The Making – Amy Alexander

In the beginning,
We stood taller than houses
Three stories hit our shoulders
And we could see the disappearing rim of dirt melting sky.

I wore your shirt for years,
and then sliced through it with scissors
I wouldn’t touch with paper,
cut only silk,
lay the tatters black as blood and bruises down in glue.
Lay down and got dizzy from glue.
Counted how many brain cells I’ve lost to you,
you should have inked yourself in warning,
a permanent tattoo

You complained of me never wearing a watch,
not caring about whether I could beat anyone on a clock
or show up before the starting shot
but, here I was, captain of all that was or will be,
a you you would never recognize,
a woman who seeks,
an asker.

I had to lose you in layers.

In the art of the collage,
last goes first on the page,
for the past,
then come the concerns of the day,
diapers and other loves tended,
my fastening fingers
buttoning shut a sweater
or is that a suit of armor?
A lionness,
a girl balanced between elephants,
a skeleton inside a star womb
to signify the dead.

 

20180616_123419_Amy_Alexander

Artwork: Amy Alexander

 

Contents Drawer Link

Amy Alexander is a writer and homeschooling mother living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana with her husband and two kids. Her work has appeared most recently in Mooky Chick, Anti-Heroin Chic, The Ginger Collect, The Remembered Arts Journal, Cease, Cows, and many more. Follow her on Twitter @iriemom.

The Imprint of Leaves – Liz Xifaras

The trees are talking.

Beneath my feet the ground thrums as whispers slither from one to another. No-one knows how they do it. No-one knows how they move.

We came here in search of space; sky between branches and the scent of wet earth. Ground that fermented with the movement of insects, creaked with the growing of plants.

Rory’s idea. We lay in his sour sheets, staring out at the view of curry house walls.

‘Fresh fucking air,’ he said, blowing his morning cigarette smoke away from me. ‘That’s what we need. Bastarding leaves above our heads and the sound of twatting birdsong.’

‘Eloquent,’ I said, dashing for the bathroom. ‘You’ve talked me round.’

‘Christ.’ He stubbed the cigarette out in the ashtray he’d stolen from the Red Lion years ago. ‘You throwing up again?’

Ella’s imminent arrival made the dream more appealing, made it solidify into a plan. Rory waxed lyrical profanities about our child running through fields, feeding lambs and breathing air that was not laced with toxins. He scrolled through pictures of dilapidated farm houses and came home with armfuls of random baby equipment.

‘Look,’ he said, waving a potty with a picture of a yellow elephant on it and a pair of pyjamas at me.

‘You’re getting ahead of yourself,’ I said.

‘They’re cute.’

‘They’re huge. They’d fit a toddler.’

He shrugged. ‘They’ve got rockets on.’

The house was collapsing into the ground, nestling into the hillside, cracked windows looking out onto trees bent to the will of the wind and ground dusted with heather. The air smelled of wet earth. It was bare, and beautiful. It was all we could afford.

Rory filled its crumbling walls with any creature that blinked baleful eyes at him and appeared in need of rescuing; kittens, a scruffy mongrel with wiry hair and overzealous tail. Chickens in the garden. I built the hen house myself.

Ella slept in a second-hand cot in our room, growing from tiny red-faced bundle to fat-limbed toddler wearing rocket pyjamas. Rory picked her up, their two ginger heads touching.

‘Told you they’d fit,’ he said.

‘Two years later.’

He bounced her up and down. ‘And they’re your favourites aren’t they, the ones Daddy chose? Yes, they are. You love those rockets. So you can fly the fuck away from this shithole planet.’

She laughed and reached for his nose. ‘Shithole.’

‘Don’t say that,’ I said, taking her from him. ‘Naughty Daddy.’

‘Daddy,’ she said, clapping her hands.

‘Naughty Daddy has to go to work.’ He kissed Ella and blew a raspberry on my cheek. ‘Bollocks, wrong way round,’ he said, and left.

‘Bollocks,’ Ella called after him.

Dressed in shorts and wellies, she and I fed chickens and collected eggs, weeded vegetables, walked the dog. He scampered far and wide while we meandered at toddler pace, rescuing a grit-crusted worm and watching the slow, droning toil of bumble bees amongst the clover.

We saw them when we reached the hilltop. Down in the valley below, where the trees grew straight and the stream quivered, a bustle of activity so unexpected we both stopped short. Dog cowered behind my legs, half-yelp, half-growl bubbling in the back of his throat.

We had never seen another person on our walks before.

They wore white, head to toe, a bustling body of insects planting saplings. It should have felt benign. One stopped, looked in our direction, brought a white-gloved hand up to shade eyes, and I imagined us silhouetted against the skyline. Woman, child and scared, scruffy dog.

‘Time to go,’ I said, taking Ella’s pudgy hand.

