Another Place – CR Smith

Where are you heading
You five score men?
United in separation,
Divided across sand
Cast out into silence,
Salt licked,
Weather beaten,
Backs to the land.

Where are you heading
You men of iron?
Cast in man’s image,
The modern day icon,
Measuring life’s passage,
Instructing his course,
Rusting to dust
Before a western horizon.

Where are you heading
You barnacled men?
Nature’s reclamation
Transforming our shrines,
Touching our moods,
Contented, downhearted,
Naked thoughts travelling
Through turbulent times.

 

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C.R. Smith is a Fine Art student whose work has been published in such places as 101 Words, Ink in Thirds, Train Flash Fiction, Ellipsis Zine, Zero Flash, Spelk Fiction, The Horror Tree, Glove Lit Zine and Ad Hoc Fiction.
crsmith2016.wordpress.com Twitter @carolrosalind

 

Image: Carl Johnson via Pixabay

Horns in the Hatworks – Matty Bannond

“Were they really mad, or was it just murky?”

Mercury, Jenny,” Mum said, lifting her shoulders and dipping her voluminous blond crown towards me for emphasis. “It’s very dangerous stuff. And there’s a planet called Mercury, too.”

“OK… but were they really mad or not?”

Mum stepped closer to a sign hung on the wall, scanning columns of text above a drawing of the Mad Hatter’s tea party. “They were drunk, like people in the pub,” she said. “At first. But the longer they spent near the mercury, the worse it got, until they went mad. Then they died.”

“People died to make greasy hats?”

“No. The mercury made sure the hats weren’t greasy.”

I squinted my eyes and shifted my feet. She hadn’t understood the question. Fur pelts hung from hooks, pretty white tails like dandelion seeds. “How many rabbits did they kill?”

“They weren’t pet rabbits.”

“OK… but how many did they kill?”

“It doesn’t say. I’m sure it wasn’t very many.” Mum scratched her left forearm with the long fingernails of her right hand, and looked at her watch. Green light from an EXIT sign caught tiny diamantes that spelled the manufacturer’s name. She exhaled sharply and pursed her lips. “It was a long time ago. There’s no point worrying about it now.”

I ran my fingers across the glass on the display cases. Pith helmets and headdresses were balanced on mannequin heads alongside berets, bearskins and sombreros. Mum explained them to me: Some protected from the sun, some protected from bullets. There were hats that signalled allegiance to a football team and extravagant pieces for ladies to wear at horse races. It had been Mum’s idea, this visit. It gave me pleasure to make it painful for her.

“So why do I need to learn about these hats now, if nobody wears them anymore?”

“Because they’re lovely hats, Jenny, and the other girls in your class don’t know anything about them,” she said. “You can tell everybody about it on Monday morning after Mrs Blake does the register. They’re not nearly as grown up as you are, the other children. They don’t go to museums and learn about all these nice hats.”

I shrugged. I was six years old, deeply weary of Mum’s attempts to protect me from my own nature. I noticed the way her shoulders contracted when other parents welcomed me to birthday parties. “Uh-oh, here she is – watch out!”

We entered an area that was set up like the kitchen in a hat worker’s house. “Isn’t it incredible, Jenny?” Mum knelt down and placed her cheek against mine, gently steering my gaze from right to left and back again. “Stockport a hundred years ago. Can you imagine it? The olden days… very special.” She straightened up, looking around the room and puffing out her cheeks in a show of wonder. I fixed her with a soft stare, and she shuffled further into the museum.

I decided to hide from her.

I ran as fast as I could, tears streaming into the corners of my grinning mouth. Bright overhead lighting bounced off the display cases and wall mirrors, it was like running through a rainbow. I skipped down a flight of stairs and rounded two corners before skidding to a stop. A rubber face was bent over a workbench, a dusty mallet poised above strips of fur.

Echoing voices swept over the floor tiles like a cold draft. I ducked under the bench and slid through the mannequins’ legs, burying myself in a pile of fur that leant against a barrel. Mum stamped past heavily, the first letter of my name sharp and acidic as she stage-whispered it left and right, jerking her taut neck. Her heels scuffed the floor as she flounced away, moving into the next section of the museum.

I stared through the rabbit pelts and watched red, autumnal sunlight cling to motes of dust that hovered between my hiding place and the long windows opposite. I thought about the previous weekend, when Mum had taken me to the Catalyst Museum in Widnes, promising sausage rolls and animal-shaped biscuits. We’d stood in front of a rotating wheel that reminded me of something I’d seen on Saturday morning TV. Calcium. Carbon. Aluminium.

“Is it only the names that are different?” I had asked.

“No, Jenny. They’re made of completely different things.”

“What, exactly?

“Well, very small things. Molecules and atoms, Jenny. The smallest things in the world.”

“OK… but what are those made of?”

Mum was chewing a complimentary pen with The Museum of Science and Industry written along the side. She drew on it like a cigarette, clasped it between two fingers and pulled it away from her lips. “They’re made of the same stuff as everything else. It’s only the amounts that are different, and the way they’re joined together.”

I rubbed my eyes and turned my toes inwards. She hadn’t understood the question. “So my nose is made of the same stuff as a window sill and a baby penguin?”

“Yes,” Mum said. “And you don’t have to ask questions about everything, Jenny. I’ve spent money on this. Try to learn something.”

I looked out through a gap in the fur. A deep voice was shouting my name – several deep voices. The man from the front desk, tall and portly, lumbered into view. He cupped his hands around his mouth each time he called, before placing them back into his pockets, and then repeating the movement. His tone was conciliatory and light.

Two women and four or five men, dressed all in black, followed him. I could make out sheepish expressions on their faces as they called my name in shrill voices that rang through the exhibit. “Oh, Jeeeeeennyyyyyyy? Heeeeere Jennijennijennijenni!”

When their voices faded, I wrestled my way out from under the rabbit pelts and crept back in the direction I had come from. I had the idea of escaping to the bus stop up the road, surprising Mum when she’d given up looking and resigned herself to heading home without me. I tiptoed down another flight of stairs and through the gift shop, until I saw the entrance to the museum café. A banner hung between two heavy black pillars: Horns in the Hat Works. Instruments glinted in the corner of the room.

I recognised the drum kit, and crawled past a bass guitar in its stand, almost knocking it over. The back of the kit was fantastic: The bass pedal with its metal link chain, the wires below the snare, brushes and mallets in a pouch hanging from the floor tom. I wasn’t supposed to see this. I had stolen these insights. It was glorious.

Lines of light raced around the cymbals: I was desperate to strike them with a drumstick, but knew Mum would hear it and I would get caught. Instead, I patted my palm against the high-hat, and it clicked and shimmered mischievously. A shadow darkened the red bricks around the entrance to the café. I shut my eyes and squirmed.

“Well, well, well…” a man’s voice, hushed. “Your mum’s had us searching everywhere for you, Jenny. Is everything alright? Don’t be scared, you’re not in any trouble. Are you ok?”

I peeked through the drum kit. A tall man with white, slicked-back hair was smiling broadly, yellowed teeth tucked under grey lips. His back was a little stooped and his soft arms hung by his sides. His shoes, socks, trousers, belt and shirt were jet black.

“My name’s Albie, I play music in a band. I see you’ve found our instruments. They’re lovely aren’t they? Which one’s your favourite? The drums?”

I smiled, face downturned. Albie chuckled breathily, jerking his shoulders and causing his limp arms to dance. He walked towards me, reached down, and picked up a silver tenor saxophone, clipping it onto a strap around his neck.

“Have you seen one of these? It’s called a saxophone.”

I shook my head. Albie moved the mouthpiece towards his face and quickly licked the reed. Then, standing upright, he blew into the sax. A thick, slightly undulating tone began to build, very quiet but broad and palpable. The air in the room seemed to change completely. The wires beneath the snare began to wiggle against my shoulder.

Albie drew the saxophone away from his mouth and smiled at me. I grinned, euphoric.

“I wonder if you know this tune,” he said. “Listen carefully, Jenny. Are you ready?”

I nodded. That presence poured from the saxophone again. I knew the song but it was transformed, rendered in technicolour, travelling in all directions at once.

“And?”

I whispered: “Is it Postman Pat?”

Albie nodded and played it again, a little faster but still very quiet. I felt silly and proud.

“It’s an easy thing to do, playing a musical instrument,” he said, lifting a chair away from one of the tables and sitting down. He unhooked his saxophone, and stood it on the ground with its neck against his knee. “For this one here, the saxophone, I just have to blow in here,” he pointed to the mouthpiece. “The air travels along the instrument and comes out here,” he said, pointing to the bell. I raised my hand, and he nodded at me.

“What happens if you do it the other way around?” I asked.

Albie’s eyebrows lifted. “You mean if you blow into the other end?”

“Yeh. Does it make the noise so tiny that nobody can hear it? Really small like a molecule or an atom?”

“D’you know, I’ve never tried it. Maybe it would, Jenny. Maybe even smaller than that.”

A wave of shock ran up my back and made the top of my head tingle. “Mum says they’re the smallest things in the world. There’s nothing else smaller than those. That’s where it stops.”

He shrugged. “Like I said, Jenny: I’ve never tried it. I wouldn’t know.” Albie reached down and slowly turned the saxophone until the bell faced towards me. “Give it a try. Then we’ll both know the answer.”

I chewed my bottom lip for a moment, and then climbed carefully past the bass guitar and padded over to the saxophone. Then I hesitated and looked up at him.

“OK… but if the noise at the end is tiny, then the noise at the start will need to be really loud.”

Albie considered for a moment, before raising his eyebrows and pouting his lips. “That makes sense,” he said.

I took another two or three steps forward and crouched next to the instrument. Then, I pushed my chin and nose into the bell of the saxophone, breathed so deep I thought my stomach would explode, and roared.

When I leant back, Albie was weeping with laughter. I started to giggle. We shook and howled, wiping our eyes and gasping for breath.

Mum’s voice: “Jennifer. Where the hell have you been?” She strode towards me, yanking me to my feet and hauling me past a display of heavy machinery and out into the street. Dad brought me to bed that night.

