The Price of a Fairytale Ending – Jordana Connor

A bargain struck, a spell cast.

Sometimes, what you wish for you can have, but it costs you more than you think.

She came to the beach one summer, with a life behind her and a longed-for life promised. She clung to the edge of the world. Traces of her presence were fleeting, her footprints erased by the winds and gobbled up by waves. She slept curled up next to driftwood logs, or under bushes with sharp spines that tore at her clothes until they were ragged.

The salt wind took her pretty hair and whipped it into ropes. The sun blistered her soft skin, day by painful day, until it turned leathery and tough. Her delicate hands and her straight white teeth were her tools – she grabbed and gnashed until they curled and broke.

She learned to fight with the ocean and defy its dominion, planting her feet again and again, insisting.

She scraped out a shelter for herself in the dunes, miserable in size and comfort, digging as deeply into the sand as she could with a shell and her hands, until the cavity started to glisten with wet. Her hands ached and her fingers bled. She fought with curious crabs who pushed insistently through its wall, threatening it with collapse. She hauled driftwood to shore up the entrance.

From the north, the west, the south, it was invisible. Beach grass waved over it, and small avalanches of sand obscured detection from all but the sharpest of eyes.

From the east, staring down the hostile sea, it was a dingy, barely constructed hovel, the front littered with discarded shells and slimy remnants of fish, strands of kelp and tumbleweeds. Discarded fishing line tangled with flotsam and jetsam from boats – careless leavings of foragers and pleasure seekers.

She slept in her hole like a crab in its shell – tucked in tight, feet-first, packed around with kelp and seagrass, and once, for a while, (oh joy!) a striped blue and white beach towel abandoned on the shore by a thoughtless bather. But the towel left her eventually – gleefully snatched away by the wind as she shook it, evicting small skittering creatures who sought to take her comfort for their own. She watched the towel waltz with the wind – its stripes undulating in ecstasy as it climbed climbed climbed into the darkening sky, before finally the wind bowed out of the dance, dropping it down into the sea where it disappeared.

After that, her softest cover was her hair – grown long and matted, a haven for insects and beach debris, and aegis against intrusion by people. She did not welcome their curious gazes, but she did welcome the wide berth they gave her when they saw what she was. She bared her broken teeth at any who ventured too near, hissing and gurgling and howling and cursing, desiring them drowned. She no longer spoke any language they recognised. They assumed her mad and let her be.

By day she slept. When sunrise wavered on the water, turning it pink and orange, beautifully violent, she would hiss and hurry to her cave, prepare to hide and renew.

She dozed with one narrow green eye slit, scanning sand and dunes for enemies, seeing none but the malevolent ocean. She curled her dirty fingers into her hair, and drew it close, burrowing into it. She breathed deeply, ozone mixed with the scent of marine decay, filling her senses and soothing her.

Late in the afternoons, she kicked out of her shelter, walls tumbling incrementally with each movement, leaving sand fleas to bounce and winkles to burrow, seeking peace. She scuttled to the water’s edge, wading into the breakers, diving under them and swimming out to a small reef off-shore. There, she hunted.

Schools of tiny silver fish fled before her, moving as one, united in their distress as she snatched whole handfuls into her broken mouth. She pulled the undulating legs off starfish, crunching them as they wriggled, and swallowing whole jellyfish to wash them down. She growled as she fed, diving and reeling through rips that sought to upset her and drag her down, push her body into the coral, colonise it with mollusks, roll it in salt.

She foraged in the dunes, gnawing on beach grass and smashing eggs in their nests, drinking down yolk and slippery baby birds, still warm from their shells.

Once she found a lost dog in the dunes, whimpering as it wriggled away from her, back leg twisted strangely and tongue panting. She grasped its squirming body and ripped its throat out with a deep bite and one savage wrench. The blood stained her hands for days, but she slept deeply, her belly full.

When final rays of sun shot over the sand, and the sea turned from green to unfriendly grey, she would crouch near her sand cave. She crooned gently to herself as she stroked her feet with her hair. She scraped her toes with bits of shell, sawing savagely back and forth, drawing blood that oozed, thick and black in the last of the light.

When night finally conquered the beach, stealing colour and hiding its secrets, she would crawl out onto a small promontory of rock and coral. It cut her bleeding feet deeper, as she clambered to sit among its small rock pools. In the biggest pool she squatted, screaming at the ocean and shaking her fists, kicking crabs and stabbing her fingers into anemones, cackling as she watched them recoil.

