Leaving Lucy – Faye Brinsmead

Lucy!

That textured patch in the gap between liquidambar leaves is the crown of her head. Coarse-weave brown, with silver wisps like glow-worms. They remind me how long we’ve been doing this. Our nightly performance has changed over time. She no longer bawls my name, she stage-whispers it. Soft, but intensely audible.

I don’t usually lower my voice. Bugger what the neighbours think. But tonight it’s a tiny sound carried on the breeze, fluttering past her ear like a dead leaf.

Don’t want any.

The glow-worms hesitate. Should she insist? She’s tried threats, cajoling. Bottom line is she can’t climb up here and get me. Or force spaghetti-bolognese-boiled-carrots-and-brussels-sprouts down my throat.

Molecules of night hang in suspension. Stars delay their rising. Gnats tread air.

Lucy, this has gone too far. I want you inside in twenty minutes. Your father and I …

I listen to her vinyl sandals scrumpf through wet grass, prepare to step down, land heavily on the concrete path. Like a conductor, I could wave in the skreek of the sliding door, waggle a finger for each heel-fall, welcome silence with a levelled baton.

Instead, I lie back in my nest, staring up at leaf-blotted stars and mouthing her name. Lucy, Lucy, Lucy.

Three years ago, when Emily, my only friend, moved interstate, I took to spending recess and lunch in the library. At the back of the main room, spiral stairs led to a loft where old magazines sprawled on dusty shelves. In the gum tree whose lemon-scented leaves pressed against the loft window, a magpie was raising her brood. As I watched them that first day, a National Geographic slid off its shelf, landed near my toe. Was Lucy a Tree-Climber, After All?

That’s how we met. I, crouching on green shagpile; she, staring at me through the polymer clay eyeballs of her reconstructed face. We were both eleven. We didn’t look alike, except for the brown eyes. But something made me feel I was gazing at my reflection in a brackish pool. After I found Lucy, I didn’t try to make any other friends.

Her skeleton, a broken necklace on black velvet cloth, didn’t have any feet, just a single ankle bone. By contrast, the toddler Australopithecus afarensis whose discovery had prompted the National Geographic article had a large, curving, wiggle-able big toe. So she could shinny up the home-tree if a leopard slunk by, crawl into her family’s nest at sunset.

Nest? Yes. After dark, our ancestors became wingless birds who folded up their bipedal bravado in the hair of trees.

That afternoon, a hail of Bunnykins cups, bowls and plates dispersed Sal, Prue and Mattie. Psycho! Sal shouted over her shoulder as they fled inside to tell on me. The tree-house was mine. I swept the rest of the girly rubbish over the edge. With my brother’s help, I moved the pine platform about 10 feet higher, covered it with earth and dead leaves. The scents of growth and rot creep down to meet me as I scale the trunk after school every day.

My nest – our nest – contains nothing but an Arnott’s biscuit tin of clippings about Lucy culled from magazines and newspapers. I’ve grown quite a bit since the day I evicted my sisters. When I’m up here now I have to crouch in a way that pulls me back three years, and three million. Side by side, we gather fruits, dig for plants, suckle our babies. Our people live in a range of habitats, but I’ve always known that our home-tree grows beside a lake, its roots slipping among strange shapes of ancient fish.

I’m not allowed to sleep up here. Come down by dinner-time is the rule. Recently, I’ve been bending it more and more, testing the give of its fibres. Tonight I don’t care if it breaks. I’m not coming down. Lucy’s fall hurts less up here, even though, squinting through the swirl of autumn leaves, I can plot every micro-second of her trajectory.

I saw it at breakfast time, on the front page of the newspaper fortress Dad hides behind.

Lucy fell from tree, new CT scan suggests

The skeleton of Lucy, the 3.2-million-year-old hominid, shows injuries best explained by a fall from a tree, a team of scientists claim. Full story page 10.

Braving Dad’s outrage, I snatched the paper, ran out of the house, scrambled up here. It wasn’t easy in my school dress, which I tore on a forked twig. Through a smear of tears I read the article over and over. Bits of it have lodged in my head like shivers of glass.

We wanted to piece together the story of her life. We had no idea we’d find the clues to her death … She landed feet-first, probably at the edge of a lake … Almost certainly, death came quickly … quickly …

Twenty minutes must have passed. Another coat of dark blue has deepened the sky. I’m ready to face them. Heels tensed, hands gripping branches, eyes trained on the outside light. If Dad brings out the ladder –.

