Blueberry Muffins – Steven John

Dymphna lived with her mother in three damp, square rooms above Greasy Joe’s truck stop on the drainpipe road out of a nondescript town, the name of which mattered only to those that lived there. Greasy Joe himself, Dymphna’s father, had keeled over from his lardaceous arteries when she was twelve, and her mother had been bitter about it ever since.

From a mouth like a squeezed lemon her mother would say, “Your father fucked off and left us nothing but his arse to wipe.”

“Father didn’t fuck off Mum, he died.”

“Well that was convenient for him wasn’t it? Got him out of frying eggs for the rest of his puff,” Dymphna’s mother would say.

The red neon Greasy Joe’s sign pulsed like a bleeding heart into Dymphna’s bedroom. Her mother gave her Saturday night and Sundays off. A night and a day away from the water boiler where she made mugs of tea and coffee for fifteen hours straight. The day Dymphna had left school at sixteen her mother had said,

“You’re on drinks. I’ll do the frying,” and that was that.

There were Saturday nights, in front of her bedroom mirror, when Dymphna thought she was pretty enough. She blow-dried her long silky black hair and fluttered her eyelids at herself. There were other Saturday nights when she thought she was a flat-chested bag of bones that stank of streaky bacon. Either way her boyfriend Eddie would pick her up Saturdays, in his articulated truck, for the overnight haul to London.

After three hours on the road Eddie pulled into their usual layby and Dymphna ran over the carriageway for McDonalds and Cokes. Whilst she was gone Eddie pulled the curtains across the windscreen and laid out the blankets on the single bunk behind the wheel. When Dymphna climbed back up the steps to the cab Eddie poured two large plastic tumblers of rum and Dymphna emptied in the coke. Whilst they ate their cheeseburgers and drank their rum and cokes Eddie watched video of extreme fishing.

Dymphna rested her head on Eddie’s shoulder.

“Well this is nice Eddie, just you and me,” she said.

“You made me miss a good bit. He was on a monster fish” Eddie said and rewound.

At bedtime Eddie and Dymphna stripped off to their underwear and got under the blankets. Dymphna had in the past tried some experimentation with their love-making but there wasn’t sufficient headroom for anything that different. Eddie said that it seemed like a lot of huffing and puffing for nothing much anyway.

At five in the morning Dymphna woke to the cough of the truck’s engine and Eddie taking a piss on the front wheels. She pulled on her clothes, used the McDonald’s toilets and brought back coffee and blueberry muffins.

Whilst Eddie supervised the unload she redid her make-up in the sun visor mirror and never left the womb of the cab. On the return journey Dymphna talked about her dream to own a café by the seaside. Eddie said that was fine by him as long as he could go fishing.

“Maybe I could sell fresh fish from a corner of the café,” he said.

“And I would sell my homemade muffins,” said Dymphna.

Late on Sunday night Eddie dropped her back outside Greasy Joe’s.

“Same again next week?” he said, without stopping the engine, or taking his hand from the wheel. Dymphna leaned over and kissed him on the mouth.

Back upstairs in their damp rooms her mother lay hugging a cigarette on the sofa. She didn’t say hello or take her eyes from the TV screen.

“Had a good day Mum?” Dymphna asked.

“I changed the oil in the fryers,” she said, “whilst you’ve been out enjoying yourself.”

 

STEVEN JOHN lives in The Cotswolds, UK, where he writes short stories and poetry. He’s had work published in pamphlets and online magazines including Riggwelter, Bangor Literary Review, Fictive Dream, Cabinet of Heed and Former Cactus. He has won Bath Ad Hoc Fiction a record six times and was highly commended in 2018 ‘To Hull and Back’ competition.Steve has read at Cheltenham Poetry Festival, Stroud Short Stories, Flasher’s Club and The Writer’s Room on Corinium Radio.  Twitter: @StevenJohnWrite

Image via Pixabay

Cabinet Of Heed Contents

Orangelip – Adam Kelly Morton

Jeff is the only guy I know who truly appreciates dinky cars. My favorite is a navy-blue Hot-Wheeler Ford Mustang that goes super fast on the plastic racetracks that we have laid out all over his basement floor. It smells like oil down here, but it adds to the experience. Jeff has a Matchboxer fire truck that goes pretty fast too, but it doesn’t go around the loop-the-loop as fast as my Mustang. He loves fire trucks though, and his has a moveable yellow ladder on it that’s pretty fucking cool.

Jeff asks me, “Why don’t you let me use your Mustang this time around?”

“No,” I say. “You’ve got your fire truck. Stick with that, Orangelip.” I call him Orangelip because Jeff always has Tang residue on his upper lip. My mom was the one who first called him that. She has funny mean names for all the neighborhood kids.

Jeff looks down at his fire truck and rolls it around in his hand. “I never get to use anything that wins,” he says. “I never get to win.”

“Well, that’s just too bad for you, Orangelip,” I say. “A loser is a loser.”

After a while, we go upstairs to the kitchen for lunch. Jeff’s mom’s blonde hair is usually done up in pretty curls, and she always wears makeup and light-colored clothes. Now, she’s just wearing an old, beige bathrobe that has brown stains on it. She’s barefoot, has hairy ankles, and her face and hair aren’t done up at all. She stands behind the counter and scrapes a thin layer of Skippy onto a piece of white bread, then covers it with another piece and puts it on a plate. Then she gives us couple of plastic cups of water and a container of Tang, and walks out without putting anything away.

“Why is your mom so quiet?” I say, as Jeff starts spooning Tang into his cup.

“I dunno,” Jeff says.

“Your parents getting divorced or something?” My parents are divorced, so I feel bold about asking.

“No,” Jeff says, with his mouth full of sandwich. He takes a gulp of Tang to wash it down. I take a heaping tablespoonful of Tang for my water. We never get tasty shit like this at home. “But he lost a bunch of money,” Jeff continues. “The bank called my mom the other day and-”

Jeff’s mom appears in the kitchen doorway. “Eat your sandwich!” she says. Jeffrey looks up at her, then down at his plate. She keeps standing there, staring sometimes at us, sometimes at the kitchen stove as we eat in silence. Afterwards, we go back downstairs, put our dinky cars and racetracks away and go out. It’s too quiet at Jeff’s house. He should get a dog or something. We have a dog named Daisy. She’s fun, even though she licks herself all the time.

Jeff’s backyard has wooden, vertical fence on two sides and high, chain-link fence at the back. Beyond is a field full of trees and wild brush that’s called the Dead End. It’s at the edge of Foster Park, and I’m not allowed to go in there. But there’s a hole in the side fence that we can pass through into the neighbors’ yard, and from there it’s easy to slip through a gap in the fence and into the field. Jeff takes a look back at the house to make sure his mom isn’t watching as we go.

