Kings Cross Examination – Dan Brotzel

Let us turn now to the evening of the 21st. An unusually hot Friday, even for July, as we have heard. At about 5.45pm you boarded a tube train to take you home, is that correct, Mr B?

Yes.

What route did you take? 

It was the Piccadilly line, heading north. I got on at Oxford Circus, then got off at Finsbury Park to get the Victoria line. 

Indeed. And it was at Oxford Circus that an incident took place. Do you remember coming into contact with a gentleman – Mr Jarvis, here – as he attempted to alight from the train?

There may have been a brief coming together. The train was very crowded.

Quite so, quite so! But you weren’t actually on the train at the point, were you? Or you were not supposed to be, at least. 

I’d stood to the side to let people off. I guess the momentum of the crowd carried me forward on to the train. It was hard to see if there were people still getting off. 

I see. Are you in the habit of being swept along by the momentum of the crowd?

Well, there are times when-

Have you, for instance, ever been swept under the wheels of an oncoming train by the hordes on a crowded tube platform?

Well. I mean, I hardly think-

Answer the question, please, Mr B.

I haven’t, no.

Are you aware of the protocols concerning the egress and ingress of passengers on tube trains, protocols which have of course especial sway and application at times of high peak use?

‘Please let passengers off the train first.’

Quite so, quite so. And yet you did the exact opposite…

As I’ve tried to explain-

-Leaving poor Mr Jarvis to have to fight his way out of the carriage, in order not to be stuck on the train and carried forth to another stop not his own!!

I regret this. But he did actually shove me quite roughly. 

He had to get off, Mr B! He had a gym appointment in Regent Street for 8.30! That muscle tissue won’t tear itself you know! 

I know. I’m very sorry. But I was in the way by accident. Whereas he pushed me on purpose.

And then what happened?

He stalked off.

Understandable, perhaps? And how did you feel?

I was upset. I was partly riled about having been shoved so roughly, and partly guilty at not being able to apologise. But of course, he never gave me a chance to explain, which was the worst feeling of all. 

Oh dear! Poor Mr B! Let us turn now to the morning of June 27thand to the testimony of Ms Pierce here. (And thank you so much for coming in to testify today, Ms Pierce, I now it’s not easy, the courts are not as accessible as one might wish.) So… at approximately 7.55am, you had boarded a train on the Piccadilly line, heading south.

That’s right. I was going to work.  

You were very comfortably ensconced in your seat, were you not?

No, I couldn’t get a seat at first.

That was a shame, wasn’t it, Mr B? I bet you were looking forward to getting stuck into your book. 

Well, it’s always nice to be able to sit down. That line gets very crowded in the mornings. 

Yes, of course. And you’ll stop at nothing to get a seat, will you, Mr B? And you’ll cling on to it at any price, won’t you? 

Well, I don’t think that’s entirely fair.

Let us see. Tell us what happened just after Kings Cross.

Someone stood up and gave their seat away. Only seconds after the train had left the station. 

Was that unusual? 

It was unheard of! I thought it must be a tourist, or someone very unfamiliar with the line who was nervous about missing their stop. They had a sort of fluorescent rucksack on, and a general air of panicky purposefulness. 

Any other thoughts?

Well. I did wonder if they’d spilt coffee on the seat or something. Or if they were incontinent.

Charming! But none of that worried you, did it, Mr B? What did you do next? 

I sat down. 

You pounced on the seat. Like a vulture.

Well I think I was technically nearest at the time.  

So no one else was interested in the seat at the time?

Well, there was a woman…

What sort of age?

About my age.

Did she make a move towards the seat?

I’m not sure. 

You didn’t think to give up your chance of a seat up for the lady?

I did think about it.

But you didn’t do it.

No.

What reasons did you come up with, in your own mind, to excuse yourself for your failure to extend this basic kindness to a lady in need a seat? 

