Remembrance – Mark Left

She sees him first. A figure through the steamy window, waiting to cross at the lights, looking diminished by the modern-day traffic, and still unaware of her gaze. He is adrift in the noise of the street, fresh from the Remembrance service and too smart for round here in his blazer and medals, his polished patent leather shoes.

Shorter than she remembers but he walks well. There’s a spring in his step, just like the Bernie of old. She recalls watching him marching in parade at the airfield. So many lovely young men but he always drew her eye. So many of them died. She remembers them all and feels a surge of regret despite the fifty-seven years in between.

She is excited to see him again. At seventy-eight, she wonders if she should feel like this. It feels odd and a little inappropriate in public. As if anybody’s watching, she tells herself. She finds herself considering if she looks attractive, if it really matters now. Then he’s through the door, and they greet each other and embrace. His voice is shaky – perhaps with nerves – but the same tone, steeped in the years but still familiar. His face, his blue eyes, the way he lightly holds her at arm’s length and smiles at her. She remembers the New Year dance and the kiss of the younger man.

“Oh, Bernie. How lovely to see you again.” She cannot stop smiling. Inside, her heart fuels the fires of expectation and she turns the corner into a widening memory lane. She could talk for hours, and she will.

*      *      *

He sees her first. He’s hesitating behind the pillar box over the road, watching her sitting in the misty window opposite, concentrating hard to see her well through the patchy clouds in his eyes. He searches his memories, leafing through the synapses that store faces and places, finding broken links and voids where there was once history. The angle of her nose, her jaw, it seems wrong. He cannot be sure.

He stands confused in the rush of passers-by, the air booming with the noise of traffic. He adjusts his hearing aid and smooths his blazer, checks the medals are hanging straight, but at last admits to himself that this is not the Mary he thought it was. He has surnames muddled, her married name on the website, too much time passed. She is not his Mary, not Mary from 1944.

Yet their correspondence says she knows him. Who then? He has no recollection. Nothing.

It does not occur to him to not turn up. Despite the years, there is such a thing as duty and he moves to the lights and crosses when the traffic stops. Now he thinks she has seen him and he walks as straight as he can without his stick, and he tries to inject a youthful swagger. He’s not sure why it really matters now. But his bad hip hurts like hell and he’s glad to reach the café door. He goes inside and she rises and he embraces her as if she means something, murmuring her name, holding her at arm’s length again to look at her while his smile hides the truth.

No, this isn’t who he hoped it was. His heart rings hollow with the disappointment and a desire to distance himself settles in. Still, he’s here now. One coffee and half an hour won’t hurt.

 

MARK LEFT writes stories and sometimes poetry. He has been published in @EllipsisZine and was highly commended for his entry in the BIFFY50 Microfiction Contest Autumn 2018. He lives with his family on a hill in the middle of England and can be found on Twitter: @ottobottle

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Oneirology 101 – Essie Dee

The evening breeze has a dampness about it, and I pull my coat closer. Turning onto the darkness of Woodbridge Road, a shortcut of sorts, I save about thirty minutes. Good on cold evenings such as this, when I am already running late.

Halfway up the road I see college lights in the distance – across a field at the end of the lane. While traversing a side street a white car pulls into the intersection and pops the trunk. Before I can comprehend what is happening the trunk slams shut, closing out the world.

*      *      *

I really need to start leaving for class earlier, or stop taking evening courses. I enter the gloom of Woodbridge Road and unease flows over me. Shifting my bag to the opposite shoulder I look around – they really should put in lights around here.

Approaching a side street I see a white car idling, hear its trunk pop. Everything in me says ‘run!’ Turning, I fly down the street, am outpaced and grabbed by the bag, which I shrug off. Grabbed again I fight back, flail, try to scream, and am hit. Hard. I crumple to the ground in a heap. The wheels of a car make a slow approach; I feel myself being lifted and thrown. Shrugging into the back corners of the trunk, I fear what awaits me.

*      *      *

I’m startled by the numbers on my watch- seven o’clock already. I’d best get moving if I hope to make it to class in time. Throwing on my coat, I grab my bag and head into the damp dark of autumn night. As I approach Woodbridge Road a dire sense of fear and dread takes over. Stopping, I look down the unlighted street – a quick path for years now, why this sudden feeling? A white car turns up the road heading into the darkness. A moments hesitation before I take the long way, walking in crowds that push along to the next intersection.

