The Persistence of Mem(Roy) – Garrett Rowlan

Carrying the town’s three clocks taken from the town square, the marketplace, and the church, we three walked single file. I was in the middle. Roy, taking the front, held his clock almost contemptuously in one hand. The young people don’t understand the old ways—but then, neither did I, really.

“I can see cleaning the clocks,” Roy said. “But I don’t pretend it’s some holy thing.”

“Think of it as preventative maintenance,” I said, “freeing the clocks of grime, the mechanized anomalies, and synchronizing them.”

He half-turned to speak. “And what’s that going to do, again?”

“We think,” I said, emphasizing the doubts we all have, “that if the clocks are washed our thoughts and actions won’t be overwhelmed by the past that paralyzes us, persists in our thoughts.”

“Or the past that disappears,” Bones said. He shuffled forward, the grinding of his joints sounded like shaken dice.

“You old guys have lived too long,” Roy added. “That’s all. Old people forget or live in fantasy. No hocus-pocus about washing the clocks is going to cure that.”

“No cure for time,” Bones said, stopping and wiping his brow. He had issues with forgetting. The grimy clock he held ticked over his chest like a mechanical heart.

Roy shook his head. Perhaps he was right. Bones and I were aging and using a suspicious mythology to help alleviate the unpleasant truths about our bodies and our minds. Can it hurt, I almost asked Roy, to make a ritualistic patina from a janitorial duty?

We went through town. It was a collection of huts set on irregular streets, graded so that resistance to your foot came at odd moments, sending a juddering sensation up to your knees or causing you to lurch. People had tried, through photographs of the same street taken on different occasions, to prove that the terrain actually changed from day to day, though the research proved inconclusive. The uneven terrain and the town’s three clocks, two running forward, one back, none in sync, made it a place where we made arrangements by the sun and shadows rather than by the high-mounted, treacherous numerals.

Looking back, I saw the town’s few ramshackle buildings, and in one of them I saw the old man’s bearded face as he watched from a window.

This was his idea. I had come to him with my problem. Greeting me from a hovel of piled books, dirty dishes, and pictures hung crookedly, he sat in a plush chair whose worn-out springs offered little resistance to even his wizened form, giving the impression of a diver about to be swallowed by a giant clam. He was the town’s grey eminence and could even remember that distant time when the clocks all ran forward and told the same time. He knew of course that the clocks were no longer in sync, but he didn’t know of our crisis, particular among old people, the flood of false memories and a paralyzing nostalgia. It had become not uncommon to find someone standing slack-jawed on a street corner in an attitude that, in happier times, had belonged to a drug addict. Some were overwhelmed with memories. Others, like Bones, felt their memories threatened by a quicksand of oblivion. My problem was causation. I felt every act weighed down by those that came before it, a deterministic chain that led to one thing and one thing only, stripping the present of all spontaneity.

“Am I doing something as a free act or as a pre-determined one?” I asked, as I explained my problem. “I don’t know.”

“I see.”

“My actions,” I tried to clarify, “do not provide the comfort of familiarity but the onus of a pre-determined repetition. The simplest acts seem wearisome and dubious.”

The old man had raised the molting wing of an eyebrow. “Dubious?”

“Am I making a free choice or only one determined by proceeding acts?” I reached out to the table that separated us. “When I pick up this jar, for example, and I take a drink—”

His hand restrained me. With an expression between a smile and a grimace, he said, “I have difficultly getting and going to the bathroom, and so I sometimes…” He indicated the jar, which indeed didn’t have the smell of low-quality beer, which I had first mistaken it for.

I finished without visual aids. When I was done, he leaned back and his brown eyes glistened with cataracts and mucus as a draught of memory brought the smallest smile. “They called it the curse of déjà vu,” he said, “back in the days when the past first overwhelmed the present. If I were you, I’d do what they did then.”

“What did they do then?”

“The dowsing of the clocks, that’s what they called it.”

“Can you say that again?”

Mnemonic rheum filling his eyes, he told me a theory that had made the rounds when he was young. It was the idea that this town didn’t exist on its own but within the mind of an artist, someone with a sense of the visual and a flair for eccentricity, both of which fused in the imagining of this town and the clocks that existed both as things-in-themselves and as metaphors.

