epilogue – Issue Three

It appeared on Charles Bridge
A canvas of wood, moonlit,
Wedging between the statues.
Those daring of us, we went near
And found these words within.

What does it do with the words it collects?
How affected is meaning
When leaning between
Voices from another register
And land?
What editorializing is this,
What unelected censorship?
Does it have a plan
This wooden confessor,
This multi-drawered dresser
Of strange design?
Where do I write to,
Who do I ask?
Do I dare include these here,
My niggling doubts,
My fears?
How easy it would be
To pull open an empty drawer,
Easing anxiety
Just by the asking?
It’s silent This Cabinet Of Heed
But It has some need.
I know It has a need.

I walk home.
I don’t know Its meaning
Or Its promise.
Dad thinks It’s learning from us.

 

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Image: Free-Photos via Pixabay

Extremities Or… – Sherri Turner

What a Broken Bone Does After M (eventually, if you’re lucky and don’t get the shit doctor I got who had to break it again because he didn’t set it right the first time) or

What Comes After Beginnings and Middles or

What Life Does When you Die or

What Divers Get After B or

What the Complaining Never Does When You Tell Your Wife You’ve Put the Bins Out But You Only Put the Normal Bin Out, Not the Recycling One and It Was Full and Where’s She Going To Put Next Week’s Newspapers Now? Or

The Weakest Point of Most Fiction

 

– Ends –

 

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SHERRI TURNER is a writer of short fiction and poetry and has won prizes in competitions including the Bridport Prize, the Bristol Prize, the Wells Literary Festival and the Stratford Literary Festival. Her stories have also appeared in a number of anthologies. She tweets at @STurner4077.

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Image: Ruben Rubio

 

A Picture of Time – Janelle Hardacre

I capture happiness for a living. Well, that’s how I like to think of it. When anything happens in Whatley Bridge, be it a birth, a red squirrel sighting or a pancake tossing world record attempt, I’ll be there, snapping.

I’d heard through the gossip brigade that a new ‘artisan’ cheese shop was open on the high street. Big news in the village. Naturally, off I went to get some photos. I was already composing them mentally. The treasure trove of Edams, Red Leicesters and Yorkshire Blues lined up like museum exhibits, the proprietor standing behind, a glint of pride in his eyes. I snapped a couple of exterior shots while the afternoon light was just so, then headed in, my Olympus E-P3 and Rolleiflex clacking around my neck. My heart near-ruptured when I clocked the lad behind the counter. He must’ve noticed my face crease into disbelief. I’d gone to school with this boy, forty years ago. It was him, clear as day. Ted. His emerald green eyes, muddy hair and elongated limbs.

“Er…ehm.” Well, at this point, full sentences had eluded me.

“You alright mister?” the lad said. It was an odd relief to hear that his voice definitely wasn’t Ted’s. It was bouncy, Southern. Foreign sounding round here.

“Oh yes. Sorry lad. It’s just. For a second I could’ve sworn…” The boy cocked his head slightly and nodded at me.

“You know Ted don’t you?” Hang on, I thought, how did he? “Grandaaaad,” he shouted like a circus ringmaster. “Another one of your old mates is heeere.”

“You what son?” came a bodiless voice from out back.

I was still befuddled when a tall fellow in a white coat lolloped through, wiping his hands on his green apron. A child would see him as Father Christmas. A jolly, pink face surrounded by bristly white. Those green eyes were unmistakeably Ted’s.

“B-blimey. Willie Naylor!” He said with the same stutter that had developed seemingly overnight all those years back.

“One and the same. How do Ted?”

We stood, wordless, for a few seconds, settling into the strangeness of the moment.

“By, when did I last see you? Must’ve been s-secondary school.”

The word school spiked in my gut. Momentarily hazy, I steadied myself on the glass counter, leaving a clammy hand-print. Ted squinted at me for a split second, then shifted to a new topic.

“S-so, snapper are you?” He said, nodding at my cameras.

We stood there like the two old codgers we now were, sharing snapshots, the details we were happy to air, the major milestones. He had to crack on, but promised me he’d let me take some candid portraits later on. A date was set for that evening at the Tap and Spile.

I left the shop feeling…out of sorts. The village square looked the same, yet unfamiliar. Everything too close, too loud. I was suddenly at my front door, with no solid memory of the walk home. I stumbled towards the sink and vomited, hands trembling as I searched for the nearest sturdy thing to grab. Pictures. More pictures. They flashed and changed. Young Ted skidding towards me playing cop to my robber, then hiding under the leafy strands of the willow tree. Then playgrounds, blackboards, that long wooden ruler, a hand with nails bitten to the quick.

I came to on the kitchen floor, my bag of bags having broken my fall. I blinked up at my Leeds Rhinos clock. Five thirty. Ted. He was expecting me at six. I held my forehead in my hand. I had no number to call and cancel last minute. The thought of my old friend, drumming his fingers on the table, watching the door, made me feel queasier still. I couldn’t just not show. I couldn’t.

I hoisted myself to a standing position and flexed creaky limbs to check for damage. Nothing to report. I breathed in as hard and deep as I could…and again…and again. I was still wearing my coat so I simply slung my camera over my shoulder and walked ten steps to the door. I locked it and just kept walking.

 

I arrived first. The fusty smell of the pub was a strange antidote, like familiar slippers. Safe. Yorkshire voices overlapped, the slot machine tinkled electronically and the fire sputtered in the corner. Jack, the broad-shouldered landlord who I’d known since he was a scruffy blonde-haired mite lifted his eyebrows in my direction.

“Pint of pale?” he said as a statement and a question.

“Please lad.”

I fretted that I looked as peaky as I felt, so I straightened my back and tried to make my eyes smile. I had sight of the door, a warm waft from the fire and all the antique teapots I could imagine to occupy my thoughts. I sipped, relieved when the ale stroked its way down, soothing my clenching stomach. Then, there was Ted, limping over sloshing the head of his pint onto his hand. It seemed natural to hug, the years disappearing like kindling in the fire.

“Come on. Let’s get a few snaps before we get merry,” I said, pointing the lens in his face before he could protest. I captured him, mid-chortle, then some more of his humble glance to the side. I’d caught him well. My best pictures were always taken before people had a chance to register the camera. “That’ll do nicely. Are you on that Facebook? I’ll upload them to the Whatley Bridge page. Let everyone know you’re back.”

“Oi! You’d b-better let me check ‘em first. You blighter.”

We supped our pints.

“So,” Ted started. “S-still in Whatley then fella? Sometimes wish I’d never left, like. G-god’s own country, eh?”

“Oh aye. I couldn’t leave. Never did find a missus, me. So I tell people I’m married to this place, like. Anyroad. Let’s hear what you’ve been up to for forty years, then.”

For someone with a speech impediment, Ted didn’t half like to talk. I was glad. I still felt drained. His hands flailed, he laughed from the pit of his stomach. He’d had a colourful life. A sad one too.

A pause opened up in his storytelling. He stared into his pint. “So, St. Mark’s eh? Seems like another lifetime. Still in t-touch with any of the old gang?” The air changed. I picked at a dent in the wooden table.