‘Fuckinell,’ she said.

‘Don’t say that.’

The people disappeared but the trees remained. Day after day we watched; woman, child and scruffy dog. Still he growled and barked, bounding forwards and then returning to circle us, though nothing moved down there.

They were spindly at first, branches supple and leaves pale, a translucent green sea, wafting gently, filling the air with a soft swish and rasp. As though you could hear them growing.

Every day they were taller, broader, more widely spread.

Though that wasn’t possible.

But they were. Reaching now to the bottom of the hillside, obscuring the stream. They were like no tree I had ever seen, beautiful branches stretching skyward, leaves shimmering in the sun.

I could not let a day pass without seeing them, drawn to feel their ridges and welts under my palm.

The dog snarled and barked, whimpered and wagged, ran towards them and away again.

Ella remained unperturbed, sitting with sturdy legs out on the scrubby grass, watching silently as branches performed a slow, exquisite dance.

‘What the fuck are they?’ Rory asked, arm around my shoulder, ginger hairs glinting in the sun.

He whistled, moved forward. They were half way up the hillside.

‘They’ve moved,’ I said.

He shook his head. ‘You’re off your shagging box.’

‘They have.’

He wasn’t listening. Hand outstretched, he stumbled forwards until he stood beneath the sprawling branches, face tipped up to see sunlight flicker between them.

I lifted Ella and held her to me as he touched a pale leaf and examined it. The dog, hackles raised, howled and barked and ran to the tree, to Rory, to me.

‘They’re so fucking beautiful,’ he said. Shuddered. ‘So fucking unnatural. Let’s get out of here.’

That night he lay still but breathed fast and shallow, and I know he didn’t sleep. The scent of sap hung in the air around us, the whisper of branches. When I closed my eyes the imprint of leaves threaded across the darkness.

At last Ella stood and rattled the bars of her cot.

‘Mama. Out,’ she said.

I rose, grateful to give up pretence of sleep. Pressing her against me I longed not for her soft, warm flesh but the scrape of bark against skin, the scent of soil and sap.

Rory sat up, hair spiked like a ginger hedgehog. ‘Where’s the dog?’

We walked without need to voice the plan, without questioning it. They had reached the top of the hill.

‘They’ve shitting moved,’ Rory said.

‘Yes.’

The air chimed with the sound of leaves stroking one another, branches reaching out, roots gliding under our feet. Sunlight speckled the ground.

Ella flopped onto the ground with a sigh. ‘Shitting.’

‘Don’t say that.’ The sound of them so sweet. As though they whispered my name.

I heard the breath flow from my lips, watched my own fingers reach out until the nearest trunk lay coarse beneath them. It moved. Just a little – a throb of recognition. Leaves reached down to stroke my face and I looked up, gazed through slender branches to the glimpses of blue sky, and knew this was where I belonged.

The nearest leaf shivered in the corner of my eye, and I caught it, held it. Examined it.

They were like nothing I had ever seen, broad like an Oak, smooth like an Ash, pale as though newly unfurled. Except on this tree. These were edged with a dark red.

‘Look at this.’

Slowly Rory tore his gaze from the trunk, nodded. Eyes large, face pale. He pointed at the trunk, licked his lips.

There was a patch of bark, just above my hand, that was discoloured; grey and damp. The texture dense and rough, different from the rest of the trunk.

My heart crashed. ‘What is it?’

Rory pulled me away. ‘Hair,’ he said.

*      *      *

I must have slept that night. Dreams still scarred my mind; the whisper of roots, call of breeze in branches.

Dawn spilled down the hill and Ella yawned, stood and rattled the bars of her cot.

‘Mama. Out.’

I glanced at her, fat fingers waving, hair spiked like a ginger hedgehog, rocket pyjamas rumpled to reveal a chubby belly.

I felt his absence, the cold, the quiet. He had been gone hours.

Ella looked at me, sighed and sat down with a thud. ‘Shite.’

‘Don’t say that.’ I lifted her, breathing in the warm scent of her morning skin.

‘Daddy,’ she said.

I fed and dressed her, held her to me before placing her in the cot. All the while I imagined the shift of green against sky, the snarl of bark beneath my hand. Her accusatory gaze was tearful, bottom lip sucked in and I knew the wailing was about to start.

‘Mama?’ she said. Crack in her voice breaking my heart.

I kissed the top of her head. ‘You’ll be all right. Safer here.’

She stood and lifted her arms to me. ‘Fuckinell?’

I stroked her face. ‘Don’t say that.’

‘Daddy.’

‘Yes.’

The trees are talking. Beneath my feet the ground thrums as whispers slither from one to another. They have reached the hilltop.

Even now they call to me, my arms reaching to touch them. Straining to hear them whisper.