I remember telling myself that women find that sort of thing patronising now. Equality between men and women makes a farce of all that old-fashioned chivalry stuff. Same as how they don’t like to be called ‘girls’ any more (or ‘ladies’ probably.) Also, I thought she was the sort of age where the offer of a seat would have been more upsetting than complimentary. Also, my back’s quite bad at the moment. And anyway, it’s dog-eat-dog on the Tube. 

I see. You went through all these reasons while you were in the process of sitting down?

Yes.

And did any of these excuses, these self-justifications, make you feel any less guilty?  

Not really. But I was also thinking of that time I stood up for a woman with a loose-fitting top on. She snarled: ‘Why does everyone keep offering me a seat? Do I look fucking pregnant or something?’ She did, of course. 

I see. But still – to return to the present case – you sat on.

My back does twinge a bit. 

More self-justifications, I see.

I’ve started doing pilates! Just once a week, but it does seem to be helping. It’s all about working on your core. 

Let’s stick to the case at hand. How many others were standing by the time the train neared Kings Cross?

About 7 or 8. 

But not you, of course. You were set up for the journey with your hard-won seat.

As I say, I think I was nearest. 

And then someone got on at Kings Cross that changed things. Or should have, perhaps.

You mean the blind woman. And her guide dog.

Quite so, Mr B. What did she look like? 

If I recall correctly, she wore a bright orange top and jangly earrings. They reminded me of the comedy Christmas tree ones my mum always wears. At Christmas. The woman’s eyes sort of fluttered. And the expression on her face was open, smiley.

So what happened next?

Nothing. She just stood there with all the other people standing.

A blind woman? Left to stand in the vestibule?

I know. But it was quite clear who should have stood up for her. 

Who?

The person in the nearest seat. The protocol is well-established. 

And who was that?

A teenage girl.

I see. And what did she do?

Nothing! She was oblivious, self-involved, headphones on, possibly asleep. Possibly foreign.  

So what did everyone else in the carriage do?

Well, we all sent out our strongest guilt-glares, of course we did. But the girl seemed to be immune to them. 

I see. So naturally, someone else stood up to offer the blind woman a seat?

Actually, no one made a move. It was all a bit tense. 

And where were you seated in relation to all this?

I was sitting opposite the teenage girl. 

So who was on the hook now, morally speaking, if the teenage girl was oblivious? Was it you?

No! I’d say it was the man sitting next to the teenage girl. A sort of bearded, geeky type, all wired up and immersed in his game of Minesweeper. Or the second season of I, Robot, I don’t know. 

You couldn’t actually see what was on his screen, could you?

No.

Have you ever actually payed Minesweeper? Do you even know what it is? 

Not really, no. 

More casual prejudice, I see. Anyway, did you all start sending guilt-glares this man’s way too?

Of course! It was getting embarrassing by now. The whole system was breaking down.  

And what did this ‘geeky type’ do? Did the guilt-glares get to him?

No! He just sort of… retreated into his beard.  

You didn’t like his beard, did you?

No, if I’m honest. 

Do you wear a beard yourself sometimes?

Yes.

And how do you feel about your beard?

I don’t like it much either. 

I see. Are you, by the way, in the habit of describing teenagers as ‘self-involved’?

Er… yes.

And people with beards as geeks?

Yes.

I see. Meanwhile, back in the carriage, the blind woman still didn’t have a seat. 

No. I did send out a few more random guilt-glares of my own, but they come to nothing.

So perhaps it was down to you now, Mr B, as the only seated person apparently aware of the situation, to make a stand – quite literally – for common decency? 

In retrospect, yes. I fully accept that I should have got up at this point. 

So you stood?

Er, no. 

You carried on sitting.

Yes. I’m not proud of this. 

And how did you justify this to yourself at the time?

Well, I was still waking up really. But I did wonder if the blind woman had already told someone that she was happier standing. I started to imagine in fact that I’d heard her tell someone this. Also, I thought that it might have been awkward for her and her dog to make their way across to my seat.

What was the distance between the blind woman and your seat?

Ooh, six or eight feet at least.

I see. And of course, you still had your book to read. 