“There’s still a few about. No-one from our class I don’t think. Des passed. Did you hear? Heart attack…” Ted nodded. “And Peter Sanders? He sold up his barber’s shop not long back. Packed off to Spain or summat. Oh and Tony. Did you know him? He lives with Joan, up top.” Ted nodded again and made a few humming sounds. It went quiet. I picked at the varnish and avoided Ted’s eyes. A creeping feeling suggested we were headed somewhere.

“Any of the t-teachers still going? Or are they all…?” He tried to smile when he said it but a crease in his brow gave him away. “By…I’m glad that corporal punishment lark is a thing of the past now. To think of my Grandkid…” his voice trailed off. I looked up, then, straight into his face and saw a look of torment I’d seen in my own mirror many times. We held eye contact for long enough to confirm the issue we’d been steering around.

“Mr Richards?” I whispered. “You and all?”

Ted breathed in for an inordinate amount of time. Then finally exhaled. “Aye.” He shuffled his stool and walked to the bar. A few seconds for us each to compose ourselves.

“Have..d-did you…ever, tell anyone?” Ted leant closer to me, clearing his throat. I kept picking, feeling the flecks of varnish stick under my nail. I shook my head.

“You?”

“Yeah. Well. J-just my Sylv. B-before she passed. No one else, like. She were always adamant I should report him. Didn’t see the p-point. Didn’t think anyone would believe a word. No way to prove ‘owt.”

The same mental ground I’d trodden thousands of times. I toyed with a thought. Wondered whether to say it.

“You know…he’s still alive. In a home up Otley way, last I heard.” Ted went visibly pale. He rubbed his face with his hands.

“Another?” he said, standing up.

“Yeah. Go on. Pale.”

 

I didn’t notice it getting dark out, the punters thinning out. “Sometimes, I’ll realise a few whole weeks have gone by, where I haven’t had nightmares or swear I’ve walked past him on’t street. I’ll feel like any other chap. But then, summat small will trigger. Some scratchy fabric or someone with bitten nails. Then…” These thoughts. Out loud. It felt so alien, yet safe to articulate them to my old friend. They were finally outside of my head. And he believed me.

“Aye,” Ted said. “I know what you mean. I’ve managed to b-bury it somewhere to be honest. Like it was someone else. But I never really…”

The last orders bell pierced into our private world. The two of us jumped in unison. The two of us gathered our bits, stood and patted each other’s backs. The two of us were connected, now.

 

The BBC Panorama theme tune flooded my front room. I’d barely blinked or breathed for half an hour. A full, tepid brew was still on the footstool next to me. I walked straight to the phone in the hallway which started to ring before I got there.

“You s-see it?” Ted’s voice said before so much as a hello left my lips.

“Yeah. I did.”

“They b-believed them, Willie.”

“I know….Reckon, reckon there might be more, like?”

“There must b-be, kid. Just to think. He’s g-got away with it. All this time. Reckon it’s ab-bout time to…you know?”

“You know what, Ted? I do.” There was a long pause.

“Right. Right. Tomorrow, then?”

I swallowed, staring at the old school photo I’d dug out which was slotted into the corner of my cork board.

“Tomorrow then. Together. I’ll call you in’t morning.”

I placed the phone into its caddy. The word tomorrow echoing in the hallway.

 

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JANELLE HARDACRE lives in Manchester and writes short fiction when she’s not working in communications or singing. Her work is published in Spelk, Dear Damsels, Ellipsis Zine, Pygmy Giant, Paragraph Planet, FlashFlood Journal and Reflex Fiction. Her story Late appears in William Faulkner’s Typewriter, an anthology by students from Comma Press’ short story course. She blogs at janellehardacre.co.uk and tweets @jhardacre1.

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Image: Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

that’s what love is – linda m. crate

a chorus
of sunsets
sang to me of you,
as i thought perhaps this was the
last time your name
would swim
through my veins;
it was not—
you were the only woman
i ever loved,
and the one to wake in me the dreaming
when i thought it was dead;
i drove you away
because of my fear and my confusion
my anger was not for you but my inability to process
these feelings—
all my life i had been taught this was wrong
didn’t want to be wrong i only wanted to be right
i knew everyone already saw me as
a burden and a blight
on the family tree
just wanted to manage something right,
but perhaps it was my heart that was right and theirs wrong;
regardless i hurt you and for that i am sorry—
i remember how you always smelled
of roses
a pink sunset made me weep for missing you
because as tired as everyone is of hearing your name
it is your name that speaks to me loudest still
even if you never could or will feel the same once i love
i love forever
because that’s what love is
appreciation not ownership.

 

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Image: Tomas Jasovsky on Unsplash

How I Became A Star – Sharon Telfer

They will say it was the sway of my hip, my hair’s lustre, that gleam of sweat beading my spine. Or they will call me, only, beautiful. What more could you need to know of me, after all? In truth, I was a girl like any other, dipping my pitcher in the dappled river, dreaming those dawn-rubied droplets jewels, a burbling fool, babbling as the birds themselves fell silent, as even the water’s dimpled flow slowing, slowing … stopped.

Look! Look up! On the far bank – there – steam-snort of breath, the flehmen curl, branches that twist, then step from the tree. My heart beats once: magnificent creature! Twice; and I know the truth of him by the infinity in his black eye.

And crashes, shatters my pitcher as scrumble, stumble, I scramble – and the drenching wave of his plunge – and my toes sliding, mud sucks, slipping slime – he has come before – yessss, up, hah, running – come for my sisters, in his shifting shapes – oh my treacherous skirts snaring – and the thrud of hooves quakes the air – nothing, nothing to – ‘Mother…!’ – hold, throw, stab – ‘Help me, mother!’ – she snatched, I saw, seized their sweet selves from him, recast … iris swallow laurel … see … See! … she greens my fingers opening tips bud but too, now? no, too late, no, too his hot musk blasts my scalp tines tear my skin and I am down and the agony of his power roots me and I am splintered.

My tardy goddess gathers what is left and hangs me blazing in the cold sky. She means it as a kindness in her way, but now their ceaseless observation will not let me be. They tell my story, pin me to their maps, probe my glare with their bleak gaze as I circle through the mute, eternal dark.

It is not my fault I caught the eye of a god.

 

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SHARON TELFER lives near York, UK. She has won the Bath Flash Fiction Award and the Hysteria Flash Fiction competitions, and been nominated for Best Small Fictions in 2016 and 2017.

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Image: Dimitris Vetsikas

 

Who Needs An Invitation – Lori Cramer

Stu didn’t invite me to his wedding, but that isn’t going to keep me from going. No one means more to me than Stu.

On the day of the ceremony, I put on my best black dress and heels, sweep my hair into a sophisticated style, and drive thirty-eight miles so that I can witness Stu promising to love, honor, and cherish a beautiful woman I’ve never seen before. I try my best to hold my emotions in check, but the tears fall anyway.

At the reception, a man asks whether I’m a friend of the bride or the groom.

“Groom,” I say.

“Me too. Stu and I used to play baseball together. My name’s David.” He sticks out his hand.

“Jasmine.” I shake the man’s hand. Why would Stu ask some old acquaintance to share his special day, but not me? “I just can’t understand why I didn’t get an invitation,” I murmur.

David raises an eyebrow. “You weren’t invited?”

