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.

 

Cabinet Of Heed Contents Link 18

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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.

 

Cabinet Of Heed Contents Link 18

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Our One-Thumbed Whittler – Michael Grant Smith

“To hear what needs to be heard, you must close your ears and listen with your gut.” — Loyd English, English Accent

Loyd English (that’s “Loyd” with one “L”), budding journalist and retired competitive whittling champion, published the Last Chance Gazette & Intelligencer, our town’s most popular and only newspaper. If controversy or mystery swam in Last Chance, Loyd English was the fellow to cast a hooked night crawler and pull out the truth.

Our Loyd’s English Accent editorial column was popular for its brand of wit, wisdom, and common sense that’s scarce locally, or at least expertly hidden.

This is not an Advice Column. I do not offer Suggestions or Antidotes from my own Experiments. My Detention is to Tell You what is Right and Wrong, and how to Extinguish the Difference between. If the Devil himself came Calling in Last Chance, would you Know Better than to Grasp his Smoky Claw?

Loyd refused to clutter his cramped office by hanging random landscape paintings or motivational posters of determined kittens. He anticipated winning the big, big Palooza Prize, which would occupy lots of wall space.

“You can’t eat one of those journalistic aggrievement awards,” Loyd often said, “but you can sure as heck ram them down the throats of your competitors!”

His presumed rivals, likely to be local shortwave radio operators or writers of letters, were never identified or rammed, which left no one to cite Loyd’s scoops that hadn’t aged so well: invasion by an army of hobos, invasion by an army of smooth-handed property developers, contaminated pet food from China that made cats and dogs super-intelligent, and the potential invention of portable telephones.

This past summer, Last Chance found itself tossed into a chef’s salad of crisis. Outside interests contrived to subvert the town’s hoary habits that had always ambled along a simple, unhindered path. The situation, according to the English Accent, was as obvious as a bologna sandwich served with crispy shoestring potato sticks and a glass of cold milk.

Seriously, folks, TRAFFIC LIGHTS? For close to 200 years in Last Chance, Vehicles of Every Sort have traveled from Point C to Point F without Parishing in Fiery Collusions. Our Nobel Ancestrals survived without Rules and Notices more Complicated than HEY, HOW ARE YA, HERE I COME. Do we of Last Chance dare to Second Guest our Four Fathers?

Within minutes of putting to bed that week’s issue of The Gazette, Loyd scurried to Last Chance’s municipal offices. If he’d had much hair, it would’ve been on fire. Chin up and shoulders back, Loyd passed the nail barrels, sacks of sweet feed, and lovely pocketknives lined up at the front half of Farm & Fleet, and threw open the door marked “City Business Only, Please.”

Constable Arlene was absent from her desk, one of two in the office, but Loyd was bent on his own investigative crusade. Best to let Arlene get on with her job of scolding vagrants and slim-jimming accidentally locked truck cabs. Plenty of time later for arrests and interrogations and leaked statements.

Loyd cleared his throat thrice before removing a loafer and banging its heel on the counter. Most of us had forgiven Loyd’s partiality to Italy-made mail order slip-on shoes, as well as his ever-present unlit pipe (carved by Loyd himself), because these doodads puffed up our beloved editor’s independent, journalistic image.

Last Chance’s clerk (and most senior resident) flinched. Sudden dust sparkled in the air. Frisky Clinchitt’s exact age was unknown, even to his own self, but he could recount precise details of 1931’s monsoon-like rains and subsequent Hay Glut.

Frisky leaned into a microphone and spoke, though he was two yardsticks away from Loyd.

“Yes, Mr. English,” Frisky’s amplified voice creaked. “What is it today?”

“I demand information in disregards to the alleged traffic signal at Main and Center,” said Loyd. “Now.”

Frisky nodded almost imperceptibly toward a row of file cabinets. Swift as a clock’s hour hand, Frisky retrieved the documents; meanwhile, Loyd’s fingertips and eyeballs vibrated. At last, the Order to Install Traffic Control Device (Electronic), all stamped and countersigned in a most convincing manner, lay spread out on the counter for Loyd’s inspection.

“There, you see it?” harked Loyd, stabbing his whittled pipe stem at the clerk and evidence. “These villains are playing shifty sports games with our parliamental procedures! Look, look at this! They’re so brazen, they’ve left their scheme right here for anyone to see!”

