There aren’t any notes that have meant so much
as a letter of you. Alone in my room;
hyperventilating when the radio flared.
How could you mess up Italian food?
I went to the city to escape the beat
and saw you in the shadows.
You danced next to Gandhi and Church
and crept into my bed when I tried to sleep.
The first lady slept one head over,
struggling to comprehend my static.
Still, I never hoped for much.
Why would Kate want to be my friend?
You followed me in store windows,
a reflection in tinted glass.
You whispered in the roar of the train tracks,
growing louder, white noise forcing me to sleep.
JULIETTE SEBOCK is the author of Mistakes Were Made and has poems forthcoming or appearing in a variety of publications. She is the founding editor of Nightingale & Sparrow and runs a lifestyle blog, For the Sake of Good Taste.
Image via Pixabay
I’ve been sitting here looking out of the window for a while now, waiting for something to change. But it never does. It feels colder in here than normal. Bloody heating on the blink again. Tears of condensation race each other down the pane. The one on the left is going to win. No, the one on the right. It’s a draw. The tears blend into each other and form a single trickle onto the frame. They join the other trickles, all racing each for a place in the tributary that will take them somewhere else. Somewhere new. Somewhere far from the cold and the dark. There’s a paradise waiting: anywhere but here.
The teapot needs topping up. Another brew. That would be nice, but my limbs feel stiff. The lads at work used to call me Thirsty Harry. There goes Thirsty Harry, they said.
Brewing up again. Your fiftieth cup, Harry? Cutting down, Harry? There he goes again, to the piss-pot. They joked and laughed: We’re going to bury you in China, Harry. Either that or put your ashes into a bloody teapot. No! An urn, I told them. It’s called an urn. Now the bloody bulb has started flickering. Thought I’d turned that off.
I’m going to have to make an effort to get up in a moment, there are things that I need to do. To get ready for a bit of food shopping. Empty fridges make empty bellies. The rumbling in mine stopped a few days ago. There’s a couple of grains of rice in the bottom of the pan that I couldn’t get out. Left the bloody thing on the hob too long and the water boiled away. Nice bit of Sweet and Sour that was. Got some decent scran those Chinese. I used to order one every time I did a Saturday night shift at the factory. What do you think the lads said? We’re going to bury you in China, Harry. I’ll have to get Bill to pop over and and look at the electrics. That flickering is making me feel a bit sick.
Cleaning. That’s one of the things on the to-do list. Bloody dusty in here now. It’s all settled on Phyllis’ nick-nacks. Should have got rid of them years ago. Should have buried them with her. You leave them alone, they’re my ‘ladies’, she’d say. Tall, slender women with umbrellas or poodles or what-not. The faces on them got all worn away. It’s all that looking at them she used to do. As each day passed she’d be looking and coo-ing over them, talking to them. Faceless bloody ladies. Used to give me the willies. I’d turn them round when she went out. Couldn’t stand them looking at me. Well, how could they look without any eyes, but you know what I mean. I tried to give them away to Bill’s missus.
She collected ‘ladies’ and you know what the cheeky bleeder said? Not really my thing, they’re a bit old. And the faces, they’ve all worn away. I don’t think I could stand that. And bedsides which, they’re just Chinese fakes. Not what you think. They’re a bit odd.
Bill was there. He smirked as I was leaving. I nearly dropped the box of the bloody things. Looks like you’re stuck with them, he said. We’re going to bury you with the China, Harry.
But brewing up, cleaning, sitting here thinking about the nick-nacks, it’s not going to get me very far, is it? And that light. That bulb. It’s getting brighter than the other ones I’m sure. Shouldn’t even be on in the day. It’ll cost me a fortune. I’ll have to nip out to the Post Office and top up the meter card. Pain in the arse.
Here we go, and up you get, Harry.
Come on, you can do it. Up out of the chair.
You silly old sod.
Shift your ‘arris, Harry, Phyllis used to say. Shift your ‘arris. Aris Stotle. Stotle -Glass- Arse. Get it?
Phyllis always knew how to get me going. She had what they call ‘get up and go’. Mine’s got up and left, Phyllis my dear.
Phyllis my dear. I haven’t said that in a long time. Ph-ill-is. Phyllis. Forever my sweetheart. Frozen solid I am, without you. Everything seized up the day you went.