*      *      *

Exhausted, bad dreams aplenty this week. I grab a coffee before taking my shortcut to class.

 

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A New Face – Steven John

Ten minutes from home Goodwin makes a decision and parks outside the roadside pub. He’s never stopped there in all the years. There’s the usual cabal of drinkers and smokers sitting at the long, trestle table outside the pub door. He’s imagined himself as one of the group; shaking hands of welcome, being kissed on the cheek, buying a round, squeezing onto the bench seats, touching shoulders and thighs.

Goodwin goes to the bar and orders. The barmaid’s about his age. Attractive. Contagious smile. He imagines a single mother making ends meet. He imagines staying back with her for a drink after the other customers have gone home, and talking. Just talking.

He looks at the old framed photographs hung on the shabby walls. Drinkers from years gone by, regulars, past it now, or dead. He can hear their guffaws, smell the tobacco smoke, taste the froth on the beer, feel the late night party going on around him. He strokes the head of the dog lying at its owner’s feet. The first non-work related sentence for ten hours he speaks to a dog. His own gentle words sound foreign. The dog’s owner nods as if to say ‘it’s ok, he understands you.’

Goodwin takes wine outside into the night. He looks to sit at the trestle table. There are no spaces. No-one looks at him with eyes that say ‘Sit here.’ No one shifts up. All the faces are joined together. There are no loose connections at the trestle table.

On the small beer-terrace to the side of the pub are empty tables, positioned close together under a cane trellis arbour made for grapevines. There are no hanging grapes. Instead there are vines of fairy lights. He sits under a light that turns his white wine to red. He works out the repeating pattern of colours threaded through the trellis; red, green, blue, yellow, red. He reads work emails on his phone, stacking up to keep him awake. He scrolls through his contacts looking for friends. There are two but he hasn’t seen or spoken to them for months, years. A couple sit down opposite each other at the next table. He goes to say something but can only find words for traffic or weather. The couple reach across their table and hold hands.

The barmaid comes outside to wipe tables and clear glasses. Goodwin’s on his third.

“You’re a new face,” she says.

“Does it fit here do you think?”

“Somehow I think it’s a perfect fit.”

Goodwin arrives home, late for him, and drunk. He shouldn’t have driven. He unhooks the stepladders from the garage wall. There are no familial hellos. There never are. He carries the steps onto the landing and climbs into the loft. From a taped up cardboard box he finds a set of Christmas tree lights. He takes the lights to the spare room where he sleeps in a single bed and pins them above his pillow. He pulls off his office shoes and slides under the duvet. If he squeezes his eyes almost closed, the coloured lights coalesce and fizz. If he opens his eyes slowly, the lights glare and fly apart.

 

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Collections in an Empty Hand – Haley Petcher

Déjà Brew is Danny and Kate’s go-to coffee shop, only two blocks from the elementary school where they first met on the playground when he rescued her from the Kindergarten Bullies—he said she told the weirdest, coolest stories during Show and Tell and proclaimed loudly, standing on the top of the slide, that she was under his protection—and five blocks from the movie theater where they shared their first kiss, grappling in the dark during an old movie about the British monarchy. After that he started calling her his Queen.

They’re in the coffee shop playing cards when Danny says, “Don’t get worried if I start spending more time with that girl we met at the park the other day. It’s just that I need more Indie Pop Friends. My others moved away.” He sighs like it’s an inconvenience and sips his coffee. They’re playing the game of Nines.

“I don’t want to date her. You know you’re my girl. My Day One.” Danny reaches out and touches Kate’s free hand, covering it with his, squeezes, releases.

When you’re playing Nines, you want high cards, twos, and tens. Kate plays a king, which Danny can’t beat, so he adds the recently played cards—twos and eights and queens—to his collection. The goal might be to get rid of all of your cards first, but collecting is Danny’s strategy. He loves feeling like he has a collection of valuables, of ammunition, up his sleeves.

The two play card after card, taking bites of their traditional orange roll between turns and watching a man in his gray flat cap and tweed blazer trying to learn French. When Danny and Kate walk the hallways of their school, he calls her mon amour, shows her off, and tells everyone her stories. Danny liked the way Kate fit beside him, her head on his shoulder, his arm wrapped around her waist, and the way their classmates in high school watched as they walked down the hall. Kate moved with him, Peter Pan and his shadow.