“Metaphors for what?”

“For time and memory,” he said, as if that were obvious. Seeing my difficulty with this approach, he added, “Memories accumulate. It’s what they do. Eventually, there gets to be a storage problem, a filing problem. Something about the washing of the clocks eases this issue. At least, that’s what they did, back in the day. The elders believed that the clocks not only marked time, they accumulated it. They are ratcheted to our memories.”

“Is that why the one in the town square runs backward because memories go both ways, forward and back in time?”

“I’ve heard that theory,” he said.

“And this, this dowsing of the clocks, it works?”

“It worked that time,” he said. He reached into his pocket and produced a small fob watch with a tarnished gold casing. “If you go, throw this one in too.”

“I didn’t know anyone owned their own watch, I thought it was illegal.”

“I’m old and don’t care. Anyway, it doesn’t work.”

Now I touched the watch in my coat pocket as we left town and neared a flat obsidian slab whose original purpose, whether religious, civic, or business, had been long abandoned. In the middle of the slab a single, leafless, dry stalk, looking more like a twisted coat hanger than anything vegetative, stuck out. We passed it and neared the brownish beach under a pale wash of sky, colored an improbable mango. Beyond, the wave-less waters didn’t move, except for the gentle scouring motion of underwater currents. A soft wind blew from no discernible direction. We reached the shore.

“I suppose we have to chant something,” Roy said, with a smirk that was beginning to irritate me.

“No,” I said, “we let the tide do the work.”

“This is the part I don’t understand,” Bones said. “We’re not really washing the clocks.”

“It’s what the old man said, let the water do the work.”

We let the clocks slide into the water. They sunk and rolled over in unison, and the times they displayed—12:30, 6:55, 8:02—seemed to match the odd architecture and street grading of our town. Sinking, the clocks lost their shape, became flaccid as rubber shower mats. As they did we saw them do a gentle dance, a synchronized sway as they turned below the water, some shedding their numerals as they moved to the rhythm of underwater currents. As if to reflect its agitation, the still water stirred and small wavelets turned over at our feet.

Something happened inside me, or maybe outside: I felt causation somehow detach itself from my perception of the world. Spontaneity returned, I sensed, the lockstep of cause-and-effect broken. Every act was unique, particular, sui generis. Meanwhile, the clocks moved like a small school of fish, turning with the current. Even Roy lost his cynicism, watching this display.

“Man, I feel like jumping in with them,” he said.

I told him what the old man had said. “We’re supposed to stay out of the water while this is happening. The waters become toxic while the clocks are swimming.”

Roy rolled his eyes. “And what’s going to happen if we do go in?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “That was the warning the old man gave me. When the clocks return to us then, and only then, is it safe to go into the water.”

Slowly the clocks moved like shy children in our direction. “They are coming back,” I said, “just like the old man said they would. Wait for them. Stay out of the water. When they reach the shore, we’re supposed to dry them and stretch them.”

I remembered the fob watch. I pulled it out of my pocket.

“What’s that?” Bones said.

“It belonged to the old man.”

“That’s a beauty,” he said. “Wait—”

I tossed it a couple of yards. It splashed, and I waited for it to duplicate the gentle, undulating motion of the other clocks, but instead it dropped and didn’t rise from the shoreline’s soft sand, covered by shallow water. It glinted as the sand began to cover it.

“Well,” I said, “he expected it to sink. I’ll just have to tell him it did.”

“You tell him that,” Roy said. He stepped into the water. Reaching down, he plucked the gold watch and returned to us. The silent watch ticked loudly. “I thought you said it didn’t work. It works.” He opened the watch and a little water spilled out. He showed me the moving second-hand. “I got a watch,” he added. “I got my own watch. I got my own time right here. None of those damn clocks that don’t work right will ever apply to me. I got my own time. I don’t need to look to the center of town.” He closed the casing.

The drooping clocks beached and waited. They were supposed to be air-dried and later stretched, according to the old man. We draped them over our arms and returned to the single obsidian slab and the stick-like branch growing from it. A soft wind blew. Looking back, I saw how it obliterated the footsteps we had left behind. I stepped up on the flat obsidian surface and draped a clock over the spindly, single branch. A few falling drops evaporated on the surface.