These are the fractures we see when a modern human falls from a great height.

 

FAYE BRINSMEAD lives in Canberra, Australia. A lawyer by day, she writes short fictions in all the snippets of time she can find. Her work appears in Reflex Fiction, MoonPark Review, Twist in Time Literary Magazine, formercactus and Vamp Cat Magazine, among others. Say hello on Twitter @theslithytoves.

Image by Michael Gaida from Pixabay

Mare Serenitatis – Jennifer Wilson

no matter that I am no beauty,
the mirrored sea will not break
beneath me. instead I tread
as though suspended, barely
wet, the soles of my feet
silvered by the tide.

and I move against the moon
who would gravitate to storms
should I slip, make a
miscalculation of my steps
as I seek you, stoop
to pick your pale white
eyes up from their bed –
little closed cowries pressed
tight against the grit and darkness
of the ocean floor.

O the sea, my love, is nothing
to fear though it is no
friend of mine. black bands
of hagfish make no meal
of bone. do not cry,
there is salt enough
in our wounds already.

 

JENNIFER WILSON lives in Somerset, England, with her newborn baby and fully-grown husband. Her work has appeared in Memoir Mixtapes, Molotov Cocktail and Mojave Heart among others. ( A full list can be found at jenniferwilsonlit.wordpress.com, while she may be found on twitter @_dead_swans )

Image by Stefan Schweihofer from Pixabay

Lockcharmer – James Burt

1

I’d been having a bad time of it when I locked myself out of the flat. I couldn’t afford a locksmith, and the friend who had my spare key was away. All I could do was phone my friend Rory and ask if I could stay a few nights.

-Actually, I’ve got a friend who can help, he said.

-What, he’s a locksmith?

-She’s a she. And sort of. I’ll give her a call and see if she can come round.

Rory arrived with Elaine about an hour later. She stood behind him, not looking me in the eye. Elaine was quiet, hair tied back from a serious face. She seemed too delicate to be a locksmith and carried no tools. I decided she probably had some special gadget – perhaps all the tools and gubbins locksmiths normally carried were for show. She’d not even called ahead to ask what type of lock I had, which made me think she knew some special trick.

We stood awkward on the stairs and chatted about the weather. I wanted to get inside and get some sleep, but it seemed rude to hurry things. Finally, Rory turned to Elaine and asked:

– Can my friend stay and watch?

Elaine glared at him.

– I’ve known him for fifteen years, Rory explained. You can trust him.

– Fine, she sighed. Just don’t get in the way, OK? And don’t tell anyone what you see.

– I won’t, I said.

– Seriously. You promise?

– I promise.

I was still expecting some special gadget. Instead the woman knelt down in front of the lock. She just put her face close to the keyhole, too close for her to see it properly, lips just short of kissing it. Rory and I didn’t speak and could hear Elaine whispering. Within twenty seconds there was a click and my door creaked open an inch.

– That’s an easy one, said Elaine

 

2

One night, lying in bed, Elaine told me how she learned about locks.

Her brother had dreamed of being an escapologist. He was fifteen months older than her and infuriated their parents. He’d get into trouble at school, or clumsily break ornaments. Elaine did her best to prevent arguments, but there was nothing she could do when Adam started playing at escapology.

Adam refused to keep the keys for his locks – he threw them away, so he’d have more incentive to get free. After the first couple of times his parents would regularly search his room, but he still managed to hide locks and chains. After he was found cuffed to a radiator for the third time in a week, Elaine decided to do something.

Of course, she had no idea where to start. She bought three padlocks with some leftover Christmas money and sat in the dark, playing with them, trying to figure how they worked, talking to them.

Elaine wasn’t quite sure how it happened – she’d never managed to explain it to anyone – but she had a knack. Elaine could persuade locks to open. But she was adamant it must be a secret.

– If too many people find out, she said, it won’t work.

– How do you know that?

– I just do. Same as I know how to open the locks.

 

3

Her bedroom was full of old padlocks she’d collected. They dangled open from loops of string attached to the ceiling. On her dresser was a massive lock, three hundred years old, she told me.

Elaine said that sometimes the locks talked back. Occasionally they complained, about the scrapes felt from an incorrect key, or the jabs of a badly cut one.

– Locks don’t use words, she said. But they give off vibrations, sort-of-feelings. Some are clenched tight; others are all serious and workmanlike. And padlocks are happiest when they’re open: you can just tell. They don’t mind protecting something – it’s what they’re made for – but they hate being left locked around nothing.

