The Unraveling – Gaynor Jones

On the day that Derek’s body parts decided to leave him, it didn’t come as a shock.

His nose had had enough of sniffing and snivelling.

His fingers ached from all that scrolling and typing – reams and reams of vitriol directed at total strangers. They’d hated it.

His ears had never forgiven him for the humiliation of the great lost bud debacle of ‘93, sitting in the emergency room with all the other ears wiggling and sniggering on the heads around them.

His mouth – still hoping for a second kiss – couldn’t abandon him. It stayed put, along with his once kind eyes.

The feet longed to run, to hop, to skip – activities they barely remembered from his childhood. They itched to get off the couch, out through the door, into the great, wide world.

His arms wanted to leave but his hands begged for more time. Even fingerless, they felt they could still help him.

No one really cared about the belly button; tiny puckered thing. So it worked itself loose. Quietly. Methodically. It took a few hours, but eventually it untethered itself from the slack skin around it. Only, when it broke loose – so did all hell.

Blood. Intestines. A take-away engorged stomach. Slithering and splattering out onto the already stained couch.

The belly button blushed as the other parts stood and stared.

The fingers did a slow, sarcastic slap.

‘I didn’t know.’

His words fell on deaf ears. Literally. The ears were already out of the door.

The other parts had no choice now. One by one they abandoned post. Some elated, some wistful. All hopeful that their next host might take just a little more care of them.

 

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GAYNOR JONES is a writer of flash, micro and short stories. She has been published in Ellipsis Zine, The Occulum and MoonPark Review, among others. She tweets at @jonzeywriter

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Image: Prawny

Never Not Wrong – Elise Blackwell

He was always asking what was wrong with her, but she didn’t understand why he asked when he already knew. He just wanted to hear her say it, she figured, though he didn’t really want for her to say the whys but just name the fact of her being wrong and never doing anything goddamn right. Never was the word he used, though even he had to know it was an exaggeration.

She’d heard older women explain that their men hadn’t always been the way they were now. “He was so sweet when we got started,” they’d say, or, ‘It was the disappointments that turned him picky and mean.” But Jeff had been a criticizer from the get-go. “Jeff-i-quette,” his friends explained when he tore someone a new one for letting half a can of beer turn warm in the sun. “It’s goddamn Sunday,” he’d yell. “There’s no more to be bought due to the goddamn blue laws in this goddamn place.” When he’d asked her out for the first time, he’d said, “But don’t wear those white shorts you got, because aren’t doing you any favors.” And: “Your hair looks better up than down, but not when the ponytail is too high.”

The reasons she’d gone on that date anyway, wearing her dark jeans and a low ponytail, didn’t require a psychologist to explain. Most of their town’s men went off to the Marines if not the Army as soon as high school was done, and most of them didn’t come back except to visit their mom and break up with their sweetheart because one or the other of them hadn’t stayed true. But not Jeff, who said he was too smart to let anyone shoot at him in exchange for promises that wouldn’t be kept.

When his Daddy died, he inherited the old man’s boat and got better than ever at making whatever money could be made in a town like theirs, still selling the same weed he’d been selling since middle school but also fishing and doing deliveries and the odd job. For awhile, he did, but after a few years the empty beer cans multiplied enough that she had to call into the county for an extra recycling crate. Soon those cans parked him in his recliner like they did most of the town’s men. At first she didn’t mind, thinking that someone who’d taken himself so low couldn’t spend his time finding fault with others. But when one of the older ladies told her she’d got herself an armchair quarterback, she replied that wasn’t even the half of it.

It wasn’t long after that the man with the accent had come up to her while she was cleaning out the boat that no longer went fishing. He had an accent that she knew to be European but otherwise couldn’t guess. He’d read something on the internet about their town, how it was off the beaten path, how it was more authentic than the known places. Authentic was a word he said a lot.

“I think you’ve been had by someone who’s never set foot here,” she said, “but I can take you out to see some gators.”