Danny puts down a queen, winks at Kate. She’s never liked the title, but it used to make her smile all the same, thinking about all of their Firsts. Now her smile feels stale. She puts down a two, resetting the deck so they can play lower numbers again.

“You know you’re my girl, right?” Danny asks.

Before Kate nods, saying that she knows she’s his girl—she always has been—Danny says, “I mean, you know I like to have a wide variety of friends. The Avid Video Gamers. The Music Connoisseurs. The Cookie Bakers.” He examines the cards in his collection, weighing them against each other.

Kate plays a seven, sips her tea.

“Remember how the Car Enthusiasts got me into that show with all the old trucks?” Danny asks. An eight.

Kate puts down a jack, nodding. She had been home that night, plans canceled.

“My Car Enthusiast friends really like their alcohol. They’re exhausting.” He gives her a knowing glance. “The tickets were hard to come by though. Totally worth it.” A king.

“You know, I’ll be with my lacrosse team and then Indie Pop Girl this week, but I bet we can do something next week. I’ll shoot you a text when I have time.” Danny’s fingers draw circles on Kate’s knee, warm and familiar. “You’ll be free, right?”

Kate wonders how long the two of them will sit like this in the coffee shop, building and unbuilding collections. How long would it take him to replace his Silent Queen? Kate looks at the cards in her hand, sees a two and a ten, considers the risk. A two lets you restart with lower numbers on the same pile, but all those other cards are still there underneath the two, all of that extra baggage a threat to your goal of an empty hand. However, a ten flushes the pile and lets you start fresh. She snaps the ten on the table. A few years from now, she’ll sit in a coffee shop with new friends in a city 852 miles from Déjà Brew and tell stories she never told during her silent days, wondering why—why, why—she stayed quiet for so long, watching him take card after card. But, for now, she pushes the collection of cards aside and takes one more sip of tea.

 

HALEY PETCHER earned her BA from Auburn University and her MA from the University of Louisville. She currently teaches high school English in Huntsville, AL. You can find her work in Pithead Chapel, formercactus, and Spelk and learn more about her at http://petcherpages.wixsite.com/portfolio.

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Aground – Ed Broom 

Ken stands, rigid, transfixed by the slick spreading under his feet. For reasons he can’t fathom, Ken wills the black cloud to expand, to extend another centimetre, another millimetre. An inky big bang. With the last of the oily liquid pulsing and swirling and warming his toes, images bob into his head, distressing pictures of tarred gulls dredged from old TV news. Then, unbidden, a name both long forgotten and yet somehow unforgettable.

“Amoco Cadiz,” he says, pointing to the capsized cafetiere at the puddle’s epicentre. “Look, Cynth. Remember how that was all over the papers during our honeymoon?”

For their ruby wedding anniversary, Ken had suggested returning to France, “for old times’ sake. One last fling. Doesn’t have to be Paris, Cynth. I know we’re not as young as we were. Maybe a few days in Brittany? I’m determined to try an oyster before it’s too late. Or Normandy, perhaps do some battlefields? You used to love a cafe au lait. I’m not suggesting taking the Fiesta, don’t be daft. We could go wild, splash some cash on the Eurostar, say? Trish says it’s amazing.”

Despite Ken’s myriad attempts to convince her, Cynthia wasn’t to be swayed.

“We swan off to France and when we come back, all we’ll have to show for it will be a new set of snaps,” she said.

“If we’re going to spend some money, I’d prefer to spend it on the house,” she said.

“That back room has been looking tired for far too long,” she said.

Hence the “sea moss” walls. The ivory linen Roman blinds. The new cream carpet.

Three weeks ago, on an unseasonably sunny Wednesday afternoon at the bowls club, Ken’s concentration had been disturbed by a figure barging through the pavilion doors.

“Dad! Don’t you ever answer your bloody phone? I’ve been ringing and ringing.”

Ken hadn’t seen Trish in that particular setting for years. Probably, he thought, not since one of the club’s family fun days. She’d had a similar scowl back then, he recalled. He lowered his wood and loped over.