“Stu must’ve been worried that I’d disrupt his big day.”

Alarm registers on David’s face. “Does he know you’re here?”

“Not yet.” But he will. Soon. I scan the crowd. No sign of Stu. The wedding party must still be with the photographer. I should be in those photos.

“I could get a message to him for you, if you’d like,” David offers. “If you’d rather not stick around.”

Does this man think I’m stupid? He’s obviously trying to get rid of me. “Thanks anyway, but I’m not leaving until I speak to Stu face to face.”

A moment later, Stu and his new bride enter the banquet room. Everyone claps.

I take a few steps forward, out into the open, where Stu can see me.

Stu’s face blanches. “What are you doing here, Mom?”

 

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LORI CRAMER’s short prose has appeared in Boston Literary Magazine, Fictive Dream, Riggwelter, Unbroken Journal, and Whale Road Review, among others. Links to her writing can be found at https://loricramerfiction.wordpress.com. Twitter: @LCramer29.

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Image: Photo by Alex on Unsplash

A Little Salt in the Soil – Sarah Wheeler

Valencia brought home basil from the grocery store, the kind with soil in a flimsy plastic pot, and set the plant on the apartment kitchen window sill. She poured a little water in the soil and named the basil Bonnie. That night when Milo came home, she made pasta with cream sauce and strips of fresh basil.

“What is that amazing smell?” he asked from the living room.

“I got basil today.” She carried the whole plant to the doorway between the kitchen and living room and held it up for him to see. “This is Bonnie the Basil Plant,” she said.

“Nice to meet you, Bonnie. I think I’m in love with you,” Milo replied.

“Ha-ha,” Val said.

The next morning, Valencia grew conscious of the fact that Milo had been in the kitchen for a while and hadn’t brought her coffee yet. She flipped back the covers and tilted toward the door. In the kitchen she found Milo bending over the basil plant, whispering.

“Mi? What are you doing? Why haven’t you made coffee?”

“I got distracted, sorry.”

Val started the coffee.

A couple weeks later, she had a late shift at work, and when she got back at nine, Milo wasn’t home. She looked around the house for him but knew he wasn’t there. His car was gone. She texted him. His response: sorry had to run an errand.

In 20 minutes, he walked through the door carrying a small grow lamp and the basil plant. He saw her puzzled glance at the plant. “I didn’t want to leave her where the cat might eat her,” Milo said.

“Why didn’t you just put it in the cabinet?”

Milo shrugged.

Val didn’t say any more about it, even when Milo put the plant on his nightstand before bed.

The next morning, after Milo left for work, Val stood before the basil. She stared with her hands on her hips. “What is going on?” she said out loud.

I let him touch me.

Val thought she heard a crinkling sound in the room, but looked around, saw nothing odd. The cat made a ball in the middle of the bed, sound asleep. Val leaned over the leaves, examining; she lifted the pot to eye level.

He thinks he’s in love with me.

Val smelled the plant, still smelled like basil. She bit into one of the leaves, still tasted like basil.

The front door slammed and Val almost dropped the plant. She crept down the hallway, until her husband rounded the corner and collided with her.

“I forgot something. Just have to grab it and I’m gone,” Milo said.

She let him pass, but once he was in their room, she tiptoed back to the doorway and peeked around the corner. Milo was on his knees with his face very close to the plant, stroking the stems delicately. He had switched on the fluorescent lamp clipped to the pot. She could see his lips moving, but couldn’t hear any words. She returned to the kitchen and waited until Milo came out with a book of stamps.

“Found em!” he said, not meeting her eyes.

For the next few days, Val sprinkled a little salt into the soil just before watering. In a week, the tips of the leaves were browning.

“Valencia!” Milo called to her one day. “What’s wrong with Bonnie? Are you watering her, too?”

“I don’t touch it except when I’m cooking,” Val said.

“What have I missed? I’ve repotted her, watered just enough. Kept her under the grow lamp. I’ve done everything the guy at the nursery told me.”

Val maintained her regimen of salting and watering.

Finally, the leaves started falling off and not growing back. Milo left for work one morning, devastated.

“I’m taking Bonnie to the herb specialist this afternoon,” he said.

“It might be too late then,” Val said. “I’ll take it before I go to work.”

As soon as he left, she took the plant in the terra cotta pot and the grow lamp, and put them in a paper grocery bag. She grabbed the garden trowel. She took everything to the park near their house. Under a group of bushes, where the earth was bare and soft, she dug a hole and placed the packet there. Each scoop of black soil whispered over the crinkled bag.

Please. Stop. Please. Stop.

Val finished burying. “Goodbye, Bonnie,” she said.

As soon as he got home that night, Milo asked where the basil was. Val told him that the nursery had said there was no reviving the plant. Rotten roots.

“The roots! I never thought to check the roots.”

“A fungus,” Val added, patting Milo’s back.

They agreed not to try to raise basil again, as the herb proved too delicate for them. When they took walks, though, Val noticed that Milo always slowed down when they passed the spot where she’d buried the basil. When they saw herbs growing in their neighbors’ container gardens, she felt him tense. His gaze lingered a little too long on the oregano. Where rosemary bushes grew by the sidewalk, he ran his hands through the stalks as they passed.

 

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SARAH WHEELER’s work has earned a Glimmer Train honorable mention and is published at The Glass Coin, Bluestem Magazine, and Poplorish. She is also the flash fiction editor at Newfound.org and copyedits for Ruminate. She reads, writes, works with animals, and hangs out with her husband. She occasionally blogs at http://www.sarahjwheeler.com.

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Image: tookapic

The Willow Pattern Plate – Adam Sear

Having escaped from her well-meaning friends – we’ll take you out, cheer you up, take your mind off things – Carrie stood alone in the expertly organised and labelled scullery of Somewhere House, the ancestral home of the venerable Such-and-such-a-family.

Her medication made her vague, and, in any case, she hadn’t really been paying attention.

On a nearby sideboard, she spotted the unmistakeable blue of a willow pattern plate. Moving closer, she inspected the decoration. Birds flew to new roosts, a bridge crossed water flowing to unknown places.

Carrie closed her eyes and saw an identical plate falling in slow-motion to a granite floor; dropped by an unseen hand, the debris scattered wide across the spotless tiles.

She opened her eyes and wondered where Ben was. Her little boy. Twenty years old now, but still her boy.

She smiled. Her husband Tom holding him for the first time in the maternity unit, while she recovered from a day and a half in labour and emergency C-section. Trying to shove cereal in his chubby little face, as he wriggled in his high-chair. His quirks and fears. His inflexible mind; his inability to lie. On Tom’s shoulders laughing, striding across the Cumbrian landscape. His oversized sweatshirt on the first day of proper school. His terrifying lack of tact. Ed psychs, tests; a diagnosis. Trial by secondary school. A-levels. Cars. And gone.

A room guide had slipped noiselessly into the scullery. Noticing her, Carrie was suddenly aware of her tears. Embarrassed, she turned away, and dabbed her eyes with a greying tissue.