Well, yes. I suppose so. But the atmosphere was almost a bit too awkward for reading by now. 

Still, it would have been a shame to have to lose that hard-earned seat.

I’m not proud of myself. 

Remind us, for the benefit of the court, what sort of book you were reading?

It was an account of the genocide in Rwanda.

I see. Let us fast-forward now to Warren Street, and a new development occurred. What happened? 

The seat next to me came free. 

I see. And then?

This woman with cropped blond hair and a stern expression made a big point of leading the blind woman over to this seat so she could sit down. It was a foldie, I recall. 

And what did you do? 

At that point I leapt up so the blind woman could have my seat instead, which was actually slightly easier to access than the one that had just come free. 

So you were shamed into action at last.

I suppose you could say that. We helped the blind woman to sit down, and then I offered the woman with the stern expression the free seat next to the blind woman. 

Your seat.

Yes.

And what did the woman with the cropped expression do?

She said: ‘No thanks.’ And then she said, louder and more pointed, for the benefit of me but taking in the whole carriage: ‘And frankly I’m astonished.’ I noticed a hint of Liverpudlian in her stern accent. 

I see… Stern face, stern accent: did you want to use the word ‘Scouse’ just then?

It did occur to me but I wasn’t sure if it was OK to use it. Especially if you’re not, er, Scouse.

Such delicacy! Such sensitivity! Mind you, even the guards in the camps read Goethe. So let’s recap: you have shown yourself to be callously spineless and morally bankrupt. Your offer of assistance is rightly dismissed as ‘too little, too late’ by your righteously stern fellow passenger. So now what do you do?   

Well, there was nothing for it but to sit down again. 

Back to your fascinating book about genocide?

I couldn’t read! The words swam before my eyes. I felt that people were looking at me. I didn’t want my stupid seat. It was a relief to get off in the end.  

This was at Victoria.

Yes.

Where you were about to mount the escalator… 

Correct.

…Only to look up and see the woman with the stern expression staring down in your direction.

Yes. I hadn’t realised she’d got off at the same stop. I could see she was still talking about the incident with someone. And from the set of her chin and her tautened lips, she was obviously still seething about it. 

Oh dear Mr B! Not what you wanted at all, I imagine! 

No! Plus I had on these light blue trousers paired with tan shoes. I was a bit stuck for clothes that morning, and my outfit suddenly seemed ludicrously conspicuous. Everything a shade too bright to be plausible.

Yes, I remember. It’s one of our worst, isn’t it? You must have been terrified she’d spot you.

Terrified.

And did she?

You know she did. You’re me, remember.

So what did you do?

I hung back, slinking around by the bottom of the escalator.

How did you feel?

I was burning with shame, obviously.

I see. And what did she do?

Oh, she just carried on glaring down at me. 

From her ever-ascending moral high ground.

Yes. 

Serve you right, perhaps, Mr B?

But I didn’t see the blind woman! It wasn’t down to me to stand up in the first place! Of course I would have got up if I’d realised! I was half-asleep! My back! Pilates! Don’t single me out – look at my track record! Look at all the other fucks who did nothing! And these people never give you a right of reply! Most of my mental life is spent fighting these imaginary court cases! 

The self-prosecution never rests, m’lud.

 

Image via Pixabay 

Cabinet Of Heed Contents

Men in Different States – Rickey Rivers Jr

I want a good meal.
I want nice clothes.
I want a car.
I want a house.
I want a wife.

I have great meals.
I have nice clothes.
I have a nice car.
I have a nice house.
I have a great wife.

I had a good meal.
I had nice clothes.
I had a car.
I had a house.
I had a wife.

I want what I never had.
I have what I always wanted.
I had all my wants.
I want more than you have.

 

Rickey Rivers Jr was born and raised in Mobile Alabama. He is a writer and cancer survivor. He likes a lot of stuff. You don’t care about the details. He has been previously published in Every Day Fiction, Fabula Argentea, ARTPOST magazine, the anthology Chronos, (among other publications). https://storiesyoumightlike.wordpress.com/http://twitter.com/storiesyoumight

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A Brief Time of History – Maria Kenny

My mother cried the day Stephen Hawking died. I came home from school and found her sitting at the kitchen table, tears on her cheeks.