“Is it fun, Jenny? Going to all these museums?”

My jaw quivered.

“There must have been something you enjoyed. Come on, tell me about one thing. What was the best thing you saw?”

I pictured the instruments, positioned exactly as they had been when I first saw them from the café entrance. In my mind they had swollen, pregnant with their overpowering capacity to communicate. I stepped towards each instrument in turn and reached out my hand, swiping clean through them like air or water. Made of the same things as a window sill and a baby penguin. Made of the same things as me. Their voices within me, somewhere. Melodies silent, waiting.

I looked at Dad’s soft smile. “Why would anyone die just to make a hat less greasy?” I asked. “Why didn’t they make saxophones instead?”

 

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Matty Bannond was born and grew up close to Manchester, UK. He is thirty-two years old and currently lives in Germany. Alongside writing fiction and comment, he looks after his baby daughter and plays the tenor saxophone in a six-piece jazz and funk band.

 

Image: 3342 via Pixabay

Flush the Toilets and Turn Out the Lights – Niles Reddick

I told my wife and kids to make sure and flush the toilets when they finish. I realize it would save water if we give it one flush a day, but it would smell and breed germs, and no one sitting would want something splashing up on a leg or behind. My wife said her daddy claimed they were so poor, they flushed once per day to save on well water. I found that disgusting even though it might save. Weigh the smell, filth, and disease against a few extra dollars, and I’d bet most would flush.

I also told them to make sure they turn out the lights when they leave a room and try to avoid turning them on unless it’s dark and they need to see. I’m not Trump with money to throw away and don’t have anyone paying my electric bill. Yet, I came home last night, and everyone was gone to spend money on things they want and don’t need, and toilets weren’t flushed and lights were on.

They weren’t home when I went to bed, and when I got up the next morning, I went through the house flushing toilets and turning off lights. After I gulped coffee, took a shower, and got dressed, I left for the office and was at my computer when I saw a custodian go into the restroom to clean. When I heard him leave, I saw the door open, lights on, and when I go to check the toilet, I saw all the pink chemical mixture and bubbles, like someone threw up Pepto-Bismol, and I flushed, turned out the lights, and convinced myself that we could put all those electric savings toward homelessness and hunger and put all those flushes toward community health, if only everyone were more like me.

 

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Niles Reddick is author of the novel Drifting too far from the Shore, a collection Road Kill Art and Other Oddities, and a novella Lead Me Home. His work has been featured six anthologies and in over a hundred literary magazines all over the world including Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, Drunk Monkeys, Spelk, Cheap Pop, The Arkansas Review: a Journal of Delta Studies, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, The Miscreant, Slice of Life, Faircloth Review, among many others. His website is www.nilesreddick.com

 

Image: Marco Verch via Flickr

In Exile – Shannon Savvas

There comes a morning when the air has changed.
Your face tips, snake-like to the dawn, tasting, testing, inhaling.
The season has turned once more. The still familiar mantra –
Autumn, Winter, Spring and Summer, now delights.

There comes a morning when you wake to the sound of hunters’ guns.
The swallows have left, and the empty skies speak.
Cloud castles, mythic and voluptuous return to the island.
They threaten but never promise rain.
Mushrooms, scabrous tumours, orange, fecund and fertile,
ooze from the earth, cowering from the searching seasoned hand.

There comes a morning when you tighten your dressing gown and search for socks.
You retreat inside to drink your coffee. The Archbishop prays for rain.
Gilded dawns and roseate dusks dazzle. Nights draw in.
You hope this year it will be cold enough to buy bundled firewood.
Christmas scents the air and the faithful fast.
Rain rolls in and fills the dams. Snow settles on Troodos.

There comes a morning when you pad outside in bare feet
to drink your coffee in the soft air. Floral confetti speckles the grass,
fields glow gold and green. Scarlet poppies and windflowers stain the verges.
For lunch you pick lapsanès, fluorescent yellow wild mustard,
or agrèlia, slender spears of bitter asparagus,
to fry in olive oil and eggs, drizzled with lemon.

There comes a morning when the swallows return from Africa.
Joyous parabolas of flight as you watch and smile with delight.
Year after year, they rebuild their dun-coloured nest above your door,
raising fledglings high above the gaze of the neighbourhood cats.
Sun scorches the earth, baking the air thick, resinous and hot.
The sea summons you. A siren to salve and soothe the heat.

There comes a morning when the template
of time comes full circle. You smile.
Once more you tip your face snake-like to the dawn.
The days grow short. Persephone departs.

 

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Image: Vincent van Zalinge on Unsplash

Alvin’s Dancehall – looking back – James Woolf

This too has been one of the more romantic places in town. Handily placed near the car park, the architect took advantage of the high street corner location to incorporate a boastful curve into its frontage. Built as an ice rink in the ‘30s, it morphed seamlessly into Alvin’s Dancehall on the day Chubby Checker released The Twist, and over the years the people flocked to its new incarnation. How they’ve visited this quintessence of dance, this pit-stop in the race for romance, this mass-manufacturer of memories!

And when they are here, be it for Saturday Night Partners or Weekday Singles – laughing as they hand over their £1 entrance fees, wolfing down their chicken and chips in the basket, jiving to Jerry and the Pacemakers, copping of with a fella or a girl when they get lucky – they inhabit the place, as if the business of being here is the only business that’s ever mattered.

There’s a huge wrecking ball swinging on a chain. Suspended from a crane, it’s slamming into the curvature of the building.

In their twenties or their eighties, they steam through the front door and head for the cloakrooms. And with tables on three sides of the dance floor you can always see what’s happening. No one even complains about the lads on apprentice wages who wait for the floor to fill before mining the tables for free drinks. After all, the booze isn’t expensive and the bar’s a friendly place.

Trevor and Tania; Si and gangly Debbie; Judith and Danny the postman; Jacqui and Alan (who later ran off with an Italian waiter); Dominick and Monica, yes, her with the dyed black hair – just a few of the couples who met at Alvin’s.

The ball slams into the building again and a piece of jagged masonry detaches itself.

And look at the joint now! They’re all “doing the locomotion” – clockwork dancers wound up and strutting their stuff. Except for Ian the gas fitter, over on that table; in his fifties now, a regular at Alvin’s for four decades and the driving force in the fight to keep the place open. Maybe he’s thinking of the time he asked an older lass to dance, and was swiftly joined on the floor by his dad who not only took the girl by the hands but ended up marrying her! Or maybe his mind’s on the local golf club, also battling closure (but their members pushed the right buttons and have achieved a stay of execution). Now back with the beers is Ian’s younger brother Sam; Sam who used to win prizes for his Paso Doble at Sunday Night Ballroom; Sam the ultimate lady’s man; Sam who will collapse and die from a pulmonary embolism in two months time. For now, the unmarried brothers are happy drinking their pints, trading a stream of stripped back memories; for what are memories if not careful acts of compression?

And on this special but sad night, Ian looks up to see Valerie Dolan – can that really be her? – Valerie who he stepped out with for a while in the ’90s, Valerie who never took him seriously and then dumped him before heading off to God knows where to study Lord knows what? Ian imagines his memories being contained in boxes that periodically get moved to lower shelves. Some memories can fall to the floor in transition, only to trip you up when you’re least expecting it.

A piece of jagged masonry detaches itself. Freakishly, and as if in slow motion, it takes flight.

Which is exactly what happens now to Valerie, and she stops in her tracks. She was on her way to chat to Enid, they’d said they might see each other tonight. But she immediately recognises Ian. She remembers having great times with him but became so tired of waiting for a marriage proposal that she called it quits and got a job in Derby.

They smile and she mentions that she just saw Alan and Marco, the waiter. Yes, at this last hurrah for Alvin’s, everyone has turned out. But what a shame about the Council having finally called time. And did she hear what the spokesperson said, “an amenity that’s gone beyond its economic life cycle?” It would have been wrong, apparently, to pour good money into repairs and roof restoration with so many other worthy local causes struggling. Then Valerie brings him up to date with her life: divorced from an uncommunicative loser; now back in Mansfield with her teenage daughters.

We can see that in between them coming to Alvin’s Dancehall, there is movement, they have been getting on with the task of living, which is just as well Ian says, what with this place being in its death throes. He’s worried, he tells Valerie, not for the people their age, but for the older folk who still come to the ballroom night who wouldn’t go out otherwise. If Alvin’s is lost to them they’ll be alone, isolated. Isn’t that what we’re trying to avoid? he asks, realising that he’s becoming too heavy too fast – and Valerie does indeed smile vaguely before heading off to find Enid.

Freakishly, and as if in slow motion, the large shard takes flight, projecting itself towards the pavement. Towards the small crowd.

You wouldn’t want to gloss over the darker side of Alvin’s though. Like in the ‘70s when there were genuine problems, some heavy punch ups, and one night a lad got stabbed in the chest outside the cloakrooms, though if you ask five different people who were there that night you’ll get five different versions of what happened.

Because memories, as you’ll appreciate, have been known to bend, like corrugated steel.

One thing you’ll notice tonight is that the place has taken a serious tumble downhill. Peeling flock wallpaper, parquet flooring that looks in places like an unfinished jigsaw puzzle; you could call it chronic underinvestment or a health and safety nightmare.

Like a malevolent insect floating towards a group of children.

For the final hour or so, Ian and Sam return to the floor for a bit of a boogie, and bump into Dominick but not Monica, and then Valerie again, and Ian asks her for a dance for old time’s sake and, before leaving, she gives him her number. The final song is the Beach Boys’ Do you Wanna Dance? – appropriate, but strangely anti-climactic. And afterwards the announcer thanks everyone for supporting Alvin’s over the years, and requests that they please make sure they have a safe journey home. Then they’re spilling out onto the pavement just like they used to, but this time they can’t quite believe it’s all over.

He must be feeling sorry for himself. It’s a week after Sam’s funeral and he’s back on the high street having heard that the work to demolish it has begun.

