Stream of Consciousness – Drawer Seven

dreamland – M P Armstrong

before, my dreams were populated with half-fantasy images
from the curled-up and shadowy edges of reality, a variety
that seemed culled from the random spin of a wheel. teachers
from a semester abroad grew fangs and appeared, pale and
growling, in desks next to me in my tenth-grade algebra class.
the sun dripped glittering watercolor over the backyard fence
that gobbled my sanity, and probably also my hand, if touched.
the jewel-toned scales of dragons perched on the roof of the
dining hall and vortexes to other dimensions swirled in the
pond on the quad. my dreams now are comprised of ordinary
moments: my family gathered around a table laden with a heavy
holiday dinner–mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and
three kinds of pie, with ice cream, even. my roommate bringing
steaming mugs of coffee, golden brown with clouds of cream, to
our spread of notebooks and textbooks in the library as the sun
begins to smudge the sky with light, a friend locked in a warm
and determined embrace under a blanket as the light chatter of a
romcom and the multicolored glow of Christmas lights fill every
corner of the room, turning the standard dorm into an image off
the front of a greeting card. my brain is romanticizing the moments
from life before, my subconscious smoothing over the stresses and
tensions, and my sleep setting the scenes to songs from the bleachers’
discography. i do not want to remember what those were really like,
dinners spent with bitter words bubbling in my throat and threatening
to boil over, the specter of failure hanging in the air-conditioner wind
over every flashcard and frappucino, the rotted curiosity about the
blurry lines of relationships twisted up in every body entangled with
mine. i want to think about the mirrors of those moments in the near
future even less. terror served next to the turkey, cooked by a respiratory
therapist and carved by a man of almost eight years old. peeks at the
list of names tucked inside the front covers of books with dates, mental
calculations: could their coughs still linger on the pages? the threat that
lurks in every human being, even the ones that we once could touch
without thinking twice, even the ones we had been dreaming about
holding close throughout the months we spent separated. i would rather
live in that fantasy world, bleed out because the woman who taught me
about roman history dug her teeth into my jugular in front of the girl
i wanted to ask to homecoming or watch my dorm burn to the ground
from the sparks belched by a winged lizard, than live in this one, this
hazy dreamland where the dangers do not disappear when my alarm
starts beeping and i open my eyes. a conscious nightmare is darker
than the bruise-like circles under my eyes born of avoiding sleep; i
would rather spend the rest of eternity waking with night terrors than
experience the screaming, sweating horror during the bright daytime.

M.P. Armstrong is a disabled queer poet from Ohio, studying English and history at Kent State University. Their work appears or is forthcoming in Luna Negra, Red Earth Review, and Social Distanzine, among others. They also serve as managing editor and reporter for Curtain Call and Fusion magazines. In their spare time, they enjoy traveling, board games, and brightly colored blazers. Find them online @mpawrites and at mpawrites.wixsite.com/website.

Emails From God – Valerie Griffin

Email from: god.creator@thisisallthereis.com
To: mothernature@thisisallthereis.com, theuniverse@thisisallthereis.com
Subject: Our Discussions re the Deterioration of Planet Earth

I accept the responsibility falls on my shoulders. Although, in my defence, I never thought they would start to bite the hands that feed them. I gave them everything they needed. In hindsight, maybe I gave them too much? It’s hard to stomach, watching them systematically harming themselves and every other living thing on the planet; killing off the life that was given to them to nurture; the life to keep them alive.

Email from: mothernature@thisisallthereis.com,
To: god.creator@thisisallthereis.com, theuniverse@thisisallthereis.com
Subject: Re: Our Discussions re the Deterioration of Planet Earth

Frustrating though this is, beating ourselves up about it won’t help and the onus doesn’t just lie with you, God; it lies with all of us. We have to find the solution for them to realise, and correct, the consequences of their actions. They think they know better, but this proves they don’t.

Email from: theuniverse@thisisallthereis.com
To: god.creator@thisisallthereis.com, mothernature@thisisallthereis.com,
Subject: Re:Re: Our Discussions re the Deterioration of Planet Earth

I am beyond angry. I have no time for these arrogant and selfish people, deluded by their own self-deception that what they’ve been doing is for the better good; who are now bogged down and suffocating in their barren land of wastefulness. We all know it can’t go on. This doesn’t just affect Earth, it affects the balance of the whole of space and time. I can arrange for a meteor strike, that’ll shake them up. BOOM! BANG! GONE! HAVE A NICE DAY NOW!!!

Email from: god.creator@thisisallthereis.com,
To: mothernature@thisisallthereis.com, theuniverse@thisisallthereis.com
Subject: Re:Re:Re: Our Discussions re the Deterioration of Planet Earth

Ah…you never suffer fools lightly, do you Universe? We need to save Earth not destroy it totally, that would make us no better than them. These people need educating again. Let’s get them working in harmony once more, not discord. Despite the few, there are hundreds of millions who, I know, will grasp the chance to make a better life for themselves and save the planet. People who will spend time self-reflecting, who will look, and find, the silver lining…because there’s always a silver lining.

Email from: mothernature@thisisallthereis.com,
To: god.creator@thisisallthereis.com, theuniverse@thisisallthereis.com
Subject: Re:Re:Re:Re: Our Discussions re the Deterioration of Planet Earth

Very dramatic, Universe, but I agree with God. And the silver lining is the seas being free from contamination, allowing marine creatures to swim in clear, uncluttered waters; the skies devoid of airborne impurities, providing thermals of fresh air for the birds to soar freely. And the land. The forests, the woods, hedges and fields – so lovingly created and vital for existence – will start to regrow; the animals, unceremoniously ousted from their natural habitat without a thought from those desperate for profiteering, can start to rebuild their homes again. It’s time to heal.

Email from: god.creator@thisisallthereis.com,
To: mothernature@thisisallthereis.com, theuniverse@thisisallthereis.com
Subject: Re:Re:Re:Re:Re: Our Discussions re the Deterioration of Planet Earth

Well said, Mother Nature. I have an idea…leave it to me.

Valerie is a published writer living by the sea in Dorset. She writes short stories, flash fictions and is currently editing her first novel. She likes growing weird-shaped vegetables and people watching on the seafront.

Walls – Tamara Rogers

The walls moved again today.

You’d miss it if you blink, but I don’t blink. I haven’t blinked for weeks.

Always alert.

Eyeballs starting to itch.

Maybe put some cream on them, in them.

Because constant vigilance is required in this dreary apocalypse. This apocalypse of online shopping and socially distanced street parties that turn into moist, sweaty germ factories. Whole streets ready to go down together, singing Vera Lynn in triumphant idiocy.

They sing and clap while others die saving them.

That’s the spirit.

But I digress, because we were talking about the walls moving. You can tell, for those who haven’t been paying attention, by looking at the shoes I left by the front door. The shoes that haven’t been worn for weeks (government mandated exercise can eat my ass), the shoes that were piled on top of each other in the carefree way of someone who thought they were going out again but then never did, the shoes acting out the Mary Celeste of Clarks. Because the shoes have fallen over. You see? The right foot’s heel was resting on top of the left foot’s toe, but now it’s prone on the floor, laces trailing onto the welcome (but don’t tread shit everywhere) mat.

Easy to miss, I guess, so I’ve smeared paint on the wall for next time. One long streak from the wall onto the floor, nice and thick, dripping lilac (surely a drunken shopping choice) in ugly, bulbous tears. The walls move, the line breaks.

It’s time for (more) coffee in my carefully curated quarantine schedule. On the way to the kitchen I kick the wayward shoes into the corner. What do you do about moving walls? Are they hostile or am I an unwitting accomplice to an act not yet revealed?

Is this a benign Changing Rooms?

Is this a trash compactor from Star Wars?

Should I call the letting agent?

And the coffee is strong and black and bitter, it burns my tongue but tastes good, topping up the buzz roiling under the stale sweat on my face. My heart races, forgetting that sport is cancelled for the foreseeable. Feel alive, albeit riddled with anxiety. Feel alert, refreshed, wired to fuck.

Next stop on the timetable; ten minutes in the back garden. Fresh air is good for the soul and also for the lungs and let’s be honest that cough has been hanging around. The garden is, well, barely a garden. Dirty paving slabs squeezed into a back alley, the reincarnation of a well-behaved public urinal.

Inside, and back to the couch.

I look at the wall, glare at the streak of paint, stare out the window. There the neighbours come and go, wear their masks around their necks or under their noses, stand two metres apart but let their kids smear snot on each other.

I rub my eyes, sandpaper scratching under my ‘lids.

Mom used to say things could be ‘so dull it’s like watching paint dry’.

I never thought watching paint dry would feel so tense.

Tamara writes mainly dark, surreal tales with a touch of science fiction. Her novel Grind Spark was longlisted for the Bath Novel Award 2014. She is interested in all things weird in the world of psychology, artificial intelligence and armageddon. And cats.
Twitter: @tamrogers Website: http://www.thedustlounge.com

The Garden Not Open – Bronwen Griffiths

The garden was due to open after the long winter closure but the disappointment of the grey clouds was nothing compared to the realisation that the garden would not open this spring and perhaps not even this summer and I was wondering if there would be anyone to clear the weeds from the cracked paths or if the bird topiary, with its fuzz of new leaves, might be metamorphosing into new shapes. I imagined the birds turning into furry cats, the kind of cat caught out in a rainstorm, not that it has been raining and indeed there has been no rain for many weeks and we have been glad of this because all winter it poured cats and dogs, and lakes appeared where none were there before. I was also, in thinking of the garden, remembering its ancient mulberry tree because we too have a mulberry in our garden but when I spoke to one of the gardeners last year he was not much interested in our mulberry though I am interested both in our mulberry and the garden’s mulberry and how and if they are related. What I thought was that our mulberry might be the grand-daughter of the mulberry in the garden, though perhaps it might be the daughter, but I have no evidence of this. The only evidence I have is that mulberries make delicious jam but are also a devil to pick because the juice runs down arms and stains hands until the picker of mulberries resembles an extra from a slasher movie and this I have most definitely known. Thinking more of the mulberry, in particular its large leaves, larger than a hand, I am now wondering if, once the leaves appear in their fullness -and even now in the middle of May they are not quite grown to maturity – the quarantine might be lifted so that I can go and visit the gardens and see the other mulberry, the old mulberry, which may or may not be the mother or grandmother of our own mulberry.

