Cover Image by Bijou Zhou 

“Getting Along” by Bijou Zhou

BIJOU ZHOU grew up in China´s Hunan province. Having first learned painting from a local artist, she went on to receive a degree in Fine Arts, before moving to the USA to study English. She now lives in Changsha, China. Her work has appeared in Mused Literary Review.

How would you like to bury my soul – Anointing K Obuh 

We girls/what chance do we have against bitterness /the fire raging within our souls/ This war/hands overrated/bathed with our mother’s blood/this grief/fingering us to sleep/Tell your sister/her/ hands will ice over/come may/ she would stop feeling/like a bitch/such revolution in a word/ graffiti painted on streets/ halfway across the world/ let her sing misery/like a lark/ record her pain on a VN/ Before she crosses over/in her dreams/ into the graffiti painted on streets/halfway across the world/ Leaving behind/ a half chewed gum/her favorite bra/ a flower for mother/ and a suicide note/ craftily written.




Image via Pixabay 

The Arrival of the Finnman – Michael Bloor

In October, I shall have been Governor of this island for forty years. I came here as a young man, to command the garrison and dispense justice in the assizes. I arrived full of hopes and vaunting ambition, trusting to my connections in the distant Imperial Court to secure me rapid promotion to more lucrative and influential positions. My hopes were vain, my ambitions lost and my connections as enduring as morning dew. Nevertheless, I have learned contentment in this little bounded land. True, the winter days are short and the winter nights are long and bitter: for weeks together, the gales can blow loud enough to deafen, and strong enough to deposit small fish on the cliff-tops. But the peasants, farmer-fishermen for the most part, are determined, even heroic – very different from the servile drudges one encounters in the capital and the countryside round about it. I have come to respect and emulate the islanders’ quiet virtues. To watch them fishing is an education – two boats working in careful concert. And then to watch the sharing out of the catch, with one fifth part reserved for widows and the sick. Yet now it seems all my hard-won lessons on peasant virtues may be cast over.

It was a stormy day of early March when the ‘Finnman’ was captured. I remember because when my sergeant brought me the confused news, I was staring absorbed from my chamber window at the waves breaking wildly on the rocks at the harbour entrance. The wind was catching up the spume from the waves and the low sun was creating hundreds of small, truncated rainbows as it shone through the spume.

Tales of the mysterious Finnmen are common currency among the islanders, but I have paid them no more heed than stories of dwarfs living in the mounds along the shore, or of the ‘selkies’ that are said to inhabit the western skerries. The Finnmen travel in skin canoes at great speed; they are fierce, cruel and emit screeching cries; they are said to drive away the herring shoals.

The Sergeant said that a group of fishermen from the west end of the island had found the Finnman collapsed among the dunes: first of all, they had spotted the skin canoe, beached on the shore, and they had then followed his tracks into the dunes. I told the Sergeant bring the Finnman at once to the chamber, along with his captors.

A couple of minutes later, the corporal of the guard (a hulk of a man), dragged in a bundle of skins that proved to be the insensible Finnman. He was accompanied by the sergeant and four fishermen. I knelt to make an examination. The Finnman was breathing rapidly and shallowly; he smelt strongly of stale urine and rancid fat. I felt in his mouth and found the tongue swollen and distended:

‘The Finnman needs water – Corporal, fetch me a pitcher of water. After that, go to the cellarman for a bottle of brandy.’ I turned to the fishermen: ‘How did he come by these cuts and bruises?’

‘Excellency, he was unconscious when we found him, but we thought it best to bind him. He then came to and he started to struggle, so Gruta hit him. But Gruta only hit him once. By the time we arrived here at the fort, a crowd was following us. As we waited for admittance, some of the crowd started to throw stones. And a woman ran forward and hit him with a stick.’

The sergeant confirmed that this was the case and that the woman in question was Sella, the widow of Odd. The corporal then returned with the pitcher of water. I wet the Finnman’s lips but he did not revive. The corporal had already departed again for the brandy, so I sent the Sergeant to bring Oolla, the midwife, as the hospitaller is an ignorant drunk whom I would not trust to treat hiccups. I sent the fishermen to recover the skin canoe, and the Finnman’s weapon, a short dart, that one of the fishermen (an intelligent lad) had said lay beside the canoe.

Left alone with the Finnman, I observed him carefully. Of normal stature, with a yellow-ish skin (redder about the face) and dark, lustrous, coarse hair. A flattish face, the nose being small. The eyes were brown and curiously obliquely set. The teeth were much worn. From his musculature, I would have judged him younger than myself; from his wrinkled skin, I would have judged him older.

In recent years, I have devoted some of my leisure hours to an illustrated description of the many monuments that the Ancient Ones have left on the island. I have fancied my account might ensure that some posthumous celebrity might attach to my name, and that the island itself – this isolated and obscure outpost of Empire – might also gain a degree of fame. Now, I was seeing things differently: surely the mysterious arrival of the Finnman would make the island famous throughout the Empire? The four fishermen’s names would be as famous as the past Emperors who had first sent out ships to explore these remote waters.

The corporal returned with the brandy, which I ordered him to administer, but it was not a success. The Finnman choked, vomited and lapsed back into unconsciousness. He still had not spoken a word in my presence. I was later to learn that, when struggling with his rescuers, the Finnman had only made a few hoarse noises.

