Anáil na Beatha (Breath of Life) – Sheila Scott

Rashmi leaned into the thick perspex of the tunnel, her body bending to its curve. Outside the wind tugged at the grass and tore it horizontally. She longed to be that grass.

Everyone else she knew had moved on. They had learned to live with this new life, like hamsters in plastic tube houses or rats in a laboratory maze, but she couldn’t let go.

A loose slate on the building opposite shook free and clattered off the top of the enclosed walkway. No-one batted an eyelid. Finally, a voice broke her reverie.

‘There you are!’

Rashmi turned towards her sister. Eloise was standing, hands on hips and head tilted to one side, a pose familiar to Rashmi from earliest memory.

‘I’ve been waiting an absolute age. Eventually gave up our table and came looking for you.’ She tugged at Rashmi’s arm. ‘I should’ve known you’d be wind watching again. Come on, I’m starving.’

Rashmi trailed after her sister down the long winding tunnel towards the mall. Outside, a bird was careening towards the left wall, its wings scattered and useless and its beak open in impotent protest. Eloise glanced over as Rashmi’s eyes followed its final path. A smear of feather dust decorated the exterior for a matter of seconds before the currents lifted and carried the particles clear. No trace remained.

‘Dunno how those beggars still get out there.’ Eloise rapped her knuckles on the perspex. ‘Just as well it’s made of sturdy stuff.’

Rashmi had stopped again.

‘Jesus wummin!’ Eloise pulled again at her sister’s sleeve and hauled her towards the colourful noise of the food court.

‘Don’t you ever miss it?’ They had placed their order and Rashmi was circling her glass of soda and lime round its damp outline on the paper tablecloth.

‘Hmm?’

‘The wind. Don’t you ever miss standing at the seaside, the salt air blowing your head clear of thoughts. Or breezes cooling the sun on your bare skin in summer?’

Eloise lifted one of the laminated menus from its holder and used it to fan herself.

‘You live in the past Rashmi. Do I miss spending an hour getting ready then within seconds of stepping outside having the style ripped out my hair and my make-up smeared by streaming eyes? Do I miss dodging airborne litter and flying debris? Do I miss projectile bird-shit on good outfits?’ She set the menu on the table and looked her sister in the eye. ‘What do you think?

‘Trouble is, your memories are rose-tinted.’

‘At least we were…connected.’

Eloise’s waved hand took in the perspex warren beyond the food court. ‘How much more connected could we be?’

‘Not that kind of…’

‘Chicken pesto panini?’ The waiter dropped the plate on the table without waiting for a response.

‘That’ll be m…’

‘And brie and cranberry on wholemeal.’ He deposited the second dish and left. The sisters swapped plates.

‘So, Mum rang last night…’ Eloise barely broke for breath, a mouthful of food pouched in her cheek. Rashmi took a sip of her soda and resigned herself to another lunch with her sister.

The foreman looked pointedly at his watch as Rashmi returned to her station at the depot.

‘I’ll make it up at the end of the day.’ She made a face at his retreating back.

In the changing room, she opened her locker and retrieved her uniform. As she pulled the overalls up over her boots and slid her arms into the sleeves, she stared at the photo taped to the inside of the door: two sisters in matching bathing costumes, knee deep in waves that stretched all the way back to the sky. They were grinning as the breeze tangled their salt-straggled bobs.

‘Rose tinted.’ She shoved the locker shut and pocketed her key-card.

Pete was standing by the truck, stabbing a finger at one of the hand-held devices as she approached.

‘Thought you were a no-show.’

‘Sister. Lunch. Phone call from Mum.’ She stuck out a hand for the device.

‘Lucky we got you back at all then.’ He patted the cab. ‘Loaders are done. It’s all yours.’

‘Cheers Pete.’ She clambered up the three metal bars on the side of the wagon and settled into the driver’s seat. One of the depot floor runners heaved the door closed behind her, its hefty locking mechanism slamming into place with a resounding clunk. She set the device into its port on the dashboard and considered today’s route.

‘Ya beauty. Coast here I come.’ Rashmi slid the key-card into the ignition slot and mock saluted Pete through the cabin window as the truck roared into life and began gliding along the iron track towards the exit. The siren howled throughout the depot and the floor runners retreated to their kiosks before the great doors slid open to the howling winds.

She had been ecstatic when she finally secured a transit post; this was as close as you could get to being outside on your own since the great winds began. Once on the open rail, she clipped her music box in place and voice-selected a favourite indie band. The cabin filled with the sound of twanging guitars and a decent gruff melody, and she smiled as Eloise’s accusation of her living in the past resurfaced.

‘Stuff it.’ She rattled the gear stick to the beat and sang along with gusto. The journey ahead would take her through the beautiful rolling hills of Kenville County and terminate at the pristine coastline of West Brand, previously a popular seaside resort.

The immense bulk of the truck thrummed along the monorail network requiring only the occasional input on the gear stick or brake from its driver. Cities and towns came and went. In the gaps between lay open landscapes, the blasted scrub narrating the prevailing wind direction. Occasionally, she caught glimpses of the coast: sand bulked in the far end of its curves and rocks undercut by waves thrown out by forceful currents.

Rashmi remembered the freedom of childhood summers. Wind breaks and parasols were secured with the simple heft of her father’s hand. You could build sandcastles that lasted until the careless step of a stranger caved the ramparts. You could sit on a towel with the breeze lifting your hair from shoulders sticky with sunblock. When you got bored, you could run with abandon into the rippling cool of a welcoming sea. The level surface would take your weight gladly and, as it gently lifted you up and down, you could raise a sleepy smile towards the heat of the sun.

The last family holiday to the seaside – in fact, outdoors – had been the year before the ban. The wind break had been torn from her father’s hands and vanished up and away like an overgrown kite. Grit had filled their eyes, noses, mouths, making the picnic inedible. The sea had hurled forbidding waves onto the damp sand, forcing the family high into the shelter of the dunes’ stinging grasses.

The following year, they joined the other families in the domed enclosures of Midpoint Parks.

Beach trips had been outlawed for nigh on ten years now, but she had never forgotten the feeling of those now distant outings.

The grey blocks and tube network of West Brand rose quickly on the horizon and the rail drew the truck closer to the crystal shimmer of the sea. Rashmi dropped through the gears until the truck glided to a halt within the concrete confines of the depot. Doors clanged shut behind her and floor runners emerged from their kiosks like cockroaches into a night-time kitchen. The forklifts buzzed round the back doors of the truck, carrying away the treasure to be hoarded in bays before onward distribution to the enclosed malls.

She clambered out the cabin and passed the device to the waiting clerk.

‘Lovely day out there.’ She pointed beyond the steel grey wall towards the beach.

‘Is it?’ The clerk didn’t look up, just clicked the device from the truck into a second one hanging from his belt and uploaded the data.

‘Anything to take back?’

‘Yeah. You’ve time for a coffee if you want.’ The clerk nodded to the staff canteen on the mezzanine.

‘Cool.’

Rashmi took the elevator to the upper deck and swiped her card in the door lock. She collected a coffee, wandered over to the viewing pane, and watched as the floor runners emptied and reloaded her truck. Grey overalls, grey walls, grey base, grey vehicle. She glanced up at the light tubes overhead and caught the slightest glimmer of blue sky.

When they had finished, the foreman waved up at her and Rashmi returned to the truck. He handed her the updated device and she recorded its receipt with a squiggly signature on the screen held out by the foreman.

‘Cheers, Paul.’

‘No bother. Probably see you tomorrow.’

‘Aye, no doubt.’ Rashmi once again scaled the steps to her cab. Once again, she slotted the reconfigured device into its slot on the dashboard. Once again, she waved goodbye to the foreman and listened to the siren wail as the cockroaches ran for shelter.

But this time she unclipped her seatbelt, manually overrode the sealed door of her cabin and descended the three silver rungs to the depot floor. This time, as the doors slid open at the end of the warehouse, she ran towards the daylight, beyond the prison of the compound and into the elements.

Paul hammered on the reinforced glass of his kiosk, his warning shouts trapped within the protective shell. In panic, he hit the emergency button, but she was too far ahead, the doors juddering together too slowly to prevent her escape. For a second, Paul watched as the winds devoured the solitary figure standing beyond the gap. He heard a primal howl break from Rashmi as the blast of the wind struck her face, ripped at her hair, clothes, skin.

By the time the doors clamped shut, she had gone.

Hybrid writer-scientist, Sheila most enjoys turning idle thoughts into short narratives and illustrative doodles. Her work has been published in Postbox, Edwin Morgan 100 Anthology, Cabinet of Heed, Causeway, Ellipsis Zine, Flashback Fiction, Bangor Literary Journal, Poetic Republic, and 2019 Morton Writing Competition. Her intermittently hyperactive Twitter account is @MAHenry20.

Image via Pixabay

Stream Of Consciousness Drawer Three

If Life Were Meant to Be Easy, All My Best Ideas Wouldn’t Come to Me in the Shower – Marissa Glover

My skin is dry from all the washing but I can’t put lotion on it because of allergies. I can’t cover the knuckle cracks with Band-Aids because adhesive leads to hives, and I’m not sure if my Epi-Pen’s still current. I know they expire after a while—everything expires after a while; usually it all goes bad just when you need it most.

Right now, I don’t know what I need. I’m supposed to be working but can’t think straight. My brain cells are arguing with each other, tugging the hem of my skirt for attention, saying my name over and over like a child says Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom in a store. She finally yells, WHAT? But it’s not the child’s fault she’s angry. After all, Mom ignored the child for two solid minutes when the kid only wanted to show her the monkeys on the yogurt bottles. How silly the monkeys look!

I feel sad for those kids—they only want to say something, to be heard, just some kind of acknowledgment, but then I realize they’ll get their revenge in about twelve years. Mom will tell them to do something over and over and over again, but they won’t hear a word she says through their earbuds or gamer headset. Karma, bitch.

I don’t know why I have tennis elbow now, twenty years after I retired from the game. I’ve tried every internet suggestion plus hive-mind advice. I moved my laptop from the study to the bar to the dining room to the couch. Doesn’t matter. Comfortable is an impossible position.

All this moving in place, you’d think I’d be able to keep track of things, like my cell phone, or my glasses. Sometimes I wonder if my brain cells are killing each other, if their bickering has come to blows, and whose side I’d be on.

The glasses thing became such an issue (since I can’t see without them) that I bought those eyeglass chains, and now my kid says I look like an old lady, even though I got the really cool-looking beaded ones, ordered a set of sixteen different colors before Amazon stopped delivering. Today I’m wearing periwinkle.

Part of me wants to scream, That’s because I AM an old lady! but part of me wants to show him pictures of when I was young and beautiful because if he could see me then, he’d know. He’d know how pretty his mom could be, how she changed and maybe this would make him sad too, how everything changes, how he’ll wish he had a box like mine, how everything looks better when you’re looking back.

At the bottom of the box, I found a photograph of the first boy I ever kissed. A boy who didn’t love me when I wanted him to but said I love you two days ago—now, when the world is dying and maybe we are too. When you’re poor, there’s nothing to unload before the market tanks.

Marissa Glover teaches and writes in Florida, where she is co-editor of Orange Blossom Review and a senior editor at The Lascaux Review. Marissa’s work appears in Rust + Moth, SWWIM Every Day, Okay Donkey, and Whale Road Review, among other journals. Her debut poetry collection, Let Go of the Hands You Hold, is forthcoming from Mercer University Press in 2021. Follow Marissa on Twitter @_MarissaGlover_.

 

Paul Daniels’ Stream of Suggestion – Mike Hickman

I stand in the alleyway with Paul Daniels wrapped in plastic at my wrist and the rain comes down and I wonder why I am out, and why I risk the downpour for this.

Now the stream is interrupted.

Jonny. Calvin. Andrew. All gone – some more literally than others, and they’re not standing there with me. Not then/not now. But the tar of the fence panel in front of me still haunts as I keep out of sight and I can see the spatter of more than rain down the front of my jumper and hear the shouts of those who’d pursued me into the ginnels because we’d – my friends, me (always me) – wanted to put on a show for the school, like that’s something eleven year olds do. For charity. With our own egos as the benefit. They said that, those who’d pursue. Those who still did – until recently. I stand and wait for the voices to recede and Mr Daniels, bewigged, twinkling, hefting a magic wand that isn’t as plastic as the one in the box, peeks through the Bejam carrier, capital-S-suggesting that there’s a route out of this. I believed him once – like I believed all the shiny floor telly we watched at home. You too, Paul said with a wink. You can, Paul said. They don’t matter.

But I’m still here. The tar reek at my nose and the rain down the back of my parka and the fear that I’ll be called out – again – for what I am and can’t help being. Hiding here, tucked in, not breathing, when I’m supposed to stride forward as the Year 11s round the corner, wielding the wand at them and shamelessly wearing the TV magician toupée of power which will put them where I’ve been told to put them.

They can only hurt you if you let them, son.

And

The second arrow thing that the woman in the cardy and the day-glo Crocs would tell me in Group. I’ll look it up one day. Seems profound.

This all matters – even now, with the stream interrupted. I stand in the alleyway with Paul Daniels wrapped in plastic. Jonny, Calvin and Andrew, they all head home – no-one goes for them with Kwik Save’s battery farmed finest. It’s alright for them – even standing up there in front of the school in assembly – because they’re embarrassed, they don’t want to be there, they’re not even very good at it. So that’s alright, then. Me, though? It matters and the pursuers smell that – they smell the desire for the shiny floor and the taking Paul Daniels seriously – and that’s why they go for me. When such things mattered to them. When there weren’t other things. Like now, when they have to Let Go. When we’re all supposed to.

I stand in the alleyway with Paul Daniels wrapped in plastic at my wrist and the rain comes down and I wonder why I am out, and why I risk the downpour for this.

 

A spider on my sleeve – Steven Patchett

I have a spider on my sleeve. I didn’t really notice until someone pointed it out to me.

Of course, I’ve known about it all along, caught a glimpse of it in mirrors as I walk down the high street. I haven’t actually done anything about it. It has sat there, bulbous and fat, black legs hanging on tight around my bicep, looking at me with an expression I can’t even begin to translate.

I didn’t want to brush it off, it had settled there when Mum had died. I might even have picked it up from her. They often said that she used to see things that were not there. Special eyes, she had said.

But at least I had confirmation now, I wasn’t just making it up. They told me, it’s got its fangs deep in your arm, doesn’t it hurt? But I wasn’t sure what they meant. I hurt all over, all the time, so it was hard to say if it was just the spider’s bite.

After mum had died, and the lawyers took her estate, I was sort of grateful to have something left to remind me of her.

Even if I’d considered it imaginary.

But now, of course, it wasn’t.

I took it to the zoo, to see if they could work out what to do with it. But they looked frightened when it ran up my arm onto my head, the long hairy legs wrapping under my chin. It tickled, and kept my ears warm.

They couldn’t help me in the end, far too interested in creatures they knew something about, like Black widows and Tarantulas.

I could have taken it to the cat and dog shelter, but I doubted they could have helped. They were probably less qualified than the zoo had been.

So we went to see the Doctor, the one who was prescribing the pills. I had them to make me forget, though I’ve forgotten what it was so important about remembering. The Doctor rolled her eyes and told me I was imagining things. But when I looked into the mirror I saw the spider staring back.

Have you been taking your medication, the Doctor asked. The spider looked pissed in the mirror.

Of course I have Doctor, the spider told her.

Before I could leave for home, the spider is on the move again, just leapt up onto the doctor and wrapped its legs around her head. I was so embarrassed, I pulled the spider off and told I her was sorry, meaning every word, while she sat in her chair, a funny look on her face, her mouth a big red O.

I was so mad with the spider while we rode the number 37. Everyone is looking at us, with the same funny look on their faces, as I shouted at the creature as it sat next to me.

When I got home the police were waiting there for me. Maybe they can help with the spider.

Steven Patchett is an engineer, husband and father living and working in the northeast of England. He can be found on Twitter, being encouraging, @StevenPatchett7.

 

Mission Accomplished – Ami Hendrickson

Today, I will not dwell on my problems.

This is the task I have set myself. In my mind’s ear, I can hear the “Mission, Impossible”-style voice intoning, “Your mission, should you choose to accept it…”

I do not always choose to accept it. Today, I do.

I will not focus on the current mandatory quarantine that keeps me inside when what I really want to do is meet my friend Kim for brunch at The Mason Jar, order their clove mocha – “candy coffee,” she calls it – and parse the state of the world over savory French lentils, poached eggs, and Paesano toast.

There’s a perfectly good coffee maker in my kitchen. And plenty of coffee. “This is a blessing,” I say aloud, “not a problem.”

We’re low on bread. I take two yeast packets from the cupboard and set them near the warm coffee maker. I have yeast. I have flour and oil and water. What I usually don’t have is time.

I haven’t made bread in three years – since the last time I was in the house day after day, month after month. It was a bit like quarantine, wasn’t it? Staying with you. Always within earshot. Taking care of you as your life seeped away like water from a drying sponge…

The smell of rising dough and of baking bread fills the house. It’s the smell of heaven, but it only makes me miss you more.