The room guide was a young woman, about Ben’s age. Carrie had often tried to imagine the girl Ben might one day bring home. Perhaps she’d be a bit like this. Slim, dark-haired, glasses that hid her brown eyes and made her look bookish. She saw the room guide in a wedding dress, standing next to Ben. He was older, his skinny frame filled-out, bearded. His father’s child. In her mind, his face morphed into Tom’s. Now, Tom was the groom, this young woman was the bride…

“No…” she said.

“Are you alright, madam?” asked the room guide. Her voice was low, gentle.

Carrie’s heart was thumping hard. She breathed, three seconds in, three seconds out… It calmed her a little, like her counsellor had said it would.

“I’m fine. Perfect, thanks,” said Carrie. Just like you, you cow.

The day it happened, she’d been shopping. Walked into the house laden down with cat food and loo rolls. The glamour. Tom and Ben were in the kitchen. As usual, Ben was in his Spiderman costume. He couldn’t be extracted from it without a screaming tantrum.

“Carrie, I’m so sorry, Ben had one of his moments… Your grandma’s plate got broken…”

In the scullery, as the guide watched, Carrie ran her index finger around the rim of the plate. As she traced the circle, she felt slight indentations where tiny chips had flaked away over the years. Tell me not to touch, I bloody dare you…

Carrie, snuggled on the sofa with Ben watching some animated movie for the seventeenth time.
“Daddy dropped it. Not me.”

It was the first lie to be exposed.

 

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ADAM SEAR lives in Northamptonshire. When not busy earning a living teaching, he writes short stories and creative non-fiction. He is currently studying part-time for an MA in Creative Writing with the OU. His interests include: cosmology, sci-fi, history and the natural world. Strong tea, no sugar.

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Image: Public Domain

Ellen’s Status – John Grey

She was the one who broke up the relationship,
and over a plate of his favorite
blueberry pancakes, overdosed with maple syrup.
Now she has her eye on someone at the office.
So what if he doesn’t notice her.
It’s better to have loved and lost
than kiss a man who tastes of trees.

Her apartment reminds her too much of her ex
so she’s thinking of moving,
down south if that part of the country will have her.
She longs for more sky than New England can provide,
and oranges like miniature suns.
So what if Florida’s tacky.
And, instead of her comfortable furniture,
she’s stuck with cheap rattan.
And the walls in every room are pink,
the color that makes her want to puke.
So what if the so-what’s keep adding up.

She buys a bikini
even though the local summers are hobbit-short.
It fits her well enough
and make her feel younger
She wears it around her rooms
as a protection against loneliness.

She seldom visits the local beaches
but swears to herself
that if he ever moved to where
the beach was hot and broad and sanded gold,
she’d never leave.
She might even go into the water up to her waist.
Her favorite move as a child was “The Little Mermaid.”
She would be Ariel, heart halfway between sea and shore.

Now she wonders if she should have ended the relationship.
He was good for her despite his uninhibited sweet tooth.
And though not as dreamy as that guy in the office
he was kind and considerate and reliable.
Nothing Ariel would have left her briny home for.
But comforting, like “It’s A Wonderful Life”, her other favorite film.

 

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JOHN GREY is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in Examined Life Journal, Studio One and Columbia Review with work upcoming in Leading Edge, Poetry East and Midwest Quarterly.

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Image: Photo by Calum Lewis on Unsplash

On Tuesdays, Erika and Malcolm Go Swinging – Kathy Hoyle

‘Wear the black ones, darlink.’ Erika instructs.

Malcolm likes the K. It always jolts him, like the light spank of a buttock. He pulls out black silk boxers from his dresser and slides them up his legs, they catch a little on his thighs.

Erika squints at him through her Gauloises smoke. She hates the French-ness of them but cannot seem to acquire the taste for a different brand. She compensates with a lack of garlic in the goulash and a refusal to wear Chanel. She despises soft-focus.

Malcolm dresses quickly leaving his gold cufflinks and watch on the dresser. He takes his embossed, Italian leather wallet with one black credit card inside. He puts it neatly in his blazer pocket and stiffens at the sight of his wife. He is amazed at how beautiful she is. He has stopped questioning why she would want him. The answer floats above them relentlessly but Malcolm refuses to pluck it from the ether and examine it closely.

‘We’ll walk tonight.’ Erika declares, buttoning a black cashmere coat over an ivory corset. She stops briefly to straighten the seam of her stocking. Malcolm follows her from the bedroom.

Erika’s spike heels click-clack on the pavement as she strides through the November mist. She checks her phone for the address and calculates twenty minutes, allowing for Malcom. He slip -slops behind like a seal.

‘Why so fast, my love?’ he implores.

She stops. Faces him. He pants before her.

‘Are you excited?’ His grin lifts his chins.

‘I’m cold,’ she snaps and click -clacks away.

The house has stone steps and a door with a stained -glass arch. Golden tendrils of light bathe Erika as she jabs the bell. Malcolm stands in the shadow. The door is opened by a bearded man, young, intense. Erika wonders what the catch is. They rarely look more appealing than the photograph.

Malcolm huffs behind her. Surely etiquette decrees that the lady should greet them. He wants to see the menu before he eats. The young man leads them into the hallway. Their anticipation is soaked up by an exquisite rug. A woman appears, brunette, immaculate.
‘Ah!’ Erika understands.

The woman has a line-free brow and feline green eyes, amused but wary. Thin, pleated lips betray her age.

She smiles with approval at Erika and glances at Malcom. The smile remains expertly etched on her face. Erika muses at the cost of the bearded man as he shows them to the charming lounge. They drink champagne until the women’s smiles soften and the men harden.

After drinks, Erika relaxes in a high-backed Edwardian chair, one spiked heel resting on a polished side-table. She is careful of the lamp. She seeps disappointment into the young man’s mouth, stroking his bare, muscled shoulder. She observes Malcolm’s dough -white buttocks, quivering with effort, as he thrusts into the supine brunette.
Erika closes her eyes.

 

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Image: Andrew Martin

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Knots and Ropework – Anne Summerfield

Charles spends the holiday learning knots. There’s a book in their rented cottage alongside leaflets for Blackgang Chine (coupons expired the previous year) and slightly frayed postcards from the waxworks museum in Brading. She tries Charles with these, might be nice places to go, and he glares at her and returns to the book’s coloured illustrations. Tumbling thief knot, he reads. Alpine butterfly bend. Clinging Clara. He laughs and it feels like the first time in years. Clara like you, Mummy!

She gives in as she knows she must. Goes to find a shop selling rope – just thin, just light. There are places in Cowes catering for the many yachtsmen, luckily, and Charles seems to regard the outing there as more of a treat than the Dinosaur Museum or Robin Hill adventure park. A holiday should be a time to do exactly what you want and this holiday is the best chance they’ve had to do that for too long. Clara drinks camomile tea and reads novels and Charles knots, from time to time demanding props – a small anchor, a hook.

Not that one, she says when he takes too much interest in the Strangle knot. Surely not that. He gives her a look as if he understands, but continues anyway. His father’s son. Then he asks for more rope. In the shop, the chandler smiles sympathetically. And by the end of the week Charles has mastered the Good Luck knot and makes her a gift of it as a keychain.