The week before, we’d explored a bit, and found a dead cat. It had grey, tabby fur and its eyes were green, and glazed open. Bugs were crawling and flies were buzzing all over it. Neither of us knew what it had died of. We decide to go find it again.

“Jeff,” I say. “What does your dad do?”

“I dunno,” he says. “Sales or something. But he’s not home as much as he was before. Now he doesn’t get home until after I’m in bed.”

It’s weird to me that Jeff doesn’t know what his dad does for a living. My dad is a textile dyer, and Jacques is a mailman with Canada Post. Mom’s a homemaker, like Jeff’s mom–only my mom is a much better cook.

We find the cat. Its carcass is flattened, and it seems to be just fur—a cat-shaped mat. There are a few tiny, white worms wiggling around on its surface.

“Touch it, Orangelip,” I say to him.

“You’re crazy,” he says. “I’ll get worms all over me.”

Jeff picks up a stick and starts prodding the dead cat. He digs the stick underneath the cat and starts lifting it up.

“I’m gonna throw it at you,” he says.

I back away from him. Jeff is walking towards me with the stiff cat out in front of him on the stick when he stumbles on a tree root. The cat falls off the stick and lands on Jeff’s left foot. He screams and jumps up in the air. The whole underside of the cat is covered with maggots, and a bunch of them get onto and in his shoe, which he yanks off. Jeff is screaming and has tears in his eyes.

We run from the Dead End back toward Jeff’s.  When we get to his backyard I look up. Jeff’s mother is there and staring out the window. She probably heard Jeff’s hollering. Now, if it had been my mom, I knew I would be in trouble right away. She would know that I had done something bad. But I realize that we are going to be okay, because Jeff’s mom isn’t looking at us. She’s just staring out into the field.

Back inside, we play dinky cars some more. We stay downstairs, and Jeff’s mom stays upstairs. When it’s time for me to go home for supper, Jeff opens the garage door and I leave.

“See you later, Orangelip,” I say.

As I’m walking back, I see Jeff’s dad coming down Harmony Street in his rusty, brown Plymouth Reliant. I wave hello, but he drives right past me.

I get home and me, my mom, and Jacques eat spaghetti with meat sauce and Caesar salad for dinner. We’re in the kitchen and The City at Six is on our black and white kitchen TV. Daisy is eating kibbles out of her bowl.

“What do you suppose Jeff eats for dinner?” I ask my mom.

“Orangelip?” she says. “Tang, probably.”

After dinner, I do some homework, then watch a bit of hockey in French with Jacques, brush my teeth and go to bed. While Mom’s tucking me in, I come really close to telling her about the dead cat, but there’s no way I can do it without mentioning the Dead End. She would just know.

It’s later on that night that I wake up to police sirens. Through my bedroom window overlooking the driveway, I can hear Mrs. Andrews from next door talking to my mom on the front lawn. My clock says 1:20am.  I kneel on my bed, pull back the blind and look out through the window screen. It’s a warm night.

Jacques and my mom are out there with Mrs. Andrews. Our French neighbors from across the street are out there too, standing in their lit doorway. Suddenly, a couple of police cars rush by with their flashers on.

“I’ll go see,” Jacques says to my mom.  He starts walking down the hill. I see dozens of red and blue lights dancing on the houses where the street turns west toward Foster.

Mom sees me, and comes back into the house. I hear her walk up the stairs and through the hall to my room. She opens my door. Daisy runs in and jumps up on the bed. I pet her while still kneeling. She starts licking herself.

“What’s going on?” I say.

“Something,” Mom says. She puts her arm around me, and we stare out the window together.

Every few minutes there’s another police car, or special police van that goes by—then a couple of news trucks from CTV and CBC. People from the neighborhood are walking down the street to see what’s going on.

My mom and I are still awake when Jacques comes back. The three of us are in my room. “It’s at the Moodys,” he says.

“Is their house on fire?” I say.

“No,” says Jacques. “Go to sleep, Alan. We’ll talk in the morning.

“But, I want to know if—”

“Alan,” my mom says. “You’re safe. You go to sleep now. Do you want Daisy to stay with you?”

“Okay,” I say. Mom and Jacques leave, keeping my door ajar for Daisy to go out if she wants to.

I lie there for a while, thinking about Jeff’s house on fire. It probably started from the oil smell in the basement.

In the morning, Mom is sitting on my bed beside me. She is stroking my hair. “You up?” she asks.

“Yeah,” I say.

“Come into the kitchen.”

Jacques is already there. “Sit down, Alan,” he says. I do.

Then he tells me what’s happened.

It doesn’t make sense. Jeff’s dad did something horrible, first to Mrs. Moody, then to Jeff, then to himself in the garage, and that I’d never see any of them again because they were all dead.

“Are you okay, Alan?” Mom says.

I don’t say anything. I just start to sort of shiver and cry. Mom and Jacques hug me and tell me it’s going to be okay, and that I’m safe.

But all I can think about is not being able to play dinky cars with Jeff anymore, and that it’s really too bad.

Orangelip would have loved to see real fire trucks in front of his house.

 

ADAM KELLY MORTON is a Montreal-based husband, father (four kids, all under-six), acting teacher, board gamer, filmmaker, and writer. He has been published in (mac)ro(mic), Soft Cartel, Spadina Literary Review, Black Dog Review, Fictive Dream, The Fiction Pool, Open Pen London, Talking Soup, and Menda City Review, among others. He has an upcoming piece in A Wild and Precious Life, an addiction anthology to be published in London, UK. He is the editor-in-chief of the Bloody Key Society Periodical literary magazine.

Image via Pixabay

Cabinet Of Heed Contents

Movie Night – Brian Wilson

On the night my dead son showed up at the front door I was about to watch a movie. His face was grey and there were dozens of holes in his skin the size of bottle caps. The least I could do was let him inside, given everything that had transpired between us while he was alive.

My dead son took a seat in the living room. He stank to high heaven. I made some comment about it being stuffy and opened a window. “You’ll be thirsty,” I mumbled, and went into the kitchen to fetch him something, nervous about leaving him alone but glad to be removed from the smell. I tried to remember what sorts of things he liked to drink. At a loss, I boiled the kettle.

He was standing next to the mahogany liquor cabinet when I returned, peering in through the smudged glass. I wondered if he could see his reflection, and if so, what he thought about it. Steam rose from the mug in my hand.

“Got rid of it all as soon as…” I started, trailing off. His neck was covered in purple bruises, blooming around his throat. “I’ve been doing better.”

I placed the mug on the table in the centre of the room and sat down in the armchair opposite the television. My dead son lay on the sofa.

“I wish you hadn’t worn that,” I said, gesturing towards his hoodie. It was the same black hoodie he was wearing when I found him hanging in the garden, his body twisting in the breeze like a bloated piñata. “Maybe you don’t have a choice.” Then, realising: “It’s what I deserve, I suppose.”