Not once since the closure did they even advertise it as a business, Ian says, to no one in particular. They always wanted to bulldoze it, for sure, despite all that bullshit about understanding how deeply attached the Mansfield residents feel to the place.

There’s a huge wrecking ball swinging on a chain. Suspended from a crane it’s slamming into the curvature of the building. More pear or old style bathtub, it is nevertheless an act of wanton vandalism. Each time it bashes the frontage, it feels like a physical blow to Ian’s chest. The noise alone is unbearable.

You never called, a female voice says. It’s Valerie, perhaps here for the same reason.

Ian tells her that he didn’t know she wanted him to call.

You’re a soppy date, she says. Why else would she have given him her number?

She inclines her head towards an article in the local paper lying on the pavement, right there in front of him, curious that he hadn’t seen it before.

GOLFERS WIN FIGHT FOR SURVIVAL.

The golf club has finally been saved. It’s actively recruiting members once again.

So we discover that memories have become political currency. Depending on who you are, and how much money you have in the bank, your memories are likely to be worth a whole lot more than those of the next person.

The ball slams into the building again and a piece of jagged masonry detaches itself. Freakishly, and as if in slow motion, it takes flight projecting itself towards the pavement. Towards the small crowd of interested spectators, like a malevolent insect floating towards a group of children.

A warning shout goes up from the pavement. Ian bends to pick up the newspaper.

And the large masonry shard swoops down, misses him fractionally and engaging the foot of a lamppost, leaves it leaning to a sharp angle – traumatised.

Minutes later, when they’re feeling more composed, and having sardonically acknowledged that they too have been saved by the Council, Ian and Valerie walk down the road together. And the sound of the wrecking ball finally recedes into the distance.

 

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James Woolf writes prose scripts and adverts. He has been published twice in Ambit magazine, both in 2017, and shortlisted for the Bridport short story prize, the Exeter short story prize and highly commended in the London short story prize. Various other stories have been published or short listed. Website: woolf.biz

 

Image: By Ministry of Information Photo Division Photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Hoosegow and Canoodle – CB Auder

After a few more years, Dibbs lowered his pickaxe and spat. “Baby, I’m sorry. I just can’t take another day of bustin’ up these frikkin’ rocks.”

“Watch ya language,” griped Oakes. “You wanna work schist all week?”

She might have saved her breath. Warden Hardihar heard every complaint at the quarry, equipped as he was with a Super-Sonar X-Ray Ear-Button Boom.

“Stone is dependable, Mr. Silverspoon.” The warden sauntered over. “Many an otter finds a nice rock and cherishes it for life.” He let his good eye drift towards Oakes’ caboose. “How could you not love this job to pieces?”

“Because I’m sweaty and smelly and itching to be free,” said Dibbs, flashing Oakes a look of What’s this guy, blind? “Come on, Hardihar. Gimme kitchen duty. At least I won’t be peeling.”

The warden craned towards the blazing sun so as not to plow nose-first into Oakes’ glistening breasts. “And you?” he asked her sidewise.

Oakes squinted at Hardihar’s scabby skull. She watched him drip like a hot-boxed birthday cake.

She’d loved candles as a child. Dipping her fingers into the liquid possibility. Its searing thrill. Peeling off print after print and melting them down again. The strange comfort of each new sting…. When had her options gone to shit?

“I got no beef with potatoes,” she said after a time.

“Sometimes otters juggle them,” said Hardihar. “On their tummies. Rocks, I mean. This whole country needs more of that kind of initiative…. All right, kitchen it is!” He poked Dibbs awake. “This is no time for napping in the sun. Do you know how much a man costs to keep?”

***

K.P. was no quarry breeze but it was safer on the melanoma front. And wouldn’t you know it, but the warden couldn’t get enough of Dibbs’ chow. “This is so tasty,” slurped Hardihar, “I wish I could have s-e-x with it.”

“Coming up!” proclaimed Dibbs, dumping the gazpacho into Hardihar’s lap. Thanks to the kitchen’s crap ventilation, Dibbs was usually dehydrated by noon.

A miscalculated stunt, he realized, as Hardihar’s expression developed like that of a time-lapse fetus. If I get booted back to pickaxe, thought Dibbs, who’ll watch over Oakes?

Dibbs lucked out. He’d lucked out a lot being tall and blond, but this time it was because The Sexy Tomatoes’ hit song started throbbing over the PA system.

You’re hot as a thief, boy.
And a keeper seeks relief
in the old-fashioned secrets
of my wet shirt and pantsssss.

***

On Dibbs’ penultimate day, the warden gave him a parting gift. “The best bottom-line ladle off the rack! Bought it with my wife’s own money.” Hardihar hiccuped sadly. “I just can’t believe you’re abandoning me. Nobody values loyalty these days.” He gnawed at Dibbs’ final batch of foccacia.

Dibbs patted the warden’s back until they both burped. “Warden, if you and the governor play your cards right you’ll always have Oakes.”

From the kitchen, Oakes glared. She’d gotten double time for Aiding & Abetting Without a Penis and was now sharpening a large wooden spoon.

“Right.” Dibbs adjusted his collar. “Uh, you should probably know I only ever prepped and served. All of these recipes were actually hers.”

The warden sagged against the inconceivable news. That night he binged on Otters Gone Wild but it failed to lift his spirits. Twenty years to life, he thought, and you still never really know a person. The couch in his mother’s rumpus room felt like sleeping on a bag of rocks.

 

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C.B. Auder’s writing and art have recently appeared in Cotton Xenomorph, OCCULUM, Moonchild, Unbroken, and Red Queen Literary Magazine. Find Aud on Twitter @cb_auder.

 

Image: Samer Daboul from Pexels

Your Own Appendage – Lizbeth Herbert

You have surgery on your foot and your foot changes. When you wake up, you’re heavily medicated, so you don’t notice the difference. By day three, though, the foot has become bitingly honest, saying things like, “I’ve never seen so much dead skin in my life. Now’s not the time to pull back on the hygiene.” Then, to make matters worse, your foot makes a bold decision and declares its gender male, even though you’re not necessarily sure what that foot is. You could have been consulted, at least. By the time you’re able to walk around on crutches, it drags behind, not out of pain, just because it’s fun to create the kind of social awkwardness that occurs when you’re late to your friend’s show.

Your foot, your foot. Is it even your foot anymore? Is ‘he’? Perhaps this surgery was just the thing to make this foot its own foot. The bunionectomies and neuroma removal are enough to let your foot out of the closet to be who he is. A dick.

This was once a pretty good foot. It wasn’t demanding and, while painful toward the end, it was wide, with a bunion on each side. The extra width sometimes came in handy. In a yoga class, you could stand in tree pose forever.

Now, this foot fucks with you. It goes to sleep when you are not asleep, when you cannot sleep, creating resentment. When you wake it, the toes tingle and numb up. Other times it just twitches. All this you can take but it — he! — also gets under your skin, tells you you’re too old to enter the job market in any kind of meaningful way ever again. He did the research and gives you the data. “You are fifty-four,” he says, and laughs at you.

“So are you,” you say with a little too much venom. Oh, your foot knows he’s getting the best of you.

“I look younger, though,” he says, “because I’ve been sheathed in socks for the better part of each year.”

When you write, your foot says, “Write about me,” but then doesn’t like anything you have to say. He tells you the story he thinks you should be writing, one filled with an unrealistic amount of footwork and picking locks with strong toenails. There’s a gratuitously violent eye gouging with a pinkie toe.

And then, freakishly, he makes a pass at you. He tells you something about how each of his toes looks shorter than they actually are.

“What?” you say, letting this sink in.

“Each toe gets longer if it were to be —”

“I know the length!” you say.

“Well, you’re up too high to judge,” he says, and then adds in a cheesy, sexy voice, “get closer.”

The two of you have to go to therapy after that. You can’t unhear something like that, not from your own appendage.

On the way to therapy, your foot tries to take control of the car and gets you into a fender bender. You don’t exchange numbers with the other driver, just apologize and look truly sorry. The driver seems satisfied with that until she hears your foot yelling up at you: Who cares? Who cares? She looks at you like, Real mature. You knew you should have worn closed-toed shoes.

At the therapist’s office, the foot is on his best behavior so, of course, the therapist bonds with him and also slightly flirts with him. Such warm feelings pass between the two of them, even though you are the one who is most attached to them both. You’re attached through years of therapy bills paid to the one and literally attached to your foot. Your foot, whom you’ve known since infancy, is a traitor.

Once the doctor is certain that the foot is on it’s way to healing nicely, you announce on all social media channels — to the seven people paying any attention to you on Twitter and to the fifty or so still scrolling through your Facebook feed, and to his three new followers on Instagram — that your foot and you have not been getting along for a while, so you’re breaking up, though you’ll still live together amicably. You’re still a part of the same body, clearly, but you’re not bonded with him like, say, the other foot, or either arm.

“You’re making a big mistake,” he says. “You cross me and I will easily attract a fungus, no matter how sanitary the conditions.”

At night he calls your friends by going through your cellphone and pressing your contacts with his toes. He sways everyone to his side. They want to have an intervention for you two, but you are not up to it and have to argue with all of them in the middle of the night. You are still hobbling around! You are still taking the occasional codeine so this is not the time! That’s not even what an intervention is for!

You can hear your foot laughing down there from inside his wool sock, surgical boot and blanket wrapped around him, your attempts to muffle his voice. At 2:00 a.m., after assuring your sister that it wasn’t you who called, it was Mr. Big Foot, you try to go back to sleep but it’s impossible. He is still explaining and explaining everything to you, giving you useless instructions about how he manages to make the calls.

“Toes are always the heroes of your stories,” you hiss. “Plus, I have fingers, the real deal!”

He doesn’t respond to this, just tells you the intervention is on for Tuesday and asks you to put it in the calendar.

 

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Lizbeth Herbert is a writer based in Philadelphia. Her last published short story, “Jenner,” appeared in The Philadelphia City Paper. Lizbeth holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University.