When the midwife entered the chamber she at first recoiled from the sprawled Finnman and would have fled if the sergeant had not restrained her. But her kind instincts soon got the better of her. She suggested that the Finnman would take some time to recover and that it would be best if he were carried to her hut outside the fort gates. There she would wash and bind his wounds and, once he was conscious, keep him on a diet of gruel and herbs of her own choosing. I agreed, gave her a purse, and bade the sergeant and corporal carry him away on a hurdle, adding only that the hurdle should be left in the hut and that the Finnman be bound to it, to prevent ignorant flight. I was remiss in omitting to require the posting of a guard outside the hut.

The early evening I remember as being one of pleasant excitement as, by candlelight, I began an examination and description of the canoe and of the weapon that the fishermen had brought in, just before dark. The canoe, wondrously light, was secured from swamping by skins and draw-strings designed to fit around the seated Finnman, like a leather shoe around a foot. The body of the canoe was constructed of greased skins, stretched over a taunt frame made partly of wood and partly of bone. The wood appeared to be that of a kind of pine tree, but not one I recognised. The canoe was evidently propelled by a single oar, shaped into paddles at both ends. The weapon was more ingenious still: the short dart, tipped with sharpened bone, was made more effective by a separate wooden throwing arm. I was of the opinion that the dart-plus-arm would have been just as murderous as a full-length javelin, but much more readily handled in the confines of the canoe.

I had just finished a sketch of how I presumed the throwing arm would operate, when the sergeant once more rushed to my chamber – this time with news of a riot outside the fort. I was stunned: it was more than twenty years since there had been any civil disturbances on the island. The sergeant had already called out the guard. I issued pikes and armed both the sergeant and the corporal with an arquebus. We then all immediately ran out of the fort towards the shore, where the crowd had gathered. Two barrels of pitch had been set alight. It was plain to see that the figure stretched on top of the barrels was the Finnman, still attached to his hurdle. He looked more an effigy than a man.

The crowd quickly dispersed. The midwife, who had taken a blow to the head, claimed not to have recognised the young men who burst into her hut and seized the Finnman. Sella, the woman who had previously hit the Finnman with a stick, turned out to be a simpleton. The corporal of the guard, a native islander, told me that the islanders believed that Finnman had to be killed, lest he spirit away the herring shoals. He could not say, or would not say, who had instigated the riot. At the assize, I called the fishermen who had found the Finnman to give evidence, but they had returned to their homes at the western shore on the evening of the burning and knew nothing of the riot. Surprisingly, the young fisherman who had mentioned to me the Finnman’s weapon gave evidence that he had indeed heard the story that Finnmen could charm the herring away from the island, but for himself, he believed that herring shoals shifted for many reasons – that they were not at the beck and call of the Finnmen.

These peasants whom I had come to respect, living in such successful harmony with each other, clearly had no respect for an outsider. The greater the bond between islanders, the less the fellow-feeling for the stranger, the intruder. There is no wisdom to be found here, no matter how beautiful the sunsets.

I have arranged for the Finnman’s burial and I shall dispatch the canoe and its accoutrements to the Imperial Chancery, the lawful recipient of all shipwreck spoils. And then I shall ask to be relieved of my post on account of an infirmity, an incurable island melancholia.


Michael Bloor is a retired sociologist living in Dunblane, Scotland, who has discovered the exhilarations of short fiction. Recent publications include The Cabinet of Heed, Ink Sweat & Tears, Litro Online, The Copperfield Review, Scribble, Dodging the Rain, Everyday Fiction, Firewords, The Drabble, Idle Ink and Spelk.



Image via Pickryl

Audition Isolde – Jim Meirose 

Wait wait wait wait-wait-wait, Isolde! Again, you have not reached the minimum level to pass this audition. Your face is more Pilotblanket than Homo Sapiens, we don’t need a glamour-shot or hand-done old school brainwave chart to know you are no Gage. Your head is still symmetrical and you have no mates dragging behind. ‘splain, Lucy. You got one more try. Go.

Start where the boss said.



The boss said, You’ve no job. You’ve no salary. Si. You’ve no savings. I go alone. So here you sit. I go alone. I am the rope bridge you simply need to not fall from which will see to it your trip to your death is not a horrid poor sickly lonely cold dark stinking painful premature one. ‘splain, Lucy. Splain and that will be it. But Isolde, at the same time, consider this—maybe, on the other hand, you’re just hallucinating. Maybe—

Cut there, Isolde!

Time’s up. That’s your slot. You came in, you bulged, all filling, you outgrew. What the hell and out you’re popped to the list we might call back next year. Your tone quite reminds us of being nine years old at the living room window watching downsnow vis-à-vis wintrycold kind of piling up like it did then and as it does then a grainy photo through the parted out of style lacy curtain and down it comes the clouds no sun cold ready for school Midnight in Moscow flesh colored superhouse across dimmed by sheets over sheets of show Midnight John in Glenn Moscow and Midnight in Moscow rules are to be obeyed sheets of snow crackly-cold beautifully sunlit ice storm morning after sun, here let’s pull on yer leggin’s time to have fun everybody have fun! Everybody have fun! After all, this is the real life Queen Mary Boat, Docked permanently. Needless to say, school did not get canceled. The day memorable because somehow wrong. As in, not normal. That we call such days wrong, well, don’t sweat it. The word shrimp could have been chosen instead. The meaning would be the same for you Isolde. Intention is everything. You’re just reading. Not doing advanced calculus in your head. My God hole, Jesus, wake thyself up. Nobody else will no matter how long you wait, mon mon, my sweet! So what that you’re really just eighteen. So what that for reasons unimportant you are on your own. Learn from the mottos of the past masters; Listerinio Veronicans! Op Verinicans Ooo La La Mitosismysterianan-Rose! And best of all, soon to revert to the hyphenonalian nationica! Then to just shoot out the end-over-outpipe, into the backwall splat. Okay Isolde. Here’s a test. Say all that back. Fast. Can you say it backfast? C-c-c-c-an U Sayit-Bach back back to me and me only in seven exactly not eight not six but seven exactly that numerio-of-words what it just took a hundred and thirty blackjackie daddio metrics all in inviolate triplicate copies over copies of copies of heh, to explain to you, Isolde?