She taught the blond man the rhymes she’d learned to tell apart the friendly from the venomous, told him how corals couldn’t strike but had to gnaw you somewhere tender so were really only a danger if they got into your shoe or your garden bucket or your house. She took him down the narrowest slews and named the trees holding the Spanish moss that brushed their hair and shoulders. She maneuvered through a whole civilization of alligators and got one to snap at a stick she held over the bow. Later, after the man went home and wrote about her on his blog and the others came, she would bring a bag of marshmallows and let them hold sticks over the biting water.

When she put down a payment on a boat that could hold more than four people, Jeff told her that he’d never go in to debt to money-changers. When she came back from the parish office with a permit bearing her first and last name, he told her he’d never ask the government permission to make money just the same as he’d never ask the state for a piece of paper saying he could live with his woman, which is something she’d heard him say before. But when she took the branch library’s free classes in web design and small businesses tax law, he just asked her where she’d been. Looking at him in his chair, she remembered when one of her clients asked her why she used marshmallows. She’d told him that all animals are drawn to what is sweet and light, and he’d nodded reverently at what she said like it was precious and like it was true.

She knew that whether her business died to Jeff’s laughter or grew large to his envy, she’d never do what she sometimes imagined, which was to talk him out of the house and onto the boat, glide out to where a hundred hungry eyes broke the surface of the water, and tip the boat just enough that Jeff would fall to them if he couldn’t hold his balance. Even as she told herself it would be fate deciding, she knew it would never happen. So sometimes instead she imagined stepping lightly onto the back of the longest alligator she could find. Using its ridges to find a barefooted balance, she’d hold out her arms and ride all the way to the Gulf, where the water and sky would open like a thing of wonder.

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ELISE BLACKWELL is the author of five novels, most recently The Lower Quarter. Her short prose has appeared in the Atlantic, Witness, Brick, and elsewhere. Her work has been named to several best-of-the-year lists, translated into multiple languages, adapted for the stage, and served as inspiration for a Decemberists’ song.

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Image: Photo by Trevor Cole on Unsplash

Animals On A Wire – Chris Milam

The window was stained with tobacco smoke and fingerprints. Outside, at least 50 blackbirds gathered on a power line. A funeral flock. If they were fried alive, he would pick the carcasses off the ground, take them inside, rip off the feathers, drown them in buffalo sauce, set the table for three, eat them, and wash it all down with a glass of sparkling water. His wife would remind him to keep his elbows off the table while his daughter laughed at his transgression. On the wall, the hands of a plastic clock would move as if coated in heavy syrup. Henry would collect dead animals from coast to coast if he could slip into yesterday and relive the past for a few minutes.

Across the street, he watched a tiny girl kick a soccer ball with her dad. It was sweet, the way he let her score a goal between two trees by just being out of reach from blocking the shot. Almost, but no save. The underdog prevails. Her celebration dance was wild and beautiful. Her smiling father didn’t need to relive anything.

The man decided to wash the dishes. It had been a few days. The sink was a menagerie of one: plate, cup, fork, spoon, pan, plastic bowl, lid. Water hot but not skin graft hot. He was done in three minutes. What now?

He sat on the couch and opened the laptop, took a stroll down social media avenue. Smiles brighter than neon signs. Trips to Disney World and the Great Smoky mountains. Love-dipped Melissa sipping on a fruity drink with perfect posture Stephen. Darlene splashing around in the kiddie pool in the backyard. Walking in the park, recitals, zombie costumes, laughing the way happy people laugh. He moved the cursor to the X in the right corner, pressed the pad. Too much, too fresh, too many triggers.

He pulled up an app and swiped left, swiped left, lit a Camel, swiped left. Refrigerator, bottle cap opener, lifted, tilted, swigged. Swiped left.

Back at the window, he squinted at the sun pouring through the glass. Burn everything I’ve seen, he thought. Or everything others have seen me do. Can you do me that solid? Henry opened his mouth, chewed some sunshine, swallowed, then forced it into his organs and bloodstream. He didn’t feel normal doing this.

The birds were still hanging out. He wanted to join them, spend the afternoon with them, just some animals on a wire getting to know one another, surviving together. But what if he was electrocuted and dropped to the ground like a singed cinder block? Would they grieve for him? Miss him? Share stories about the man he was, or the one he should’ve been? No, his new bird friends would see him as a meal, an opportunity, and peck away at his lifeless body until there was nothing left.