An uncomfortable silence descended. “How have you been?” I asked.

“I’m here to kill you,” he said, matter-of-factly. His voice was rougher than before, as though his larynx was lined with sandpaper.

“You are?”

His arm cracked as it rose, and when his finger unfurled it was pointed at the empty liquor cabinet.

“I was in a bad place. I never should have taken it out on you.”

The holes in his flesh gaped like parched mouths.

“There is no other way,” he said.

“If I had known what you would do…”

“There is no other way,” he repeated.

Silence resumed. I noticed he was staring at the television screen, frozen mid-picture, and I was struck by a ridiculous thought: that my dead son had come back to watch a movie. When he was alive, movies were the one thing we bonded over. After his mother left us they became a necessary distraction. Every Friday night he would select a DVD from the rack, pop it into the player and then join me on the sofa. We didn’t say much on these nights – the movies did most of the talking. Usually I could tell what kind of a week he’d had at school based on whatever he picked. As much as I loved this ritual, it wasn’t enough to buoy me during the six remaining nights of the week. But no matter how bad my drinking got, I never laid a finger on him during movie night.

Without saying anything, I lifted the DVD remote and pressed play. Within seconds we were back in that familiar bubble, sharing the only thing we ever really learned how to share. It was a movie we had watched together a few times before. Time passed in a haze.

I paused the movie about halfway through.

“Will it hurt?” I asked. My dead son said nothing. A couple minutes later we went back to watching the movie. Near the end, I paused the movie again. He glanced at me as if to say: what gives?

“I know it’s too late,” I said. “I know that whatever I say now is meaningless. But I’m sorry. I wish you could know how sorry I am.”

I looked into his eyes for the first time since he arrived. They were cloudy. They had the same look tea gets when you add a drop of milk. I saw him through the rot then, my son; that fearless young man who sat on my knee when he was a boy and asked why some movies have colour and some do not.

The remainder of the movie withered away, and when it was over we went out into the garden and he took from me what I could never give back.

 

BRIAN WILSON is a writer from Northern Ireland. He recently won the STORGY Shallow Creek short story competition. He likes to tweet from @bwilson4815

Image via Pixabay

Cabinet Of Heed Contents

Hands At Ten And Two – Ashley Naftule

There was a drop of my father’s blood on the dashboard. He held up the pinewood car with bandaged fingers; the one wrapped around his right index finger was sopping red. “Best one yet, kiddo.” It really was.

Dad and I had a deal: he’d carve the cars and I’d take care of the rest. Dad kept it simple: he whittled the wood down and shaped it with my granddad’s hand knife. Dad was pretty good with it but occasionally his hands would get shaky and the knife would slip.

Dad said all the other vets from Peru had the same hand tremors. Some kind of gas they breathed in during the war. I never asked for more details; I was little then, but I knew when an adult was pulling the drawbridge up on me.

“What color should we paint it?”

Dad always let me pick the colors. I never picked the right ones: I always wanted to do polka dots, zebra stripes, or neon splatters. Dad loved accuracy; he’d spend hours pouring over repair manuals and photobooks, making sure every inch of the wood car was a mirror image of the original.

“Let’s do blue and silver. That’s how it was in the movie, right?” We were both surprised by my choice. I don’t know why, but I felt like this time getting it 100% right mattered in a way it hadn’t before. Maybe some part of me already sensed the thing growing on my Dad’s brain and was just trying to make him happy in the brief time we had left together.

“Blue and silver it is, kiddo,” he said. He set the car down on his workbench. It was a perfect replica of a 1955 Chevy 150. Dad reached into his pocket and pulled out a tiny black strap. “I finished the seatbelt this morning. Black nail polish and a rubber band. Not bad, huh?”

It did look pretty good, but I noticed that something was missing. “How are they going to-”

My Dad smiled and pointed to a pile of safety pins on the bench. “I was going to make the clip last. Hammer it out of a couple of these.” Dad had taken care of everything: it was on me to get the last missing piece.

I left the garage with bait, a small net, and a holding box. I saw a couple of drivers behind Matt’s house the last time I slept over. Matt said he heard his mom complaining that the littles were getting into the pantry and stealing food. We went over the fence after dark and saw a few of them scurry off into a nearby bush.

I knocked on Matt’s front door but nobody answered. I knew where the key was to their garden door; I had seen Matt fish it out of the bottom of a hollow rock by their mailbox. I grabbed the key and snuck into the backyard.

Climbing over the fence, I landed as lightly as I could on the ground. I didn’t want to squash any of the littles. I remembered my scout training and scanned the area, searching for tiny footprints, campfires, shacks.

Near a cluster of mushrooms I saw a pair of thimble-sized tents. I set down the bait and peeled the plastic lid off: instant beef stew with roast vegetables. It wasn’t long before the littles came out of hiding: a male, female, and a pair of younglings.

I struck fast, swinging the net at the male. He and the female dove out of the way. I stepped forward to swing again and felt something crunch beneath my feet. I heard tiny voices wailing incomprehensibly at me and realized that I had stepped on the younglings.

The male and female stood in place, making weird noises that sounded like sobs. My scoutmaster told us we shouldn’t be fooled by these sort of noises. The littles may look and act like us, but they’re not us. They’re soulless.

I scooped up the male and dropped him in the holding box. I hopped back over the fence, leaving the female behind. We only needed one to be our driver. On the way out I stopped back in front of Matt’s door and wiped my feet on the welcome mat. I saw something tiny, stiff, and blue stuck in between the mat bristles. It looked like a pair of bloody blue jeans.

By the time I had come back, Dad had finished the seatbelt. “Look at what your mom made!” Dad held a tiny pair of racing gloves, a crimson red jumpsuit, and a white scarf in the palm of his hands. “He’ll be the most handsome driver in the derby”, Mom said later while we were having dinner.

Dad put the driver under his microscope. “You picked a good one,” Dad said. “He’s healthy, young— good reflexes, too. Look at how he’s wriggling. This one’s going to put up a fight.”

Dad wasn’t kidding. It took us two weeks to train the driver. We had to go so far as to lay down pillows all over the garage floor to keep the driver from jumping off Dad’s work bench.

After two weeks, the driver began to “rag-doll.” That was the ideal state for a little, according to the pinewood handbook. You could just pick them up, buckle them in, and push them around without complaint. We did a couple of trial runs on the race track my Dad set up in our backyard. No crashes, no casualties. The perfect car.

Perfect car or not, we came in second at the derby. Dad and I didn’t care. We knew we had put together the best car and driver, even if gravity didn’t agree with us.

I still have that car. I keep it on a shelf in my living room. The driver is still in there, too— hands at ten and two. The taxidermist said it was his best one yet.