Time passed and her feet grew calloused. She lost her toenails. Her hair grew still heavier. She could barely lift her head, and her forays down to the waves to find sustenance were an effort. Once, she let the water snatch her for a few seconds, waves rolling her and pushing her down, sucking her out into the bay to take her last breath from her. A gathering of savage strength, a kick off from the ocean floor, a ride back into shore from a passing turtle that struggled against her grip on its shell, mouth gaping in protest.

In the water she was lighter, and as the turtle towed her back to shore, she felt power surge back into her weary bones. She released it, kicked strongly and swallowed salt, brightening and hissing as she surfaced, renewed. She spat into the waves and watched the black phlegm dance on the surface before it was taken. An insult, or a gift. The sea relinquished her and the shore sullenly took her back. She crawled to the beach and slept.

On a sharp autumn afternoon, shivering and gasping in the frigid wind, she found a scale on her big toe. She screeched in triumph like the gulls above the bay, and pulled at her matted hair. Long strands were ripped from her head, and she flung them into the wind and screamed into the sky as they roiled and snaked through the swirling sand before they disappeared.

She squeezed back into the hut, one hand caressing her scale, the other gently stroking a thin-skinned place on her neck, where something new pulsed just under the surface. She ran a finger over the delicate edges of the scale as she cackled and crooned. It was the most beautiful thing she had ever known.

By morning, there was a second scale. By the time autumn had relinquished its grip to winter, all of one foot and half of the other was covered and it was harder for her to walk. She had to crawl down to the water, where she sat in the shallows, bathing her feet and turning them this way and that, admiring how the light glanced off her scales. They were pale green shot with gold and a delicate pink like the innermost spiral of a shell, emptied of its owner and washed clean.

By the end of that winter, the scales had reached her waist. Her legs had fused together weeks before, starting from the top and causing searing pain when she found she could no longer relieve herself. She had to rip into her morphing, writhing body with the sharp edge of a broken shell, and when a golden stream of urine splashed onto the sand, rivulets carving tiny lava flows through a miniature hellscape, she wept with joy.

Her toes eventually fused, the ugly calloused spaces between them replaced with delicate webbing that was irritated by sand but soothed by saltwater. She spent hours in the shallow rock pools, letting blood-warm water run over her body. With a sharp stick, she picked at matted sections of her hair. She hummed sometimes – wild, ringing sea shanties writ meek.

She fell asleep in the rock pool one morning, and slept peacefully. A cockle wriggled slowly into her hair and settled in, where it was joined by several small starfish and a bright red crab.

Her sand cave crouched empty now – a late winter storm had stoved in the top and the deluge had filled the pit. Debris from her battles and her meals spewed out, and what the ocean could reach at the next high tide, it took. Snatching its treasures back and spiriting them away to its depths. Vowing never again to allow their loss.

She awoke on her last afternoon on the beach, in early spring. From her rock pool, she squinted into hazy pink light, looking for storms, for wind, for the battle. But there were only gently lapping waves, and seagulls dancing joyfully in a breeze that played gently.

She pulled herself up out of the rock pool, and looked down into the ocean below. The delicate skin on the sides of her neck split, and she felt both longing and urgency for the depths. Her tail lashed with new power as she dived into the water, and when the next wave welcomed her, she disappeared.

 

Jordana Connor is a long-time scribbler and fledgling submitter of short stories and flash fiction. Her work has been published in takahē magazine, on Flash Frontier, and on 50-word Stories. She enjoys excruciatingly bad puns, delicious swear words, and the Oxford comma. She’s a Kiwi living in Brisbane.

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I Called You Last Night? Really? – Mike Nolan

In the safety of my cubicle, I set my sunglasses and coffee next to the keyboard and fell into my chair, firing up the computer and taking comfort in being able to dim the screen. I couldn’t do anything about the overhead lights. 

I’d consumed half a Nalgene bottle of carrot-ginger-tomato juice, a concoction I heard was the absolute best cure. Nothing beats simply going back to bed, but I couldn’t miss work.

Scrolling through e-mails, I banged away at the keyboard. I was halfway through my coffee when Beth’s eyes slowly peered over the cubicle wall. My hands froze above the keys. 