‘Stephen Hawking is gone,’ she said, clutching a cup of tea.

Teacher had told us in school. We didn’t know who he was until she showed us his picture on Google. We remembered him from when he was on The Simpsons. He freaked me out a little. That voice.

‘The world is a less intelligent place now,’ Mam said dipping her biscuit into her cup.

I kept my eyes on the broken tile over the sink rather than look at her. I had been starving on the way home, but my stomach felt sick as I stood there.

She told me about a party he had thrown for time-travellers. He gave the invitations out after the party. No one had showed up. She said he had recorded the party, him, alone in a room surrounded by glasses of champagne, little plates of food on the table.

‘He did it to prove there was no such thing as time-travel’, my mam said smiling, but the smile wasn’t real.

‘He was witty like that.’

She suddenly sat up straighter, as if she had just thought of something amazing.
‘You should read his book’, she said.

I looked at her shining eyes, then looked quickly away. I promised her I would. I wanted her to stop crying. It was weird, it wasn’t like she knew him personally.

She pulled some kitchen roll from the holder on the wall, wiped her nose and stood up. I shuffled out of her way as she pulled jars from the cupboards.

‘Have you homework?’ she asked.

I nodded and she shooed me away.

Later that evening I asked dad why she was so upset.

‘Oh, your mother had notions of being a scientist.’

‘Really?’ I said.

I tried to picture my overweight mother crammed into a white coat, bent over a microscope.

‘Yeah, she wanted to study science in college, work in a lab or something. Stephen Hawking was her hero.’

He flicked through the stations on the television already bored with me.

‘Why didn’t she?’ I asked.

He looked at me, his eyebrows raised, then laughed.

‘You work it out,’ he said.

I shrugged. He turned back to the television as I continued to stand beside him. He looked up at me again and snorted a laugh.

‘You don’t have your mother’s brains that for sure. Go on, leave me in peace.’

He reached over for the ashtray, his other hand pulling a cigarette from the box.

On the way up to my room I looked in at Mam. She was mashing potatoes for dinner.

Dad’s tray already had his brown sauce, plate, knife and fork on it. The table had two placemats laid out and two glasses beside them. She glanced up at me.

‘Dinner in five minutes time,’ she said.

I didn’t move. She looked up at me again and tutted, rolling her eyes.

 

Maria Kenny is from Dublin. Her stories and flash fiction have appeared in journals in Ireland, the UK and Mexico. She was longlisted for the WoW award 2016 and was highly rated in the Maria Edgeworth Short Story competition and longlisted in The Casket of Fictional Delights flash fiction competition in 2018.

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Swap Your Life – Sherri Turner

Carol hadn’t been expecting that. When the doorbell rang she thought it would be a parcel delivery or a meter reader. Perhaps one of those nice men in suits talking about God. She hadn’t expected a loud and overenthusiastic game-show host shoving a microphone in her face.

“Congratulations! You have been selected as today’s lucky Swap Your Life contestant.”

Was that a camera? She felt up to her hair – no rollers, thank goodness.

“I beg your pardon?” she said.

“Carol Adams, we are giving you the greatest opportunity ever offered on live television. Swap Your Life! Have you ever regretted the choices you have made? Do you wonder how it could all have been different?”

He swept his outstretched palm in a wide arc, over the neat front lawn of the semi, past the tired Vauxhall, ending at Carol herself.

“Well…”

“Of course you do! In a moment we will be showing you glimpses of how your life could have been. Remember that party in 1978? What if you’d been a bit more – er – careful?”
Carol glanced back towards the living room door, which stood ajar.

“Or later, when you turned down that promotion? How might your life have been now if you’d taken it? What if you’d turned left instead of right that day in ’86. You know the one I mean.” He winked. Carol blushed. “Today is your chance to turn back the clock, see what would have happened – and choose that life instead!”