Tighter, stiffer, achier. The days drifted apart. Like those chunks of ice the size of an English county that you see on the telly. Further, further. Until they melted, Phyllis my dear.
The light. What’s happened to the light? It’s stopped flickering. Now it’s burning. It’s bloody sucking the National Grid dry, I tell you. Dry as a bone.
Phyllis my dear.
It can’t be. When I say your name, it gets brighter in here. You always did light up a room, Phyllis.
You’re here? Phyllis? Phyllis? But-
Ridiculous. Get a grip. Who are you kidding? Phyllis, here with me? Phyl-
Phyllis! Let me turn off that bloody light, I can’t see your face properly.
You’re going to have to do it, my dear. I can’t get going today.
It’s burning the back of my eyes out! You’d think having the bastard child of the sun up there in the ceiling would make it feel warmer, but it’s bloody freezing.
Help me up, Phyllis. I need to sort the heating out. Give the boiler a good bashing. I’m sure I’ll be knocking penguins out of the way, though. God, it’s cold. God, it’s –
Your ‘ladies’. Lined up like the bloody Terracotta Army on the living room floor! My dear, how have you managed to do that? At least you’ve turned that bastard light out.
Cup of tea? Yes, of course. Thank you, my dear. A brew. That would be nice.
God, it’s cold. There’s those tears again, on the window pane. Racing down, down, down. Then, blending into each other. I love it how they do that. How two becomes one. Can you see it, my dear? Beautiful.
They join the other trickles, all racing each for a place in the tributary that will take them somewhere else. Somewhere new. Somewhere far from the cold and the dark. There’s a paradise waiting: anywhere but here.
LEE D THOMPSON is a short fiction author, poet and music writer who scribes furiously from an underground bunker in a secret location in the East Midlands. Published by Ad Hoc Fiction, Flash Fiction Magazine, Algebra of Owls, and The Cabinet of Heed. He is a contributor to Memoir Mixtapes and a correspondent for the Mass Observation Archive. Twitter: @TomLeeski Web: ldthompsonwrites.wordpress.com
Image via Pixabay
You could be excused for thinking of Earth as a mother. The creativity of giving birth to life, producing something from nothing, adapting and adjusting to make space for just another one at the table, always inclusive rarely divisive. The perfect picture of traditional motherhood.
Like a mother, she manages many life forms, supports and nurtures the young and the small. She works hard, sometimes day and night, to pull it all together and create an equilibrium in our environment. Like many mothers, she carries on when she is too tired, not able to take time out to rest. Too much to do, too many needing her help.
At dawn she stretches in awe at another day that breaks, another opportunity to witness her work prosper, another day of providing for others, another day of carrying on regardless. One day may seem the same as the rest, but it is the little differences that excite her.
Because she is so capable, expectations increase and she proudly tries to adjust, happy to help, happy to be there, happy to be needed … or so she says.
And gradually, as the demands overwhelm, the hours in the day too few and tasks too many, the stress of the creativity, the pressure of capability, the persistence of carrying on regardless reaches its peak.
Early menopause induced by stress on every aspect of her ability and her energy, she burns, she freezes, she blows and she heaves. Reaching out for support that isn’t there, for understanding that barely exists, research that proves that this is too much, but action hardly enough to placate her needs, much less restoring her former glory …
… the pressures compact, the voices as the world around her darkens: “You used to be capable, you used to have the creativity, you used be ok. You can beat it, if we dig down deep you can carry on providing if you really want to.”
Mother Earth reaches for her last resources and lets them go, all at the same time … Mother of Earth splinters, all she wanted was a little of what she had so proudly gifted for so long, yet no one came forward. She burns, she freezes but no longer blows and heaves.
In her later years, which came too soon, she needed a little of the nurture and the care from the children she loved and contained in her years of creativity. It may be too late for the former glory, but a little contribution from everyone whose life she created, would put her in a place where she could sustain herself. A place where what she gives comes back again, plus a little more.
KARIN BLAK writes poetry, essays and fiction about relationships, emotions, society and other awkward situations. This writing draws on her experiences and training as a psychosexual, relationship and family therapist. Curiosity is a constant companion in her search for where the stories start. She maintains a regular blog at https://karinblakblog.wordpress.com/
Image via Pixabay
I spy with my little eye, something beginning with S.