When she spoke about them, you could tell – Elaine loved locks.

 

4

I woke up in the night and saw Elaine wasn’t beside me, the duvet flat where she should have been. Probably gone for a glass of water, or to use the toilet; but what, I thought, if she was speaking to my doors? She could be researching the tiny details of my life, asking the locks who had visited, what times I’d come and gone.

I crept out of bed and into the hall. At the far end I could see light beneath the bathroom door. I went back to bed, slipped under the covers and pretended to sleep. The door creaked open and the bathroom light clicked off, then Elaine’s bare feet padded back to bed. She was soon asleep, breath puttering quietly, as I lay staring at the ceiling. I had no intention of cheating on Elaine – I loved her, I honestly believe I did. But I didn’t like the idea of not being able to keep secrets if I ever needed to, even if I couldn’t think of what those secrets might be.

I could hardly ask her never to talk to my doors, could I? It had to end. As much as I loved her, I couldn’t spend my life with someone I could never have secrets from.

 

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

The Tutor – Bayveen O’Connell

After mid-terms it was decided that I needed a biology tutor. Dad made a call or two and then dropped me off at the house at the end of the terrace on Lincoln.

“You’ll love her. We dated senior year,” he grinned as I got out of the car.

Climbing the steps, I heard the door click open.

“Maggie, right? I’m Angie,” a woman in a whoosh of loose kimono robe welcomed me in.

The hallway led to the kitchen, which was illuminated by windows running the length of the whole room, overlooking the yard. She sat and motioned for me to join her. Angie’s hair was long, black and silky, and she looked out at me through her bangs, pulling a pack of Lucky Strikes and a lighter from the pockets of her kimono.

“John said you’re struggling in Bio.”

I flinched. It sounded worse coming from a stranger. Raising her eyebrows, she put up her hand. “Struggling. I hate that word. Forget it.”

I exhaled, letting a nervous giggle escape. Smiling as she lit up, she said: “So what’s up?”

“What’s up?” I wasn’t sure where to begin.

“What’s the deal with Bio?” Angie took a drag.

I glanced along the infinite window sill where things were growing in pots higgledy-piggledy, green and dangling in every available space. “Humans are ok, even frogs and parasites but plants are just too bland. I mean…pea chromosomes and bladder wrack seaweed?”

Angie exhaled and issued a whoop of laughter. “Your father’s grown wise with his years, sent you to the right place.”

I looked back at the sill again, full of strange colours and scents, high sweetness and sour rot.

“You’ve seen my babies, eh? Here, let’s make a bet. If you don’t have green fingers by the end of the month, I’ll give you 40 bucks.” Angie stood up, coaxed me from the chair and pointed towards a pot with spiky-headed things. I shrugged, eying the gross little petals that looked like mouths.

“We can bet your father’s money.” Angie said, watching me watching her plants.

Above us, a bluebottle fly hummed, bumbling down the window. It made a long, lazy loop around us and stopped near one of the spiky mouths.

“What you think?”

I didn’t reply. I was too busy looking at the fly rubbing its front legs in anticipation of some delicious juice, then crawling up and into the red tongue of the plant. Just like that- snap! The jaws closed around it, the spikes inter-twined, yet I could see the shape of the fly still wriggling inside.

I turned to Angie, my eyes nearly bulging out of my head: “This can’t be real, this is some sort of…”

Angie threw her head back and chuckled, the light glossing through her hair.

“You’re not a teacher, are you?” I said.

She rolled her eyes, “No, I’m a witch. And I have more weird stuff out in the greenhouse, if you’re interested.”

 

Bayveen O’Connell lives in Dublin and loves travelling, photography and Bowie. Her flash, CNF and poems have appeared in Three Drops from a Cauldron, Former Cactus, Molotov Cocktail, Retreat West, The Bohemyth, Boyne Berries, Underground Writers, Scum Lit mag and others.

Image by Mylene2401 from Pixabay

Corsican Visits, Summer 1988 – B F Jones

The sun beats down on the orange Mehari that sways down the tortuous road, its engine screaming with each bend.

The Pernod was refilled during the visit to the Antoniottis, the retired teachers who they occasionally go fishing with. So they’re now on a tight schedule, with two more dominical visits to squeeze in before calling in to great aunty Virginia, who has early lunch on a Sunday, in order to treat herself to an additional half hour of siesta.

The small car rattles through the town, startling churchgoers as they flock out of the service, dozy with prayers and incense, squinting in the midday sun.