I struggle to hold onto the image of Rory, ginger hedgehog hair and cheerful barrage of obscenity.

I look for red-tipped leaves.

Enveloped by the trunk, he can still be seen. Face visible, tipped back, eyes closed. Hair spread and absorbed into the tree. What can be seen of his body is twisted, limbs swallowed, just tangled swellings of bark and cloth.

The whisper is strong now and I know, if I were to just reach out, let myself be taken, I would be part of them forever. With Rory forever. Taste the salt of my own tears.

The skin on his face is mottled, crusted and split as the tree invades. I trace his lips, still his own, with my finger. I can barely see through the vision of roots and branches and leaves.

‘Rory.’ Voice thin, dry.

His mouth quivers under my touch. Breath sticks in my throat.

‘Rory?’

His eyes open. A gossamer of fine green lines.

‘Get away,’ he says. ‘Stay away.’

Sap wells in his eyes, tracks slowly down his face.

I nod. Remember him. Laughing, swearing. Smoking. Rescuing stray animals, holding new-born Ella with his face masked in wonder.

‘Fucking love you,’ he says.

I press my lips to his. He tastes of soil.

By the end of the day the car is packed. Cats and chickens freed to take their chances. Ella fed and dressed in rocket pyjamas for the journey.

I don’t know where we’re going. Just away.

She is in my arms and I am about to take her to the car, strap her in. We are ready.

I open the door. Evening sunlight pours in, and Ella reaches for the golden specks dancing in the air, laughs. I can smell sap, hear the melody of branch upon branch. My hands twitch for the feel of bark under them.

Hesitating, I lean against the door frame, glance towards the hilltop. Close my eyes, and a bright, beautiful filigree pattern sprawls across the darkness.

My breath comes slow and deep.

Too late to leave now anyway. Dark soon.

One more night.

Sleep is filled with dreams so enticing that Ella struggles to call me from them.

I am rooted to the ground, reaching deep under the earth, one with the creatures that writhe there. I stretch to the sky, fingertips grazing clouds.

The bars on the cot rattle.

My skin thickens, stiffens and cracks. Hair rustles in the breeze, gaze shows the world through a web of green.

‘Mama,’ she says. ‘Out.’

I am once again in the room with her, groggy from a sleep I do not wish to leave. Still dark.

‘It’s not morning.’

‘Out,’ she says. ‘Mama. Out.’

I glance at her ginger head. Remember Rory. Hold her to me and chase away the night.

She points to the window. ‘Out.’

‘It’s still dark,’ I say. ‘Look.’

I pull back the curtain.

Darkness, but not night. The view from the window is obscured, completely covered with branches, crowding in, scratching the glass.

‘Fuckinell,’ she says.

Green leaves tipped red.

 

Contents Drawer Link

Liz Xifaras is a member of Writing West Midlands’ Room 204 Writer Development Programme. Her work has been selected for Penguin’s WriteNow Live, placed in a number of competitions and appeared in Idle Ink and The Sunlight Press. Find her on Twitter @LizXifaras

 

Image: RyanMcGuire via pixabay

A Final Moment in 1911 – D T Mattingly

The sun vanished long ago. A dim street lamp revealed through our blinds what little solace I found in a world of horror. The gleam bled between every crevice, creating a radiance rippling across the face of my beloved. Light. Dark. And Light again. The same pattern every time, I knew I shouldn’t search too deeply for meaning behind the phenomenon, but it was hard not to. To fall asleep unsure of which end of the dichotomy would greet me the following morning, tell me, wouldn’t that frighten you?

Well, it shouldn’t. Not in 1911, where the levels of brightness never mattered. 1911 served as a safe haven, barricaded to repel any misery lingering in the Outer. From what I knew, my beloved and I were the remnants of humanity. No matter the chaos in 1911, the animosity between us, we recognized our roles: Two people destined to get over it, for the Outer would consume us if we didn’t.

Including the Outer, the world was composed of three additional elements—the Light, the Dark, and the Amalgam—1911 resting at its origin.

The Light manifested merriment. Shared laughs. Compromise. Love. Veneration of what slight shimmer endured. 1911 harbored much of the Light that couldn’t be located in the Outer, with an exception to the one street lamp.

Second, the Dark: confinement. Insecurities. Fights. In a room of utter darkness, the blinds completely shut—we had learned to welcome gloom. It never failed to seep into the pores of the living, regardless.

Next, the Amalgam: Or the common fate—a blend of both the aforementioned elements, analogous to mixing light and dark liquor. Sickening. Yet, all-encompassing. If someone didn’t plunge into depravity, succumbed to the dreads of the Outer, then they were probably stuck in the Amalgam.

And, the Outer: or everything encompassing 1911. Deception. Corruption. Plague. Monsters. Genocide. If the worst of 1911 seemed grim, the realities of the Outer appeared similar to falling into perdition. Wicked creatures stormed the planes of the Outer, and only the toughest of humankind could withstand them.