Today, I don’t want to think about that.

I don’t want to contemplate the logistics of how Anne Frank and her family stayed inside, hidden from the sun, teetering on the brink of existence, peering daily into the black hole of hell, for two years. (I don’t want to, but I know that by dinnertime, I’ll be wondering, for the thousandth time, if they painted a yellow circle on the ceiling somewhere, for reference. Or could they only see the sun in their imagination, when their eyes were closed, shuttered to their reality?)

I will not close my eyes. I will keep them wide open.

I will look at the dogs, happily snoring beside me, unaware of how privileged they are to be allowed on the couch.

I will drink in the sight of our daughter doing her course work online because the schools are all closed. She’s so grown up now. Seventeen. The same age I was when I met you.

Today, I will say a grateful prayer for fresh-baked bread, for a roof over my head, for friends, and for family. I will not obsess over the fact that my employer is looking for ways to cut my hours. I will not worry about paying the bills. I refuse to fracture. I will not complain.

Not just yet.

Not yet.

For now, I am going to eat these strawberries in a glass bowl that was my grandmother’s while listening through the cracked window to the bluebirds sing “chirr-chirr-chirrry” as they build their nest in the little cedar house by the mailbox.

Ami Hendrickson writes books, screenplays, and endless to-do lists. She also writes for famous horse trainers. Some of her favorite pastimes involve horseback riding, playing with her dogs, and teaching writers workshops. She lives in Southwest Michigan, where she pines for a working TARDIS.

 

Mrs Average – Ellie Rees

‘Five foot two, eyes of blue, but oh what those five foot could do. Has anybody seen my girl?’

‘I had green eyes, reader; but you must excuse the mistake: for him they were new-dyed I suppose.’ (Or was it ‘dear reader’?)

Such things stick in my head: not a jot of originality, just the dead leaves of other writers, scraps of ancient songs. I’ve always been ‘Mrs Average’: green eyes, five foot five (now five foot three) weighing in at a steady nine stone four, shoes 5 ½ and dress size, 12. Average. Dead ordinary. However, judged by my age (another number) I have suddenly become ‘Mrs Vulnerable’, can feel the strength seeping from the tips of my fingers and even the garden secateurs hurt!

Note to myself: Why have you not given your age? Is it possible that even at your advanced time of life you still worry about how the unseen, unknown reader might judge you? Vanity of vanities; all is Vanity!

I need to look up when to use the numerical symbol and when to write it. Why are shoe and dress sizes written one-way and other measurements the other?

Now is our Pompeii moment – I seem to have changed the subject – the sun is shining and it’s Spring. I have enough to eat and everything appears to be normal. Yet… I am obsessed with statistics. How many dead in Italy or Spain in the last twenty-four hours? I wash my hands singing two choruses of Ring-a-Ring-of-Roses and remember we are only two weeks behind Italy.

Ah, so now both the Heir to the Throne and the Prime Minister are afflicted; I wonder what the statistical chances of that happening are? Come to that, I wonder what the odds are on my super-fit, first-born having the virus, while – thank God – my second son, paralysed from the chest down, remains fit and well with me, in isolation.

On second thoughts, Pompeii is not a well-chosen comparison: that happened with a bang, not a whimper (sorry!) It’s the knowledge we now possess about their quality of life, before the pyroclastic flow, that seems apt. They were so much like us in their sense of security and their love of material possessions.

I will start to count my material possessions. That should pass the afternoon. Perhaps I should put my diaries together somewhere so that my granddaughter will find them and be able to get to know me when she’s older. On second thoughts, (for the second time) perhaps six years old is a little young to have such a responsibility. She might not take after me; might even be a mathematician.

My mother-in-law stuck a label on the back of all her china – Moorcroft, Clarice Cliff, Gaudy Welsh – giving its make and age, thus hinting at its possible value. Clever. I’m still stuck with all her possessions now and they’re about to survive yet another generation.

Ah Life, ‘How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.’

 

So Let’s Build A Mother And Her Son – miss macross

So let’s say that there is a robot who looks just like a man, meticulously constructed down to his wet eyeballs and rubber squishy cheeks. His cheeks are so squishable that if he had an aunt to squish them when she visited on holiday, she would feel like the Queen of Aunts Who Squish Cheeks. Let’s say that this robot is self-aware; he knows that he was, say, created by a genius woman whose son was kidnapped by his evil wealthy grandfather and that, uh, this wasn’t a concept stolen from a hit Korean drama. He calls his creator “Mom” because she programmed him to, but he also believes that since she was the one who brought him into the world, she is, in fact, his mother. It may not be normal, but what is a normal mother? Some of us have mothers who [insert trauma here]

so, really, he’s right and he was, in fact, instilled with an unshakable sense of right and wrong. This makes it difficult for him to write poetry. The Hallmark cards he finds at the corner pharmacy each May make no sense to him: broken guitar strings strumming banal covers in the wrong chord. Because the person hired to write these verses isn’t the child of the recipient, these cards hold no meaning. Therefore, the robot tries to write his own, his understanding of emotions being

close enough but no cigar smoked by the poet writing about their cheating lover or their lover’s cheater or the death of their

He does not understand death; to be more specific, he does not understand the pain associated with death, though he intellectually understands that once some things are lost, they cannot be fully replaced. His mother has installed a Kill Switch in his rustproof abdomen, a method of nonconsensual self-destruction that will deploy on the day when his mother is finally reunited with her real son. He is real in the sense that when he dies, it will not be taboo to hold his funeral. The robot is unaware of his kill switch; most of us are unaware of the ticking bombs in our bodies, or rather, which bomb will be The One.

If he is alive next Mother’s Day, he will write her a poem that contains line after line of observations cited by sources, and his mother-creator will be horrified. She will think that it is a suicide letter. But he can’t leave her yet; she has not been reunited with her Real Son, the one who may or may not be slowly killing himself several countries away, each glass of soju another shot away from his memories of a beloved mother who his grandfather has told him is long dead. The robot, with his spring water coolant eyes and carved dimples, will think that the words that he organized on those lines were Right.. As she cries, he will ask her if they are tears of joy. He will wish her a happy Mother’s Day.

 

Interlude – Michael McGill

Steven, it’s the cars that I miss most. They would glide past my window at night and I’d listen as I treaded softly towards sleep. But they’re gone for now; they are parked on other streets. They are still, and they are silent. And waiting.

Steven, I write this letter from a strange place. A stream of consciousness, if you will – and will you? I have set myself a limit of five hundred words. Please don’t take this personally! I type as the news is on over there – the other side of this room. It plays in a loop – over and over, the same faces, the same hairdos, the same Union Jacks behind the same suits.

An empty vase sits in front of me. A Mother’s Day card, and a teddy bear on the window sill.

Each day brings a video conference call. Each day one of us comes closer to cracking. Each day waiting.

Steven, you left the house last Autumn under a cloud. It was a light cloud, really, but still. Things fester over Winter. Darker thoughts ferment.

After this is over, you must visit. I will cook. And if that doesn’t put you off, nothing will!!

Steven, I know. He was a mistake, of course, but still. Each of us needs an interlude. And he was mine. He sits now in a plain room with a chair and a window, a bed and a blanket. I miss him, but there we are. He was young once, I’m sure, but his voice deepened. And he became more plain, and he became more cold. He was my mistake, and I’m sorry.

I am typing in the dark and I am dreaming. Of better days when the pavements are fuller, of warmer evenings when crowds gather again. Of meetings with faces and voices and vibrations. When friends and colleagues are no longer little boxes on screens. When people will talk again in sync; faces and lips and voices. There will no longer be a time lag.

Steven, it is dusk. I have put on the light in this room, but the curtains are still to be drawn. Passers-by can watch me type if they feel so inclined. Or they can wave to the teddy bear instead!

Today, I watched a friend on film. She was in a field near her home with her dog. She smiled at the camera, and warmth filtered through the lens. I miss her.

You will be eating now, I imagine, as you read this. You will open this email, I hope, and you will read. You will scan for typos, and I pray you won’t find any! But therein lies the problem. The wood for the trees. The resolute failure on my part to ever see: The. Bigger. Picture.

Steven, I still remember the day you left. It was dark by the time you walked away. October brought in the cold and it felt cruel. You caught the last bus, I’m sure, and you disappeared.

Michael McGill is an Edinburgh poet who has recently had work published by 24 Unread Messages, Funhouse Magazine, The Haiku Quarterly and detritus. His overheard comments and photostory projects regularly appear on Twitter and Instagram. He has also performed his work on the Lies, Dreaming podcast. Twitter: @MMcGill09  Instagram: michael7209

 

Lockin 30/03/20 – Jason Jawando

see, get up and have a drink, sometimes a second after breakfast, and then catch the bust to work. At work there’s naohter one before I go about my day. Then a few more when I get bored and need a break. At the weekend it all goes to pot, bit there;s one at brealtast, more during the morning when I;m reading and listening to music; in the afternoon when I start writing there’ll be more; and again in the evening. See, it’s this working from home – or at home strictly – that’s making everying different. M body has made the transition well enough. IT extpect it’s drinks when it gets them. That means everything is in the same place. Morning, eafternootm and evening, sitting ath e same desk, with the same cup of the same tea sitting in front. That’s not realy a hardship. In the midst of all this coronavirus outnreak, the greatest tragedy is hardly Jason drinking a cip of tea at the same place all day. It just begins to feel wearily familiar. Here we are again: another cip of tea, with te same view from the same window (it’s dark now, so that’s not literally true. Except it is tru 0 ) close the bracket. Forgote to close the breackter when I meant to. It is the same view outside the window, even though it’s fark now. Nothing has actually changed in any ontologival sense. I can’t really see anything now. There are lights on inside the room and the curtains are closed. Through the small gap in the curtains, I can see s white streetlight, which spreads a glow on the darkness immediately surrinign it. I now see. I know what surrinds it because I;ve lived her for years and I know what the road looks like. It’s the last road in the West Midlands. If you cross over it, you’re in South Staffords Hire. I don’t leve on the road, but on a cul-de-sac, off a cul-de-sac, off a crescent. The main road passes a few yeards from the house, on the other side of a hedge. I can see through the window o the study, which hasn’t always been m study, and I travel along it every day on the way to worl. So I thin I know it pretty well. I don’t always fo that way. Some days I walk in the opposite direction and catch a different bus. Cathing no busses at all aright now. The bus company have agreed to suspend the Direct Debit though, so I won’t be out of pocket. By the time I get to catch the bus somewhere, then the world will have started to look different, There;s no way that it can’t. I worked in Birmginahm for seven notnts, the year before last, and when I came back to WOlverhamptn, everything looked different, which was odd as I was still living in Wolverhampton. And spent weekends there. My sense of strangeness doesn’t emphasise sense at the expense od strangeness.

 

Fifteen Minutes Till Film’s Out – Duncan Hedges

Fifteen minutes till film’s out. Oh, you’re going for the shoulders again. Okay, it’s piano time. Ha-ha. Any excuse for a bit of physical contact. Yes, I know the score. You’ll pretend that my shoulders are a piano keyboard and I have to guess the tune and when I say something ridiculous like ‘Macarena’ you’ll fake disbelief and then go back to the start and do it all over until you get bored and tell me it was actually ‘The Flight of the Bumblebee’ or some other obscure crap and I’ll laugh and pretend to be interested in your deliberately goofball tastes that aren’t tastes at all but just an attempt to be different. Oh good, you’ve found your wheelie chair so I can get back to my admissions till while you gab on about something or other and think that I like you more than I do, because of that one time I stroked your hand and called you sweet. But tell me this: how else do you get rid of someone if not by feigning endearment? And there was no way I was going to walk the length of the foyer to collect the next day’s pre-books and give you a forty yard arse goggle. Oh, you’re off. No hand stroke needed today then…just the sight of the team leader. Great. So substituting teen lust for married lust. Ten minutes. Let’s see if he can get by without mentioning his ding-a-ling today. Ha-ha. Yes very funny, rummaging in your trouser pocket for your ding-a-ling and offering me a fiddle and then when you finally pulled it out, it was some outdated musical device with a tiny handle that turned and played ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’. Yes, very clever and of course I thought you were going to slap your married penis out on the desk, didn’t I? Yes, of course, ha-ha. Oh what a shame, your mobile’s ringing. Five minutes. And leaving just in time for teen lust’s return. And okay, teen lust, you really are hurtling down the foyer like an Olympic sprinter and yes, you’re going to hurdle the crowd control barrier and announce your arrival with the loud slap of your size tens. What a shame the work rota grabbed my attention at the very same moment. Nice to see a shift with Stevie next week and one with Jed as well. On separate days. Bonus. Twice the fun. And I think I’ll study this rota a little bit longer. My shoulders tightly hunched over the desk, just until you make it back to your chair. Oh good and there we are. And maybe I should tell you that I’m working with Stevie and Jed next week. Maybe you’d like to know that. But I can’t leave you on a thought like that. Zero minutes. No, so I’ll give you a friendly pat on the shoulder when film’s out. Until next week, teen lust, until next week.

Duncan Hedges lives and works in Leeds, West Yorkshire. He writes short stories in his spare time and has been published online at The Cabinet Of Heed, Ellipsis Zine, Spelk and Bending Genres.

 

Nocturne – Elodie Rose Barnes

Sometimes, the end of the day feels like the end of the world.

The word ‘apocalyse’ means ‘the lifting of the veil’. Ancient Greek. I wonder if it also means this, now; the caving in of the darkness, the silence of the moon, the soft falling of dew from nowhere. I wonder if this is the shore on the other side of silence. Even the streets turn away their faces and disappear. I am alone.

Bells count the hours; they know this strange thing called time better than me. Minutes pass from one corner of the room to another. My feet, pacing, syncopate with the seconds. How are the bells not exhausted? But so much passes between fleeting chimes, and eventually darkness splinters into this thing called dawn. Like ice cracking and then thawing, trails of moon-melt streaking the sky. My reflection distorts itself in a thousand watery mirrors. Bell-chimes fade to whispers, vibrating in silver droplets of light, and I miss them. They didn’t even know my name. All night I have been listening to voices that never called me by my name. Take away my name and this is left: a shadow waiting for a woman to come home.

The tree outside breathes slowly so as not to wake the blossom. In its branches a bird sings to a distant sun.

Elodie Rose Barnes is an author and photographer. She can usually be found in Spain, Paris or the UK, daydreaming her way back to the 1920s, while her words live in places such as Dust Poetry, Bold + Italic and trampset. Current projects include two chapbooks of poetry, and a novel-in-flash on the life of modernist writer Djuna Barnes. Find her online at http://elodierosebarnes.weebly.com

Cabinet Of Heed SOC Drawer 31.04

 

 

Stream Of Consciousness Drawer Two

Hope Grows – Rob McIvor

Beards.

I swear all the men in this street are growing beards. Every one of them.

Not those fluffy two weeks away glamping with the family and I didn’t feel like shaving beards, but proper, six weeks away from work, just like a teacher in summer, and look what happened beards. Let’s all hole up at a pink house in upstate New York and make a great album beards. Garth Hudson beards. The real thing.

Even Frank, at number 34 is doing it. I saw him this morning, going out for his daily exercise with his little girl; the one that asked me if I was Santa Claus. What’s her name? Oh yes, Guinevere. Sorry, but if you’re going to saddle your child with a name like that you need to give her some decent genetic material. But Frank’s no Adonis and her mum’s no Helen of Troy. Poor kid.

Anyway, back to Frank’s face. I noticed it when he was on the way out and had a good look when he was on his way back, with his newspaper. He always holds it up to his chest, with his arm crooked, like a junior barrister carrying his briefs. I don’t know what he does for a job. Maybe he really is a junior barrister. There it was, a bit wispy in places, sort of ginger with blonde roots, but definitely an attempt at a beard. He’s going to need another month of this before he looks like anything other than an unkempt hamster.

I see them all coming and going. Phil from 43 (very dark, he’s already shaping it into a kind of biblical sage look); Louis and Michael from 28 (matching goatees, flanked by carefully cultivated stubble); the teenager from 39 (a bit scrappy but 8/10 for effort). It’s as though on the one hand they are all trying to pretend that they are going about their lives as normal, as if nothing was happening, while, subliminally, little squirts of testosterone are dribbling into their brains and telling them that this is their chance to let it go, show what they can do if left undisturbed for a month or two, to return, when it’s all over, with their faces a visible declaration that it’s all going to be different from now on.

I envy them their futile hope. I remember the last time it was all going to be different. And the time before that. Each new dawn breaking through, like tiny shoots from an overnight face. And that moment when we all thought: shall we let it grow a little, give it a chance, nurture it, before razoring it away in a submissive, supplicant return to normality.

I wonder which will last longer, this naïve sense that something has changed forever or the beards. All those beards, screaming out their vitality, their endurance, their presence. I watch them passing all day. And I look down and remember that the last time I shaved was May 2nd 1997.

Porthcothan Bay – Matt Fallaize

I, of course didn’t realise until years later what had actually happened, because it made so little difference at the time.

You don’t though, do you?