“You doing okay?” she asked.

“Yeah, hi, I mean, good morning.”

I shifted my tired eyes back to the screen, wondering if they looked as bloodshot as they felt.

“You’re all right then?”

My eyes returned to Beth, and I could feel them pulse slightly, keeping time with my heartbeat. I drained the last of my coffee. “Yeah, I’m fine. Why do you ask?”

“Well, after you called me last night—”

“I called—” Catching myself before I could complete the question, I changed gears. “Yeah . . . last night. I called.” 

Beth slipped around the cubicle wall and folded her arms across her chest. Perching on my desk, she lowered her head and searched my face, wearing the expression you make when you’re not sure if you should continue a conversation. “You remember calling me, right?”

“Of course,” I lied. 

“All right, I wasn’t sure. And . . . I was concerned. You sounded sort of sad.” Beth’s eyes radiated empathy. My heart stuttered. She was perfect—smart, beautiful, honest—and now that I was over Amy, I was ready to fall in love with someone else, like Beth. 

“Sad?” I forced the smile again, proving I was not sad. 

I was treading water and damn close to sinking. The only thing I remembered with any clarity about last night was celebrating the date, October twenty-third. I was proud of having survived a year since breaking up with Amy, although I wasn’t sure survived was the right word. Over the last few months, I’d been careful to use the phrase, “breaking up with Amy,” because it sounded mutual, like something we’d both agreed on. Truth was, Amy ended the relationship, and I’d been walking around with a gaping wound ever since. 

So last night, on the anniversary of our breakup, I decided to celebrate. To show how strong I had become, I watched Sleepless in Seattle, the old Tom Hanks–Meg Ryan vehicle that had been our go-to romantic comedy. Amy and I had the lines memorized. As a precaution, I deadened any possible pain with vodka. Normally, I wouldn’t do that; I didn’t even like vodka. But at the time, it made sense, in a self-abusive sort of way. I thought watching Sleepless in Seattle would be like me taking on the role of Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, when Bogy asks Sam to play “As Time Goes By.” “Play it . . . if she can take it, I can take it.” It all turned out to be torture, just like it was for Bogart in the movie. He couldn’t take it, and neither could I.

I ended up flat on my back on the living room floor, semi-conscious, TV screen buzzing a monotone, and a half-empty bottle of vodka by my side. A tiny voice inside my head kept saying, “You know you still love Amy.” Which was why Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, and I all got hammered drinking vodka.

“So we’re going out to dinner?” Beth asked.

“Right . . .” I was fishing, working hard to concentrate on the conversation and keep the smile on my face.

Amy walked by with a stack of files in her arms. Christ! Perfect timing. I froze for a second, trying to regain focus and remember what Beth just said. After missing a beat, I grinned. At some point this conversation was bound to crash and burn. I would die in a blazing fire.

“I’d like that,” Beth said.

This time I smiled for real, just like Tom Hanks. Maybe there would be a soft landing after all. For a second, neither of us were sure what to say next. 

I lowered my eyes. “I’ve got a confession to make.”

Beth drew closer. 

“I was, you know, just a little tipsy last night. I mean, when I called you.”

“But you meant to call me, right? You want to go out . . .”

“Oh, yes. Of course. Yes.”

Beth made a sympathetic “Mmmmm” sound, her eyes full of concern. I melted. She squeezed my arm, and I loved her even more. 

Beth leaned back on my desk. “And you’re doing okay now?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. Really.” This was working.

“Well, we’ll talk about it at dinner, right?” She squeezed my arm again.

That sealed it. “It’ll be fun.” Now my smile was uncontrollable.

Before she returned to her own cubicle, Beth gave me a little hug, which actually made me shiver. 

Beth started to walk away and my breathing returned to normal. I focused on my computer as Amy walked by again, still carrying the same stack of files. Was she circling the office, waiting to talk without Beth around? Amy stopped next to my cubicle. I stood as she said, “You doing okay?” which made Beth stop and turn around.

“I’m fine. Ah, thanks for asking. How are you?” I fumbled for words as my eyes darted between Beth and Amy, and a hundred emotions—feelings that were supposed to be buried beneath a shallow pool of vodka—came rushing to the surface. Suddenly I was back to being Bogart, not Hanks. A sad, hungover Bogart.

