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?

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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

Double Vision – J L Moultrie

Not fitting in with
the misfits has gone
a long way to sharpening
the angst. The water is
red and I can’t. Let. Go.
I’ve survived, somehow –
flitting and twisting through
the years; seething inside
days meant for someone else.
The serpentine sky, violet
and blue, is lodged in
my throat. The swarthy
city streets are redacted
from my memory. Each night
is a vestige of solace –
circumstances purged of change.
I am a guest in my own
body, subsisting on the sight of waterfalls.

 

J L Moultrie is a native Detroiter, poet and fiction writer who communicates his art through the written word. He fell in love with literature after encountering Fyodor Dostoyevsky, James Baldwin, Rainer Maria Rilke and many others. He considers himself a literary abstract artist of modernity.

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 33 Contents Link

Image via Pixabay

Bite Down On The Bit – Scott Bryan

“So, is it true they torture you for energy?” Susan asked point-blank. Her green turtleneck complimented the shade of her lipstick and her dangling earrings.

The mashed potatoes hadn’t made it all the way around the table before my family started in on me about my new job. I should have expected it. My employers were all over the news, the debate over working in PHS is mired in political and spiritual stigma, and there has been both enthusiastic support and moral outrage over the decision to open the flagship factory here in Middleton.

I’d hoped to avoid the topic entirely, which I suppose was naive. At an Emmett family gathering, any weakness draws out the wolves.

I held my wine glass in front of me and swung my jaw in small, deliberate circles, slowly chewing cud, absorbing my mother’s dry turkey, while I sized up Susan.

“It’s not torture,” I said once the clink of silverware on good china had quieted. “It’s science.”

She pounced like a desert predator. “Some of the worst torture in history was conducted in the name of science.”

“What’s all this?” my mother asked as if the story hadn’t been on the news every night for the past six months. The company brought 8,500 jobs to a former coal-mining town, a place where people were hungry for a new start.

“It’s just a job,” I returned, trying to sound nonchalant. “I punch in, provide a service, collect my pay, and go home.”

“Yeah, but what do you actually do?” Susan had been the brainy, driven one of we three kids. This interrogation was motivated as much by a desire to retain her status as any concern for my well-being. She was speaking on her own behalf, but her blunt aggression also represented the table’s curiosity.

“I keep a roof over my head, Susan,” I said. I’m sure the rest of the assembled family could feel the temperature rising at the table. Paul, my kid brother, sank into his seat. Grandma Josephine continually lifted steady forkfuls of assorted mush toward her denture-filled gullet. My father watched with detached interest. “I make more in a three-hour shift than I made working full-time at the old facility.”

“Because that’s all they can legally allow you to work!” Susan nearly yelled. “I can’t believe you actually sound grateful for the opportunity to get tortured for three hours a day.”

At the mention of money, my mother finally came to my defense. “I’ve heard all sorts of industries are starting to use the PHS batteries to fuel their automation. The meatpacking plant. The plastic plant. The sewage treatment facility.”

Susan scoffed. Now we were entering literal dark waters. “The sewage treatment facility? You mean the one that’s still dumping into Lake Douglas?”

“Oh Susan,” my dad finally breathed from under his bushy mustache. He returned his attention to his plate, leaning in and pressing his gut against the table.

“I’m just showing an interest,” Susan said, spreading her hands wide. A glob of bean loaf she had prepared and was consuming unaided fell from the fork still positioned in her hand. “This has been a big deal in our town. We have a man on the inside! People are saying it’s torture, saying this company figured out a way to harvest energy produced by pain and turn it into electricity. So what’s the scoop? What are they doing to you in that place?”

I adjusted myself uneasily. My hips ached, and my fingertips tingled with increased sensitivity brought on by the treatments, but the real discomfort came mostly from good old fashion lack-of-approval.

“We show up for our shifts,” I began, hoping she would let it go. I wanted to give her a soft approximation of the process, but the fierce look on her face, and that of interest on my mother’s, told me I was locked in. “They wash us, give us an I.V. and a temporary catheter.”

“So, they don’t have to pay you for bathroom breaks or meals?” Suddenly Paul wanted to be part of the family. I gave him a look that was the emotional equivalent of knuckle sandwiches I used to serve up as we played in the backyard.

“We lay on a table,” I continued, struggling with this part, “and they give us Wand treatments. That’s it. You’ve read about it, I’m sure.”