A was about to be my first proper girlfriend . There was a sort of tacit acknowledgement between us that we were about to be a thing, but we weren’t, in any binding sense, that yet. So it was plausible, legally-speaking, in Double Science when Cowan and Rawley told me that she’d had actual sex with a guy in a tent on Porthcothan Bay, just the weekend before; some kid from another school, I didn’t know him. It wouldn’t have been a crime, technically. We’d been edging around each other for a while, but it wasn’t like I had exclusive rights.

They said it with a note of concern, they wanted me to know what I was getting myself into. They were angry at her, her friend Nicola had told them. She’d been in the next tent along. Their words were rushed. They’d fallen over each other to tell me.

We were friends , of a sort, Cowan, Rawley and I. I’d been to their houses, they didn’t seem to actively dislike me, we had occasional conversations and compared homework from time to time. They were, I instinctively acknowledged, a couple of brackets up from me, popularity wise. They dressed with more confidence, surfer clothes, they had a certain relaxed charm. It didn’t bother me, it was just how it was.

The odd thing is that I remember not believing a word of it. Not in any angry, hot denial sort of a way. I just thought well that didn’t happen and thanked them for telling me and thought no more of it. I’ve always had something of a short fuse, and it was worse then. You’d have expected me to lose it. Confront A. Or, more likely, retreat into myself in silent misery and never speak to her again. But I didn’t. I just thought nah, and went about my day. We became an item shortly afterwards. She was, I knew, a bit too good for me. But it took me some years before I worked out that was how I felt, then.

And I’ve no idea what made me think about his, twenty five years later. My wife and I had just finished off dinner, we’d been having a rough time but things were getting better and we were in expansive, confiding mood, having one of those conversations where you maybe reveal a little more of yourself than you normally would, even to a loved one. When you talk about each other’s pasts. And I’ve no idea why I told her about this, as I hadn’t thought about it, right up until that moment, but when she said in a small, furious voice: fucking hell, they didn’t even want to let you have that one happiness, they wouldn’t even let you have that I thought Jesus yes that’s it.

Matt Fallaize is a writer (and chef) based in Ormskirk, Lancashire, UK, where he knocks out meals, stories and poems in wildly varying quantities… His work has appeared in various places and, you can find him, should you feel so inclined, in the usual places.

To Slow Down – C J Dotson

A couple of months ago I began to suspect that I might have ADHD. Inattentive type. I talked it over with a few friends who’ve known me for a very long time and with my husband and eventually I called the psychiatrist’s office that my husband goes to and asked to set up an appointment. I didn’t have a referral or anything and there was a little bit of surprise or hesitance on the other end about it, but I had a first appointment a couple of weeks ago. About a week after that I had a follow up to do a series of true/false questions, over 500 of them, on a computer. In that time I have been doing a lot of research on my own and I came to the conclusion that something that might really help me would be to create a schedule. A detailed schedule of every activity throughout my day, one for each day of the week. I started it, and it seemed like it was really helping me. A few days after that, the governor of Ohio (where I live) canceled all school for three weeks. He said three weeks. I and my husband both figured pretty immediately that that was actually it for this school year. There goes my stepson’s last year of middle school and my son’s first year of preschool. And there goes that carefully crafted schedule. It had to be reworked and it doesn’t always work because my son is home all the time now and you have to be a lot more flexible with kids. I’ve missed parts of the schedule almost every day but I’m still trying. More, something strange started happening to my perception of time, right away. Everything in my personal life kind of came to a stop. We’re not leaving the house. I’m not planning my son’s fifth birthday party. I don’t take him to school or pick him up, I don’t check my schedule at work, I don’t look up events at the library, I don’t make plans with my mom. Everything in the world outside started moving so fast. Governor DeWine started shutting things down left and right, and in my opinion good for him. Stores ran out of a lot of things (insert toilet paper joke here). There’s more bad news from around the world every day. Time at once seemed to slow down to almost nothing and to speed up incredibly, depending on where I’m looking. It’s disconcerting. And my god is it distracting. I know I’m not alone in this. I know that right now almost everyone in the world, except for people in denial perhaps, are feeling this too. I know that. But it just doesn’t seem fair that I was finally, at age 33, figuring out some big fundamental part of who I am and learning how to work around it and then (allow me to be a little hyperbolic for a moment) and then an apocalypse started.

CJ Dotson has been reading sci fi, fantasy, and horror for as long as she can remember, and writing for almost that long. She works in a bookstore, co-hosts a SFF book club, and is a wife, mother, and stepmom. In her spare time she paints and bakes. Visit cjdotsonauthor.squarespace.com

Not today – B F Jones

I woke up to smell of tress and bananas and oxygen, to a sing song, from little birds. To the patter of hungry toddlers, demanding bread and honey, to the soft purring of a congested husband, demanding my body pressed against his. One of the cats paws my chest and it hurts to be alive some days. There’s a pool out there full of water and lilies. I float on one of them, my body spongy like a star fish, my mind gone to the good place. The nebulous place of stars and clouds, foamy with delight, dewy with love and the warm embrace of dear ones, muscles and tendons and flesh. Hot breath garlicky and sweet. Red wine running through our veins as we hold hands tight, squishing our pulse, making sure that it is here. Yes it is here.

I woke up to the song of neighbours, guitars and banjos and flutes, their hope rising through the air, their feuds, suddenly forgotten. Not today, revenge, not today.

I hold a small bird in my hand, its tiny body nested against my palm. The cat brought it in, proud, but I said no, not quite, give it back. Not today.

I lay awake at night with the weight of my dreams, suffocating me. The water lilies have come for me and they cover my hairy body. I have become an animal and I am chasing my dreams, my aunty Virginia had warned me about the furry family legend. You can’t escape it she’d say, wagging her strappy tail. We’re better off this way, she said, dislodging a small bone from between her teeth, curling up on a pile of skeletons and purring with the satisfaction of the mighty. I know best my dear one, yes I know best. We can try and try and try but only this way we can succeed. Come and join the tribe my dear one. There are small ones to eat and medium ones to fry and big ones to fight. Don’t run away my darling I know best. But I run away. Traps everywhere, traps traps traps. Sweet old ladies turned devil. I run on that springboard and jump from high. There must be a way out from this pool that I swim over, my body a hovercraft of hope, not weighing anything anymore; I have turned into one of those little brids from the tree that I see from my window when I wake and say not today, not today. I bake some bread with misfortune and expired yeast, it rises and burst, giggling as it splatters my kitchen walls. I mop it with the last of my hope, I polish the wall with fierceness and anger and undying love while I scream and shout not today, not today. I wake up with a small bird on my chest, it’s eaten the cat and vomits a soft cloth of comfort, I wrap myself in it and I go back to sleep. Small birds sing song as I doze, not today, not today.

Mother Love – Anne Hamilton

If she’s filled that bloody commode again, I’ll swing for her…Deep breath, deep breath. Onetwothreefourfivesixseveneightnineten. Knock. Do it. Ugh: overnight breath and lavender water, and what have I said about the electric heater? Look at the old witch, perched there like a Buddha in a hairnet and curlers, tasselled bedspread up to her neck. Ask how she is, Mags, go on, see which laugh we get this morning: brittle, hollow, tinny, tinkling, woe-is-me. Depends whether she’s showcasing her indigestion or her constipation. Or her ‘little bit’ of diabetes. For God’s Sake. None of them’ll stop her guzzling tea and toast – once we’ve got through the rigmarole of me offering and her refusing. Give the old girl her due, she times her hesitation to a tee: well, if you’ve already gone to the trouble…I’ll try a little…Oh! Fuck’s sake. She always notices I can’t be arsed to iron her napkins, one of the six white linen squares, plus silver ring, my dear mother brings when she visits. My paper ‘serviettes’ are ‘common’. Being a perfectionist is such a curse, Margaret, such a blessing you don’t suffer. Ya-di-ya-di-ya. I get through these fourteen day ‘holidays’ pretending to be a below-stairs extra in Downton Abbey. Brown toast is wrong. White toast is wrong. Sodding Michelin-approved truffle-dusted artisan focaccia is wrong. But she’ll suffer it: tsk, tsk – you flighty young folk (mother, dearest, I’m forty-six) are too ready to waste things… She lived through the war, don’t you know, all gravy-browning legs, dried-egg canapes, and people today not knowing what war is. Yeah, right, Ma, all those thousands of whinging Syrians should Keep Calm and Go Home, shouldn’t they? I try smiling, honest I do, but she shrinks away as if I’m baring my teeth, all the better to eat her with. Breakfast takes longer than a medieval orgy, and I’m up and down the stairs like an Olympian. I lose all kinds of pounds when she’s here, running around pretending I’ve a book balanced on my head, lowering my shoulders and straightening my back, just as the eighty quid a session osteopath recommends. Now she’s off on one about my new-fangled dishwasher scratching her manky old crockery (yep, she brings her own Royal Albert china along with the napkins). Is it a hair (my slovenliness) or a crack (my cack-handedness)? Whatever. There’re always spares in the special antique shop, aka The Salvation Army, down town. It’d break my caring mother’s heart, you see, if she didn’t have a full dinner service to leave my can’t-do-any-wrong doctor brother when she carks it. Oh, no blame on him, he’s one of the best, my little bro. Patient. Kind. Cheery. I’m the mardy one. S’pose I’m not really blaming Her Highness, here, either…well, alright, I am, but what can you do, eh? We get on fine as long as there’s a respectable social distance – 300 miles usually – between us. And like I tell myself, for better or worse she is my mum.

White Out – Mark Anthony Smith

In these times of a Virus other things spread like germs too. I couldn’t even get some milk today. I can substitute peanut butter or jam for butter. I can go without marmite and tinned mushrooms because I don’t like them. But black tea makes me angry with its sharp taste. I drink tea sans milk and forget about biscuits. This panic buying tests my patience.

I sit cooped up. I do that anyway since half of my neck has been removed. On Social media, there are young people being arrested in The Costas. They’ve only just become legal to drink and no threat of illness will change that. The Spanish Police are not in a British holiday spirit though. The beaches and bars are on strictest lockdowns. The teenagers learn the hard way to a thunderous applause from other tourists from their balconies.

In the papers, schools are headlining to be closed indefinitely. Home schooling will test some parents and kids if the PlayStation doesn’t substitute the clammer of maths and arguments. It is novel, being at home, but for how long now the cinemas have closed? People are worrying about the lack of pay too.

There are increased Road traffic accidents as people worry about whether they’re symptomatic or worrying too much – or not enough. We have seen regular outbreaks of violence. A lady fights on the path because her Ford has been pranged and she doesn’t have her usual patience with other things going on. A man fights openly, in a Supermarket, for the last toilet rolls. He is apprehended. But not before he bombs those that arrest him with boxes of man-sized tissues. People are not thinking straight.

The streets are deathly quiet. I can hear my teabag plop. The shops are either closed or an open free for all. It’s soon gutted. I am gutted. I sip. The tea is bearable as I watch another Apocalyptic film and forget. What do they say about real life and fiction? I chuckle. I try to forgive the behaviours of those who panic buy like vultures picking off carrion on The Serengeti. The credits roll. This is how I escape.

Mark Anthony Smith was born in Hull. This is his second furnishing in The Cabinet of Heed. His Horrors appear in Anthologies from Eerie River, Red Cape Publishing and Nocturnal Sirens. ‘Hearts of the matter’, a book of poetry, is available on Amazon. Facebook: Mark Anthony Smith – Author; Twitter: MarkAnthonySm16

I See Your Looks – Shannon Savvas

I see your looks. I hear your whispers. I don’t bloody miss a single raised eyebrow or purse of lips. Why the hell she has to be so slow. She knows I’m in a hurry, I rang and told her I’d pick her up at ten. Hell, I left it in big letters on the whiteboard in her kitchen. I arrive and she’s not dressed, or has forgotten where her handbag is (like she’ll even need the screwed up, used tissues and Elizabeth Arden lipstick she’s been using for the past ten years), or goddam it she needs the toilet because she took a laxative this morning. Yes, yes, I’ve caught the bloody hell head shakes, the exchange of tongues in cheeks between you and your brother. She’s getting old, clumsy, slow, whiney, bad-tempered, unstable, a hoarder, forgetful, bloody awkward, stubborn just to piss us off. Fill in any other blanks you want. And yes, I am getting old and no, trust me none of the above is deliberate. But some are downright wilful – oh and do you know why I’ve turned into a hoarder? I’ve turned into a hoarder because I’ve lived long enough to know that the minute you find something you like, it disappears – off the shelves, end of range suddenly or company gone bust. That’s why I stock those 3-ply linen-like napkins, the jars of peanut butter which are the only decent ones in the shops, the shampoo to strengthen and thicken your hair because another great boon of age is thinning hair. No one is going to catch me out. Not you, not your brother and for sure not this pandemic – who the hell knew? Trump didn’t (hah!) so why would anyone else, but you see, I am prepared. Who’s laughing now, suckers? Whatever’s left over at the end, you can bloody burn it or bury it with me (because who cares what you choose, I will be dead and won’t know – just make sure there are no priests because that I will know). And what about her friends? Where have they gone? Where? They’ve bloody died. Or I’ve shed them like old skins one by one until there is no one. I got tired of the effort. Simple. The return was no longer worth it. Years of seeing and listening and accommodating before I realised the was no reciprocity. A reciprocity failure of a lifetime. Some days, I just want to be left in peace, be allowed to fade gently, to die in my own time and way. Other days, the days after your visits, I want to live long enough to see you fail incomprehensibly at the mercy of your children, to watch as it dawns on you that I was right, about it all, and that none of this was willing or purposeful or wanted. I want to see you betrayed by family and body as I have been. Yes, I do want to see that. No, I don’t.

The Cry of the Damned – K D Field

We’ve been talking about this here in El Compartimento over the course of this Spanish lock down. Have we been such bad stewards of all the abundance we’ve been given that this virus a big shot across the bow? There are indication that it might not be far from the mark.

In China, during the height of the pandemic there, they had to shutter factories and chemical plants. And suddenly, many cities in China had their first sunny days in years. But it will not last. And Venice – without all those pesky tourists, has shown photos of their canals running clear.

We are the pandemic that has been relentlessly attacking the planet for more than a century. – since the dawn of the industrial revolution. We are the virus that she and all her inhabitants have suffered and died from as we marched forward with unabated greed.

People quote the bible to justify their actions. Genesis 1:26 “And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth.” But if we are made in God’s image – or the deity of your choice – we aren’t very god-like. Dominion over things makes you responsible for them. But we have cared only for ourselves; never looking at the long term and never asking ‘Why’

On Twitter they ask ‘How could this happen?’ And I think ‘How could this not?’ I’m not a religious person but the bible doesn’t just give us dominion over all things on earth, it also says ‘As you sow, so shall you reap.’ We are reaping the seeds we have sown. Not in the way a televangelist will tell us, or that abomination FOX News, but in our inability to see where it would all lead.

Governments are putting together bailout packages. $$$. And billionaires are the monkeys running the circus. Sound and fury and short-term thinking. The world has fundamentally changed overnight. We can’t buy bribe Mother Nature, who has more integrity in a drop of the tears she’s been shedding for us, than all the dirty politicians combined. And she will win. She always plays the long game. We’ve been screwing with nature for too long and its tired of us. What better way to get rid of what’s killing you than to find something that will kill it? As humans, we should understand that – we live in a state of war.

The utter incompetence in dealing with this crisis comes from those we’ve elected to lead us through it. We must ask ‘Are they the fools are or are we?’ Because we’ve put our livelihoods, our very survival in the hands of the unqualified, the celebrated, the cults of personality; instead of those with decades of study and expertise. Listen to the politicians on tv these days. War talk, for sure, and I get it at this point. But maybe what we need to do is declare a truce with our planet and start treating it like it matters. Maybe we should do that and pray it’s not too late.

KD Field is an American writer of fiction, narrative short story, and nonsense. Originally from Seattle, she currently resides in Valencia Spain. You can check out her blog: at vivaespanamovingtospain.com

Stupor – Ryle Lagonsin

ALL I EVER DO THESE DAYS IS SLEEP

i dreamt a news reporter tells me that a parasite on the ground looks for me for it needs to find something or it can find something from the atmosphere to supply it with what it needs. i dreamt three times at the same time i went to sleep. i had been listening to raymond carver a few hours before i dreamt i am listening to a podcast of his where he talks about life in general but more specifically life without anyone to pray to. in the same dream i saw a huddle of people and a little girl dressed in black behind the others raised her hand and said i don’t believe in god and the others gasped and they looked and the child’s mother said no child of mine can ever say there is no god. and then i dreamt of the same little girl dressed in black but we are not in a garden anymore. we are in an airport and a naked man is seated on a flimsy chair in the middle of a soulless lobby and he says to the girl: child come here come near me and the little girl walks closer. he says: child do you believe you have a heart? and the girl nods and he says: that right there is proof that there is GOD. he says: that there is air to fill your lungs that your heart continues to pump and that all the cycles go on repeating inside you prove that there is GOD. i turn my face to look behind me for one second for a reason i cannot remember now and when i turn back again the little girl is gone but in her place are two huddles of people separated by a few feet from one another. one group with more people than the other. i could have counted them but i would not know regardless how many people were in either group they are separated by colour. and a few feet away from both of them the same man is speaking still but he is standing now a microphone in front of him. he is dressed now jeans and a light blue button-down he is saying: child learn to pray ‘cause when they come after you the only thing you’d be able to run to is one name. it would do you right to drop to your knees and learn how to pray he said. one person from the group whose colour is the man’s same colour came closer. the man said: once i ran to my teacher frightened but she said hug that man child not me not my colour she said. you cannot hug me was what she said he said. and then i stirred awake and i was in the dark again and in the dark i wondered where my phone was since something told me when you wake this will all make sense. but then i find that carver is still playing in the podcast i wasn’t hearing and i was still inside my head.