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CHRIS MILAM lives in Hamilton, Ohio. His stories have appeared in Lost Balloon, (b)OINK, WhiskeyPaper, Sidereal Magazine, Molotov Cocktail, Jellyfish Review, and elsewhere. You can find him on Twitter @Blukris.

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Image: Edmond Berisha

When She Sings I See – Peadar O’Donoghue

Disused Cadillacs in the dust bowl,
doors open, mileage done,
twin halogen headlights outshone
by two hundred thousand miles
of nowhere and a billion stars,
all dying for another song on the radio,
young arms outstretched on the bench seat,
people always leaving, dreading arriving,
the open road was home,
the open road drummed hope
under white wall tyres,
vast continents lay behind,
and tomorrow was always
another day’s drive away.

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PEADAR O’DONOGHUE is an anti-poet, photographer, and co-editor of PB mag.

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Image: Photo by Kevin Clark on Unsplash

The Lovely Brides – Cathy Ulrich

All the girls got married that week. Wore their best dresses to school, carried posies plucked from their parents’ flowerbeds.

Speak now or forever hold your peace, they said.

Jemma Lee from Class B was the first one. She married a jump rope named Bobo. Bobo had red plastic handles and was coming frayed in the middle. Before Jemma Lee from Class B, Bobo didn’t have a name. That’s how everyone knew it was love.

Jemma Lee stood behind the slide with the rest of the girls. Her best dress was navy blue with a Peter Pan collar. That’s what her mother said it was called when she straightened it for Jemma Lee that morning, pinched her cheeks for a natural flush.

You’ll be a lovely bride, said Jemma Lee’s mother.

Behind the slide, Jemma Lee clutched her bridegroom in her hands.

Oh, Bobo, she sighed.

The girl who was playing the minister had a math book instead of a Bible. It was the holiest thing the girls could find.

The square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides, she read. Do you take Bobo to be your husband?

I do, said Jemma Lee.

When it was Bobo’s turn to answer, one of its red handles flopped up and down like the head of a snake.

Oh, it’s a yes, cried the girls, clutching their pilfered daisies, tulips, alstroemeria. It’s a yes.

Kiss the bride, the girl holding the math book commanded.

Jemma Lee brought one red handle up to her mouth, puckered her lips, kissed.

The girls threw their bouquets in the air. They shouted: Hurray!

They shouted hurray, hurray till recess was over and Jemma Lee wound Bobo around her waist, sighed at her husband’s embrace.

The other girls all decided to get married too. Stephanie Stieg married the pretty rock she’d been keeping in her desk, that sparkled when the light hit it just right. Erika with a K married her best library book, The Westing Game, left a lipstick print on its cover. Codi Schmieding, who dotted all her is with tiny hearts, married an eraser shaped like sushi. She tucked it into her pocket when the ceremony was over, feeling something like heat against her thigh. Jemma Lee watched them all, Bobo encircling her waist.

By Friday, all the girls were married and the boys held the school doors shut so they couldn’t get back inside after recess, till they had to empty out their pockets, leaving their new husbands on the sidewalk, on the grass. Stephanie Stieg kicked at her pretty rock, a little embarrassed that she had ever even wanted to keep it in her desk in the first place, and the boys let her in first.

The teachers thought they should stop the boys, but they mostly wanted the girls to quit marrying things. They watched from the second-grade classroom window as the girls put their husbands down, one by one.

Only Jemma Lee wouldn’t set Bobo on the ground, pulled him tight on her waist so she could hardly breathe.

He’s my husband, she wheezed. We made a commitment.

Some of the bigger boys let go of the door and started chasing Jemma Lee. She fluttered just out of their reach. Ran and ran from them, till she finally climbed the fence and disappeared.

Oh, said the teachers in the second grade classroom. Oh, oh.

The whole school went looking for Jemma Lee, even the little kindergarteners in their matching smocks, looked and looked and couldn’t find her.