My mother shuddered and looked to my dad, non-verbally suggesting he put an end to this. His eyes were steel. The man had been the foreman at the packaging plant until the facility was shut down, replaced by an automated factory in the city. Rather than go back to square-one and reenter the job market, my father had taken early retirement. His pension had been cut almost in half.

“You just lay on a table?” he finally remarked.

“The Wand emits intense ultraviolet pulses, like a laser that stimulates the nerves. There are loud pops and, I don’t know, it feels like…”

“What?” Paul was hungry for apt descriptors.

“Yeah, we’ve all seen the PR stories about how safe and effective it is. What is The Wand actually like?” Susan was legitimately, morbidly interested in this. “What does it actually do?”

“It’s like getting punched by a thousand tiny, well-trained ninjas or something,” my attempt to downplay the brutal, invasive nature of the procedure was met with a tone of repelled pity.

“Ninjas?” Susan snorted.

I continued before anyone could probe further. “They concentrate on different parts of the body during each treatment so as to, you know, not damage anything. You just bite down on the bit and stare up at the hood.”

“That’s it?” My father was still searching for something.

“I mean, no,” I said, scrambling. “We surrender to the process. They tell us not to hold back, like, in feeling the sensations. Then there’s this hood, like the one over the stove.”

I accompanied this detail with a spared look to my mother, making sure she was still engaged before I continued. “The hood absorbs our vibrating energy, converts it, and stores it in the batteries.”

“But your job in all this is to lay there and scream?” Susan smiled.

“They don’t like us to scream,” I said, eyes downcast. “It’s bad for morale and it makes the energy less concentrated.”

“So you just lay there?” my father repeated through obvious disappointment.

“Okay, look,” I knew I was going to give Susan what she wanted, but I couldn’t lose face in front of my father. He had worked so hard. He looked at the world, and our purpose in it, in a certain way. Good, honest labor was an important part of his worldview. “It hurts really bad. It’s excruciating.”

The table was silent.

“But this is renewing the legitimacy, the importance of individuals in the workplace,” I addressed my father directly. “All the automated machines replacing hard-working people like us, they suck up a lot of energy. Natural resources are at critically low levels. Solar power can’t keep up. This is important. The pain I go through, what I endure, what I contribute, is keeping the economy afloat. We’re the new backbone of the heartland.”

“Jesus,” Paul murmured. “You sound like you’ve been brainwashed.”

I banged my fist on the table and everyone leaned back in a move of collective submission.

Gathering myself, I took a breath and tried to rebound.

“The technology is amazingly innovative. It’s melding science with new-age philosophy. It’s based on the idea that individual human beings are, themselves, an energy field, capable of producing and releasing their own electricity. It’s true. It’s the energy that, you know, hippy-dippy people see when they talk about auras and junk.”

“Or halos,” my mother piped up, trying to help.

“Yeah, right,” I agreed, feeling less-than supported. “Only the PHS technicians have found that our bodies produce much more measurable energy when we are experiencing trauma.”

“So pain is more profitable than happiness?” Susan snapped, attempting to deal the finishing blow. Quiet seared our gathering like molten metal. The only sound was the slap of Grandma Josephine’s gums.

“Pain more profitable than happiness?” my father pushed himself away from the table, taking command of the room. He spoke quietly but firmly. “Hasn’t that always been the case?”

He stared at Susan until she averted her eyes, then he turned to me and gave me a curt nod. I smiled.

I searched for the right words.“Maybe it’s not the best job in the world, but…”

“But sometimes you have to do what you have to do,” my father finished my statement and, I hoped, the conversation.

“Well, good for you,” my mother smiled in relieved approval and lifted her glass.

We followed suit and made a toast. Even Susan conceded.

“And after all,” my mother said, dabbing the wine from her lips with a cloth napkin. “You probably still have time for other things if you’re only working three-hour shifts.”

“Well,” I shrugged. I have always been unable to quit while I was ahead. “I mean, I still work 40 hours a week.”

Everyone stared at me, trying to process the gravity of my statement. Even my father didn’t seem to know whether to be proud or concerned.

“What?” I said happily. I shrugged, feeling as if I had found my place in the world, a place where I could finally feel useful and unique. “A guy’s gotta pay the bills.”

 

Scott Bryan publishes the online novel/zine Get It Away From Me and penned the screenplay for the feature film Drunk. His fiction has appeared in Soda Killers Magazine, Coffin Bell Literary Journal, Variety Pack, X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, and Trampset.