 

Image: Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

Writing Poems Called: Lamplight, Keys, I Can See, Message From You, Honesty – Jamie Stedmond

There, in the lamplight,

Lamplight
Old lamp,
lambent, stand bent,
you have clumsily
spilled light onto
my desk, illumining
many long nights

on a foreign desk,
next to my keys,

Keys
She opens doors
she is a powerful person who
knows people who know people
she opens doors and yet her face
is like a keyhole void and inscrutable
and I can not imagine what shape
is the key that would open her up

lies my phone,
which I can see

I Can See
like hairs, the threaded mountain paths:
wisps on vast and varied tracts of land,
high lakes where wrens and pitpits take their baths
in shade of whitebark pine in clustered stands.
There nestled on a languid bend of bank,
I spy beside the riverbeds, a town,
with people trading goods, and thought, with thanks,
toward towers and meeting minds, I head on down.
To think what delectations lie below,
my wond’ring buoyant heart does beat so fast,
to know how wise my wand’ring lets me grow,
through novel sights and sounds in each place passed.
Oh how wise, wond’rous, far-flung, do I roam,
yet only lately, lonely, think of home

from my spot
on the bed, with
a message from you

Message from you
A square blue pane of light; message from you,
I’m trying a triolet, so you don’t start with me.
I let the light fade, evaporate like morning dew.
A square blue pane of light; message from you,
again, washing the wall, I am all taut sinew,
but I won’t move, I can stand feeling guilty,
A square blue pane of light; message from you,
I’m trying a triolet, so you don’t start with me.

Which I know is
full of honesty

Honesty
Honesty softly
falls like rain, uncaring and
gentle, on us all

that means an argument,
which I was never good at –
but still, I would reply,
if I weren’t so very busy just right now
writing a poem called Lamplight

Keys

I Can See

Message from you

Honesty

 

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Jamie Stedmond is a young Irish writer, currently based in Dublin. Jamie is pursuing an MA in Creative Writing at University College Dublin. Previously publications credits include The Bohemyth, Cagibi, ZeroFlash (forthcoming), and Paragraph Planet.

 

Image: Nonki Azariah on Unsplash

Sheets On The Line – Alicia Bakewell

The fence had sagged for years under the weight of a neglected hedge. Petra could see right through into the adjoining garden, which in most ways mirrored her own – washing line, yellowing lawn, shed in the back corner, fruit trees dotted around. Figs, mulberries and pomegranates left a vinegary tang in the air as they rotted on spindly branches and fell to the ground, their owners disinterested in making jam at the tail end of summer.

White sheets were sun-drying, draped neatly over the washing line. Petra eyed the clean squares of cotton. She thought of the sheets on her own bed, grimy with sweat marks, flakes of skin and hair. Sleeping on them now she would be aware of the filth, but it was too late in the day to start washing them.

Behind the largest sheet, a shadow moved. The sheet blew backwards a little, clinging to the outline of a woman’s body. The rest of the scene fell away, and all Petra saw was that white figure, statuesque, now stolen by the swirling breeze as the sheet billowed out again. A tanned, slender hand reached up to unclip the wooden pegs that held the sheet in place. Petra stood quickly, plastic chair clattering to the concrete behind her as she ran inside.

‘Where’ve you been?’ Evan grunted.

Petra’s nose crinkled as she caught the smell of saltwater and fish on him. Evan was almost permanently at sea, his boat a fortress against whatever he was avoiding on terra firma. He only returned to eat, to fuck, to leave in his wake a residue of grey fish guts and a bloodied filleting knife in the sink. Satisfied, he’d take off again, leaving Petra with nothing but a freezer full of cod for company.

Petra ate her kedgeree in silence. Evan flicked through a newspaper, greasy fingers marking each page in the same corner. He repeated shrill headlines, startling Petra each time he spoke.

‘Tax increase? When they gonna give a bloke a fuckin’ break?’

Petra concentrated on a fish scale that was caught in Evan’s hair. It reflected the light, shimmering faintly in the greying strands at his temple.

Pressed against the sheets and their debris, Petra felt Evan’s weight on top of her. His skin was rough and salty, hands grasping at her like crab claws. They didn’t kiss anymore. Petra closed her eyes. She saw that woman’s shape again, faceless behind its smooth shroud of white. She felt herself drifting, her body reacting to thoughts rather than actions. When their eyes finally met, Evan’s were questioning.

It wasn’t the first time Petra had wondered about being with a woman. The idea had been there as long as she could remember. She’d mentioned it to Evan, years before.

‘We can get you a girl if you like,’ he’d said, with a smile that had turned her stomach.

What he was suggesting was not what Petra wanted. If she touched a woman, tasted a woman, it would not be in Evan’s presence. It would be pure, sacred. It would go beyond the physical and into the spiritual, which was why she had always feared doing it. Being with Evan had been easy. Petra was able to deflect his criticisms, to stave off resentment at his long absences. She understood that his capacity to love deeply was lacking. A woman would be able to read Petra’s thoughts, to know her secrets. A woman could both love and hurt without limits.

Evan was gone in the morning, leaving nothing but a slight indent on the sheets. Petra stripped the bed of its dirty linen, throwing it into the washing machine. She made a cup of coffee to take outside. Even with the sun not long up, the ground was warm underfoot. Petra righted the chair that she’d upended in her haste the day before.

Next door’s washing line was empty. A bucket and a weeding fork sat abandoned on the lawn. They had not been there the day before. Petra’s pulse quickened. When had the woman been gardening? Had she been out there at dusk, working quickly in defiance of the fading light? Had she risen with the sun to steal an hour before the heat set in?

She’d wear loose clothing, a shirt with half the buttons missing. Buffalo grass would crunch beneath the bare, hardened soles of her feet. Her hair would fall over her eyes as she leaned forward and she’d raise a forearm to push it back, leaving a little smear of dirt across her face. Maybe she would sing to herself, brave without an audience. Or was she silent, lost in her thoughts? Sweating, she’d push up her sleeves, squint at the sun and put her bucket aside, heading back into the house in search of a cool drink.

Petra shifted in her chair. A door slammed. She put her coffee mug in front of her face and sat still, not even daring to breathe. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a figure dart out onto the lawn, grab the bucket and the weeding fork and disappear, a flash of blue and white. A man. Had Petra imagined the woman? No. There had been no mistaking the curves behind that sheet.

The washing machine beeped and Petra went inside, wrestling the heavy tangle of wet linen into a basket and carrying it out to the line. With effort, she slung the sheets over the wire and stretched to peg the corners, standing on her toes in a distant imitation of her dancing days. She put her face to the damp fabric and breathed in the fresh, cottony scent. The only time the sheets didn’t smell like Evan was when they were hanging on the line.

On the other side of the sheets, Petra could hear voices, rising steadily. An argument. The breeze was blowing in the wrong direction though, carrying most of the words away. Only one phrase reached Petra clearly, shouted by the woman.

‘You don’t think of me!’

Petra took the words inside with her, drinking cold coffee as she repeated them to herself. You don’t think of me. Evan thought of many things. He thought of the weather, of the tides, of the movements of fish. He tried to think them into submission, to bend them to his will. Petra had never tried to bend him to hers. You don’t think of me. What would their marriage have been like if Petra hadn’t volunteered to give up her career? Maybe it would have been Evan who stayed at home, doing the washing and watching the neighbours, while Petra travelled the world en pointe. But they were living Evan’s dream, both of them.

Wild lavender grew in a dense row along the front of the house next door. Petra crouched behind the unruly bushes, cutting flowers at the bases of their delicate stems. She tied a bunch of twenty or so with garden string and attached the unsigned note she had written. I think of you. Standing up, she threw the bouquet over the hedge and onto the front porch where it landed mostly intact, just a few tiny petals straying onto the concrete. Petra giggled to herself and ran home, jumping the low wooden fence with the pointed toes and light step of her past.

The afternoon dragged. Petra lay on her back, staring at the dusty blades of the ceiling fan as she imagined that little bunch of flowers sitting on the doorstep. What ripples would spread from the gift she’d thrown like a stone into water? She dozed, dreaming of pure white sheets on a bed that was not her own. The soft caress of cotton, and of a woman’s hand, were real on her skin. Whispered words played at the edge of sleep. I think of you.

It was early evening when Evan came home. His blue and white checked shirt was clean and there was no smell of fish for a change.

‘Where did you go?’ Petra asked. She’d never seen that shirt before.

‘Out and about. Just talking to the bloke next door there. Reckons someone’s interested in his missus. I told him, don’t look at me. One woman’s enough bloody trouble.’

‘How does he know?’

‘What?’

‘How does he know someone’s interested in her?’

‘Flowers. Romantic, eh?’

Petra picked up her book and feigned reading. How long had Evan known the neighbours? Why had he never mentioned them?

Evan leaned over and took the book from Petra’s hands. She jumped and he laughed softly.

‘Thought we might go out tonight,’ he said. ‘Do you fancy a Chinese? Get dressed, let’s get out of here.’

Petra blinked a couple of times. It had been months since they’d been out together. She put on a green silk dress, too formal but crumpled enough to make up for it. Evan jangled his car keys to signal he was ready to go. He looked her up and down, half-smiling as she walked toward him. There was a light in his eyes she hadn’t seen for a while.

As he reversed the car slowly out of the driveway, Evan turned to Petra, his breath forming the beginning of a question. She didn’t want to answer any questions, or ask any. Eyes on the road, she felt herself jolted forward slightly as Evan put the car into gear.

 

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Alicia Bakewell is a short fiction writer living in Western Australia. Her work has been published by Flash Frontier, Fictive Dream and Ellipsis Zine, and she was the winner of Reflex Fiction’s Spring 2017 competition. She is trying to give up writing poetry. She tweets nonsense @lissybakewell.

 

Image: Karen Maes on Unsplash

An Urchin By Any Other Name – Alva Holland

Raucous laughter floats up the pier from the all-nighters at ‘Rum ‘n Scrum’ where Sirius has often spent the night. Heaps of tangled nets greet the old fisherman as he lurches across the pier, unsteady from last night’s rum, cursing the young scrap he threw a few dollars to, to untangle the nets for the night.