The girls trudged back inside, feeling a bit guilty when they glanced at their husbands, piled haphazardly by the school doors. And when Jemma Lee came back to school the next week, none of them would talk to her, for their shame. Except Codi with her heart-dotted is, bravely whispered: Where’s Bobo?, but Jemma Lee wouldn’t say.

After the girls were all grown, they met once for a beer, leaving their children behind with their husbands. Husbands with beards, husbands with mortgages, husbands with cars that always leaked oil. Second husbands, the girls sometimes thought of them, though they never said.

They clanked their pint glasses together, complimented haircuts and flattering necklines, discreetly checked for crow’s feet.

Remember? they said. Remember when we all got married?

How young we all were then!

And they all turned to Jemma Lee in the corner, quietly sipping her water through a straw, Jemma Lee who had never married again, Jemma Lee with rope burn on her palms. Turned to her and waited, waited.

Yes, said Jemma Lee, twisting her red straw in her fingers. Yes, we were very young.

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Image: Bruno Glätsch

Rob. Gemma’s Husband? – Dominic Kearney

Being 16 when his father died gave him an opportunity to become angry and sensitive, to give up his paper round, to fail at school. He didn’t need a reason, to be fair. Michael was quite clever – above average for the country but no more than so-so for the school he’d passed his 11Plus to get into.

He didn’t try. He was lazy. Later he said he was scared to fail and that that fear had taught him a valuable lesson. There was some truth in that but not a whole lot. Mainly he was lazy and not that clever. Even if he’d tried his best, he wouldn’t have done that well. If he didn’t try, he couldn’t fail. That was another thing he used to say later, looking back, giving advice and the benefit of his experience, but at the time he didn’t really rationalise it that way.

Class clown. His teachers called him that. Too busy trying to make the other boys laugh. He liked that.

His father’s death gave the lack of effort extra dimensions. It added poignancy. It let him be rude, and surly, and disruptive, even when he didn’t feel like it. He sometimes just went through the motions. Not an act, exactly, but…He always stood slightly to the side of his real self. He was always a little too aware of his actions and behaviour.

Michael wasn’t the calculating sort. He didn’t sit down and plot his response to his father’s death. But it didn’t come instinctively either. If he snapped at his mother, or answered a teacher back, or stormed out of the house or the classroom, there was always a moment, a fraction of a second, when he made the conscious decision to do so, when he could have decided not to. Messages would flash across his mind – I can get away with this because my Dad has just died. Or, This is how a boy whose father has just died acts. The latter more often, because it gave distance and made it impersonal, lessened the responsibility. He used it on girls too.

Yet though he was false, his falseness was true and honest. He always pretended with such heart and soul that he really meant it. He could – and it stayed this way into adulthood – convince himself most easily.

He remembered a different truth.

Sometimes, by accident, he remembered the wrong things. They never left his head.

Dry skin, psoriasis. Plaque psoriasis. Symmetrical. Get it on one elbow and you’ll get it on the other. On goes the ointment. Give up dairy. Become wheat intolerant. Take your coffee black, your tea with lemon. Another coat to his personality, another interesting quirk. A father who died when he was most vulnerable, a dying mother, a skin condition, a wheat intolerance. Could you call it glamour?

Michael McInerney worried very occasionally that he felt nothing, just what he was meant to feel, or thought it would make him look better to feel. And were his actions and responses and words and phrases genuine and pure? Or learned from films and songs and TV dramas and Latin phrases chanced upon and self-help books devoured?

Michael McInerney both worried about his health and ignored worries about his health. He kept both things to himself. To others, the front he presented was assured and confident, mature and accepting of the inevitable. Rational. Inside he pushed the inevitable away.

If he had an ailment, if something was bothering him, he would research it, find out the facts and opinions, and then tell others those facts and opinions. And he’d tell his friends and acquaintances to do the same.

“You can’t ignore it, mate,” he said. “Here, have a look at this website. Learn about it. Conquer that fear.”

He told the world that here was a man who acknowledged his own mortality, his own speck in the firmament, who harnessed his fears and overcame them with knowledge and understanding and assurance. He talked fluently and knowledgeably, handled technical language with flow and aplomb, and chided others who buried their heads in the sand.