 

ASHLEY NAFTULE is a writer and theater artist from Phoenix, AZ. He’s been published in Pitchfork, Ghost City Press, Vice, Popula, Occulum, Rinky Dink Press, Bandcamp, Four Chambers Press, The Outline, Cleveland Review of Books, Longreads, Amethyst Review, Bone & Ink Press, and The Molotov Cocktail. He’s a resident playwright and the Artistic Director at Space55 theatre.

Image via Pixabay 

Cabinet Of Heed Contents

Third Dimension – Sheila Scott 

Perhaps I should be less heroically independent. As I’d fumbled with my stick and the handles of the car door, the taxi driver offered to take me up to the entrance, but I waved him away, embarrassed by my need for assistance. Now I tic tac my way up to what he said was an impressive façade of shining glass.

A slight breeze from the revolving door alerts me I am near the entrance. I put up a hand to catch the speed, insert myself into its spin, and let the metronomic click of its passage tell me when to step out.

A vastness opens around me; I can feel its echo. After a beat I opt for the direct approach and start straight ahead. The leather soles of my shoes squeak across the hard floor, and my stick keeps a syncopated rhythm until it hits the front of the reception desk.

‘Good morning, sir. Can I help you?’ A young female voice with the flattened vowels of a northern accent.

‘I have an appointment with Doctor Eric Meadows at Third Dimension. Eleven o’clock. My name’s Roy Collins.’ I hear the flick of a page, forward then back.

‘Very good, Mr. Collins. You just take a seat and I’ll tell Doctor Meadows you’ve arrived. Here, let me help you.’ Her chair scrapes back. A gentle hand takes me by the elbow to a nearby seat and, as I sink into it, the firm vinyl makes a similar sound to the floor. The receptionist leaves a trail of violets and vanilla in her wake as she returns to her desk. I fold up my stick and lay it across my lap.

My GP put me in touch with this place. Doctor Calder is a good sort, one of the ones who truly cares about the patients, not just dashing off a prescription and propelling you back out the door. She’d read about the new process in some science journal or other and thought it might help me. ‘What do I have to lose?’ I told her, and she put her hand over mine and gave it a squeeze.

Now I sit and listen. A lift pings intermittently and voices drift past. Footsteps resonate confirming my original impression of great space. Eventually I become aware that someone has closed in and stopped before me.

‘Mr. Collins?’ The rustle of a sleeve as a hand is extended. I hold out my own hand and it is firmly grasped and shaken.

‘That’s me. Doctor Meadows I take it?’ We release hands.

‘Call me Eric.’

‘Eric. In that case, I’m Roy.’

‘And how are you feeling today Roy?’

‘Ach.’ I face the voice and give a shrug. ‘Can’t complain Doctor Me… Eric.’

‘Do you think you’re ready to come with me up to the lab?’

‘Yes, I believe so.’

‘And you brought a photograph with you?’

I pat the breast pocket of my tweed jacket and offer a smile.

‘It was always my favourite.’ I feel my eyes dampening already and remind myself of the vow I made this morning. No tears.

‘Good stuff. That sounds ideal. Right, let’s get started then, shall we?’

He also takes my elbow and guides me towards the pinging lift. ‘We’re very grateful for your participation in our trial. Your perspective will be most helpful to us.’

The lift doors shush open, we take a step and they shut behind us. I can feel the closeness of the walls and there is a strong smell of brass polish. Eric taps a button and the lift shunts into action. It is hard to tell if we are going up or down.

‘There’s nothing more for you to sign you’ll be pleased to hear, Doctor Calder kindly sent us on all the forms.’

‘Ah. She’s very efficient. Been a good doctor to my family.’ My voice catches.

‘I would imagine she would be, yes.’

The lift thrums. Eric gives a little cough.

‘I understand my colleagues have already gone through the process with you, Roy, is that correct?’

I nod.

‘I’d a very long phone call with one of them on…must have been Monday? I’m pretty sure we covered everything.’

‘Yes, that’ll be our Doctor Stewart. She’s a devil for the detail.’

The lift jolts to a stop and Eric guides me out. A silence hangs between us as we walk. Finally, he opens a door and escorts me into the room.

‘If you’d just like to have a seat, I’ll go and check they’re ready for you. In the meantime, is there anything we can get you? Tea, coffee, water?’

‘A coffee would be lovely thanks. Just black.’

‘No problem.’ The door closes. The air in the room is a mix of lemon freshener and institutional mustiness. There is a low hum, I suspect from the air conditioning, and a clock ticks loudly. I take the photo from my pocket and with my fingers lightly trace the scene as best I can.

The picture sat on the mantelpiece for years, watching as its occupants in the real world grew bigger and bolder or smaller and greyer; morphed from flat black and white to the colour of the three-dimensional world. The frame surrounding it changed, reflecting passing tastes and trends, but the picture remained a constant. When Gemma married and moved overseas, that image was a visual reminder of those early carefree days. A few years later, I would look at it to see Linda, the woman I married, as she gradually left us. When I could no longer cope and she was moved to the care facility, the photograph was still there. My sight went not long after that.

I’ve heard folk say the one thing they can never take from you is your memories but that’s a lie. I watched Linda stripped of hers. Then as I grew used to the darkness I realised that the images in my brain were also beginning to fade. One night as I was feeling my way to bed I knocked the photo to the floor. I picked it back up and tried to remember the scene. My chest chilled; I recalled the form, the beach and the chairs, but could no longer visualise their faces or what they were wearing. I couldn’t see them anymore.

The door opens again.

‘Hello Mr. Collins.’ A different, younger male voice.

I hear him cross the room. ‘I’ll just put your coffee on the table here.’ He pauses as I don’t react. ‘It’s just to the left-hand side of the sofa.’ He passes back in front of me and the door closes once more. I track the surface of the table with my hand until I locate the paper cup. The steam blasts my face as I lift it to my lips, but the coffee is low on taste and I set it back down. The clock counts the seconds aloud until Eric returns.

‘All ready for you, Roy.’ He leads me out the waiting room and into the lab. There is a buzzing noise and a smell like electricity. It reminds me of the strange odour given off by the little engine of my childhood train-set, as I laid my head at the side of the tracks trying to make it look life-size. I take comfort from it in this alien world.

Murmuring voices are working through a checklist. Every so often there is a loud clunk. From Doctor Stewart’s description of the process, I guess it’s the sound of the projectors being positioned.

‘Could we have your picture, please, Roy?’ I pass him the photograph and listen as he inserts it into the machine. Fingers rap on a keyboard and another voice says ‘set’. Eric ushers me on a few paces.

‘Sounds please Jez.’ The room fills with the staccato shriek of seagulls over the velvet rolling of waves to shore. Children laugh and chatter in the background. I have no idea where the soundtrack comes from but today it will be my North Berwick.