Sirius’s head pounds, his rheumy eyes peering through caked lashes. The boat lists as he piles in the knotted nets. Splinters of shattered conch shells slice into his gnarled, withered hands, weeping from years of gruelling dawn expeditions. Grumbling to himself while avoiding the threaded pole spear jammed into the hull, two skinny bruised feet skid into the mooring rope as Sirius pushes away from the creaking dock.

Tossing a disapproving look at the scruffy urchin, he sees himself in the young eager face, and frowns.

‘Let’s go, boy.’

Manoeuvring the beat-up boat past mounds of discarded conch shells, Sirius and the boy head to sea.

A tiny polyp stretches its longest tentacle past a porous sea sponge toward the closest shimmering plankton. As the sun fuses with the sea, anemones, by harmonious agreement, feed on cooperative algae.

Deep crevices hide the much-maligned black sea-urchin whose spines lurk in the waiting darkness. A sliver of diluted light illuminates a clownfish burrowing into the depths of the anemone’s swaying cylindrical tentacle stream.

A miniature turquoise sponge rebounds off the multi-coloured coral, inhaling the surrounding liquid, expanding and shrinking in a gentle breath as a giant loggerhead sea turtle generates wave after languid wave of oscillating hungry fingers, unsettling gourmet plankton.

The boat’s stealthy shadow looms over the coral reef.

As the distant rumbling fades, the threat of nature’s angry forces has been replaced.

The old fisherman will die but the boy is only learning.

 

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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

 

Image: Pietro Jeng on Unsplash

 

 

Art Lesson – Theresa Ryder

She began with a wide sweeping declaration of brush on canvas.

“There”. She said, somehow satisfied with that bold start.

“It’s a green streak”.

“Wait”.

I was eleven, waiting wasn’t my forte but I settled in, accepting my punishment.

She dipped, mixed, muddled watery swirls with her brush then dragged another layer, now dark grey. Her skirts swished against the floor. A shaft of sunlight threw down a blanket of gold, lighting up the fine straggles of hair that escaped her cotton cap. I wiggled in my seat.

“You like that?” She winked at me with half turned head.

“Yes”. No. The chairback was hard like Sunday pews although without the shadow of Nanny’s rigid discipline. The deep red seat, cold at first, heated with its occupant. My short- trousered legs peeled painfully from the leather when I shifted position. I wanted to go back to the kittens. This time I’d be more careful. I’d give Jemima back her ribbon. Fish her doll from the lake. Learn my spellings. Conjugate the verbs.

With a delicate tipping of brush she dabbed the canvas. It didn’t look like art. Dust spiralled in the sun stream that lit the wood around her swaying skirts.

“Miss, it’s dripping”. Black drops littered the parquet floor.

“Hush”.

Drawn back to the canvas, watching her bend to add a wavy line of black.

“is it a river”?

She smiled in response, waggled her brush in water then ducked it into another pot. A stream of shocking red, the colour of kitten blood, hit the canvas then in a wide arch spattered Mother’s drapes and in full rotation drew a red line across my face.

“Miss”! Tears close. This was not proper behaviour from a governess.

“Quiet.”

I put a hand to my face making things worse, smearing the chair with sticky patches. I pushed back attempting invisibility. Camouflaged in red.

She plunged her brush into pots. Blue. Yellow. Green smudged the canvas. Then I saw it. A cave. I leaned forward, peering into deep black as she threw on colours.

“Watch”, now a whisper.

I watched colours congeal to a uniform sludge and barely felt her brush my skin. Blue now along my arms. Wet, cold as lake water. A yellow ribbon trailed down my leg to the floor.

Thrusting her hands into a pot, she turned with etched smile and slimed my hair, ears, neck with purple then back to the sunless canvas to compose a hand-span sky. A dark tapestry where black dots emerged as seizing Furies, their screaming breath fumed around my head as I fled toward the cave.

Inside the dark sanctuary I saw her in distant light blocking the entrance with flourishing streaks of brown. My scream choked on a spew of rainbow paint that submerged into darkness as I blacked out.

I wake long years later from dreams that tweezer my heart and coat my body in the dank membrane of panic. I know why I dream in colour.

 

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Theresa Ryder was PA to author, J.P. Donleavy before graduating MA (Classics) and a teaching degree. She won the Molly Keane Creative Writing Award, 2015 and was selected to read at the Women X Borders Readathon, 2017 and Culture Night, Cork. She has been published in various journals and nominated for Best Short Fiction anthology 2018. She is working on a novel.

 

Image: Derek Robinson

 

message from the storm – Kenneth West

shadows swing from cypresses
their stinky orangutan feet reaching out
into the unordinary blue night

the branches are draped with togas
in both dream and day
dyed with phoenician purple

as your id strangles your ego
with a newborn’s swaddling
stirring tropospheric anger

and among the tired people
a maelstrom of misunderstanding
thunder’s sonic drum

sweeping them into their
thatched huts as they shield
their dusty faces

with dessicated branches
while one can only wonder what
the flies feel,

as nature the master angler
reels them to oblivion
reason is out of season

on this primeval plain
a storm which we feel to be real
without having seen it

wet ink smudges
a flock of blackbirds flying
over the page’s edge

product of authorial imagining
inside a vortex of apoplectic clouds
couriers of disaster

squelching tribal laughter
while in their communal rooms
they pray

for the fortitude of light
lost in the weeks
of inconsolable torpor.

 

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Image: Rodrigo Soares on Unsplash

The Yellow-Brick Road – Gary Duncan

The motorway is his friend. Lulls him to sleep, a soft black cloak, and carries him away.

***

He hides in the woods at night. Beds down in a hollow under an old tarp, away from the main camp. In a soggy sleeping bag he stole from a boy just like him, a boy of fourteen who didn’t make it this far.

He tries not to think of the boy, or anything else. Blots it out as the motorway thrums in the dark. He’s not sure about it now, the motorway. He thinks it might be toying with him, with its gentle rhythms and seductive promises. For it can be brutal, too, can just as easily rip him awake in the cold dead of night with a screech of brakes and shriek of horns.

***

The trucks don’t stop now, the Afghan says.

They’re standing on the ridge overlooking the camp, watching the trucks roar by. Watching but being watched too. The men in uniforms huddled together, smoking. One of them looks up, stares at Tarek through the drizzle. Looks away, stamps his feet against the cold. Tarek flinches, but the Afghan isn’t afraid of them. Says they sometimes give him cigarettes in return for favours. He grins, his teeth wet and black, and shrugs. It’s not their fault, he says. They’re just doing their job. And they don’t want to be here either.

The Afghan is sixteen, seventeen, his face creased like bark.

“Trucks used to stop all time,” he says. “Trucks stop all time and take us far, far away.” He nods towards an indeterminate point in the distance, over another, lumpier ridge. “It easy then, Tarek, before border guards come. Trucks stop all time over there and you climb in and hide and they take you away and you free.” He roots around in the back of his mouth with his tongue, coughs up some hard phlegm and spits it out into the wind. “Now trucks don’t stop, even when they hit you, when they run over.”

He shakes his head. “You hear it, Tarek, in night?”

Tarek hears it, the brakes, the horns, the screams.

“But easy then. Like Yellow-Brick Road! You know, like movie?”

Tarek doesn’t, but nods anyway.

“Like Oz! Click heels and make the wish!”

Tarek digs the heel of his boot into the damp soil and wishes he was somewhere, anywhere, else.

***

They play football on the patch of wasteland next to the road. Tarek, the Afghan, some others. A woman, a new arrival, who reminds Tarek of his old kindergarten teacher, whose name he can’t remember. The gush of cold air from the passing trucks knocks them sideways, takes the wind right out of them.

One of the guards gave them a black and white ball, brand new. Tarek thinks it might have been the guard who’d been watching him on the ridge, but he’s not sure. They all look the same to him, their grey uniforms, their long white faces.

Gave them a packet of cigarettes too. Tarek asked the Afghan about it, how many favours that cost him. The Afghan wouldn’t say. Stuffed half the cigarettes into Tarek’s coat pocket and said he shouldn’t ask so many questions.

***

The woman turned up a few days before the Afghan vanished. Striding into the camp, her eyes darting left to right. Wide hips, big head of charcoal hair.

They sit on the ridge together, the three of them: the woman, the Afghan and Tarek.

“We’re the same,” she says, and they join hands. “The same but different.” They agree to stick together, to look out for each other, whatever may be.

Tarek notices the way she looks at the Afghan, and the way he looks at her. He hears them at night-time, in their makeshift tent. Laughing, crying. He can’t tell where one ends and the other begins. When they’re finished, the woman sometimes comes over to his hollow and they listen to the trucks. He tells her about his old kindergarten teacher, about his parents, his sister, his friends. She listens, sometimes drifts off, but he keeps talking.

***

They scour the motorway, in the days after the Afghan has gone. Heads down, eyes on the tarmac, on the grassy verge. Trawl up and down, a mile north and south of the camp, as far as they can go, sifting through the knapweed and gorse, looking for something, anything. A rucksack, a shoe, a splotch of blood. They find nothing. He made it, the woman says, crying. Tarek cries too. Shudders because he knows what might have been, what a speeding truck can do to a human body. He has seen it with his own eyes.

 

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Image: Daniel von Appen on Unsplash

A Word to Describe the Sky – Jennifer Falkner

We are humble artisans. We have no philosophical education. We can’t even read. We work with our hands. Our nails are always dirty and our hours are always filled by the demands of our work, our foreman, our wives. And then Nico had to go and mess everything up.

Hey Philo, he says to me one day, leaning over my work so his shadow obscures the leather handle I am struggling to afix to the inside of the shield. The leather is brittle, unyielding. Nestor has skimped on materials again. What colour would you call that, he says, pointing upwards.

Call what? The sky, you mean?

Yeah.

I dunno. Sky-coloured, I guess. Nico’s breath smells like onions. I try to breathe through my mouth until he leans back over his own shield. He’s supposed to be polishing the thin bronze layer that covers the wood, polishing so it catches the sun and blinds the enemy with its light.