“It’s a matter of public record, Mr. English,” Frisky whispered into his microphone, risking the smallest of shrugs as he spoke.

“Not yet,” countered Loyd, “but it will be!”

There’d never been an “extra” edition in all of the Last Chance Gazette & Intelligencer’s years, even in response to former Mayor Lowell “Fuzzy” Nelson’s three best scandals. Tipsy with sincerity, Loyd broke from his own custom.

Folks Say, Let Sleeping Dogs Lay, particularly if those Old Hounds are Lying in their Sleep, and that’s No Lie. The Response to this Bad Reasoning is a Lewd, Clear: HECK, NO! Without a Well-Deformed Citizenry and the Strongest Cents of a Civic Mission, Gentile Reader, what can we do to Desist the cruel Boot of Depression? FIGHT! Don’t let Outsiders tell us when to Stop and when to Go!

Last Chance is not known for the birthing of heroes. We birth regular people and the occasional jackass. All of us stared into the abyss of irrational modernization and governmental hoo-hah, but one man dragged the whole town back from the edge. The traffic signal scheme was shelved indefinitely, thanks to Loyd English, the greatest thing since canned pasta. We avoided making a mistake that could unravel a community faster than an epidemic of pink eye.

Fate and good fortune are oftentimes in cahoots, and their collaboration creates a soothing yet non-greasy, non-staining salve that promotes healing. Angels slip a twenty-dollar bill into our wallet while we sleep, just so we can have a little spending money in our dreams.

 

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Image via Pixabay 

Sevy – Sara Mullen

For Eden

Hazefallen evening,
the window wound down.

Beyond reeling hedgerows
the fields race

flyawayhome
skies

while darkening trees
wave lornful bye byes

and, little one,
you trail your song,

a cotton thread
on the breeze.

Bye bye –
dusk gorges gold,

the road rolls on
and you,

you trail your little ghost song
who knows where.

 

Image via Pixabay

Cabinet Of Heed Contents

Orationis (Or a rosary of stars) – Tudor Licurici

Infinite, Eternal Cosmos, let not the fevered ardors of our passions by nihility’s oblivion be eaten and annulled, but keep them in your sacred reliquaries of twilight memory to be stored for all aeons that our souls may rejoice in them once more when the fragile recollection of past worlds befalls them. Let the aethers collect all dreams of prime youth gilded by maternal embraces that soothe the souls of infants. Let the nebulae consume all kisses and whispers of the ages’ lovers that they may resonate once more through the worlds’ sundowns. May they live on in the glimmers of nightskies and enrapture the lovers to be. Let not the tears of our departures dry utterly, but keep them humid in the sprays of spring rainfalls, that they may not have been a vain weeping but a communion with the sorrow of the stars. Let not the overflowing joy of our births and the immense grief of our deaths become extinct with the years, but hold them in the memory of stellar fires that they may glare atop the worlds forever. Let not the innocent joys of our childhood ever wither, but hold them in doting grip like you hold the dreams of angels.

Image via Pixabay 

Cabinet Of Heed Contents

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

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Cabinet Of Heed Contents

Kings Cross Examination – Dan Brotzel

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

Yes.

What route did you take? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, there are times when-

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

Well. I mean, I hardly think-

Answer the question, please, Mr B.

I haven’t, no.

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

‘Please let passengers off the train first.’

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

As I’ve tried to explain-

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

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

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

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

And then what happened?

He stalked off.

Understandable, perhaps? And how did you feel?

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

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

That’s right. I was going to work.  

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

No, I couldn’t get a seat at first.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Was that unusual? 

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

Any other thoughts?

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

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

I sat down. 

You pounced on the seat. Like a vulture.

Well I think I was technically nearest at the time.  

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

Well, there was a woman…

What sort of age?

About my age.

Did she make a move towards the seat?

I’m not sure. 

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

I did think about it.

But you didn’t do it.

No.

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

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

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

Yes.

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

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

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

My back does twinge a bit. 

More self-justifications, I see.

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

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

About 7 or 8. 

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

As I say, I think I was nearest. 

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

You mean the blind woman. And her guide dog.

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

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

So what happened next?

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

A blind woman? Left to stand in the vestibule?

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

Who?

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

And who was that?

A teenage girl.

I see. And what did she do?

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

So what did everyone else in the carriage do?

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

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

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

And where were you seated in relation to all this?