No? You look puzzled.

That is also the wrong answer, we suppose.

Thusly leave us, go forth—and may you have a profitable day!


Image via Pixabay 

Picnic at the End of the World – Sharon Telfer

When the sirens blare, we pedal hard up the hill. We’ve been paying attention. We chose this spot thirteen weeks ago. In the valley, the roads out of town clog like arteries.

I shake out my mother’s snowy damask. You slice the thickening air with your great-aunt’s mismatched silver. We lay out the crockery dug from the back of the cupboard, that pattern we loved so much when we put it on the wedding list but now can’t remember why.

We unpack the hamper and begin to eat…

…sourdough kick-started with a culture that bubbled westwards across Europe one step ahead of advancing armies, your Grandma’s pastry which we never tasted but everyone said was the best ever, crumpled bags of the Mary-Jane caramels my mother craved while she was carrying me, hedgehog cake with almond prickles and five candles, the biggest juiciest bramble you thought you couldn’t reach but which was worth every scratchy snag, that chocolate Easter bunny too beautiful to bite without weeping, sherbet dibdabs and white mice and flying saucers, tiny bottles of summer-curdled-winter-slushed milk, rice pudding with skin on for the last day of term, fluffy mints from Grandad’s pocket, leftover Yorkshires gilded with syrup, a licked-out cake bowl, Mum’s treacle pudding erupting like a suet Vesuvius, lip-smarting crisps and warm lemonade in the back of the Cortina waiting for the grown-ups outside the pub, mouth-sealing bonfire toffee, bangers on the barbecue half-charred half-pink like sunburnt noses, first kisses cherried with cola, the sudden obvious point of olives and anchovies, the devilish whiff of kidneys, the sour-shock pickle of someone else’s body, silky tongues of smoked salmon on Christmas morning, nostrils popping with champagne, Marmite, sleepy-eyed moussaka with chips our first morning barely awake but ravenous at that old-school Greek place that’s a sushi bar now, bitter aniseed that kept us dancing well past dawn, salt-rimed-lime margaritas under a stardust California sky, gelato masking the June sewer stink of honeymoon Venice, the wake-up chilli spike of breakfast in Kerala, the peace of tofu in your vegan phase, falling for the irresistible temptation of bacon sandwiches after an all-nighter, peat-smoke whisky burning away the heartbreak of the child who came too soon, amazing tea and buttered toast after the child who arrived right on time, cook’s-perk crackling chicken skin stripped from the carcass by the kitchen sink, wasabi’s eye-opening sting, the never-to-be-repeated-twelve-course-tasting-menu-treat from your father before you stopped talking to each other altogether, those oh-so-expensive Valentine truffles that tasted almost better than sex, HobNobs in bed to the Sunday clatter of rain and bells, three strawberries of perfect ripeness picked with my father in the care home garden, Mars Bars on the moors still a sodden drenching hour’s hike from the bloody car, cold beer, takeaways family-style with friends, warm beer, pastries dunked in gossipy lattes, soldiers dripping thick with yolk, a long glass of cool clear water downed in one…

We raise our toast in our one surviving crystal glass. It glints like ice against the dropping sun. As the earth cracks and the sea rises and the sky falls, nothing has ever tasted so sweet.


SHARON TELFER lives near York, UK. She has won the Bath Flash Fiction Award, the Reflex Fiction Prize and the Hysteria Flash Fiction competition. She is the 2018 New Writing North/Word Factory Short Story Apprentice. She is an editor at FlashBack Fiction.


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Maybe I’ll Grow A Beard – James Bates

Rob peered out from behind the Sunday sports section. Across the room he observed his wife Shelia, doing some sort of handwork with tiny needles. Crocheting, maybe? He didn’t know. Had no clue. Didn’t care. She was dressed in a teal blue, floral print skirt and a white peasant blouse. Her auburn hair was pulled back in a pony-tail. Her full lips and high cheekbones, once so beguiling to him, were now anything but, just plain and unremarkable, nothing to write home about. He sighed and turned back to check on the baseball scores but only for a minute. He was having trouble concentrating. “I wonder,” he thought to himself, “If today’s the day I tell her I’m thinking of leaving.”

Shelia worked at the local middle school as a teacher’s aide. She was a diligent employee at the school, and she was just as diligent at home where she was as handy with a power drill as she was in the kitchen. She’d single handedly painted all of the walls in all of the rooms of their small bungalow style home. She’d put up book shelves. She’d pulled up all the old carpeting and sanded and refinished the wooden floors. She kept the house neat and clean and tidy. She cooked fabulous, healthy meals. She’d even made the skirt she was wearing.