The children sit at the back, sticking their arms out of the flapping plastic windows, nauseated by the car fumes and curly roads. They long to be at Father Constantino’s house already. Out of all the visits, this one is the best, it also only happens every other Sunday as Father officiates at the Greek Orthodox church bi-monthly, making it even more special. The cordial hasn’t got white flakes in or a dark crust around the bottle’s rim and sometimes there’s ice lollies he presses into their hands before mum and dad can say it will spoil their appetite. He then sends them into the garden where his cats are willing to be chased and held tight, bottom legs dangling, and where juicy figs hang low and are allowed to be picked.

But this Sunday is different. A stern Father awaits them outside his front door. There has been an incident he says. Forgetting to greet the children, he addresses the parents solely, his voice as quiet as his baritone nature can muster, his accent stronger in his rushed explanation. They catch fragments of it. “…a traffic jam in Ajaccio…delay.”

“So it’s here? Inside the house?”

“Yes. In the lounge. Do come in, we can sit in the office.” And his voice grows strong again, his words final: “Children, today we’ll be staying in the office.”

So they sit in the stuffy room, trying to wash away discomfort with more Pernod and cordial and a small ball of very dry pistachios, mum telling Father about yesterday’s trip to the beach, and how big the waves were.

Louis fidgets, uncomfortable on the edge of the small couch, his brother’s leg hot and sweaty stuck to his. He was hoping to see Brunu, his favourite cat, but they can’t go to the lounge and the lounge leads to the garden. He crosses his arms, refusing to touch the pink cordial as a sign of protest. But the grownups don’t pay attention, they are deep in conversation, talking about the wildfires and the drought and the mayor.

Louis wonders what’s in the lounge. Maybe a pirate treasure? Father Constantino always tells him about the pirates that once roamed off the coast. He says there are pirate ships resting on the seabed and that he should look for them when he goes snorkeling.

The grownups are still talking, Sofia is sitting on the floor, playing solitaire, hard at work trying to shuffle the yellowing deck of cards, and Jacques has lowered his head on the nearby cushion and tucked his thumb in his mouth. Louis gets off the couch and walks out quietly, his heart thumping hard at the thought of a pirate’s chest sitting in the lounge. And if there’s no treasure, he can always go to the garden to see Brunu.

The lounge is dark but he can make a large, rectangular shape.

A treasure chest!

It is longer than expected, lacquered white and not wooden, but the handles are golden, as expected. The pirate lying in it is having a siesta.

 

Image by Nadine Doerlé from Pixabay

Joan of Arc – Dan A Cardoza

I am in Paris, for one year, my high school student exchange program. I enroll in the obligatory French language classes. To my surprise, I love both courses, and my teachers, especially, Fleur. I have her in my advanced French class. I admit she is my favorite, a master linguist, and philosopher of everything Amour.

First I giggle, and then I ask her “how?”

Fleur’s short answer, “Slightly lift your tongue like a pen, and then sketch tiny alphabets in your closed mouth. This works especially when painting nouns and verbs.”

“You are making me blush Fleur.”

“No Ms. Melissa, your limitless imagination is making you blush.”

I cry when I say goodbye to Fleur. She asks that I be careful. She says, “there are so many decisions in life, and so few involve choices. Love is the most important decision in life, choose wisely.”

By the end of summer, before my senior year, I commanded the poetics of the French and believe true love will eventually find me, and haunt me pleasantly forever, like a ghost circling the tip of an endless Dreidel.

*      *      *

Years press forward, depressed, I drop out of college, with only one quarter remaining.

*      *      *

We are taking one of our long drives, into the foothills, where witchweed, and lavender thistles bouquet the rolling green landscape, wafting a potion of jasmine blossom, and the delicate scent of wild mustard. But as I look closer, past all the beauty, I can also see the alabaster rib cage of a winter deer, under the rotting oak shade branches. I see spring creeks, running dark and muddy, and moody. I see all this through my passenger window, and then as I slowly turn, I notice you thinking too hard.

You fancy me invisible and then you mouth, “I still can’t believe she’s gone.”

*       *      *

We take too many of these trips, but at least I can mull to myself out the window, rearrange the scenery, even the weather, which seems darker with each new trip.

When we return in the early evening, you ask me, Please stay for a glass of Merlo you would rather not waste.”

I say, “No thank you, Mr. Conrad.” I think cadavers.