“Good,” she said, nodding. “I just wanted to check, you know, after you called last night.”

 

Mike Nolan lives with his wife, Ann, in the little town of Port Angeles, in the far corner of Washington State, USA. He is the author of My Second Education, has a web presence at mikenolanstoryteller.com and can be reached at mikenolanstoryteller@olympus.net

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Crane Fly – Dreena Collins

It’s Millie’s fourth birthday: I’m in my best dress. It makes no odds. Ever since the accident, no one will look at me.

I sit on the edge of the sofa, feet dangling. I am a broken puppet. I make no sound; my body stays still, stiff. Millie alone glances over, furtively, through sticky lashes – dark eyes flitting like a crane fly to a lamp. She is aware of my presence. Her papery nails scratch eczema into lace on her left arm. Perhaps she worries there will be a day when they ignore her, too. I imagine she is torn between her loyalty to me, and loyalty to the Millie of the future. She doesn’t want five-year-old Millie sitting in silence on a sofa, as I do.

So she says nothing.

I lean in and blow out the candles on her cake – I don’t know why I do it. It irritates them. There is a crackle in the air and then they shuffle their hands into match boxes to start the whole procedure again. Millie looks hesitant but she complies, blows, closes eyes, makes her wish. I can hear her whispered secrets pulse through my skin, a muscle deep tattoo. I know what she wants: I want the same thing.

We sing; we eat cake.

Then the room is packing up and I can feel myself winded, folding inwards. Pushed even further away. Time to leave, and I am snatched, desperate, hollow. But I will come back again; I won’t give up. Maybe next time they will see me – broken, dangling, stiff.

It’s my birthday next. I’ll wear my very best dress.

 

Dreena Collins is a writer who also works in education. She has been listed in numerous writing competitions, and published in her own collections, and anthologies such as the Bath Flash Fiction Award. Dreena’s hobbies include eating spicy food, and writing at 4 a.m.

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Bulletproof – Hannah Storm

When I go to war, I borrow a flak jacket, a big blue thing designed for men. It squashes my shoulders, metal plates pinning flat my chest, breasts yielding to the weight of them. Androgenised.

But I wear the body armour because I’m told it will keep me safe, if someone shoots from a distance. I wear it because I’m told these are cheaper than the ones for women. I wear it because I’m told there are more male journalists on the frontline than women, because men are better at the warry stuff, and women more lightweight.

I wear it because the man in the equipment stores tells me all of this, and because he’s not the only one.

I wear it because I don’t want to rock the boat and give the newsdesk another reason not to send me to do this job. I wear it because I’ve told them I am the best ‘man’ for the job. I wear it because I want to be part of the solution and not part of the problem, as if my gender might be classed as anything else.

Deep in the belly of the building, where they keep the cameras, tripods and satellite phones, the team first aid kits, generators and batteries, the man looks me up and down, hands me the canvas bag with the body armour and a helmet, and whistles through yellow teeth.

‘We don’t get many girls going to war.’ He stinks of fags and coffee, holds out a cracked biro in his fat, stained fingers.

‘I’ve checked the plates. They need to come back exactly as they are. Sign here.’

I press the pen hard and leave an imprint on the desk.

Later, I sit by the wall in the bowels of another building, where the stores have been looted, where nothing remains but rubble and the smell of shit and fear and sweat and how long will this last and I wonder if the scar of my name will still be there when I get back. I hear the crack of gun fire, and remember what he told me – that if I could still hear it, I would be fine.

The whistles and whines get closer and the ground starts to shake, but I wonder if it is just me shaking, in my too big turtle shell which creeps up my body and covers my mouth, muddling my senses, exposing my womb to the world.

I am silence.

I hear the sound of boots and deep voices, checking the doors. Opening, closing, opening, closing. I cross my legs, pull my helmet down to hide my face, hope the jacket shields my gender. I know none of this body armour will protect me if these men target me point blank.

 

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Tully Blanchard – Kevin Richard White

I stumbled across an old wrestling match on YouTube one night. It was this cage match and these guys were bleeding all over the place. The one guy used a chair leg in the other guy’s eye; blood was everywhere. Again and again, holding the shard there, pressing. It was the damndest thing I ever saw.