“You can’t bury your head in the sand, mate,” he said. “It won’t go away if you ignore it. You’ve got to face it. I’ll help. I’ll go with you. I’ll talk to her, if you like. I’ll be there whenever you need me, whatever you need me for.”

(You can bury your head in the sand! Look at me!)

He told people of his intention to cut this out and eat more of that. He did neither. He proved conclusively that the doctors were wrong when they recommended this or that.

Late at night he ate heavily, takeaways big enough for two or three people, spooning the chicken fried rice and Singapore vermicelli into his mouth straight from the silver carton, starting to eat on his way from the kitchen to the lounge, fitting a spring roll into his fist and taking huge, devouring bites. He’d spread the cartons on the coffee table and hunch over them, the TV on with the sound down low so as not to wake Amanda, changing channels with greasy fingers.

His great fear was a stroke. He was haunted by a story Stella, his first wife, had told him. The husband of one of her colleagues had been away on business, Amsterdam or Brussels, somewhere like that. Anyway, one night he went to bed, same as normal, and during the night he had a stroke. God love him, the poor man. He was alone in bed, God love him, and it was hours before he was found, the poor man, God love him.

Stella didn’t know the woman well – she’d only just joined her work. Stella came home one night and told Michael the story while she was getting tea ready. This was going back a few years, the late 90s. Stella told Michael the story in a ghastly, shocking account, in a shivery, just goes to show you never know the moment, God love him kind of way. And then she carried on making the tea, singing to the radio, shouting the children to come down to the table, the story behind her, its effect deep but brief.

With Michael, though, the story stayed. He wanted to know more. (He wanted to know nothing, to erase it from his brain.) He wanted details, names, ages, places, times. Where was he? Brussels or Amsterdam or where? How old was he? What was his name? Was he my age? (If he was not Michael’s age, if he was younger, then maybe that meant Michael had escaped, that it couldn’t now happen to him, that Michael had won that round. But older? Just a year or two? Then that meant it could still be waiting for him.) What did he do for a living? Was he away on business alone?

(There was glamour here. Work took this man abroad. Maybe he normally would take a conference call but this trip was unavoidable because what was needed to be said had to be said face-to-face. Michael wanted such a trip. A hotel by the canal, some useful phrases in Dutch or Flemish or French, he wasn’t sure. Bicycles over the bridges, cars on the wrong side of the road, maybe he’d hire a car and take a trip, maybe to the battlefields of the First World War, just for a few hours after the meeting finished early. And the sirens on the ambulance, that continental bell ringing, that continental two-tone, thin, like a toy almost. Like in the films.)

One evening, he said to Stella, “How’s Rob?”

“Who?” said Stella.

“You know,” said Michael. “Rob. Gemma’s husband?”

“Gemma?” asked Stella. It didn’t click. Then it did click and Stella shrugged and said she didn’t know and why are you so interested.

“No reason,” Michael said. Certainly he wouldn’t have been able to say what the reason was, wouldn’t have been able to form the words even if he could have formed the thoughts. Stella had said his name was Robert, but he called him Rob, like he was a friend.

He created a narrative for him, a film Michael watched in his head over and over again, each time adding touches and flourishes. Rob and his colleagues in a hotel bar in Brussels. Not Amsterdam, although it had been Amsterdam to begin with. Brussels was more international, its buildings spare and universal, business-like, sharp. Their day of meetings was over, their meal finished. They’d thought of eating in the hotel, but one of them had heard of a restaurant around the corner that did fantastic moules frites and had a great range of beers, so they’d gone there.

Was their work in Brussels finished? No, tomorrow was the crucial day. So that changed the film. They ate in the hotel. The bar with the moules frites and range of beers, each requiring a different glass, would have to wait. Just one bottle of wine between the three of them. They discussed strategy, who would say what, how far they could go over costs, what they couldn’t compromise on.

An early night. There’d be time to celebrate if things went well tomorrow. Then they’d have a few of those famous Belgian beers, each requiring a different glass.