“Trish. Keep it down. Where’s the fire?”

“Dad, it’s Mum. She’s at The Royal. She’s in a bad way. She slipped in the kitchen, Dad. Banged her head. We need to go, Dad.”

“Traumatic brain injury,” the doctor said.

“Massive internal bleeding,” the doctor said.

“Nothing we could do,” the doctor said.

Now Ken stands, rudderless, lost in a rapidly cooling decaffeinated slick. He’s still clutching the tray. Two mugs cling to the edge.

 

ED BROOM works in IT but tells his children he’s a lighthouse keeper. He lives in Ipswich and tracks down crinkle-crankle walls.

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Six Jars Under The Bed – Alva Holland 

Adam kept his mother’s kisses in a blue jar under his bed.

He reached down, lifted the jar, turned the lid, felt the release, raised it a fraction and watched the kiss escape.

It landed on him in a flutter – like the silken hanky she kept in the pocket of her floral dress. She told him the flowers were spring creations.

Each year, as winter faded, she’d pull the dress from its layers of lemon-scented tissue paper and tell Adam more flowers had blossomed, that this Spring would be particularly beautiful.

Oh, how many times he’d tried to count those flowers, their complicated petal layers competing for his heart.

Adam sat on the side of the bed absorbing the peace the kiss brought, saw his mother’s face, not pale and wan as it was towards the end, but vibrant, sparkling, like when she walked with him through the woods, when she’d tried to understand him.

He’d started to run from the rain, but she’d tugged his shirt.

‘Feel the rain, my darling. Always, feel the rain.’

The drops had infiltrated the fiery hair strands attempting to escape the loose bun she’d scooped up to try to tame them, had run down her forehead and cheeks, trickling onto her shoulders, watering the flowers.

The blue petals had changed colour, become rainbow-like, more complex. That same day, Adam ignored a glance, a grin. He’d walked on, but looked back, briefly.

Adam slid from the bed to sit on the floor. Six jars sat in a line on the polished parquet. The jars didn’t need labels. The colours told her story, and his when she’d listened.

Walking outside, he felt his mother’s love fall in a satin veil from laden clouds. The wind sucked at him, pulling the darkness from within him, scattering. He felt the space it created, wanted to fill it with something new.

Kisses rained down, cloaking him, black with silver lining.

He recalled the young man in a pale blue shirt, khaki pants, whose hesitant lips on his felt cool, like paper.

A virgin membrane disturbed, shuddered, settled.

It was time. Time to reciprocate, with intent – a new journey.

He smiled and strode on, seeing only flowers. The invisible cloak enveloped him, soaked him through.

No more ignoring. No more looking back.

‘Do we need to keep these jars?’

The khaki pants are now flannels, the hair grey, the mouth as inviting as ever. He looks quizzically at Adam during their attempt at decluttering.

‘Yes,’ said Adam.

‘Yes, we do.’

 

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The Arrival of the Finnman – Michael Bloor

In October, I shall have been Governor of this island for forty years. I came here as a young man, to command the garrison and dispense justice in the assizes. I arrived full of hopes and vaunting ambition, trusting to my connections in the distant Imperial Court to secure me rapid promotion to more lucrative and influential positions. My hopes were vain, my ambitions lost and my connections as enduring as morning dew. Nevertheless, I have learned contentment in this little bounded land. True, the winter days are short and the winter nights are long and bitter: for weeks together, the gales can blow loud enough to deafen, and strong enough to deposit small fish on the cliff-tops. But the peasants, farmer-fishermen for the most part, are determined, even heroic – very different from the servile drudges one encounters in the capital and the countryside round about it. I have come to respect and emulate the islanders’ quiet virtues. To watch them fishing is an education – two boats working in careful concert. And then to watch the sharing out of the catch, with one fifth part reserved for widows and the sick. Yet now it seems all my hard-won lessons on peasant virtues may be cast over.

It was a stormy day of early March when the ‘Finnman’ was captured. I remember because when my sergeant brought me the confused news, I was staring absorbed from my chamber window at the waves breaking wildly on the rocks at the harbour entrance. The wind was catching up the spume from the waves and the low sun was creating hundreds of small, truncated rainbows as it shone through the spume.