Bronwen Griffiths is the author of two published novels and two collections of flash fiction. Her flash pieces have been published in a number of anthologies and online journals and her novella-in-flash, Long Bend Shallows, was shortlisted for the Bath Award. She lives in East Sussex and likes to garden.

Goldie and Three Scary Bears – Liz Power

So there’s this little girl, real cute…she goes for a walk in the woods. Big woods, maybe bad woods, full of wolves and real bad people. Shithole woods.

She’s called Goldie… real pretty blonde hair. Remember… I have tremendous respect for women… all women.

Anyhow, Goldie comes across a small house right there in the wood and she knocks on the cute front door. It’s not a big house, by the way, not like mine. I’ve got more money… more brains… better house, apartment, nicer boat. I’m smarter than they are. When no one answers, she just walks right in.

On the table there are three bowls of porridge… I love porridge by the way, it’s from Scotland where my mother’s from…did you know that? Goldie’s hungry, real hungry, like she’s not eaten all day. She tastes porridge from the first bowl, and it’s too hot.

She tastes porridge from the second bowl, a bigger bowl, but that’s cold. Finally she tastes the porridge from the third, biggest bowl and it’s just perfect. She eats the whole lot up…the smart thing to do, big brains… smart cookie.

Now, she feels real tired… long day out avoiding bad people, scary people.

She sits in the first chair, the biggest, which would be the best chair as it’s the biggest and the best. But it’s too big so she tries the second chair, not as big, but still too big. Then she tries the smallest chair and it’s just right.

But then it breaks! Shit manufacturing! If you vote for me, I’ll make sure there isn’t shit manufacturing. Build a wall – keep the shit manufacturers out, along with criminals and Mexicans…

Goldie feels real exhausted. She goes upstairs to lies down, but the first bed’s too hard, so she gets in the next. That’s too soft! Soft beds give me back ache – I like a good firm bed. Then she lies under this sweet little quilt in the third bed. That one’s just fine and Goldie falls right asleep – just like that.

While she’s sleeping these three bears arrive. It’s their house, right? Scary bears…might be bad bears from Mexico. But I’m probably the least racist person you will ever meet…

Daddy bear… he’s short and fat just like that Kim Jong-un… he says real loud ‘someone’s been eating my porridge!’

And Mama bear… she’s a handsome bear… remember, I have tremendous respect for women, I really do… she says ‘someone’s been eating my porridge!’

Then this real cute Baby bear says ‘someone’s been eating my porridge and they’ve eaten it all up!’ Baby bear starts wailing and carrying on because his chair’s all broken. Crooked – like crooked Hillary.

Then the scary bears go upstairs to look round some more.

‘There’s someone sleeping in my bed!” cries Baby bear.
Just then, Goldie wakes up and sees the three bears, yells real loud and runs away into the big, bad forest.

You know what? Never goes back there again. So, if you vote for me I’ll make sure there’s no more scary bears in shithole woods, because I’ll build a very big wall and keep them all out. I probably would do that, probably. Maybe.

Can’t Quit Drinking Today – Shelly Norris

It’s like Earth shuddering on her axis.
If only there were some method of proof.
It’s like watching Rilke’s tiny slumbering
silences cradled deeply in the limbs
peeping through, vulnerable
to a month of cold slate sky
snowing ash and sleeting ice.
It’s like the foreshadowing
after the opening climax (just
one of fifteen) that twists
the bloody battle scene
into a training exercise
where casualties rise and dust off
that follows the heroes’ conversation
casually revealing the exposition.
It’s like the dog excusing himself
when he thinks movie explosions
and aftershocks are genuine
gunshots and thunder.
Like trying to remember
not only laughter is also contagious.
Like trading Cabernet for Absolut,
needing limes, and making do
with essential lemons.
Like when after two decades
the one guy finally invites
the other guy to dinner
to meet his wife and baby
and I remind the dogs
TV coyotes are just actors
though they know I know
they know a flesh and blood pack
lurks right across the road
in someone else’s woods.
It’s like when the other hero—
usually older jaded or younger
hungry, maybe with the least
to lose—says maybe; we know
which character will not live
much further into the plot
or probably washes out filthy
in the end. It’s like ghost ships full
of live tourists and sailors marked
for death drifting into ports
forbidden to disembark.
It’s like the hero’s young wife grilling
the past out of two old soldier friends
who’ve fought to hell and back together
her and us wondering why
he wasn’t the best man
or even a guest at their wedding.
It’s like Elliott’s cruelest month
growing sociopathically more sinister
like choking in the billowing smoke
from a neighbor burning brush
on a dry windy day or that black
poodle off its leash dashing
in front of speeding cars every time
or feeling torn as the Palomino’s head
stretched between barbed wires
as she reaches for greener.
It’s like the hero’s DNA at the scene
the explosives residue in his garage
the encrypted folder on the dark web
the millions in offshore accounts
he never opened. Too tidy.
How does the FBI Director miss that
every time? It’s like the Walker Hound
wolf howling in his dreams.
It’s like all the conspiracies
coalescing into golf ball hail
beating us down on the front end
of a tornado swarm sweeping
the wobbling planet
and irruptions kicking off mega fires
and triggering fault lines—Wasatch,
Tatsuda, Sobral, Seattle, The Rhine
Rift, New Madrid, Longmen Shan,
Clarendon-Lindon, Elsinore, Tacoma,
The North Aegean Trough—more
than you can name and all of them
at once, and the shifting waves that morph
into hurricanes, typhoons, tsunamis.
It’s like when the tests weren’t perfect
and no one actually offered tests
and technically no one refused them
or when King County’s Public Health
Department sent body bags instead
of tests to the Native Health Clinic
and sometimes
nothing is fathomable.
It’s been just like that.

Shelly Norris currently resides in the woods of central Missouri with her husband John, two dogs, and seven cats. A Wyoming native, Norris began writing poetry around the age of 12. Norris’ poems embody the vicissitudes of unrequited love and loss, dysfunctional wounds, healing quests, and the role of cats in the universal scheme.

Cabinet Of Heed SOC Stay Safe

Stream of Consciousness – Drawer Six

The Lighthouse – Nicki Blake

I have a photograph by my bed that everyone has seen before – the classic lighthouse by French photographer, Guichard, the one from a thousand inspirational motivational posters (I hate those things) with the lighthouse jutting out of a milky green sea, the waves crashing up around it reminding me of the lace in an extravagant Elizabethan ruff which makes the lighthouse a skinny brown neck. We all had this picture back in the day, we Gen Xers, along with our copies of Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Fleetwood Mac albums, back when metaphysics was cool, the summers were simpler and we had the time for self-discovery – such a very sixth-form thing to do, to go into ourselves and mouth off at the cosmos under the influence of cheap cider and cigarettes. We sat on the edge of the cricket pitch and stubbed our cigarettes out on the grass so we could have our hands free to make daisy-chains which we placed on our heads like little crowns.

The Latin word for crown is corona and I told someone recently how strange it is to see a connotation shift, not in a sneaky creeping way as with some words and their etymologies, but within the space of weeks. Before, the only time I knew corona was from astronomy, meteorology, when there was a circle of light around the sun or the moon. Another way of saying it is ’22 degree halo’ but corona sounds more impressive, or at least it did. The ruff of lacy waves around the Guichard lighthouse could be a called a corona too, I suppose.

There were no drones in those days, so I imagine the photographer with his camera equipment hanging out of the helicopter door in the kind of Atlantic storm that would send the waves two storeys high. And all to give us a lesson in what? Humans versus nature? Fortitude? Endurance? Up and down the coasts of France, collecting lighthouses, repeated symbols of warning and of our care for those at sea.

I wonder what the helicopter pilot thought? When the photographer came to him and asked to be flown into the maelstrom? How much do you charge for something like that and what kind of mindset do you have to have to take on such a commission? Does he brag about it in his old age? “I was Guichard’s pilot – he was insane, made me do all these low fly-bys in the worst weather!” Did he get any credit for his role in creating the art? Look at me, assuming it was a man who was the pilot – though, in those days, it probably was. I wonder if (s)he reminisces now, in mandatory lockdown in some apartment in France, lonely as a lighthouse keeper, remembering taking on the elements with Guichard and thinking they’d conquered them, never imagining that when defeat finally came it would not be through great waves but in tiny droplets.

Nicki Blake is an emerging poet and writer of short stories based in Perth, Western Australia. Her work has been published both online and in print anthologies. Nicki’s writing draws on her lived experiences of working with words, as well as a heritage that is both European and South-East Asian.

 

100 Days of March – Vincent JS Wood

March went on for 100 days, morning after morning trickling into one another in a syrupy haze. It took half the year, but we’re now in April and everything is exactly the same. I feel like dead meat in formaldehyde, just a useless hunk of flesh, not visibly decaying but certainly not alive. Everything around me feels like it’s covered in a thin layer of amber so that you can’t touch and test how it really feels, like a world lightly honey glazed.

For the past three days (or is it four? five? six?…) I’ve had thoughts of chain-smoking in the sun. Flicking discarded butts into the scum collected at the bottom of the, now defunct, pond at the heart of the garden. Hearing the sizzle, then hiss, and proceeding to light up another to pass the time, is a recurring vision that appeals in both its grotesque imagery and its promise of fulfilment that it could never live up to. The irony of desiring lung hardening apparatus, to turn my chest to wheezy black dust, is not lost on me during a time of contagious respiratory disease. It’s odd because I don’t physically crave them either, I haven’t smoked in quite some time, but the thought of them has resurfaced as a cure-all to boredom and it scares me just how deep that hook goes. If that particular vice remains embedded in my muscle memory, what other sharp barb is waiting to resurface from a forgotten wound at any given moment?