“I don’t feel very good,” we heard Roy say. “I don’t feel like myself.”

His face had swollen and seemed to be consuming the rest of his body, while the clock he carried had settled on his forehead like some cursed shroud, forcing him down to the sand. As he fought, futilely, looking like a man stuck in a large bag, the fob watch flew from him and landed on the sand. A jeweled icing of ants appeared on its surface. Seeing them on the casing, I thought I saw time and memory consumed before my eyes.

And Roy: Roy was now a folded dock lying on the sand, only that prominent nose and eyelashes identified that flaccid timepiece as our young companion. Well, I thought, he was kind of an ass.

“He lived on my street,” Bones said. “I remember that now.”

It was all we could summon by way of eulogy.

“We’re supposed to let them hang until they’re dried all the way through.”

We walked away. I took a last look back and saw Roy persisting as a face on the sand, supporting a clock. Over him draped one clock with two others nearby and the fob watch crowned with ants. Damn, I thought, that would make one weird picture.

 

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GARRETT ROWLAN is a retired sub teacher from Los Angeles. His novel, To Die, To Sleep is published by James Ward Kirk and is at Amazon. A second novel, The Vampire Circus, will be published soon.

 

Image: geralt via Pixabay

 

 

Same Old Love – Cathal Gunning

The plane dipped and tilted, “beginning its descent” according to the tinny echo of the co-pilot’s voice. A roar growled in Danielle’s ears. Pressure building. Across the stretch of the lake below, ice spread; a solid film attempting to coat its surface, falling short in the centre. From the impossible height of her plane seat, the ice was the same iridescent rainbow oil-slick colour that topped her cold cup of coffee.

Erica had told her something about the pull of the dairy industry, about how our bodies weren’t meant to process milk. Over the peaks of mountains outside, mottled blue shades and streaks of pure white, Danielle could see why white supremacists were obsessed with milk as a symbol. Fucking Twitter poisons our brains.

Erica had said everyone’s born lactose intolerant, that milk never settles in the stomach. It wasn’t a comforting thought. Before her, Iceland would have been beautiful. After her it was snow, and ice, and jealousy of whatever place got to have her. Mountains as white as milk, a stomach that never settled.

Three months earlier in a too early hour of the morning, Danielle sat up and smoked shared cigarettes until she’d the confidence to go in for the shift and spent the night sucking on an almost anonymous tit as if it were a teat; less sexual and more urgent, starved for sustenance. That was Anne-Marie(?), the last woman she was with before she met Erica. Anne-Marie (something like that), a since-all-but-forgotten closet case tragedy who she’d shared a 5am taxi and bungalow with post-Porterhouse.

Fucking Erica had an urgency, but it wasn’t the same; an urgency of its own, not just different but incomparable. Just the thought of fucking Erica had more passion and impact, more physical ache, than actually fucking anyone else could ever have hoped to.

Sean’s friend Angela was lovely, as was the farewell drink she bought Danielle, and the comforting numbness it brought with it. Lovely, like messages from friends wishing well, like the last meal Danielle had with her family before leaving for the plane. Everything was lovely since Erica, and nothing was beautiful but Erica, splitting the two words into the universal and the specific. Body and soul. Nothing else would ever be beautiful again.

Same old love.

 

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CATHAL GUNNING (24)- Editor @ ‘Cold Coffee Stand’, Adbusters Media Foundation. Poetry in The Rose Magazine, Lagan Online; Fiction in Tales From the Forest, The Honest Ulsterman, The Runt, Snakes of Various Consistency, The HCE Review, The Occulum, and the collection ‘From the Candystore to the Galtymore’.
Debut novel ‘Innocents’ published 2017 (Solstice). Short-listed for Maeve Binchy Travel Award and Hennessy New Irish Writing.

 

Image: Volkmar Gubsch via Pixabay

 

Plant Food – Stella Turner

It happened very quickly. It was summer I think. But it might have been spring when the Purple Rain fell. At first Sadie thought it was magical, a nice shade, think she used the word hue. The animals weren’t very keen. It was later I turned vegetarian. I’d always liked a lamb’s leg for Sunday lunch not many farmers in these parts that didn’t eat meat.