*      *      *

Over Bombay and Safire, at a fancy hotel bar full of enough men for a turkey shoot, you flirt me around like it’s a whore convention. I think shame on you, but I understand because in your mind I am bought and paid for, like your wrinkled laundry waiting for its folding in a basket at home.

As I cry and race home, I throw out party napkins full of telephone numbers. The fresh air pounds me like a sound tunnel, cigarettes, ash and filth lift then whisk in a swirl, like Dorothy’s Kansas tornado.

‘Where are those god damned ruby red shoes when you really need them,’ I say out loud?

*      *      *

I’m not worth much, that’s what my lazy boyfriend says. He fancies himself a ninja wordsmith, and he’s good at the hateful ones. He’s a Jedi Knight, with a sword for math. For example, he knows exactly how many empty Budweiser cans it takes to recycle our dreams, typically $10.00 at the recycled center.

During sex, I am high above him on a cloud hooked to a string. I can predict when he cums, because that’s when I am paying late bills or eating apples in my mind. Then I crush, “Right there, right there baby!” That’s when I cut the string and untether, and float to the stars, far from the white noise in my head. Then somehow, I awake from my sleep not quiet dead.

*      *      *

I’ve been told that it is ok to live with the memory of love. That it’s ok to live with a vivid image, or .gif of stormy neon kisses that flowed over and down, staining my white blouse. Just live with the memory of weather and the wetness you caused, all this just by saying “I love you,” and meaning it. I’ve been told by my therapist, it’s also ok to remember the broken dishes on the floor, to make room on the table when food was not what we hungered for. If only I didn’t recall the two solemn marines at the front door.

*      *      *

On our way home from yet another Sunday and dusk, you say, “No! Like an ice cream cone, slow and easy, like she used too.”

I listen, but I can’t hear you. It’s a terribly windy day that insists on flapping against my ears like mad seagull wings. I have to lean into the wind just to hang on. As I stand at a childhood bridge in Seattle, mist rises from the water toward a cloudless sky. I see heaven, magnifique, it is so all alone, orphaned of name. On such a day, emptiness can only be quenched in fathoms. ‘I say to myself slow and easy, slow and easy. It’s almost over.’

*      *      *

Le temps a des ailes. ‘Time has wings.’

All stories must end. This one does not.

We find ourselves at Smith College in Northampton Massachusetts. Melissa is teaching a class about the French Renaissance. Outside, on a bench, a young woman finds herself pleasantly fatigued from the challenge of learning. She looks out across the vacant green courtyard at the tall stand of fall Sycamore, which seems to climb into the afternoon sky like a burning teal castle. Just in time, a damsel needs rescuing.

In her silence, she traces the letters of Joan of Arc with her tongue, blending each letter into words into a carousel of thought. It’s The One Hundred Year War, a revolution. She knows to take her time.

‘il y a pire que d’être seul, as Fluer might have said––there are worse things in life than being alone, like having no choices perhaps.

It’s then, Erica, with only the tip of her tongue, slowly spells, M-e-l…

La Fin

 

DAN A CARDOZA has a MS Degree in Education from UC, Sacramento, Calif. He is the author of four poetry Chapbooks, and a new book of fiction, Second Stories. Recent Credits: 101 Words, Adelaide, California Quarterly, Chaleur, Cleaver, Confluence, UK, Dissections, Door=Jar, Drabble, Entropy, Esthetic Apostle, Fiction Pool, Foxglove, Frogmore, UK, High Shelf Press, New Flash Fiction Review, Rue Scribe, Runcible Spoon, Skylight 47, Spelk, Spillwords, Riggwelter, Stray Branch, Urban Arts, Zen Space, Tulpa and Zeroflash.

Image by bonoflex from Pixabay

Puff – Marie Fields

I took up smoking when I lived
In the ex-hotel, ex-brothel building
Everything had been repurposed
I’d sit in the kitchen with my feet up
Puffing on Sobranie Cocktails
The insulation so terrible that I
Didn’t even need to open a window
No fear of the alarm drawing attention
Not like Johnny would care
He’d probably join me
I splayed out a smorgasbord of
Colorful cancer in front of me
Letting each one inch me closer
To a high I was loathe to
Leave behind in sleep
The itch so strong I had to
Start chewing gum during the day
Keeping up the façade of decency
I had repurposed
Just like the building.