Tales of the mysterious Finnmen are common currency among the islanders, but I have paid them no more heed than stories of dwarfs living in the mounds along the shore, or of the ‘selkies’ that are said to inhabit the western skerries. The Finnmen travel in skin canoes at great speed; they are fierce, cruel and emit screeching cries; they are said to drive away the herring shoals.

The Sergeant said that a group of fishermen from the west end of the island had found the Finnman collapsed among the dunes: first of all, they had spotted the skin canoe, beached on the shore, and they had then followed his tracks into the dunes. I told the Sergeant bring the Finnman at once to the chamber, along with his captors.

A couple of minutes later, the corporal of the guard (a hulk of a man), dragged in a bundle of skins that proved to be the insensible Finnman. He was accompanied by the sergeant and four fishermen. I knelt to make an examination. The Finnman was breathing rapidly and shallowly; he smelt strongly of stale urine and rancid fat. I felt in his mouth and found the tongue swollen and distended:

‘The Finnman needs water – Corporal, fetch me a pitcher of water. After that, go to the cellarman for a bottle of brandy.’ I turned to the fishermen: ‘How did he come by these cuts and bruises?’

‘Excellency, he was unconscious when we found him, but we thought it best to bind him. He then came to and he started to struggle, so Gruta hit him. But Gruta only hit him once. By the time we arrived here at the fort, a crowd was following us. As we waited for admittance, some of the crowd started to throw stones. And a woman ran forward and hit him with a stick.’

The sergeant confirmed that this was the case and that the woman in question was Sella, the widow of Odd. The corporal then returned with the pitcher of water. I wet the Finnman’s lips but he did not revive. The corporal had already departed again for the brandy, so I sent the Sergeant to bring Oolla, the midwife, as the hospitaller is an ignorant drunk whom I would not trust to treat hiccups. I sent the fishermen to recover the skin canoe, and the Finnman’s weapon, a short dart, that one of the fishermen (an intelligent lad) had said lay beside the canoe.

Left alone with the Finnman, I observed him carefully. Of normal stature, with a yellow-ish skin (redder about the face) and dark, lustrous, coarse hair. A flattish face, the nose being small. The eyes were brown and curiously obliquely set. The teeth were much worn. From his musculature, I would have judged him younger than myself; from his wrinkled skin, I would have judged him older.

In recent years, I have devoted some of my leisure hours to an illustrated description of the many monuments that the Ancient Ones have left on the island. I have fancied my account might ensure that some posthumous celebrity might attach to my name, and that the island itself – this isolated and obscure outpost of Empire – might also gain a degree of fame. Now, I was seeing things differently: surely the mysterious arrival of the Finnman would make the island famous throughout the Empire? The four fishermen’s names would be as famous as the past Emperors who had first sent out ships to explore these remote waters.

The corporal returned with the brandy, which I ordered him to administer, but it was not a success. The Finnman choked, vomited and lapsed back into unconsciousness. He still had not spoken a word in my presence. I was later to learn that, when struggling with his rescuers, the Finnman had only made a few hoarse noises.

When the midwife entered the chamber she at first recoiled from the sprawled Finnman and would have fled if the sergeant had not restrained her. But her kind instincts soon got the better of her. She suggested that the Finnman would take some time to recover and that it would be best if he were carried to her hut outside the fort gates. There she would wash and bind his wounds and, once he was conscious, keep him on a diet of gruel and herbs of her own choosing. I agreed, gave her a purse, and bade the sergeant and corporal carry him away on a hurdle, adding only that the hurdle should be left in the hut and that the Finnman be bound to it, to prevent ignorant flight. I was remiss in omitting to require the posting of a guard outside the hut.

The early evening I remember as being one of pleasant excitement as, by candlelight, I began an examination and description of the canoe and of the weapon that the fishermen had brought in, just before dark. The canoe, wondrously light, was secured from swamping by skins and draw-strings designed to fit around the seated Finnman, like a leather shoe around a foot. The body of the canoe was constructed of greased skins, stretched over a taunt frame made partly of wood and partly of bone. The wood appeared to be that of a kind of pine tree, but not one I recognised. The canoe was evidently propelled by a single oar, shaped into paddles at both ends. The weapon was more ingenious still: the short dart, tipped with sharpened bone, was made more effective by a separate wooden throwing arm. I was of the opinion that the dart-plus-arm would have been just as murderous as a full-length javelin, but much more readily handled in the confines of the canoe.