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 33 Contents Link

Image via Pixabay

Qs and As (Storm Story) – Ursula Troche

The storm is out. Out there, everywhere. The birds are tumbling up! Considering the laws of gravity apply to us all, one would assume one can only tumble down but right now it’s difficult to do so. The wind outdoes the laws of physics, waves take temporary flight in the water frequently, on the coast there are duels between waves from different directions, battle fronts emerge by force, gale force, wind stream lines. The tide is high and the waves are high. We are holding on, and the birds and bushes too. Everyone and everything is trying to counter the wind, stem the tidal air-flow, the high tremors.

The answers may be blowing in the wind – that’s what Bob Dylan promised us – but they fly by too fast for us to catch them, so their messages are unheard and overblown. Interwoven with unknowing like waves blowing because wind is blowing. It’s a blow-up, tumble-up, an up-rising, I get wet. Oh tumble, can’t you dry me! Now I’ve blown it, the waves had got to me. I escape, going home, blowing home, being blown, now the wind is helping me, I get home faster. there at last, now there, now there, now here, and stop, keys out, this is my door! My friend, the answer is out there, blowing in the air, but did you manage to hear it? I couldn’t.

The following day, even the following week, there is still storm – though it’s not keeping still, but it’s still out there, well oh, not still, we go round in circles, we don’t know what to say but it’s still, erm, persistant. Even the house is loud with storm. Storm had been going on for a while now, blowing, whistling by, and by, repeatedly.

I am thinking about the distance one again between places, and how fast the storm gets from A to B, wherever that may be – and how long it takes for us to do the same, less elegantly so but more kindly!

We walk whilst the wind flies and the world is in motion! It gets everything going, the trees, objects, and, repeatedly, the waves in the sea. Wind manages to make mountains out of molehill-waves, and ephemeral walls appear in the water. Now, are they water-walls, or sea-walls, wave-walls, or what? Waves and walls are so frequent that they make ridges among them – ridges until they break. Break open like some kind of volcano, or is it an implosion rather than an eruption? This is the view from the promenade, here is the wave-show from a safe distance (and I had been wondering about the distance – between places, hadn’t I?) Here I can see more than just a rough dance and a roaring wave-rave. The whole sea like a jaccuzzi, or as if there’s a whale underneath, or as if it’s trying to give birth. Wild birth on a wild sea caused by the wild wind, exaggerating the high tide. What now? What more can the wind throw at us but itself, its energy which is too much for us.

Wobbly from the gale force, I let myself be blown homewards. I am on way to seeking refuge, from the waves to the cave of my home.

The week after that, it’s cold outside and the wind is – guess what, strong! And once, again – I am now on repetition-mode – I can hear it, seems that I can feel it too. It sounds like it wants to come into the house. Or break in, make its way through the wall, this time the house-wall, not its own water wall, as if it wants to tell me something important, and it’s very urgent. The message is blowing in the wind, getting more and more intense, now screaming. Maybe it’s an answer, blowing in there. I think it’s possible that it might have all the answers, the wind, but I have to be able to decipher them, and to decide what I want to know, what questions I should ask it.

Though it might not need me to ask. That’s wisdom for you: it tells me what I need to know. If I could only identify the meaning of its blow. I guess it wants to blow our minds, open them up, refresh them.

The wind, the message, the mystery. What has it got to say when it’s speaking in blows, must we communicate, us and the wind.

This storm, it could blow our mind easily! It does feel refreshing.

It’s so cool!

But is it, really, I ask, and might even be bold enough to wait for the next wind that’s blowing for an answer. This is the kind of stormy communication I got used to. Airwaves, and waterwaves too, like radiowaves. The transmission is enormous, the radius reaches wide and far – though it’s doubtful whether that has really answered any questions we have. I think after the storm- even after so many storms, reinforced by a multitude of waves, we still don’t know very much.

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 33 Contents Link

Image by Ursula Troche

Heart – Aldas Kruminis

It supplies with birth the instrument
of mind and body – the human life.

It echoes in the mind when it goes blank;
skips a beat with a kiss or a smile
with born babe’s first breath or “I do” long awaited.

It toils when it suffers, like a sponge
scraping away at grimy burned dishes, it soaks
up the misery and pain to clean the soul.