I spend a lot of time in the garden now. Just to be outside is a tiny freedom in and of itself at the moment and I try to busy myself with labouring in the unkempt, overgrown peripherals of the property. An inherently absurd task given that I have the patience, demeanour and physicality of a man whose lower-middle-class parents actively encouraged his ridiculous notions of becoming a writer and, subsequently, has avoided doing a single day of ‘proper’ work in his life. And yet, I have a particular penchant for destructive work; cutting, digging, uprooting and the like. I know that creating something will overcome this boredom, it may not be anything special but the joy of the craft is its own reward and yet, I always opt for demolition which may also explain the part of my psyche that wants to smoke the days away. Destruction is a form of creativity I suppose.

Of course, people are dying and you’re here making flippant remarks about your own mortality and not contributing anything to the situation so perhaps you are an arsehole. Perhaps you’re just another self-involved moron postulating on being isolated with a mental illness when really all you need is a cigarette and to shut the fuck up. Perhaps destruction isn’t creative at all, perhaps you’re just digging holes because it’s all you know how to do.

March went on for 100 days, I pray to the unknowable void that April doesn’t too..

 

Untitled – Lindsay Bamfield

I walk my daily walk, a different way each day through the maze of roads round here, that I’m still discovering. No-one knows me but a few of the other solitary walkers respond to my greeting as we pass each other, one of us veering onto the nature strip for our obligatory two metres. I hope to see the elderly gentleman who sings as he walks. Instead I hear rainbow lorikeets screeching as they fight over ripening figs in a tree, and a lone wattlebird sitting on a branch making a forlorn squawk. It is autumn here and the front garden flowers are fading but there is still loveliness to be seen. Fading flowers have their own beauty signalling younger, more radiant days in the past. My own past has disappeared now I’m in a country where there are only two people who knew me when I worked, made a difference in people’s lives. No-one else here is interested in my past. The few people who have got to know me here view me as someone’s mother and a grandmother, that’s all.

I am making a new present life for myself but my plans, like everyone else’s, have been interrupted by social lockdown. The holiday I’d booked has been lost, and the theatre tickets I bought have been refunded. The course I signed on for will now be online and the writing group I had just joined has been put on hold for the duration. So yet again I must rely on myself to keep alive, active and creative.

My baking has had to stop because there’s only me to eat the result. My gardening in my tiny garden connects me to precious nature. Even though I’ll have to wait so long for the outcome, I plod on in hope. My sewing calms me but my writing bothers me because I can’t get it right. I hadn’t realised how much I relied on being around other people to energise me. Not just people in the social groups I had joined but people on trains, in parks, in shops. Not just the people I was drawn to but the infantile, giggling girls who annoyed me with their loud music on the train, the noisy youngsters that barged into me on the road crossing, the dawdling mother and children who obstructed the shop escalator, the earnest young man who gave me his life story, mercifully quite short because he’s young, at the writing workshop when I asked him what sort of writing he does.

I continue my daily walk, looking at flowers, the trees, listening to the birds, saying hello to the few people who pass me or are tending their front gardens. I say hello to the dog who looks out through the gate of the house on the corner, and know that one day this too will be in my past and strangely this will connect me to the people I’ve yet to meet. One day when this is over.

Lindsay Bamfield relocated from London to Melbourne last year. She writes flash fiction and short stories and may one day even get her novel published.

 

I had children, only one of which I knew – Colin Alcock

I look down into the still water of the pond. The reflection is clear, but I take no narcistic pleasure in what I see. I see lines and wrinkles that are not ripples and the blue sky of summer behind me. And there the truth lies. If I look back the sun shines on high, but I lose sight of myself. Yet looking down, all I see is an illusion. And beneath it the unknown future. Except I know, that for me, there is no future. I am spent. I have thrown away the right to live. I have taken life away from another.

In my twenties, I was a butterfly sipping from a thousand flowers. I spread my wings and mirrored the beauty of the world, but never settled long on any bloom. Admirers only saw my brightest colours, never my dark underbelly that craved intoxication from the finest nectars. That saw me creep into the corners of the night, feared of predators who would demand their due, for what I had consumed.

In my thirties, I metamorphosised into a devious demon, plucking the strings of others’ hearts, leaving behind a trail of tears, twisting and turning my way through countless loves that I never loved and gathering their gifts, their coin, to feed my taste for luxury.

My forties came and my game had run. Bankrupt of soul; jobless; taking the handouts of the poor; theft and cunning carrying me in a downward spiral. A sycamore seed whirling at the wind’s pleasure. Until I met her. The real butterfly, who was as beautiful and generous inside as the myriad glints she displayed to my eyes. She made me believe what I could be.

I had children, none of which I knew, left behind in the darker days. And now another, on whom I lavished a love equal to my butterfly and through my fifties I watched him grow and sparkle in new sunlight. Until he emerged from the chrysalis of early teens with traits that I can only call mine. The same dark underbelly to the bright aura of his personality. His gift to attract beauty to his side, to take only the pleasure and live off the nectar of society. Never giving back.

I didn’t need a mirror to see myself. My face creased with worry, with horror and with regret at what I had spawned. He took no heed of my story; he had an even meaner streak and I watched him destroy lives, leaving his own trail of misery, until I could take no more. I lured him back with the promise of precious nectars, an offer of gold and brought him to this pond. Intoxicated. Incapable.

I’m in my sixties, now. Staring down in quiet isolation. I turn away from my mirror image, but still see myself reflected, deep below the surface, ripples now stilled, in the upturned face of my son. And, as dragonflies hover and butterflies alight beside me, I weep.

Colin Alcock is a septuagenarian storymaker, mainly of shorter works, who has published two collections and three novels. Swopped to fiction from copywriting, in retirement, and writes simply for the love of words and the images they can create.
Website: http://colinalcock.co.uk  Twitter: https://twitter.com/ColinAlcock

 

neighborhood watch – Matthew Daley

Of course I remember when I took classwork home to a friend who stayed home from school because he wasn’t going to spread himself to others how thoughtful so considerate so his mother called the school and the message went from one to the other till I was prevented from joining in the straight line walk to the cafeteria because Ms. H- said I needed to take work home to S-and someone in the office confirmed with my mother by calling my mother at work that I could make the heroic quest to deliver homework if I wouldn’t mind and this was the seriousness of a combat medic getting to the front line to give a bite-sized kick of morphine and yes I was ready for the mission because I was born for this moment because heroes aren’t born they are chosen by time in its incremental mood so I took a different route home and don’t worry Ms. H- I know the way and I did and I stepped over different sidewalk stories and avoided breaking mothers’ backs until I knocked on S- door and no he wasn’t home or wasn’t answering and the woman in the other half of the divided house opened in a bathrobe confession with her grey wasp next hair and Lipton teeth wanted to know if I wouldn’t mind being so kind to help her move her couch it wouldn’t take but a minute but I knew she had a monster inside she had to feed and I ran because my parents didn’t buy milk so how would they ever know I’d gone missing

 

Nesting – Lindsay Bennett Ford

After he got sick he said “Don’t let me end up with a phone strapped to my wrist ordering food. I want life locked in here to seem real. Not on demand, scrolling and clicking like a fool. We’ll need to talk to get through this together.” She looked at his body soft and folded on the bed, sprained by the weight of the unknown – wondering how and when he would heal.

Outside, when she dares look, the birds flap and part ways suddenly as if caught in the act of something shameful, elicit like teenagers flying apart when the door opens on them unannounced.

The weeks before lockdown she had seen things: the boy with no shoes and soaking wet socks making footprints on the concrete steps; the seagull speaking in tongues with squawks of a misremembered song from years ago. The chalk rocks crumbling in the storm of silence while the wind howled all the ears shut.

That’s why she waited two moons to tell him about the baby.

The only time she leaves him is to get supplies from the warehouse of late capitalism. They sit in silence when she returns – the scene sits burned in the collective from too many movies when the end comes and fear brays on the doors smearing blood. Pinkish like sarsaparilla. Now the aisles are almost empty and she takes the last packets of dolmio sauces and whispers an apology to the pigeons nesting in the rafters; “Don’t leave breadcrumbs, save them for the hunger in you that will never be full.”

At night when the owl hoots they talk of the future. A precious jewel in her belly – they agree on only one thing; old ways will become new again.

On the balcony in the midst of someone else’s plan she sits dumbstruck in spring sunlight listening to the blackbirds making nests, preparing to be Gods once more.

 

I Miss My Mum – Sarah Day

I miss my Mum I miss my Mum I miss my Mum. I miss how she wouldn’t say anything I wanted her to say but would surprise me with something else. Always left field. Seeing our old house again, I remembered how my first years were spent with her, just the two of us. Just my Mum and I for most of the day and how even then I was aware that she was going out of her mind and trying to find distractions from this life with me, this relentless boredom that I seemed able to produce. It is a slight feeling, not a huge one, but it has always been there this feeling that I am not good enough to keep someone company. That I was not enough for my mother, or that I wasn’t what she had wanted. That what I wanted was a secondary thing. That I needed to get out of the way for her desires, that I needed to be quiet so she could think. That I was the reason she had to do all these boring tasks. That if she didn’t have me she would be living an exciting life, full of stories and books and adventures that she had all had to give up to be a mum. That our house wasn’t a permanent thing for her but a temporary structure because she had to do this tedious task of bringing me up. That she wanted to be elsewhere, always. Always elsewhere. That each thing she had to do during the day was tedious -– washing, cleaning, cooking, but she did it anyway hoping that soon it would all be over and I would be grown up and she could move on to the next stage in her life. Watching her drink her iced coffee with my plastic periscope through the screen window. She must have said that she wanted some time to read on her own, some ‘me time’ before people said that, and I felt so strange that she was now down in our new car port with its painted concrete floor and sofa made from wooden planks my dad screwed together and a foam they covered with an old sheet stapled round it. This new room that I thought might be for all of us was being commandeered as a room for grown-ups to have reading time, alone, sipping iced coffee.

She thought it was funny that I couldn’t leave her alone for one moment that I spent so long spying on her when she was only reading. She laughed at my constant needy energy. Perhaps touched that I needed her so much. That I missed her for that half hour she decided to take for herself.