He nods slowly, chuckling, and yet serious too. But Nico was like that. Never just one thing at a time.

Sky-coloured, he says. That’s good.

Then it’s the sea he can’t shut up about.

Do you want to know if there’s a storm coming? I ask.

No, no. Just … can you describe it?

The water usually darkens before Poseidon unleashes his fury but today it’s smooth and calm.

Yeah, Nico, I say. It’s full of fish. Can I get back to work now, please?

There’s a large order on and our daily quota has increased. Neither of us particularly like Nestor, our foreman, or his filthy temper. Or the feel of his whip when his quotas aren’t met.

But Nico won’t stop.

It’s just that the poets call it wine-dark, don’t they? Only it doesn’t look anything like wine. And the sky? Hammered bronze, they call it but – and here he lifts up his shield – does that look anything like the sky to you?

I have to admit that it doesn’t.

The sun starts to slip behind the hills. Time to go home. Nico and I sometimes walk part of the way together – he lives just the other side of Diomedes’ field – but I make sure to slip out quickly, barely aware of the cool wind on my overheated cheeks in my hurry. I hear him calling my name, but I don’t turn around.

Myrrhine is worried. Whispers have floated up from the fishing village of foreign ships, of men speaking with strange accents landing further up the coast. Our farmers, dressed as soldiers, not infrequently march off to battle once the crops are in, but war seldom comes to us. The news does not look good.

I tell her about Nico and his questions, mainly to distract her. She frowns and says she is taking the children to her father’s. He lives far inland. They will be safer there.

You can come, she says. If you want to, you can come. You are no slave. Nestor can’t make you stay.

But Nestor gives me work. I don’t need to tell her this; she knows I won’t leave. The simple need to provide for my family makes me stay where my work is.

It won’t be for long, she promises, and kisses my cheek.

It is August now and the sea is troubled. It’s not just restless and heaving, though it is that too, but it seems filled with thunderheads and wires of lightning. The riverbeds are dry and the grass is yellow and crackles underfoot.

Foreign soldiers in dazzling fish-scale armor and pointed caps march into our village. The few of us who are left, who hadn’t run from the ships and the gods’ prophecies, are taken and slaughtered or merely taken. We’re bundled into the hold of their ships, our captors shout at us in babbling tongues. Sometimes they slow their speech, as if talking to thick-witted children, before striking us for not understanding them quicker. I don’t know where Nico is. I stayed behind because I thought he did.

But I am a slave now. The strangers have placed a metal collar around my neck and leashed me to a row of other men, marched me into their ship. We sit huddled at one end, behind the foreign slaves who wield the long-handled oars. I wonder what the strangers’ land is like. Will there be horn-curved oxen grazing in fields? Will they have rivers not yet drunk dry by invading armies? One day, when I have learned their terrible language, will I find they have a word to describe the sky?

It is so dark that I can barely see the others. Just the form of their bowed heads, defeated shoulders. Just the whites of their eyes.

Philo? Is that you?

Nico!

No, it’s Nestor, you fool. His voice is barely above a whisper. We have to get out of here. Can’t you feel it?

The boat is listing. The voices above us are urgent, the footsteps pounding the deck above our heads hurried.

Can you swim? Nestor asks.

No.

Better stick with me then.

Suddenly he is untying the rope that binds my metal collar to the others. I don’t have time to wonder, let alone ask, how Nestor got himself free. I bend toward the man next to me, the one who smells like he sleeps with goats, but Nestor grabs my arm, hisses in my ear. We don’t have time, he says.

Up on the deck rain pelts down on sailor and slave alike, pours into our eyes. Nestor propels me to the low wall of the ship. I look down. The neat rows of oars aren’t trying to cut through the swell; with the listing of the boat, they can’t even reach the water. There is a splash. And another. Another. Men all around us are turning into rats.

Quick! Follow me!

And Nestor, too, is gone, vanished into the heaving broth. I lurch in the direction of his voice, I reach for the low wall, I jump-

What a fool Nico is. And all the poets. The sea is not as dark as wine. The sky is not like polished bronze. The water, the air. They are clear. They are nothing.

 

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Image: Max Pexel

Ice Cream and the Rites of Womanhood – Carrie Danaher Hoyt

The day I turned 13
My mother took her mother and me
To the grocery store.

My Mom told me to choose an ice cream.

I don’t recall if it was after I’d chosen
(Already holding the frozen calories in my hands)
Or as I still stood in contemplation of the decadence,
That my grandmother came quietly next to me
And pinched my hip.

I looked up to see her
Eyebrows raised, lips pursed, she whispered,
“You don’t need it.”

Time stretched to match the distance of that grocery aisle.
I studied, for not a little while, the reflection of the fluorescents on the floor,
Bright blinding blurred above my burning cheeks.

I never said a word and don’t recall what I chose that day
Or whether I enjoyed the taste.
I’ve never since bought ice cream without some measure of this shame.

Today, when I’m feeling very brave, I’ll put ice cream in my cart— right on top—
On display, just daring someone to say: “You don’t need that!”
But other days, I cover it with romaine or a bag of seedless grapes.

Truth be told I do enjoy the taste of Ben N’ Jerry’s Peanut Butter World.
But truth be told, I generally pinch—rather than affectionately behold—
All the curves that since have made a woman of that girl.

 

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Carrie Danaher Hoyt is a life-long lover and writer of poetry. It is her humble opinion that poetry is the highest form of human communication. Poems (she says) at once highlight what is unique and what is universal in humanity. Carrie lives in Massachusetts where she is a wife, mother and lawyer. Carrie has poems at twitterization.wordpress.com and forthcoming in amethystmagazine.org 

 

Image: BriKa

Rivers and Lakes, Somewhere – Hannah Gordon

Jack and I used to play this game: every so often, when life got difficult, or it seemed like nothing was going our way, we’d think of all the possible universes out there where things were better, easier. If we got fired from a job, we’d imagine a world where we got a promotion instead. Where we were finally able to afford all the things we wanted, but didn’t need. If we were stuck in traffic, we imagined a multiverse where we were already at our destination; or, we imagined a world where traffic didn’t exist at all, where everyone was a perfect driver, and the roadways clear.

If we got snowed in one weekend, we’d imagine a place of warmth: sunning ourselves on a beach, or drinking mojitos by a pool.

When we had problems conceiving, we’d imagine a place of growth: my belly, swelling more and more each day, life beginning for all of us.

We don’t play anymore.

I kiss Charlie’s forehead good night. Notice the skin dry and flaky there. He tells me he’s thirsty; we all are. I tell him to dream of rivers and lakes, somewhere. Gushing. Dream of the life teeming within them, Charlie boy.

Jack thought there’d be water here. He remembered all the trips to his grandparent’s farmhouse as a kid. Remembered the chickens and their pecking beaks. Remembered the pigs and their squealing snouts. Remembered the spring and its bubbling water. It gushed, cold and clear, even on the hottest day in July, just beyond the house in a thicket of woods. How lush it all was. How deeply he drank.

And so, since the house had belonged to him ever since his dad died, we packed up what little mattered anymore—family photo albums, a few books we thought we couldn’t live without, some toys for Charlie, and all of our life savings in a fireproof box—and headed north.

The spring had already dried up, though. The ground was brittle and barren. It crunched underfoot. Nothing lived here anymore. Nothing could.

Now, Jack makes monthly trips into town to buy food and collect the water we’re allotted. Sometimes I don’t even notice he’s gone until Charlie asks where Daddy went. We didn’t used to be like this, he and I. I’d like to blame it on the world—on the drought, all the dried up rivers and lakes, the water rations and how they’re never enough—but the truth is, we started to change even before the world did.

I could blame it on the miscarriage. Lots of women were having them back then—it was something in the water. But I know that isn’t true. We changed before. Before, back when you could still drink water from the taps. Before the poisoned waterways that started, but didn’t end, with Flint. Before the rain stopped. Before people got scared, so scared. Before the riots and the killings and the stealing.

All for water. All for something we thought we would surely never run out of.

Jack and I used to be insatiable for one another. We couldn’t imagine a universe where we loved each other more than we did right here, right now. It wasn’t possible.

Now, I don’t even remember the last time he touched me. It’s not our fault. The human body is seventy percent water, and even this is gone, too.

At night, I dream of jumping into bodies of water. Of bubbles rising around me, tickling my skin. I never want to wake up.

I crawl in bed next to Jack.

“He asleep?” he asks me.

“Yeah. Thirsty, again.”

“I’m getting more tomorrow,” he says.

“But it’s less, this time.”

He sets down the book he was reading. Rubs his eyes. Pinches his forehead.

“There’s nothing more I can do,” he tells me. “They’re cutting back. There’s not enough.”

“Maybe we should leave here,” I say. “Go back home, or to my parent’s.”

“There’s nothing there, either.”

Rivers and lakes, somewhere. Gushing. Teeming.

“We’re going to die here,” I tell him.

He says nothing.

“Jack.”

Lush. Bubbling.

“I don’t know what to say to relieve you. There’s nothing.”

If it were before, and if we still loved each other the way we used to, we could play our game, imagine a place where our tongues weren’t dry and aching. Where our bodies didn’t scream for water. Where rain fell, hard and heavy. Where bubbles tickled our skin. We could hold each other and wish. Even this is imaginary now.

 

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Hannah Gordon is a writer and editor from Detroit. She’s the managing editor of CHEAP POP. Her stories can be found or are forthcoming in Hypertrophic Literary, Jellyfish Review, Synaesthesia Magazine, WhiskeyPaper, and more. When she’s not writing, she’s hanging out with her cat and watching cooking competitions. You can follow her on Twitter at @_hannahnicole.