It speaks with beats when mind fails
to articulate. It knows more than thought and hurts
the most when it no longer bleeds.

 

Aldas Kruminis is a writer from Dublin, Ireland. He holds and MA in Creative Writing and dreams of a career as full-time writer. His work has been published in Iceberg Tales, Terrene, Idle Ink and elsewhere. His website: http://aldaskruminis.com/

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 33 Contents Link

Image via Pixabay

A Punishable Offence – C J Dotson

“So, ah,” he said, leaning on the merch table a little bit, and she hid a smirk. They always started like that, the boys who were about to use the worst pick up line she’d ever heard – and she’d been around a while. “So, ah,” like it was a compulsion. He half-smiled and finished, “Are you for sale?”

Nothing too wrong with using a cheesy line, Natalie reminded herself. Lacking originality wasn’t a punishable offence. She smiled brightly, jerking her thumbs over her shoulders to point behind herself as she answered, as always, “No, but the tee shirts are!”

She showed her teeth just a little too much in her smile as she watched him, waiting to see how he would respond, waiting to see what she’d get to do tonight. Don’t let me down, baby, she thought.

He leaned further over the table, his smirking expression not shifting so much as intensifying, and before he even spoke Natalie felt the bubble of excitement in her chest. It was in his eyes; this would be more fun than the time the lead singer of the last band she’d toured with had stolen the tip jar to dye her hair purple, and then refused to return the money, citing it as a “business expense.” Natalie had caused all of her hair to fall out, and if that was a little on the nose it was also fucking hilarious. Especially when the silly little bitch had gone and sold her soul to make it grow back — Nat had gotten partial credit for that transaction and a tidy little reward. It wasn’t often a girl in the revenge department got a bonus from acquisitions, and she preened a little every time she thought of it. The fella leaning on her merch table seemed to think her unconscious posturing was for him, and Natalie had to stop herself from laughing and ruining the whole game.

“Come on,” he said in what he clearly thought was a seductively persuasive tone, “Are you sure you’re not for sale?”

Natalie flipped her long, dark hair over her shoulder and pursed her lips, schooling her expression into one of blatant distaste. She didn’t want him to mistake her avidity for interest — she was trawling for the ones who knew they weren’t welcome and pressed anyway. “Yeeah. I’m sure I’m not for sale,” she said with a chill in her voice, “But the tee shirts are.”

“Don’t be like that, come on,” he said, and Natalie rolled her eyes with an expression she’d perfected over eons, calculated to convey exactly the right balance of scorn and boredom.

“Tell you what,” she said, “why don’t you take one of the free stickers and get out of my face.”

She’d been working the revenge gig at music festivals since togas were fashionable, and throughout all of human history the most reliable call for vengeance was on people who didn’t listen to “no.”

“Seriously,” he said, “I’ll give you money to go home with me tonight.”

Natalie’s predatory thrill soured. If he was serious, if this wasn’t a pushy pick up attempt but a real offer, that complicated the revenge business. Soliciting a prostitute wasn’t vengeance-worthy.

“Listen, buddy,” she said dismissively, “I’m running a merch table here, not a brothel. Take it somewhere else.”

She expected him to retreat at this point, misunderstanding cleared up, and turned her gaze out to the passing crowds in search of a new target. And she’d been so sure that this guy –

“I’ll give you two thousand dollars,” he said, anger creeping into his tone.

Natalie’s interest returned. Soliciting doesn’t warrant punishment, but trying to force the issue… she might be back in business.

“I said no, man. Go away.”

“What, you think you’re too good for that?” The young man was beginning to raise his voice, still trying to crowd into her space in spite of the plastic-topped folding table in his way. “You think I don’t have it? Two thousand dollars!”

Natalie smiled inside as she watched him escalate, and she let her mind wander just a little. What would the punishment be? She could go with old classics like thumbscrews or hot irons, but fuck that was boring. Let the amateurs stick to the tried-and-true tortures – Natalie liked to mix it up, tailor the punishment to fit the crime. Like that small-time band who’d abandoned her in the middle of nowhere at a gas station after their first tour fell apart halfway through; they were still missing, and Nat would guess that they hadn’t figured out where they were yet, either.

“You think you’re better than that? You think you’re better than me?” The guy was really shouting by now, and at that moment the rhythm guitarist of the band she was currently pretending to work for arrived.

“This guy bothering you?” the guitarist asked, and Natalie had to stop herself from laughing at how far into human cliche this conversation had spiraled.