Porcupines – Sara Magdy Amin

I had read it somewhere – in some nature magazine, was it? Ah, maybe I had heard it on the radio some time ago last week when Peter was fiddling about with arbitrary things around the house; a futile exercise of boredom that absolutely makes me squirm, but all the while, I still choose to ignore – that porcupines struggle to keep each other warm in times of winter.

I look to my right at Peter and Noah in their state of slumber. A fascinating view of chests rising and falling in such synchrony, inhale, exhale; wisps of existence cutting through the silence of the air in cyclical waves. Such peacefulness, I think, such delight it is, when a father and son share warmth and proximity.

But what was it about porcupines and winter?

Ah, yes. The spikes.

Peter, for as long as I can remember, had always wanted to have children. I recall the day we found out we were expecting (such jubilance flew out of him he almost knocked me over – I had inaudibly shed a few tears in the bathroom beforehand – and came out to join his frenzy), he was, to say the least, tremendously ecstatic.

Porcupines. Three in a row. Our spikes maiming each other, slashing each other across our warm bodies, drawing blood and mixing it in a joyful union. We have not yet learnt to keep safe distances. Since news of the outbreak was announced we have been ever so scarred. Noah (I can picture him laughing now) recently developed such thirst for human contact. In our seclusion, a party of three was formed. Our roles, as parents, cultivated in this arrangement, and he, in his tiny world, was thus able to practice such charm upon us. The mother, myself, the father, Peter, and little Noah, delicate little Noah, were together. Here, now, celebrating immediacy in our former detachments.

I had often times found it hard to play that role – the mother that is – thinking back to the first few months where I was often times drenched in perpetual anger, my womb aching, bosom sore, in a state of fury at my anatomy, constantly reprimanding Peter for simply existing as a man, (unaccompanied, singular, free, human). I found it hard to be that abundant giver and provide godly offerings in god-like ways.

I shift to lie on my side. Dawn is almost cracking through, her bright threads imposing through the darkness, resting over our limp forms, birds chirping nonchalantly in recognition of something above our worldly perceptions. Do they know the world is unfolding? Have they comprehended how to live only temporarily and chant their way through it all? The newspaper yesterday said that death toll rose to a thousand and thirty-five people. Those poor birds, that darned influenza, snipping away already temporary lives, making away with their chants.

Noah’s eyes open. He yawns and draws in near, running his jagged barbs into my skin. I nourish him back to sleep and kiss his tiny little forehead.

Cabinet Of Heed SOC Drawer 31.03

Stream Of Consciousness Drawer One

Untitled – Carla Halpin

Mine is a pocket of calm in these crazy waters. It isn’t so bad. Yes, the four walls are not very far away. But here in the eaves, the angles of the roof are casting interesting shadows in the mid-day sun, which I never noticed before. How intriguing my now defunct calendar on the wall seems? And at any moment, papers strewn will be hit with organisation but with 365 hours in the day now, there’s plenty of time to organise them later. The boundaries of the weeks are blending. But if I notice one new thing every day, then that’s a change, isn’t it? The fresh spring air is pouring in my window. Pop music drifting up from downstairs, as planned, to fill the house with noise and people and movement. How clever we are to manage to unlearn all the natural things keep us sane, like noticing, like music. I never usually stop long enough to notice out my window. The trees are budding in clusters of tiny pink, growing in patterns mirroring neurons in my brain. I guess both are lit up with this moment of really looking. I do notice the change of this season out my window- but from the sounds. It’s time for the shrieking of the foxes. They started up again last night. It’s nice to hear the world moving outside. I’ve never met the people on the opposite side of the pink flowers -the neighbours – but I know of their movements from their sounds. Someone is very keen in woodwork in what was once a daily irritation. Now it’s comforting. He’s busy at work, and I like to imagine he’s happy, because he does it every day. And I can’t see any fruits of his labour. The fruits of his labour must be inside him, and possibly in his wife as it keeps him out the house. Next door to them is a dog. I’ve never seen it. But I know when it’s happy or sad by the tone of its bark. Sometimes I want to rush over there and comfort it, but it’s never long before someone gets there first. The fence sways in the wind; it’s soon going to topple. And although I’ve been told that wouldn’t be a great thing, I can’t wait for this dog’s face to appear and see if it matches my imagination. Black, scraggly and with a waggy tail with a long curtain of black hair. We’re not so far apart, really. The south aspect holds an entirely different scene. It must be the only time in my life I’m glad trees have been chopped down as it opened up another direction. I can see a ceiling to floor window in a faraway house. It might be a bedroom, maybe with long curtains that float in the wind. I can’t see in, but yet I still wonder if they can see me as I wave my arms. I could write words in the air. Whatever happened to walkie talkies? That would be perfect right now.

Carla Halpin is an editor who lives in the New Forest where she writes poetry and flash fiction. Her work has appeared in Anti-Heroin Chic , A Story in 100 Words and The Cabinet of Heed. You can find her on twitter @CarlaHalpin where she posts regularly as part of the very short story community.

 

New Pressures in the Time of Corona – Laura Besley

I watch my 5yo tearing around the garden and my 2yo trying his best to keep up and I think: can I do this? Can I keep them entertained for the next who-knows-how-long?

I am a mother who dreads the school holidays. Not because I don’t love my kids, but because it’s a reminder of the fact that I can’t always cope. A reminder than I’m not the mother I wanted to be; I’m not all-sacrificing, putting their every need before my own; I’m not able to endlessly come up with fun games to play and roleplays involving superheroes; I’m not able to think of a million different fun things to make out of egg boxes; I’m not able to give up everything I am for them. Sometimes I wonder why I should. And then I feel bad.

Last summer I had them for four weeks on my own. Taking away weekends, that’s only 20 days. When you put it like that it doesn’t sound like very much. And I feel ashamed that I dreaded those days and didn’t always cope very well. I feel should’ve enjoyed it more.

And now? Now I’m supposed to homeschool my 5yo. Teach him phonics, improve his reading level, teach him Maths, do PE with him, be creative with him, all the while making sure my 2yo doesn’t break, wreck, or scribble on anything my 5yo is doing. This new pressure, this new homeschooling pressure, is just another thing that parents are now having to contend with. It’s too much. I know people mean well, but I’m being inundated with messages from people sending me things to do with my kids. I might rue these words if people stop sending me things, but it’s overwhelming. Like I haven’t got enough to get my head around with all the new rules in place and my brain working very hard to block the panic and worry about what might happen if my kids, or anyone else I know, gets the bug.

I’ve decided, for my own sanity and those around me, to take a big step back. I will continue reading to my kids; I will continue asking them questions, trying to get them to work things out for themselves; I will continue playing in the garden with them; I will continue letting them watch TV. I will do all the things I normally do with them. I will keep them safe. That’s my only job right now.

 

These Days – Jordana Connor

Beep beep beep… “And now, for the 5:30 news update.” Christ, still in the middle of the apocalypse I guess. I’m going to lie here in bed for 10 more minu- oh. Getting poked in the ribs. Must be my turn to make the coffee. This rug needs a vacuum. Is that a spider?! Oh no. Just a feather. Whew. Come on cat – I know you want to get out for a sniff of the garden.

Okay but don’t dash under my feet. If I fall down the stairs and crack my head open, bleed to death slowly on the little Persian rug, who will feed you top of the line science diet food, and trim your claws? Door open, (cat out! Why do they always flee out of an opened door like they’ve been trapped for days?) kettle filled, kettle on. Dishwasher emptied. Coffee in plunger. Mugs out. Sift and discard contents of the downstairs litter tray. Wash tray. Wash hands. God, the interminable scrubbing of hands. I’m starting to feel like I’m prepping for surgery 20 times a day.

Mugs are full and steaming, and the trick now is not to spill too much on the ascent up the stairs. Ahhhhh… made it. Mornings are nice. Blinds up, blue sky and wild parrots screeching a greeting to a new day. I like the sitting, propped up on our pillows, coffee cooling, phones in hand. Powerful, expensive (germ covered) conduits to the latest in these, The End Times. Or just a temporary foray into misanthropy. Depends on your outlook, I guess.

The news is terrible, but it’s the sports news that winds me up the most. “A bunch of grown adults, who have dedicated their lives to playing a game, played a game yesterday, which nobody got to watch. Sad! Some of them won, some of them lost, here are some meaningless statistics for you, conveyed in a breathlessly entertained tone, so you are fooled into thinking it all matters.” It doesn’t.

Coffee drunk, eyelids finally unglued. Time for a walk. Better find some clean shorts. Where are my sports socks? Why does this hair tie look chewed? (Damn cats!) Ok, off I go. Can’t stay in this house for months on end with no reprieve. Pretty sure we’re allowed out for walks as long as we don’t go near anyone else. Fine by me.

God there’s a lot of poo on the pavements here. Who did THAT? Hoping for possum, but who knows? Australia is full of weird and wonderful creatures that crap on the pedestrian infrastructure. Always will do, no doubt.

Oh – here comes an older couple. They’re darting their eyes at me.
Should smile and look unthreatening. Try to look responsible and well. Look perky. Pick your feet up.

Oooo – that’s a pretty flower.

Shit. I coughed. Poor things scuttled down a driveway. Feel guilty.
This all sucks and I’m sick of it already. But not SICK sick! I wonder if I have enough toilet paper…

 

Come to Heel – Charlie Sanderson

We walk seven miles or more the dog wrapped up in mud and sprung coil like across the fields, through trees, the wind howling banshee like against our waterproof trousers and fleece, the ground beneath our feet tantamount to constant change and love like a warm cushion between us softens the blow of the way the land lies right now, this way. She won’t come to heel for long enough, a herd of deer, red flag to a bull, only now she waits longer before she bolts at them, old enough to see the danger now, of more than one, creatures in packs aren’t so safe these days. When your eyes get a little wiser.

The road finally brings us home against the backdrop of field upon field edged in hedgerow upon hedgerow. The odd mansion house for the rich and famous types. Folk who like to live in the city and come here to shoot deer. We do laugh at how even they won’t survive this time around, silent killer, invisible man hunter. We shouldn’t laugh. But there’s little else to do. So, we laugh and we walk our way on and through.

At home the eggs sizzle in the pan and the home-made bread almost burns in the broken toaster, I tell you about the omelettes in Singapore how they have them with sweet chilli sauce there too and raised eyebrows smile back at me across the table you cut in half to fit the room. How I love you.

After we eat and you clear the sides of crumbs and swear at the toaster and the random shit radio six play on a Saturday afternoon, your dad walks past the window. Shoulders hunched against the climate of life right now. I don’t know what to do. So, I break the rules and open the door and make him a cup of tea. And as you walk out with him, I wonder love, who will live and who will die? I think of Captain Pickard last night, taking to the space ship crew, “Every single time you say goodbye to someone you cannot know if you will ever see them again, this is no different”.

We can balance our lives on the head of a pin, but maybe some of us will fall too far in to climb back out again. It’s all just change though isn’t it? I keep breathing and dropping to my heart and feeling all that panic and love and hope and regret. How irrational people always thought I was when I was so lost in my fear of death. And now it is so palpable and yet, I do not feel afraid exactly. You are the mistress of your own misery. You say that to the dog when she pulls on the lead and chokes herself, or walks headlong into the stick I’m swinging in front of me as we walk. She needs to come to heel. We all do though, don’t we?

 

I Feel Weird – J L Corbett

“I feel weird. Do you feel weird?” I asked my husband earlier today. He also feels weird.

I’m not as worried about him as I was seven days ago. Seven days ago, he was sweating through his clothes and coughing violently. He groaned to himself and mumbled that his existence was pain. I held off calling 111 until he threw up blood. It took half an hour for them to transfer me to a medical professional, and during that time I stood at our bedroom window, staring at the world from which we would soon be quarantined. I wanted to drive him to the hospital (even though I haven’t passed my test yet), but I knew they weren’t letting infected people in. I wanted to call somebody over for help, but anyone who crossed our threshold would be risking their health.

I listened to the hold music and felt very alone.

I felt tears forming, which annoyed me. I told myself to get a fucking grip – I am his wife now, and I need to act like it. I am the person who needs to steer the ship alone when he’s incapacitated.

As each day passes, the virus loosens its grip on his body. There’s been no more vomited blood. Quarantine has been an odd mixture of anxiety and boredom.

On day five, he was well enough for a short walk around the park. We were out for less than an hour, but I think it was the highlight of the day for both of us. He seemed elated at being outdoors and around people (at a distance, of course). He was still very weak, but able to have a conversation and a walk.

This morning, I spent three hours in the garden whilst he slept. I cut down the enormous ugly bush that’s been an eyesore in our garden since we moved in two years ago. I blunted the multi-tool in the process, so I had to cut down the rest of it with a handsaw. It was tedious and now my arms hurt. It killed some time and some pent-up energy though, and also that hideous bush.

After lunch, I called my boss and told her that the quarantine period had been extended from seven to fourteen days since we last spoke. She hurriedly told me to take another week off. She was practically begging me not to return too quickly. After I hung up, I felt dejected. Is it too dramatic to say that I feel rejected from society? Maybe society isn’t even a thing anymore.

We live up north. I’m supposed to be in pub in London right now, drinking with friends I haven’t seen since last summer. Next month I’m meant to board a plane to Ireland to see some other friends. My family lives down south, but my stepdad is almost seventy years old and has health conditions. So, when will I get to see my mum again?

I feel weird.

J.L. Corbett is the founder and editor of Idle Ink, an online magazine of curious fiction. Her short stories have been featured in MoonPark Review, Paragraph Planet, Schlock! Webzine, TL;DR Women’s Anthology: Carrying Fire, The Cabinet of Heed, STORGY Magazine and others. She owns more books than she can ever possibly read and doesn’t get out much. She can be found on twitter: @JL_Corbett and has a website: http://www.jlcorbett.org

 

Meanderings – Stella Turner

I follow the arrows but it’s not the way I want to go! I’m feeling anxious. I go against the flow now feeling guilty. Will I be stopped? I think I’m too near the woman choosing yogurts. She’s looking daggers at me. I want to run to the toilet roll shelves but no let’s not be too disappointed too soon. Why is that man looking at me? He’s with a woman maybe his wife no she looks too old; his mother? No far too young. Probably I’m giving him too much eye contact. I do that. Is it a fault? Four loaves I take two. Is that selfish? See a friend. We stand the recommended two metres apart. I’m happier with feet, metric is for the young ones. It looks six foot. I was her bridesmaid forty years ago, her groom stands beside her. Isn’t he asthmatic, at risk? She has a scarf covering her mouth he and I dressed as normal. I’ve left my man in the car. He’s diabetic, definitely at risk. I’m warned to keep him at home. I would have driven myself but he wanted to get out so he drove. Didn’t the email from the company CEO say or was it government advice one person per family only to enter the shop. Luckily no items out of reach else I’d need help. I’m short, vertically challenged. Social distancing makes it hard to ask for help. My friend says she was dreading coming here today me too. Can’t find eggs ask a store employee picking for home deliveries, the lucky customers who stay home, stay safe. She apologises, none, I say aren’t the hens laying? My daughter has a hen, Betty; I could barter Betty’s daily egg for the packet of Paracetamol I found on the shelf if we were allowed to visit each other. I miss my grandson could try skyping him. No toilet rolls. I pay the bill with plastic. I’ve always said I’d never pay for food on credit. Plastic is safer than coins and notes says the experts. First time plastic is good for the planet! Huge change in habits no more big food bills, no more waste. We’ll see! The cashier smiles weakly as I say thanks for coming to work. I bet she’s thinking stay home old biddy. Don’t infect me! I wheel the trolley to the car. Open the boot and load the three carrier bags for life. Miffed that I had to take the risk. Next week I’ll run the gauntlet again unless it all changes.

 

Coronavirus Held a Press Conference, and Crushed It – Michael Wade

Thank you. Goodness, what a turnout!

Yes. I realize you’re looking at a microdroplet of snot. It was explained to us that TV requires a picture. We’re smaller than the wavelength of what you call visible light, so…Does anyone have a substantive question.

Right. Thank you for phrasing this important issue so forthrightly.

We need to acknowledge that our core interests won’t always align. I’m a virus. I’m pretty militant about viral rights. Not to get into labels or name-calling, but let’s be frank. Certain organisms are fighting tooth and nail every day against our very right to exist.