Sadie would go out and dance in it. I don’t like getting wet. Sadie would laugh and say whenever did you see a rusty man? She started to say things like I was good enough to eat and would bite my arm hard when I gave her a hug. I had to shoot her dead the day she came at me in the barn with a meat cleaver. It was the one we used to cut the pigs up with. Once they’d hung for a while in the outhouse.

I buried her in the back garden with a cross around her neck and a stake through her heart just in case. She feeds a patch of wild flowers. It looks really pretty. The rain is back to normal no purple tinges but I make sure me and the animals stay indoors if rain is forecast. You never can tell these days what’s what. I eat porridge mostly and let the animals die when nature decides. Haven’t seen the neighbours for months, the flowers look good though, on the side of the adjoining hills. Really pretty I tell myself.

 

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Image: Foto-Rabe via Pixabay

 

 

Set – G J Hart

In dreams he dreams
of cities hung with rails
slick as caramel wicks,
towers of sparks and waggons
burdened with the coals
of notions beneath craquelure
swollen as almond –

to a crackle that accuses
and in a flicker
passes

between,

desires himself still –
the piped steel
and packed fridge
and walls that pen
chapters
of flies open
beside a lamp
bickering
with moths.

And each morning his phone
calcines and heart softens
across a voice
gummed with questions:

are we prepped,
are we set?

He’d sent out waggons shaking
with lakes and meadows –
testers just testers

As he listens he slices
a segment of nail,
tongues its bowl.

 

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GJ HART currently lives and works in London and has had stories published in The Molotov Cocktail, The Jersey Devil Press, The Harpoon Review and others. He can be found arguing with himself over @gj_hart.

 

Image: Aida Khubaeva via Pixabay

 

 

Star-Crossed Destiny – Sudha Balagopal

King Lot enters the gloomy nursery, picks up his newborn. Behind him, he hears the nurse mutter, “This accursed child killed our queen.”

Outside, in the gallery, he pauses in front of his wife’s portrait. The artist spent months capturing the queen’s dewy skin, the mole on her lip, that come-hither look. The king opens his mouth, cannot utter her name.

He rocks the whimpering baby on a swing in the garden. Discreet attendants, dressed in mourning, hover at a distance.

The king leans close to the baby and whispers, “Darling Destiny, thank you for freeing me!”

*      *      *

At Destiny’s elite boarding school, students receive goodies from home.

“My mother has blue eyes and golden hair,” she says, hoping to make friends, wishing they’ll share.

Her classmates cover their mouths and giggle, for the princess has brown eyes, olive skin, dark hair.

“My mother talks to me all the time,” Destiny says.

No one listens. They’re opening gift boxes, reading cards that say, “I love you.”

While they eat their treats, Destiny cuddles with her flaxen-haired doll under the blanket. She presses a button on the doll’s hand, hears a mechanical voice say, “Hello, my dear!” Over and over.

She imagines it’s her mother’s speaking.

*      *      *

Craving anonymity, Destiny opts to spend fall semester of college with a host family. They accept her as a dentist’s daughter, offer hearty stews and the resonance of a foreign tongue.

She doesn’t complain when her skin roughens, when farm dirt discolors her nails. She enjoys wearing overalls, establishes a camaraderie with the produce pickers.

Pedro makes her heart ache with love. He showers her with attention, is hurt when she denies him a photo. From him, she learns the taste of a commoner’s saliva.

But his bed is uncomfortable. She overturns the mattress, finds the pebble—loses her temper with her trust.

She flings the rock. It hits Pedro’s forehead. His turn to ache.

*      *      *

The astrologer tells Destiny, “Your stars are crossed.” He cannot find her a royal match.

“You’re not looking hard enough,” she says.

She dismisses him and asks for a palmist instead, the best in the land.

The bespectacled palmist is lean, serious. Her palm fits snugly in his hands. He peers at her heart line, her life line and her fate line. His warm breath caresses her finger’s tips as he studies the whorls and patterns. “Your Highness will marry,” he declares. “And soon.”