A new group took the nearest stage, and in a dreadful attempt at comedy they launched into a death metal cover of “Baby Shark.” Natalie’s mirth was temporarily buried beneath an avalanche of disgust. I will think of something terrible for them. Later.

“Not anymore. Your set done?” Natalie said to the rhythm guitarist, and when he nodded she grabbed her tight leather jacket and pulled it on. The rest of the band would arrive soon to take over the table, so she could split for the night. (She’d have to find someone new to work for soon, these guys were alright. Too alright; they gave her nothing to work with. Sure, they had more than their share of little human ego problems, but they never did anything actually wrong. Boring.) “He’s your problem now,” she added, and fished her tips out of the jar, blew the guitarist a kiss, and then for good measure she threw a last dirty look at the guy still leaning on her table. “I’m heading home.”

Natalie didn’t glance back as she walked away, smiling to herself. She didn’t need to look back, she could feel it. She was being followed. With an anticipatory grin, Natalie paused under the light above the women’s room door and lit a cigarette, being sure to take her time. The festival wasn’t one of the really big ones, not like Rock on the Range or Ozzfest, and it didn’t hold a candle to Woodstock (what fun she’d had there); it was mostly local acts and the crowd reflected that, but it was just busy enough that if she wasn’t careful she might lose her pursuer.

There were two ways she could go to reach the festival gates, through the crowded and decently lit thoroughfare or down a little alley between the buildings housing the restrooms and then between the backs of the food vendors’ stands and merch tables and the chain link fence marking the perimeter. If Natalie had really been who she was pretending to be, she’d have taken the former option.

She blew a cloud of smoke straight up at the muzzy yellow lamp above her, hid her grin, and slipped into the trash-riddled little alley. She moved lightly in spite of the high boots, never seeming to touch the mess she walked through even though at least once she should have stepped right into it. Behind her she heard the crunch of a shoe on broken glass, then the crinkle of paper being stepped flat. She took a last drag of the cigarette then ground out the cherry on the brick wall, dropping the butt to join the rest of the garbage on the floor.

“Hey,” the voice behind her was less smooth now, there was less in it of attempted seduction. But he didn’t sound nervous or uncertain, either. The tone was familiar to her; he was eager.

Natalie had been doing this since the first Pythian Games, when she’d been summoned to take revenge on the winner of the music competition (it is not a crime to win fair and square, but if the rules are loosely interpreted — Natalie’s favorite way to interpret rules — then it is a crime to try to summon a demon to kill someone for winning fair and square, so the sore loser that long ago day had really lost twice) and she knew what it sounded like when someone was contemplating doing something bad for the first time. This was not the young man’s first time deciding with ill intentions to follow someone.

Natalie’s smile briefly showed all her teeth. All of them. She pulled her mouth back to a human smirk before she turned around.

“Are you following me?” she demanded.

“Don’t be so hostile, sweetheart, I just want to talk.”

Something rustled through a discarded sandwich wrapper near Natalie’s foot, and she toed the greasy paper aside to see a fat rat blinking up at her.

“I don’t want to talk, I want to go home,” she said, half her attention still on the rodent.

“Well that works out, I’d love to take you home!”

Nat leaned slightly, extending a hand to the rat, who watched her quizzically.

She looked back up with a shake of her head. “By myself, dude.”

“Don’t be a stuck up bitch,” he scolded in a deliberately patronizing voice, stepping closer. The rat inched nearer to Natalie as well, and moving so quickly that rat and man couldn’t follow it, she leaned down to snatch it up. It heaved itself against her hand once and then, at her whispered command, became still. “What the fuck-” Natalie was amused to finally hear a tone of uncertainty in his voice “-trying to act like a weirdo or some shit?”

“You think I caught a rat,” Natalie asked flatly as she stroked it behind the ears, “to make an impression on you?” She let half of her mind slip out of mortal existence and into the workings between places, silently beginning to unlock it.

“It’s not gonna work, sweetie. Crazy’s a bonus for hot chicks.” He stepped closer, trying to loom over her, but no matter what the physical height difference is, it’s very difficult to loom over an ancient demoness in the process of silently invoking a gate. The uncertainty in his tone crept into his eyes as Natalie, though remaining half a foot shorter, managed to smile down at him.