She’d also made the baby quilt laying on the floor between them. On it, seven-month old Emily lay rolling back and forth playing with a rattle. She’d recently learned how to turn herself over and now lay arching her back, attempting the feat yet again. Rob watched, disinterested, as his daughter made a move and finally rolled onto her stomach. Imperceptibly, he shook his head, big friggin’ deal.

Shelia’s excited voice cut through the silence of the room, “Emy, look at you. Good girl, sweetheart. You’re getting to be such a big girl.”

“God,” how ridiculous, thought Rob. He set his paper aside, thinking, “I’ve had enough.”

At that same moment, almost like it was orchestrated, Shelia set down the project she was working on, a crocheted cap for Emily, and got to her feet. She reached down, and in one swipe picked up her daughter and carried her into the kitchen. “I’m going to fix Emy some cereal,” she told Rob, “What are your plans for the day?”

Rob got up and followed behind. He worked as an IT specialist for a large company in Minneapolis, twenty-five miles west of their home in the small town of Long Lake. He’d been there for ten years now, four years longer than he and Shelia had been married. It was a moderately stressful job so Sunday mornings he usually went for a long run to have some time alone and unwind. Usually, but not today.

“There’s something I need to talk to you about,” he said, looked at the back of her head, noticing strands of grey, wondering what he’d ever seen in her, “Something I want to tell you.”

Shelia took a small pan out from a lower cupboard and filled it with water, “What?”

Rob watched as she added dry cereal, put the pan on the burner and turned the stove on, all the while bouncing Emily on her hip. “I…” he paused. Did he really want to do this? Did he really want to give up this life? His wife? His daughter? Their home? Security? Give it all up for his freedom and the chance to do whatever he wanted to do? Asked and answered. You bet he did. He finished his thought, “I’m thinking of leaving. Moving out. Steve from work says I can live with him. He’s got an apartment near the office and some extra space. He says I can stay with him for a while.”

Before he started to ramble too much, he forced himself to stop. Was he nervous? Yeah, a little. But, truth be told, it felt good to get the words out and tell it like it was to Shelia. Who knew? Maybe she’d beg him stay. Maybe she’d break down and cry and plead with him not to go. Maybe she’d make good on her wedding vow to be a good wife to him and not take so much time with her precious Emy. Maybe she’d promise to make an effort to treat him like he deserved to be treated. The breadwinner. The man of the house.

He waited for her answer.

“So you really want to leave?” Shelia asked.

“Yeah. Yeah, I do.”

Her answer surprised him. “Well, good,” she said, “Great. In fact, it’s about time. I’ll tell you what. I’m going to feed Emy and get her changed. We’ve got a play date at 10 this morning at Susie’s.” She made it a point of looking at the clock on the wall. “It’s 9:30 right now. I’ll be home by noon. I want you out by then.”

She turned her back on him and set Emily in her high chair. Then she turned off the burner and went about finishing fixing breakfast for their daughter.

Hmm. Unperturbed and feeling rather liberated, Rob walked to the back of the house where their bedroom was. That was easy. He scratched his chin, noting the rough feel of his whiskers, and at that very moment had a thought, “Maybe I’ll start growing a beard. That’d be fun. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. In fact, now that I can do anything I want to do, I think I will. I think I’ll grow a beard.”

He took down two travel bags out of the top shelf in the closet and began packing. Shelia had given him until noon to move out. Hell, he’d be gone way before then.

Back in the kitchen, Rob didn’t hear Shelia on the phone, “Hi, Susie, it’s me. Yeah, I’ll be there in a little bit, but I’ve got some good news for you. Exciting news, in fact. It’s about Rob. He’s finally leaving. Yeah. Seriously. No, I’m good. I told him it was about time. I think he was shocked, but so what? I’m sick of him and his idiotic attitudes. Yeah, but don’t worry, I’ll figure out something. We’ll talk more when I get there. Okay? Yeah. Bye.”

Shelia hung up and wiped some cereal from her daughter’s chin. She grinned at the cute little girl and fed her some more food, leaning close so they could rub noses. Emily giggled. “We’re going to be just fine, sweetheart,” she said, her grin turning into a big smile, “I promise, Emy. It’ll be just the two of us now, and we’re going be just fine.”




Image via Pixabay 

Penalty Charge Notice – Dan Brotzel

(You did, of course.)

Hmm. How about: failing to be present to the person you said you loved? Basically, you recklessly entered a restricted zone (my heart), parked your callous little self all over my feelings, and just sat there while I bled dry.

Most of the time really. And more and more as time went on. I mean, when was the last time we’d even had a meaningful conversation about anything?

I didn’t know where you were emotionally most of the time, only that it was somewhere other than with me. Even when you were here, you weren’t really here.

Oh come on, it was all over your face. That slightly vacant guilty look that became your default expression with me? The way you never texted or called in the day any more? The way you were oddly reluctant to introduce me to your friends or family. Your avoidance of sex. And when I said we should do more together, you were always like, Yes! This weekend! Let’s drive out to the hills. Let’s spend some real time together! And then you were like: Oh wait, I promised to help my mum.