*       *       *

I awoke in the Outer. The muscles around my eyes had grown strong. Without them, I would’ve lost the ability to distinguish between realities or dreams, in a realm of absolute darkness.

I sojourned in the Outer for years. Accustomed to 1911, I nearly forgot how to survive on my own, to hold on to a nullifying humanity while the many Outer entities tried to strip it away.

The vulnerable were prey. ‘Build resilience’, recluses used to say, ‘it’s the only way to persevere.’

Not only were the entities dwelling the Outer ravenous for blood, but they also yearned for a mere glimmer. They’d encircle 1911, so I kept my distance, but it was my time to return. I could feel it, to see my beloved again, even though it was them who exiled me to begin with.

Nevertheless, I’ve proven to withstand the afflictions of the Outer. Surviving with or without my beloved was no longer the concern. I sought only one more day in 1911. That’s all I desired. Only one, and for it, I’d give up more than the sun. And it wouldn’t be the first time.

*       *       *

Bypassing the creatures was easy, at the sacrifice of the remaining light. I smashed the bulb invigorating the street lamp, and in 1911 I breached.

Expecting an overwhelming Dark, I discovered a truth much more agonizing: my beloved gone, as well as the last of luster. Around me, 1911 dissipated, much like panoply sizzling from my body. I’ve never felt so bare. And empty. The Outer won, darkness looming like an immensely virulent pestilence. Hearing the nearby menacing growls, I fell to my knees, with no hope in sight.

Then, a profound luminance penetrated the Outer hills, unveiling the fiendish creatures, scorching their skin as the light strengthened. I experienced a resurgence of a sun I once discarded, simply because I let go of what coincided with the penumbra. Since I destroyed the street lamp.

From then on, I lamented—at a loss. Stuck in a new kind of Amalgam, no matter how prominently the sun shined. My beloved—the vivacity emanated by our single street lamp, it was more than enough.

 

Contents Drawer Link

Delvon T. Mattingly, who also goes by D.T. Mattingly, is an emerging fiction writer and an incoming Epidemiology PhD student at the University of Michigan. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The Fiction Pool, Scrutiny Journal, Corvus Review, MoonPark Review, and elsewhere. He currently lives in Louisville, Kentucky.

 

Image: ExposureToday via pixabay

Forwards – Gail Aldwin

I’m flaked out. The sky is mauve yet still I lie, my skin warmed and taut from sunbathing.
In the pool, the water is inky. There is something amniotic about the way it draws me as if I can go back to the womb where I once tumbled and turned. I will always be my mother’s boy. The others go off in search of more beer but I’ve had enough. Fag buts and spliff ends dot the paving stones. I stand and stretch then pump my shoulders. You can’t get more chilled than this. Ready for a swim, I watch the water winking. Puzzled, I turn. Of course it’s the fairy lights strung amongst the trees that reflect on the surface. Chinking bottles announce the boys are back but I am poised, my toes grip the edge of the pool. That’s when the shouting starts. They like to make a noise but I’m not distracted. My chin’s tucked in, my back’s arched and my arms are ready. One little bounce at my ankles and I’m propelled forwards.

I am prone. The lights on the ward are bright but I lie there, the result of an impetuous moment and a shallow end.

 

Contents Drawer Link

Gail Aldwin is an award-winning writer of short fiction and poetry. As Chair of the Dorset Writers’ Network she supports writers by connecting creative communities. She is a visiting tutor at Arts University Bournemouth and author of Paisley Shirt a collection of flash fiction.     @gailaldwin     https://www.facebook.com/gailaldwinwriter/   http://gailaldwin.wordpress.com

 

Image: Marisa Sias via pixabay

In Florida – Ace Boggess

Alligators snap at feet of witless giants.
Sandhill cranes swoop in, squawking
their staccato poems from the Beat generation.
Coral snakes & cottonmouths
set up kissing booths at fairs.
I’ve seen none of it, though I’ve looked.

My stepmother makes vague excuses
about the end of mating season,
crisp trimmed lawns in a gated community,
chance.

Where are those cranes?
I ask the silent window but see one tee
of a golf course
waiting for tournament women to play through,
those also absent.

I’m satisfied with searching,
sure beasts loiter on another street,
glide by tooth-first in a nearby pond.

 

Contents Drawer Link

Ace Boggess is author of three books of poetry, most recently Ultra Deep Field (Brick Road, 2017), and the novel A Song Without a Melody (Hyperborea, 2016). He is an ex-con, ex-reporter, ex-husband, and exhausted by all the things he isn’t anymore. His poetry has
appeared in Harvard Review, North Dakota Quarterly, and many other journals. He lives in Charleston, West Virginia.