“I said I’m going home,” she repeated, and though her voice was sweet it was the way that rotting meat smells sweet — it wasn’t a clean sound, it had corruption in it. “You ought to leave a girl alone when she says she just wants to go home.”

Let lesser demons fool with chanting and sigils, Natalie needed only a few moments of focus. Oh, and blood. The gate pushed at reality, trembling; she marveled that the human couldn’t feel it.

“Hey, I’m not stopping you from going home. I’m just keeping you company.”

“You don’t want to follow me home, baby, you really don’t,” she chuckled, her voice dropping a little in both volume and pitch. Her eyes gleamed with terrible light, but he was looking somewhat lower than her eyes.

“I think I do,” he said, still trying to sound menacing, not realizing that he was completely outclassed in menace.

“Suit yourself,” Natalie rumbled, and he looked up at last, the light in her eyes catching him, her teeth showing — and showing — and showing. Then there was something writhing, there were claws, and the rat died before it even felt the piercing. The blood fell and the gate shattered the boundaries of the world in one small back alley.

If the crowds at the festival thought they smelled sulfur, thought they heard an untold number of faint screams and one not at all faint scream, those details slid out of their minds, shrugged off with the thought that weird shit always happens at shows.

 

CJ Dotson is a rustbelt native who’s been reading for as long as she can remember, and writing almost as long. She’s a lifelong lover of SFF and horror. CJ’s a stepmom and mom who enjoys baking and painting in her spare time. Visit on twitter @cj_dotson, or at cjdotsonauthor.squarespace.com

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 33 Contents Link

Image via Pixabay

Dale’s Shoe Emporium – Amy Barnes

I steal feet souls.

The back-of-store shoe pile — the one people think is for charity — is for me. I love sniff-smells of sweaty footprints left behind in tried-on piles and bronzed discarded baby shoes holding up my Bible and Shoes of the World books. When I measure room-to-grow shoe lengths, I have to resist snapping off toes and heels in my hands.

People deserve to have their souls pilfered: never playing tennis yet wanting tennis shoes, dusty Eleanor Roosevelt orthopedics worn by trendy young women, brown leather pumps with devil-red soles spooning with outdated mom-chosen saddle shoes and pointy-toed witch shoes. I catch soul bits on my medieval wooden shoe stretchers, heel pushers, shoe devil horns and discarded shoelace nooses.

Shoe-needing children are the easiest to steal from: baby tip-toe feet in the shoe sizing, growth-inhibiting x-ray machine and distracted parents mean their tiny feet are mine. I love stinky teenager feet too but have to ask perpetual Johnny Hates to Wear Shoes to take off the back room plastic hooker heels and for his mom to stop taking wedding day shaming pictures.

I could guess shoe sizes with a quick thumb press estimation; but dislike the feel of still-not-solid kid feet moving under my hands like too-far from death skeletons. I guess radiated feet sizes like part carnival barkery, part snake oil quackery. They’re amazed when I announce to no one and everyone.

You’re a size 6.

It’s easy to steal from suspicious wives who know the blue suede Lothario loafers and boy band boots will be under someone else’s bed. I briefly feel for those women but really want their pink pedicure flip flop souls. Satin pink ballet slippers make scorned feet look angelic, trapped-wrapped in pretty pink ribbons. Gladiator sandals wrap carefully up their Cleopatra-worthy ankles and knees as I fasten each buckle.

I wrap shoes in brown paper boxes with brown-paper-paper, tied with favorite-things-shoe strings like dirty magazines. The split-soled, broken-down-arched shoe cast-offs line up like soldiers.

Ushering out customers and impatient nap-needing, lollipop-wielding children ten minutes before I really close, I smell the familiar musk of leather, foot sweat and blister blood crawling into my nose. I take quick breaths and count my daily prizes. The customers will be back in six months; feet regrown, pushing through shoe fronts, begging me to steal again.

 

Amy Barnes has words at a variety of sites including McSweeney’s, The New Southern Fugitives, FlashBack Fiction, Popshot Quarterly, Flash Fiction Magazine, X-Ray Lit, Anti-Heroin Chic, Museum of Americana, Re-side, Detritus, Penny Fiction, Lucent Dreaming, Lunate Fiction, Spartan Lit, Perhappened Mag, Rejection Letters and others. She volunteers at CRAFT, Fractured Lit, Retreat West, Taco Bell Quarterly, NFFD and Narratively.

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 33 Contents Link

Image via Pixabay

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