 

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ANNE SUMMERFIELD’s recent publications include stories in Sleep is a Beautiful Colour (NFFD Anthology 2017), and in the 2017 Flash Fiction Festival anthology. Her story ‘Lamb’ was nominated by Ad Hoc Fiction for Best Small Fictions 2018. She is based in Hampshire, England and tweets infrequently as @summerwriter

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Image: Public Domain

The Power of Three – Stella Turner

Half submerged in darkness and ascending into the light of conscious thoughts and good deeds the house lives and breathes as I do. I am me as the world sees me. I support charities, I go to church, I think good of all but the postman never calls. He leaves the letters, junk mail, the occasional parcel in the boat house. I walk to collect them thinking of seaside holidays and dive bombing seagulls.

Birdsong disturbs my peace. Rooks that live in the rafters of my home call to each other. Chilling echoes of bad times and fears of children trapped in unfulfilled ambitions. I feel free.

The lights of the house flicker three times before illuminating the shadow of the tallest tree across the lake as non existent. It’s Tuesday. I want tomorrow to be Friday, the day of my funeral. It’s a new concept I’ve devised. Why not be present at your own end of life celebration. Hear the eulogy and see the tears falling like rain, a light shower or a torrential deluge if you’re blessed.

A face, old and pale appears at a bedroom window. I wave. It shuffles away appearing at the front door. I wave again and Brian stands by my shoulder, young and athletic. His breath is fetid. He’s been eating sardines again. I watch the shoal beneath the surface of the water. Wishing they were mackerel. He traces the figure three on my forehead and I see Marsha rowing across the lake, sardines jumping into the boat, tomorrow’s lunch sorted.

 

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Image: Gedesby1989

How to Have a Conversation – Pat Foran

I had the kids for the weekend, which meant we had another opportunity to connect. Or reconnect.

A good place to do that, I thought, would be the pop-up coffee shop everybody was talking about — a giant shoe box of a shop on a low-tide terrace near the coastal suburb of Subtext. I’d heard the baristas served frosted mini-epigrams, existential wheat toast and guava crepes. They also had those little bottles of cold brew and a swelligant Mexican latte. So I hustled the kids into the Chevy Cobalt and we headed for the shoe box.

What is this place? the kids asked as we pulled up in front. “It’s a pop-up coffee shop,” I said. Why does it look like a shoe box? Is it supposed to be cool? Also, we don’t drink coffee. “They have other stuff here.” They didn’t seem convinced. A velvet rope? Really? Also, Mom would never bring us to a place like this. “Right — Mom,” I said. “But this is something the three of us can do together.”

They looked at me. I looked at them. Jellyfish clouds hovered over the shoe box like a series of rhetorical questions.

“Look — there’s writing on the wall,” I said. That’s a door, Dad. “Ok. It’s a door. What does it say?” It doesn’t ‘say’ anything. “Come on now. There’s a note.” It was the menu. I read from the top: “‘Welcome to The Convo Pit. We’re All Talk … All Talk and Guava Crepes.'”

I asked them if they wanted to try the vegan crab cakes. A sweet potato chickpea buddha bowl? The guava crepes? Your call, Dad.

We entered the shoe box. I ordered the crepes. What’s that guy doing? the kids asked, pointing to a thirty-something sitting in a red plexiglass box that looked like a British telephone booth, sipping a Mexican latte and pounding his laptop keyboard. “He’s writing something,” I said. Writing what? they asked. The guy who was writing overheard us and said I’m talking to a friend and the kids said But he’s not talking and I said “Typing can be talking” and they said But he’s typing like he’s mad is that still talking? and I said “Good question” and the guy who was typing said Would you mind? so I said “Let’s sit over there and leave him to his type-talking.”

Instead, the kids made a beeline for a woman who was reclining in a vintage barber chair with big-honking foot rests. She had a buddha bowl in her lap and was talking to her iPad screen — Did you hear that?! He stole a car and the cops were chasing him and he crashed into a truck full of I don’t know what those are. Are those mountain goats? That guy must be high. Hey are you high or something? The kids asked her who she was talking to — Live PD, I’m watching Live PD, she said — and the kids asked me why she was talking to a TV show. I said she wasn’t talking to a TV show. Then who is she talking to? What is it called when somebody talks to a TV show but isn’t talking to a TV show?

Before I could answer, the kids were off again, racing toward two guys who weren’t exactly yelling, but they were really into whatever they were talking about. They were facing each other, sitting in a white gilded kayak with a stocked minibar. Dad — what do you call this? “They’re just having a conversation.” How do you have a conversation? “Good question,” I said, a question I wasn’t sure I knew how to answer. Not anymore. They said: Why not? Why don’t you know?

I thought about their Mom and how we often spent summer evenings in separate rooms — she watched baseball and read Schopenhauer, I watched 70s sitcoms and reimagined my flaws. I thought about how she resented the way I interrupted her when I asked her to cut to the chase. How I dreaded the way her eyes disappeared when I got going on a subject I cared about. How the pop-up shop’s upside-down-egg-carton-of-a ceiling looked like a papier-mâché figure of speech. How my pulse beat like a dramatic pause in a miscast biopic. How the soft, sour-sweetness of the guava crepes wasn’t helping to heal the hole in the argument that is my chit-chatting heart.

I thought a bit more about their Mom and I, and the light I thought I could see along the unscripted coast outside the shoe box. I thought about not answering the kids’ question. I opened my mouth to speak.

“I think … it’s not … I mean … “

They told me it was ok, that I didn’t have to go on. That the important thing was that I tried, however unfocused I might have been, to answer their question. You did provide a little context, they said, adding that they probably would be better off reading a book by a linguistics professor — they’d heard about one who was known to be succinct and sanguine on the subject. They also could study the dialogue in movies they admired. And they would consider posing the question to their Mom.

I appreciated their graciousness and thanked them for understanding. They said they’d take a rain check on the crepes and suggested we blow that pop-up stand. Maybe we can talk a little on the way home, they said.

 

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PAT FORAN is a writer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His work has appeared in such publications as WhiskeyPaper, MoonPark Review, Unbroken Journal and FIVE:2:ONE #thesideshow. Find him on twitter at @pdforan

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Image: Wendy Julianto

In Cahoots/Kahoots in Montana – Tom Snarsky

Lake. Lake. Emptying
The lake. A boundless
Emptying of spirit into
Something else. How
Smiles fade. What
Quickness is. Unkempt
Reciprocity of the rain-
Bow. Taking up stand-
Up in the service of
Radical immanence.
To descend toward
Infamy in such small
Steps—noiseless,
In fresh snow…….

 

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TOM SNARSKY teaches mathematics at Malden High School in Malden, Massachusetts, USA.

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My Interview for the People Removal Position – Michael Carter

When I first saw the posting, I knew the job was for me. “Wanted: People Removal Technicians. Must have valid Class A license & ability to operate a Mack-Five plow w/proficiency. Must be available to work night/early morning shifts when traffic is light & on short notice when bodies accumulate rapidly on streets. Prior felons/DUI need not apply. Pay $17/hr. Great benefits. Applications at City Hall.”

I thought the interview went well. The guy asked me standard questions about how long I’ve lived here and where I went to school. But then he jumped right into a bunch of stuff I could care less about.

“What if you see someone on the road you recognize?” he’d ask. Or, “How will you deal with clearing children off the road?”