‘That’s you, Roy. Just reach out.’ Eric lets go my arm and I stretch out my hands. A small gasp escapes my lips as I touch the soft wool and floral embroidery of Linda’s favourite cardigan. That’s right. She wore it most days that holiday. She’d got it in the women’s drapers beside the Co-operative when we’d just moved into the house. I can picture her standing in the kitchen swirling round as she held the front panels straight to show off the pattern. She’d never had anything so fancy, she said, but she just couldn’t resist it. She wore it all through carrying Gemma too, even when she couldn’t do the buttons up anymore, the panels sitting either side of her swollen belly like curtains. That little top was a constant in the early years of our marriage and one of the reasons she loved this picture so much.

I long for the sweet scent of her favourite perfume as I trace the shape of her arm up to her shoulder, then bring my hands up in front of her face. There is the gentle heart shape of her chin, the tilt of the corners of her mouth and the upward sweep of her perfectly permed hair. A pair of large round sunglasses, so fashionable at the time, perches on her small snub nose. Her face reforms in my mind.

My eyes are wet and I don’t care. For this fleeting moment they are returned to me, yet I am reminded of how much I have lost. My shoulders heave but I am smiling. It is worth it.

In the photograph Linda sits in a folding chair and I follow the cold steel of its tubular frame down to where I know Gemma kneels, frozen as a five-year-old. My hand skims her pigtailed hair, the cool cotton of her tee shirt with the three pearl buttons on one shoulder, and the frilled skirt of her bathing suit. She is carefully constructing a small empire of sandcastles with her bucket and spade. Over the soundscape conjured by the lab, I recall her soft voice explaining to the inhabitants of her castles how their sand city was evolving. I hear Linda’s voice too, sharing the gossip gleaned at breakfast about the other residents of our B and B.

I remember where I was immediately prior to taking the photograph and, with some difficulty, resume this position. Sitting beside Gemma, my back resting against Linda’s legs, I am engrossed by the B and B tittle tattle and Gemma’s great construction project. I run my hand around the contours of the castles and, as the details regenerate, I will them to stay in my memory this time. The pressure of Linda’s knees against my spine reawakens the sensation of her stroking the shorn hair at the base of my short back and sides. I can smell the mix of sunscreen, brine and ice cream that was Gemma after a day running around in the sun. Everything I used to see when I looked at the photograph, I sense as I sit inside it.

‘One more minute, Roy.’

His voice sounds quieter and a little less confident than before.

‘Yes, Eric.’ I give Gemma a kiss on the top of her salt straggled hair then haul myself up. The temporal distance, oddness and presence of an audience make me feel almost shy as I lean down to hug my wife a last time. Now I catch the light rose traces of Linda’s perfume. She feels firm and alive, not the frail echo that sits in the hospice hiding sandwiches in her dressing gown and screaming because she doesn’t recognise me.

A touch on my arm and I jump.

‘Sorry, Roy. Didn’t mean to startle you.’ Eric steers me back across the room. The seagulls and waves cease, and I realise, once again, they are gone.

Eric hands me back my photograph.

‘Thanks again Roy. Karen will be in shortly to look after you. You okay?’ Once again I nod. I don’t trust myself to speak just yet.

The next steps have already been explained to me. They’ll take me through to a clinic where all my vitals will be monitored, and a psychologist will debrief me. The scientists have learned to be more careful what they release into the public domain after the last time. They want to assess the medium-term impacts as well as the immediate, so in a fortnight I’ll go through a second batch of tests, then a third lot after six months.

The real world can wait, though. For in this moment, I see everything clearly again, and for as long as I can I will cling to this image. I will stay sitting on the beach with my young wife in her favourite cardie and my beautiful little girl building castles made of sand.

 

SHEILA SCOTT is a hybrid writer-scientist who most enjoys sitting with pen and paper turning idle thoughts into short narratives and illustrative doodles. Published in Causeway, Cabinet of Heed, Flashback Fiction, Poetic Republic, Qmunicate and shortlisted for Arachne Press Solstice Shorts, she also helps lead New Writing Showcase Glasgow and has an intermittently hyperactive Twitter account @MAHenry20.

Image via Pixabay

Cabinet Of Heed Contents

Four My Little Ponies Of The Apocalypse – Caleb Echterling 

And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see. And I saw, and behold, a white horse. He who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given unto him, and he went forth conquering and to conquer. (Revelations 6:1-2)

Quivering fingers poked at a snoring duvet cover. “Dad, it’s five-thirty. Can we open presents now?”

“Did you make me a double caf venti latte with an extra shot of espresso?” the duvet asked.

“Of course. We know the rules for Christmas.”

The duvet grumbled, which set off a mad dash of limbs tumbling down the stairs and into the perumba of a Christmas tree. The owners of the limbs traded slaps and pushes.

Dad sipped his latte. “Cut it out. You both know the rules. The first present goes to the winner of a double-elimination, best three out of five rock-scissors-paper shoot out. I’ll count down the start. One, two …”

“Marci can go first, Dad,” Linus said. “The rock-scissors-paper tournament takes too long. I’ll open a present sooner if I give up my spot.”

“How very mature of you,” Dad said. “Which present would you like to open, Marci?”

“The big one! The big one!” Marci dove over the pile of loot. Flecks of spittle flew from her mouth. She wrestled a rectangular box to the ground, and ripped at the Arbor Day-themed wrapping paper like a swarm of piranhas skeletonizing a goat. 

Marci held her trophy aloft. “Yay, The Four My Little Ponies of the Apocalypse. You remembered, Daddy.”

“How could I forget? You reminded me ten times a day for three months. Please share with your brother. We’re not having a repeat of last year’s Slumlord Barbie incident.”

Marci fired up a table saw to remove the protective plastic shell encasing her new toys. She tossed a white horse to her brother. “He can play with this one, but I get the other three.” 

Linus whinnied and pantomimed the My Little Pony trotting over the shag carpet. His body exploded with red bumps. “Ow, Dad, this itches.”

When he opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, Come and see. And there went out another horse that was red. And power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that people should kill one another, and there was given unto him a great sword. (Revelations 6:3-4)

“I’m tired of this pony. I want the red one,” Linus said. He swung a sack of nickels at his sister. She ducked under the incoming bludgeon, grabbed an empty whiskey bottle by the neck, and smashed off the end.

Jagged fingers of glass groped for Linus’s nose. “You want the red pony? Let’s dance, motherfu…”

“Kids, please. You know the rules. Any disagreement over who gets to play with a toy is settled by best four out of seven thumb wrestling.”

The sack of nickels fell to the floor. “Fine,” Linus said. “but I’m picking my nose first.”