I had just finished a sketch of how I presumed the throwing arm would operate, when the sergeant once more rushed to my chamber – this time with news of a riot outside the fort. I was stunned: it was more than twenty years since there had been any civil disturbances on the island. The sergeant had already called out the guard. I issued pikes and armed both the sergeant and the corporal with an arquebus. We then all immediately ran out of the fort towards the shore, where the crowd had gathered. Two barrels of pitch had been set alight. It was plain to see that the figure stretched on top of the barrels was the Finnman, still attached to his hurdle. He looked more an effigy than a man.

The crowd quickly dispersed. The midwife, who had taken a blow to the head, claimed not to have recognised the young men who burst into her hut and seized the Finnman. Sella, the woman who had previously hit the Finnman with a stick, turned out to be a simpleton. The corporal of the guard, a native islander, told me that the islanders believed that Finnman had to be killed, lest he spirit away the herring shoals. He could not say, or would not say, who had instigated the riot. At the assize, I called the fishermen who had found the Finnman to give evidence, but they had returned to their homes at the western shore on the evening of the burning and knew nothing of the riot. Surprisingly, the young fisherman who had mentioned to me the Finnman’s weapon gave evidence that he had indeed heard the story that Finnmen could charm the herring away from the island, but for himself, he believed that herring shoals shifted for many reasons – that they were not at the beck and call of the Finnmen.

These peasants whom I had come to respect, living in such successful harmony with each other, clearly had no respect for an outsider. The greater the bond between islanders, the less the fellow-feeling for the stranger, the intruder. There is no wisdom to be found here, no matter how beautiful the sunsets.

I have arranged for the Finnman’s burial and I shall dispatch the canoe and its accoutrements to the Imperial Chancery, the lawful recipient of all shipwreck spoils. And then I shall ask to be relieved of my post on account of an infirmity, an incurable island melancholia.

 

Michael Bloor is a retired sociologist living in Dunblane, Scotland, who has discovered the exhilarations of short fiction. Recent publications include The Cabinet of Heed, Ink Sweat & Tears, Litro Online, The Copperfield Review, Scribble, Dodging the Rain, Everyday Fiction, Firewords, The Drabble, Idle Ink and Spelk.

 

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Audition Isolde – Jim Meirose 

Wait wait wait wait-wait-wait, Isolde! Again, you have not reached the minimum level to pass this audition. Your face is more Pilotblanket than Homo Sapiens, we don’t need a glamour-shot or hand-done old school brainwave chart to know you are no Gage. Your head is still symmetrical and you have no mates dragging behind. ‘splain, Lucy. You got one more try. Go.

Start where the boss said.

Okay.

On!

The boss said, You’ve no job. You’ve no salary. Si. You’ve no savings. I go alone. So here you sit. I go alone. I am the rope bridge you simply need to not fall from which will see to it your trip to your death is not a horrid poor sickly lonely cold dark stinking painful premature one. ‘splain, Lucy. Splain and that will be it. But Isolde, at the same time, consider this—maybe, on the other hand, you’re just hallucinating. Maybe—

Cut there, Isolde!

Time’s up. That’s your slot. You came in, you bulged, all filling, you outgrew. What the hell and out you’re popped to the list we might call back next year. Your tone quite reminds us of being nine years old at the living room window watching downsnow vis-à-vis wintrycold kind of piling up like it did then and as it does then a grainy photo through the parted out of style lacy curtain and down it comes the clouds no sun cold ready for school Midnight in Moscow flesh colored superhouse across dimmed by sheets over sheets of show Midnight John in Glenn Moscow and Midnight in Moscow rules are to be obeyed sheets of snow crackly-cold beautifully sunlit ice storm morning after sun, here let’s pull on yer leggin’s time to have fun everybody have fun! Everybody have fun! After all, this is the real life Queen Mary Boat, Docked permanently. Needless to say, school did not get canceled. The day memorable because somehow wrong. As in, not normal. That we call such days wrong, well, don’t sweat it. The word shrimp could have been chosen instead. The meaning would be the same for you Isolde. Intention is everything. You’re just reading. Not doing advanced calculus in your head. My God hole, Jesus, wake thyself up. Nobody else will no matter how long you wait, mon mon, my sweet! So what that you’re really just eighteen. So what that for reasons unimportant you are on your own. Learn from the mottos of the past masters; Listerinio Veronicans! Op Verinicans Ooo La La Mitosismysterianan-Rose! And best of all, soon to revert to the hyphenonalian nationica! Then to just shoot out the end-over-outpipe, into the backwall splat. Okay Isolde. Here’s a test. Say all that back. Fast. Can you say it backfast? C-c-c-c-an U Sayit-Bach back back to me and me only in seven exactly not eight not six but seven exactly that numerio-of-words what it just took a hundred and thirty blackjackie daddio metrics all in inviolate triplicate copies over copies of copies of heh, to explain to you, Isolde?