I figured it might be fun if maybe I showed the match to my roommate. Or better yet, maybe reenact it. He needed a hobby anyway – all he ever did was lock himself in his room and play video games. I went to a thrift store and found a really cheap chair with wobbly legs for a couple of bucks. I carried it home under my arm.

He was home – I smelled the pot and the pizza rolls he always cooked. I kicked his door in and he and his girlfriend were in his bed. Perfect. I told him to hit me with the chair. He laughed but told me to fuck off. I tried to tell him that it would be fun, but his girlfriend told me to get the hell out. The room reeked of pot and I hated the smell, so I took the chair and I smashed his bong with it.

That got him up. He took a swing at me so I dropped the chair and got him in a headlock. His girlfriend yelled at us to quit. My roommate saw the humor in it and got a handful of pizza rolls and tried to shove them in my face. I bit his finger and then he backed off, so I picked the chair back up and swung, but he ducked and the damn thing broke all over the wall. We fell back on the bed and knocked his lamp over. It was an excellent time. It felt like we were fighting for the big gold belt.

I lost my footing and fell on top of his coffee table, breaking his XBox. That one got him riled up. He tried to grab my leg so I tried the headlock again.

A few minutes later though, there was a knock at the door and it turned out to be the cops. I guess the neighbors weren’t entertained by classic professional wrestling. I wasn’t done yet. I picked up a chair leg and I ran out into the living room. I pointed it at the cop.

“Have you ever seen Tully Blanchard?”

I was still telling them about it when they gave me the name and number of a counselor. They wished me luck as they left. I turned back to my roommate and his girlfriend, but he was already closing the door. I guess it was a tie.

I slid some money under his door for a new XBox and threw the chair away in the dumpster down in the parking lot. I went back into my room and got YouTube up to watch another match.

 

Kevin Richard White is a Contributing Flash Fiction Editor at Barren Magazine with numerous publications. He lives and heavily drinks in Philadelphia.

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Pockets – Phebe Jewell

The boy hides in the closet when his own smell is too much. His skin carries traces of every mistake he’s made. His parents haven’t noticed, but other kids have. At school he disappears in the back of class to avoid spitballs and whispers, speaking only when the teacher calls on him. He hasn’t wet himself for a long time, but kids never forget.

Grandpa’s suit hangs in the hall closet among raincoats and winter jackets, shrouded in a heavy scent of tobacco and leather. The boy doesn’t remember his grandfather, even when his mother shows him a photo of a big man holding a tightly swaddled baby. That’s you and Grandpa, she points to the pink-faced bundle in the man’s powerful arms. Such a fine man. The boy is third in his family to carry his grandfather’s name, a long string of consonants he struggles to pronounce. A long time ago, his grandfather fought in a war, returning with a chest of medals. Studying the picture, the boy searches for his grandfather’s bravery, but the old man’s dark eyes focus on the sleeping baby.

Sitting cross-legged in the closet, the boy drinks in damp wool and muddy boots, his hands finding the coat in the darkness. Someday he will wear this suit. Raising himself on his knees, he runs his fingers over the thick weave of the jacket, then into a pocket, hoping to find a watch, a penknife, some clue his grandfather left for him. His hand always comes up empty.

The smell grows stronger, but no one at home detects the stench moving to his clothes. At school the jokes become louder. His teacher doesn’t hear the whistles and slurs. When he comes back from recess in tears, she stops him. Are you ok? What happened? He shakes his head. Nothing, I fell down. Wiping his nose on his sleeve, he wonders what his grandfather would say. What would he do?

The boy leaves school early. No one is home. He sets a glass of water from the kitchen on his nightstand before carrying the suit to his bedroom. It’s heavier than he imagined. Undressing, he folds his jeans and tee shirt, then slips into Grandpa’s suit. The boy has grown in the past six months, but the suit’s still too big for him. The jacket cuffs fall past his fingertips, the trousers balloon around his ankles. He’ll never fit.

He breathes in his grandfather’s man smells. Climbing into bed, he reaches for his water, the bottle of pills from his parents’ bathroom. Hands steady, he shakes a fistful of capsules into his palm. He slips the note into a pocket and closes his eyes. Make me smell like Grandpa, he whispers, waiting for darkness.

 

Phebe Jewell’s recent work appears or is forthcoming in Monkeybicycle, Spelk, Ellipsis Zine, Crack the Spine, New Flash Fiction Review, and Brilliant Flash Fiction. A teacher at Seattle Central College, she also volunteers for the Freedom Education Project Puget Sound, a nonprofit providing college courses for women in prison.