I know that stuff’s important, but he just went on and on. “Say a head comes loose and gets stuck in the auger; will you be able to pull over, get out of the plow, and free it?”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I kept saying. It’s a people-removal position. I get it. What I wanted to hear about were the perks of the job, you know, where you get to drive and how fast, working extra hours, stuff like that.

“Will I get to do the Bigelow Gulch Parkway route?” I’d ask. He’d poo-poo the question and say something like, “We’ll discuss that later if you get the job.”

Or I’d say, “I don’t have anyone to watch my daughter in the afternoons. If I gotta work then, can I bring her with me? She loves riding in the Mack-Fives.”

He hum-and-hawed about that one and then went right back to questions about ethics, medication, and things like that. He also said something about them needing a blood test and psych exam if things went forward.

For the most part, I felt I did well. The interviewer said I didn’t even need to send a thank you letter or follow-up with a call. “We have a lengthy list of highly qualified candidates this year. We’ll call you if you’ve made it to the next stage.” He gave me a firm handshake and smiled, so I felt pretty good about it.

It’s been over a month now and no call. I know they’ve hired others because the streets are cleared more regularly in the morning when I take my daughter to school. It’s a bit discouraging to have waited this long when I know they need the help and I’m qualified. I’m a positive thinker though; I keep my fingers crossed.

I also pray every night in my head. Please, Lord, I want that people removal position. I’ll work hard and do the right thing, promise. I feel the job was made for a person like me. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.

 

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MICHAEL CARTER is a full-time ghostwriter in the legal profession. When he’s not lawyering, he writes short fiction and creative nonfiction, fly fishes, and spends time with his family. He also enjoys cast-iron cooking and occasional India pale ales. He’s online at http://www.michaelcarter.ink and @mcmichaelcarter.

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Image: Photo by Rene Böhmer on Unsplash

Perfect – Elisabeth Alain

Pulling a brush through knotted hair, she lifts sections of it high and straight. The bedroom light shames her roots, picking out thin white lines against chestnut brown, blending into one shade of hair dye then another. Through to the ends and out, she studies the hairs that cling to the bristles. More than yesterday. Setting the brush down on the narrow shelf, she remembers long, glossy waves that used to turn heads.

She touches index fingers to soft under-eye skin, drawing down her lower lids. The reflection of her face becomes its ugliest self. Thin red lines crawl over the whites of her eyes, green irises suspended in a tangled web. She closes them, tugs at papery skin and sighs. Feline flicks framing second-too-long stares at men she wants and men she doesn’t are a thing of the past.

Stepping back for a full-length view, she stands, naked, gooseflesh rising from the draft blowing though the open window. She frowns at her small breasts, cups the curve of her hip bones, then turns to assess the size and shape of her buttocks and thighs. Acceptable, but not attractive. Unhooking her gown from the back of the door she puts it on, pulling in the belt tighter and tighter, to see how small she can make her waist. She stops when it hurts – then pulls a little more and ties a tight knot. The hourglass figure is hers – until she needs to breathe. She loosens the belt and lets herself soften. Sliding painted toes into comfy slippers, she sits down on the bed, pushes her make up bag to one side and picks up her iPad.

Soft-focus filters, puppy-ears, doe-eyes, flower crowns, and editing apps that take off ten pounds aren’t enough, not when she knows the truth underneath, and she’s had her fill of lies. A quick search points her to a clinic just outside of town promising free consultations, finance options and life-changing outcomes. She makes her decision. The settlement will cover the cost, and she’ll be perfect again by the end of it, ready to start over.

 

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ELISABETH ALAIN lives in Worcestershire, raising two daughters, reading, learning and writing poetry & short fiction. She has recently been published in Ellipsis Zine.

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Cat Lady – A.J. Nicol

Ginger cats are always possessive.

Maurice peers at me over the blanket. I pat the bed beside me and assure, “Empty. See?”

Maurice disappears. Sulking. He’ll be off to the lounge to scratch some furniture.

Tonight’s fling whispers, “Is it safe yet?”

I told Jeffrey my cats are nervous and will pee everywhere if their routine is disturbed. Then I asked him to hide in the wardrobe. He’s been in there for twenty minutes. He pokes his head out and smiles at me, thinking it’s all a game.

I like Jeffrey. I might turn this one into a Maine Coon.

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A.J. NICOL lives in Australia. She likes to write short stuff. Twitter @manicol1

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Living Without The Other – James Lawless

A pecking sound wakens her. With the duvet still encasing her to dispel the rawness of the March morning, she pushes out the frosted window of her bedroom and, looking up, locates the source of the sound to the eaves: a minute green bird banging with his beak at a cotton wool chrysalis. She blinks in syncopation with the wing movement, and then the bird is gone like paper caught by a breeze.

She’s gone too, from her other. She upped and flew away. And who is she now? she wonders. Who is somebody when not appended to another?

Boring, he called her; said he was bored with her. Never in their twenty years together, did she show initiative, never once – he was inclined to repeat himself like he was an orator and woe betide her to interrupt his monologues. It was sexual of course, all the innuendo.

That was the beginning; they were just the words. But frigid was the damning word that led to the excuse for his roaming. That gamey eye of his undressing nubile women, flattering them with his good looks, a dapper dandy with sleek black dyed hair. He had no shame; in the supermarket, he doodled women onto his brain while she stacked the trolley, or in the parking lot while she loaded the car-boot; wherever a curvaceous female appeared, he salivated. He got a kick out of it like he was saying, Look what real women can do, frigid Brigid; they can turn me on, and he’d continue in that vein when he had her home, grabbing his testicles lewdly, trying to provoke her.

At his age, forty four, behaving like that.

And all she ever did all her life was to please the other. Like it was something anointed, a role for her to fulfil sent down to her from on high. All during her childhood and even into those repressed teenage years it was her father, the pleasing of him which was transferred lock stock and punctured barrel on marriage to her new other.

But now for the first time in her life she is free from all that and she is unsure what to make of it. This freedom is a new language that she will have to learn like a child starting again. A self-generating woman? Is there such a thing? What words can she use? What was the past, just weeks ago? An age ago. What is different now? She looks at her hands; it’s like they have lost their use, hands that were in the service of the other, and she examines the long fingers, dry and wrinkly before their softening with the morning lotions. Like down there, that other part of her so ridiculed, she never had dominion over it.

When things are stripped away – layers of herself – she is open to ponder: who is Brigid? Where is the core of her? One thing is clear: she can no longer be boring except of course to herself. But she is not boring to herself. On the contrary, she is a very entertaining lady. Her mind can put on shows that would do Broadway proud. She is multichannel, black and white – she can do film noir – or Technicolor romance. Press the button of your choice. Inside the lady sings.

There’s a pounding on her front door. Her calico dressing gown she ties with its silky strap as she goes to greet Maite the Argentinian neighbour, a petite dark-haired woman in her thirties, calling with her dappled duck eggs which Brigid has yet to taste. The ducks belonged to the earthwatch woman who had met Maite while giving a talk at the refuge for battered women. The earthwatch woman generously lent her log cabin to Maite when the South American explained her predicament about her violent other who could come after her. He’ll have a job finding this place, the earthwatch woman said, and if the snows come, the way will be impassable.