Good night then. See you here for breakfast, 7.15 sharp. The car’s here at 8.

In his room, Rob went over a few points one last time. Then he called Gemma and told her he loved her and asked how were the kids and no, he’d not forgotten those Tintin books she’d asked him to get, in French, good for the kids.

And then Robert, 37, went to bed and had a stroke. His body collapsed and froze, trapping him silent screaming inside a twisted, useless shell. Would he have woken first? Woken, and then known everything, all knowledge for a fraction of a second before his body and mind contorted and locked.

Locked in and locked out.

He pushed the story away. It never left him but it generally stayed hidden and forgotten. It tapped him on the shoulder at times, the dangerous times when he woke in the night, or the times when he and Stella, and later he and Amanda argued, and she went to stay at a friend’s, or with one of her grown-up children by her first marriage, or – as Michael sometimes wondered, even, sometimes, hoped – with her ex-husband.

At such times the details of the story, the embellishments that he’d added, would herd round him, would drive him, butting him towards a point where he could keep his eyes squeezed shut no longer. He had to look. And the images and words of the film he’d made swarmed round him and stampeded over him and crushed him.

He imagined his body as having an outer shell that melted like a doll left too near the fire. Mouth drooping and dribbling unfelt saliva from a downturned corner, one eyelid toppled uncontrolled to near-shut, his flesh-smeared face and useless, lifeless limbs. Unable to move, unable to speak, but his mind working and his voice shouting and screaming soundless, unheeded, unheard. And he heard everything going on around him, too, the voices talking about him, unaware and not caring that he could hear them.

Could his mother hear? Lying there in her hospital bed? Could she hear his voice when he spoke to her when he visited? He didn’t say much to her, in truth. Too busy making calls from the bedside. Too busy looking busy.

He saw a programme on TV once about patients who had woken during their operations. The anaesthetic hadn’t worked properly, so they were aware of what was happening to them, aware of the pain, but unable to speak or let anyone know of their situation.

Michael McInerney hated aloneness. Not loneliness. He could just about stand that, so long as there were others around him.

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DOMINIC KEARNEY was born in Liverpool and now lives in Derry. He is the author of “Cast-Iron Men” and of “Ireland’s Beautiful North”, published by The O’Brien Press. He does freelance work for the Irish News, Culture Northern Ireland, BBC Radio Foyle, and BBC Radio Ulster.

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Image: Pexels

Bittersweet Symphony – Jeanna Skinner

tronco e smorzando

Merda!” said my daughter’s violin teacher, his voice uncharacteristically sharp as the doorbell interrupted us. De-entwining our limbs, he ran his hands through his dishevelled curls and lunged for his jeans.

A hirsute, bespectacled young man, his proclivity for wild gesticulation amused me no end. I smiled, remembering the first time I’d been the cause of his signature gesture: glissando’d into his DMs, he’d called it, throwing up his hands in that peculiar fashion of his. Despite the age gap, we were good together, but I had to end it – and soon. He was getting too involved. I recognised the signs. I’d been here before.

“Merda!” he said again, meeting my tickled gaze. “Aren’t you even un po ‘preoccupato?”

I traced a lazy finger across his non-damask cheek. His puppy-like espresso eyes were, as ever, eager to please; a novelty dog in the back of a car. Funny how a beard and horn-rimmed glasses could belie such youth. He really was extraordinarily good-looking – beautiful, even, but so young. So naive.

“No,” I said, holding the single syllable like a semi-breve and scribbling myself a mental note to book a manicure, “but that’s why you love me. Hide in the bathroom if you’re worried.” I kissed him before he could light another cigarette. Scowling, I fastened my robe and headed for the stairs.

The doorbell rang again. Ignoring its urgency, I lingered outside my daughter’s room, observing my seventeen year-old’s cacophonic mess. Somewhere, obscured by the noisy medley of clothes, make-up, and magazines, were the floor, bed and chair. Neatly propped in one corner, a violin and music stand were odd, jarring notes in the chaos. Grace Chatto, the uber-cool blonde cellist from Clean Bandit, pouted at me from a poster above the dresser. I smiled back, pausing to asses myself in the dresser mirror: I was in good shape for my age. The first, tell-tale lines of autumn just visible as faint, papery creases in my skin; delicate as venation on a leaf. It was time. Time to tell The Violin Teacher, but first I had to deal with the door.

divisi

On the doorstep of our Bexley semi, was my daughter, Olivia and, behind her, my husband of twenty-four years, Sam.