Now I miss her all the time and always will as she has taken all the time for herself. She has gone to the carport of me time forever. Where the periscope can’t see her. Where even if I crouch down beneath the lip of the windowsill there are no mirrors that can reflect off each other to get the right angle for that. She is gone gone. Forever gone. And now I’m left feeling just not enough still for the memories. Just not enough of a person to hold down a life. Wondering if I was supposed to be brought here at all, and feeling slightly apologetic for taking up space. Reminding myself over and over again that this life is mine to lead. That I have every right to it.

 

Magnolia Breath – Karin Hedetniemi

There were deer tracks in our wet cement this morning. “They like to nibble on your magnolia blossoms,” our neighbour said as she walked past. I’m never awake so late at night, but I smiled at the thought of a buck, standing under moonlight, reaching up into the branches, and chewing the thick, soft petals. I took a picture of the carved imprints with my phone, so I could refer back to this moment again and again, whenever I need assurance the world is imperfect and kind of whimsical and never lets you forget this in small offerings you don’t expect and interactions you can’t control: squirrels that nest in your grandmother’s hammock and wasps that build a nest under the eaves, just outside your reach when standing on the tallest rung on your ladder and now this deer, who will probably be back again tonight when the cement is dry, but there won’t be any evidence it was here.

I actually saw a deer later this morning in the cemetery, standing motionless between the headstones, sunlight streaming from behind carving him into a cement statue. Different from an angel or an obelisk or a simple slab. More majestic, fitting of the landscape. Standing on someone’s grave, sinking imprints in the dewy grass and cool earth. Standing over someone named Eunice or Alfred or Elsworth or Adelia May. Someone who once lived in a house like mine, or maybe even mine, who surveyed the garden every morning to consider the growing wasp nest, or the branch sheared off in last night’s wind storm, or to cradle a tiny, cracked robin’s egg. Someone who now waits every night for tall trees to drop pine cones on their bed, and small creatures to nibble on their sheet of wildflowers. He was standing there, blink, now he’s slightly to the left, blink, further, blink, now I can’t find him.

I scanned the cemetery, but the deer was gone, camouflaged by hazy sunlight and shadows. The pup never even noticed, never picked up the scent, and trust me she smells everything, including the mere thought you might reach into your pocket to give her a treat. Suddenly her wide eyes are locked on you, and she’s commanding you with her doggie ESP “give me the treat” before you even involuntarily twitch a muscle in your arm or make a conscious decision, whether it will be here or after we round the next corner. She just knows, she’s onto you, she can already smell that savoury morsel in the future, now making its way to her mouth across time and space. She knows five minutes before someone’s coming home or when someone’s leaving, even before the suitcase is pulled from the closet. But she didn’t sense the deer at all. She didn’t bark last night when the trespasser stepped across our wet cement and stretched its neck and buried its nose in the sweet fragrant blooms of the hundred-year-old tree, making its moonlit offerings to ghost deer.

Karin Hedetniemi lives by the sea in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada where she photographs and writes about nature, inspiration, and being human. Her work has appeared in Sky Island Journal, Pomme Journal, Barren Magazine, Door is A Jar, and elsewhere. She publishes essays, photos, and stories on her website: http://www.agoldenhour.com

 

For Zip – Wendy Chrikos

What it means to disappear. What it means to die. What it means to roll around in the sheets and wake up gasping for fresh air, afraid that you’ve been choked, somehow, in your sleep. I don’t know what any of it means, frankly, or if our words and good thoughts and collective prayers even mattered — actually, of course they didn’t matter — but it feels especially harsh that the very last picture of you is you standing in the middle of an empty West Village intersection, donning a mask. Documenting your life ’til the end.

Save the memory, you’d say.

In the caption you wrote that you were off to the bank, needed cash, still had to buy groceries, y’know, but it was fine, you were fine, everything was fine fine fine fine fine fine fine…

What it means to show up. What it means to share. What it means to grab at the day with both hands so that it has been squeezed of its life by dusk, tucking each and every blessing inside the wrinkles of your pillowcase so that one morning, years later, you can see a familiar face on the 6 train and say, Oh, wasn’t it your birthday last week?

How did you know? How did you always know? I am never a person someone remembers, not ever. So how did you?

What it means to matter. What it means to make others matter. What it means to remember, to be the keeper of all of the memories, to understand what remembrance means. What it means that by doing what you love and loving what you do, you became our touchstone, the binding of our book, the connective tissue pulling us back to the best years of our lives.

Oh, God, I am sick and I am so, so sad.

Because what does it mean for us? To have our nucleus gone? What will it mean for us to spin out from you, unconnected? Who are we without you?

What it means to breathe. What it means to touch. What it means to be alive from the touch and the breath and to die from the breathing and the touch and…and can you regret a touch? Would you? Would you say it was worth it? That held hand, that hug, that impassioned kiss or familiar peck on the cheek, or, hell, that shared cup of coffee, whatever it was. Was it worth it, still, now that we gather on your page of memories, sending our hopes and prayers and declarations of adoration, believing somehow that it will reach out through this space and find its way to you so that you know what you mean — what you meant. What did it mean? What does any of it mean? And would you do it all over again, again and again and again and say yes, it did, it did matter, that you regretted none of it, not a single solitary breath of it?

Cabinet Of Heed SOC Drawer 31.07

Stream Of Consciousness Drawer Five

The Elevator Scene – Catherine Thoms

The first thing I’m doing when this is all over is getting a haircut, I text my mother. My ends are frayed and splitting just like my mind is frayed and splitting and it’s all I can do to just sit here and focus on my fingers moving across my keyboard without wanting to stop and pick at my hair. My mother says she feels like we’re living the elevator scene from You’ve Got Mail, the one where they’re all talking about the nice things they’ll do for the people they love once the elevator gets unstuck and Tom Hanks realizes his girlfriend, Parker Posey, is kind of a terrible person. Except in this version of the movie, the one we’re living, Tom Hanks is the one with the virus, so maybe Meg Ryan leaves daisies on his doorstep because she takes social distancing very seriously but either way, The Shop Around the Corner closes and I’m still out of a job.

Normally I’d be at work today at the New York City bookstore that inspired that movie, slipping my page-a-day crossword into my back pocket to complete while standing at the register, bothering my co-workers for answers. Now, I’m all alone and thinking about all the things I never thought I’d miss about work, like the old woman who calls every week like clockwork, the one who nobody wants to talk to because you have to speak slowly and loudly and repeat yourself, and because she always asks if we have anything new that fits her very specific interests (beautiful ballet books, girls in other countries, girls with disabilities), and even though we all know her interests by heart, there never seems to be anything for her. I think nobody wants to talk to her because we all feel guilty, for not trying harder, for dreading having to talk to her in the first place. Every week she buys at least one book and gives her credit card and shipping information over the phone. I looked up her address once and saw that it’s a senior living community right off the expressway. The website made it sound nice enough, and at the time I thought to myself that it must be nice to get old and live with all your friends again like college, with activities scheduled every day, and to be able to simply call your favorite store every week and have someone pick out a book for you and pop it in the mail. Now I think of her and I hope she isn’t afraid, I hope someone still answers the phone when she calls, I hope she feels safe and isn’t too terribly alone. Today I thought about asking her—if I ever get to go back to work and if she is still alive (a morbid thought)—why she always calls, why this store, why those interests. Funny, the idea that I could deal in stories all day and never once think to ask about hers.

Catherine Thoms is a Brooklyn-based writer and bookseller. Her work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Honey & Lime, Nightingale & Sparrow, and Oh Reader literary magazines. She retweets Jane Austen memes @c_thoms137.

 

Untitled – Elizabeth Moura

Mama doesn’t like me writing; but today she gave me a paper and pencil and told me to go ahead. I was very surprised, because she usually takes paper and pencils away from me, and locks them in her bedroom.

I wanted to thank Mama, but didn’t have a chance. She was coughing worse; she turned away from me, coughing like I had done last year, when I got sick at Christmas. Her mouth was covered with one of the thin old dishcloths she was always going to throw away.

What shall I write, Mama, I said, turning my head. She had already left the room; only the cat was there, washing itself again, and staring after my mother. Mama shut the bathroom door, still coughing. She turned on the water in the sink, real hard. It must have been splashing all over, I thought.

I lay down on the floor with my pencil and started to write on the single sheet of paper she had given me.

Here is my story:

I put on my best baseball hat, the one mama bought me, and hurried outside to play with the other kids. I couldn’t find any kids, so I spent time hitting a ball, and watching it roll to a stop far away in the brown field. You’d hardly know it was spring; the grass hadn’t turned green yet; one droopy little dandelion got squashed by the baseball. I spent my day hitting the ball around the field, figuring other kids would show up.

I stopped playing to watch two big black birds pecking at something. They were very busy doing this. I walked as close as I could; they were pecking at a dead squirrel. It was disgusting. The eyes had already been pecked out; one of the ears was half gone. They weren’t interested in me, they just kept pecking. I became bored by them and walked away.

There were no kids coming, so I decided to go home.

I forgot to wear socks, so my shoes flapped as I walked along the street to our house.

I was glad to be heading home; playing alone is no fun after a while. I opened the door and my mother had made my favorite food, macaroni and cheese. I sat down at the table, and when mama turned her back I let my cat eat some off my fingers. I still had my cat to play with. This is good.

I put down my pencil, and ran around the house, looking for Mama.

I finished the story! It’s real good! I said.

She must still be in the bathroom, I thought; the water had stopped running. I opened the door. Mama was lying on her back on the floor; her eyes were open and staring at the ceiling, but she wasn’t coughing anymore. She was very quiet.

This is a perfect ending for my story, I thought; I ran to find another piece of paper and my pencil.

 

Stamens I have kissed (or, a prayer for our pestilence) – Faye Brinsmead

Ooievaar is Dutch for stork, and a daffodil grows in my ear.

Saying it drives the drear away. Ooievaar, ooievaar, ooievaamen. Hail daffodil, frill of grace, the auricle is with you. If I ask for a lend of my ear, if I beg – ooievaar! – do, please, refuse. I need your brown boot root, I need you bulbous, bibulous. Bubbles, yes; bibles, no. Blessed be the fruit of my fear.