You speak of hundreds of thousands of – uh, infected humans. Infected. Do you understand how offensive that language is?

You speak of thousands of host, human, deaths, and the possibility of millions, and I hear the self-righteous outrage in your tone. Do you even want to hear our side?

Good. In five of your milliliters of blood, in every infected human, your word, hundreds of millions of us exist. Each wanting nothing more than our natural rights. That’s all. Well, here’s your headline, ladies and gentlemen. Approximately all of these virions are dead now, or soon will be.

Get your heads around that. Your languages may not have words for the numbers of dead I’m trying to describe.

Look, we’re sympathetic to your issues. But this focus on what I would absolutely call the acceptably low host loss associated with our incredibly successful program…Well. Let’s just say work will be required to mesh our perspectives.

Yes. You, sir.

I can’t speak to that. You’d need to talk to those viruses. What you call common cold of course refers to many different viruses. The question of whether we’re just the common cold pumped up by left-wing hysteria, whatever that is, reflects a multi-cellular organismic arrogance I find beyond insulting.

Ma’am…

I was briefed on that, yes. We agree strongly that damage to your economy and health from so-called social distancing is extremely concerning. This is one area where we can make a lot of headway together.

Take your cue from us! We know the odds are against us, but in the meantime we are having a ball together in your sera and fluids! Why should we be having all the fun in these challenging times?

In the back. Yes.

Well, we are mutating constantly. We seek, in good faith, the ideal virulence, where you, our cherished biological colleagues, suffer only the most minor physical inconvenience. All I can tell you is that we are working tirelessly for our mutual benefit.

Excuse me? Right. Folks, sorry, this sort of thing is new for all of us, and I’m being told we’re experiencing some mucus degradation, and will need to close.

Time for just one more…right, you sir. Front row. Yes, you, with the barrel chest and the large nostrils.

I couldn’t hear you. I wonder if you could come closer. Yes. Closer…

 

On the Platform – Joyce Wheatley

We stand disconnected, vulnerable, uneasy. Eyes dart toward the western sky. I’m tired of floating erect in these 9-to-5 fatigues, impatient to get on with whatever’s going to happen.

We’re awaiting rescue. I don’t know why or from what. No one speaks of it. My companions look familiar but I don’t recall their names. The middle-aged man in a suit cycles up and stops. If I’d taken my bike today, I’d be home by now, but the tire’s flat. Thus, I’m on the platform.

“Listen.” The cyclist opens his book, “You don’t have to stand under the silver tree to darken.” Shadows haunt his face. Street lights buzz. Across the street, St. Gregory’s stained glass windows arch behind him. Lindens shiver, leaves sparking belly-up under the moon.

“Let me tell you … we are standing ….”

Balloons, captioned to burst, hover out of his mouth. Like deer frozen in headlights or cows lying down before rain, our notable behavior is “squirming,” anxious and uncertain whether or not disaster is coming. We shuffle and hum, tweet and pray for safe return to our nests. I want to get home, but I’m curious about the end.

Wind gusts a sea green bottle rolling, cluttering the sidewalk. I snatch it up and I Spy With My Little Eye a paper note inside, visible through glass curved like an old Pepsi bottle. “Time’s running out, and no one is coming to save you.”

I wonder what happened to Hope? There’s a place right here beside me.

People on the platform drift and shift. I want to connect with someone, but, if Hope doesn’t arrive, who? Ambitious, a woman slithers to the center for the prize spot. Either she covets the safety of belonging or she’s climbing the ladder of success. If you don’t want to fall off, step away from the edge, but my nature avoids the middle like a plague. Give me drama—sharks, high seas adventure, a great white whale! … and such. An eye patch swaddles my left eye. A red scarf bandanas my head. I mount a seahorse, whooping “Ahoy, Matey!” Or give me Apollinaire so I can fly.

No one speaks. Waves crash in, shattering the quiet anticipation of fear. We’re drowning in the deluge, drenched on the platform, and then we swim, like a school of fish, swerve and plunge, in and out, circling to the depths until the gushing slows to a stream, flows to drizzle and the drizzle stutters to a drip.

“Save me,” a dolphin in a suit pleads. I embrace the wounded creature, “You have strength,” I say,” and flop him back into the waves. “And courage.”

On the platform, resuscitated, we rise one by one, and shed our scales and fins. We stand together, waiting to board, and wave goodbye.

It’s beautiful, the love that flows from the ocean.

 

Need – Samantha Costanzo Carleton

Elizabeth picked up the habit of lighting candles from her grandmother and so she did that now because why not? Her grandmother had lit candles in church every week and prayed after dropping quarters in the half-empty metal box attached to the table of votives and as the sound echoed across the quiet church Elizabeth and her sister would stage-whisper arguments over who got to light the candle in part because it was the only time they were ever allowed to handle something as dangerous as fire on the end of a long wooden stick but also because they knew there was a certain kind of honor in the task and a solemn need to take this Very Seriously because the candle was an offering or maybe a plea, but anyways their grandmother would shush them and drop more change in the box so they could each have a candle and honestly, they never had to argue in the first place because didn’t they always need more than one light? There were always more things to ask, more people who needed healing or hope or good luck, so their grandmother told them who the candles were for and Elizabeth would do her sworn duty to pray for that person but also sneak in in a request for help on a math test or patience with her sister or world peace or for God to forgive the bullies that made fun of her hair, the biggest ask of all, and she would feel good because she was being selfless and asking for help for someone so clearly less fortunate than she. Anyways, lighting a candle seemed like something that would maybe help her feel alright again today and so she struck a flimsy match and touched it to the wick of the tiny little tea light that smelled like vanilla and chemical lemons from one of those self-care subscription boxes she had gotten for a few months and then cancelled when she got bored, it wasn’t even holy, not that she was convinced the ones in church had necessarily been blessed, either. Today she did not try to pray or really think to because she was focused on the ritual at hand — she lit her candle and stared, closed her eyes and took a deep breath, filled herself with air and tilted her head back instead of downward like she did inside the churches, and the prayer still didn’t come though something inside her squirmed like pleasepleaseplease and yet this weirdly-scented tea light flickering atop a paper mountain on her desk still felt Very Serious, still an offering or plea or desperate shout to be seen in the midst of all this, this mess, which would definitely eat her if not for that tentative, wavering flame and the smell of vanilla and fake lemons and something in her that actually felt like rest to scare it off. It was enough.

Samantha Costanzo Carleton is a marketing copywriter by day and creative writer by night. She lives in Boston and is working on her first novel, based in part on her childhood in a Cuban family. You can find her on Twitter at @smcstnz.

 

Little Flower – Cyndie Randall

I know at least 20 of them these days, but Angie was the first to breathe on me. A haunted friend. She drives my body now much of the time, curls up pained in the evening and pops peppermint candy like pills to get the torture of men out of her mouth. She wears wrinkled clothes, no makeup, writes poetry nobody cares to read. Therapists don’t believe in her and she’s fine with that. Feels invisible anyway. Her and I have our own dystopian trauma choir, all ages and genders lined up from present day all the way back to the crib. Seven times I pleaded with the Lord to take them away. The Lord told me, You must forgive seventy-seven times seven times, and then He sent seven more plagues. I think we need new numbers. Little flower, just take one more step, I hear. Just one more step. I spend most nights dreaming I am waste deep in snow. The moon asks, What are you doing, little flower? I scream at him, that moon. There is a man up inside there telling me which way to drag my hope next but he never tells me why. He is my only light, so I go. I do it. I pour sweat. I will turn any trick for water or a biscuit, any trick for a try on the love machine. Stop calling me little flower, I think. There is no one here by that name. Do you even know our name? When will I wake? No one listens when I say what I need. Here is a screw. Here is a screwdriver. I promise I will hold still. I’ve got about 20 holes to choose from, so take your pick and start somewhere. Or get me a mirror. I’ll do it myself! I’ll do it myself, and sing alto and soprano and bass and a nice tenor for you then. Ask Sal. He’s got the best voice of us all. Deep, mellow like a hum or a storm just starting out. A storm planning on screaming no where and killing no one. Sal has all our blueprints. You can ask him anything and he’ll tell you. If I am the flower, he is the sky and such a view he has. Sal, are you the moon? Are you the moon for us, my friend? Are you calling me little flower? Tell me how the story ends, Salvatore. Does Angie get her babies back? Does Evie close her legs? Will anyone come to untie Annie, heal the burns up her back? What do you see from way up there? Just my trail? Just the trail from my thick middle dragging, dragging through the snow in my childhood yard, longest chain there ever was linked back to that basement wall, training training training me. Go on, call me a little flower. Call me a flower all night long and we’ll do whatever you want ’til the sun comes up. Whatever you want, Lord, I mean moon, I mean dad.

Cyndie Randall works as a therapist and lives among the Great Lakes. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Crab Creek Review, MORIA, Okay Donkey, Whale Road Review, Boston Accent Lit, Yes Poetry, The Night Heron Barks, and elsewhere. Connect with her on Twitter @CyndieRandall or at cyndierandall.com

 

Cabinet Of Heed SOC Drawer 31.02

The Photo Prompt Challenge

Closes 31st May 2020

  1. Write about 500 words with the above photo as your inspiration.
  2. It can be Flash Fiction, CNF, Prose Poem, Poetry…
  3. Read over, edit, polish!
  4. Make it excellent.
  5. Submit to cabinetofheed@hotmail.com with “PHOTO PROMPT – Title of your work” in subject line.
  6. Please do NOT submit a previously written work to this Challenge! The Cabinet of Heed is still ravenous for excellent fiction and poetry. All previously written work should be submitted using these guidelines: https://cabinetofheed.com/submission-guidelines/
  7. The purpose of these challenges is to get writers who are temporarily “stuck” in the current pandemic back writing again, so please comply with number 6.
  8. The Cabinet Of Heed will select some of these works to appear in a special free online issue (The Cabinet Of Heed is read by people in over 130 countries).
  9. Have fun with this and stay safe!

#TheCabinetOfHeedChallenge

Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay

I Sniff Your Brown Bin – Camillus John

I sniff your brown bin
because it stinks when I pass it
on my way over to the bus stop
in the morning.

Every two weeks you put it out
to be collected by the bin company.
I’ve got no choice in the matter.
Your brown bin is on a footpath I can’t avoid
so your compost wafts up at me as I pass.
I cough. Choke a bit. And my eyes water.

When I return on my way home from work,
although your brown bin is physically gone,
I can still smell its putrescent contents
and hear the buzzing of its ticks and flies
from earlier, I sneeze I do, I sneeze
when I’m passing, even when it’s not there.

That time you went on holiday
you didn’t put it out, so I didn’t have
to sniff your brown bin.
I thought I’d be excited
and really rock ‘n’ rolled at such a scenario,
but no, I missed the stink
and the fumes
and I was soothed
when I got to sniff it
four weeks later when you
eventually put it out again
full to the overflowing brim.

I have to admit though, I lingered
a little longer than I should
have on that public pavement
outside your home
that Tuesday morning, after four whole
weeks of going without,
and it felt like kissing someone
with bad-breath standing there
amongst all the bluebottles.

 

Camillus John was bored and braised in Dublin. He has had work published in The Stinging Fly, The Lonely Crowd and RTÉ Ten and other such publications. He would also like to mention that Pats won the FAI cup in 2014 after 53 miserable years of not winning it.

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 29 Contents Link

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Beloved Father – Omotoyosi Salami

I

You’re outside, wearing your pink flowy dress,
the beads in your hair clinking softly against each other.
You’re twirling and twirling
and you can feel yourself start to lose balance
but you continue to twirl anyway.
The sun is shining. The grass tickles your feet. Breeze carries your arms.
You can be nothing but happy at 4.
And if there’s anywhere you’re going, you’re stumbling.

II

The lights still don’t point out the guilty, not even today,
meaning you still don’t understand what is going on. Why this happens.
But you know what a puncture is.
You know the sound of a punch from the pretty voice of a singing doll.
You know that cigarettes mean death and some other immoral thing.
You know that your mother’s breasts belong to your father and you know
what the punishment for defiance is but still,
you do not want your mother beaten.

III

So today you’re your even littler sister’s enemy.
You would knock her into the dirt if it called for it,
if she is stupid enough as to get the fork for your father.
All you hear is your mother’s high cry for help.
But you don’t cry.
Not one tear drops from your eyes.
Instead, you open your head and remove the straws in it
and throw it at your mother,
so she might cushion the effect of the landing.

IV

Now you’re 16 and not quite as dumb.
And you wish this could be a clean-cut, one-sided story but unfortunately it is not.
But unfortunately for who? Your father? You?
Or this dark haired boy currently wrapping his arms around you and
begging you to accept the love he feels
so strongly for you,
this boy kissing the space behind your ears?
You won’t let this go to ruin, you can’t let this go to ruin.

V

This man who looks relievingly unlike your father comes and says
Tell me about the dreams, darling. Tell me about the dreams.
His arms are open, biceps bulging, and you’re deluded into thinking
a house on fire is better than a storm outside.
How naïve. Are you naïve? You’re smarter than this. You’re 21 and know not to victim blame. Not to blame your own damn self.
But look, we’re jumping into the future. Now all you see is a one big arm
and then another long one, longing to hold you.
Never your father, not ever your father.
And you wouldn’t be your mother and ruin this for yourself either.

VI

A dark room, a dark house, a loose woman.
So loose, things simply slip through all the holes in you
To never again come out.
Take for instance, this husband of yours.
No man would want his fingers in that nest of a head,
Those saggy bags you call breasts.
(No man wants to drown.)
Nothing will impede hunger, do you not know this?
But, keep at those windows, stare at the stars.
The husband you await is in a brothel, drinking from a shimmery, lustrous lady.

VII

And finally, you’re now something of a freak.
You shrink at nature’s touch. You stifle yourself.
It’s your own body that repulses you;
there are no enemies hidden anywhere,
everyone knows this.
Suddenly the wind sounds like it’s wailing,
suddenly you’re no longer the shallow girl that thinks only of the sweet things.
You’re an overnight poet now, and you want to testify something.
You always have something to say, and it’s never happy.
But there are tragedies and there are tragedies and there are tragedies.
It simply is the order of things.
Whose judgement is it to make?
Whose dirge is it to sing?

 

Omotoyosi Salami is a poet and writer living in Lagos, Nigeria. A lot of her writing is influenced by the various inequalities that exist in her country. She has been published in Vagabond City Lit, Constellate Lit, and Brittle Paper. If you do not find her reading a book, you will find her writing something in her phone’s Notes app.
She is on Twitter as @HM_Omotoyosi.

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 29 Contents Link

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The Raid – Richard Bower

The wizard made coffee. The warrior drew the plans on a napkin. The elf mistrusted ink and white sugar. The healer brought breakfast bananas. The wizard knew a hidden way into the king’s chambers. The warrior wanted to visit the princess first. The healer thought the kitchen should be secured for provisions. She was famished and more anxious than the rest. The elf noted the siege water supply. The sewer warranted an upgrade, but castle residents drank beer. And you can imagine what that would bring.

The elf swung over the moat light as the tooth fairy. The wizard carried himself in on lightning without thunder. The healer struck the gate rope with her crossbow bolt. The drawbridge lowered. The healer looked distinguished walking into the castle, her magic cloak drifting behind to frame her beauty for all. The elf didn’t identify with any gender, and the wizard admired the elf for this. The warrior believed he was all masculine but really wasn’t. He was only muscle, no bones in his body at all. The Healer worried about the violence afterward. She was right to be concerned, but the princess could protect herself. She had skills and years of practice. The king was not so fortunate when his soldiers defected. Blood, pillage, and more blood was the way it went. Don’t imagine it too much.

The wizard felt fortuitous about the secured real estate. The warrior felt sad he could not marry the princess. The elf mistrusted himself and ate bacon for breakfast every day. He feared no heart disease. Every day the healer regretted she could only do so much. So much repair needed doing. And though the sewer was wrecked, the beer tasted good. Each would deal with the stink privately. And you can imagine what that would bring.

Word reached them the king’s brother was on horse to retake the castle. The wizard made coffee. The warrior drew defense plans on a fancy handkerchief. The elf mistrusted the plans, diets, and their fellowship. The wizard kept secret what he knew about the invaders. The exhausted healer abandoned them to farm vegetables and raise pigs. And you can imagine what that would bring.

 

Richard Bower had previously published or has forthcoming flash in Postcard Shorts, Enchanted Conversation Magazine, Gingerbread House, Ghost Parachute, and Fiction Kitchen Berlin. He teaches writing for Cayuga’s School of Media and the Arts (SOMA).

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 29 Contents Link

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Enduring Night – Judy Darley

I haven’t been here yet, but this is what I imagine it will be like. Dark as ink from waking till sleeping, with an occasional reprieve when the sun lifts its lead-heavy head. Fissures of aurora borealis dancing above bare-branched trees as ice crystallises in the air. Eyeballs rolling in the fight not to freeze; skin tightening; breath blooming like fog.

Laughter – awkward, as I try to understand this alien place where myths create a richer backdrop than the cityscape where we fell out of love. You, at ease? Or uncertain too, embarrassed by the suddenness with which you left me behind.