 

Image via Wikipedia Commons

La Maldadita – Matt Kendrick

When I was younger, I lived in a chicken coop. The smell of chicken shit still permeates my dreams from time to time. Other times, I dream of anthropomorphic octopi who wear polka dot swimsuits and sip paper-umbrella-accessorised mojitos. Did you know that, literally translated, the word ‘mojito’ means ‘little sauce’? ‘Ito’ is a diminutive, you see. It makes things smaller. ‘Gatito’ is a chicken. ‘Paragüita’ is a cocktail umbrella. The word for a nestling child is ‘niñito’. And that was me – a niñito, a tadpole, a scrag of bones and gristle. I was a starveling who got sent out to the chicken coop because I wouldn’t eat my vegetables. My parents said it would teach me appreciation.

What you learn in the chicken coop is this. One – chickens’ beaks are sharp needles. They use them to assert their authority. That is where the term ‘pecking order’ comes from. Two – chickens ‘get in a flap’ at every rustling movement. They are like the cartoon bully who blanches in the face of an even bigger bully appearing on his patch. Three – hens emit an almost incessant cluck. They get restless when they are selecting a nest box. They fret about the placement of the straw. It is enough to make you want to wring their necks when you are sleeping in amongst them. Four – chicken shit has a smell that stays with you long after you’ve left the brood.

*      *      *

The day I wouldn’t eat my vegetables was the first time of many. I was five years old. Further chicken-coop-banishment offences included wetting my bed after a spider-infested nightmare, knocking a tacky china vase from its kitchen sideboard perch, and serving my father a mug of tea without his customary three sugar lumps. Each trip to the chicken coop came with a lesson to learn, like self-control or respect. Mainly, I learnt that my place in the ‘pecking order’ was right at the bottom – beneath my two older brothers, beneath the dog and the cat and my dad’s Cortina, beneath the television set, and even beneath the fifteen chickens. I was the runt that couldn’t throw a ball properly or run in a straight line. ‘Good for nothing’ was what my father called me. My mother used to smack me round the back of the head for staring into space.

When it came to corporal punishment, my father favoured the buckle of a belt strap whipped against anxiously clenching buttocks. My brothers learnt from his example. They liked nothing better than to clobber me in the gut.

*      *      *

There was one time I remember when I didn’t want to watch a movie that had been rented from the local Blockbuster. The red-circled number on the case was an eighteen so I was far too young for it. I didn’t understand most of the grown-up language or what was happening in the scenes where a gangster and his mistress appeared to wrestle beneath a crisp white bedsheet. But the amount of blood was horrifying. Graphically, at various points through the movie, it was pooled on the ground. There was a scene where a crow pecked a woman’s eyes out. Another crow emerged from the innards of a frostbitten beggar. When it got too much, I tried to slide off my chair.

‘Where d’you think you’re going?’ asked my father.

My tear ducts seeped moisture. A stifled gobbet withered in my mouth. ‘I…’

‘This is family time and you’re not to spoil it by being a cry-baby.’ He threatened to tie me to the chair if I didn’t stay in place.

What you learn in the chicken coop is this. One – the rooster is a vicious bastard who’ll peck your eyes out at the first sign of weakness. Two – the alpha female is complicit in everything because there are other hens nipping at her heels. Three – a cockerel’s principal drive is to displace the rooster. He does this by shoving his weight about. He does this by picking on the pullets and the chicks. Four – chicken shit has a stench that makes you want to chunder.

*      *      *

Small things set masterpieces into action. ‘El whiskicito’, the small whisky that sets an addictive personality on the path to enlightened thinking. ‘La ideita’, the wisp of an idea that fuses inside the fatty tissue of a human brain. ‘El corazoncito’, the trembling heart that turns to tarry black after a lifetime of meekly cowering in the shadows.

Click, click, click and we are all returned to that living room where a seven year old’s nightmares were gorged on age-inappropriate cinematic exposure. This time, though, the chair-tying threat has been carried out and my father has the same terrified look that all chickens get when a bigger bully appears on their patch. There are roundels of sweat at his armpits and I bet he’ll wet himself before the end. My mother is clucking incessantly as she always does. I give her a slap to try and shut her up. I think how pleasant it will be to wring her neck and see her squawk her last.

I’ve got ‘un cuchillito’ (little knife) in my hand. I’ve got ‘una memorita’ in my head of a time when my father locked me in the chicken coop for three days straight. It pissed it down the whole time I was out there. I missed two days of school and got a detention on my return for not completing my Spanish homework. ‘Una pepita’ (a seedling) of resentment was born in those three days. It germinated in the deluge. The next time I felt the bite of my father’s belt buckle, it sprouted shoots of hatred; thoughts in effervescent chlorophyll of future revenge.