No? You look puzzled.

That is also the wrong answer, we suppose.

Thusly leave us, go forth—and may you have a profitable day!

 

http://www.jimmeirose.com

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Picnic at the End of the World – Sharon Telfer

When the sirens blare, we pedal hard up the hill. We’ve been paying attention. We chose this spot thirteen weeks ago. In the valley, the roads out of town clog like arteries.

I shake out my mother’s snowy damask. You slice the thickening air with your great-aunt’s mismatched silver. We lay out the crockery dug from the back of the cupboard, that pattern we loved so much when we put it on the wedding list but now can’t remember why.

We unpack the hamper and begin to eat…

…sourdough kick-started with a culture that bubbled westwards across Europe one step ahead of advancing armies, your Grandma’s pastry which we never tasted but everyone said was the best ever, crumpled bags of the Mary-Jane caramels my mother craved while she was carrying me, hedgehog cake with almond prickles and five candles, the biggest juiciest bramble you thought you couldn’t reach but which was worth every scratchy snag, that chocolate Easter bunny too beautiful to bite without weeping, sherbet dibdabs and white mice and flying saucers, tiny bottles of summer-curdled-winter-slushed milk, rice pudding with skin on for the last day of term, fluffy mints from Grandad’s pocket, leftover Yorkshires gilded with syrup, a licked-out cake bowl, Mum’s treacle pudding erupting like a suet Vesuvius, lip-smarting crisps and warm lemonade in the back of the Cortina waiting for the grown-ups outside the pub, mouth-sealing bonfire toffee, bangers on the barbecue half-charred half-pink like sunburnt noses, first kisses cherried with cola, the sudden obvious point of olives and anchovies, the devilish whiff of kidneys, the sour-shock pickle of someone else’s body, silky tongues of smoked salmon on Christmas morning, nostrils popping with champagne, Marmite, sleepy-eyed moussaka with chips our first morning barely awake but ravenous at that old-school Greek place that’s a sushi bar now, bitter aniseed that kept us dancing well past dawn, salt-rimed-lime margaritas under a stardust California sky, gelato masking the June sewer stink of honeymoon Venice, the wake-up chilli spike of breakfast in Kerala, the peace of tofu in your vegan phase, falling for the irresistible temptation of bacon sandwiches after an all-nighter, peat-smoke whisky burning away the heartbreak of the child who came too soon, amazing tea and buttered toast after the child who arrived right on time, cook’s-perk crackling chicken skin stripped from the carcass by the kitchen sink, wasabi’s eye-opening sting, the never-to-be-repeated-twelve-course-tasting-menu-treat from your father before you stopped talking to each other altogether, those oh-so-expensive Valentine truffles that tasted almost better than sex, HobNobs in bed to the Sunday clatter of rain and bells, three strawberries of perfect ripeness picked with my father in the care home garden, Mars Bars on the moors still a sodden drenching hour’s hike from the bloody car, cold beer, takeaways family-style with friends, warm beer, pastries dunked in gossipy lattes, soldiers dripping thick with yolk, a long glass of cool clear water downed in one…

We raise our toast in our one surviving crystal glass. It glints like ice against the dropping sun. As the earth cracks and the sea rises and the sky falls, nothing has ever tasted so sweet.

 

SHARON TELFER lives near York, UK. She has won the Bath Flash Fiction Award, the Reflex Fiction Prize and the Hysteria Flash Fiction competition. She is the 2018 New Writing North/Word Factory Short Story Apprentice. She is an editor at FlashBack Fiction.

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