Carol took a moment. She smiled.

“No, thank you,” she said, stepping back as she closed the door, much as she had with the nice young men earlier in the week.

“Who was it?”

“No one, dear. Some salesman.”

Always selling something, these people: new life, better life, afterlife. No guarantees though. No refund if you changed your mind. And nothing was perfect, was it? Though some things came close.

She stood for a moment, one hand on the banister, repackaging the past and the could-have-been futures back where they belonged.

“Cup of tea?” she called.

“Yes, please, love.”

“Biscuit?”

 

Sherri Turner is a writer of short fiction and poetry and has won prizes in competitions including the Bridport Prize, the Bristol Prize, the Wells Literary Festival and the Stratford Literary Festival. Her stories have also appeared in a number of anthologies. She tweets at @STurner4077.

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What To Do After College – John Sheirer

Fill your head with dirt–rich, dark topsoil. Plant flowers in your ears–daisies or azaleas. Grow trees in your eye-sockets–butternut or cottonwood. Cultivate food crops in your nose–corn, potatoes, grains. Plow them with your tongue. Irrigate with saliva.

Your brain? Keep it for amusement. Donate it to science. Or chop it up for fertilizer.

 

John Sheirer lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, and has taught writing and communications for 26 years at Asnuntuck Community College in Enfield, Connecticut, where he serves as editor of Freshwater Literary Journal (submissions welcome). His books include memoir, fiction, poetry, essays, political satire, and photography. Find him at JohnSheirer.com.

Contents Drawer Issue 14

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White Noise – Christine A Brooks

I want to cover my ears, I want to hum, or sing LA LA LA
loudly
Over your words, your memories, your testimony.

I want to turn up Dylan,
Beatz blasting
Tremblin’
So my mind doesn’t hear your
Thoughts, your recollections,
Your truth.

No
I want to scream, no.
I want to cry.
I want to die.
I want to unhear, unknow and unremember,
Those terrible nights, more than one, more than two,
Maybe even, more than three
When I could not scream, I could not talk, and I could never

Ever tell.

I want to change the channel,
Block out the noise,
I want it all to stop,
Like it did last time, when I

Just pretended it never happened.

 

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Fool – Danny Beusch

Perched on the rusted chair, nursing my third coffee, thinking. About last night: the worst yet. About what I’m doing wrong. I watch him tame the rampant ivy with Grandma. He looks like any normal seven-year-old. He looks like sugar wouldn’t melt.

‘Good boy,’ she says. ‘They’re sharp. Keep them pointed at the ground. Good boy.’

She wanders into the shed. As soon as she’s out of sight he lifts the shears. The shiny edges dazzle me with sunlight. Seconds later, eyesreadjusted, the blades point at my throat. He inches closer. I grip my mug, legs frozen, palms burning.

‘James,’ shouts Grandma, holding a rake. ‘Point them down, please.’

He drops his arms, runs to her. I inhale the whisky in my drink.

‘Be careful,’ she says. ‘You’ll hurt Mummy. Now come here and help me clean up this mess.’

I cool my hands under the kitchen tap, pour something stronger, worry about what will happen after Grandma goes home.

*      *      *

He kneels in the old ceramic bath, facing the wall, hugging his chest, shoulders tense. Dirt from the garden muddies the water. The dripping tap echoes under the high ceiling.

I soak the flannel and squeeze; water trickles down his back. He flinches, turns, clamps his mouth onto my forearm. I pull but he clings on,piercing skin. I force my fingers between his teeth. Prise open his jaws. Push him away. Stumble over. Run.

*      *      *

Frozen peas numb my arm. Merlot warms my body.

He’s crying so I know he hasn’t drowned.

*      *      *

Back upstairs, the bathroom smells damp. I wrap my shawl tight, smile at the sight of my breath. Smile at the vivid bruises across his sunken chest, the cigarette burns that dot his knees, those bottle-blue eyes, that perfect nose.

‘It’s OK, sweetheart. Mummy’s here.’