A month later, the princess marries the palmist.

*      *      *

Guests rise as King Lot and his daughter, Destiny, enter the cathedral’s decorated aisle. His fingers tremble on her arm.

“You can do this,” she tells him, waving a hand to acknowledge the crowd.

At the altar, a handsome man awaits them, his gaze transmitting love.

“I’m not giving you away,” Destiny says in her father’s ear. “I’m embracing a new era.”

The king smiles at the groom, soon his consort.

 

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SUDHA BALAGOPAL’s recent fiction appears in New Flash Fiction Review, New World Writing, rkvry quarterly literary journal, Jellyfish Review and Lost Balloon among other journals. She is the author of a novel, A New Dawn and two short story collections, There are Seven Notes and Missing and Other Stories. More at http://www.sudhabalagopal.com

 

Image: Mira DeShazer via Pixabay

 

A Kind Of Dance – Cath Barton

When I was a child I was lowered by rope from the cliff tops of my island to gather the eggs of puffin, gannet and fulmar. The birds were angry about this thieving, but I flapped as much as they did so as to drive them off. Sometimes the eggs would tumble from my basket. The rocks far below would be smeared then with the vivid yellow of my guilt and I would be beaten by my father, afterwards, for my carelessness. I knew no other life, at that time. We none of us do, as children. I would run and hide in small secret places, and retreat into the cave-safety of my mind.

It became too difficult for us to find enough food to survive on the island, and when I was still not fully grown I was evacuated to the mainland, along with all the others. I have been told I was one of the last 36 residents, but the number means nothing to me. I did not know anyone on the island outside my immediate family and afterwards I found that I could not be with more than three or four people at a time; it proved impossible for me to breathe where more were gathered together. Finding I needed unfettered space around me I decided to remain alone.

My chosen companion in this life was a cat. He asked for no more than regular food and rewarded me with sweet purrs and by twining his body, once, twice, thrice between my legs, in a kind of dance. We had between us an understanding that the birds were entitled to their lives as much as he and I. They lived in the gardens around our house fearing nothing from either me or my cat.

I planned that after my death I would return to my childhood home on the island and make my way as the wild creatures do. Without the burden of the human body it would, I knew, be easy to do that. I had already started practicing. Sometimes in the crepuscular morning hours, before other people were awake, I would leave my own body and enter that of a bird, where I sang his song, quite softly, before he himself was ready for the new day. I thought of it as an exchange, a dance between us equivalent to the one in which I engaged with my cat. I learned to do this first with robin, thrush and blackbird, birds whose songs I studied meticulously, listening, singing and listening again, over and over. I was able to sing these songs as well as any. But these are birds of garden and field. They do not fly far from home and, most particularly, they do not fly over the seas.

I learned much as well from swallow, swift and house martin, not least the way to swoop fast and low. But these birds travel south in winter, to climes unfamiliar to me. The hot sands would not have been a suitable place for me. I knew that my home would always be in the north lands. My next and final lessons were with the owl family, the ghostlike creatures of night and the half light. I sallied forth in the twilight hours, learning their ways. Then came the final transformation. How it took place I cannot say, for no human knows the moment of his death.

Should you go to my island – there are boats now that take people on circular trips, though you cannot land – you will see that the cliffs are once more covered with puffin, gannet and fulmar nests, their eggs safe from human predation. The noise will be prodigious, as they guard their chicks from skua and snowy owl. Watch out for the approach of one of those majestic birds. They are there, I can assure you. You might, if your eyes are sharp, even see me.

 

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CATH BARTON is an English writer who lives in Wales. Her novella The Plankton Collector will be published in September 2018 by New Welsh Review. Cath is on the 2018 Literature Wales Mentoring programme, working on a collection of short stories inspired by the work of Hieronymus Bosch. https://cathbarton.com @CathBarton1

 

Image: jo vanel via Pixabay

 

 

 

The Cow And The Dog (a Fable) – Michael Grant Smith

The cow and the dog were best friends. They had been close for longer than the other animals could remember. Even the wise old mare was unable to recall a time before this great camaraderie.