“Did you both lose your keys?” My voice sounded alright. At least I think it did; it was hard to tell over the sudden snare drum of my heart.

“I forgot mine. Olivia’s lost hers. Or rather, she threw them away.”

“Yeah, because I’m outta here! I’ve had it with you ruining my life! I’m going, and nothing you can say or do can stop me!” She threw her father a foul, withered look, before flouncing up the stairs. Sam sprinted after her, leaving me to assess my capacity for concern. Time to face the music, I concluded, following them like a mourner at a New Orleans funeral parade.

“You can’t leave!” Arms folded across his chest, Sam barred the doorway to Olivia’s room. “You’re not old enough! Where will you go? How will you support yourself?”

“I’ll get a job – and…I-I’ve met someone. He has his own business. We’ll be fine.”

“Wh-what do you mean, you’ve met someone?” Sam turned to me with a look that typically said, ‘Do something!’”

“Olivia, hon. Dad’s right. Let’s talk about it. Sensibly.”

Olivia threw her hands in the air, in an unsettling refrain of The Violin Teacher and for a brief moment, I hesitated, stymied.

“Do what you want Mum, but I’m out of here. You say we’ll talk about it, but you never let me make any decisions. It’s always what you want. What you decide. He loves me. Why can’t you be happy for us?” Olivia shoved her father aside, elbows pumping like a majorette as she marched to the bathroom. My heart clawed at my throat, but I knew I wouldn’t, I couldn’t, stop her.

There was a strangled little scream, and then:

“You’re here? Oh, thank god, you’re here. I’ve missed you so much!”

“You?” My jaw dropped as they emerged holding hands. “You and Olivia? She’s seventeen!”

“Mum! He’s only six years older than me. I’m not a child.”

I couldn’t look at Olivia. I was willing The Violin Teacher to make eye contact, to confess to everything between us since that first night. What were we up to now? The eleventh? Twelfth? I’d lost count, but suddenly, it mattered. My daughter folded his hand in hers and stretched to kiss his beautiful face, and a scream of denial died on my tacet lips. Then Olivia snatched up her case and started plucking her way down the stairs. About halfway down, she stopped. Stung.

pausa

“But – wh-why are you here? You said you had a concert. In Slovenia, right?” Her face was a sinkhole of gaping eyes and mouth. The Violin Teacher dropped Olivia’s hand without ceremony, and I was sure now of how deftly he’d played her.

“Olivia. Mi spiace – I am sorry.”

Gone was the puppy dog. This Violin Teacher was all man, and boy, was his virtuoso performance attractive! I spared a glance for Sam, whose Easter Island silence had caused me to forget his presence altogether. The Violin Teacher left my daughter’s side, and re-ascended the stairs to where I waited above. Sam was behind me at the top, and I flashed on the four of us as crochets and quavers on a staff and almost giggled at the absurdity of it all. With each step, my heartbeat echoed in staccato. Did I really want this?

crescendo

I extended my hand, surprised by the vibrato in it, and then recoiled, as The Violin Teacher reached past me

– to Sam???

“Arsenio,” Sam said sotte-vocce, embracing the younger man with unreserved and familiar passion. Cymbals crashed in my ears, and I glanced at Olivia as a foolish sob bubbled from her open mouth. Then Arsenio and Sam left together, without another word, in unmistakable and perfect harmony.

fine

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Image: Maura Barbulescu

One Time – Mia Christina Döring

In the dead heat of a Berlin summer
I am drilling holes into sharp sheets of tin.

The thin tin wobbles
through hands clumsy in gloves
and I lean heavily,
hunched over,
finger on trigger,
pushing into the space between my knees.