The broken whiskey bottle smashed into the Christmas tree. “Fine, but I’m sticking my thumb up my butt first.”

“Fine, I’m sticking my thumb up the dog’s butt.”

“Fine, I’m sticking my thumb in Dad’s hollandaise sauce.”

“Dad,” Linus wailed, “Marci’s cheating and being gross.”

“Kids, you know what happens when you can’t agree on the rules for thumb wrestling. Best five out of nine interpretive dance contest.”

“Ugh, never mind,” Marci said. She tossed the red pony to her brother. “I’ll get a different one.”

When He opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. So I beheld, and lo, a black horse, and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts saying, “A measure of wheat for a denarius, and three measures of barley for a denarius, and see thou harm not the oil and wine.” (Revelations 6:5-6)

Marci galloped the black pony over a wasteland of torn wrapping paper. “Dad, I’m famished. Can we eat?”

Dad rubbed his palms together. “Is it time for your Dad’s extra-special traditional Christmas dinner? Go check the kitchen for the main course.”

Marci rummaged through the pantry. “Sorry, Pop. We’re all out of Funyuns.”

“Arrrrgh. How are we supposed to honor the birth of our Lord and Savior without Funyuns.” Dad snapped his fingers. “I know, let’s check the Bible. They probably have some sort of cheat sheet in there.”

Linus flipped pages. “Here we go. No seafood unless it has fins and scales.”

“Well crap. Lobster thermidor was the back up plan in case Funyuns didn’t work out. What else ya got?”

“Crickets. Says here we can eat crickets.”

“Your grandma always makes crickets á l’orange for St. Barnabas’s Day. I guess we could switch that to Christmas this year.”

“Eww,” Marci said. “Orange is icky. Can we have Owl Bourguignon instead?”

“Bad news,” Linus chirped. “Bible says owl is out. Same with ospreys. Grasshoppers are okay, though.”

“That’s my vote,” Dad said. “I got a bushel of grasshoppers at Trader Joe’s last week. Gotta use ‘em up before they go bad.”

When He opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. So I looked, and behold, a pale horse. And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth. (Revelations 6:7-8)

Marci untangled the pale My Little Pony from its plastic bindings. She tossed it to the dog, who woofed with appreciation before chew-slobbering the toy into oblivion.

Linus opened the fridge. A swarm of grasshoppers tumbled out with a six-pack of beer, their hind legs twisted about the bottles. Tipsy mandibles sipped the sweet nectar inside. “Gross, Dad. The grasshoppers are alive.”

“Of course they’re alive. They taste like ass unless they die a horrible, painful death as you cook them, like lobster. Or collard greens.”

“Do they scream in agony like collards?”

“Damn straight they do. The screaming is what makes them delicious. Let’s boil up a big pot of cheap beer to murder us some grasshoppers for Christmas dinner.”

CALEB ECHTERLING is currently performing in a one-person show that combines self-esteem building strategies with insult comedy. He tweets funny fiction using the highly creative handle @CalebEchterling. You can find more of his work at www.calebechterling.com.

Image via Pixabay 

Cabinet Of Heed Contents

Mathilde – Emma Venables

Mathilde looks at her reflection in a shop window: hair wispy about her ears, bags laden beneath her eyes, a slight kink in her posture. She looks typical enough to blend in with all the other women walking this street in search of intact store fronts, stocked shelves; no one will notice the slight shake of her ankles, the way she leans on the pram’s bar a little too heavily.

She reaches down, tucks the blanket under Henni’s chin. The baby stirs but does not make a sound. Mathilde exhales a fraction louder than she intended, relieved that Henni sleeps. She strokes Henni’s cheek with an index finger, enjoys the smiles of the passersby admiring the propaganda worthy image of mother and infant: a reassuring sight in these uncertain times.

A car horn toots. A horse exhales and stomps its hooves against the ground. Two men walk past, laughing louder than necessary. Mathilde stops stroking Henni’s cheek, gets ready to shush the child’s fretting, but she sleeps on as if she already understands, has already been versed in what to expect, how to act. Mathilde looks around at the cracked facades, the split sandbags, the grey faces of the women around her. Some clutch their grocery bags to their chests as if they were their children and Mathilde wonders what they have lost in this headless war. She allows Johann a spot in her thoughts, allows him to unfurl. Long-limbed and straight-backed. His bottom lip puckers. Mathilde fiddles with her wedding band, tries to distract herself from the words that stamp across every thought she has of him, but they appear black and bold on his chest, arms, forehead: missing in action. She bites her lip, uses the pain as a way back onto this bombed-out Berlin street before she starts thinking of Horst too.

Mathilde carries on walking, the pram rattles over the cobbles. She keeps her eyes on the end of the street, where she has to turn right, look out for the alleyway on her left and walk into it in the manner of a woman who does so every day. She cannot see any obvious obstacles to this endeavour, no men watching her a little too closely over their newspapers, but one can never been too careful. She throws her shoulders back, manoeuvres the pram around a pothole, a pile of bricks, a cracked sink. A boy holds up a toy aeroplane he has discovered in the rubble. His mother tells him to put it back, but he does not and she does not pursue the discussion any further.

A steady rain begins to fall over the city; the cobbles take on an oil paint sheen. Mathilde knows she must watch her step, not be too hasty, and yet appear to be eager to get out of the rain. She does not have an umbrella to put up, could not push the pram with one hand if she tried. The back of her dress dampens.

A man steps out of Mathilde’s way. She apologises, he shrugs and smiles, points to the heavens as if they provide an explanation for her lack of awareness. Yes, she thinks, I am desperate to get home, to take off this dress and hang it up to dry, to gather my baby in my arms and rock her in time with a tune on the wireless. After all, that’s what we woman do, isn’t it? She returns his smile, shakes her head at the rain. Unexpected, like so many things.

Mathilde lifts her face up to the sky, breathes in the cool air. Her arms ache, but she cannot stop, cannot slip into a café and sip something ersatz while the rain eases, the clouds break. Then she wonders whether her determination, the bend of her elbows and knees makes her stand out, and she should cross the street, go into that café with the cracked windowpane, and sit her damp backside on an ill-cushioned chair. She recalls the advice: they spoke of blending in, of complications caused by people but not by the weather. She carries on, pulls the pram’s hood up further, tells the sleeping baby they are nearly home so as to keep up the act, to dispel the potential doubters walking beside her. She pushes the pram harder, tries not to wince at its weight, wonders if she can manage to push hard enough so she can break into a brisker pace, an almost-run.