 

Image: skeeze via pixabay

Preservation and Restoration Part 2 – Andrew Maguire

I

Cabinet Of Heed Contents Drawer 10.15

II

In the living room of their vast New York City apartment, Simon Wilson and his eighteen-month-old daughter Rose stare at each other. She sits at the foot of his armchair, with two Lego pieces in her hands and tries to mimic his movements. He separates two blocks and puts them together again. ‘You see,’ he says, but she doesn’t. She presses the pieces at acute angles until they fall from her hands, and he picks her up and sets her on his knee.

He kisses her cheek. ‘Daddy missed you,’ he says, even though he only spent the day at work, and kissed her goodbye before he left. She grabs his hands with her little fingers and he accepts, again, that she is far too young for Lego. From the table he lifts one of her books, a striped tiger with a wild grin stares at him from the front cover. She reaches down and wipes her hand across the animals face.

‘Wait, wait,’ he warns, and she does.

He opens the book and on the inside page the tiger appears again: full body, with the felt fur to go with it. ‘Ok,’ he says, and she reaches out slowly, daring herself, then flinches as she touches the material, like it gave off an electric shock, like the animal might jump out at her. Then, having convinced herself, she reaches forward again, touches its head, and runs her hand smoothly over the four inches of its body. She laughs, and he sees the focus in her eyes.

‘What’s his name?’ he asks.

‘Tiger!’

He sets her down again and she feels the rug beneath her, rubs her hands across it like she had the felt of the tiger, then holds up her palms and looks at them, as though the sensation means they should have changed. The floor, like the room in general, is tidy, bar the pieces of Lego scattered around it. He only took the loose pieces out ten minutes ago, but that’s what happens. He leans back and allows the cushions to soak up the stress in his back and shoulders. It’s only when he gets home that he feels tired, and only here, when he imagines what he has missed, that the day away feels long.

She is staring up at him. ‘Where’s the other Tiger?’ he asks, and points her towards the puddle of Lego animals by the fireplace. She crawls over, though she is fit to walk, and looks for a second, hovers her hand, then grabs it. ‘Tiger!’ she says, as she turns around and holds it up proudly.

The door opens and Lilly comes in from the hall.

‘Tiger,’ Rose says again, in her mother’s direction, then she puts the tiger’s head in her mouth and nibbles gently on it with her three teeth.

‘No,’ her mother says, and Rose stops, dropping the creature to the ground. ‘No,’ she repeats, and turns to him. ‘You do keep an eye on her, with those things, don’t you? Lego all over the place, she’s far too young for Lego.’

He nods conformingly as he feels his wife’s warm arm around the back of his neck. ‘But she does like it,’ she says, acknowledging their daughter moving the Lego around the carpet, sliding the pieces this way and that. ‘Even if she can’t play with it properly.’

He stands up and goes and sits beside her. Holding the pieces of Lego up so she can see, he places them onto the structure he has been building with them: a lavish house, hotel, castle with animals grazing around it. Her eyes gaze at him as he takes the tiger piece and places it into the garden with a click.

‘There you go, Rose,’ Lilly says from over his shoulder, and he tries to pretend that the Lego house built over weeks, ten, fifteen, minutes at a time, is believable proof that he isn’t missing his daughters childhood.

When they’ve had dinner and she’s been kissed goodnight he goes to his study. His favourite room, filled with mahogany and leather, it is the one part of his life he never feels guilty or conspicuous about lavishing grandeur on. It’s not on show, it’s his. It houses the most expensive and exotic things in the house, though they aren’t superficial or materialistic. There are no jewels, or gold, and were a burglar to sneak in there are no pieces of technology, no priceless materials that could be slipped into a bag and taken away. Instead there are expansive, gleaming, table top surfaces, wingback chairs and tall bookshelves. The art on the wall is inspiring, but not priceless, and the décor, though not bland, is understated. To feel the wealth of the place, which is only about twenty feet by ten feet in size, one has to live in it, read in it and write in it, and this is what he does.

He goes to the record player, adjusts the needle, and gentle music fills the room. Music is mystical to him. He has never played a note and never wants to, but he adores it. He breathes in the almost ancient sounds of the piano; it is otherworldly, alien, and he believes that even the greatest musicians and composers do not create music, they merely summon it and try and keep it under control. He pours a drink, sits down and opens a book. He reads the words and they enter his head to the beats and pauses of the music around him. He doesn’t mind, they are getting there nonetheless, and it is all the more pleasurable for it. His wife is on the phone in the kitchen, and he imagines that he can hear Rose breathing gently upstairs, and it is a rare time in the day when he doesn’t feel guilty.