Ooievaar is stork for daffodil, and an ear grows in my Dutch. Finest process powder fights cocoavirus. Droste, Valrhona, E. Guittard Cocoa Rouge in wearable keepsake tin. My daffodil’s corona masks disaster. Ooievaar, poor cochlea. I knew them, Eustachian. Fellows of infinite pollen dust. Here stung those stamens I have kissed… Have kissed… Young Lochinvar stoops in his stirrup. To kiss… Ooievaar.

Ooievaar is daffodil for ear, and a Dutch grows in my stork. They traded loonly in the cloud. That banks on higher cryptoshares. The daffodil craze made the stalk market crash. Hashtags, hashtags, we all fall. My dame has a lame tame daffodil. Daffodo, daffodon’t. Count to happy birthday while you hanitise your sands. Covert short cuts can kill. A sneeze on the breeze is worth 46,000 in ICU. I see you. My anvil restyles your stigma. Your corolla come, your calyx be done, at home as it is in Hubei. For Wuhan and Wuhan. Ooievaamen.

Ooievaar is ear for Dutch. Will a stork grow in my daffodil? I sprinkle sugar on the soil, pray for red-beaked innocence. From time-before marshes, Neanderthal caves of care. I imagine the stork in its yellow frou-frou nest. Wombing a Trojan cargo of reborn souls. A pandemic of peace, itching to infect. We’ll exclench fists, quiver fingers outwards, unthread isolation’s web. We’ll wash suspicion from behind our eyes. Leave three-ply pinatas on strangers’ doorsteps. Cosset random grandmothers with mugs of cocoakindness.

I imagine stamens I will kiss to kingdom come.

Ooievaar, ooievaar, ooievaamen.

Faye Brinsmead lives in Canberra, Australia. Her work appears or is forthcoming in The Cabinet of Heed, X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, MoonPark Review, The Disappointed Housewife and other places. She sporadically tweets microfictions @ContesdeFaye.

 

The stars have fallen – Cath Barton

The stars have fallen from the heavens and landed in beds of celandines, blanketing our fields. I would hold them up to your chin like so many buttercups, asking if you like butter and you would bat me away in annoyance because the time for that is gone, or so you fear. And in any case I now have no right. My right is only to follow the line that undulates in front of me and takes me on the path I did not know I had to travel, so close to the edge I did not ever guess was there. Was I blind, or merely unthinking, or downright selfish? Oh, we have all been selfish, we have all thought we could have… No, stop. Now there is just this, now, here, and the swish of the traffic on the road, cars coming and going who knows where or why.

There is, nonetheless, warmth in the sun, which is a kind of miracle after all that rain, the unremitting rain. It was so on the day I learned to make the bread that will sustain us through this. It is an obsession now. I wake and think of how I will mix the flours, lift and fold the dough, stage by slow stage, until the heat, slash and bake. Do stars have these obsessions? Dead? How can they be dead, shining as they do? Only a reflection? The hills would return my laughter. They are impassive, have been there longer than you or I can comprehend. Now the butterfly flits and a humble bee appears outside my window, disorientated, this is not his place, he seeks greenery not asphalt, and flies on, the only way he knows.

Nature is all of this, stars, celandines, rocks, tiny living things, precariously strong. There is, in her domain, neither good nor evil, merely a striving for balance. That’s the trick, to arrive at the point of equilibrium and hold it. It see-saws, the pendulum movement chaotic and unpredictable, even by the largest of the cleverest. Hold steady, fall, regain your composure for a moment and fall again. We must not seek gain. Shall I say it once more so that one of us may understand it? No gain. Look into my eyes, see the reflection of the light from the celandines, feel my breath on your cheek and know that it is benign. This is the impulse, to carry on, to feel the warmth on our foreheads and hear the sparows in the lilac which will blossom in mere days, open from tight buds to an unleashing of scent.

It is merely this that is required of us, to wait for the time of the lilacs, to breathe them in and to let them go, knowing that the pendulum will swing back. Holding on is useless, we will fall. So sit, listen to the birdsong close, the hum of the traffic on the road beyond and, further off, the quiet river and the flow and the continuity of everything.

Cath Barton’s second novella, In the Sweep of the Bay, will be published in September 2020 by Louise Walters Books

 

March is Now Officially 300 Days Long – Sheila Scott

Go for it, brain. The next five hundred words are all yours. Actually only four hundred and eighty six now…seventy eight. Stop counting.

It’s now half past midnight though we all know it’s really only half eleven. I’ve never understood this insistence in putting the clocks forward and back so, for one week either end of summer, our Pineal Gland can sit smugly in the midbrain going ‘Well I’m not seeing any extra daylight here, how about you?’ And Pineal Gland would be absolutely right. All we’re doing is shifting the window ever so slightly while nature rolls its eyes at us like teenagers – mother of f- something just went ‘BONG!’ in the ceiling. Adrenal Glands’ turn to take centre stage and send a muscle-jangling squirt of homebrew amphetamine into the system.

That’ll help me sleep.

It’ll be the house settling no doubt. That’s what people say when big structures make disquieting creaks and groans: the house settling. Should it have hung in there and waited for something better instead? Is it unhappy with us? We’ve treated it well, bought it nice things like windows and doors, hell, even walls in places. To be honest, we’ve practically rebuilt it to the point where I feel we paid a really big sum of money for a patch of ground and the cube of air hovering above it. We even plastered the front room ceiling twice after the first effort applied by Wyatt Earp and Billy the Kid fell on our heads before twenty-four hours were out. Perhaps it liked its old seventies vibe with the geometric carpets, spirograph-on-acid wallpaper and flesh-grating Artex.

The big, bricky ingrate.

I do not see why I can’t have a portal. I think it’s a perfectly reasonable request in 2020.

Wy do people like flying dreams. What on (or, in fact, off) earth is so wonderful about flapping around completely detached from anything of substance?

Do fish have walking dreams?

The fox left a turd right in the middle of the back grass last night and I can’t help but feel it was making a statement.

If the CIA and Russian Secret Police are really listening to us through the smart telly, all they’ll get from our house is sarcasm and farts.

We found a summer replacement for Fireplace on YouTube today. In the dark, sodden winter nights, Fireplace really tied the room together, man, and with our first energy inefficient smart telly it actually warmed it too. It was like having an ornamental panel-heater with a light entertainment function. Now we have an ice-cold Euro-thingummy rated upgrade. For the coming months which we shall optimistically call summer, we’ve got Tropical Beach, replete with lapping waves. They must loop these things perfectly because, from the palm tree shadows, the sun stayed in the exact same spot this afternoon for eight solid hours. So did we.

How can it be a full moon when the Apollo astronauts fecked off with bagfuls of it?

No more ceiling-bongs. For now.

 

gently rocks the chair – Christine A Brooks

When my mother was dying and the end was so near we could hear it creep around the house, creaking floorboards and gently rocking the chair, I made a promise to her. I vowed that, no matter what, she would not die alone.

No matter what.

My family and I stayed with her around the clock, at her hospice bed in their dining room, monitoring each inhale waiting for the corresponding exhale. Each rise of the floral bed sheet seemed to stay longer, resting, before finally releasing and falling to her chest. On the third night of our vigil, I stayed alone with her trying somehow to take in her last last’s and let her know I there and she was not alone.

When Death came, He did not thunder in snatching her away from me with brutal force. He did not cause her pain or fear as He came to be with us that night. She lay in a deep peaceful sleep with a look of acceptance, not defeat, on her waxen face and breathed easily, free from pain. Death joined us that cold night in February with grace and peace and what can best be described as respect. We sat for a moment with Him before He absorbed her last exhale and just like that —I was alone.

If Death should come for you, tell Him I said hello. We’re old friends. He’ll take good care of you.

Christine Brooks is a graduate of Western New England University with her B.A. in Literature and her M.F.A. from Bay Path University in Creative Nonfiction. Her recent poems are in The Cabinet of Heed, Door Is a Jar, Cathexis Northwest Press and Pub House Books. Her book of poems, The Cigar Box Poems, was released in February 2020.

 

Communion – Glad Doggett

Preparing and sharing food is one of the ways I express myself creatively. But it’s more than that: It’s a way to communicate love. Basically, cooking is my love language.

It started when I was a young, single mother of two small children. I would pore over cookbooks and watch chefs and cooks on PBS. This was before the days of HGTV on 24×7. Back then, I had to seek out the cooking mentors. There was no Gordon Ramsey or Giada on TV at Prime Time.

I watched, I burned, I learned. Over time, I figured out how to combine ingredients to make a dish that tasted good. I knew almost intuitively how to get around in the spice drawer. I never measured or worried. And in spite of being raised in a family that never
ventured beyond salt and pepper, I was not intimidated by what I thought were “exotic spices” like cumin or ginger. I added this and that, throwing caution to the wind. In the end, my reckless abandon became dinner. And most of the time it tasted good.

My kids are grown now and I cook primarily for my husband and myself. But this Coronavirus lockdown has changed everything. I cook as an escape from the uncertainty of the outside world. When I make soups, bake cookies, mix up casseroles, a switch flips and the worries fall away. These culinary distractions come easily. No thought or recipe required. No chemistry involved.

The one thing I’ve never tried until now is to bake bread.

The real test for a home cook is to transform flour, salt, yeast and water into bread. In bread, you can’t hide your mistakes. There are rules to the measurements and bake times. Bread keeps no secrets: too much salt, it’s inedible; too little, it’s bland; not
enough yeast, it’s flat; short-change the rise time, it’s a brick.

But oh, bread is worth the effort. Fresh homemade bread is manna. It nourishes the body, pleases the palate, and delights the senses. Everybody loves warm bread. A buttery slice of bread briefly heightens your senses, and stops your wandering mind. You forget to worry. You just taste joy.

It’s no small thing to create sustenance from a list of ingredients. Baking bread is a form of magic. Wet dough comes to life, rising and breathing. Add heat and the conjuring is complete.