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Golden Glow – Amanda Saint

She can’t wait to get on what will be the wildest ride of her life. She didn’t even have to prove she was terminally ill. Just paid the fee so she could swirl through the seven loops and find the answers to her all consuming questions. The spiritual masters say if you let go of attachment then death will take you into the pure light of knowing. She really wants that to be true. Can see it. Soft, golden, glowing.

Nobody will miss her or even notice that she’s gone. Not now.

‘You shouldn’t get on.’ A gravelly voice from behind says.

He’s red raw from whatever treatment has failed to cure him, like he’s been burned. Gazing up at her from a wheelchair through shining eyes that don’t match his failing body.

‘You know nothing about me.’ She turns away.

‘I know I wish I didn’t have to do this. Why are you?’ he says.

She wants to ignore him. To not let him ruin this moment, the anticipation. But she can’t. She turns back. ‘That’s none of your business.’

He shifts in his chair and blistered skin peels away from his leg, sticks to the seat. ‘Last year I got ill, something they’d never seen before. Nothing helps.’

She sighs, a mix of frustration and pity. ‘Well, I’m sorry that you got sick. But that’s nothing to do with me, my decision.’

His scorched lips smile. It transforms him. Somehow his raddled face becomes one with his lively eyes. She can’t help but grin back.

‘I want to stay to see the beauty of the world and the incredible things that humans do,’ he says.

Her grin fades. ‘What like fighting wars and polluting the oceans?’

His smile widens and as it does, patches of unblemished skin appear on his cheeks. ‘We save animals and rehome them. We dedicate our lives to helping others.” More burns fade away.

Before she can reply he carries on, ‘We dance. We sing. We paint. We write. We are endlessly creative and inventive.’

She shakes her head. ‘It’s not enough.’ But the memories, the ones she always pushes away because they hurt too much, are crowding in.

His cheeks glow with health now as he says, ‘We love.’

She wants to say how wrong he is. How bad things are. But images fill her mind.

Long-forgotten kisses, hands on her body, breath in her hair.

Giggling at shared secrets.

Snuggling, smooching, spooning.

Always there for each other. Only apart because he went way too soon into the golden glow. He wouldn’t want her to do this.

It’s as if this magic man in the wheelchair can see her memories too. He’s nodding, laughing. His burns are completely gone now. He stands.

She grabs his hands. ‘Life is amazing,’ she sobs.

He pulls her into a hug, ‘Mind-blowing.’

The buzzer announces the arrival of the rollercoaster car.

 

Author’s note: Inspired by the Euthanasia Coaster designed by Lithuanian artist Julijonas Urbonas. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euthanasia_Coaster

Amanda Saint is the author of two novels, As If I Were A River (2016) and Remember Tomorrow (2019). Her short fiction collection, Flashes Of Colour, is coming in 2020. Amanda founded Retreat West, providing writing competitions, courses and retreats. Retreat West Books publishes short fiction, novels and memoirs and was shortlisted for Most Innovative Publisher at the 2019 Saboteur Awards.

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Lunch With Grover – Mike Hickman

“It’s the same thing every time I come in here.”

It is always Grover and the blue man. It can’t always have been Grover and the blue man, but when I think back, when I see that room, see myself opening the door, dropping the bag, heading for the kitchen, it is always Grover as the waiter and the blue man trying to place his order and Grover misunderstanding him to hilarious effect. As they say.

“Alright, Charlie, broil the biggy.”

This time it’s a hamburger. The blue man – I’d forgotten he had a moustache – wants a hamburger. I remember this. Grover gives him the option of a big burger or a small burger. The small one is too small and the big one is too big – comedy too big. Breaking the doors down and demolishing the blue man’s table too big. I might have laughed at the time. I do now.

“You’re not looking in the soup, you’re looking next to the soup.”

“I knew that.”

A fly this time. I’d have sworn it was the same memory, but there are loads of these videos, and they’re all available online, if you’re so inclined. If you want to reach back.