*      *      *

He curls up in darkness. Silent. I shut the bedroom window, unscrew the light bulb.

A sob – just audible above the squeak of the lock. ‘You fool,’ I say. ‘Do you think you can win?’ I put the key in my pocket, wipe away tears. ‘You stupid fool,’ I say to myself.

 

Danny Beusch (@OhDannyBoyShhh) lives in the UK and tells stories. He spends rainy days reading Joanne Harris and Margaret Atwood novels. He started writing flash fiction in 2017

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The Smartest Human – Marisa Crane

Another morning in paradise for Wilder. The fluid cushioning him is warm, and he hasn’t got a damn thing to do if he doesn’t want. He reaches his hand out in front of his face and examines the back of it. It’s pruny from his long soak, the soothing spa session that he fears is coming to an end. Or so he’s heard, anyway. Exactly when is uncertain.

That makes it all the more terrifying.

The Outside People—his Mommy and his other Mommy—always say “soon, oh so soon” and make smooching sounds when they talk about his impending arrival. There is a man who comes round and coos at Wilder as if he’s adorable and tiny like his unfertilized neighbors. The man says things like, “Can you hear me, little one?” He acts like Wilder doesn’t understand the world, but he does, visitor man. He does. He knows that the world is shamelessly uncushioned, that it hurts when people fall down. He knows when the man is about to come over because the Mommies start to bicker. Quietly, lovingly, even, but bickering just the same.

“I don’t trust him, Jenn,” Sonya will whisper. Sonya is the one whose warm, soothing fluid Wilder resides in. The host of his all-inclusive resort. She thinks he can’t hear her if she lowers her voice.

“Alan deserves to know his child if he wants,” is what Jenn usually says.

“Our child,” is what Sonya usually counters, a bit snappy.

“Shhh, we don’t want the baby to overhear any animosity,” says Jenn. “There’s enough of it out here as it is.”

They say this all the time. That the Outside is this drab, almost never tranquil place, full of torrential people who can and do hurt each other. From what Wilder understands, he will join those people and become the hurter and the hurt. Never one or the other.

Always both.

He once tried to draw a flowchart of all the Outside people he knows with his right big toe but he misfired and wound up kicking Mommy in the ribs. I am already a hurter, he thought, feeling quite down about it, but also strangely basking in the camaraderie of the Outside People. But then he heard cries of glee erupt from Mommy’s mouth (that is something he is a bit envious of—this noise-making skill, but alas, one can’t have it all.

He will gladly remain silent if it means never having to erupt out into the world a crying, screaming, bloody mess).

“He kicked! Wilder kicked! I felt it, I swear,” Sonya said. Wilder heard footsteps then Jenn’s soft musical voice. What’s a Wilder? He’d thought, the first time he heard his name.

“Oh my god. Oh. My. God.”

“I know.”

“Also, did you just name our son?” Jenn laughed.

“I guess I did.”

Wilder could detect her embarrassment through the many layers of viscous biology separating them.

Me, I guess I’m a Wilder, the fetus thought. He’s come to grips with the name by now, but it took a while. He’d heard of these things called wild animals, like bears and wolves, and he’d wondered if the Mommies thought he would become a killing machine too. The thought made him nervous, made him grab his toes and squeeze tightly.

All of that is to say, Wilder’s dream vacation is soon coming to an end. In the early days, he’d falsely believed that his amniotic sac was all there was to existence. Rad. The temperature’s always ideal, he’s always satiated if not absolutely stuffed by the tube’s glorious deliveries. No roommates, just some single-cell neighbors whose company he tends to enjoy when they’re not sending his sky (or uterus ceiling, if you will) crashing down with catastrophic news of his eventual departure. It was about three months ago when they gave him a little biology lesson.

“You know you’re gonna have to leave this place eventually, right?” the one egg had squeaked. She’s a bit of a know-it-all, but she means well.

“What are you talking about?” Wilder had asked, placing his hands behind his squishy head, as if he were lounging in a hammock.