Chlorophyll – I used its dictionary neighbour to knock my parents out; a dab of it on a handkerchief, creeping up behind my father whilst he sat lounging in his underpants. When he came round a few moments ago, he looked surprised to see me. My mother had the expression of a broiler who knows its time is up.

*      *      *

All that is left now is to commit a little devilry – ‘la maldadita’. It is but a ‘peccadillo’ really. If you think about it, it is only what you should expect from the chicken coop – cockerel rising up to take its place, alpha female exposed for the heartless bitch that she is.

The inspiration for my retaliatory sequence is soaked in the blood of an eighteen-stamped Blockbuster video. As I use the knife to cut ‘une grietita’ (a chink) in my father’s wattle, I get a sense of profound satisfaction. It is in the way he flinches. It is in the way he yells out when I slice his index finger clean in two. Luckily, the neighbours are used to ignoring the odd sounds that emanate from the chicken coop. That’s good because my mother’s screaming is like a parakeet on crack.

I won’t bore you with the details – the fact that I turn it into ‘un juegito’ (a little game) or the fact that I revel in doing things ‘despacito’ (slowly). What I will say is that the amount of blood is horrifying. It gets everywhere from the nicotine-stained drapes to the dog-chewed cushions. There is a splatter of it on my shoes which I wipe off with disinterested disdain. I feel giddy at the sight of the two parental corpses slumped in their chairs. And the only other thing that penetrates my skull is the smell of faeces, my father’s bowels having given out just as I was pecking my knife into his flabby hackles. It smells worse than chicken shit.

Outside, almost on cue, one of the hens emits an inquisitive little cluck.

 

MATT KENDRICK is a writer based in the East Midlands, UK. His stories have been published by Fictive Dream, Lucent Dreaming, Reflex Press, Spelk, Storgy and Collective Unrest. Further information about his work can be found on his website: http://www.mattkendrick.co.uk. He is on Twitter @MkenWrites

Image by Donald Gazzaniga from Pixabay

The Alpine Garden Club – Steve Haywood

With the pint of freshly poured Wainwrights in one hand and potted plant in the other, Tom headed to the back of the bar, through the doorway into the snug. He didn’t know why they called it a snug, there was nothing snug about it. The paint on the walls had long since turned to an indistinct dull grey, the bleakness only broken by a few curled up posters advertising a darts match that had been and gone years ago. The furniture wasn’t much better, a few scattered tables sticky with generations of spilled drinks and wooden chairs darkened with age until they were almost black. There was precious little light in the room, the small high windows giving just enough illumination so that you could see in front of you in the middle of the day and didn’t trip over the frayed brown carpet. He liked it though, it matched his mood these days and more importantly, it was quiet. Nobody came here except for the quiz on Sundays. Today wasn’t Sunday.

He slumped down in his usual chair in the corner of the room, carefully placing both pint and plant pot on the table in front of him. Absently, he swept the scattered bits of soil off the table onto the floor and properly looked at the plant for the first time. It seemed a bit dried out and forlorn, though there were two purple flowers with a yellow centre which Tom supposed someone else might call pretty. After a few moments of staring intently at it he looked away, his lip curling slightly. What did he want with a plant? He’d only forget to water it, leaving it to shrivel up and wither away, much like everything else in his life. He’d told Mark as much earlier, in their session together.

‘What’re you giving me a plant for of all things? I always kill the damn things. My ex-wife would go away for the week on a conference, and when she got back her precious plants would be dead. We’d have a blazing row about it for days afterwards.’

‘Ah but the beauty of this type of plant is it hardly needs watering at all. So just take it, it will bring some colour into your life. Next week at our session, you can tell me how it’s doing.’

So that was how he came to be stuck with this stupid plant. He’d been tempted to dump it in the bin on the way here, but knowing Mark he’d ask him to bring the thing in one week, take a photo of it or something.

He took a deep drink from his pint, and sat back, slowly losing himself in the dark, swirling currents of his thoughts.

He didn’t know how long it had been, time was largely meaningless to him, but his quiet world was suddenly shattered by the hubbub of voices coming closer, and then the harsh strip light blinked on. He squinted in the glare and saw several people entering the room. He didn’t understand, it was Wednesday today, not Sunday. A woman in her late forties with short, greying hair came straight towards him. She took in the plant in front of him and smiled broadly. She thrust her hand out, forcing him to shake it.

‘Hi! You must be the guy from the website, James was it?’