Baking bread is a form of meditation. It requires you to get quiet, slow down and purposefully use your hands to knead, measure and mix the components. You stop to read the recipe, focus on the instructions, ensure the measurements and the oven temperature are right. It requires present-moment attention to wait and watch the crumb become browned and crisp. Time slows; it’s just you and the bread.

Offering the finished loaf to another person is communion. It’s a way to say, “I offer you my time, attention, and love through this nourishment.”

 

Revels with Nic – Will Fihn Ramsay

Two weeks ago, an actor friend of mine died.

Due to the pandemic, there was no funeral.

There was, however, a brief window to say goodbye. The hour after I found out, I was in a suit, ironed shirt, and at the Chapel.

I hadn’t realised, but here they do open-casket.

So I “saw” him. Made it easier to say goodbye. Talked for ages. Cried.

At the end, gave him a rendition of Revels (Tempest).

Which was so utterly apt. I had learnt it the week prior and had had trouble linking it to death.

Then I walked out. He was a dearheart.

It was a beautiful glimmer of time. Little things. I had chosen black and silver cufflinks. Had combed my hair. (My hair is unmanageable). He lay motionless, peaceful, wearing a tux with a rainbow bowtie.

I remembered our time together and how kind and supportive he was.

And twice when I spoke to him, I am convinced, absolutely convinced, he smiled, and that whilst I delivered Revels he opened an eye and looked at me. And he was still supporting and encouraging me in death. As a fellow actor.

Then the speech just made ever more sense.

And I thought about the bizarre synchronicity of it all. How I’d only learnt it the previous week as an exercise, and struggled, and now everything clicked.

Something important about our friendship for you to know:

We once had a conversation in the car driving back from some terrible am-dram show. We were talking about smoking. We both said we used to. I mentioned how I sometimes miss it and still think it’s “cool.” He looked slightly, ever so slightly, reproachful, said nothing.

It was later someone told me he had only one lung. By then we were already friends. As I believe quite strongly in agency, and don’t like hearing people’s news from others. I cut that conversation and walked away. It was for Nic to relay to me if he wanted and he hadn’t.

And I knew he was ill from what he’d said to me, and that was enough.

And this was germane to how we spoke.

Incidents and happenings and retellings prima facie formed the basis of our friendship. Perhaps it can only be that way with someone who is daily made aware of their mortality.

I don’t know whether he had been terminally ill, nor how he died. I hope it was that final and wonderful natural progression of a life-well-lived and a body worn-out and I was peaceful.

I am honoured to have shared some time and some thoughts with him, and I’ll miss him.

Saying ‘goodbye’ was genuinely lovely, and melancholic, but only in that cathartic way that humans need, and hold a perverse longing for that we never voice.

These layered and muddled thoughts, I hope, explain why the speech was so utterly intrinsic in bidding him adieu as his little life was rounded with a sleep.

Will Fihn Ramsay sometimes acts, sometimes writes. Skis often. Lives in Geneva, Switzerland. You can check out some of his other stuff at http://www.fihnramsay.com

 

Blossom – Sherri Turner

There is a tree in next-door’s garden, cherry I think, hooching with blossom and purring like a well oiled Ducati. The bees are feeding, oblivious to the danger that they are in, that they are a threatened species. Such lovely oblivion. We think we want to know things, we Google and we Wikipedia and we ask Siri – ‘What was he in?’ ‘What’s the population of China?’ ‘When do the clocks go back (or forward) and which is which?’ Information overload. Stuff we need to know to live our busy-as-a-bee lives and pretend that we are enjoying ourselves. There are things I’d rather not know, things we would be better off not knowing, so that we could just be happy, enjoy the passage of time, feed on the blossoms. But we do know, though nobody likes to talk about it. Or they didn’t use to. Some days there is talk of nothing else. Yet the tulips are flowering as though nothing is happening, as though they can’t hear or smell the fear and the sadness. Thank goodness for that. And please, nobody tell the bees.

 

A Little Bit of Rain – Michelle Noonan

Midday on a warm Sunday, I’m out for a run. The streets are quiet, empty of both cars and people. A bright orange sign warns that the park is closed until further notice. I think of that app I used to use while running, the one with the story in which you run from zombies in your search for survival supplies. Wouldn’t that be so eerie right now? I’m tempted to try it, for a moment, before deciding maybe that would be a little too spooky even for this horror movie lover. The sky is gray and somber, like everyone’s recent mood. But as I turn the corner, I discover brightly colored words chalked across the sidewalk. Messages left by neighborhood children: be happy, love always, read books, keep learning, learn love. One has drawn a rainbow, with a reminder that you can’t have a rainbow without a little bit of rain. I stop to take a picture of each one, grateful to be smiling. I start to notice other bright bits of the day: birds singing, trees budding, a few flowers beginning to bloom. Amidst all the news of illness and death and looming catastrophe, the world is coming to life as it always does in the spring. Our children remain hopeful. I think of the parents or teachers or whoever sparked the idea of leaving messages on the sidewalk, and am reminded that this is how we care for our children. We give them hope. We remind them of the bright spots and silver linings. I think about how opening my eyes to let in the light, to notice beauty, has kept me going since I tried to take my own life last year. How long I struggled, clawing my way through each day for the sake of my own children, with determination but without true desire to live. And now here I am, running on this sidewalk, shedding worry with every step and hearing, for the first time in a long time, the voice inside myself that wants to live. I want to keep going, keep moving, keep living, keep running. I want to see where life will lead me now, to see what will happen, who I’ll become, who my children will become. And I’m scared, not of becoming ill or of dying, but of not living, of missing out, of not being able to experience what the future holds, however grim or joyful or difficult or exhilarating it might be. I want to be. I want to become. I want to learn. I want to always be this free, the way I am right now, running through the cool spring air, my body moving as if this is what I were born for, heart pumping, lungs working, eyes seeing, ears hearing. The earth beneath me is solid, the sky above boundless with promise and wonder. The birds are singing. Each step I take feels like a wish, like a mantra, like a promise to my children: alive, alive, alive.

Cabinet Of Heed SOC Drawer 31.06

Stream Of Consciousness Drawer Four

The Butter Stone – Mary-Jane Holmes

Outside my window, a palimpsest of snow, moles home-school their children in the art of house-building, arctic terns drone the moors and one unidentified wader sits on a capstone scoping for worms. Not a common snipe or oyster catcher – my usual neighbours. Who was it that recently twittered ‘our neighbours have been cancelled?’ Bigger, chevron-winged, cryptic brown and black. I’ve looked it up – dismissed dunlin, dotterel, sanderling, redshank … a woodcock? Perhaps – but in a land devoid of trees? Perhaps in a world gone mad so in this ménage rustique of sociability and solitude, the imagination soars for something more exotic – a long-billed dowitcher from Siberia, a rostratula from Africa, a tutuwiki from New Zealand. Not that last one – it needs to be extant. That word has so much more heft now doesn’t it? I’ll plump for the dowitcher. My father (no longer extant) worked in a brewery in Novosibirsk. I wonder if he ever saw a dowitcher feeding on the banks of the Ob? All I know is he flew there every month with an airline called Crash – but to fly, the longing for it, to be lifted out of all this, to be like the clocks, to spring forward into the dog days of a summer, salad days unvaried accept by accident. Salad – I’ve ordered Cut-and-Come-Again lettuce, and early seed potatoes that I’ll chit and bury in the soil left by the mole’s excavations, like my grandparents did ‘earthing up’ their Casablancas and Maris Pipers in another time of crisis and now the sun still seemingly in its winter quarantine, marches its slow gait across the horizon, appearing suddenly, luminous as fever, above Goldsborough’s cap of gritstone, over the Herdwicks and Swaledale flocks self-shielding from the three day north-easterly the Met office had predicted. Oh, to be able to forecast, to grasp some reassurance from our modern-day oracles! What would Pythia make of our modelling and algorithms? If we burn laurel and barley, pour cold water over a goat to see if it shudders, would Apollo tell us what is to be done, or perhaps his son Asclepius, god of medicine or perhaps his goddess granddaughters? Hygeia, Panacea. Goddess. God. Godwit, that is what that bird is sitting on the wall, once thought of as ‘the daintiest dish in England’, its eggs a trophy for any Victorian collector’s display cabinet. The eggs I will go and collect are from a more sustainable source – pure breed Marans – left by the farmer down the road, in a small metal tin, each dozen with a happy face felt-penned on its box and I will leave my money sprayed with a 3:1 mixture of surgical spirit and water in return, like the villagers once did four miles from here in the Great Plague of 1636, where they picked up fresh wares and left their money in vinegar in the single cup mark set in the weathered rock, that came to be known as the Butter Stone.

Elephants in Silhouette – Mark Sadler

Anton came knocking on me door, absolutely over the moon, on account of a herd of elephants, that roam in the vicinity, having been reported as gone down with a pachyderm variant of polio, meaning they all had to be culled.

“We going to hunt thee mighty mammoth,” he says/sings. Already he’s unlocking me gun safe with the key to his safe. That lazy sod, Fisher, wot makes them, gave them all identical locks. It opens out like a drinks cabinet. Can’t fault the craftsmanship. That’s all done in Thailand; the inlay and the internal compartments. All Fisher does is ship the pieces over and add a few finishing touches.

Okay, so the hunting licences will cost more than you’ll get back from selling off the parts of the animal, even when you factor-in the traditional-medicine barrel-scrapers wot will will buy anything. You do it for the sport, don’t you? When was the last time anyone got to legally hunt elephants in this neck of the woods?

Anton fired up the sat-tracker. We piled into his truck. Well, when we got there, mate, it was all sick animals far as the eye could see; staggering about; some already toppled over, and the hyenas gearing up for a big feed. It weren’t no hunt.

Cropsie was there with his band of men, wot been paid by the National Park Service to carry out the cull.

He says: “You can take first swing of the bat if you want, mate.”

Then, cos he can’t pass on an opportunity to get a dig in, he looks me long-bore up and down an’ he says: “Nice little poaching toy you got there,” knowing full well I ain’t poached more than a hen’s egg in me life.

Jason looks at me an’ says: ‘I can’t do it mate.’