Mathilde’s cheeks and chest burn with the effort. She looks around, no one seems to be concerned with her, the rumble of the pram wheels over the cobbles. She nears the end of the street. One right turn. Left into an alleyway. Walk it like a resident of the building. Someone will be there smoking a cigarette, will offer her a hand with the pram up the stairs to the third floor where the apartment door will be unlocked at the sound of her footsteps and locked at her back. Then a pleasant face will wait while she collects her slumbering baby from the pram, pulls back the mattress and reveals her cargo of anti-National Socialist leaflets. He will distribute them, make sure they get into the hands of the women she pretends to be right now as she navigates her way down this street.

The rain eases. Mathilde’s ankle wobbles over a cobble loosened by war. Her muscles strain at the unusual angle and she tries to tense them, to regain her footing. She grips the pram’s handle, but worries she might tip it up, might hurt her daughter, spill her secret. Her knees give way; she tries not to cry out as they meet the ground.

As people flock to her, the fallen mother, Mathilde wonders how Henni will remember her, for surely this is the moment everything unravels. She knows the child will go to parents with the right beliefs, the right place in society, knows one day Henni will be reminded of how she was saved from growing up with misguided notions. Will Henni see past all that to the injustice her mother was fighting against? Mathilde cannot fathom the answer. She feels a hand on her arm, pulling her up. She tries to listen over the cacophony of concern, to listen for Henni, for broken sleep. She looks past the people, their eyes on her torn stockings, bloodied shins, waves their concern away. She forces herself to walk despite the stiffness of her limbs, her grazed skin.

Henni’s pram has not rolled far. A man in a long winter coat holds the handle. He mutters words Mathilde cannot comprehend to the child.

‘No need to worry. She’s still sleeping,’ he says, stroking Henni’s cheek.

‘Thank you,’ Mathilde says, reaching out for the pram. Her pulse booms in her ears.

‘You’ve cut your knee pretty badly. Do you need me to help you get somewhere?’

‘That’s awfully kind, but I’m perfectly fine. Thank you, again,’ she says.

A Party badge adorns his lapel and Mathilde finds she cannot take her eyes off it.

‘Are you sure I can’t help in some way?’

‘No, thank you. I really must get the baby home.’

‘At least let me walk some of the way with you,’ he says.

Mathilde looks up at the man’s face – at the slight furrow of his brow, the rain dripping down his nose, the freckle on his upper lip. He cannot be much older than her, something in the tilt of his head reminds her of Horst and she finds herself squinting, seeking more of him within the contours of this stranger. She turns her head, looks down at the pram. Horst would scold her for this, remind her that he was hanged at Plötzensee for such a lapse, remind her that his blood still stains the wall. Don’t get sloppy now, he would say. You’ve got a job to do. Think of your brother another time.

Mathilde smiles as if she did not fall, did not let go of the pram; as if her leg is not throbbing and her heart not raging in her chest.

‘Really, I appreciate your concern, but it isn’t far,’ she says.

He shrugs, steps back. ‘Heil Hitler.’

Mathilde coughs, presses one hand to her mouth and waves her other hand at the gentleman in a gesture she hopes implies annoyance at not being able to return his salutation. She walks the remainder of the street, keeps her eyes on a lamppost ahead. She knows he watches her, knows she must not stop.

The rain resumes, heavier than before; drops bounce off the cobbles and the pram’s hood. Mathilde turns right, casts a glance at the man, but he has moved on in the opposite direction, head bent against the sudden downpour. She looks up at the sky – a thank you to Mother Nature – and quickens her pace.

In the entrance way to the apartment building she nods at the man in the flat cap, smoking a cigarette.

‘Hello,’ she says.

‘Do you need a hand getting the pram upstairs?’ he asks.

‘Yes, please. I’m on the third floor,’ she says.

‘No problem,’ he says, throwing his cigarette to the ground.

 

EMMA VENABLES’ short fiction has previously featured in The Gull, Litro Online, The Lampeter Review, Strix, The Fiction Pool, LossLit, Spelk, FlashBack Fiction, and Normal Deviation: A Weird Fiction Anthology. Her first novel, The Duties of Women, will be published by Stirling Publishing in 2020. She can be found on Twitter: @EmmaMVenables.

Image via Pixabay 

Cabinet Of Heed Contents

This Is How I Get Under Your Skin – Sarah Edghill 

I have put a cashmere blanket across the treatment couch, so she immediately senses she’s in the hands of a sophisticate: someone who understands and appreciates her needs. My uniform is white, with creases in all the right places. The blinds are pulled down, the lighting soft. A candle burns on the windowsill, filling the room with delicate floral top notes. Hidden speakers play the sort of music she listens to during her regular mindfulness sessions: whales burbling, flutes warbling, water dripping from the canopy of a tropical rainforest.

‘Just relax,’ I say, as she lies back. ‘Close your eyes.’

Before she can ask questions, I dab at her face with a wet wipe.

‘This is a special non-alcoholic cleanser,’ I explain. ‘Gentle on the skin, with no harsh, drying effects.’

They always love the mention of ‘non-alcoholic’. Despite the fact that they’re about to put their bodies through a process of artificial cosmetic enhancement, they feel reassured that this initial cleaning stage won’t strip their skin of its natural moisture.

‘Keep your eyes closed and take deep breaths,’ I say, moving away from the couch towards the shelf where I keep my mobile plugged into its charger. ‘In…. then out again. Nice and slowly.’

There’s a text waiting, from a friend who’s away on a training course. Apparently she drank too much vodka last night and ended up having sex with a bloke she fancies from marketing. I send her a smiley face emoji. Then I add a thumbs up and a red heart.

The woman on the couch clears her throat, and I look round to check her eyes are still shut.

‘Nearly ready,’ I say, my voice as soothing as the burbling whales and warbling flutes. ‘I’m just making the final preparations.’

I check my reflection in the wall mirror. There’s something between my front teeth – possibly cashew from this morning’s muesli – and I lever it out with my fingernail.

‘Right,’ I say, moving back to the couch. ‘Let’s make a start. Keep your eyes closed and breathe normally. There may be some discomfort, but the process isn’t painful.’

This is a lie. It will sting, possibly even hurt a lot. But it’s amazing what people will put up with, for the sake of beauty.

I reach for the syringe, lying on a white sheet on the table. I prepare everything before the client arrives, mixing the crystalline substance with saline – the recommended dilution is half a teaspoon for each vial, but I add extra saline because it gives the impression they’re getting more for their money.

‘I’ll start on the right hand side,’ I say, smoothing the area with my forefinger, the papery skin crinkling into waves. Freckles litter her bronzed forehead: she’s probably just back from the Caribbean.

‘The first injection will go here.’

As the needle pricks her skin, she yelps.

‘Well done,’ I soothe. ‘Four more, then we’ll repeat the process on the other side.’

I take my time, it’s important not to rush.

‘Apply some ice when you get home,’ I suggest. ‘There isn’t usually any bruising, but it depends on the sensitivity of your skin.’