I tried to make you see. Tried to explain what was really happening. I don’t know why you want me here, I said. I only moved to this city because I thought you wanted us to be together. I gave up everything back home and got a shit job here so you wouldn’t have to keep subbing me. I share a flat with a bunch of arseholes because you’re not ready to move out from your mum’s. (Did she ever even really know about me, by the way? Does she even know you’re gay, come to that? You were oddly evasive about that too).

We used to make big plans about living together, marriage, adopting a kid. But it got a point that if ever I broached the subject, we ended up in a blazing row. Remember the shitshow at New Year’s Eve? The night the neighbours called the police? The crimes of Paris? First-class tickets on Eurostar and me sobbing alone in the buffet car.

Christ, I didn’t know. How can you serve an ultimatum on someone who doesn’t give a shit? I could have just walked out on all this long ago, and I probably should have. That’s what my sister said, and you know how she always saw right through you. The only thing that stopped me was the fear that you would have just watched me walk away, just let it happen, been secretly glad. The only thing that stopped me was that I still loved you.

Actually you did respond. To start with. You pulled out all the stops for a night or two, gave me some attention, showed me a bit of love. Just enough to keep me going till my next little hissy crisis. Jesus, you must have despised me, the way you just kept me dangling. Did you get off on watching me twist and writhe, you cold-blooded sadist? And God, how I must have hated myself to put up with it, to think that the best thing I could do with my life was to hang around waiting for you to turn into a decent person.

Yeah right.

And your ego. And your nasty sadistic streak. Also your sidelong glances at other men. Don’t think I didn’t notice. (But of course, it’s way too late for all that now.)

i.e. explore the reasons why monsters like you persistently exceed the normal limits of reasonable behaviour in supposedly loving monogamous relationships. As for further lapses, if you can’t see what the problem is already, then God help the next one.

You will also remain in my personal database for all time, and as soon as I get out of here I will not hesitate to inform any future partners of yours what a sneaky self-involved shit you are.

Unless of course you do this to someone again, and I’ll paste the gory details all over Facebook.

And by ‘associated purposes’, I mean whatever the fuck I want it to mean, but especially reserving the right to drag up your sorry behaviour at any time that suits me, especially where it might assist me as an underhand card to play in winning any future argument I might have with anyone who I suspect of emotionally abusing me in any way whatsoever.

But just so you know, that doesn’t mean your mum. Also, I can tell you now that the following were never going to cut it:

* ‘I was not aware of what I was doing’
* ‘I was not in full possession of my faculties at the time’
* ‘I did not see the signs’
* ‘Someone else was in control of my mind without my consent’
* ‘It was late at night and I’m not at my best then’
* ‘Well, that’s not how my mum sees it’
* ‘It was very early and I’m not really a morning person’
* ‘I was momentarily distracted’
* ‘It’s my first offence’ (bullshit)
* ‘My memory may be faulty’
* ‘I’m just really tired – work’s been really hard recently’
* ‘It’s not you, it’s me’
* Any sentence beginning, ‘What about when you…’
* Any sentence along the lines of: ‘If you’re the injured party, how come I’m the one in plaster??’

But just so you know, things like ‘my mum never hugged me’ or ‘I’m just wired differently to other people, I guess’ do not count as disabilities. Injuries after the fact do not count either.

But there are laws for things – rules of love, if you will – and in your case, I’m afraid, the charge was payable in full. PLEASE DO NOT SEND POST-DATED CHEQUES. Just like your post-dated affection, these will no longer be accepted.

OK I shouldn’t have done it. I guess I took the law into my own hands.

OK, OK. But you knew what you were doing. And I was sorely provoked. This had been going on for months, remember.

And you certainly milked it for all it was worth. Going to the papers like that, you little tart. ‘Jealous gay lover runs over boyfriend’. How much did you get for that? As if. It was just a little nudge. We were in a driveway, for fuck’s sake.

Are you fucking kidding me? I got six months and you’re asking me about human rights? I don’t even believe your leg was broken. (Not in four places anyway.)

Oh enough with the gas-lighting already. You had it coming. ‘Dangerous driving,’ they said. Trust me, babe — I never drove with more care and attention in my life.



Image via

Medea – Dawid Juraszek 

harness a raging fire
arrest a torrent in its rush
bleed the heart of a rock
you can

the gore and the dross
left in your wake
singe as they swell
in the only space there is

flesh blood skin bone
anointed and enhanced
beyond the wine dark sea

you may wish to move on
new life awaiting you
in far away climes
but no.

DAWID JURASZEK is a lecturer in culture and literature at a university in Guangzhou, China. His academic background is in English, translation studies, educational leadership, international relations, and environmental management. A published novelist in his native Poland, his work has appeared in The Remembered Arts Journal, Amaryllis, The Font, and elsewhere.


Image via Pixabay 

Notions – Katy Thornton

People were always sitting beside Sarah on the bus. She found it annoying but had long ago decided to take it as a compliment – she obviously looked like someone who wouldn’t bother you and was hygienic. Sometimes, even when there were other seats available, seats without a passenger already, still, they opted to sit with her. Sarah had always attributed this to her big breasts, which were E cups at nineteen years of age. She had read somewhere that once you turned eighteen, they stopped growing, and really hoped that was true. When she was younger, she used them as a way of enticing male attention, as she wasn’t a particularly attractive girl otherwise, but now, most of the time, she covered them up with high neck tops and oversized jumpers. Today that hadn’t been an option. Sarah sat squished into her seat by the large man who had decided to sit beside her, so her shoulder was stuck beside the window like a starfish in a tank. The man’s arm shoved into hers, pushing her cleavage together even more, creating a deep vertical line down her chest, that anyone who got on the bus couldn’t help but gawk at before finding somewhere to perch for their journey.