I’ll meet you at the hotel you’ve recommended, a boutique one that exploits its eccentricity to holidaymakers who regards it as ‘quaint’. By the time I reach you, I’ll have travelled from the airport to Reyjavik, by winged chariot perhaps – although my funds are limited, especially in this climate.

The volcano slumbering nearby, an ever-present danger, grumbling quietly through its dreams.

Every cell of me will be tingling from the extreme temperatures. I can’t even anticipate the cold that awaits. During a winter stroll on Clevedon Pier, when sea battled wind and my nose was crimson, I asked: “Is it like this?”

You’d beamed at my naivety. “It’s more like when the shark bites the legs off the girl in Jaws and she doesn’t even know until she reaches down, feels the sliver of bone…”

Hmm, inviting.

I’m the kind of person who is always cold – who can sit indoors on a relatively mild day with the central heating switched on, and still shiver. The idea of your sub-zero homeland makes me nervous – I’m already bracing for the shock.

In just a few hours, I’ll be standing in the hotel foyer, scrabbling through pockets for a lip balm, when I’ll feel your gaze fall on me. My suitcase at my feet, coat half unzipped, I’ll cease my searching and raise my head.

But I know I’m not travelling in hope of reconciliation. You made that all too obvious in your tentative email – your painfully polite request for us to meet up so you could apologise in person. You offered to come back to England, but in an abrupt way that made it clear you’d rather not.

“It’s one of the steps,” you told me in our first Skype chat since you left. “I have to make amends. I’ll pay for your flight, Steph.”

My sister looked at me hard as she dropped me off at Bristol airport. “There’s no such thing as a free trip,” she warned me. “You don’t want to do something you’ll regret. Tell Arn you have your period.”

I laughed. “What? Nice to see you, Arn. By the way, I’m on the blob.”

She nodded. “More reliable than contraception. More reliable than that man after he stomped on your heart.”

“My heart’s just fine,” I assured her.

The phrase rang in my head all through security, passport control, queuing for overpriced airport coffee. It’s drumming now with the rhythm of my pulse as I stare out of the oval window at the cloud-rippled sky. My heart’s just fine. My heart’s just fine. One two, one two…

I sit in my cramped airline seat and imagine Iceland’s enduring night – the magic of easing into darkness, no expectations of dawn until spring. Natural human needs for sunshine suspended.

The acceptance of it must feel like surrender. In England we fight against the cold, the rain, the shortened days. We whinge about needing to switch on electric lights at 3 or 4pm. Every dreary dawn is a disappointment. How much happier might we be to let our shadow-side out, rightful and at home, instead of fearing the dark like children?

If I think of it like that, I can see why you snapped, packed and departed. Your culture and mine are at odds when it comes to elemental things like seasons.

But people do make it work. They have lifelong love affairs despite fundamental differences. Your shame should be less about failing than for your willingness to give up on us so easily.

It’s not like we‘d need to live together, or even in the same country. There’s email, FaceTime and all those other modern conveniences. This flight, for example, takes just a few hours.

If I come all this way and you really do only want to apologise in person, face to face, breathing the same air and close enough to touch, no problem, I tell myself. But deep inside my chest, I feel something smouldering: a hibernating dragon preparing to stir. The naivety of hope isn’t always a bad thing, and in this case, that hope has a heart of fire.

*      *      *

The truth, of course, could not be more at odds to my imaginings. My chariot is, after all, a coach and then a mini-bus; my views sunlit and slanted with drizzle. Daylight comes late here, but dusk little earlier than in England.

The biggest surprise is the country itself. No trees, few houses, but tourists – so many tourists – all clamouring to see the sights.

And you, where are you? There’s a message at my hotel – an apology that I suspect, lips pursed, might be the first of many. Wasn’t the whole point of this trip your opportunity to say sorry? You’re busy at work, but will see me in the morning. You have sights to show me that you’re sure I’ll love.

What makes you think you can guess what I love?

I unpack my case, peel off my clothes and redress, adding the armour of a vest and thermal leggings beneath jeans, a long-sleeved top and the thickest sweater I own. Outside, the rain has stopped and thermal-heated pavements are already drying. A promising snowflake swirls past my nose.

By the time you arrive the next day in your four-by-four, snow is declaring itself the natural state of water here; rain was the anomaly.

Your eyes are the same, almost, although the creases around them seem deeper. There’s a fresh clarity in the way you look at me, as though I’m no longer blurred.

I turn my face away, ducking your gaze.

“Steph,” you say, and I shake my head. A honk of laughter escapes my throat, warding off storms of emotions threatening to descend.

You’re wearing a wool sweater that looks soft to the touch. For an intense instant, I want to rub my face against your shoulder – feel your knitted fleece against my cheek, inhale the lanolin. Instead I present my hand, firmly formal, reining in my beam. You blink, but shake it, agreeing to boundaries.

You tell me we’re going to feed the Icelandic horses.

“But I don’t like horses,” I protest, as we drive through the pewter pre-dawn light. It’s already 10am.

“You’ll like these horses, Steph,” you say, “They’re not a bit daunting. Vikings only brought what they could fit on the boats, and smaller animals allowed more space for alcohol.” You wait for me to join in with your amusement, but I’m only up for a smile.

Memories of nights waiting for you to come home in pieces crowd my mind. My stomach lurches as though it’s on castors.

Throughout our drive from Reykjavik to Þingvellir National Park, you’re quieter than I’m accustomed to. Your profile is sharply offset by the snow beyond, your lovely face tense.

The snow holds more colours that I would have thought possible – curves painted with blue and purple shadows, convex swoops gleaming gold.

At last the silence is too much. I say one word, aware of how heavily the two syllables sit between us. “Rehab.”

You inhale, your focus flickering from the road to me. Somehow your expression is one of relief. “Long time,” you say. “Long time coming.”

“Difficult?” I ask, reduced to one-word-at-a-time questions.

You nod. Your eyes return to the windscreen as you negotiate a patch of black ice. I flinch from the glimpse of unearthed pain boiling beneath your retinas.

“Necessary,” you say.

Rather than bringing oats or hay, you pull in at a bakery and buy dark bread that makes my nose twitch.

“In England we feed bread to ducks,” I say. “And hedgehogs. But we’re not meant to. It’s bad for them.”

“We don’t have hedgehogs here,” you say, missing the point deliberately, I think. “Probably because we don’t much have hedges.”

The horses’ muscled bodies form a snow-matted wall, protecting against the worst of the weather. “They have a hierarchy,” you say as we approach, bread in hand. “This one at the front is the leader. That one alone over there is the outcast.”

The loner, I think. “Poor thing. Or maybe he chooses that,” I suggest, and look you in the eye. I see your jaw clench, then release.

Sensing our lapse in attention, the horses lunge forwards, lips quivering and teeth exposed.

I jump back, and narrow avoid face-planting into a ditch.

You catch me by one arm. “Careful, Steph, the little folk will have you.”

“Who?”

I know the answer – who in Iceland could not? But I suspect it will please you to tell me.

“The elves. It’s like politics in Britain. It’s always those who don’t own up to their convictions who are the loudest complainers about whatever goes wrong. Here, every bad thing is the fault of the little folk.”

I glance around us, and at this ice-white landscape where trees determinedly fail to flourish. I recall your favourite riddle on that subject, shared during a night of whisky, rum and tequila slammers overlooking Bristol harbour. “What should you do if you’re lost in an Icelandic forest? Stand up!”

It’s the differences I like, I want to tell you. The differences between your sense of home and my own. I can see that you’re better, I want to say. I trust in your recovery.

But I don’t want to press the moment to shattering point. “Take me to see the geyser,” I say instead. “The one every other geyser is named after.”

You shake your head. “That one is snoozing these days. His cousin Strokkur is awake though. We can go there.”

So that’s where we drive to next, through hail and wind and the ice that’s slowly thawing between us.

We talk about weather, and the English way of filling silences with talk of the weather.

“In England there is always drizzle,” you say. “And you always need to discuss it.”

“Only because it’s constantly changing.”

“Oh yes, such dramatic change! From light drizzle to heavy drizzle to the kind of drizzle that somehow is lightest of all and yet makes you soaking wet.” You laugh and I laugh too, hearing fondness in your words.

“Mizzle,” I say, presenting the word shyly. “I think it’s a mix of drizzle and mist.”

“Mizzle,” you echo. “So many different words for rainfall.” You sound delighted. The ridicule I became inured to in your drinking days has filtered away. I allow my habitual anxiety to loosen its knots.

The sun creeps out and blue light particles ignite in the sky.

Geothermal heat unleashes lurid green algae, ochre, and a dense peaty brown with shades of purple and gold. A paved track leads through the blue-white snow, with rivulets steaming on either side. A group of sightseers cluster ahead.

You stride onwards as I slither carefully behind.

Everyone is staring at a single fathomless pool. The water is too opaque to see through, but I have the sense of something curled up deep, scales protecting it from scalding temperatures.

I think of the fissures scarring this terrain, hidden beneath the veneer of snow. A small gratitude wells in me.

The pool’s surface begins to slip and slide. A low rumble creates miniscule waves. Strokkur shoots up – a column of energy striking the frigid air. In an instant, it collapses. The crowd cheers.

Show over.

“How’s that for timing?” you exclaim, and I spy a glimmer of your old joyful self. My insides churn, but I match my smile to yours and take your hand in mine.

 

Judy Darley is a British writer who can’t stop writing about the fallibilities of the human mind. Her work has been published in the UK, New Zealand, US and Canada, and performed in Hong Kong. Judy’s short story collection Sky Light Rain is out now. Find Judy at http://www.skylightrain.com  and  https://twitter.com/JudyDarley.

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 29 Contents Link

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let the moon haunt them – linda m. crate

the sun
husked open
burnt
flesh from bone
wrinkled youth into elderly

his rage could not be
silenced,
backhanded everyone into
horror;

then i opened my eyes
realizing
that even nightmares
are dreams—

there is a darkness
in everything,
but they’ll tell you to turn
your back on the shadows;
even if the darkness is part of you

they don’t want to remember
your monsters
lest you rip them apart
for what they’ve taken from you

i say let the darkness break
free
let the wildness of your moon
haunt and lick them into insanity—

if they wanted better
the perhaps they should’ve
been men and not monsters.

 

Linda M. Crate’s poetry, short stories, articles, and reviews have been published in a myriad of magazines both online and in print. She has six published chapbooks, and one micro-chapbook. She is also the author of the novel Phoenix Tears (Czykmate Books, June 2018).

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 28 Contents Link

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Tornado Preparedness Drill – Ace Boggess

If the power’s still on, make coffee.
If you prefer whiskey, sleep
on a futon by the nearest phone.

I have better ways to spend my time:
complaining about loud noises &
worrying over this coming storm

which brings with it fish &
frogs that fall from the sky.
In the past hundred years:

one tornado in this county,
that so small the horror-movie
flying cows ho-hummed.

Nobody asked for my opinion,
but I give it while the city sirens
hit their spine-chilling notes &

radio stations sing,
“Get down, get down,”
as if a disco boogie jam.

 

ACE BOGGESS is author of four books of poetry, most recently I Have Lost the Art of Dreaming It So (Unsolicited Press, 2018) and Ultra Deep Field (Brick Road, 2017). His writing appears in Notre Dame Review, Rhino, North Dakota Quarterly, Rattle, and many other journals. He received a fellowship from the West Virginia Commission on the Arts and spent five years in a West Virginia prison. He lives in Charleston, West Virginia.

Cabinet Of Heed Contents Link 23

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A Self-Analysis – Brice Maiurro

Some days I leave my arms at home
to give other people the chance to show me
how to conduct a symphony.

I am an owl in many ways
but most of all in the way I like to be alone at night
staring out my window
sitting on my tree branch
waiting for the field mice to come to me.

When I look at the hairs on my legs
I see thousands of tiny trees and I think about
the day each seed was planted.
I think about the way I am so very large
because I am one billion things so small.

I have a hard time with spiders
because I don’t want to kill them and
I know that I am ultimately unimportant to them
but I feel them crawling up my leg in bed
and when I look they’re never there
but my vulnerability is sometimes counter-intuitive
to my survival instinct
there is a certain amount of acceptance of death
that comes along with trust.

I refill ice trays in the freezer like a madman
like some great fleshy robot filled
with a singular algorithm to make sure there is never
one moment where this house will be without ice.

I don’t drink enough water.

In the middle of the twilight I talk to ghosts.
They carry all these stories about regret and war
and I’m just trying to sing myself
to sleep with songs of faith and renewal
but they clean their guns on the edge of my bed
and sometimes I like to swim
on top of their uneasy oceans.

I papercut my finger
on my contract to myself
and when the blood begins to run
I put it beneath the cold water faucet
and watch as it pours down the drain
and sometimes the water rises
and the sink fills up and the bathroom floods
until I’m underwater in my apartment
scuttling along like a crab
on the warped wood floor
but I do not drown, I sleep best in rip tide.
I dance in disaster.

Sometimes I fall asleep to radio static.
There is a room so quiet you can hear your blood
in your veins and the silence will drive you mad they say.
I talk so loud about how good I am at silence.
How American it is to always know what to say and that’s the thing.

I think I’m an auditory citizen of the world until it gets quiet
and I can hear the national anthem reminder
that I don’t know how to sight read a page of rest symbols.

I dance like I am protesting dancing,
Like if I flail my arms enough they’ll call it satire.

When I dance with women I follow their hips
and pretend I am so keen to the difference between
control and influence.

Sometimes I get stuck in the middle of a poem
and I don’t know how to end it.
Sometimes I’ll get real cute
and just throw out a one-liner like something
Oscar Wilde would say at a cocktail party
but sometimes I’ll just take a minute to be in it.
I’ll walk around the poem like an empty apartment
opening the closets looking for clues about
the person who lived here before
and sometimes I’ll find that there’s nothing but
wire hangers in the closet
or sometimes I’ll run out screaming
chased by skeletons

not tonight.

 

BRICE MAIURRO is a poet and writer from Denver, Colorado. He is the Editor-In-Chief of South Broadway Ghost Society and the Poetry Editor of Suspect Press. His second collection of poems, Hero Victim Villain, will be out June 24th, 2019 through Stubborn Mule Press. You can find more about him at http://www.maiurro.co.

Cabinet Of Heed Contents Link 23

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Tichners Point – Doug Stuber

Gale winds and lightning push me a mile or more down the lake.
As the aluminum Grumman canoe fills with late-spring rain.
I bullied my sister, insisting on paddling alone, so she raged.
The storm wiped the smug smile from my face, added pain.

That canoe remains the symbol of love in my heart.
I cling to it in my dreams. Its nurturing hand saved
A ten-year-old that day, and inspires further pours of art:
Paddle trips for trilobites wedged in cliffs of shale.

It waited every winter, unlike others I know
We wrapped cross bars with life preservers to portage lake to creek.
We pulled ashore on Squaw Island, a long way to go,
Retracing the frightful past strengthened this belief.

Fifty years later, there you are, not a spot of rust,
We hit Canandaigua, my love, my arms, my trust.

DOUG STUBER: father, professor, abstract expressionist, Hippie-punk improv rock bassist. Twelfth volume “Chronic Observer” now available at Finishing Line Press’ online bookstore.

Cabinet Of Heed Contents Link 21

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The Summerhouse – Rick White

‘Doris!’ Came the cry from the living room. ‘Cup of tea for Baal, milk and eighteen sugars, and be quick about it woman.’

Doris gave a long sigh as she put the kettle on for the fourteenth time this morning. It had been two weeks since her husband George had accidentally uncovered a Gateway to Hell in the back garden, whilst fettling with his petunias. Since then they’d had a constant stream of uninvited demons dropping in at all hours for tea. Which one of them was it this time? She wondered. What dreadful, Hellish abomination was sat in her living room, which she’d only just this morning hoovered? Staining her upholstery with blood and charcoal and God knows what kind of filth and likely to destroy the whole house and drag her off to eternal damnation at so much as a misheard sentence. Good Lord – the tension!

‘George?’ Doris called back. ‘Could I have a quick word with you in the kitchen please?’

‘What is it woman, where’s that tea?’ George called back.

‘Just come in to the kitchen George!’

George poked his bald head round the kitchen door, ‘Well?’

‘George Mason you’ve become positively insufferable since you opened that Gateway to Hell.’

‘Me? I’m just trying to make our guest feel welcome Doris. He’s one of the seven princes of Hell for Pete’s sake woman, right hand man to Lucifer himself, if he wants a cup of tea just make him one and be quick about it!’

Doris sighed again, ‘Fine.’ She got on with making the tea. She peeked in to the living room and saw Baal sitting on her formerly cream coloured sofa, now stained with gore and viscera of all kinds not to mention dirt from the flower beds. Baal had three heads; a man, a toad and a cat all sat on top of eight hideously large spider’s legs. It was no wonder none of the neighbours wanted to attend Doris’s coffee mornings any more.