It is in his study that Simon feels best about his career. Give it ten minutes, a few sips of scotch, an interesting page or two from a recently published book, article or journal, and he will feel better about his work than he ever does in the office. Here, the fantasies come alive in a way they never do in the sobering reality of the laboratory, with all its facts and figures, its experiments and the resulting evidence, which so rarely offer any good news but never enough bad news to allow them to give up. There are times when he would welcome the latter, just to hear something coherent and clear; to have a result. He works in Animal Preservation and Restoration. It still doesn’t sound right in his head; there isn’t a ring to it. Animal Preservation and Restoration. The second part, Restoration, is new; as new to him as it is to anyone. One of the greater developments of the second half of the twenty-first century, there are still times when it feels like a fantasy, when it seems futuristic and he wonders even now, in the year 2056, if it’s possible at all.

Not now, however. Not here. As he sips from his glass and leafs through the pages of a national journal, he feels the effects of both begin to take over. He has escaped these recurring concerns and he feels good. Moving across to the table he opens a notebook and writes something down; just a thought, a musing on what he has read, which though not quite a full idea, is not one he wants to forget either. This is what he does: allows his evening mind to wander on a long leash and waits for the cold morning’s eye to decide if the resulting thoughts are anything worth pursuing. More often than not they aren’t, but he is never afraid to let his mind go. So much of what he does is fiction – today’s fiction which could be tomorrow’s fact – and when it becomes fact and there are decisions to be made, it is his job to have already thought of them as such, so that when they can do something, he knows whether or not they should.

He finishes writing. These are conversations he has alone, between him and his notebook, but they soothe him, even if he can never be sure that they will help anyone else. While his office forces him to be face to face with reality, with the slow progress being carried out by those around him and those around the world, here he can dream, without the limitations of today and with the hopes of tomorrow. Then he can be ready to make his decisions. He had to make one only hours before; scrap an idea, tell his colleagues they would not be pursuing a project. It made for an awkward atmosphere in the office, but it was his job.

He hears a noise over his shoulder. His wife has appeared at the door, holding the television remote, and he follows her back into the living room.

At the kitchen table, Lilly flicks through a newspaper, Rose rattles her plastic spoon, quietly and not without rhythm, against the table of her highchair, and Simon, reading from his laptop, says, ‘You know, there are about 62 Lego bricks per person of the earth’s population. 40 billion of those stacked on top of one another would reach the moon. A Lego brick made from 1958 would still interlock with a Lego brick made today. 62 bricks per person – that’s more than four hundred billion bricks produced since 1958. Can you believe that?’

Lilly doesn’t look up. ‘Eh?’ he says. ‘Can you believe it?’

‘Of course I can,’ she says, turning a page. ‘I feel like we own half of them.’

Rose bangs louder, continuing her drum solo.

He finishes eating and goes to his study, moving around the room, putting things in his bag, readying himself to leave for the office. Lilly regularly wonders aloud if he would not be better doing this the night before, but he prefers it this way. He likes lifting the papers he worked at the day before and glancing at them, remembering; likes feeling the weight of everything he packs and being reintroduced to the weight of what he does; likes lifting a newspaper or magazine from beside the empty scotch glass, and revisiting the thought or idea it had given him, or, if he can’t quite remember it, going to his note book to read it, before sliding it into his satchel with all the others. Of course he doesn’t like these things at all, he needs them. Because if he went in blind, opened the laboratory doors one morning without having gently reminded himself of everything, he’s not sure he’d believe any of it when he got there.

He hears Rose laughing out in the kitchen. Always laughing, and she so rarely cries. So like her mother too. He considers himself very lucky. Rose doesn’t know that her father leaves her every day to go work with the animals she points at in her picture books. She doesn’t know that what her father does is thought by those who do it to be ground-breaking, world-changing, affecting men and animals thousands of miles away. Most of all she doesn’t know what it all means, doesn’t even know if it will ever work, and neither does he.

He drops his now heavy bag at the door, setting off the usual sequence of sounds. His back is still turned as he hears his wife, behind him, make her way past. She knows he is now free to return to Rose, and he does. He lifts her – he always does when she reaches her hands up, clutching at air, clutching at him. He holds her in one arm and pours another cup of coffee as he hears the shower kick-in in their bedroom. He holds the hot cup under her nose and watches as she smells it then makes an ugly, refusing face. He mimics her, copies her disgust, then watches her face turn to horror as he drinks it anyway.

They pass the island and he puts down the coffee and lifts her sippy cup. He sets her on the foam, jig-saw piece mat and kneels down beside her. The mat isn’t big, but once there she never strays from it, as though she were surrounded by a cliff edge. He paws a soft, foam ball over towards her; she reaches for it, misses and topples over. She laughs, he smiles. Already he hears the noise – or lack of it – of the shower turning off. He knows his wife will be down in minutes and he will set off for work.