I have now finished this side. One of the pin prick holes is bleeding, so I clean away the crimson bubble with a wipe. I’ve actually run out of non-alcoholic ones, so this is a cheap pack from Superdrug. It’s scented with Tea Tree Oil so, to the inexperienced nose, smells suitably medicated.

‘How long should I ice it for?’ she asks, her voice wobbly.

‘Twenty minutes on each side,’ I say.

The ice is worse than useless; applying direct pressure to the area, is more effective in controlling bleeding and bruising. But for some reason they like being told to use ice. I’m never sure how many of them manage twenty minutes: by then they’ll have lost all sensation in their skin and will probably be struggling with the onset of hypothermia.

Once the other side of her forehead is done, I move to the eye area. This woman has a raggedy network of crow’s feet, the result of a lifetime’s excessive exposure to the sun, during one expensive holiday after another.

She’s trying to be stoic: it’s heart warming. I dig the needle a little deeper on the last injection.

‘All done!’ I say, putting the syringe on the table and covering it with the white cloth. ‘You were terribly brave! Some of my ladies have a little weep, but you’re clearly made of stronger stuff.’

She has opened her eyes now, and they’re brimming with tears. But she is swallowing hard: pleased to have been more resilient than others who have lain on this couch before her.

‘Goodness,’ she whispers. ‘It was worse than I’d expected!’

‘Take your time getting up,’ I say. ‘Avoid exercise for the rest of the day, and take painkillers if it feels sore.’

I’m guessing she has a bathroom cupboard full of Tramadol in her en-suite at home, which is good because she’ll need it.

‘Don’t expect instant results,’ I say. ‘It may be up to ten days before you notice any change.’

Her mouth falls open.

‘But… I thought I’d see the difference immediately?’

‘I’m afraid not. A common misconception. This treatment isn’t a quick fix. You may also need to pop back to have a chat about that crease, between your eyes.’

I tap my finger onto the area in question.

‘There’s a deep line there, and one session won’t make an impression. But we could think about using a filler?’

Beneath the bleeding dots at the edge of her face, she’s looking concerned.

‘But I hoped this would be all I’d need?’

I smile, resting my hand on her arm. People are so naïve about botulinum toxin. They hear their friends rave about it, and read testimonials from middle aged celebrities. They think it’s a miraculous cure-all, and presume that, when they walk out of my little room, the crevices decorating their elderly skin will have disappeared.

What they don’t realise is that Botox doesn’t erase wrinkles, it just relaxes them. Some of the superficial lines may disappear, but the deeper ones will still be there, and they’ll pay a price for attempting to turn back time. Right now, the bleeding and bruising are minimal. When this woman returns to lie on my couch for the third or fourth session, her face will have become bloated and shiny. The wrinkles will no longer be as visible, but only because the skin around them has swollen.

The puffer fish look, I call it.

I hold out her expensive coat.

‘So, you’d recommend some filler… for this bit?’ she says, tentatively.

‘I think it may be the only option.’

She smiles, reassured that something can be done.

I don’t worry her with the fact that there is controversy about using filler in the area between the eyes; research has suggested it can block facial veins, and the resulting loss of blood turns the skin white and lifeless. Patients have been left scarred.

That’s not as bad as the droopy eyelids though, which may eventually require surgery. Or the double vision, headaches and flu-like symptoms, which can be a sign that the toxin has worked its way into the central nervous system.

I’d never dream of using this stuff myself.

I pop her Gold Amex into my card machine and her shaky hand types in the PIN.

‘It has been lovely to meet you,’ I say, opening the door. ‘Take it easy for the next few hours.’

She smiles at me, lower lip quivering. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s already feeling nauseous. The skin around her eyes is very red.

She slides on an outsized pair of designer sunglasses.

‘Thank you so much,’ she whispers.

I close the door, and listen as her Jimmy Choos click down the stairs towards the street.

Over the next few weeks she’ll convince herself that the poison in that little vial of botulinum toxin, has indeed lessened her wrinkles. She will examine herself in every mirror she passes, glance at her reflection in shop windows, looking for signs that this procedure has succeeded. Her brow is surely less furrowed! Her crow’s feet are less deep!

Whatever happens, she won’t complain. However swollen and sore her face becomes, she will never admit this was a mistake, that vanity was her downfall.

Walking away down the high street, she is probably already coming up with excuses; for a start, she’ll need to justify the £450 that has just zipped into my bank account. She will also be working out how to explain away the inflammation and bruising. An allergy perhaps? A reaction to an insect bite?

But I’m sure she’s worrying unnecessarily. I doubt she’ll need to do any explaining, when she gets home to her equally wizened husband. He won’t notice there’s anything wrong with her face, because the sad truth is that he hasn’t looked at her properly for years.

 

Image via Pixabay 

Cabinet Of Heed Contents

Forgive Us Father For Someone Has Sinned – Copper Rose 

I was the one holding his hand when he took his last breath. Not my mother who left because she forgot to sign the important papers. Not my sisters, one who hadn’t come home from the next town over for the last ten years, the other on the porch smoking a discount cigarette. Nor my brother, ashamed to make an appearance lest someone ask too many questions about his perfectly painted life with what turned out to be an unfaithful wife.

I plugged in the slow cookers and put the food on the tables. Pa had liked horseradish on his ham sammiches. Put the coffee on to drip. Pa had liked his coffee black. Straightened the photos around the urn. Pa had liked to wear his striped-shirt when it came time to get his picture took.

I said my piece in front of those who gathered there. I sang a song in a shaky voice. Shook all the hands, gave all the hugs, patted all the backs, saying, “Yes, we really should do lunch some time,” knowing I didn’t mean it and neither did they.

I put the leftovers in empty cottage cheese containers. Stuffed the paper tablecloths in the garbage cans. Folded the tables and chairs. Put them away.

I stared at the brown urn, broke off one of the roses and tucked it behind my ear, opened the old autograph book set amongst the memorabilia. Mama gave it to me for Christmas when I was seven. Saw his chicken scratch scrawl, one of three times he’d written something especially for me during his lifetime. He never signed them with to or from. Or love. “You’re sure a swell kid, Dad.”

I thought about the other two times he’d written something to me, those two notes in the box under the bed at home. One was when he asked me to prepare the conference room for an important meeting. “The pitcher of water with the oranges floating in it was a nice touch.” They were lemons.

The third time was when he borrowed my only homestead credit after my divorce. “I, George Bellings, owe Cynthia Bellings $3500.”

He never did pay it back.

 

COPPER ROSE perforates the edges of the page while writing unusual stories from the heart of Wisconsin. Her work has appeared in various anthologies and online journals. She also understands there really is something about pie. Connect with her at https://julieceger.wordpress.com/copper-rose-author/ and on Facebook: Author Copper Rose

Image via Pixabay

Cabinet Of Heed Contents

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