“I am pleased to see such harmony visit our farm,” she said, one sunny day, “but just the same, the relationship is unusual. No good can come of it.”

The donkey made no comment and continued feeding. He cared only for fodder and pulling his little cart. The cat did not speak — she believed herself invisible and did not wish to reveal her position. The chickens scrabbled and hopped around the dry-lot in front of the stock barn. They didn’t say anything because they are incredibly small-minded and stupid.

“My friend and I are right here,” the cow said to the horse, “and we can hear you talk about us!”

The dog, as was his common inclination, rolled in the dirt, saying nothing but twisting around from time to time to bite his own tail. He didn’t care what the other animals thought. It made no sense to him: why chew on words as if speech were rawhide or gristle? He was on good terms with the mare, whose buggy he loved to follow down the road while he barked at the wheels. But the cow was the dog’s very special friend.

“What of it?” the young rooster said to the cow. His plumage gleamed, an open jewelry box in the sun. “Even if your wet-nosed companion doesn’t mind being called a fool, both of you are fools nonetheless!”

With that, the rooster half-flew, half-fell a full three feet from his perch and landed square on top of several chickens. He clawed and flapped and poked at them to show the cow and dog he was serious. The chickens squawked in a tornado of feathers, but within minutes continued to browse around again. Resisting the urge to crow, the rooster raised his wings one at a time and preened. He strutted around the small empty space he had cleared within the midst of the other poultry.

“A bond such as yours — cow and dog, indeed!” said the rooster. “It’s unnatural!”

The cow meant no harm to anyone in the world; this made her even more sensitive to the rooster’s harsh remarks. She blinked a couple of times and took a step back. Her bell clanked once and became still. For his part, the dog sat and scratched at fleas until his eyes bugged and his tags jingled like sleigh bells. He satisfied his itch and gazed with adoration at the cow. His tongue lolled while his tail beat the dust.

The rooster was not finished making his point. He rushed over to the cow, stopped just in front of the beast, and began to peck and claw at the ground. His wings spread wide as if he were a very plump, practically flightless eagle.

Startled, the cow backed up again, but this time landed her big rump in the water trough. The other animals laughed at her shock and embarrassment. They didn’t mean to, but it was so sudden and unexpected. Even the old mare let out a choked guffaw.

“Unnatural! Unnatural! Unnatural!” shrieked the rooster, bouncing up and down. He beat his wings and almost touched the cow, who writhed and bucked in her attempts to free herself. She moaned and mooed.

“Unnatural!” the rooster screamed. “Un-na-tur-al! Un-na-tur — ”

Silence. The rooster’s head was inside the dog’s jaws. Clamping down harder, the dog played tug-of-war and gave a powerful shake. One, two, three times. He dropped the lifeless bird to the ground. For several seconds or maybe minutes, none of the other animals moved, including the chickens.

Freed from the rooster, and lately the trough, the cow bowed her head and cast her soft brown eyes toward her friend. Without saying anything, the cow and dog ambled out of the dry-lot and into the pasture. The cow grazed timothy and clover while the dog flushed rabbits, real and imagined, from beneath piles of deadfall. The barn cat flowed from shadow to shadow as she headed towards the back porch and a dish of cream. The donkey dozed in the afternoon sun, dreaming of his cheerful little cart.

“It is so much better when we help each other,” the old mare said to no one in particular. The chickens ate their own poop and a lot of small pebbles. “Friendship is worth the effort it takes.”

 

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MICHAEL GRANT SMITH wears sleeveless T-shirts, weather permitting. His writing has appeared in elimae, Ghost Parachute, Longshot Island, The Airgonaut, formercactus, Riggwelter, and others. Michael resides in Ohio. He has traveled to Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Cincinnati. To learn too much about Michael, please visit http://www.michaelgrantsmith.com and @MGSatMGScom.

 

Image: Daniel Borker via Pixabay

 

Road Trip – Clare O’Brien

Remember? It was raining hard that night.
The slow pulse of passing cars, alive
in the wet light, drew liquid shapes
on blacked-out windows; our sentences swam
in an aquarium of air.