But Maite is still living nervously, twitchingly, fearful that her other will come and find her despite the reassurances of the earthwatch woman. Maite keeps vigil from her eyrie camouflaged by rock and prickly furze and wild holly. She looks down on the valley like a rebel of old watching for the redcoats, expecting her other anytime of day or night to come snaking around the bend in his Opel Corsa with the dent in its bonnet that caused such a furore. It was from a stone thrown up by a truck when Maite of course was driving. He never got the dent fixed, she told Brigid, because it was his excuse, every time he felt like it, to practise on his punch bag.

‘There’s a hare,’ Maite says. ‘Did you see it bounding through the woods? The cheeky fellow has eaten the heads of your daffodils. Did you see?’

‘What would Wordsworth have made of them?’

‘Wordsworth?’

‘The poet. What would he have said on beholding a thousand headless daffodils?’

‘They will sprout again,’ Maite says when she sees the forlorn look she has induced in her friend.

‘The eggs, they make a fine omelette,’ Maite says. She places the eggs, a half dozen in their cardboard box, on the rising red Formica of the kitchen table.

‘And how are you?’

The shudder, shoulders concaving, breath catching in Brigid, brings Maite closer. ʻI’m like the daffodils out there,’ Brigid says, ‘I lost my head too.’

‘You can tell me in your own time.’ Maite strokes her arm.

‘Those strange animals.’

Maite laughs. ‘Animales, sí.’

‘They do not know us.’

‘We are just their prey.’

‘Like the hare.’

‘When the hunter comes.’

‘Yes. When the hunter comes.’

‘We are like the hare.’

‘You are like the hare,’ Brigid says. ‘Mine won’t come.’

‘No?’

The briars are thick around the cottage. She will go at them with the slash hook, thinking how those prickly things paradoxically yield such succulent fruit: the blackberry tart that Maite had heated from the freezer, oozing its purple juices as if the thorns were still there lurking in the pastry prodding, piercing like…

‘We’re not hiding, are we?’

‘Of course we’re hiding,’ Maite says. ‘That’s what women do.’

‘Yes, but what are we hiding from exactly?’

‘You know.’

‘I know the obvious. I know he may come after you at any time. I know all that surface stuff.’

‘Surface stuff?’

‘If we could leave those fears aside…ʼʼ

‘How could we do that? How could we leave things aside?’ Maite says, and her cheek starts twitching to the right of her mouth. ‘Night and day I watch with mucho miedo.’

‘Strip it away, that miedo. Forget about him.’

‘How?’

‘Think of your own life.’

‘It is easy for you to say. Your other is not going to pursue you.’

‘He may not come,’ Brigid says, ‘but others may.’

‘Others? What others?’

Brigid doesn’t answer but looks out the window instead where the light has shifted now into a dull grey envelope, and Con Buckley in a south field is tilling, his red woollen cap bobbing like a distant poppy.

She turns towards her diminutive friend. ‘Do you find me boring, Maite?’

‘Of course,’ Maite says. ‘Who isn’t boring? What did I do today? What did you do? The sum of all our actions. Anyone who thinks he is not boring is arrogant.’

‘You said he.’

‘I did. I wasn’t…’

‘Did I tell you about the lamb whose eyes were plucked out by the carrion crow?’

‘You told me that before about Con Buckley telling you about his lamb. You keep going back to that. Why?’

‘Can you see the fork in the road?’ Brigid says.

‘Where? What fork?’ Maite strains, squinting towards the window. ‘There’s no fork. It’s a bend, a curve.’

‘It’s a joke,’ Brigid says.

‘I don’t understand.’

‘He got his dessert.ʻ

‘What are you saying, Brigid?’

‘Delivered with a fork.’

‘Oh my God. You mean…’

‘I’m full of hate, Maite. Can’t you see all the hate in me?ʻ

‘Do you hate me?’

‘Of course not.’

Their sounds are drowned out momentarily by the snarl of the tractor drawing nearer; the spring ploughing; Con Buckley, sculpting the heavy blackgrey mounds into shapes.

‘My other, he will come,’ Maite says. ‘I feel it in my bones. It’s like they’re waiting for him, waiting for his fists to…’

‘He may not come. Don’t keep thinking he will come.’

‘No, I am telling you. He is that tipo that will go to the end of the earth for…ʼ

‘Validation?’

‘Yes exactly, that is it. He has to validate himself by beating me black and blue. He needs me to do that. Isn’t that extraño? I am his validation in el mundo.’

‘Why are you putting in these Spanish words when you can speak English perfectly?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Why can’t you go back to Argentina? I mean he would hardly follow you that far.’

‘No, I can’t go back. That part of my life is over. We had to elope you know, would you believe it? How innocent I was to elope with such a one.’

‘What brought him all that way in the first place?’

‘Real estate, land, pipe dreams.’

‘Ownership.’

‘Exactly. And I thinking he cut a swagger coming through the pampas grass. My family disowned me for not marrying their chosen one.’

‘They chose for you?’

‘Oh yes, a distant cousin. They had him picked out from his First Communion photograph in his shining white suit. Could you believe it?’ She raises her voice. ‘Could you believe it?’

‘Yes.’

‘They disowned me for marrying an extranjero. If I were to go back they would say, oh they would boast, they would feast in their boasting, that they had warned me, had told me. So you see, it would be recrimination for the rest of my life. Who wants damaged goods?’

She is on the point of tears.

Brigid goes close to her and raises her by her elbows up onto her toes.

‘What are you doing?’

Brigid is a full head higher than Maite. She hears the straining groan of Maite’s leather boots, the soft, sensual leather, she thinks, from the rich pampas grass of Argentina. She feels the physicality in herself, a strength surging through her just like she did that last moment with her other, that last supper when the plates were still bloody with bolognese sauce and she was holding her fork, something rose up in her as never before to counter those mocking eyes. Some waitress he was boasting of in her presence, sparing nothing in the detail: the wonderful curves to behold. ‘Oh, I can tell you frigid Brigid, she’d put you to shame’.

The two women hold, life panting in them, as they trace the landscape of wounds in each other’s face.

‘We are sad.’

‘No, no we will refuse to be sad,’ Brigid says, and like a bird descending, she swoops and plants a ripe kiss on Maite’s unresisting mouth.

‘Those curls,’ Maite says, says fondling Brigid’s hair.

‘I must use the eggs,’ Brigid says, breaking away as if suddenly embarrassed at what she has just done. ‘Maybe this evening I could make an omelette.’

‘There is elderberry wine up in the house. I could…’

‘We could do a lot of things with all our coulds.’

The cottage had been the summer retreat of her parents where Brigid’s childhood was etched. She can still locate the marks. Her height measured on the architrave of the kitchen door, notched from her first other’s penknife. And in the bedroom, the child bed with its cold metal frame that she cannot bring herself to move, as if it is bolted to the floor. The single bed, she thinks, where dual things happened. And Maite saying she keeps harping back to that story, she hadn’t realised. What’s the big deal about a bed anyway? For Sneezy or Dosey or Snow White or… Mary with her little lamb or whoever… whoever the other may be, as they go, as they ho ho ho on their merry way, as her father used to say with that sandpaper chin of his chafing her child skin. What is it to Maite whether it was Con Buckley or not who told her that story? Mary had a little lamb, its feet were white as snow, and everywhere the lamb went, there followed the big black crow.