I was sitting opposite the teenage girl. 

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

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

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

No.

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

Not really, no. 

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

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

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

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

You didn’t like his beard, did you?

No, if I’m honest. 

Do you wear a beard yourself sometimes?

Yes.

And how do you feel about your beard?

I don’t like it much either. 

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

Er… yes.

And people with beards as geeks?

Yes.

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

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

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

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

So you stood?

Er, no. 

You carried on sitting.

Yes. I’m not proud of this. 

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

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

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

Ooh, six or eight feet at least.

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

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

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

I’m not proud of myself. 

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

It was an account of the genocide in Rwanda.

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

The seat next to me came free. 

I see. And then?

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

And what did you do? 

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

So you were shamed into action at last.

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

Your seat.

Yes.

And what did the woman with the cropped expression do?

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

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

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

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

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

Back to your fascinating book about genocide?

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

This was at Victoria.

Yes.

Where you were about to mount the escalator… 

Correct.

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

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

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

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

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

Terrified.

And did she?

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

So what did you do?

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

How did you feel?

I was burning with shame, obviously.

I see. And what did she do?

Oh, she just carried on glaring down at me. 

From her ever-ascending moral high ground.

Yes. 

Serve you right, perhaps, Mr B?

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

The self-prosecution never rests, m’lud.

 

Image via Pixabay 

Cabinet Of Heed Contents

Creep – Gale Acuff

When Sunday School is over, Miss Hooker
slips her Bible and her teacher’s copy
of our workbook into her purple purse
and walks out to the parking lot with me

following–I always hang around so
I can open her car door for her
and she always says Such a gentleman
thank you. I try not to watch her legs
when she gets in. I don’t know why I don’t
–I look somewhere else for those few seconds,
at her front tire, maybe, or at the sky
unless the sun’s too bright and even then
I squint. That’s the way my eye makes a cloud.
I look at her again when I hear her
pull the door shut. Next she’s putting on her
seat belt and shoulder harness in case
she has a wreck, of course, driving home, God

forbid. If I were grown I’d carry her
there in my arms every step of the way
and I’d like to tell her so and one day
maybe I just will. I’ll pray about that
again tonight, right after I whisper
the Lord’s Prayer in the darkness, and beg
that God protect everyone I love
–it’s natural then to slide right into

praying for Miss Hooker and wondering
what it’s like in her bedroom at night, not
that I’d ever go there. She’s not married
so I guess she sleeps alone, except for
a cat or dog, or maybe both, maybe
one on either side of her. Her lamp is on
and she’s reading a magazine, something
about clothes or hair or shoes or makeup.
Sometimes I think I can even hear her
yawn. Then she says Good night to the cat or
dog, or maybe both, and turns out the light,
and sleeps and dreams, maybe of marriage
and babies. Or both. I’d like to creep in

without waking the cat and dog and her,
and sleep there at her feet and when she wakes
and yawns again and opens her eyes and
makes me out, I wonder what she’ll say and

what I’ll say back to her. Oh, I’m sorry,
I’ll try, but the front door wasn’t closed and
you should probably be more careful–begging
your pardon–and I was just passing by
and noticed and thought I’d come in to tell
you and not ring your doorbell instead in
case there was a burglar with a knife at
your throat. Or gun. And then I came back here
to check on you and suddenly I felt
very sleepy and here I am, and there
you are, ha ha. She’s so grateful that she
gets up (I’ve got my eyes closed and face buried

in the quilt) and makes us breakfast and then
it’s time for me to walk to school, so we
stand at her door and she gives me her hand
and I shake it and I’d like to kiss it
but I have manners and don’t pump too hard.

On my way home from school I stop back by
to check her again. She serves me a snack
and before I split I drop to one knee
which means she has to bend over to me
so maybe that isn’t gentlemanly
and propose. That’s when I wake on Monday

morning, cold and hungry and stupid but
loving Miss Hooker as much as ever,
praise the Lord. Next Sunday I’ll walk her to
her car again and open her door and
she’ll get in and this time I’ll look at her
legs as she gets in but look first to see
if she’s looking at me looking and if
she is I’ll die and if she’s not I’ll burn.

 

GALE ACUFF has had poetry published in many journals and has authored three books of poetry. He has taught university English courses in the US, China, and Palestine.

Image via Pixabay

Cabinet Of Heed Contents

 

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