Doris could hear George in the living room, grovelling and fussing round Baal and she thought about what she wouldn’t give to have that kind of attention, any attention really from her husband. Men in their late fifties tended to go one of two ways; they either stood up and fought vigorously against the inevitable onset of old age, they bought sports cars, took up yoga or started fencing or cycling some ridiculous distance for charity. Or they simply rolled over and accepted it meekly, like a once intrepid explorer who has given up all hope and quietly lies down to welcome in the cold as it saps the life from his bones, the unbearable aching gradually giving way to the first warm lapping waves of death.

This was all rather dramatic of course, but Doris could forgive herself a little drama when she had the commander of sixty hellish legions in her living room, crunching up her best bone china in his man teeth while his other heads chattered and screeched terrifyingly. And besides, the explorer in this particular analogy, George, had never even explored anywhere. He’d most likely curl up and die on an expedition to the Co-op in slightly inclement weather.

Doris didn’t feel old. She was looking forward to retirement and to all the possibilities that it would bring. There were holidays to be taken, tennis leagues to win and – hopefully, sex to be had! The closest she’d come to anything like that recently was when Asmodeus the Lust Demon dropped in last week during an episode of Cash in the Attic and she’d had to politely (but firmly) reject his advances.

Ironically, these last two weeks had been the most alive that George had seemed for quite some time, while he had been, quite literally, staring in to the abyss. He’d been so proud of his discovery, like a child on Christmas morning. ‘It’s the entrance to Hades!’ George had exclaimed. ‘Let’s see who’s got the best garden this year you bunch of jammy sods, try and top that.’

His excitement had waned somewhat when no-one seemed that interested in his precious Gateway. He’d phoned the children straight away, Ricard and Sophie were both off living their busy lives and having adventures of their own which was what Doris wanted for them. They’d told George to, ‘WhatsApp them some pics’ which he’d managed to do after an hour’s faffing about but he never even got a response. He’d set up a Twitter account @EntranceToHades_71 but all of his tweets had been derided as being either ‘photoshopped’ or ‘fake news’.

Even Doris had to admit that she had been slightly impressed with the Gateway to begin with – an entrance to another world, a portal to another plane of existence right there in their back garden! Well it was a little bit exciting and perhaps not even all bad. Dagon, the Baker of Hell had brought up some poppyseed muffins which Doris had to admit were delicious. Doris almost caught herself thinking that the inhabitants of Hell were possibly more pleasant company than those of mortal earth to which she was currently bound. She certainly had enjoyed wiping the smile off Christine Chang’s face the other day, always talking about her Pilates and her husband’s promotion at work and the fact they were going to the Maldives for Christmas.

‘Well actually George has uncovered an entrance to the Netherworld in our back garden.’ That shut her up.

Just then Doris was stirred back to reality as Baal disappeared with a sharp crack! Sure enough leaving the sofa completely decimated in his wake. George scurried away out of sight as well and Doris began the task of stripping the covers off the sofa to take them, where? Where on God’s green earth was she going to find a dry cleaners that could do anything about this mess? She should probably just cast the sofa in to the fiery pit and be done with it. Thirty eight years, thought Doris. Thirty eight years she’d been married to George. For twenty five of those years they’d lived right here in this same house in this small suburban cul-de-sac desperately trying to ignore the metaphorical implications of their chosen locale as they became painfully obvious to anyone and everyone except George, who wouldn’t recognise a metaphor if one hog tied him to a spit and roasted him over an open fire. Maybe that’s what Hell really is; the drudgery of the mundane.

George re-entered the room slightly more crestfallen than usual, looking at his phone. ‘Still not heard back from our Sophie or our Richard.’

‘Well what do you expect George? The kids have got their own lives to lead. They’re not interested in relics like us or that stupid Gateway.’

‘The Gateway is not a relic, it’s eternal.’

‘Yes I know the feeling.’

George ignored the remark, or failed to register it. He was now fiddling with a bit of lint on his cardigan and seemed rather engrossed in it.

‘George?’ said Doris, elbow deep in a grotesque melange of sofa covers.

‘Yes my love?’

‘Do you remember my nineteenth birthday?’

‘Not really. Why?’

‘You booked the afternoon off from work and you rode your bike for ten miles to my house with a picnic basket to take me out for the afternoon.’

‘Yes that’s right. It was sunny all morning and then it absolutely hammered it down with rain all afternoon, bloody disaster.’

‘No George, it was lovely. We just sat at the kitchen table and ate pork pie and sandwiches and drank your awful home brewed cider. We played a game of draughts, which I won and we listened to the radio until it started going dark outside, and we chatted George. We just talked about nothing in particular.’

‘We still chat about nothing in particular.’

‘You chat about nothing in particular George Mason. Sometimes I don’t know whether you’re talking to me or just mumbling to yourself. I want us to share a conversation and not just about that stupid Gateway to Hell.’

‘But I thought you liked the Gateway. I thought it would be something which we could both enjoy together.’

‘Enjoy together?’ And what exactly do you enjoy about it George?’

‘Well it’s interesting isn’t it? You’re always saying how you wish we had more going on well that’s pretty interesting isn’t it? The demons can be a little on the strange side I admit and the screaming and the flames and the constant heavy metal music do seem a bit much at times but you know, I just thought you liked it.’

‘What have I ever said or done to give you that impression George Mason? I didn’t like it when you got me a microwave for Christmas, I wasn’t excited when we got the new boiler and I don’t like that ridiculous Gateway to Hell in our back garden!’

‘Well I’m trying my best Doris. I swear I don’t know what you want sometimes.’

‘I want you George. You stupid man. The kids have flown the nest, we’ll both be retired soon and I want to make the most of our lives together. I don’t want to be condemned to an eternity of suffering like those poor souls in the back garden. Just go and cover up that Gateway, you can put up a shed if you want and just spend all your time pottering about in there.’

‘Well now hang on a minute. I know I said I was going to build a shed but I could always put up a Summerhouse, that way we could enjoy the garden together. The rosebushes are almost in flower but the fire and the charcoal and the blood isn’t so good for them so perhaps you’re right. I could put up some decking as well and we could have the neighbours round for barbecues when the weather’s nice. And when it’s raining we can still sit out under the porch and have a game of draughts if you like? It’ll even have underfloor heating free of charge!’

Doris smiled in spite of herself. When she originally offered to sell her soul for a slightly more attentive husband she’d assumed the process would be slightly more expedient but never mind. The Devil takes his time and relishes his tasks but as long as the crafty old bugger got the job done one way or another who was she to argue with that?

 

RICK WHITE is a fiction writer from Manchester UK. Rick has previously had work published in Storgy, Soft Cartel and Vice Magazine among others. Rick is 34 years old and lives with his wife Sarah and their small furry overlord, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Harry. @ricketywhite

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Image by Khusen Rustamov from Pixabay

#youtoo – Deirdre Fagan

Never think it can’t happen to you. You are too aware. You are too smart. Things like that don’t happen to you.

Things like this happen. They happen repeatedly, and to people who thought they were just as smart as you think you are.

Do you remember how clever you thought were when you first tied your shoes? And how clever you thought you were when you first snuck candy? How clever you were when you aced the spelling test? Or, convinced your parents you were responsible enough to be left alone? Or how clever you were, later, when you secured the perfect job only to find the person who hired you primarily wanted in your pants?

We like to think we are so clever, but we can be outsmarted, and are, more frequently than we like to acknowledge. Everyone thinks they are so clever, but the ones who take advantage are the ones not thinking they are clever, but using all of their cleverness to deceive. We are only more clever than they are if whatever we are spending our time thinking about, all of our time thinking about, is how to get what we want. Those people aren’t more clever than we are in all things, but they are more clever than we are at something primary: they are very good at making us believe we made the choice to be deceived.

We made the choice. If it’s anyone’s fault, it’s ours, and they not only convince us of that, they somehow have a way of unleashing everyone’s blame on the victim.

Why didn’t you tell anyone? Why did you let that happen? I thought I raised you better. I thought you trusted me. What did you do to make that happen? Why didn’t you stop it? You could have just told someone. You could have told me.

It’s not what you were wearing or how you looked or that you were prettier or more handsome or that you asked for it. It’s that everyone agreed to ignore the signs and everyone agreed to absolve the perpetrator because to see it means they aren’t so clever and it also means they are wrong, and they want to be right, even if it means blaming the innocent.

How high did you feel when you snuck the candy? Good? For how long? Did you then feel guilt? Did some of your joy over taking the candy make you feel badly later? Badly enough that you didn’t do it again?

When you tied your shoes, you were proud you could do something yourself, not proud that you deceived the shoes into letting you have your way with them.

Perpetrators don’t feel guilt about taking the candy. They want more. And it doesn’t have to be candy, either. They want the high of everyone thinking they are good, when they aren’t. They like hiding. Hiding is where they feel power. If they can stand right in front of you and you can’t see them, they have not only won, they are powerful, and they want power. They crave it. That’s why they pick those they can overpower. They can overpower you. They can overpower more people than you know, so much more than you know.

And you are especially easy to overpower if you need parents, or love, or money, or shelter, or someone to help with your kids. Money? Time? Help? They hear that word, help.

Do you have it all except you have never been told you are beautiful? No one has ever loved you for who you believe yourself to be? Someone has made you feel less than deserving. Maybe it wasn’t even your parents. Maybe you just look in the mirror and think you don’t deserve anything or aren’t good enough. You don’t see them, but they see you. They know exactly what you need, and they will give it to you, so you’ll give them what they want, until you are so ensconced that it’s like the carnival ride of funny mirrors and you feel the glass and see the other side and cannot find your way out.

The first (or last) person to say I love you, whether they do or not (because it won’t matter if they seem like they mean it because they don’t know what it is) will charm you, because they say they love you and they don’t have to. You won’t know the definition yet. That won’t matter. Those words will seduce you. And they may even be withheld until some damage is already done. You will already know you should have said something about what they wanted. You should have said something, you tell yourself. This is your fault. Not the thing, the not telling. You didn’t tell.

And now there’s this love out there, suggesting you should accept or forgive or even say thank you, thank you for loving me, even if it will take decades to know this is not love.

It isn’t love, right? Even after everything you will learn about love, you will wonder, was it love? It felt like love, even if it only felt that way once and briefly.

You were sleeping, or doing the dishes, or gardening, or just getting out of the shower. The first time you were surprised and didn’t know how to react. You froze. It happened. You didn’t scream. You knew it was wrong. But this person had never been presented as wrong. Only right. Only kind. Only sympathetic. Only generous. You didn’t say yes. You weren’t asked. You were taken. You didn’t say no. You didn’t say anything. And immediately afterward, or the next day, or week, or month, you were told you didn’t say no, so you liked it. You wanted it too, didn’t you? You know I love you, don’t you? We love each other. No one else would understand. They say it’s forbidden. It’s not. I am only like this because I love you and love makes a person do wild things. Remember the great love stories? Wild things.

And it will stop because the high will pass. The person who took you won’t want to anymore because you won’t be as afraid. You will succumb. The secrets will not be so fascinating to them anymore. They will need new secrets. More secrets. The power isn’t power when you don’t recede. It’s not power if you have a choice, any choice. You aren’t supposed to have a choice. And when everyone is so used to it, to what’s happening to you, they aren’t even watching anymore, they haven’t even noticed or questioned or paid any kind of attention in months, the one who taught you all about what love wasn’t will slither away leaving you to wonder what it was that happened and why you let it. You thought you were clever. But if it happened, and it did, then you let it, and you must have wanted it, and you are to blame.

You are to blame.

You believe them. You believe all of them. The perpetrator and all the people not looking at the perpetrator. All the people who turned their heads from you and are now looking directly at you. You say you don’t believe them. You were not to blame. But some part of you still believes them. They get their teeth in you.

If you don’t believe them, then you have to admit you were powerless. And you want some power too, not that kind of power, not the power over someone else, just the kind you felt that first time you tied your own shoelaces. You want to feel proud like that again. But you can’t.

The only really power you have is in convincing everyone else they were the ones who didn’t tell, not you. You shouldn’t have had to tell. It was so obvious if they were only looking.

Look at the perpetrator. The perpetrator is standing right over there. Look at that face, not through it. See it? See that face. It’s deceptive isn’t it? But you are clever too. You can see it if you don’t look away. Don’t look away because it’s easier. Don’t look away.

Look at me you say. See me. I want to be seen. Do you think you are clever? #metoo

 

DEIRDRE FAGAN is a widow, wife, and mother of two who publishes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. Her poem, “Outside In,” nominated by Nine Muses, was a finalist for Best of the Net 2018. She is an associate professor and coordinator of creative writing at Ferris State University. Meet her at deirdrefagan.com

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Image by Ankita Gkd from Pixabay

Post-Nuclear Glue-sniffers – Rebecca Gransden

A slippery boy ran in circles around the king’s cadaver.
Under thunder clouds, where the gulls echo.
His friend yelled ballads from the sidelines.
The rain fell and the mud churned, frothing in puddles.
His Bloated Majesty ballooned and stank,
so inflated, his legs stuck out and pointed at the broken rooftops.

Sweaty men wanted the corpse and stood watching the boy.
He amused them, so arms folded.
The other boy stopped yelling and clasped his hands to his eyes,
starting to count backwards.
Laughter rose up, clear, as the men readied.
Air escaped from the king and his noisy stench blew the boy out of his circle.

The boy kept running.
Over black moss.
Over smashed poultry igloos.
His ankles hurt on the curbs.
He thought about the king’s body and how it was behind him,
threatening to explode.

He must look like how people did when they were running from the bombs.

The sirens sang in from the outskirts,
So he took a different way, and discovered a shopping centre
that still existed.
1: Matches from his pocket.
2: An impromptu trash bag torch
He set the building to burn and ran on.

Chairman Boy sat on the dead king’s cardboard throne,
up near the beams at the back of the dark barn.
The boy ran in and stopped.
The other boys sat in a circle all around him,
staring.
“You’re late,” Chairman Boy said, “Where’s my king?”

“The lechers got him, a group of jolly meanies,
They had a giggle and all I could do was leg it.”
Chairman Boy pulled a scrunchie bag from his side,
covered schnoz and gob, and huffed a few,
’til the plastic deflated and the puff died away.
He drooped to one side before lifting a finger and pointing at the boy.

“I couldn’t do nothin’! He was ‘bout ta burst anyway.
It weren’t fair, you sending me to zoom round ‘im.
It’s no protection, I tell ya, though I tried me best.”
The other boys rattled their snuffing bags
and the boy spun around under their gloomy eyes.
“You couldna done no better. It’s trying circumstances.”

Outside, the evening weather got dank.
Some boys lit fat dirty candles and the wicks spat out their flames.
All the hay barrels and box crates stacked to make their meeting room.
Under corroded metal the heady conference began.
Chairman Boy sucked on a glow-in-the-dark oversized dummy.
“Where’s my king?” he cried, creasing his face around vacant pupils.

The boy lifted a scratched CD and checked his face in it.
His welts were growing, looking like caviar.
“How we gonna decide who is next up?” he said.
The boys tossed arguments between them into the night,
sometimes wrestling to settle minor grumbles.
“I got qualms about any of us being King Boy,” the boy said finally.

“None of us in this room is fit,” Chairman Boy said,
freshening from his glue stupor.
“As Chairman, I’m proposing we wait here until our king arrives.
Whoever next walks through the door is coronated His Majesty.”
A hush brushed the snuggly barn, the spittle of candles crackling.
Without any objection or ideas, the boys silently concurred.

Hunkered down in the early hours the boys took their waking dreamtime,
given in sleepy solvent gasps, stained plastic soothing.
One by one the candles faltered.
A gentle light left.
And the bright moonrays broke through radiation clouds,
to enter by door and by window on the waiting.

A scabby little one convulsed on the bare floor between pallet stacks.
“Leave him be,” Chairman Boy said, scraping dribble from his drained lips,
“He’s been wanting to die for ages.”
Strangulated sirens blared far off across the deserted city ruins.
The boys had heard them all their lives but still didn’t know what they were telling.
Or if they were telling or meaning anything at all.

Tiny tottering footsteps arrived at the door, a delicate outline wobbling under the moon.
The boy lifted his head in recognition of the sound.
A pair of rear back legs, the tap tap of hoof on concrete.
“Denise,” he said. He sighed.
All the boys roused and looked, snorted, and laughed.
Denise the two-legged lamb was king.

Chairman Boy stood.
“All hail Denise! Denise! Denise!”
The boys repeated, over each other and woozy:
“Hail, hail! Denise! Denise, Denise!”
The lamb trundled over to the boy and sniffed out his finger.
She’d been allowed life because the boy fed her.

She was his burden.

The boy grabbed a CD from the floor and slit the wound on his thumb with the sharp edge.
With urgent pushing, the lamb sought his digit and suckled her overdue meal.
One of the other boys said, “This ain’t gonna work.”
Chairman Boy lit a candle and stood up straight, wavering.
“The king sucks her advisor.
All hail the king! All hail our advisor!”

REBECCA GRANSDEN lives on an island and writes sometimes. She can be found on Twitter @rlgransden and online occasionally at rebeccagransden.wordpress.com

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Image by Anna Owen from Pixabay

Power Outage – Ron. Lavalette

How unfortunate to be there
when the power goes out
at two separate places
at two different times
on the same day.