We drive back to the parks office. Even get a full-refund on our hunting licences. Next day, the herd comes rumbling past in a convoy of covered lorries.

I moved to Amsterdam the same year. Things was getting too hot where I was. The Chapples got butchered on their ranch. I mean literally butchered. I could see the way the wind was blowin’, bringin’ the fire to me door.

I was telling the story about the elephants to this girl here the other night. She’s an animal rights type. Doesn’t like hunting. Hates big game hunters, even when I told her the licence money goes into conservation. She screams at me for five minutes. When she runs out of words, she pitches me own drink in me face! The worst people are the ones wot are so privileged, they don’t see their feet treading down on the backs of others.

Me and Jason was proper pissed that night, staggering along Geldersekade, like a pair of elephants with polio trying not to tumble into the canal: The silhouettes of men who should have fallen down a long time ago, holding each other up by accident.

The Pedestrian Underpass – Sebnem Sanders

Mama told me not to go into the pedestrian underpass. She said bad people live there, in the darkness. On the way to Mama’s kiosk, it was hot at noon, and I forgot to wear my hat. One could cook eggs on the pavement. Sweating and thirsty, I sipped water from the bottle I filled from the tap at home, while covering my head with one hand to protect myself from the fierce sunrays.

Then I saw a girl. Older, taller than me, heading down the steps of the underpass. Her sundress was similar to mine, even its belt tied with a bow at the back. Her haircut exactly the same. Perhaps she also had it styled at Joe’s on the high-street. Sunbeams followed her down the labyrinth of steps. I felt safe and tailed her into the fading light.

At the very bottom, darkness swallowed her. Goose pimples on my arms, I thought I’d lost her. Once my eyes adjusted to the inky dark, I spotted her walking down the bleak corridor. I heard noises. Guttural and harsh, they terrified me. I didn’t see who or what pulled her aside. It happened too quickly, but I ran forward, saw them tearing off her clothes. They did bad things to her, and I couldn’t move. I couldn’t move.

At last, I screamed at the top of my voice. They came after me. I flung the glass bottle at them, and when they grabbed me, I bit their arms with my sharp teeth. Somehow, I freed myself from the demons of darkness, and ran down the tunnel like rabid in flight, and up the steps towards the street. Breathless, I dashed into the daylight and found a policeman who listened to me. He followed me to the underpass and said, “Wait here. I’ll be back!”

I waited and waited, and saw the young girl being carried outside on a stretcher. Thank you, God, for hearing me. She’s alive, Mama. I saved her life.

Sorry, Mama, for not listening to your advice. I’ll never ever use the underpass again. I love helping you sort out the glossy magazines on the news-stand. I learn so much from reading the bold titles and looking at the pictures. Please, don’t be angry with me, Mama. I’ll be careful next time.

My head is bursting. I’m tired now. I need a story from you before I go to sleep. I love it when you read to me and tell me tales from foreign lands. Please, don’t cry, Mama. I’m here, lying next to you. Can’t you see me? Read to me, Mama, so I can rest in peace.

Sebnem E. Sanders lives on the Southern Aegean coast of Turkey and writes short and longer works of fiction. Her stories have appeared in various online literary magazines, and two anthologies. Her collection of short and flash fiction stories, Ripples on the Pond , was published in December 2017. More information can be found at her website where she shares some of her work: https://sebnemsanders.wordpress.com/

Wrinkles – K E Warner

We had a connection, my Gran and me. I loved her quirky eccentricities, she loved my malleable adulation. Gran was an eclectic product of the Irish potato famine, the Great War, and the roaring twenties, me a spin-off of TV dinners, the assassination of JFK, and free love. One would wonder what we could have in common.

‘Kim’, she would state – Gran never simply said anything, she stated everything – ‘Kim, you need to use eye cream. Every day. Start now. I know you’re only eleven, but this is important.’ My Gran had the most beautiful skin. Soft as butter, white as cream, and as plump as a cow’s full udder. I must have inherited my skin from my father’s side. But I tried eye cream. Well, not real eye cream, I used petroleum jelly and woke up most mornings with a film over my eyeballs. But damned if I was going to get wrinkles around the eyes. I was going to have skin like my Gran’s.

One day I arrived at her farm for a visit, hopped out of the car and before I was within ten feet of her she gripped her throat, rolled her eyes, and appeared to be in the throes of death. ‘Don’t come any closer. You were smoking. That is a disgusting filthy habit. And it will give you wrinkles.’ My fourteen-year-old self knew there could be only one response. ‘No gran, not me, my friends were smoking. It’s just on my clothes.’ Yeah. I stopped smoking that day. Not sure if it was the threat of wrinkles or the disappointment in her voice.

She had the voice of an angel too. She sang with the Sweet Adelines in Winnipeg. I used to love going to watch her sing. When I was sixteen they were going to perform at the Winnipeg Concert Hall. For Winnipeg – that was huge! I was supposed to be part of a group of cheerleaders – all granddaughters of the ladies in the choir. We rehearsed for weeks. I never missed a practice – even though my part was limited to approximately six seconds. She must have warned me a million times to ‘Never miss a rehearsal and never, ever be late – it’s disrespectful of everyone’s time when you are late.’ When it was finally time for the big show, I hung around the dressing room waiting for her, asking everyone else if they had seen her. When she finally arrived, I heard her before I saw her. Her friends must have told her that I was going to rub it in that she was late. ‘Well, she wouldn’t if she knew her great-grandmother had died and I was getting her off to the morgue.’ I slumped on the floor and cried. She found me in tears and stated, ‘Don’t cry. You’ll get wrinkles.’ To this day, I am rarely late for anything.

Gran has been gone for many years now. I still feel connected. Most often it is when I look in the mirror and see the wrinkles.

Isolation – Michelle Walshe

It’s not so different to the way it was before. The front door kept them out, those enemies of peace and solitude – people, chatter, noise. The air inside the house embraced me, settled quietly on my skin. Soothing.

Suddenly, there is a terror is in the air. The front door is sullen, forbidding. People, chatter, noise are ghosts. The air inside the house scratches my skin. Panic comes in waves at the thought of the particles of pestilence bombarding each other all around me.

Do they bounce off each other like dust motes in the sunlight and scatter far and wide or do they congregate, their coronas entwining, binding them together, making them stronger, ready for invasion? They resemble falling snowflakes but is each one a different shape like a true snowflake or are they uniform, like soldiers, identikit, prepared for maximum impact?

Do those spikes help to burrow into the soft, spongy lung tissue of their new-found hosts? Do they squirt poison or are they suction points for deeper attachment? Do they assist the march through the airways and arteries, spinning their continuous cartwheels, silent and invisible until you are unable to breathe? This scares me most. The reports of a vice like grip on the chest, a burning feeling in the lungs.

Victim’s bodies feel like they are on fire inside. Outside, Rome burns. And the world. Like the ancient landmarks that rose to the surface of the earth during the heatwave of two years ago, old truths rise from history. Mistakes are doomed to repetition. Society is fragile. Economy even more so. Crisis reveals the best and worst of humanity. Fear spreads faster than fire. Behavioural scientists have case studies in real time. Herds are interesting. Especially when they don’t have immunity. Planet Earth can recover, if only we took the same measures to save her as we are taking to save ourselves.

It seems much can be accomplished in an emergency that is impossible in real life. Fakery abounds. The spin has never felt so spun. Our house of cards is tumbling, card by card. Every day as a another one flutters away a new fissure in the land is exposed. The way we treat the people who sew the fabric of our society stands in stark comparison to the way we treat the ones who consume it.

Speechwriters look to the past for inspiration, spouting lines ripped from previous orators. The current leaders trot them out in solemn tones with grave expressions in minimalist surroundings. They say we are at war. We are. At war with ourselves. With our bodies. With our habits. With our preconceptions and our need for distraction.

For it is distraction that has led us here. Too distracted to be hygienic, too distracted to notice the elderly, the supermarket workers, the health care professionals, too self-absorbed to notice the wilful destruction of the planet.

Will this bring us back to simplicity, to nature, to family, to better communication? We’re being told to stay at home, but do we really understand where that is?

Michelle Walshe is a writer from Dublin. She began writing in 2017 and has been published in The Irish Times, The Irish Examiner, The Telegraph, The Sunday Independent, The Gloss and Woman’s Way magazines and in an anthology, Teachers Who Write. She has won bursaries, residencies and writing prizes, most recently the Iceland Writers Retreat.

Thoughts On Pandem(ic)onium – Sara Hodgkinson

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Probably not because none of us share a brain and none of us are psychic (or are we?) but then we might all be thinking something similar because let’s face it there’s one main thing that is hanging about us all like a terrible smell – a deadly one, even deadlier than the dog’s worst guff – and no it’s not Brexit (for once). Is there anything stranger than the pandemonium of a pandemic where you can’t actually SEE anything happening other than in the figures and data that the news spews out every evening around five when you’re normally cooking your tea but Boris is now there bumbling his way through yet another emergency conference? I don’t think so, but then we’re only at the beginning of what will likely be weeks of this or months even, though months are incomprehensible when all I can see is the end of today and curling up in bed to slip silently into delicious dreams of all the things that Tesco couldn’t give me when I dared to venture out for a dash through the aisles. What do we even do if toilet roll runs out? I’m all for cutting down on waste, but WASTE from US is not something you really have much choice in and cleaning it up is far easier with Andrex on your side. ALTHOUGH. When we were in Nepal there was less faffing about with paper and more squatting and shaking so perhaps that’s the way forward? And in Asia there’s the whole hand thing which most of us have two of so I guess there shouldn’t be a problem, and I’m more worried anyway about never getting going again because once you’ve stopped – stopped, slowed, broken the usual routine, started to get used to doing less – how do you start up again and get back to the pace of before? What if we can never return to how it all used to be but then do we really want to anyway because wasn’t there all that concern over how modern society is toxic and we’re all doing too much and there’s a looming mental health crisis and so on? There’s something to be said for the slowness and the silence that comes from waking without an alarm to absolutely nothing – no cars going past on their way to work, no idle chatter of kids on their way to school, just quietness that I never really realised wasn’t there until it was and now I sort of like it, really. Maybe this is a chance to start again, in a society where we all actually care a bit more. Then again, maybe there won’t be enough of us left to do that anyway! I’m not being flippant, it’s just a thought, but maybe – maybe – we’ll be changed in some way that makes us all, on some level, slightly better human beings than we were Before It Came.