 

Image: Gerd Altmann

June – Jaki McCarrick

In a good year it pricks up its ears to our expectations
and recollections as children and makes delivery of a great
ease: a cargo of thirty days, smooth as honey and as gold.
A ripening fruit of a month; yet with its half-swallowed
memory of winter is still a little jejune. All apparent
even-keelness, it recalls to me the Ionian sea
around a small Greek island that I passed one time
on the ferry from Brindisi to Patras. I awoke at dawn
on deck as the remaining freight of backpackers slept
about the corners and sheltered parts of the ship.
I watched as we scissored the sea from an ancient rock
where Odysseus or Byron might have docked and saw
how portentous a calm sea looked. June is like that in a way.
Kookier than July, more at sixes and sevens than May.

 

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Jaki McCarrick is an award-winning writer of plays, poetry and fiction. She won the 2010 Papatango New Writing Prize for her play Leopoldville, and her most recent play, Belfast Girls, developed at the National Theatre London, was shortlisted for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize and the 2014 BBC Tony Doyle Award. Belfast Girls premiered in Chicago in May 2015 to much critical acclaim and has since been performed all over the US, Canada and is to premiere in Australia in May 2018. Winner of the inaugural John Lennon Poetry Competition, Jaki has also had poems published in numerous journals including Ambit, Poetry Ireland Review, Irish Pages, Blackbox Manifold etc. She won the 2010 Wasafiri Prize for Short Fiction and her debut story collection, The Scattering (Seren Books) was shortlisted for the 2014 Edge Hill Prize. Jaki was recently longlisted for the inaugural Irish Fiction Laureate and is currently editing her first novel and a second collection of short stories.

 

Image: Katarzyna Tyl

Elefante – Salvatore Difalco

Reasons for hating people: bad morals, bad manners, bad breath. The first category covers a lot of ground. But you can safely hate immoral people without being hated yourself. You can hate a serial killer or pederast without compunction. You can hate a tyrant or a Nazi without warrant. Manners may be a question of taste, or cultural proclivity. Still, if manners dictate decency and grace in speech and interaction with fellow human beings, it is logical to hate one who lacks decency and grace. Perhaps it is wrong to hate someone for bad breath, but it happens nevertheless. That said, a breath mint or a visit to the dentist can often remedy that condition.

But reality is often illogical, or counterintuitive. Some people are hated not for immorality, bad manners, or bad breath. They are hated for other, more pernicious and arbitrary reasons. When I walk, I gather that the air around me moves. People around me move. That is also understandable. They imagine what it would feel like if I stepped on their toes. They also shirk shoulder to shoulder contact. They know they might get flattened should they test my sturdiness. They also seem put off, aesthetically speaking, and this is also understandable, for they have been conditioned to loathe the obese. Obesity results from gluttony and sloth, goes the story, and clearly indicates a lack of self-control and discipline, aye perhaps even a lack of intelligence, for what reasoning creature would want to bloat itself up to appalling proportions, curbing mobility and physical efficacy, and verily eating itself to death? Hear-hear.

Bulk truths: people are vain, people are shallow, no one is perfect. I walk my beat keeping this in mind. If I hear titters from behind or from the flanks, I pretend they are sounds made by birds common to the city, featherless things, with skinny, pimpled necks. Tee-hee. Tee-hee. Ha ha. I have thick skin, these chirps bounce off me like paper planes.

Someone once asked me if when I die they will bury me in a piano case. I replied that I wished to be cremated and scattered to the winds. The person retorted that it would be like that fire at the tire depot back in the day—the one that went on for months. I told this person that I hoped with my entire being that a piano fell from a high rise onto his pointy little head. It brings to mind the remark a woman made some time ago about my coitus with a likely candidate creating a tire fire. There have been no fires save metaphorical ones. I told her she should die of cancer, but came to regret that when indeed shortly thereafter cancer of the esophagus offed her.

Someone else asked me how I sat on a conventional toilet, and I said, I get on my knees and straddle it. This works. It’s tough on the knees, but I’m tough enough to endure it. People don’t realize how tough I am. The person recoiled. Get over yourself, I wanted to say. I made it home and my dog Cheetah greeted me with furious squirming and whining. I had been gone for most of the morning. I let him out back for a pee. He raced around the yard and then gave it to the apple tree. He came in all frisky and I fed him a pepperoni stick to calm him down. I needed a little snack myself. My blood sugar drops if I don’t munch every couple of hours.

I layered a ciabatta bun with mortadella, provolone, hot pepper spread and three anchovies, grabbed a carton of chocolate milk and parked myself on the sofa. It was a hell of a sandwich. I tried eating it slowly, but that’s like trying to go down a water-slide at an amusement park slowly. Once you hit the slick, zoom, you’re gone.

A knock at the front door interrupted my repast. Cheetah went mental, because that’s what he does. People say he’s poorly trained; I say he’s a free spirit and that I never want him to be otherwise. The knocker turned out to be the neighbour, Walt Hendricks. Hendricks looked like a man who had survived a scabies outbreak, though not unscathed. Telling reddish scars ringed his neck and wrists. His head, scored with little welts, was shaved clean, perhaps a prophylactic against another scabies attack. But more distracting were his eyes, entirely composed, it seemed, of green phlegm.

“Elefante, how are you today?” he said, in his squishy voice.

“Shut the fuck up, Cheetah. Goddamn, dog. It’s just Hendricks.” I gave the pooch a nudge with my shin and he retreated. “I’m eating,” I told Hendricks.

He smiled with tea-stained teeth. “Not surprising.”

“Haha. What do you want, friend-o?”

“Raccoons got into my garbage again.”

“And what do you want me to do about it, have a word with them, since they’re close and personal friends of mine?”

“Listen, Elefante, you don’t have to always be so mouthy. I just came to say I saw them busting into your garbage cans this afternoon, when you were out.”

“How do you know I was out?”

“Because when I came and knocked on your door to tell you the fucking raccoons were into your garbage no one answered except your yappy dog”

“I see. Well, raccoons gotta eat, too.”

Hendricks rubbed his chin. He appeared to be thinking, though the peculiar condition of his eyes made it impossible to tell whether this was true or not. He could have been merely staring at something, perhaps at my physique. I was used to people staring at me, needless to say. They’d see me coming from a mile away, transfixed by my nearing presence and gravity. But then again, Hendricks must have also been used to people staring at him. I know I would have stared at him had he passed me in public.

“Elefante,” Hendricks said, “I want to ask you something.”

“Yeah, well make it quick, I have a sandwich waiting.”

“Elefante, can you lend me a few bucks?”

I laughed aloud. It was a beautiful moment. I genuinely felt tickled. Hendricks knew better than to ask me for money; he would be the last person to whom I would lend money even had I an abundance of it. Known in the neighbourhood as a bit of a mooch, he was always asking to borrow my lawnmower or vacuum cleaner, and I didn’t mind letting him use these things provided he returned them intact, which he usually did. One time he borrowed a toilet snake and brought it back uncleaned. I told him he could keep it. When he said he no longer needed it I told him to stick it up his ass. When he asked me what I meant by that I told him to take the fucking thing out of my sight before I stuck it up his ass. You can’t mess around with the clowns of life. You have to be firm and straight with them, otherwise all hell breaks loose.

“By the way, Elefante.”

“What now?”

“Have you dropped a few pounds? Your sweatpants look loose.”

I wondered if he was being smart with me—most likely. But as mentioned, I have thick skin. Nothing much can wound me, especially coming from the likes of him.

“Yeah, I dropped ten pounds this morning taking a dump.”

“No doubt, no doubt,” Hendricks said behind his hand, shoulders chucking.

He stalked off to his shitty bungalow across the crescent. Cheetah appeared at my side, growling in his throat.

“Now now,” I said, “be neighbourly.”

Cheetah turned around and skipped off to the den. I finished my sandwich and made another, as I was still hungry. So, hypothetically, people might ask, Elefante, why eat the second sandwich when clearly the first one was ample? Are you a glutton? And I would say, perhaps I am a glutton. Then again, perhaps my only source of pleasure in this life is food and an abundance of it. What does it matter to anyone what I do with my life?

After eating I washed up and told Cheetah I was heading out again to run an errand, that I’d walk him to the dog park later. He didn’t like the sounds of it, growling in his throat and staring at me hard, but was comfortable enough on his bed in the den that he didn’t make a fuss and insist on coming.

I’d been trying to walk more, and not merely to lose weight. I wasn’t interested in losing weight per se—I abhorred diets—but I wanted to maintain my mobility. I wanted to be one of those fit-fat people you see on television. It took me some time to walk to the bank, where I had to make a deposit to cover my rent. I didn’t monkey with online banking. It was a question of trust, or rather paranoia.

At the bank, the next available teller, a thin dark man with an overbite, summoned me with a sudden hand gesture. Everyone in the bank watched me walk to his stall. Had I passed gas they would have all heard me. Had I lifted off and floated gently to the ceiling like a helium-filled parade float they would have gaped in wonder. I presented my bank card to the teller, a Mr. Gomes. He had very white, straight teeth that I admired.

“What can I do for you, Mr. Elefante?”

“I wish to make a deposit.”

“You know you can make deposits on the ATM, yes?”

“I want to see the money go from my hands to your hands and then straight into my account with no bullshit, yes?”

“No need to be prickly, sir.”

“Oh, now I’m sir? And, by the way, prickly is an interesting word choice.”

“I was merely—”

“You were merely being rude to a valued customer, I understand. I’m not a total nincompoop. But I’m also not a prick. Ask for forgiveness, and it shall be granted.”

My voice resounded in my ears. The other patrons and staff not only looked our way, but also seemed to be leaning toward us.

“I’m truly sorry, Mr. Elefante. Didn’t mean to insult you. But I’m human also, and only want to help you. I have your best interests at heart.”

“Are you put off by my obesity?”

“No more than you are put off by my biracial identity.”

“I am not at all put off by that.”

“Then we are in accord.”

As I walked away a well-dressed woman with platinum hair and a face that had been vacuumed of juices, looked at me, goggle-eyed, with abject horror. I suppose we mirrored each other’s revulsion, for as much as she may have wondered how I ever reached my monstrous physical state, I could only speculate what malpractice and debauchery had led to hers.

“You want to take a picture?” I asked.