Ship? How did you guess. But what kind of ship?
You will never guess because this is a transcendental telescope, one my Nanna gave me.
The things I see with this telescope blow my mind. And yet I can’t stop looking. Even when this telescope feels as though it’s stuck in my mind. Everyone thinks I’m just sitting here, on my capstan, watching the world go round, when really I’m lost on the other side.
Over there, mermaids are angels, with eyes of pearls and wings like fish fins and harps made of oysters sprinkled with rainbows. Over there, wooden ships fly through the sea, their sails flapping like giant gulls’ wings. People fly too. And not just sailors. Ordinary folk. They also walk upside down and inside out. Couples dancing is best. Those ropes dangling from their wrists and ankles remind me of coral reefs. Anchors are dotted about, in the sky and underground. And sailors run between them without moving. Some of the things they do are so comical.
I daren’t laugh though otherwise the harbourmaster will get uppity and demand, ‘What’s so funny!’ When I don’t tell him he’ll snatch my telescope, look through it, see nothing, and confiscate it. Then I’ll no longer be able to see my Nanna, waving at me, smiling at me, talking to me. I have seen this. My telescope has foreseen this.
That’s the trouble with the spirit world. They know what’s going to happen, which is both a blessing and a curse.
Spying the harbourmaster heading my way, I curse. If I ignore him, he’ll go away. Whistling a simple sea shanty, I look towards that lighthouse. A living beacon of purples and golds crumbling into the greyest sandstone.
‘What do you think you’re doing, shipmate?’
My telescope is in the harbourmaster’s paws. My telescope is at his black eye. My telescope is bending over his wooden knee. Smirking, he throws the snapped halves at me then staggers away.
No sympathy, please. Sympathy sinks ships. Say that twenty times when you’ve had too many rums.
I could do with a rum right now to drown my sorrow, make my telescope appear whole again. I’ll have to wait until dusk, though, when Nanna visits. She’ll see me right with another telescope. Hopefully one with a harpoon attached to it this time.
Image by Kelvin M Knight
Mornings, the steep stone stairs grow steeper every day. The musty smell of locked rooms. Burnt-on muck at the bottom of the coffee pot that nobody cleans. But mornings are calls, appointments, applications to review; your fingers fly. It’s the hours after lunch that make you think about cell death. There’s a word for it, you looked it up: apoptosis. All those neurons, fizzing and popping. Life out of balance. Your life as a resource that cannot be renewed. Late afternoons, when the smell of cigarette smoke seeps through the walls, thick and grey and granite, but not thick enough to keep out the press of poverty. The brown ceiling stain that grows day after dull damp day, as if anyone could fight the rain and win. Whoever said safe as houses never played, as a child, in an abandoned house, never felt their foot break through rotted wood; never held tight to splintered floorboards, not feeling until hours later the eighteen shards of wood dug from your fingers by a sewing needle in a mother’s patient hands; feeling only the dangling weight of your legs, searching in air; the two friends who ran for help, the one who stayed, counting with you, one Mississippi, two; never dreaming of a time when hanging on every day would scare you more than falling.
KATHRYN KULPA is four generations removed from Ireland, four generations removed from Scotland, and, as she lives in America, feels millions of generations removed from civilization. She is a librarian, editor, and writing teacher, and her work has appeared in Longleaf Review, Smokelong Quarterly, and Pidgeonholes.
Image via Pixabay
Is it safe to run in the woods? I ask.
Oh yes, very safe around here. It’s a lovely town you’ll see, everyone is so friendly, so polite.
I therefore venture into the woods. I am worried at first. A young woman in the embrace of tall trees, all on her own. You hear stories, your mind races, followed by your panicked legs. Nothing like a bit of fear to make you sprint.
But I soon stop worrying. They were right, everyone is so friendly, so polite. And I learn to appreciate the cool shade, the musty smells, the speckled sunshine on the ground. I greet dog walkers and they greet me back. Little children wave and shout hellos. Other runners nod their heads at me. Elderly people let me through. Yes, everyone is so friendly, so polite.
While I’m out running one cold morning, feet landing rhythmically on crunchy leaves, puffing out a white little cloud every fourth step, I’m thinking how my brain is in complete tune with my body, how my body is in complete symbiosis with nature, how I have become running. I overtake other runners, effortlessly accelerating, still finding oxygen to greet them all, as polite as all of the polite people of this small town.