That bedtime story, forcing her to cry out.

She rushes to the kitchen door, feeling nauseous, and opening it, inhales deeply the cool evening with its first star and she thinks of another mark: the stars on the ceiling of her bedroom. Those knowing stars. She trembles and she knows, yes, it is the fusion of her two others that is happening now. The fields that were green are now turning to a dusky grey as the light changes; a stealing of light from some superior source, stealing her light, the universe telling her something, the night, as it approaches, is goading Brigid to hood her eyes, to hood her mind to the sleety rain that is beginning to fall. But with snow impending, she thinks, as the earthwatch woman forecast, the ruts in the field, all the slimy marks could be covered over, yes, as if they were never there.

A city slick was the second other with his pinstriped suit worn to conceal that hirsute back of his. A caveman that she had to cling to through the years, as with ice cold perfunctoriness he grunted and pumped inside her. One should be allowed to preview one’s other naked, she concludes now, to see how he goes, before consenting to be his chattel. The city is a clean-shaven concealment. It’s the way of survival among the teeming hordes, on a train or a bus where people breathe each other’s foul air. How else could one live other than by pretending that the elbow in your ribs was never there? Funny, it took all those years for her to realise she was not a city girl. Nobody is a city girl deep down, only those who pretend that the primeval does not exist. His banking jargon, his figures and statistics rained down on her like hard hail.

She looks out on the fields. She is bare now like those trees waiting for their leaves, part of an interim.

But she will not go forward, not yet, as nature is dictating, but back to a time when daffodils wore their heads with pride and nodded in affirmation at a gangly freckled young girl in her curls and sun-kissed cotton dress with that overwhelming desire to please, to long for the pat on the head, to suffer terror, to sacrifice an innocence for the approval of another. And for the first time, she wonders startlingly, is it possible, is it really possible for a child to survive the games that adults play?

Her mobile phone vibrates in her handbag on the kitchen table. She takes it out and looks at it throbbing through her fingers, knowing it is him. She presses the button, banishing the interloper and draws breath as the room returns to silence.

She has no children. She is glad of that. Less complication for what lies ahead. The inevitable course of events. She is forty three. Does it matter, and what is she? Something sawn off like the cut wood from the tree, something left oozing like a half eaten blackberry cake or like eggs, yes, like eggs that were never cooked, that never hatched. She looks at the worn cardboard box on the rising Formica, the incubator with the tear, the slit in its middle and one of its breast mounds pushed in, like a flattened pugilist’s nose, like Maite’s, yes, on the receiving end of her other. The contents of that box untried. Her eggs are in that tattered body, something used but not used up. The term, she had heard it from the coarse, vehicular mouths of his cronies: ‘She has a good mileage on her.’ Those who were so polite otherwise behind a desk or a grid smiling obsequiously out on a world of actors queuing, nudging one another who were not nudging, who were not pushing. Ar chuir tú é isteach aréir? The Irish words abused, reduced to vulgar codes. ‘Did you stick it into her last night?’ She overheard that, the quip of his crony addressed to her other. We’re a species not meant to be monogamous perhaps except in the sober pretence of day. The false daylight of cities. The false stars in the sky that she can never wish upon. But at least there is the consolation: he will no longer boast, her other; his eye will never roam again. And she looks out towards the undulating valley and the breasted mountain, which he will never see, and the grey holed rock in its womb glory.

A cow has mounted another in the west field. Have they mixed up genders? It is just a form of female caress. Of keeping the rain off the other’s back.

Maite will come and Brigid will open the box. She will make an omelette for Maite and for her. Yes, she thinks, we will drink the elderberry wine and pray for snow.

 

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JAMES LAWLESS was born in Dublin and is an award-winning author of six well-received novels, the latest American Doll, a collection of children’s stories The Adventures of Jo Jo, a study of modern poetry Clearing The Tangled Wood: Poetry as a way of seeing the world, and a poetry collection Rus in Urbe. http://www.jameslawless.net

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Image: Domenic Hoffmann

The Floods – Colette Colfer

It rained for days and we were all
under a carpet cloud of grey that stretched
through mornings into nights
filled with kamikaze drops
that pelted themselves from their sky palette
turning the land into a living wet watercolour.

Fields became lakes, rivers spilled
over, sand-bag dams were built
to try to keep the waters out
but a dog drowned in its owner’s home.
Houses had to be abandoned.

Someone spoke about building a boat.
A tractor convoy was a funeral cortège
through floodwaters
with a trailer hearse carrying mourners
seated on square hay bales
around the coffin
and still the rain kept falling

Until it stopped and there was silence
and almost the whole land was a silvery mirror
and light dripped from trees.

 

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COLETTE COLFER lectures part-time in world religions at Waterford Institute of Technology. She is a PPI-Award winning radio producer and has worked in print and broadcast journalism. She’s had poems published in Skylight 47, Three Drops From a Cauldron, Poetry Ireland Review, Algebra of Owls and The Poets’ Republic.

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Image: Pixabay

Wailing Waves – Alva Holland

He felt it in his small bones, saw it in the drenched sorrow leached into the creases of his mother’s ragged tunic. Watching her pay the money over, every blood-earned cent lining the pockets of some faceless demon of promises, he saw her tears flow, etching further fine trenches into filthy skin, harrowed from months in camps of stench and death.

They clung like limpets to the listing pile of wood and metal they dared to call a passage to freedom. They packed them on and pushed them off. The creaking heap didn’t last long as deafening fissures split the rotten timbers. The women, including his mother, wailed and keened.

Her death was swift, her wailing silenced by the swirling waves sucking her under, her already ravaged body rapidly despoiled to bone in an underwater feeding frenzy.

He thrashed, caught in the folds of a stranger’s sari, the bright colours drowning in the black waves. The darkness won.

Darkness always wins.

His engulfed body was yanked upward, snapping his ribs.

Something was beating him, slapping him. He vomited and passed out.

‘Wake up! boy. I didn’t pull you out of there for you to die in my arms. Wake up!’

The voice was hollow, the pain visceral. He’d gone to hell for not saving his mother. Thrashing in a frenzied seizure, he flailed into the darkness.

‘Hey, this one’s alive.’

A rough cloth smothered his face forcing his eyelids apart. Choking, he succumbed, slumping against his attacker, cracking his head.

He woke up, bound tight – a prisoner again, his ribs and skull throbbing. Daring to peer through scrunched eyes, he saw two dark brown eyes, staring, but kind.

‘It’s ok, little one. You’re safe now.’

Safe?

War is all he knows.

He doesn’t know safe.

 

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ALVA HOLLAND is an Irish writer from Dublin. First published by Ireland’s Own Winning Writers Annual 2015. Three times a winner of Ad Hoc Fiction’s flash competition, her stories feature in The People’s Friend, Ellipsis Zine, Train Lit Mag, Brilliant Flash Fiction, The Cabinet of Heed and Jellyfish Review.
Twitter: @Alva1206

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Image: Photo by Igor Ovsyannykov on Unsplash

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