A Brief Sojourn – Emily Harrison

You wonder how old you’ll be when this is all over – this being the pandemic but also this being the altered life you now have to lead which, in any case, is a pointless, fruitless thing to wonder because you imagine there will be no ending. No one is going to write THE END. Although they’ll probably say it on the news and well, maybe they will write it, but they’ll most definitely be wrong because these things don’t really end, do they? They reduce and we return but the memory bones and breath of it endure for however long eternity lasts. How long does eternity last? Erm. Perhaps a better question is how long does the daily invasion of information last? The data, the intelligence – the lack thereof, the charting of death; too much to ingest. It makes you feel sick, just like all that pasta that’s been hoarded in kitchen cupboards. You can’t eat pasta because it makes your stomach tighten like the taut turn of a screw. Unlucky for some. You suppose it’s better to feel something than nothing. That’s what happens when information is an onslaught – information that is horrific and scary and do you know someone that will die from this? Probably. In the blitz of information, you’ve started to become numb to its daunting fissure and your protection policy is to simply retreat into the great vastitude of your brain where nothing is felt, and nothing is gained, just a plain sailing ignorance of avoidance tactics and escapism.

It’s like the time you weren’t sure if you had cancer.

Mum sat next to you as the consultant spoke and you assume her brain was reeling with feeling and thought and dread and terror and she’ll confirm it if you ask but for some reason, you stared at the consultant as he said you would need a biopsy and felt nothing. Perhaps your brain levitated out of the room and your body stayed put – the body that maybe had cancer. It would’ve been in its throat. Maybe the body does have cancer, but you don’t know it yet. Oh fuck. Back away from that and to this, which is thinking about how old you’ll be which leads into questions about who you might be and what you might achieve which is to say that you’ll probably achieve living life – no mean feat, considering. Three years ago, you weren’t sure about living life, which is both a comfort and not – a sort of background noise to dwell upon and look back upon in moments when your mortality is hurled straight into your face like the blare of a police siren going out to fine someone for being outside longer than the government allotted time. Remember when you considered dying? An odd time. An awful time, in many ways. In most ways, actually. In all ways, truth be told.

You wonder how old you’ll be when this is all over. You hope you don’t figure it out.

Emily Harrison uses writing as an escape from reality and doesn’t drink enough water. She has had work published with Barren Magazine, Gone Lawn, Ellipsis Zine, Storgy, The Molotov Cocktail, Retreat West and Riggwelter Press to name a few. She can be found on Twitter at @emily__harrison

Featherweight – Kyle Tinga

When it came down to it, the only reason a human heart would ever be the same weight as a feather is if it was a damn heavy feather. Thoth knew this, Anubis knew it, even mightiest of all ye mighties Ra knew it. Then the question became where to source the feather, and that’s where all the ideas at the council dried up. The gods with feathers coughed and began to very politely shuffle back towards the temple entrance, while Ra rubbed his temples in a way that screamed “If I wasn’t the Supreme God then I’d be praying right now”.

“Right then, when we create humankind and judge their deeds, what feather do we weigh their hearts up against?”

A tentative hand was raised by Hathor, ready in all of her plumpness and finery, jingling and jiggling as it rose. “We could do one of those larger birds? You know, the ones that go around the liver of something or other in one of the Northern countries. Protoman, Promare, something of that nature. I’m sure a feather of that size would be heavy enough to give humankind some kind of advantage.”

“Still feather weight, innit?” That came from Sekhmet, arms folded across his chest and sharpened teeth gnashing and snarling. “And when it’s FEATHER weight it’s light as a FEATHER! Nobody’s going to come to the heavens which means nobody makes their way to us which means people will stop believing! Got to be a heavy one.”

“We could craft it out of precious metals. Gold and silver and suchlike.” The words came from an overgrown beetle, whose shining carapace was studded with diamonds and jewels of every size and colour. “That would make it suitably heavy for our purposes.”

“Then it would be a falsehood,” came the reply from Anubis in a low growl, his jackal’s jaw exposing elongated canines. “If we are weighing up the truth and sin within a human heart, it would taint the core of morality to use a fake feather.”

“What about sunbird?”

All eyes darted towards the speaker, her voice serene amidst the growing clamour. Mother Isis, mother of man and mother of the world, had her hands rested in her lap and a very small smile upon her face. “Sunbirds,” she replied, “Are truth and flame. Remember that they hold the weight of eternity in their feathers, and shed it as they’re reborn. So they are light and heavy in equal measure.”

At once whispers became chatter became yells of “Sunbird! Sunbird! SUNBIRD!” At last! A solution!

“All well and good. But,” said a no-nonsense Thoth, adjusting his spectacles with a rigid wingtip, “Where on earth do we find the sunbird?”

Ra blinked. Blinked again. Blinked thrice, and then laughed a full-bellied laugh that echoed throughout the desert dunes and palm trees. “Why, my dear Thoth, on the sun! And luckily for us, I believe I know exactly where.”

My Job to Remember – Michael Edwards

This limp I acquired cost the most of all. My left foot drags across sidewalks, floors and sunsets. Soles of my shoes scuff and abrade to the point of skin grazing rough concrete exfoliating the calloused bottom of everything. Limping is a symptom of trying to get somewhere. I can’t tell you where that is because I’m not there yet. Forget I said the thing about the limp. I’m walking fine, stride in time one leading to the next and I pace the room digging ruts in the same path like oxen at the millstone. I’m yoked to forget that linear is expected and radial, axial, actual work is looked down on. How to be blue collar begins with myth and ends with bills unpaid until each credit card juggles the chainsaws or falling batons blindfolded. This is the circus that you dreamt of running away to, the horizon and over the purple sky of twilight, dimmer than the last century and a sun sizzling fried eggs in August heat on the sidewalk, segmented, control joints, planned fractures where tree roots push up and tectonics of urban expansion and contraction, freeze-thaw – leaves pile up to elbows and rot. Cars disappear in leaf litter and trees send their seeds sprouting, humus, new earth, rich neglect, they would say extinction, extermination, self-determination, individuation. This last week or so the sky has bloomed like dandelions gone to seed and the spheres of the heaven are filled with fluffy parachutes swirling in gales of warm winter, snowless, creatureless – only the proliferation of weeds, of plants, of phloem and xylem. Sapwood bleeds through bark bursting, the high pressure pulse of Pacific forests, climatic shifts – birches so warm their sap rots in-place and punky wood is all that’s left as winds snap fragile limbs, milkless, decalcified, malnourished, hyperthermic entropy. Decay, waste, recycled and deposited. Injected, and this won’t make the cut. I can’t remember why I even started. The rains stopped months ago. The humid heat took over and the limp is back. The last man limping through detritus and logs decomposing, reanimating, vegetating. Well, if the last man is what I am, at least these plants will feed me. The last winter coat was sold for parts and the only thing I remember is the frost on the windshield when January chilled my fingers, blood rushing to the core, protecting vital organs and the north has become south and I’m never coming back. The last man on earth. Only the tops of pyramids peek out through the soil layer, coating the earth with fertile foundation from new life – plants have heartbeats they say. Water has a pulse and they synchronize to the tide’s ebb and flow and the mud we make of words that we used to sling at each other. And now I’m the last man on earth and it’s my job to remember, but there’s no one left to remind me how I got this limp.

Michael Edwards is a poet, writer and young dad living in Vancouver, BC. Follow him on Twitter at: twitter.com/michaelwrites1

Black Mirror – Mehreen Ahmed

I sat in front of a mirror. The many glaring lights fixed on its frame, enhanced my reflection on the mirror. I saw a masked face in white make-up paste. The make-up artist diligently applied colour dust with a small sponge on my dark skin. Eye make-up was the hardest to do.

“Take a closer look.” She held another mirror. It looked black. I saw a cinema. Of my mind. Of a stream. Of a monologue.

The winds were rough. In the early dawn, the door rattled in the stormy winds. I screamed and held on to the flimsy bed frame. On a summer’s day, The winds revved up like a car in the hands of a novice. Five years of age. I sat by the window. The winds knocked on the glass pane. Another morning. Some clouds had gathered. I opened the windows and a sudden gust of wind whipped my face as it passed through the hut. My hair blew wildly over my face, almost veiling it with a mass of dark locks. I looked at the distant sky and saw layers upon layers of dark clouds; each layer a different shade of grey. The little daisies down by the mountain stream, danced insanely in the ferocity of the winds. Poor yellow little souls and bleeding blades of grass. Then there was a knock on the door. They came back. There was a ship wreck off the peninsula. Couldn’t make it in the storm. How was I to endure that? Those faces of desperate sailors floated in the ocean of my eyes; their bodies floating. The gardens bled.

Who’s at the door? My son? Did you come back for me? Have you come for my soul. Oh God. The wooden door went off the latch. It flung apart. Crazy! The crazy winds. My hut seemed to be wrung out of its soil. The mountains green, but dark and grey today. Dark. Yes, pitched dark it

was too, when my unfledged 16 year old went away to the edge of the peninsula toward a faraway coral island.

The mountain spring. The fall from this height among the rocks and the craggy crevice. The rains lashed its spray across the – My son, my little boy, Are you even alive? Come back. But no drugs and overdose. The ship that drowned in that ever engulfing sea. Took away. The water. The ocean. This stream. How I miss you? Little baby. Little. No more. Down by the green valley, I see him running. I see him now and then, he vanishes. There he is again. Play. Play. Hide and seek. Don’t run to the ocean though. Come back. Come back. Dear child. There he comes now. Up the ragged hill he climbs back. He’s here. In my arms. Kisses and hugs. The ocean rises and falls. Boats passing through mountain ridges. Suddenly all falls apart. No boats. No ships, only the sounds of the raging seas.

Cabinet Of Heed SOC Drawer 31.05

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

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