FROM THE CORONA POEMS – Kathryn de Lyon

VIII. THEY SAID, “THINGS OVER THERE MIGHT BE A LITTLE BIT STRANGE.” (THE ALIENS)

Like the stars we have just travelled through
they are multicoloured and scattered.
So much space between them.
No clusters, no groups,
rarely more than two of them together.

They move away from each other
like planets with strange orbits.
No gravity pulls them together.

A multitude of silent buildings
stand stiff and ignored
like boxes wrapped and waiting
for hands that will never open them.

Countless roads are running everywhere,
endless scratches
with few motorised vehicles
moving over them.

They said things over here
might be a little bit strange.

Indeed, strange creatures,
solitary,
unfriendly,
uncaring.

Perhaps we should not care
either.

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From Tango Till They’re Sore by Tom Waits (written by Tom Waits)

Chequered – Mike Hickman

One profile photo and two weeks’ worth of texts about what he wanted, what he needed, and every one of them some kind of true, led him there. The Mark in the photograph became a different person. A truer person. The kind who’d respond to ‘stickers’ and ‘likes’ and ‘flirts’. The kind who would then be rewarded, this one (Mark told himself) not-to-be-repeated night, with an invitation first for pre-drinks at her house and then for the kind of night out on the town that the version of him in the photo had never previously had.

That much was also true. He’d told Sylvie that, just as he’d explained what he’d have been doing if he hadn’t accepted her offer.

The third or fourth pub was a micro-brewery – Chequers – and they were packed in too tight, with no chance of the necessary distance he thought he’d need for the one lie he had to tell.

Just the one, to slide underneath all the truth he’d so far presented in plain, easy-to-read, 12 pt. font.

The truth he continued to use against himself, right there, in that Brexity bar with the stippled, rippled bald heads and checked shirts all around. Checked shirts – chequers. Yeah, he’d been amused by that, and told her, too. Possibly within earshot of the bald heads, and she’d been faux scandalised, but it was just the sort of thing that a man like him would say out loud, not thinking of the risk of a bunch of fives in the cake hole.

Sylvie liked him for his inexperience. And all it had taken was the truth. They stood back-to-back against the pillar, and he’d told her the first LP he’d ever bought (Abba – mortifying) and the first film he’d ever seen at the cinema (Young Einstein – worse) and she’d laughed and she’d twinkled and he’d twinkled and he’d thought how easy it was when all he had to do was Tell The Truth.

He was a sensitive soul – every one of his truths had supported that – and so Sylvie took her time working up to the question. It was nearing midnight and now they were in the window of the bar where she’d suggested they might most successfully scandalise the street.

‘Where is she now, then?’ she’d asked.

And he hadn’t needed the lie. Just the truth she expected to hear.

‘Where is she now, then?’ she asks.

Mark looks across the faded consulting room, checks the clock behind the woman’s head, realises that there’s a good ten minutes of the session to go and remembers what she had said about this being the one place where he needs most of all to be honest. Not with her. With himself.

But he had told the truth that night that led to every night – until every night had led to none. It had been plain, simple, easy-to-read, not chequered.

He uses the same words he had used that night.

‘She’s gone to her mother’s,’ he says.

Mike Hickman is a former academic and (very much current!) writer from York, England. He has written for Off the Rock Productions (stage and audio) and has recently been published in the Blake-Jones Review and the Cabinet of Heed.

Confessions of a Moon Child – Nicola Lennon

Once a month or so, the girl would fall
from grace. They took her
by the hand, reciting the way
to ask for forgiveness, rosary beads trailing,
Our Fathers falling
away.

Her father left her in the box. She saw
how he washed away his sins,
filling the font. She waded
through spilt beads until she found
it wasn’t him. It was the moon that took her
home.

She was careful, after that. Good.
She told the priest a tale, reciting
how she pushed a boy. Later,
the moon would shine through stained-
glass sky, and she prayed for a boy
to push.

On her final visit, she confessed
the lie. She brandished it
with a sharpened smile and, there,
she said it. The truth left her tongue like fallen
communion in its full moon
disgrace.

Cabinet Of Heed SOC Stay Safe

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