New York was jumping but the traffic crawled.
You stretched out, liquid in the shadows.
I kept my counsel as the hours flowed.
Behind the glass the sky oozed darkness,
bleeding like bruised fruit.

Afterwards, awkwardly, we touched. I froze,
But you melted me with a helpless shrug.
On the glistening sidewalk, you turned to ask
if you’d see me before I caught my plane.
Your smile was sad. I’m here, you said.

 

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CLARE O’BRIEN lives on the north-west coast of Scotland. Her fiction and poetry has most recently appeared in Fearless Femme, The London Reader, Northwords Now, Biggar Science Festival’s The Powers Of Nature anthology and was longlisted for TSS Publishing’s Flash400 2018. Her day job is archivist and researcher, and she is also working on her first novel, a dystopian fiction called Light Switch. Follow her on Twitter at @clareobrien.

 

Image: Igor Schubin via Pixabay

 

The Skins We Shed – Liz Jones

A One-Day Travelcard, an Oyster. A packet of gum, each. Crisp packets. Beer bottles. A Mars Bar wrapper fluttering after the last tube. Two condoms.

Train tickets, plane tickets, pizza boxes, fish and chip paper. Ribbons and cellophane from flowers. Gift wrap, carrier bags. Labels cut out of fancy underwear, careful not to nick the silk. Condoms, different kinds. Tissues, vodka bottles. More condoms, the kind you decide you prefer.

Bin bags of stuff not looked at in two years. Bin bags full of rubbish. Bin bags of things you outgrew, things that won’t belong together. Too many bin bags to put out for the bin men. You sneak out after dark and share them round the new neighbours’ piles, laughing. Wine bottles. Condoms.

Pieces of cardboard longer than you are, with the round dents of casters. Bubble wrap that leaves your hands dry and squeaky. Other people’s discarded furniture. Scraped paint, surprisingly heavy. An old bath. A toilet. Lampshades and mildewed curtains. A cache of old tights.

A pregnancy test, then another. Tampons and booze bottles. Condoms again.

A car that seized up for lack of oil – whose job was that? – towed away for scrap. The plastic off the seats of a new one, why not? Phone boxes, TV boxes, computer boxes. Boxes from kitchen appliances. Boxes ten times the size of the things that came in them. Polystyrene worms that stick to the wall. Little white balls, hail indoors. Condoms. Containers for cleaning products, shampoo, medicines. Two CD collections, you’ve gone digital. Dry cleaning wrappers. Cleansing wipes, cotton buds. All of the plaster chipped off a wall to reveal the stone beneath. Better wine bottles, real corks. Gadgets no longer desired. Garden waste, a whole new bin. Vacuum cleaner emptyings. Things with no name.

A pregnancy test, then another. One more for luck. Champagne bottle, vitamins. New kinds of packaging: pushchair, car seat, cot, electric mobile, baby gym, twenty-seven miniature sleepsuits, monitor.

Nappies. Nappies and nappies and nappies, on and on. So many nappies. Baby wipes, make everything clean. Containers from formula milk. Condoms, not as many. Too many bin bags to put out for the bin men. You sneak out after dark and share them round the neighbours’ piles, silently.

A pregnancy test, then another. One more for luck. Champagne bottle, vitamins. This time it’s a boy so the packaging’s blue. Nappies nappies nappies nappies.

Property pages, printouts. Bin bags of stuff not looked at in four years. You don’t bother to conceal the bin bags this time, nobody cares.

Enough sheets of cardboard to contain a whole kitchen, because they did. Old cabinets piled in a skip. The skip is taken, who knows where?

Boxes come faster and faster, never fast enough. Ticket stubs pushed deep and hidden. Shirts that smell wrong. Receipts that don’t add up. Wine bottles overflowing. No condoms, not here.

Dead umbrellas, dead pushchairs, dead highchairs, dead baby bouncers, dead coathangers. All the spindly, insubstantial things left behind when we’re gone.

 

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LIZ JONES writes novels and short stories, and is currently studying part-time for an MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. She also works as a freelance editor of non-fiction. She lives in Somerset with her family. Find her on Twitter: @ljedit

 

Image: Noel Bauza via Pixabay

 

 

 

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