She turned her head as though witnessing a car accident. Then turned back as though desiring to see more of it.

“Yeah, you, I’m taking to you,” I said, pointing my bloated finger. “Had a look at yourself in the mirror lately? You’d scare wolves at night, sweetheart. Two words for you: food and water. Try them sometime. They work wonders.”

Of course, she couldn’t respond without drawing more attention to us than we already had, which was abundant. She raised her hands in the air in surrender. Satisfied I had made my point, I exited puffing my chest a little as one is wont to do in light of a victory, however small. Every day is made up of victories, big and small. And while the big victories are causes for celebration and dancing, it is the little ones that sustain you.

 

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Image: Myriams-Fotos

When Everything Was Too Bright And Loud – Sophie Flynn

Saturday

I got up early; I wanted to make you French Toast. The egg coated bread sizzled in the pan as I stood over the cooker half-dressed, wearing the plaid slippers your mother got you that were two sizes too big. The music started just as the bread became golden.

I brought you breakfast in bed, but within seconds of meeting your eyes, I knew that toast would remain uneaten, the coffee cold and untouched. ‘Some days aren’t yours at all.’ You sighed. Looked at me with half glazed eyes. It was a line from the song, one you played over and over; I knew it, and I hated you for it. The days weren’t supposed to be yours; they should have been ours. But you never understood that.

Saturday

He can’t listen to music the way I do. Sometimes, I feel like the words are written just for me.

‘Some days aren’t yours at all.’ I told him. Because I know what she means when she sings it.

Some days just get away from me. Today was one of them. I want the days like this to just stop, to let me off, but they don’t so I just wait and hope they pass by. And they do. But he’s too always impatient to wait them out with me.

 

 

Sunday

A good day. You packed a picnic early. Too early to be considered a normal day, but a good day nonetheless. We walked across the field and up the hill, sat near the trig point drinking flat lemonade and eating soggy cheese sandwiches. I held your hand and stroked your hair as your thick black curls fought to escape my fingers.

You could never relax on Saturdays, as though the week hadn’t quite ended or began which made you restless. Sundays, though, they were your days. I could always feel the change in you, as if the tight grip the world had on your mind had loosened, just for the day. But sometimes a day is enough. ‘Why can’t every day be like this?’ You beamed. Looked at me with wide eyes. Why can’t it? It was on days like this that I loved you.

Sunday

It’s days like this that I think we’ll be okay, not just him and me, but us.

I woke up and felt it straight away; I knew what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go and I just wanted to get out of the house then. I didn’t want to wait for him to tidy up, or sort out the washing, I just needed to leave. Now.

But he’s always so slow. I made a picnic to fill the time. And, when I saw that he’d finished the cans of diet coke I’d bought especially and left only the flat sugar-filled lemonade that he likes – the one full of numbers that add up – I just took the bottle out and packed it. I even drank some, later. Swallowed all those numbers whole.

We were good today. He stroked my hair like he used to and I don’t know why I can’t always do this. But when I do, when we manage it, I know he really loves me.

The problem is, he never keeps it up. He doesn’t get it; the day doesn’t just finish after tea. He can’t just fall asleep and leave me here alone. That’s when it’s worst. When my heart goes so fast that I’ll do anything to stop it. That’s when I need him. When the house is silent and black but everything is too bright and loud. That’s when I need him the most. But he doesn’t get it. He always leaves me. So I try to just sit it out; to do what normal people do. Watch TV. Read a book. But I can’t. Not on my own.

 

 

Monday

I barely saw you today. You went out late last night and didn’t return until early evening. I didn’t ask you where you’d been and you didn’t offer it up. The sickly sweet stale smell on your skin gave me indication enough and I was angry. At some point, Sunday had spilt into Monday and you had gone to black again. I’ve thought of staying up in the past to see what happened; when did the change take place? Was it as the clock struck twelve? Or is that too fairy tale? You never slept before it, so you couldn’t blame the night, but at some point whilst we were lying under the sheets side by side, me dead to the world, you staring at the ceiling, things shifted and you left me again.

But you always came back. Beans on toast. Black coffee. Cigarettes. ‘Is this really it?’ You moaned. Looked at me with red rimmed eyes.

I think it might be.

Monday

Why doesn’t he ask where I’ve been? He never asks. He thinks he knows, but he doesn’t; and it makes me sick, that he lets me do it. I’d never let up asking him, if he disappeared in the night. But of course, he couldn’t. I wouldn’t let him.

I stayed out too late last night. I just wondered around. I just walked, and watched. I l sit outside the clubs we used to go to, watching the cackling crowds spill out like a virus. They’re in the world, those people. I like to watch them, and pretend that I could be too. Instead, I smoke and sit. Sometimes I buy vodka from the corner shop and swig it from the bottle. I worry that I’m not far gone enough to want to do this, but by then my throat’s already burning, so it doesn’t really matter what I think. Sometimes, I make friends. There are always men who will sit with someone like me on a bench in the dark. I always come home though.

 

 

Tuesday

You were tired, childlike. Needed caring for, hot chocolate on the sofa, films under a duvet. And loving.

You reminded me of the cat we used to have; how you confessed to me one night that you loved her most when she was scared because it was then that she showed how much she needed you. Do you remember how she used to burrow into our bed when the doorbell rang? Terrified of the outside getting in. By night, you were calm, rested and even. ‘Let’s do something tomorrow, let’s go somewhere, get out.’ You smiled. Looked at me with mischievous eyes. I prepared myself for the long day to come.

Tuesday

What a wasted day. One of those where you keep catching the time and wondering how it’s ended up like this and you’ve done nothing and then it’s 2pm and what can anyone do past 2pm if they haven’t even left the house yet? I can’t do anything anyway. I wonder how long you can call yourself a writer for if you haven’t written a word in years.

He tells me not for much longer.

I think he might be right.

We just need to go somewhere. That will stop me feeling like my blood is acid burning through my veins. I just need to move. It’s always worse when you’re sitting still. Like my mum used to say, you just need something to do, that’ll sort you, she’d tell me, rolling her eyes and letting the ash of her cigarette fall onto my swept floor. Yeah, I just need to keep moving. I just need to move.

 

 

Wednesday

You were up before the sun, impressive to some but for me only spelt out warning signs. We’d done this so many times before. You missed your own graduation for a day like this. You’ve missed so many things that should have been important to you, but weren’t; it’s always been more important that you had these days – whatever they were, whenever they fell. Your spontaneous adventures. To the beach, you decided. The beach, four hours from our house. On a day no one would call ‘beach weather’, but to the beach it was. ‘I want to swim! Let’s go in the sea! Come on!’ Too quick to look at me, you ran, shoes kicked off like a child and dived into the black water, disappearing from view. I panicked. Waited. Didn’t run, I’ll be honest, I didn’t follow, I won’t lie, I didn’t run. Waited. You returned. Cold and wet. No towel to scoop you up in. We drove home in silence. These days never end like you want them to.

Wednesday

I want to pretend that he panicked when I disappeared, when he thought I might be drowning, when he imagined the salty water filling my lungs. I want to pretend that his heart was bursting in the seconds, then minutes that felt like an eternity, when I was gone. But I saw his face when I came back. It wasn’t relief.

I know what it was.

I think I stayed under too long this time.

 

 

Thursday

A trip to the doctors. Never a good day. It took me hours to get you in the car, but I was prepared, I always told you the appointments were two hours before they really were. I thought at some point you would have realised, but you never did, mind too full of other horrors I suppose.

Though we made it on time, the doctor was running late and I felt your body tense further and further with every tick of the cheap plastic clock. 3:45, tick, 3:46, tick, 3:47, tick, 3:48 tick tick tick tick. ‘I hate it here.’ You glared at me. You hate it everywhere.

Thursday

Today, he told me I hated it everywhere and I wanted to tell him that he was wrong; I don’t hate it everywhere, just all the places where I am.

But I didn’t tell him, and now I suppose he’ll never know.

 

 

Friday

You’d thrown your clothes around the bedroom, as if you were looking for something. Placed your blue umbrella by the front door, as if you were waiting for rain. Discarded your ring on the bedside table, as if you wouldn’t need it anymore. But I still didn’t expect it. Didn’t ask where you were going, what you were looking for. You never really knew, did you?

Another adventure, perhaps. You lasted the day though. Sat on the sofa, eating cheese toasties and drinking orange squash. You even came to bed. ‘I love you.’ I stowed the words away. A kiss goodnight that I’ve kept even now. 11:59 pm, luminous numbers on the alarm clock; I woke too late. It wasn’t enough. This time you were really gone.

 

 

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Sophie Flynn lives in the Cotswolds and is currently working on her first novel whilst earning a living as a copywriter and studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Oxford Brookes. Her recent work has been published online by Cafe Lit and The Drabble. She tweets from @sophielflynn

 

Image: ShiftGraphiX

My Future Spools Out Before Me – Michelle Matheson

At eleven all things are possible; I add my name to the list to visit the lab for Career Day. Miss Edwards with her spiral perm tells me that a lot of the other girls are going on the trip to the secretarial school. I look at her blankly.

I sit on the school bus, self-conscious in my newly arrived body. My knees protrude demurely from my checked school skirt. Their white boniness makes me feel vulnerable and I cover them. My fingers twist and turn with a life of their own.

The bus is full of the sound and scent of boys; socks and sweat and casual boasting. The boy behind me snaps my bra strap and their combined laughter is raucous. It sounds like entitlement.

Our guide walks towards us and something warm breaks open in my chest. She is taller than most women but she walks confidently in her heels, her eyes perfectly made up and her hair perfectly styled. As she dons her white coat, I realise she works here and I am in awe.

Her voice is low and confident. The boys’ attention skitters around the room, bouncing from item to item, but I hang on her every word.

I want to speak to her, but nervousness rises dough like in my mouth, pressing against the back of my throat, stealing my words. She senses my regard, and she takes my hand. Her nails are delicately shaped and beautifully manicured, her knuckles are too large. I resolve to have nails like hers one day, to paint them scarlet. I resolve to wear a white coat.

 

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