Sarah had been sick of being conservative. She’d ordered a dress online that cut into a V-neck, and though she knew it was a risky option, she didn’t want to be the ugly one in the photos for once. The model on the website she ordered the dress from was “curvy” – meaning she had boobs bigger than A-cups and she had a big bum but likely only had a twenty-five-inch waist. It had showed off the model’s modest cleavage elegantly, whereas Sarah looked like she was about to star in a porno, and not a high end one either. Sarah considered wearing her round-neck t-shirt dress instead, but once she caught a glimpse of Charlotte’s outfit on her Instagram story, she changed her mind. Her mum dropped her to pre-drinks and Sarah had to use one of her thick winter scarves to cover up her exposed chest, to avoid her mum having a conniption. When she arrived at Charlotte’s house, she unwound the scarf slowly and carefully, soaking up the gasps of her friends, who were made to feel inadequate about their considerably smaller breasts. There was a not so subtle pulling down of dresses and tightening of bra straps. Sarah had spent years doing the exact opposite.

A stray bottle came clattering down the steps of the bus, rolling every time the bus took a corner, or moved in sharply to let passengers on or off. Everyone was slightly irritated by it, this was clear in the twitch of necks and shifting of eyes. Those with headphones couldn’t drown out the stark banging, like it was a bowling ball. Sarah gritted her teeth every time she heard the plastic bounce up and down on the floor. Every time it knocked from side to side, there was an inaudible groan of annoyance shared by everyone on the bus, but no one got up to take responsibility for it. Sarah felt it mocking her every time it hit against someone’s feet.

The large man sitting on the bus next to her might have been hammered the night before too. Maybe he had also been at Diceys. It was filled with older men, a fug of Hugo Boss aftershave following behind them, some avoiding going home to their nagging wives, some avoiding an empty apartment, or trying to make something for dinner out of some gone off vegetables and a frozen steak pie. The man smelt ripe with whiskey; the musky stench of it turned Sarah’s fragile stomach. When the bus took a violent turn, so did her innards, and she bit into her lips, creating a seal in case any vomit tried to leak out. She’d been sick four times, once just moments before the bus had arrived at the stop and had been sure there was nothing left. The last thing she needed was to be removed from the bus, especially in her sequin black dress and matching heels, at 10AM on a Tuesday morning. Her first lecture of the day had begun and finished, and there was no way she was getting to her proceeding three. Normally Sarah would be fretting about the lost 10% attendance marks, though her record was otherwise flawless, but today her mind was on other things.

A couple got on at Aungier’s Street, clutching bags of doughnuts, the brown paper going translucent. The girl had a pink cord hat, and the man had a beard that was balding. Sarah tried to avert her gaze, but she was compelled to keep watching. Their affection to one another was tangible and wet. The man planted a kiss on his girlfriend’s shoulder, of all places, leaving a bit of a damp patch that Sarah couldn’t take her eyes off then for the whole journey. The light kept reflecting off her pale skin in this area. It made Sarah want to grab a tissue and wipe it away; it reminded her of the wet patches between her legs this morning. Sarah sealed her lips once more.

From the moment Sarah and her friends had entered the club, it was already unlike any other night. Instead of awkwardly shuffling, pretending to be drunker than she was, while Charlotte and Annie flirted outrageously with the boys from Commerce or BESS, Sarah was the one being flirted with, and the more she drank, the easier this became. She wondered why she never had more than two drinks normally – the light and numbing tingle in her veins was far more pleasant than the hummingbird of anxiety that normally beat inside her. She stumbled over her first responses, but it didn’t seem to matter. The boys laughed heartily and made sure her hand was never without a glass bottle of Smirnoff. Charlotte tried to butt in a few times, shamelessly waving around her high pony-tail like a horse, but only the gawky skinny lad in the group paid her any attention, and though she indulged him with a quick shift, she left for Coppers without saying goodbye to Sarah.

Sarah checked her phone, careful not to unlock it; she was only on 5% battery. She was still thirty minutes from home, not including the twelve-minute walk from the bus stop. There were no messages from Charlotte or Annie. She’d gotten one of her new lad friends to type out a “get home safe? x” message last night, but neither responded, or enquired to whether she had gotten home safe too. Later that night they had both uploaded Instagram stories from Toni’s Diner, and Annie had one up at about 5AM of Charlotte conked out on her sofa.

Sarah knew she should be flattered. Girls only act that petty when they are jealous, and Sarah had never been the kind of girl who ever had anything to be jealous about. She’d spent much of her own life being jealous of girls like Charlotte and Annie, or even the less cool girls in her history classes, but the ones who were smarter and more independent than her, who could keep up difficult and intriguing conversations about Home Rule in Ireland or The Korean War. Jealousy was a feeling she knew all too well.

As much as Sarah loathed the PDA the couple in front of her were displaying, she was jealous of them too. She wondered where they were going, maybe into Dundrum, although they didn’t strike her as the shopping type. They looked more like people who went hunting in charity shops for hidden treasures; the mustier the clothes smelled, the better. Sarah then felt guilty for assuming – she hated the assumptions people made about her. Though they were normally correct. She was quite sure any assumption made about her on the 14 bus that morning would be completely accurate. Out drinking the night before? Check. Wore a tight dress for attention? Check. Probably had a one-night stand? Sarah felt bile roll around in her stomach, like someone was churning butter in her intestines.