‘Err, I’m Tom actually.’

‘Tom, right, sorry. Don’t know whether I’m coming or going sometimes. I’m Marie. Let me introduce you to some of the others.’ She beckoned them over. ‘Everyone, this is Tom. He’s the website enquiry I told you about. Tom this is Sheila, our social secretary, Paul our treasurer and Ana who’s our librarian.’

‘Hi Tom.’

‘Hi.’

‘Sorry, I…’ Tom started.

‘Don’t worry, we don’t expect you to remember everyone’s names. It’s not just us either, we may not be the biggest branch of the Alpine Garden Society, but there’s more of us than you’d think. Oh look, here’s some of them now.’

She went over to welcome the newcomers, and Tom was just thinking about using the reprieve to get the hell out of there when the middle aged, balding man she’d identified as Paul stepped up in front of the table.

‘Really good to meet you. I say, is that a Sisyrinchium Bellum you’ve got there?’ He didn’t wait for a response before continuing. ‘Beautiful flowers, Sisyrinchum Bellum. Blue eyed grass they call it in California, but then you probably already knew that. It’s your plant after all.’

‘Um well…’

‘I had a girlfriend with eyes that colour. She was beautiful too. Left me for her fitness instructor.’

‘Sorry to hear that,’ Tom mumbled.

Paul waved it away like it was nothing. ‘Water under the bridge, you know, it was years ago. Say, I’d better get a drink before we start. What are you drinking?’

So that was it, he was stuck in the monthly meeting of the Woodsham Alpine Garden Society. Paul came back with a pint for each of them and a packet of Nobby’s nuts which he offered round then proceeded to crunch loudly for the next few minutes.

‘Right, shall we begin?’ Marie shouted, silencing the chatter. ‘We’ve got an exciting evening ahead. As some of you know, Linda and Jim have just got back from a trip to the Pyrenees and have agreed to show us their pictures on the big screen. I’ve had a sneak preview and they’ve got some exciting plant species to tell us about. Over to you.’

With slowly dawning horror, Tom realised he was going to be in for a long night. Linda and Jim, had hundreds of photos to show off, all of a series of plants that he struggled to tell apart from each other. The only consolation was that as the ‘new member’, a succession of people kept insisting on buying his drinks. After a while, everything started to blur, but the black dog that usually stalked him when he was drinking obviously had better things to do for once, for he felt a strange, unfamiliar warm glow to proceedings.

*      *      *

He woke up with a groan, clutching his head. He hated having a hangover, so much so that he usually didn’t drink enough to make him suffer, but this morning he was definitely suffering. Quite why that was though, he wasn’t sure, he usually only had a couple of pints before going home and slumping in front of the TV. Then turning his head slightly, he spotted the potted plant on his bedside table, and it all came flooding back. He couldn’t help but laugh out loud, then instantly regretted it as his head started pounding. Of all the things he could have imagined himself doing yesterday, attending the monthly meeting of the Woodsham Alpine Garden Society was not one of them. What a dreadful evening! Except… it didn’t seem that dreadful at all, now he thought about it. Okay so watching hundreds of plant pictures on the big screen did get a bit samey after a while, and he didn’t get why some of the members got so excited about new seeds they’d got in their seed library, but the rest of it was alright. He’d got free booze all evening out of it, but it wasn’t just that. He had really enjoyed the company, and the feeling like he belonged (even though he clearly didn’t, what did he know about plants?).

A while later, he was up, dressed and breakfasted. He glanced up at the window. The sky outside was a deep blue, and the sun was shining in through the window, illuminating the room. Light refracted off a glass sat by the sink, sending out multi-coloured ribbons of light off the white tile walls. Sat on the windowsill where’d he left it last night was his Blue-eyed Grass. In the sunlight the colours were even more striking, the yellow centre contrasting well with the blue-purple petals, to his untrained eye at least. The plant itself did look a little dry though, so he ran the tap over it to give it some water. Some of it quickly started dripping out the bottom onto his shoes, so he rummaged in the cupboard until he found a chipped old side plate which he put underneath to catch the water. A couple of the lower leaves were a bit shrivelled up and obviously dead, so he carefully picked them off, humming to himself softly.

 

STEVE HAYWOOD lives in a small historic city in England. As well as writing short fiction, he blogs about short stories, novels and assorted topics at http://www.inkypages.co.uk. He can also be found on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Lancaster_Steve where he regularly tweets to share stories he likes with anyone who will listen.

Image by Mark Martins from Pixabay

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