Then it happens.
I slip on a small patch of ice and I sprawl onto the ground. A split second during which my brain can’t comprehend the event. One second you’re up and running, the next you’re flat on the ground, gasping for air.
It reminds me of that time I got swallowed whole and spat out by a large wave, my body rigged by the surf, then an ungracious entanglement of limbs on the hot sand.
I blink my confusion off. A small squirrel is climbing the large tree above, stopping for a moment to look down on me.
I need to gather myself up but I can’t. There is pain spreading from the middle of my back to the rest of my body. I order my toes to wriggle but they stay stubbornly still. I can’t move my head. I can blink. I can feel myself blink. I try to shout for help; my mouth opens but no sound comes out. Like a cat on the other side of a window.
I hear quick footsteps approaching. Thank god. A runner.
He looks at me and nods politely before going around me and carrying on. Another one goes by at full speed. “Morning!” he shouts over the loud music in his earphones, before rabbit-jumping over my immobile legs. A nice family walks by. The little girl waves and the toddler says “e-do”, reaping immediate praise from his parents. “You said ‘hello’ Alfie, there’s a good boy.” And they smile at me and walk by.
I close my eyes. Maybe if I look dead someone might help?
Something cold and moist rubs against my cheek. A large Labrador is giving me the once over, half excited, half concerned about his discovery. He whimpers a bit before starting to lick my face.
At the sound of his name he abandons me for his mistress, a delightful old lady, wearing an incongruous mix of Sunday best and wellingtons. She walks to me.
“I’m sorry dear, about the dog. He’s only being affectionate. Have a good day now!” And with that she’s off, Teddy by her side.
Yes, everyone is so friendly, so polite.
Image via Pixabay
The sound tower is silent, abandoned in the dunes, windswept and dated. Conditions are calm, nullifying its function. On still days like these, the tower finds itself a relic.
We find a spot in its shadow, down by the shoreline, surrounded by remnants of the ocean. Starfish cover the beach in dead constellations. The carcass of a rabbit, washed up and barren, bobs its head in the tide.
With the beach to ourselves, we waste no time in preparing our picnic. Far down the coast, crowds gather on a cliff top, the sky clear and perfect for the occasion. We eat salad and cold meats as we wait, our skin shrivelling in the presence of the sea. At midday it begins, muffled cheers in the distance, as red and blue trails paint shapes above the ocean.
An air display team, flying in unison, pixels on the horizon.
The sound of their engines reaches us, indicating it is time to begin. We fetch a tarpaulin and our shovels from the car. Our task is discreet, hidden by the distraction of the air show, the whole town focused on the planes. We work under the watch of the tower, now a silhouette against a smudge of colour, rainbows of smoke in the sky.
As we half-watch, one of the planes falls away from the others, a speck that disappears into the ocean. From our distance the scene is abstract, belonging to another world.
A breeze rearranges the sand. Slight but noticeable, enough to pause our efforts. Spots of rain follow as the sky darkens. All signs of the storm that has come out of nowhere, to the surprise of the pilots. More spots of rain, or possible drops of ocean from the impact, carried to us in the breeze.
The wind grows cold round our legs, salty and unforgiving. It flips the rabbit carcass over, blowing it into the shallows before breaking it in half.
This change in weather reaches the tower. Air flows through its apertures, its design now apparent. A familiar hum returns to the beach, a background noise. Sounds from down the coast feed into its song – crowd noise, an impact on water, the voice of the pilots. Indistinguishable, hidden within the tone, reaching us on delay
The storm escalates as our belongings shift and scatter, bouncing across the sand. The tarpaulin flaps open, fluttering like a ghost of the ocean. Starfish roll by, taken by the gale that is now reaching a peak. We make snap decisions between us, grabbing what we can before the wind decides for us.
The tower groans, the weather teasing new sounds from its vocabulary. An oily scent fills the air, a reminder of the pilots. We head back to our car, accompanied by their echoes, amplified by the sound tower that churns on the horizon.
PAUL THOMPSON lives and works in Sheffield. His stories have appeared in Spelk Fiction, Ellipsis Zine and The Cabinet of Heed. Find out more at @hombre_hompson
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