“You’re only in here until you’re big enough to join the Outside People.”

The others had murmured in agreement, sending a shiver through his chunky legs.

“Well, uh—when is that exactly?”

Wilder hadn’t been convinced she was telling the truth. The eggs loved to gossip since life inside the ovaries could be a bit dull. And the notion of birth was simply too bizarre to comprehend. Who would leave such a cushy, luxurious environment? He figured that some people—those who had picked the short umbilical cord for sure—lived Outside while the more fortunate ones resided Inside.

The know-it-all had turned to the other eggs and they’d whispered amongst themselves while Wilder leaned against the walls of his sac, feigning casual indifference.

“We think your Birthday Ceremony is in 3 months and 1 week, give or take.”

“My what? Speak sensibly,” he’d said, mildly irritated.

“The day that you are pushed by some mysterious force out of your warm sac and into the Outside. We saw it done once before, long long ago, before the Mommies knew each other.”

“What was it like?”

She’d taken a deep breath and quivered. Wilder hadn’t liked how she looked at him, her eyes uneasy and apologetic. She was usually pragmatic and matter-of-fact, a strict but fair source of knowledge and kinship.

“He screamed like I’ve never heard anyone scream before. There was a lot of blood. I don’t think he survived.” She’d paused. “I hid from the cascading sperm, those handsome fucks, for a while after that. I feared what would come if I hooked up with one of them. I didn’t want the same fate.”

Wilder hadn’t known what to say. He’d looked around at his surroundings accusingly, as if the heated sauna he’d come to call home had now been replaced by a conniving, lying betrayer. He’d now become the hurted. The Outside was somehow capable of inflicting pain from the Inside. Normally he’d consider himself to be fairly eloquent but all he’d been able to muster that day was a simple, “fuck,” then a low, ominous whistle.

“You come out of that hole,” another egg had spoken up, gesturing towards an unbelievably small tunnel.

“There?” Wilder had asked, bewildered.

“Yes, I know it seems insane, but that’s exactly what the Outside People are.”

“That must be a joke. There’s no way my head is fitting through that tiny space.”

The egg had shrugged, as if to say, That’s all I know.

Wilder hadn’t asked for this. He hadn’t asked to enter a world he’d heard so many treacherous and terrifying things about.

Out there, people were killing each other over technology and the lack of technology and breakfast and green slips of paper and love and the lack of love and bad weather and bad hair and games and houses (without lovely fluid in them) and arbitrary borders and beliefs and betrayal.

I refuse to be betrayed, Wilder had thought. When the time came for his Birthing Ceremony, he would simply refuse to come out. It would be as easy as that. He would never be ready to quit that good good and he didn’t see why he should have to.

This morning, about three months after the life-changing discovery, the morning of Wilder’s would-be birth, Sonya goes into labor and nothing happens. Her water doesn’t break, there is no crowning, the contractions don’t accomplish shit. Jenn furiously searches Google for records of this having happened elsewhere. Nada. Just some discussion boards about possible alien insemination.

The doctors, upon further examination, conclude that the baby would prefer to stay where he is for the rest of his life. They deem Wilder the smartest human being to ever exist. Out front of the hospital, they erect a statue to commemorate him. News spreads, and no one is ever born again.

The Earth is very grateful. It blooms like you’ve never fucking seen before.

 

Contents Drawer Issue 14

Image via Pixabay

Toads – Ellie Rees

I blundered
upon a troop of toads:

not a knot; not one
wore another like a rucksack –
they seemed to be quite self-contained.

Arrested, alert
they faced away from me:
their backs such a vibrant burnt-orange;
I could see their spines and the
warts on their skin;
a synchronicity on the lawn.

There must have been twenty, there might have been more.

Where were they going and
why had they stopped?

Dead leaves from the beech tree, frisked by the wind

landing upright –
an identical tilt

stalk-end half-buried in
the clumps of grass –

or maybe the worms
were pulling them down

down underground
already.

 

Contents Drawer Issue 14

Image via Pixabay

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