Five Lego bricks sit neatly on his office desk, like sand from the Sahara or pebbles from the beach where they shared their honeymoon. He switches on his computer and sits back in the chair. There is no one else in the office. Four empty desks around him, all well-spaced out, granting the option to talk but not the obligation.

He is usually the last in, so he assumes they’re at a meeting. He isn’t missing anything. Any meeting they have will be too technical for him; nothing he wouldn’t understand per se, but nothing that he has to clutter his mind with either. He is more than capable of the work they do themselves, and sometimes he craves getting his hands dirty. It can be messy work. Blood, sperm and umbilical cords. Cells. Cells in animals, animas in cells. Not much of it is ever pleasant, but it’s his life’s work nonetheless. Cloning animals can be used to help save endangered species, if they can just figure out how, and there is never a question of him doing anything else.

It’s the results, where exactly they are, rather than how they are getting there, which is his primary concern. Knowing what they are doing, deciding if they can proceed, and calculating how much becomes public knowledge is his brief. ‘Don’t let this get out of hand,’ was an early message from those above him. ‘Don’t hinder us,’ is the silent protest he often senses from the young, ambitious scientists below.

Here they are now: the door opens and three of his colleagues come in and approach the desks. Two of them simply nod with a smile, while another comes and sits on the edge of his desk, peering down at him.

‘Simon?’

Mark, a man twelve years his junior, says his name questioningly, almost pleadingly. ‘Come on, man.’

‘No,’ Simon says, without looking up at him, logging into his computer.

‘Seriously? Why not?’

He stands up. ‘We went through all this yesterday, Mark. It’s too much. Let it go.’

‘Too much?’

‘Money. You want to spend a fortune on a hunch, be my guest. But don’t ask me to allocate my department’s funding to it.’

‘Do you even understand what this could do?’

Simon is walking over to the far side of the room, to pass his other colleague the article he read last night, but he stops and turns to Mark again, looking him in the eye for the first time, engaging him and the conversation in a way he’d hoped he wouldn’t have too.

‘Don’t question what I understand about anything in my office. You are all specialists, impressively so, but I know every detail I need to. Now get back to work, and don’t dare question my decisions again.’

He has heard something interesting just now, in the break room, as he made a quick cup of coffee.

Two of his female colleagues talking:

‘We set up an e-mail account for our daughter.’

‘But your daughter isn’t even born yet.’

‘No, but we e-mail her every now and then anyway, let her know how I’m doing, how she’s getting on in there. When she turns eighteen, we’ll give her the password for the email address, and she can read them all.’

He’s back in his office, at his desk. It’s been a quiet morning. Mark is frustrated, but it’s not personal; he just needs a new idea, another thing to get passionate about. That will come and he’ll perk up again. This is his job: controlling these scientists, these minds, and yes, these egos. With no pressing matter to distract him, he opens his email and hovers the mouse, stalling between logging into his own account and creating a new one. After a moment he lets curiosity and impulse get the better of him and clicks ‘create account.’ He does it all quick: puts in a few fake details, creates an e-mail handle around his daughters name, thinks of a password, then logs out of the e-mail account as quick as he has made it and re-opens his own. He opens a new e-mail, types the newly created address. It’s all done before he knows it, before intrigue has turned to passion, before curiosity has created excitement; so as the door of the office opens and one of his colleagues comes in, taking him by surprise which feels like guilt, he closes the respective tabs, feeling a mixture of shyness and embarrassment.

With an empty monitor in front of him, he opens his work emails. The first message he reads means it’s some time before he thinks of his daughters new e-mail address again.

 

Contents Drawer Link

Andrew Maguire has an MA in Creative Writing from Queen’s University Belfast and is employed at South West College, where he writes and edits ‘Way Out West’, which won best blog at the 2017 European Digital Communication Awards. He’s a primary organiser of the Omagh Literary Festival. His short fiction has been published in Blackbird, The Incubator and The Honest Ulsterman.

 

Image: pixaline via pixabay

Under The Red Light – Emma De Vito

Under the red light, her face emerged on the paper like an apparition. The solution swirled as he touched the exposed image with the tongs. He was pleased with it. The way the sunlight reflected off her, giving an air of elegance. Poised, she stood on a grassy verge overlooking the sea, and in that instant, he had captured her beauty.

It had taken him weeks to track her down. Admiring her from afar, he had crept in the shadows of early morning light to avoid detection. If she had sensed him near, he would almost certainly have lost her trust. So he kept to his hiding places, out of sight.

After rinsing the photograph in water and pegging it up to dry, he studied her more closely. Until that moment, he had only been able to fantasise about what it would feel like to be in her presence; to hold her in his sights. Breathing in deeply, he couldn’t bear to take his eyes off her. Her ruby red lipstick drew him in.