I know I went home for lunch for – what? – at least a year. Until it stopped, was stopped, was put a stop to. And I know it can’t always have been Grover and the blue man because the TV can’t always have been tuned to that channel, and the news would at least sometimes have been on, and it wasn’t just children’s television that warmed that room all day. But when I see the bag going down – never actually dropped; that would have made too much of a noise – and I see the route to the kitchen – funny how you remember these things – round the back of the green sofa with the frayed tassles and then a sharp right at the cabinet with the broken porcelain – I see Grover, towel over his arm, nodding his head – like he did – coming to the aid of the blue man and making the blue man really regret ever asking in the first place.

I could understand that. Maybe that’s why I remember?

They always end with the wah-wah-wah comedy music and the blue man raising his eyes to heaven and I’ve sought them out – I’ve found them all – and I’ve watched them, but I only really remember Grover and the blue man the once, that one time that was every time, every time I came back home, dropped the bag, walked through the room, tried not to take too much notice, made lunch, listened to the Muppets arguing, listened for anything else coming from the front room. When there would be nothing. I’m sure of that, too. The tartan blanket would be there on the sofa, but there’d only be Grover warming the house as much as he failed to warm the blue man’s soup.

“It’s the same thing every time I come in here.”

I’d let myself out. Head back for the afternoon. It would be Inspector Gadget when I got home, then the six o’clock news, then dinner, if there was anything in the freezer, if I could make anything from the cans in the cupboard. I remember the nighttime shows, too, but only one of each, as if only seen once, as if the same always.

You’re surprised by this, I know, that it would be the TV and only the TV, but that’s memory, isn’t it? My whole school life comes down to – what? – the memory of two lessons at most, and bare moments of both of those. Would you expect me to know more? Grover, the waiter, eager to please, always making a mess, making me smile – isn’t that enough?

Wasn’t it, then?

It had to be.

Mike Hickman is a writer and former academic from York, England. He has written for the local stage, being an artistic associate for a group specialising in staging new works by new writers. His most recent play (Not so Funny Now, Off the Rock Productions, 2018) revolved around Groucho Marx’s ‘companion’, Erin Fleming, and he has also written radio drama for the same company. Recent short stories include “Trunk” for the Blake-Jones Review.

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 30 Contents Link

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Jars – Tammy Breitweiser

A shelf full of glass jars line the entire East wall. The shelves remind her of a floor plank from an old barn floor. Some jars are empty. In three jars there is yellow liquid of various shades. One is a swirly glittery rainbow like a unicorn threw up. Several
are various shades of green and blue.

One jar has an eye that follows you as you walk by. The window at the end of the room is cased in white and the glass is so clean you think there is nothing in the frame. The room is ten degrees warmer than the hallway. The room is narrow like a hallway and a half
with one wall with no adornment at all. A simple wood desk stands under the window.

The jars are mysteries of memories. Snippets of emotions showing life and light. Some of the jars hum. A couple emanate voices that run nonstop like an 8 year old excited to be in the car going anywhere. Others are fireworks and excitement.

She picks up a jar from the third plank and the eyeball stares at her from the top shelf.

She cups her hands around the embossed jar. She hears a language she does not know. The jar is warm and she holds it to her chest. It looks like she is holding a weight ready to do squats. She closes her eyes and it hums louder. The frequency matches hers infusing
the feeling of green meadows and the smell of grass.

Words and images flood her soul. She breathes in contentment. She feels herself skateboarding down a hill with wind in her face. The breeze whips her legs. There is a sense of freedom, peace, and joy like a dream.

Tears roll down her cheeks as she starts to sway back and forth. The humming softens steadily and then there is silence. She opens her eyes and places the jar back onto the shelf without the sound of glass and wood. She feels oddly like she has been on a ride at
an amusement park and now it is time to exit where the sign leads.

The jar sighs and starts to hum. It glows light and brightens with a surge and glows normally.

The jars are like tarot cards and feed off your intuition. One who is not aligned would hold the jar and it would turn black and hot and she would rush it back to the shelf where it came.

The afterglow lasts and the feeling is like being wrung out on a humid long distance run or a massage.

Another day a jar will reconnect her with the feelings of loved ones who have passed.

It all starts with a color.

Tammy Breitweiser is a writer and teacher who is a force of nature, an accidental inspirationalist, the keeper of the little red doors, and a conjurer of everyday magic who is always busy writing short stories. You can connect with Tammy through Twitter @TLBREIT

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 30 Contents Link

Image via Pixabay

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