The large man got off in Rathmines and Sarah felt herself sag to the side. She tried not to be obvious about stretching her limbs as her former companion jollily sauntered off the bus, lifting his face into the fresh morning air, and literally began whistling on his merry way. A cold breeze rushed in before the bus doors closed, creating a cluster of goose-bumps all up and down Sarah’s arms and legs. She hadn’t been able to feel her toes for about an hour now; she peeked down at them and saw her big toe was completely white, plain against her red nail polish. Her baby toe she could not see, and could not feel, but she knew it was crushed against the inside of her shoe in a way it shouldn’t be. Sarah only got two stops of freedom before a girl fell into the seat beside her, but at least she wasn’t taking up half of her seat like her other companion.

The girl was thin and pale with choppy orange hair and eyes that darted like a paranoid deer. A message pinged on her phone, and she unlocked it with the swipe of an unmanicured bitten thumb, and tried to lock it again just as fast, but not before Sarah saw the words in the message. It was a short message, with a very direct request.

Blow me.

Romance, indeed, was not dead.

Only the previous night Sarah had been asked by not one, but two separate men, for the very same thing, though she had turned them both down, gently. She was walking with one of the boys from Commerce, or was it Sports Science? He might’ve been in DCU, at this stage she wasn’t sure. She had kind of flitted between groups of boys, enjoying the initial flirtation but then quickly feeling the awkwardness of chatting with someone she knew nothing about, and being reminded by a joke not landed that she was not as cool as she thought, or as her dress might have suggested. Eventually she’d ended up in a group of lads who were about to leave, and one of the quieter ones, the “Sarah” of the group, she liked to imagine, suggested she get in the taxi too. It didn’t occur to Sarah that they were going in the opposite direction of her house, and that it was 3AM by this stage, and it would have made more sense to just go home, but she needed water. She felt like no one had ever been as thirsty as her in their whole life, and in the moment, she’d near enough done anything for a bottle of water. She’d meekly asked the quiet boy if he had water in his house, and he laughed, lacing his fingers with hers, and said he would get her some water. His name was Phil, though he didn’t offer his second name.

He was good on his word. Sarah didn’t know where they were, she’d been focusing on not being sick and hadn’t once looked out the window, but they ended up in a cul-de-sac with small but neat semi-detached houses. The grass was slightly over-grown, but there were an array of daisies peeping through that made it look quite beautiful. There was no car in the drive-way to Phil’s house.

“My mum works nights,” he said, by way of explanation, and Sarah was relieved that the introductions of the night were over. Her head had begun to pound, and when Phil presented her with a sweating glass of water, complete with ice-cubes, she downed it so quickly that the pounding turned to freezing.

“Shall we go upstairs?” Phil asked shyly, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. Sarah wasn’t sure what else there was to do, so she agreed, removing her heels first. She’d been sitting on top of the kitchen counter and had noticed the calendar pinned up by the fridge. April had a series of snapshots of Phil and a woman Sarah presumed to be his mother, and another boy. She was curious about him, but didn’t ask, and followed Phil up the stairs. His room was tidy besides a few t-shirts that looked like they had been vomited out of his press.

“Couldn’t decide what to wear,” he said, and Sarah laughed breathlessly at the thought of boys worrying about that kind of thing.

She sat at the edge of his bed as he made a half-assed attempt to organise the clutter, which meant piling up all his clothes and shoving them into an over-flowing hamper. She considered offering to help but thought it would be strange. She let herself fall back onto the mattress, exhaustion taking over.

Sarah was still exhausted as they passed through Churchtown. The girl sitting beside her was furiously tapping at her phone and looked irritated. “Blow me” boy wasn’t getting anywhere, Sarah decided, as she forced herself to look away and face the window, her eyes straining to take in the blur of coloured houses and cars, almost fluorescent to her. The couple who had been sitting in front of her had got off at the next stop and were walking towards a housing estate – so her assumption about their thrift-shopping had been incorrect. The girl in the cord hat pulled aggressively on her partner’s arm until their lips, and then their tongues, collided in a flurry of uncooperative, squelching motions. On their seat they had left the doughnuts, presumably by accident, and there was about a ten second window where Sarah could have alerted them to this. The bag was still full. Sarah was glad when the bus pulled away and forewarned the next stop. She was only five stops away from her own now. The bottle struck the wall with the force of a pinball, and Sarah looked at the remaining six passengers on the bus with crossness. Her body was shaking terribly with shivers now – she didn’t know why the windows were always cracked open on the bus, even when it was cold outside. It seemed whenever the weather was good the windows were fastened shut so tight you’d need a crow-bar to jimmy them open.

Phil’s window had been open when Sarah had first sat down but closed when she came to. At least she thought so; she was extremely hot. It took her a few moments to realise he was on top of her, kissing her. She tried to shove him off – she was far too warm – but he didn’t seem to notice, and he didn’t shift his weight aside.

“What’s that?” he said between kissing her neck. Sarah had mumbled something, she wasn’t sure what now, but he hadn’t heard her, and by this stage he was into her thong. It wasn’t unpleasant, Sarah decided, and she thought it was better to just go with it. She was a guest in this house and she didn’t have enough money to get a taxi home – she would need to wait for the buses to start running.

By the time he’d finished, Sarah was close to finishing too, though he climbed off her before she could tell him this. He pulled off the condom – at least he’d thought of that – and gone to have a shower, while Sarah lay there, a wet patch beneath her, her dress rolled up past her belly button. She didn’t pull up her thong right away. It was uncomfortable. She considered taking it off entirely, but she felt sticky and wrong between her legs, and upon further inspection there was a bit of blood too. She looked around Phil’s room for tissue but couldn’t find any. She’d have to wait for him to come back.

When he did come back he had tea; Sarah’s was milky and without sugar, which was the exact opposite of how she liked it, but she didn’t say so. Phil threw a whole toilet roll her way, and she tried at first to gently dab at the blood, only to find there was too much for such tenderness. She wiped with big motions and tried not to look appalled at the darkness coming out of her body. Phil pretended not to notice and turned on Netflix. They both watched an episode or two of the newest sitcom, which was cheesy and not nearly funny enough to dispense the awkwardness that had descended clumpy and fast, like dust floating down from a high surface, over them both.

Sarah wondered how they did it – the couple, weird as they were, who were so comfortable with one another. For most of the bus journey they had sat in silence, occasionally, without uttering a word, gesturing at something that made them both laugh irrepressibly. The girl beside Sarah now was still typing, but more slowly, and to the same boy, a boy called Dom with a black heart emoji beside his name. Her shoulders were relaxed, and there was the whisper of a smile on the corners of her lips, though she refused to give into it. There was an ease, an ease Sarah did not feel in the company of other boys, or of other people in general. When she stood next to someone, or got too close, she felt like her body was inside out, her nervous system exposed, every feeling of anxiety and nervousness amplified. She thought this must be what dogs feel like, when they’re too close to something loud, or an over-zealous child with clunky movements and wandering hands.

The bus, at last, came to her spot. Sarah tried to not notice the stares as she pulled the back of her dress down as far as it would go, which was just an inch away from her bum, and walked, with as much dignity has her high heels would allow, to the front of the bus. She tripped over her words thanking the driver, and the whole twelve-minute walk home, which was nearly eighteen minutes given her footwear, Sarah had his face imprinted in her mind, the smirk, the sarcastic “you’re welcome.”

“You sure you don’t want me to phone you a taxi? I’ve got an app on my phone here,” Phil had said courteously, but quietly. His mother had returned home from work at dawn, though Phil hadn’t disclosed her occupation, and he was going to sneak her out. Sarah would have liked to borrow a pair of tracksuit bottoms, or some flat shoes, but by the way Phil was talking, in such hushed tones, she realised she was hardly going to see him again. She didn’t know his last name, and by this stage could not remember what college course he was doing, and in what college. She theorised that his name might not even have been Phil, but thought she was probably overthinking things now. Sarah told him she would be fine, and tip-toed down the steps and out into the morning air, four hours after she had first stepped into the house. Neither of them had slept, besides Sarah’s nap at the beginning, and she wasn’t sure where the rest of that time had gone.

Sarah arrived home to an empty house although the alarm hadn’t been set – her parents had presumed she’d come home last night and was still sleeping. By now it was just after 11AM, and Sarah put her phone in to charge before shedding her clothes onto the bathroom floor and sitting down to wee while the water in the shower heated up. She felt like she was sweating alcohol.

A photo from the night before hadn’t uploaded due to her 4G failing. She had only noticed this morning, when her phone charged enough that she could click into Instagram, and there was a red exclamation point alerting her to this. She clicked into it and stared blankly at the caption. BEST NIGHT WITH THE BEST BITCHES. It showed herself, Charlotte, Annie and Mary in the Diceys bathrooms, before they had even stowed away their coats. Sarah could admit to herself she looked good in this photo, and she knew others would think so as well. She tapped it again, and it reuploaded, this time successfully. As Sarah weed, very much aware of the stinging she could feel as the pee was emptied from her bladder, she wondered how many people had seen it now, and would anyone have messaged her directly. She knew Charlotte would demand it be taken down – she was facing the camera full on and not pulling a proper pose, but before she inevitably had to remove it, Sarah hoped to get some attention from it.

She wiped and looked into the toilet bowl, where bright red blood was spooling around in the water. The pain hadn’t subsided. Sarah didn’t flush right away, worried it would affect the temperature of the shower, and hopped in, furiously scrubbing her face to remove all the leftover foundations and glittery eyeshadow, and tore at her skin with an exfoliating glove to take off the false tan she’d plastered onto her luminously pale body the day before. She hiked up the temperature of the water until she was steaming and when she finally got out of the cuboid prison, her skin the colour of blushed cheeks. Sarah’s beady, naked eyes were small, once more, and utterly basic, her mouth decreased in size with no lipliner, and Sarah wrapped herself in a towel, thinking maybe next time she would wear the conservative t-shirt dress, wincing at the stinging she could feel spreading between her legs, as she inserted a tampon that she had thought she would not need for another two weeks.


KATY THORNTON recently graduated with an MA in Creative Writing from University College Dublin. She has been published with Headstuff, Cold Coffee Stand and JCS Press and is currently working on her debut novel. She spent last year as the Fiction Editor of The HCE Review, a quarterly literary journal.


Image via Pixabay 

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