He stands behind me
leaning on the door
in a grey t-shirt,
the one he wears for messy work,
bald head reflecting the sun,
eyes on my back,
watching.

He watches with folded arms as sweat gathers under my arms and between my breasts,
as it runs down my temple and plops with purpose onto the tin.
He watches as the drill gets stuck and bits of frayed metal spin into the dirt.
He watches as I lose my balance and waver, hand flailing, sudden jump in my throat.

He watches until the job is done.

And then he walks away.

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MIA CHRISTINA DÖRING is a writer from Dublin, Ireland. Her fiction and poetry has been published in Vias Poetry Journal, Litro Magazine and Headstuff. Her novel Falling was long listed for the Mercier book deal competition in February 2017. Her non-fiction has been published in Headstuff, The Journal and The Huffington Post.

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Image: Michael Schwarzenberge

The Flying Boy – Anita Goveas

The storm has passed. The lightning did not strike. The smell of iron is still in the air. This is the day of triumph, of achievement, of realisation. She will complete her quest by herself.

The last item of furniture to be removed from her cell is the bed. The wood is rough against her hands but light. It takes no effort in transit. The last item of importance is the sulphur globe. She scavenged sulphur from the apothecary and the metal rod came from a fireplace. It is the only thing that belongs to her.

She places it by the flowering cherry tree she sees every day through her barred window. She walks past to her tools. She spends time cleaning the trowel, the hoe, the rake until they gleam. They are elements of creation. They should be immaculate for the next person. The first bell rings out and dies away.

She hastens to the lake. The light races across the turquoise water. The three boys are waiting. The tallest with the limp. The middle one, the oldest, with the brown hair and the crooked ear. The shortest, with the strongest hands. She has traded apples, carrots and sweet perfumed strawberries from the garden for their patience and co-operation. The middle one shows curiosity and returns often without expecting trade. He has already placed the frame with its silken ties. They all raise their hands to be the conductor. She chooses the one with the chestnut hair, like hers.

The boy is fixed securely around the chest, with his arms free and his feet entirely off the ground. They have practised sufficiently. They are waiting for the audience.

Michael the treasurer walks past on his usual brisk walk to the kitchen. She waits for the look of disapproval and holds the spinning globe against the feet of the suspended boy. His feet begin to glow. It smells of fireside and approaching storm. The virtue is transferred. Michael falters, a never before witnessed occurrence. He stiffens, turns and walks in the other direction. As expected. She waits now for the confirmation. The second bell rings out and dies away. The echo is louder by the pond.

When Michael returns with Thomas the apothecary, the acknowledged man of science, the shortest boy is holding an open book balanced in his strong, sure hands. As the suspended boy reaches out the pages of the book begin to turn. The boy is laughing, waving continuously, the pages surrendering under each pass. The watching men turn and walk towards the largest building. They will return. This is the day of triumph.

They wait now for the testimony: she, the suspended boy, her fellows in experimentation. They are elements of creation. They will be the things she will regret once she has succeeded. Once she has achieved.

Matthew the leader approaches, bringing men with tools in work-roughened hands. These tools are not for creation. She holds the sulphur globe against the feet of the suspended boy. The feet glow. The tallest boy moves forward to stand on the mat of twigs. Perhaps the lightning remains in its surroundings.

The suspended boy reaches out to the tallest boy and the spark leaps between them. It leaps between them and then to the silken ties. The boy with the chestnut hair and the crooked ear is still laughing as he floats away, feet first towards the incipient lightning.

She walks back to her room. The third bell rings out as she is trapped in the passage between the garden and her destination. The echoes swell in her ear.

She lies down on the stone floor, positioned to observe the cherry tree in the garden. She will leave the sulphur globe for the boy with the chestnut hair and the crooked ear. They will come for her now. This is the day of triumph.

 

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ANITA GOVEAS is British-Asian, based in London, and fueled by strong coffee and paneer jalfrezi. Her stories are published and forthcoming in the 2016 London Short Story Prize anthology, the Word Factory website, Dodging the Rain, Rigorous, Pocket Change lit, Haverthorn, and Riggwelter.

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Image: Public Domain

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