It was one thing, the first time,
when the supermarket overheads
and everything else
—except a few quick-witted
smartphone flashlights—
flickered twice and went black,
flashed a blinding warning signal
—a truly brilliant half-second delay—
before leaving the whole sad storefull
frozen in Aisle 7, startled into silence
and forced into terrifying immobility
for a scary seven minutes.

Everyone survived. Everyone
muddled through; made it out alive.
Praise the Lord.

But then,
again, hours later…

RON. LAVALETTE lives on Vermont’s Canadian border. He has been very widely published in both print and pixel forms. His first chapbook, Fallen Away, is now available from Finishing Line Press, and a reasonable sample of his work can be found at EGGS OVER TOKYO http://eggsovertokyo.blogspot.com

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Image by Reimund Bertrams from Pixabay

The Breakout – Tomas Marcantonio

‘You’ll need these to break out,’ he says, passing me the silk bag. I tip the contents onto the table: a small hammer; an HB pencil, striped red and black; a mirror, round with a silver frame, the size of my palm.

‘What about the mask?’ I ask. ‘The earmuffs?’

He shakes his head. ‘You won’t be needing those anymore.’

I look again at the tools, my breathing fast and shallow.

‘Remember what you learned,’ he says. ‘Four in, seven out.’

I nod. In through the nose, four beats. Out through the mouth, counting to seven. Better.

‘Shall we have some more practice before you go?’

I nod again, grateful.

‘Lie down, close your eyes. Let’s go to the field.’

I do as instructed, and when I open my eyes I’m eight years old. The sun beats against my forehead, its rays painting a yellow varnish on the veins of every blade of grass. I squint through the blazing caramel light, black orbs staining the recesses of each blink. The air stinks of acrid daisies trodden into the grass and the poisonous perfume of nettles that cluster like barbed-wire mines around the base of the outer fence. I step through the crowd and hear the riotous roars of boys as they charge about the field, their violent brogues crashing against the ground like the hooves of thoroughbreds approaching the grandstand; the shrill, flowery laughs of girls that judge me with a criteria drawn up from some other plane.

‘No,’ comes the voice from the chair in the other world. ‘Not judging. Say what you see, don’t transfer your own thoughts onto them.’

I try again. The shrill, flowery laughs of girls, amused by something unknown.

‘Better. Keep going.’

I steal on, chin pointed to my leather toe-caps, arms soldier-tight by my sides. Every step is careful, immaculately planned and executed, leaving no room for error.

‘You’re wearing your mask,’ comes the voice. ‘Lose it.’

I lift my eyes to the school; the great pigskin-bricked warren of worries. Four in, seven out. I peel the mask off like a film of dried glue.

‘Take your time. Look around you.’

I glance to the left at the scattered nests of scarecrow infants rolling on the floor, grass sticking to their jumpers and hanging from their hair; a group of rose-faced girls with white hamster teeth and locked elbows; the rubber-stomached dinner ladies with beetroot cheeks, leaning up against the low wall with their sausage arms crossed. None of them is looking at me.

I turn to the right, to the battalion of lost boys, war-painted and stick-wielding, feet slamming, fists clenched. Their cheeks are blue like jellyfish, stuffed with hungry breaths. Footballs cannon through the sky, announced by battle-cries and the shaking earth of a fresh stampede. None of them is looking at me.

‘Good. Now get ready.’

Four in, seven out; I ready myself for impact. One of the cannonballs connects with the side of my head, knocking me sideways, stumbling. The air is sucked out of the field, time and sound briefly plucked from the earth and stashed away by invisible thieves. But only for a moment. Then the wolves begin to howl, their teeth gnashing in delight, the whites of their eyes rolling desperately like wild horses at the sound of a gun. Hell’s own laughter, collecting over the field like a charcoal cloud that swallows up the sky. Eyes everywhere awaken; a thousand eyes, and all of them on me.

‘What do you do first?’

Four in, seven out.

‘Good. Next?’

I stand up straight, try to raise my head. It’s heavier now.

‘Eye contact. Look around.’

I blink hard and look up. Left, right, ahead, meeting as many eyes as I can. I see the plum faces, the boys laughing, bodies rolling around on the floor holding their stomachs. I rub my ear. It’s hot, and my face is red.

‘How do you know?’

My cheeks are burning.

‘The mirror.’

I reach into my pocket and pull the mirror out of the silk bag, hold it up in front of my face.

‘It’s not as red as you thought, is it?’

No, it’s not.

The laughter is dying away. The boys have already reclaimed the ball like hungry pups and some of them are continuing with the game. I breathe, watch the fresh charge of black shoes towards a goal made from jumper piles. No one cares. Most of them have already forgotten about it. It’s over.

I open my eyes. I’m back in the room, lying down.

‘Good. Now one more,’ he says from the chair. ‘Let’s go to the party.’

I close my eyes again.

*      *     *

I’m passing down the rotating throat of a kaleidoscope. The corridor walls lean in towards the ceiling, the strobe flashes throwing psychedelic diamonds across my path. I shuffle down towards the kitchen, back against the wall. There are no boys or girls; there are only armies of elbows and plastic cups of bitter gold, greasy curtains of hair stuck to the posters on the corridor wall. The tunnel is rank with the musty stench of armpits, the damp mire of vodka soaked into the carpet, and the foul manure of cigarette ash left to stew in half-crushed beer cans.

‘Eye contact,’ comes the voice from the other world. ‘Earmuffs off.’

The voice is more distant than before, the bass from the lounge speakers making a heartbeat of the floor and dictating its thump up through my ribs, drowning out the sour-breathed din of conversation and the voice from the other world. This time I ignore it; it’s easier to keep my eyes down.

I find a pocket of air in the kitchen, lean up against the fridge. I crack open a can and my thumb paddles briefly in the frothy rim spill. A trio of smokers at the back door rope me into conversation.

I take a sip of my drink and prepare to tread the boards, calling out my character from the dressing room. I smile, crack a joke, nod along, swig. I’m sweating under the arms.

‘Take off the masks. Rationalise it. Remember, what’s the worst that can happen?’

I ignore the voice again. The beer is tasteless; now it’s merely an extra-thick layer of make-up, powdered like chalk onto my smiling-clown face. The worst that can happen? I say something stupid and have it etched into my forehead forever like a botched tattoo; I fall behind the repartee like a spent greyhound after a rabbit lure; I’m left to gather mould in the corner of the kitchen, a gurning gravestone under a wind of autumn leaves. I live out my three years of university like a hermit with straw in his hair, alone in his den of stale piss and turtle soup. What’s the worst that can happen? Everything.

The smokers flick their black-tipped stubs into the sink and I ransack the recesses of my brain. There are still a few unflooded lobes somewhere in the back, and in one of them I find the clown on his unicycle, turning the cogs that keep me moving. Grimacing, the red make-up at his eyes bleeding with sweat, he churns out one last joke to see them off. The smokers head off in search of drinks, laughing at whatever witticism my cycling clown granted me. I sense the wetness under my arms, rewind through every moment of the conversation; every slow blink, every sideways crawl of every eye, every slurred, smoke-curled word.

‘Get out your hammer.’

I stand in the corner of the kitchen, watching the crowds rotate. I sip, watch, smile at every passing glance. One song finishes and there’s a moment when everything is clear.

‘Get out your hammer.’

I put the drink down and reach into the silk bag in my pocket, feel the cold steel of the hammer head. I pull it out and weigh it in my hands. It’s light, like a toothbrush, easy to grip.

‘Describe your bubble,’ the voice says, clearer now.

I look up at the room. The colours of the kitchen have faded. I’m enclosed in glass, frosted, thick like a river frozen over for the long winter. My very own hamster ball, hard like stone, an impermeable shield between me and the world. I place a hand on its surface, feel the cold condensation on my palm, see the foggy shapes of the party on the other side.

‘Break it.’

I take a deep breath and grip the handle of the hammer with both hands. It’s bigger now, heavier, like an oil-tanker’s anchor. The steel claw drags my wrists towards the floor.

‘Break it!’

I look at the ice wall and the wild, unpredictable world on the other side, full of judgement and endless possibilities of embarrassment and failure. I see my reflection in the wall. Me. The one and only; unique, loved, with a whirlwind of fire in my eyes that deserves to be unleashed like a hurricane onto the world, mistakes and all.

With a strength ripped from somewhere deep in the sinews of my stomach, I haul the hammer above my head, and with a primal roar drive it into the glass wall. Cracks appear on the surface, and I strike at it again, and again, until the whole thing shatters around me, glass splintering over my shoes and in my hair like crystals of snow.

I’m out, free, naked to the world.

‘Go,’ says the voice.

I leave my drink on the side, step over the broken glass, crunching under my feet, and head towards the nearest rabble. I cannot even think. I must not think.

‘How do you feel?’

My heart’s racing.

‘That’s good. It means you’re alive. Fight or flight, remember, and now it’s time for you to fight. It’s your body’s natural reaction. Acknowledge it, embrace it.’

Four in, seven out. What’s the worst thing that can happen? Nothing that will extinguish this new blaze in my eyes, I tell myself.

*      *      *

I open my eyes. I take in the room, sit up.

‘Very good. You’ve made a lot of progress.’

‘I have,’ I admit.

He refolds his legs and crosses his fingers on his lap. ‘That fire you mentioned then. The fire in your eyes. You believe in that, don’t you?’

I think about it and nod. He smiles but doesn’t say anything; he’s good at making me talk.

‘I’ve got something,’ I say. ‘I’ve always known that I have something.’

‘Are you ready for the world to see?’ he asks. ‘What will you do when they look?’

Four in, seven out. I’ve learned that it’s okay to make people wait.

‘I’ll dance,’ I say simply.

He nods. ‘And when doubt comes?’

‘I’ll gouge out its eyes with my own fingers. Then I’ll use the same nails to claw into the mountainside of life and rip my way to the top.’

‘Yes. And fear?’

‘I will shatter it with my bare fists, tear barriers with my teeth. When my cheeks burn and my heart thunders against my chest, I’ll know that I’m alive. And when they stare, I will dance.’

He smiles, and we both stand up. He shakes my hand, opens the office door onto a thick wall of ice.

‘The outside world,’ he says. ‘Don’t forget your things.’

I put the mirror back inside the silk bag, and then I remember the pencil on the table.

‘I haven’t used this,’ I say, picking it up. ‘It’s for me?’

‘For you, yes. And for others. Use it well, and it won’t just help to bring down your own walls. There are many who have it worse.’

I consider it, nod, slip it into my pocket; I look at the wall that separates me from the world.

‘Are you ready?’ he asks.

I take up the hammer in both hands, raise it above my head. There’s a hurricane of fire in my eyes.

 

TOMAS MARCANTONIO is a fiction writer from Brighton, England. His work has appeared in places such as STORGY, The Fiction Pool, and Ellipsis Zine. Tomas is currently based in Busan, South Korea, where he splits his time between writing, teaching, and getting lost in neon-lit backstreets.

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Image by AI Leino from Pixabay

The Man On The Train – Michael Bloor

Very occasionally, one comes across a person of natural authority, a person who impresses without effort and without design, someone who just seems more human than the rest of us. Last week, I met just such a man on the train from Aberdeen to London Kings Cross.

The journey takes seven hours, so I’m careful about being drawn into conversations with fellow-travellers: seven hours is a long time to sustain a conversation about Jehovah’s Witnesses’ aversion to blood transfusions, or the scandalous price of houses in Inverurie. So I gently rebuffed the elderly lady seated beside me when she tried to get me talking. In response to each of her conversational sallies (on the weather, the surprisingly crowded carriage, the scandalous price of tickets), I replied courteously but briefly, and returned to reading my book. Thus thwarted, she turned to the massively built, grizzled, elderly black man sitting across the table from us. More civil than myself, he answered all her inquisitive questions with grave dignity, in a rich, bass voice. The old lady quickly established that our companion was from Sierra Leone and was returning there after visiting to his son, gravely ill in Aberdeen Royal Infirmary with severe burns, sustained in a fire aboard a Peterhead fishing boat.

At Montrose, the old lady left us and the train, with a parting comment on the scandalous price of Montrose taxis. My remaining companion and I exchanged complicit smiles. He then surprised me. He leant across the table, gestured towards my book, and said:

‘I see you’re reading about Emanuel Swedenborg. A great man, I believe. And one who led a fascinating life. May I ask what your interest is in Swedenborg?’

I struggled to answer. I explained that, since I’d retired a couple of years ago, I’d enrolled in a literature course at the Open University and I was planning to submit a student project on Swedenborg’s influence on the work of the poet, William Blake. What I really wanted to do was ask what interest an elderly man from Sierra Leone could have in an eighteenth-century Swedish mystic. I might have found a courteous way to frame that rather insulting question, had I not already been witness to the relentless grilling my companion had already received on the Montrose leg of our journey. As it happened, John (that was his name) volunteered an answer to my unspoken question:

‘In my church in Freetown, back in Sierra Leone, we have studied some of Swedenborg’s writings. I am an elder in the Freetown Christadelphian Church. We are bible Christians and, like Swedenborg, we are Unitarians.’

I wanted to avoid a theological discussion on the biblical justification, or otherwise, of a belief in the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost. So I asked John about his son: I’d seen the story of the fishing boat fire in the Aberdeen Press and Journal.

‘The hospital is wonderful. I am very grateful for his care. But Andrew is very ill. Very ill. That’s why my fellow elders in the Church found the money for me to visit.’ He paused and then continued in the same slow, deep voice: ‘It has been a particular grief to me. Because I too have lived the nightmare of a fire at sea. Indeed, a fire ON the sea too. Some twenty years ago, I jumped from the fiery deck of a tanker full of gasoline into a fiery sea full of gasoline.’

I gasped. ‘You were on that tanker, the Derwent, off the Belgian coast back in 1993. You survived the collision and the fire.’

It was now John’s turn to be surprised. Mysteriously, over the last thirty years or so, Britain has somehow ceased to be a maritime nation and tragedies like that of the Derwent are no longer well known or remembered. But I used to work as a ships agent and I remembered it very well. In thick fog, the Eastern Supreme, a bulk carrier steaming far too fast, with no look-out, and with no-one manning the radar, smashed into the Derwent, newly laden with a cargo of gasoline, which spilled out of the ruptured tanks and ignited. The Derwent was swept with flames before the lifeboat could be launched, and so the crew had to leap into the burning sea. Nine men died, two of them from Sierra Leone. I explained about my old job as a ships agent and asked John whether there had been any legal proceedings afterwards.

He shook his head: ‘A Belgian court did eventually summon the Korean master of the Eastern Supreme on charges of manslaughter, but he failed to appear.’

He spoke without emotion, and such miscarriages of natural justice are unfortunately commonplace in the shipping industry, but I felt this was too painful a topic for a conversation between strangers. I asked John if he’d gone back to sea after the Derwent fire.

He shook his head again: ‘No, though I had a family to feed. And besides, I am one of the Krumen. For two hundred years, my tribe has supplied the crews for British ships. That is how we got our name. My great-great-grandfather and my great-grandfather crewed the anti-slavery patrols of the British navy. We have always gone to sea. And we have always crewed for the British. It was more than a job: it was my birth-right. But after the Derwent, I found a job at the docks.’

Smiling at old memories, he told me how, as a boy, he started out as a messman: serving in the merchant officers’ mess, with the starched white table cloths and the picture of the Queen and Prince Philip. How, on shore-leave, he used to go to Anfield to watch Liverpool FC in the days of their pomp: he recalled in particular Big Ron Yeats, Liverpool’s mountainous, Scottish centre-half. He recalled how, when he switched to working on tankers, they used to play deck-cricket on the helicopter landing deck. Grinning now, he explained the elaborate rules of the game: ‘You British, you always have plenty of rules.’

‘Did you enjoy the cricket, John?’

‘Not really. We used to play on Sundays – a rest day, except for the watch-keepers and emergencies. We Sierra Leonians would have preferred to rest. But the British officers – they wanted us to play. You could say that a bargain had been struck. The British needed us and we needed them. The work was hard; the hours were long; the pay was poor. But we needed the jobs and the families needed our pay. So we played cricket. The British made the rules and we abided by them – for the food in our mouths.’

‘After independence, things deteriorated at home in Freetown. And there were fewer British ships: we would wait at home longer and longer between contracts. But once we were back on board, things were just the same – the starched white tablecloths and the deck-cricket. There was a strange comfort in that.’

‘You know, crew changes for the tankers often took place in Singapore. That used to be a British colony too, of course. We used to stare at the skyscrapers, the shops and the clean streets. We could see that Singapore had prospered after independence. But independence hadn’t worked for us. We used to talk among ourselves about how it would be better if the British would come back to run Sierra Leone.’

‘You used to talk about that, John, about the British coming back. But not anymore?’

‘Sometimes, I still hear old men talking that way. But not me. After the bulk carrier smashed into the Derwent, after those nine men died in the burning sea, I realised that the British weren’t making the rules anymore.’

 

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

Cabinet Of Heed Contents Link 21

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