In his dark room, the electric fan whirred. As he processed the next photograph, he continued to dream of what it would be like to be her. He admired her friendliness. Observing her closely, he had noticed how synchronised in movement she was – how graceful, as she and her family travelled together. The affection he had captured in his images had been wonderful to witness. The bonding, the kissing – all interactions reaffirming their commitment to one another.

He looked at the red of her beak once more. It reminded him she had been categorised now; classified in the ‘red’ – a bird needing urgent attention. The photograph he held had captured a brief moment in time; the puffin’s voluminous chest puffed out and proud; bold and distinctive. Orange legs launching her accurately from jagged rocks. She was a goddess of the hills, marvelled at for her unique appearance. Her clown like antics and movements entertaining the world.

In the photograph, she remained silent. But he would give her a voice; he would use the image to save her, bringing the world’s attention to her desperate plight.

 

Contents Drawer Link

Originally from the West Midlands, but now living in Northampton, Emma is an English teacher and aspiring flash fiction and short story writer. In 2016, she co-founded a writing group in her local area and has recently got involved with The Word Factory as a Social Media Associate.

 

Image: betexion via pixabay

Moonlight – Tom Roberts

I have the same dream I always do: I am sitting alone in the wooden house by the lake. You know the place. We went every summer. The fire is crackling even though the weather is warm. I am sitting in the rocking chair. You are outside in the field with our daughter, looking for fireflies in the field. I hear you both call out as you find them. I walk over to the door and lean against the wooden frame. I think about the argument. The Moon is bright silver in the sky. I watch as a stain of cloud passes over it, and I want to be up there looking back down. The sky is full of moths with dark bats flying through them. Several moths flutter around my head, attracted by the light of the room behind me. I can hear crickets and insects calling to one another, the trees and grass swaying in the night breeze. A torch is bouncing through the long grass. It’s you, coming back. You stop and follow my gaze into the sky. Then you close the door and I am left inside, on my own.

When I wake, my vest is stuck to me. The filtered air is always too cold and rattles the vent in the ceiling. You would be surprised how clean I have kept my room. I will be here for another year. I have sent in an application to stay beyond that, although I know that they will not let me. The floor is cold. I walk out of my room without turning the lights on. I have been on the Moon station for long enough to find my way. I have had little to do, really, other than monitor some rocks and occasional tremors. It isn’t what either of us had expected, but it has been good for me.

I am in the dining room, now. I can still hear vent rattling in my room. It shouldn’t be a surprise that everything seems so loud up here. I drink some water from a plastic pouch. I am sure I can hear something else. I walk around the room, circling the table, listing. I am pretty sure the sound is coming from the window. It’s the only large window on the station, and has a view of the bright, dusty Moonscape. Nothing looks unusual. I turn on the main light and walk over to check for any damage. On closer inspection, I can see something small in the bottom left corner. It’s a moth. A small brown moth. I wonder how it managed to find its way to the Moon with me. It’s the first living thing I’ve seen since I got here. I pull a chair over, and sit with my face close to the window, and look closer at the moth. I don’t it to fly off and get stuck in any of the equipment. It takes me a few minutes before I realise that the moth is outside, and it is trying to get in. I hold my finger to the glass to check, and the moth stays on the other side, the same side as the airless Moon. As I watch, another one lands on the glass beside the first. I can see its furry body quite clearly. Then a third one joins them, then another.

I step back, knocking the chair to the floor. I close my eyes and wish them to disappear. I realise now that I can hear crickets too, along with the buzz of insects. It is all I can hear now. I open my eyes again. There are dozens of moths on the window. Some are stationary, some are fluttering and knocking against the glass again and again. I turn off the light, and hope that they will go away. I think that some of them do. Now that the room is dark, I can see further across the Moon’s surface. I can see the small green lights of glow worms. I can hear the rustle of grass. I can hear our daughter laugh.

I want to help you both hunt for fireflies. I unlock the heavy door, and it feels like I’m flying out to meet you both.

The Moon has never looked so bright.

 

Contents Drawer Link

Image: stocksnap via pixabay

The Footbridge – Ceinwen E Cariad Haydon

shudders suspended
across raucous waters,
wildly swinging in the wind.

Mother told me, ‘Stay away,’
and as an anxious child,
I obeyed.

Over years, the iron scaffold
rusts, the long ropes fray
high above the tidal river’s waves.

Would you tread
the loose rotten planks
to sway across
and step out
onto grassland beyond?

Swimming in skimmed-milk
light, its dark arc looms
and spans the churning burn.

My mother’s dead.

One day, I’ll go and fall
away fearless
to freedom.

 

Contents Drawer Link

Ceinwen E Cariad Haydon lives in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, and writes short stories and poetry. She has been published in web magazines and in print anthologies. She graduated with an MA in Creative Writing from Newcastle University in 2017.

 

Image: free-photos via pixabay

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: