Stream Of Consciousness Drawer Two

Hope Grows – Rob McIvor

Beards.

I swear all the men in this street are growing beards. Every one of them.

Not those fluffy two weeks away glamping with the family and I didn’t feel like shaving beards, but proper, six weeks away from work, just like a teacher in summer, and look what happened beards. Let’s all hole up at a pink house in upstate New York and make a great album beards. Garth Hudson beards. The real thing.

Even Frank, at number 34 is doing it. I saw him this morning, going out for his daily exercise with his little girl; the one that asked me if I was Santa Claus. What’s her name? Oh yes, Guinevere. Sorry, but if you’re going to saddle your child with a name like that you need to give her some decent genetic material. But Frank’s no Adonis and her mum’s no Helen of Troy. Poor kid.

Anyway, back to Frank’s face. I noticed it when he was on the way out and had a good look when he was on his way back, with his newspaper. He always holds it up to his chest, with his arm crooked, like a junior barrister carrying his briefs. I don’t know what he does for a job. Maybe he really is a junior barrister. There it was, a bit wispy in places, sort of ginger with blonde roots, but definitely an attempt at a beard. He’s going to need another month of this before he looks like anything other than an unkempt hamster.

I see them all coming and going. Phil from 43 (very dark, he’s already shaping it into a kind of biblical sage look); Louis and Michael from 28 (matching goatees, flanked by carefully cultivated stubble); the teenager from 39 (a bit scrappy but 8/10 for effort). It’s as though on the one hand they are all trying to pretend that they are going about their lives as normal, as if nothing was happening, while, subliminally, little squirts of testosterone are dribbling into their brains and telling them that this is their chance to let it go, show what they can do if left undisturbed for a month or two, to return, when it’s all over, with their faces a visible declaration that it’s all going to be different from now on.

I envy them their futile hope. I remember the last time it was all going to be different. And the time before that. Each new dawn breaking through, like tiny shoots from an overnight face. And that moment when we all thought: shall we let it grow a little, give it a chance, nurture it, before razoring it away in a submissive, supplicant return to normality.

I wonder which will last longer, this naïve sense that something has changed forever or the beards. All those beards, screaming out their vitality, their endurance, their presence. I watch them passing all day. And I look down and remember that the last time I shaved was May 2nd 1997.

Porthcothan Bay – Matt Fallaize

I, of course didn’t realise until years later what had actually happened, because it made so little difference at the time.

You don’t though, do you?

A was about to be my first proper girlfriend . There was a sort of tacit acknowledgement between us that we were about to be a thing, but we weren’t, in any binding sense, that yet. So it was plausible, legally-speaking, in Double Science when Cowan and Rawley told me that she’d had actual sex with a guy in a tent on Porthcothan Bay, just the weekend before; some kid from another school, I didn’t know him. It wouldn’t have been a crime, technically. We’d been edging around each other for a while, but it wasn’t like I had exclusive rights.

They said it with a note of concern, they wanted me to know what I was getting myself into. They were angry at her, her friend Nicola had told them. She’d been in the next tent along. Their words were rushed. They’d fallen over each other to tell me.

We were friends , of a sort, Cowan, Rawley and I. I’d been to their houses, they didn’t seem to actively dislike me, we had occasional conversations and compared homework from time to time. They were, I instinctively acknowledged, a couple of brackets up from me, popularity wise. They dressed with more confidence, surfer clothes, they had a certain relaxed charm. It didn’t bother me, it was just how it was.

The odd thing is that I remember not believing a word of it. Not in any angry, hot denial sort of a way. I just thought well that didn’t happen and thanked them for telling me and thought no more of it. I’ve always had something of a short fuse, and it was worse then. You’d have expected me to lose it. Confront A. Or, more likely, retreat into myself in silent misery and never speak to her again. But I didn’t. I just thought nah, and went about my day. We became an item shortly afterwards. She was, I knew, a bit too good for me. But it took me some years before I worked out that was how I felt, then.

And I’ve no idea what made me think about his, twenty five years later. My wife and I had just finished off dinner, we’d been having a rough time but things were getting better and we were in expansive, confiding mood, having one of those conversations where you maybe reveal a little more of yourself than you normally would, even to a loved one. When you talk about each other’s pasts. And I’ve no idea why I told her about this, as I hadn’t thought about it, right up until that moment, but when she said in a small, furious voice: fucking hell, they didn’t even want to let you have that one happiness, they wouldn’t even let you have that I thought Jesus yes that’s it.

Matt Fallaize is a writer (and chef) based in Ormskirk, Lancashire, UK, where he knocks out meals, stories and poems in wildly varying quantities… His work has appeared in various places and, you can find him, should you feel so inclined, in the usual places.

To Slow Down – C J Dotson

A couple of months ago I began to suspect that I might have ADHD. Inattentive type. I talked it over with a few friends who’ve known me for a very long time and with my husband and eventually I called the psychiatrist’s office that my husband goes to and asked to set up an appointment. I didn’t have a referral or anything and there was a little bit of surprise or hesitance on the other end about it, but I had a first appointment a couple of weeks ago. About a week after that I had a follow up to do a series of true/false questions, over 500 of them, on a computer. In that time I have been doing a lot of research on my own and I came to the conclusion that something that might really help me would be to create a schedule. A detailed schedule of every activity throughout my day, one for each day of the week. I started it, and it seemed like it was really helping me. A few days after that, the governor of Ohio (where I live) canceled all school for three weeks. He said three weeks. I and my husband both figured pretty immediately that that was actually it for this school year. There goes my stepson’s last year of middle school and my son’s first year of preschool. And there goes that carefully crafted schedule. It had to be reworked and it doesn’t always work because my son is home all the time now and you have to be a lot more flexible with kids. I’ve missed parts of the schedule almost every day but I’m still trying. More, something strange started happening to my perception of time, right away. Everything in my personal life kind of came to a stop. We’re not leaving the house. I’m not planning my son’s fifth birthday party. I don’t take him to school or pick him up, I don’t check my schedule at work, I don’t look up events at the library, I don’t make plans with my mom. Everything in the world outside started moving so fast. Governor DeWine started shutting things down left and right, and in my opinion good for him. Stores ran out of a lot of things (insert toilet paper joke here). There’s more bad news from around the world every day. Time at once seemed to slow down to almost nothing and to speed up incredibly, depending on where I’m looking. It’s disconcerting. And my god is it distracting. I know I’m not alone in this. I know that right now almost everyone in the world, except for people in denial perhaps, are feeling this too. I know that. But it just doesn’t seem fair that I was finally, at age 33, figuring out some big fundamental part of who I am and learning how to work around it and then (allow me to be a little hyperbolic for a moment) and then an apocalypse started.

CJ Dotson has been reading sci fi, fantasy, and horror for as long as she can remember, and writing for almost that long. She works in a bookstore, co-hosts a SFF book club, and is a wife, mother, and stepmom. In her spare time she paints and bakes. Visit cjdotsonauthor.squarespace.com

Not today – B F Jones

I woke up to smell of tress and bananas and oxygen, to a sing song, from little birds. To the patter of hungry toddlers, demanding bread and honey, to the soft purring of a congested husband, demanding my body pressed against his. One of the cats paws my chest and it hurts to be alive some days. There’s a pool out there full of water and lilies. I float on one of them, my body spongy like a star fish, my mind gone to the good place. The nebulous place of stars and clouds, foamy with delight, dewy with love and the warm embrace of dear ones, muscles and tendons and flesh. Hot breath garlicky and sweet. Red wine running through our veins as we hold hands tight, squishing our pulse, making sure that it is here. Yes it is here.

I woke up to the song of neighbours, guitars and banjos and flutes, their hope rising through the air, their feuds, suddenly forgotten. Not today, revenge, not today.

I hold a small bird in my hand, its tiny body nested against my palm. The cat brought it in, proud, but I said no, not quite, give it back. Not today.

I lay awake at night with the weight of my dreams, suffocating me. The water lilies have come for me and they cover my hairy body. I have become an animal and I am chasing my dreams, my aunty Virginia had warned me about the furry family legend. You can’t escape it she’d say, wagging her strappy tail. We’re better off this way, she said, dislodging a small bone from between her teeth, curling up on a pile of skeletons and purring with the satisfaction of the mighty. I know best my dear one, yes I know best. We can try and try and try but only this way we can succeed. Come and join the tribe my dear one. There are small ones to eat and medium ones to fry and big ones to fight. Don’t run away my darling I know best. But I run away. Traps everywhere, traps traps traps. Sweet old ladies turned devil. I run on that springboard and jump from high. There must be a way out from this pool that I swim over, my body a hovercraft of hope, not weighing anything anymore; I have turned into one of those little brids from the tree that I see from my window when I wake and say not today, not today. I bake some bread with misfortune and expired yeast, it rises and burst, giggling as it splatters my kitchen walls. I mop it with the last of my hope, I polish the wall with fierceness and anger and undying love while I scream and shout not today, not today. I wake up with a small bird on my chest, it’s eaten the cat and vomits a soft cloth of comfort, I wrap myself in it and I go back to sleep. Small birds sing song as I doze, not today, not today.

Mother Love – Anne Hamilton

If she’s filled that bloody commode again, I’ll swing for her…Deep breath, deep breath. Onetwothreefourfivesixseveneightnineten. Knock. Do it. Ugh: overnight breath and lavender water, and what have I said about the electric heater? Look at the old witch, perched there like a Buddha in a hairnet and curlers, tasselled bedspread up to her neck. Ask how she is, Mags, go on, see which laugh we get this morning: brittle, hollow, tinny, tinkling, woe-is-me. Depends whether she’s showcasing her indigestion or her constipation. Or her ‘little bit’ of diabetes. For God’s Sake. None of them’ll stop her guzzling tea and toast – once we’ve got through the rigmarole of me offering and her refusing. Give the old girl her due, she times her hesitation to a tee: well, if you’ve already gone to the trouble…I’ll try a little…Oh! Fuck’s sake. She always notices I can’t be arsed to iron her napkins, one of the six white linen squares, plus silver ring, my dear mother brings when she visits. My paper ‘serviettes’ are ‘common’. Being a perfectionist is such a curse, Margaret, such a blessing you don’t suffer. Ya-di-ya-di-ya. I get through these fourteen day ‘holidays’ pretending to be a below-stairs extra in Downton Abbey. Brown toast is wrong. White toast is wrong. Sodding Michelin-approved truffle-dusted artisan focaccia is wrong. But she’ll suffer it: tsk, tsk – you flighty young folk (mother, dearest, I’m forty-six) are too ready to waste things… She lived through the war, don’t you know, all gravy-browning legs, dried-egg canapes, and people today not knowing what war is. Yeah, right, Ma, all those thousands of whinging Syrians should Keep Calm and Go Home, shouldn’t they? I try smiling, honest I do, but she shrinks away as if I’m baring my teeth, all the better to eat her with. Breakfast takes longer than a medieval orgy, and I’m up and down the stairs like an Olympian. I lose all kinds of pounds when she’s here, running around pretending I’ve a book balanced on my head, lowering my shoulders and straightening my back, just as the eighty quid a session osteopath recommends. Now she’s off on one about my new-fangled dishwasher scratching her manky old crockery (yep, she brings her own Royal Albert china along with the napkins). Is it a hair (my slovenliness) or a crack (my cack-handedness)? Whatever. There’re always spares in the special antique shop, aka The Salvation Army, down town. It’d break my caring mother’s heart, you see, if she didn’t have a full dinner service to leave my can’t-do-any-wrong doctor brother when she carks it. Oh, no blame on him, he’s one of the best, my little bro. Patient. Kind. Cheery. I’m the mardy one. S’pose I’m not really blaming Her Highness, here, either…well, alright, I am, but what can you do, eh? We get on fine as long as there’s a respectable social distance – 300 miles usually – between us. And like I tell myself, for better or worse she is my mum.

White Out – Mark Anthony Smith

In these times of a Virus other things spread like germs too. I couldn’t even get some milk today. I can substitute peanut butter or jam for butter. I can go without marmite and tinned mushrooms because I don’t like them. But black tea makes me angry with its sharp taste. I drink tea sans milk and forget about biscuits. This panic buying tests my patience.

I sit cooped up. I do that anyway since half of my neck has been removed. On Social media, there are young people being arrested in The Costas. They’ve only just become legal to drink and no threat of illness will change that. The Spanish Police are not in a British holiday spirit though. The beaches and bars are on strictest lockdowns. The teenagers learn the hard way to a thunderous applause from other tourists from their balconies.

In the papers, schools are headlining to be closed indefinitely. Home schooling will test some parents and kids if the PlayStation doesn’t substitute the clammer of maths and arguments. It is novel, being at home, but for how long now the cinemas have closed? People are worrying about the lack of pay too.

There are increased Road traffic accidents as people worry about whether they’re symptomatic or worrying too much – or not enough. We have seen regular outbreaks of violence. A lady fights on the path because her Ford has been pranged and she doesn’t have her usual patience with other things going on. A man fights openly, in a Supermarket, for the last toilet rolls. He is apprehended. But not before he bombs those that arrest him with boxes of man-sized tissues. People are not thinking straight.

The streets are deathly quiet. I can hear my teabag plop. The shops are either closed or an open free for all. It’s soon gutted. I am gutted. I sip. The tea is bearable as I watch another Apocalyptic film and forget. What do they say about real life and fiction? I chuckle. I try to forgive the behaviours of those who panic buy like vultures picking off carrion on The Serengeti. The credits roll. This is how I escape.

Mark Anthony Smith was born in Hull. This is his second furnishing in The Cabinet of Heed. His Horrors appear in Anthologies from Eerie River, Red Cape Publishing and Nocturnal Sirens. ‘Hearts of the matter’, a book of poetry, is available on Amazon. Facebook: Mark Anthony Smith – Author; Twitter: MarkAnthonySm16

I See Your Looks – Shannon Savvas

I see your looks. I hear your whispers. I don’t bloody miss a single raised eyebrow or purse of lips. Why the hell she has to be so slow. She knows I’m in a hurry, I rang and told her I’d pick her up at ten. Hell, I left it in big letters on the whiteboard in her kitchen. I arrive and she’s not dressed, or has forgotten where her handbag is (like she’ll even need the screwed up, used tissues and Elizabeth Arden lipstick she’s been using for the past ten years), or goddam it she needs the toilet because she took a laxative this morning. Yes, yes, I’ve caught the bloody hell head shakes, the exchange of tongues in cheeks between you and your brother. She’s getting old, clumsy, slow, whiney, bad-tempered, unstable, a hoarder, forgetful, bloody awkward, stubborn just to piss us off. Fill in any other blanks you want. And yes, I am getting old and no, trust me none of the above is deliberate. But some are downright wilful – oh and do you know why I’ve turned into a hoarder? I’ve turned into a hoarder because I’ve lived long enough to know that the minute you find something you like, it disappears – off the shelves, end of range suddenly or company gone bust. That’s why I stock those 3-ply linen-like napkins, the jars of peanut butter which are the only decent ones in the shops, the shampoo to strengthen and thicken your hair because another great boon of age is thinning hair. No one is going to catch me out. Not you, not your brother and for sure not this pandemic – who the hell knew? Trump didn’t (hah!) so why would anyone else, but you see, I am prepared. Who’s laughing now, suckers? Whatever’s left over at the end, you can bloody burn it or bury it with me (because who cares what you choose, I will be dead and won’t know – just make sure there are no priests because that I will know). And what about her friends? Where have they gone? Where? They’ve bloody died. Or I’ve shed them like old skins one by one until there is no one. I got tired of the effort. Simple. The return was no longer worth it. Years of seeing and listening and accommodating before I realised the was no reciprocity. A reciprocity failure of a lifetime. Some days, I just want to be left in peace, be allowed to fade gently, to die in my own time and way. Other days, the days after your visits, I want to live long enough to see you fail incomprehensibly at the mercy of your children, to watch as it dawns on you that I was right, about it all, and that none of this was willing or purposeful or wanted. I want to see you betrayed by family and body as I have been. Yes, I do want to see that. No, I don’t.

The Cry of the Damned – K D Field

We’ve been talking about this here in El Compartimento over the course of this Spanish lock down. Have we been such bad stewards of all the abundance we’ve been given that this virus a big shot across the bow? There are indication that it might not be far from the mark.

In China, during the height of the pandemic there, they had to shutter factories and chemical plants. And suddenly, many cities in China had their first sunny days in years. But it will not last. And Venice – without all those pesky tourists, has shown photos of their canals running clear.

We are the pandemic that has been relentlessly attacking the planet for more than a century. – since the dawn of the industrial revolution. We are the virus that she and all her inhabitants have suffered and died from as we marched forward with unabated greed.

People quote the bible to justify their actions. Genesis 1:26 “And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth.” But if we are made in God’s image – or the deity of your choice – we aren’t very god-like. Dominion over things makes you responsible for them. But we have cared only for ourselves; never looking at the long term and never asking ‘Why’

On Twitter they ask ‘How could this happen?’ And I think ‘How could this not?’ I’m not a religious person but the bible doesn’t just give us dominion over all things on earth, it also says ‘As you sow, so shall you reap.’ We are reaping the seeds we have sown. Not in the way a televangelist will tell us, or that abomination FOX News, but in our inability to see where it would all lead.

Governments are putting together bailout packages. $$$. And billionaires are the monkeys running the circus. Sound and fury and short-term thinking. The world has fundamentally changed overnight. We can’t buy bribe Mother Nature, who has more integrity in a drop of the tears she’s been shedding for us, than all the dirty politicians combined. And she will win. She always plays the long game. We’ve been screwing with nature for too long and its tired of us. What better way to get rid of what’s killing you than to find something that will kill it? As humans, we should understand that – we live in a state of war.

The utter incompetence in dealing with this crisis comes from those we’ve elected to lead us through it. We must ask ‘Are they the fools are or are we?’ Because we’ve put our livelihoods, our very survival in the hands of the unqualified, the celebrated, the cults of personality; instead of those with decades of study and expertise. Listen to the politicians on tv these days. War talk, for sure, and I get it at this point. But maybe what we need to do is declare a truce with our planet and start treating it like it matters. Maybe we should do that and pray it’s not too late.

KD Field is an American writer of fiction, narrative short story, and nonsense. Originally from Seattle, she currently resides in Valencia Spain. You can check out her blog: at vivaespanamovingtospain.com

Stupor – Ryle Lagonsin

ALL I EVER DO THESE DAYS IS SLEEP

i dreamt a news reporter tells me that a parasite on the ground looks for me for it needs to find something or it can find something from the atmosphere to supply it with what it needs. i dreamt three times at the same time i went to sleep. i had been listening to raymond carver a few hours before i dreamt i am listening to a podcast of his where he talks about life in general but more specifically life without anyone to pray to. in the same dream i saw a huddle of people and a little girl dressed in black behind the others raised her hand and said i don’t believe in god and the others gasped and they looked and the child’s mother said no child of mine can ever say there is no god. and then i dreamt of the same little girl dressed in black but we are not in a garden anymore. we are in an airport and a naked man is seated on a flimsy chair in the middle of a soulless lobby and he says to the girl: child come here come near me and the little girl walks closer. he says: child do you believe you have a heart? and the girl nods and he says: that right there is proof that there is GOD. he says: that there is air to fill your lungs that your heart continues to pump and that all the cycles go on repeating inside you prove that there is GOD. i turn my face to look behind me for one second for a reason i cannot remember now and when i turn back again the little girl is gone but in her place are two huddles of people separated by a few feet from one another. one group with more people than the other. i could have counted them but i would not know regardless how many people were in either group they are separated by colour. and a few feet away from both of them the same man is speaking still but he is standing now a microphone in front of him. he is dressed now jeans and a light blue button-down he is saying: child learn to pray ‘cause when they come after you the only thing you’d be able to run to is one name. it would do you right to drop to your knees and learn how to pray he said. one person from the group whose colour is the man’s same colour came closer. the man said: once i ran to my teacher frightened but she said hug that man child not me not my colour she said. you cannot hug me was what she said he said. and then i stirred awake and i was in the dark again and in the dark i wondered where my phone was since something told me when you wake this will all make sense. but then i find that carver is still playing in the podcast i wasn’t hearing and i was still inside my head.

Porcupines – Sara Magdy Amin

I had read it somewhere – in some nature magazine, was it? Ah, maybe I had heard it on the radio some time ago last week when Peter was fiddling about with arbitrary things around the house; a futile exercise of boredom that absolutely makes me squirm, but all the while, I still choose to ignore – that porcupines struggle to keep each other warm in times of winter.

I look to my right at Peter and Noah in their state of slumber. A fascinating view of chests rising and falling in such synchrony, inhale, exhale; wisps of existence cutting through the silence of the air in cyclical waves. Such peacefulness, I think, such delight it is, when a father and son share warmth and proximity.

But what was it about porcupines and winter?

Ah, yes. The spikes.

Peter, for as long as I can remember, had always wanted to have children. I recall the day we found out we were expecting (such jubilance flew out of him he almost knocked me over – I had inaudibly shed a few tears in the bathroom beforehand – and came out to join his frenzy), he was, to say the least, tremendously ecstatic.

Porcupines. Three in a row. Our spikes maiming each other, slashing each other across our warm bodies, drawing blood and mixing it in a joyful union. We have not yet learnt to keep safe distances. Since news of the outbreak was announced we have been ever so scarred. Noah (I can picture him laughing now) recently developed such thirst for human contact. In our seclusion, a party of three was formed. Our roles, as parents, cultivated in this arrangement, and he, in his tiny world, was thus able to practice such charm upon us. The mother, myself, the father, Peter, and little Noah, delicate little Noah, were together. Here, now, celebrating immediacy in our former detachments.

I had often times found it hard to play that role – the mother that is – thinking back to the first few months where I was often times drenched in perpetual anger, my womb aching, bosom sore, in a state of fury at my anatomy, constantly reprimanding Peter for simply existing as a man, (unaccompanied, singular, free, human). I found it hard to be that abundant giver and provide godly offerings in god-like ways.

I shift to lie on my side. Dawn is almost cracking through, her bright threads imposing through the darkness, resting over our limp forms, birds chirping nonchalantly in recognition of something above our worldly perceptions. Do they know the world is unfolding? Have they comprehended how to live only temporarily and chant their way through it all? The newspaper yesterday said that death toll rose to a thousand and thirty-five people. Those poor birds, that darned influenza, snipping away already temporary lives, making away with their chants.

Noah’s eyes open. He yawns and draws in near, running his jagged barbs into my skin. I nourish him back to sleep and kiss his tiny little forehead.

Stream of Consciousness
Drawer Three
Coming Soon…

Stream Of Consciousness Drawer One

Untitled – Carla Halpin

Mine is a pocket of calm in these crazy waters. It isn’t so bad. Yes, the four walls are not very far away. But here in the eaves, the angles of the roof are casting interesting shadows in the mid-day sun, which I never noticed before. How intriguing my now defunct calendar on the wall seems? And at any moment, papers strewn will be hit with organisation but with 365 hours in the day now, there’s plenty of time to organise them later. The boundaries of the weeks are blending. But if I notice one new thing every day, then that’s a change, isn’t it? The fresh spring air is pouring in my window. Pop music drifting up from downstairs, as planned, to fill the house with noise and people and movement. How clever we are to manage to unlearn all the natural things keep us sane, like noticing, like music. I never usually stop long enough to notice out my window. The trees are budding in clusters of tiny pink, growing in patterns mirroring neurons in my brain. I guess both are lit up with this moment of really looking. I do notice the change of this season out my window- but from the sounds. It’s time for the shrieking of the foxes. They started up again last night. It’s nice to hear the world moving outside. I’ve never met the people on the opposite side of the pink flowers -the neighbours – but I know of their movements from their sounds. Someone is very keen in woodwork in what was once a daily irritation. Now it’s comforting. He’s busy at work, and I like to imagine he’s happy, because he does it every day. And I can’t see any fruits of his labour. The fruits of his labour must be inside him, and possibly in his wife as it keeps him out the house. Next door to them is a dog. I’ve never seen it. But I know when it’s happy or sad by the tone of its bark. Sometimes I want to rush over there and comfort it, but it’s never long before someone gets there first. The fence sways in the wind; it’s soon going to topple. And although I’ve been told that wouldn’t be a great thing, I can’t wait for this dog’s face to appear and see if it matches my imagination. Black, scraggly and with a waggy tail with a long curtain of black hair. We’re not so far apart, really. The south aspect holds an entirely different scene. It must be the only time in my life I’m glad trees have been chopped down as it opened up another direction. I can see a ceiling to floor window in a faraway house. It might be a bedroom, maybe with long curtains that float in the wind. I can’t see in, but yet I still wonder if they can see me as I wave my arms. I could write words in the air. Whatever happened to walkie talkies? That would be perfect right now.

Carla Halpin is an editor who lives in the New Forest where she writes poetry and flash fiction. Her work has appeared in Anti-Heroin Chic , A Story in 100 Words and The Cabinet of Heed. You can find her on twitter @CarlaHalpin where she posts regularly as part of the very short story community.

 

New Pressures in the Time of Corona – Laura Besley

I watch my 5yo tearing around the garden and my 2yo trying his best to keep up and I think: can I do this? Can I keep them entertained for the next who-knows-how-long?

I am a mother who dreads the school holidays. Not because I don’t love my kids, but because it’s a reminder of the fact that I can’t always cope. A reminder than I’m not the mother I wanted to be; I’m not all-sacrificing, putting their every need before my own; I’m not able to endlessly come up with fun games to play and roleplays involving superheroes; I’m not able to think of a million different fun things to make out of egg boxes; I’m not able to give up everything I am for them. Sometimes I wonder why I should. And then I feel bad.

Last summer I had them for four weeks on my own. Taking away weekends, that’s only 20 days. When you put it like that it doesn’t sound like very much. And I feel ashamed that I dreaded those days and didn’t always cope very well. I feel should’ve enjoyed it more.

And now? Now I’m supposed to homeschool my 5yo. Teach him phonics, improve his reading level, teach him Maths, do PE with him, be creative with him, all the while making sure my 2yo doesn’t break, wreck, or scribble on anything my 5yo is doing. This new pressure, this new homeschooling pressure, is just another thing that parents are now having to contend with. It’s too much. I know people mean well, but I’m being inundated with messages from people sending me things to do with my kids. I might rue these words if people stop sending me things, but it’s overwhelming. Like I haven’t got enough to get my head around with all the new rules in place and my brain working very hard to block the panic and worry about what might happen if my kids, or anyone else I know, gets the bug.

I’ve decided, for my own sanity and those around me, to take a big step back. I will continue reading to my kids; I will continue asking them questions, trying to get them to work things out for themselves; I will continue playing in the garden with them; I will continue letting them watch TV. I will do all the things I normally do with them. I will keep them safe. That’s my only job right now.

 

These Days – Jordana Connor

Beep beep beep… “And now, for the 5:30 news update.” Christ, still in the middle of the apocalypse I guess. I’m going to lie here in bed for 10 more minu- oh. Getting poked in the ribs. Must be my turn to make the coffee. This rug needs a vacuum. Is that a spider?! Oh no. Just a feather. Whew. Come on cat – I know you want to get out for a sniff of the garden.

Okay but don’t dash under my feet. If I fall down the stairs and crack my head open, bleed to death slowly on the little Persian rug, who will feed you top of the line science diet food, and trim your claws? Door open, (cat out! Why do they always flee out of an opened door like they’ve been trapped for days?) kettle filled, kettle on. Dishwasher emptied. Coffee in plunger. Mugs out. Sift and discard contents of the downstairs litter tray. Wash tray. Wash hands. God, the interminable scrubbing of hands. I’m starting to feel like I’m prepping for surgery 20 times a day.

Mugs are full and steaming, and the trick now is not to spill too much on the ascent up the stairs. Ahhhhh… made it. Mornings are nice. Blinds up, blue sky and wild parrots screeching a greeting to a new day. I like the sitting, propped up on our pillows, coffee cooling, phones in hand. Powerful, expensive (germ covered) conduits to the latest in these, The End Times. Or just a temporary foray into misanthropy. Depends on your outlook, I guess.

The news is terrible, but it’s the sports news that winds me up the most. “A bunch of grown adults, who have dedicated their lives to playing a game, played a game yesterday, which nobody got to watch. Sad! Some of them won, some of them lost, here are some meaningless statistics for you, conveyed in a breathlessly entertained tone, so you are fooled into thinking it all matters.” It doesn’t.

Coffee drunk, eyelids finally unglued. Time for a walk. Better find some clean shorts. Where are my sports socks? Why does this hair tie look chewed? (Damn cats!) Ok, off I go. Can’t stay in this house for months on end with no reprieve. Pretty sure we’re allowed out for walks as long as we don’t go near anyone else. Fine by me.

God there’s a lot of poo on the pavements here. Who did THAT? Hoping for possum, but who knows? Australia is full of weird and wonderful creatures that crap on the pedestrian infrastructure. Always will do, no doubt.

Oh – here comes an older couple. They’re darting their eyes at me.
Should smile and look unthreatening. Try to look responsible and well. Look perky. Pick your feet up.

Oooo – that’s a pretty flower.

Shit. I coughed. Poor things scuttled down a driveway. Feel guilty.
This all sucks and I’m sick of it already. But not SICK sick! I wonder if I have enough toilet paper…

 

Come to Heel – Charlie Sanderson

We walk seven miles or more the dog wrapped up in mud and sprung coil like across the fields, through trees, the wind howling banshee like against our waterproof trousers and fleece, the ground beneath our feet tantamount to constant change and love like a warm cushion between us softens the blow of the way the land lies right now, this way. She won’t come to heel for long enough, a herd of deer, red flag to a bull, only now she waits longer before she bolts at them, old enough to see the danger now, of more than one, creatures in packs aren’t so safe these days. When your eyes get a little wiser.

The road finally brings us home against the backdrop of field upon field edged in hedgerow upon hedgerow. The odd mansion house for the rich and famous types. Folk who like to live in the city and come here to shoot deer. We do laugh at how even they won’t survive this time around, silent killer, invisible man hunter. We shouldn’t laugh. But there’s little else to do. So, we laugh and we walk our way on and through.

At home the eggs sizzle in the pan and the home-made bread almost burns in the broken toaster, I tell you about the omelettes in Singapore how they have them with sweet chilli sauce there too and raised eyebrows smile back at me across the table you cut in half to fit the room. How I love you.

After we eat and you clear the sides of crumbs and swear at the toaster and the random shit radio six play on a Saturday afternoon, your dad walks past the window. Shoulders hunched against the climate of life right now. I don’t know what to do. So, I break the rules and open the door and make him a cup of tea. And as you walk out with him, I wonder love, who will live and who will die? I think of Captain Pickard last night, taking to the space ship crew, “Every single time you say goodbye to someone you cannot know if you will ever see them again, this is no different”.

We can balance our lives on the head of a pin, but maybe some of us will fall too far in to climb back out again. It’s all just change though isn’t it? I keep breathing and dropping to my heart and feeling all that panic and love and hope and regret. How irrational people always thought I was when I was so lost in my fear of death. And now it is so palpable and yet, I do not feel afraid exactly. You are the mistress of your own misery. You say that to the dog when she pulls on the lead and chokes herself, or walks headlong into the stick I’m swinging in front of me as we walk. She needs to come to heel. We all do though, don’t we?

 

I Feel Weird – J L Corbett

“I feel weird. Do you feel weird?” I asked my husband earlier today. He also feels weird.

I’m not as worried about him as I was seven days ago. Seven days ago, he was sweating through his clothes and coughing violently. He groaned to himself and mumbled that his existence was pain. I held off calling 111 until he threw up blood. It took half an hour for them to transfer me to a medical professional, and during that time I stood at our bedroom window, staring at the world from which we would soon be quarantined. I wanted to drive him to the hospital (even though I haven’t passed my test yet), but I knew they weren’t letting infected people in. I wanted to call somebody over for help, but anyone who crossed our threshold would be risking their health.

I listened to the hold music and felt very alone.

I felt tears forming, which annoyed me. I told myself to get a fucking grip – I am his wife now, and I need to act like it. I am the person who needs to steer the ship alone when he’s incapacitated.

As each day passes, the virus loosens its grip on his body. There’s been no more vomited blood. Quarantine has been an odd mixture of anxiety and boredom.

On day five, he was well enough for a short walk around the park. We were out for less than an hour, but I think it was the highlight of the day for both of us. He seemed elated at being outdoors and around people (at a distance, of course). He was still very weak, but able to have a conversation and a walk.

This morning, I spent three hours in the garden whilst he slept. I cut down the enormous ugly bush that’s been an eyesore in our garden since we moved in two years ago. I blunted the multi-tool in the process, so I had to cut down the rest of it with a handsaw. It was tedious and now my arms hurt. It killed some time and some pent-up energy though, and also that hideous bush.

After lunch, I called my boss and told her that the quarantine period had been extended from seven to fourteen days since we last spoke. She hurriedly told me to take another week off. She was practically begging me not to return too quickly. After I hung up, I felt dejected. Is it too dramatic to say that I feel rejected from society? Maybe society isn’t even a thing anymore.

We live up north. I’m supposed to be in pub in London right now, drinking with friends I haven’t seen since last summer. Next month I’m meant to board a plane to Ireland to see some other friends. My family lives down south, but my stepdad is almost seventy years old and has health conditions. So, when will I get to see my mum again?

I feel weird.

J.L. Corbett is the founder and editor of Idle Ink, an online magazine of curious fiction. Her short stories have been featured in MoonPark Review, Paragraph Planet, Schlock! Webzine, TL;DR Women’s Anthology: Carrying Fire, The Cabinet of Heed, STORGY Magazine and others. She owns more books than she can ever possibly read and doesn’t get out much. She can be found on twitter: @JL_Corbett and has a website: http://www.jlcorbett.org

 

Meanderings – Stella Turner

I follow the arrows but it’s not the way I want to go! I’m feeling anxious. I go against the flow now feeling guilty. Will I be stopped? I think I’m too near the woman choosing yogurts. She’s looking daggers at me. I want to run to the toilet roll shelves but no let’s not be too disappointed too soon. Why is that man looking at me? He’s with a woman maybe his wife no she looks too old; his mother? No far too young. Probably I’m giving him too much eye contact. I do that. Is it a fault? Four loaves I take two. Is that selfish? See a friend. We stand the recommended two metres apart. I’m happier with feet, metric is for the young ones. It looks six foot. I was her bridesmaid forty years ago, her groom stands beside her. Isn’t he asthmatic, at risk? She has a scarf covering her mouth he and I dressed as normal. I’ve left my man in the car. He’s diabetic, definitely at risk. I’m warned to keep him at home. I would have driven myself but he wanted to get out so he drove. Didn’t the email from the company CEO say or was it government advice one person per family only to enter the shop. Luckily no items out of reach else I’d need help. I’m short, vertically challenged. Social distancing makes it hard to ask for help. My friend says she was dreading coming here today me too. Can’t find eggs ask a store employee picking for home deliveries, the lucky customers who stay home, stay safe. She apologises, none, I say aren’t the hens laying? My daughter has a hen, Betty; I could barter Betty’s daily egg for the packet of Paracetamol I found on the shelf if we were allowed to visit each other. I miss my grandson could try skyping him. No toilet rolls. I pay the bill with plastic. I’ve always said I’d never pay for food on credit. Plastic is safer than coins and notes says the experts. First time plastic is good for the planet! Huge change in habits no more big food bills, no more waste. We’ll see! The cashier smiles weakly as I say thanks for coming to work. I bet she’s thinking stay home old biddy. Don’t infect me! I wheel the trolley to the car. Open the boot and load the three carrier bags for life. Miffed that I had to take the risk. Next week I’ll run the gauntlet again unless it all changes.

 

Coronavirus Held a Press Conference, and Crushed It – Michael Wade

Thank you. Goodness, what a turnout!

Yes. I realize you’re looking at a microdroplet of snot. It was explained to us that TV requires a picture. We’re smaller than the wavelength of what you call visible light, so…Does anyone have a substantive question.

Right. Thank you for phrasing this important issue so forthrightly.

We need to acknowledge that our core interests won’t always align. I’m a virus. I’m pretty militant about viral rights. Not to get into labels or name-calling, but let’s be frank. Certain organisms are fighting tooth and nail every day against our very right to exist.

You speak of hundreds of thousands of – uh, infected humans. Infected. Do you understand how offensive that language is?

You speak of thousands of host, human, deaths, and the possibility of millions, and I hear the self-righteous outrage in your tone. Do you even want to hear our side?

Good. In five of your milliliters of blood, in every infected human, your word, hundreds of millions of us exist. Each wanting nothing more than our natural rights. That’s all. Well, here’s your headline, ladies and gentlemen. Approximately all of these virions are dead now, or soon will be.

Get your heads around that. Your languages may not have words for the numbers of dead I’m trying to describe.

Look, we’re sympathetic to your issues. But this focus on what I would absolutely call the acceptably low host loss associated with our incredibly successful program…Well. Let’s just say work will be required to mesh our perspectives.

Yes. You, sir.

I can’t speak to that. You’d need to talk to those viruses. What you call common cold of course refers to many different viruses. The question of whether we’re just the common cold pumped up by left-wing hysteria, whatever that is, reflects a multi-cellular organismic arrogance I find beyond insulting.

Ma’am…

I was briefed on that, yes. We agree strongly that damage to your economy and health from so-called social distancing is extremely concerning. This is one area where we can make a lot of headway together.

Take your cue from us! We know the odds are against us, but in the meantime we are having a ball together in your sera and fluids! Why should we be having all the fun in these challenging times?

In the back. Yes.

Well, we are mutating constantly. We seek, in good faith, the ideal virulence, where you, our cherished biological colleagues, suffer only the most minor physical inconvenience. All I can tell you is that we are working tirelessly for our mutual benefit.

Excuse me? Right. Folks, sorry, this sort of thing is new for all of us, and I’m being told we’re experiencing some mucus degradation, and will need to close.

Time for just one more…right, you sir. Front row. Yes, you, with the barrel chest and the large nostrils.

I couldn’t hear you. I wonder if you could come closer. Yes. Closer…

 

On the Platform – Joyce Wheatley

We stand disconnected, vulnerable, uneasy. Eyes dart toward the western sky. I’m tired of floating erect in these 9-to-5 fatigues, impatient to get on with whatever’s going to happen.

We’re awaiting rescue. I don’t know why or from what. No one speaks of it. My companions look familiar but I don’t recall their names. The middle-aged man in a suit cycles up and stops. If I’d taken my bike today, I’d be home by now, but the tire’s flat. Thus, I’m on the platform.

“Listen.” The cyclist opens his book, “You don’t have to stand under the silver tree to darken.” Shadows haunt his face. Street lights buzz. Across the street, St. Gregory’s stained glass windows arch behind him. Lindens shiver, leaves sparking belly-up under the moon.

“Let me tell you … we are standing ….”

Balloons, captioned to burst, hover out of his mouth. Like deer frozen in headlights or cows lying down before rain, our notable behavior is “squirming,” anxious and uncertain whether or not disaster is coming. We shuffle and hum, tweet and pray for safe return to our nests. I want to get home, but I’m curious about the end.

Wind gusts a sea green bottle rolling, cluttering the sidewalk. I snatch it up and I Spy With My Little Eye a paper note inside, visible through glass curved like an old Pepsi bottle. “Time’s running out, and no one is coming to save you.”

I wonder what happened to Hope? There’s a place right here beside me.

People on the platform drift and shift. I want to connect with someone, but, if Hope doesn’t arrive, who? Ambitious, a woman slithers to the center for the prize spot. Either she covets the safety of belonging or she’s climbing the ladder of success. If you don’t want to fall off, step away from the edge, but my nature avoids the middle like a plague. Give me drama—sharks, high seas adventure, a great white whale! … and such. An eye patch swaddles my left eye. A red scarf bandanas my head. I mount a seahorse, whooping “Ahoy, Matey!” Or give me Apollinaire so I can fly.

No one speaks. Waves crash in, shattering the quiet anticipation of fear. We’re drowning in the deluge, drenched on the platform, and then we swim, like a school of fish, swerve and plunge, in and out, circling to the depths until the gushing slows to a stream, flows to drizzle and the drizzle stutters to a drip.

“Save me,” a dolphin in a suit pleads. I embrace the wounded creature, “You have strength,” I say,” and flop him back into the waves. “And courage.”

On the platform, resuscitated, we rise one by one, and shed our scales and fins. We stand together, waiting to board, and wave goodbye.

It’s beautiful, the love that flows from the ocean.

 

Need – Samantha Costanzo Carleton

Elizabeth picked up the habit of lighting candles from her grandmother and so she did that now because why not? Her grandmother had lit candles in church every week and prayed after dropping quarters in the half-empty metal box attached to the table of votives and as the sound echoed across the quiet church Elizabeth and her sister would stage-whisper arguments over who got to light the candle in part because it was the only time they were ever allowed to handle something as dangerous as fire on the end of a long wooden stick but also because they knew there was a certain kind of honor in the task and a solemn need to take this Very Seriously because the candle was an offering or maybe a plea, but anyways their grandmother would shush them and drop more change in the box so they could each have a candle and honestly, they never had to argue in the first place because didn’t they always need more than one light? There were always more things to ask, more people who needed healing or hope or good luck, so their grandmother told them who the candles were for and Elizabeth would do her sworn duty to pray for that person but also sneak in in a request for help on a math test or patience with her sister or world peace or for God to forgive the bullies that made fun of her hair, the biggest ask of all, and she would feel good because she was being selfless and asking for help for someone so clearly less fortunate than she. Anyways, lighting a candle seemed like something that would maybe help her feel alright again today and so she struck a flimsy match and touched it to the wick of the tiny little tea light that smelled like vanilla and chemical lemons from one of those self-care subscription boxes she had gotten for a few months and then cancelled when she got bored, it wasn’t even holy, not that she was convinced the ones in church had necessarily been blessed, either. Today she did not try to pray or really think to because she was focused on the ritual at hand — she lit her candle and stared, closed her eyes and took a deep breath, filled herself with air and tilted her head back instead of downward like she did inside the churches, and the prayer still didn’t come though something inside her squirmed like pleasepleaseplease and yet this weirdly-scented tea light flickering atop a paper mountain on her desk still felt Very Serious, still an offering or plea or desperate shout to be seen in the midst of all this, this mess, which would definitely eat her if not for that tentative, wavering flame and the smell of vanilla and fake lemons and something in her that actually felt like rest to scare it off. It was enough.

Samantha Costanzo Carleton is a marketing copywriter by day and creative writer by night. She lives in Boston and is working on her first novel, based in part on her childhood in a Cuban family. You can find her on Twitter at @smcstnz.

 

Little Flower – Cyndie Randall

I know at least 20 of them these days, but Angie was the first to breathe on me. A haunted friend. She drives my body now much of the time, curls up pained in the evening and pops peppermint candy like pills to get the torture of men out of her mouth. She wears wrinkled clothes, no makeup, writes poetry nobody cares to read. Therapists don’t believe in her and she’s fine with that. Feels invisible anyway. Her and I have our own dystopian trauma choir, all ages and genders lined up from present day all the way back to the crib. Seven times I pleaded with the Lord to take them away. The Lord told me, You must forgive seventy-seven times seven times, and then He sent seven more plagues. I think we need new numbers. Little flower, just take one more step, I hear. Just one more step. I spend most nights dreaming I am waste deep in snow. The moon asks, What are you doing, little flower? I scream at him, that moon. There is a man up inside there telling me which way to drag my hope next but he never tells me why. He is my only light, so I go. I do it. I pour sweat. I will turn any trick for water or a biscuit, any trick for a try on the love machine. Stop calling me little flower, I think. There is no one here by that name. Do you even know our name? When will I wake? No one listens when I say what I need. Here is a screw. Here is a screwdriver. I promise I will hold still. I’ve got about 20 holes to choose from, so take your pick and start somewhere. Or get me a mirror. I’ll do it myself! I’ll do it myself, and sing alto and soprano and bass and a nice tenor for you then. Ask Sal. He’s got the best voice of us all. Deep, mellow like a hum or a storm just starting out. A storm planning on screaming no where and killing no one. Sal has all our blueprints. You can ask him anything and he’ll tell you. If I am the flower, he is the sky and such a view he has. Sal, are you the moon? Are you the moon for us, my friend? Are you calling me little flower? Tell me how the story ends, Salvatore. Does Angie get her babies back? Does Evie close her legs? Will anyone come to untie Annie, heal the burns up her back? What do you see from way up there? Just my trail? Just the trail from my thick middle dragging, dragging through the snow in my childhood yard, longest chain there ever was linked back to that basement wall, training training training me. Go on, call me a little flower. Call me a flower all night long and we’ll do whatever you want ’til the sun comes up. Whatever you want, Lord, I mean moon, I mean dad.

Cyndie Randall works as a therapist and lives among the Great Lakes. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Crab Creek Review, MORIA, Okay Donkey, Whale Road Review, Boston Accent Lit, Yes Poetry, The Night Heron Barks, and elsewhere. Connect with her on Twitter @CyndieRandall or at cyndierandall.com

 

Cabinet Of Heed SOC Drawer 31.02

Now I Lay Me Down – December Lace

A withering Jesus affixed to a bronze cross
judges me from a crumbling plaster wall
as I cower, breadcrumb size in a mousetrap closet.

Used candles, long-extinguished worship the altar
with no light from their shriveled wicks, his pickled form
frozen in agony

while my devout other half
sleeps like the angel she is
in a cold bedroom two floors above me,

soft and silent unless I open my throat
for the screams to come out.
(Jesus gets a headache when you talk.)

The only thing I pray for
is to wake up on the other side
of the door, away from the carved icon eyes

that glow in judgement, their verdict already passed
on sins not yet committed coming
from the whispers in my head.

They can read my screaming and they don’t like what they hear,
the candles moving without my touch,
vanilla smoke boiling in the air.

 

December Lace (@TheMissDecember) is a former professional wrestler and pinup model from Chicago. She is a Best of the Net nominee and has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Pussy Magic Lit, The Cabinet of Heed, Vamp Cat, and Rhythm & Bones, among others. She loves Batman, cats, and horror movies.

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 30 Contents Link

Image via Pixabay

The Price of a Fairytale Ending – Jordana Connor

A bargain struck, a spell cast.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 30 Contents Link

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I Called You Last Night? Really? – Mike Nolan

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

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

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

“You doing okay?” she asked.

“Yeah, hi, I mean, good morning.”

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

“You’re all right then?”

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

“Well, after you called me last night—”

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

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

“Of course,” I lied. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’d like that,” Beth said.

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

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

Beth drew closer. 

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

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

“Oh, yes. Of course. Yes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 30 Contents Link

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Is the Nighttime Like the Day, When We Do Things and Go Places? – Jeffrey Hermann

If you close the book and go to sleep the sentences will fall to pieces
the plots will come unresolved

If you live in New York a little screen in your apartment sees midnight
rain on the sidewalk, people eating noodles from a box

If you leave your teapot and stuffed grey whale out in the yard
then the planets become toys, your house as well

Those are delicate hours, like you were a delicate child at first
living on a dropper of milk, a thimble of breath
Your tubes and wiring were tendrils in a garden

Older now, you pull books from the shelf and read poems
writing down new last lines of your own in a little notebook

And later, after you’re asleep, Pluto seems so far away
I sometimes use the pencil I know you’ve touched

 

Jeffrey Hermann’s work has appeared in Hobart, Pank Magazine, Juked, Houseguest Magazine, and other publications. He lives and works in southeast Michigan.

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The Gharial Crocodile – Meg Horridge

There was a lens knocked out of Jonathan’s sunglasses. Whether it had fallen out or if it was an intentional fashion statement no one knew, but his left eye was forever obscured. His short black curls and deep-set frown made him look like the sort of kid who would argue back, but when teachers told him to take the glasses off, he would instead take a note from his back pocket and produce it like a cop did his badge. No one saw that note but the teachers, and none of them had given any indication of what it said.

Hari didn’t pay much attention to Jonathan. No more attention than anyone else, anyway. She spent most of her time with her head in her desk, drawing, trying her best to distract herself from the classroom around her.

An octopus’ tentacles curled around the edge of her notebook, and clownfish framed the date at the top of the page. In the centre, Hari was weaving flowers through the braid of an imaginary blonde girl, her loosely sketched smile nestled between two of the lines that littered the page.

“That looks like shit.”

She looked up. Jonathan was standing by her desk. His visible eye squinted down at her. He tossed down his textbook, slung his bag under the desk and sat down in the empty seat beside her. Hari watched him, her pencil hovering over a daisy she’d yet to finish drawing.

“Teach told me to sit here.”

“Why?” Hari said.

“I can’t sit by the window anymore.”

“Why?”

“’Cause.”

Jonathan nodded towards Hari’s drawing as he opened his textbook to a page they’d studied weeks ago. “Who’s that?”

“No one.” Hari closed her notebook and slid it under her own textbook. “Just something to draw.”

“You ought to give it up, you’re not very good.”

Jonathan hunched over his textbook; Hari assumed he was reading. She watched him take up his pencil and start circling random words dotted about the page. Then Mr Clark tapped his pen on the whiteboard, the lesson began, and all thought of the strange boy beside her drifted away.

“Who can tell me how many fish are in the sea?” Mr Clark began.

3.5 trillion.

Someone’s hand went up. Their answer was wrong. Another hand, and another wrong answer. The room went still, silent but for the light scribble of Jonathan’s pencil at Hari’s side.

“The correct answer was 3.5 trillion,” Mr Clark said. Hari lowered her head so he wouldn’t see her slight smile; she’d been chided for her silence before, so it was better to make out like she didn’t know the answers.

Hari glanced absent-mindedly over at Jonathan. The whole page of his textbook was scribbled on, leaving only the few words he’d circled. “Fish are just floating pebbles”, the words read. Hari didn’t know what it meant, but when Jonathan’s uncovered eye snapped up to catch hers, she knew it wasn’t meant for her to read.

*         *         *

Hari was drawing sea turtles. Their shells were wonky and misshaped. Their flippers looked more like flyswatters. She scrunched up her brow in concentration, but she couldn’t make the next turtle look any more convincing than the last. Her pencil laid motionless on top of her notebook long before Jonathan took his seat beside her.

“Why aren’t you drawing?” he said after surveying her.

“Nothing to draw.”

Jonathan dragged his textbook from his bag again and opened it on the table. Now that she was looking for it, Hari could tell that the first half of the book’s pages were crimpled, like they’d been scribbled all over. Jonathan opened it to an untouched page, and laid his chin on the book, his one eye darting across the words, his ppencil ready to single them out.

Mr Clark was still setting up his equipment on the teacher’s desk. Hari fiddled with her pencil. She didn’t know what to do if she wasn’t drawing, or answering class questions in her head.

Jonathan rose his head, but kept a hold of his pencil.

“Were you meant to be a boy?” he said.

“No,” Hari said. “Were you meant to be a girl?”

“Your name’s Hari. That’s a boy’s name.”

“That doesn’t make any sense. Names aren’t gendered.”

“Yes they are.”

“My grandpa says all names are genderless. Like sea snails. They can be boys or girls.”

“Your grandpa’s wrong.”

Jonathan turned back to his textbook and circled another word. WRONG. Hari looked away. She didn’t want to read the rest of his words.

*         *         *

“My mum said I should apologise.”

Hari didn’t want to speak to Jonathan – she’d rather stare at the empty page of her notebook – but he persisted, his textbook left untouched in his bag as he spoke.

“I shouldn’t have said your grandpa was wrong. She said that was mean. And saying your drawing was bad. I thought it looked really bad, but apparently I’m not meant to tell you that.”

Hari said nothing.

“You’re meant to say thank you now.”

“Thank you.” She looked over at him, frowning. “Why am I thanking you?”

“For saying sorry.”

“You didn’t say sorry.”

“Well, I am.”

Jonathan took out his textbook and started on another page of circles and scribbles.

“Why do you do that?” Hari said.

He looked up. He’d just circled the word AMPHIBIAN. Hari knew what the word ‘amphibian’ meant, but she’d thought nobody else in her class knew.

“I like doing it,” Jonathan said, turning the page. “I like to make something interesting out of something boring.”

“It isn’t boring.” Hari pointed at a diagram in the top left of the open page. “That’s a plesiosaur. They don’t exist anymore. I drew a picture of one.”

Without thinking, she flipped open her notebook and pointed out the drawing.

“It’s not very good,” she said sheepishly, seeing the knot in Jonathan’s brow.

“Why do you draw badly?” he said.

“I don’t know how else to draw.”

“Why draw at all?”

Hari paused. She looked down at her notebook, its uniform lines coated in pencil grey.

“I like to make something interesting out of something boring.”

Jonathan smiled a little. Hari hadn’t seen him smile before, but this smile stretched up into his one visible eye and made it squint a little, just like it did when it caught the sun from the classroom window.

Jonathan turned back to his textbook, and Hari turned to Mr Clark at the front of the room.

*         *         *

Hari’s pencil curled around the smirk on a pirate’s lips. The pirate had short black hair and a patch obscuring his left eye. Waves spun around the base of his ship, which Hari had just started to sculpt when Jonathan slumped into the seat next to her.

“I forgot my book.”

“You can ask Mr Clark for a spare.”

“No, my book.”

Jonathan’s one eye was frowning. He slouched over his desk, half his face buried in his arms. He looked strangely lonely without a pencil in his hand and his eye scouring a textbook for words he could steal.

“You can use mine.”

Jonathan lifted his head as Hari handed him her textbook. His frown was lifting too.

“Just don’t use the aquatics chapter,” Hari said. “That’s my favourite.”

His gaze swept over her drawing, and his smile returned. “I know.”

Hari filled in the side of the pirate’s ship and gave it a sail. She drew fish in the ocean, a lighthouse in the distance, and a first-mate lurking on the deck who seemed to have the same dark curly mane and thick-rimmed glasses as Hari. The waves swirled like cursive letters. Hari didn’t know how to shade properly, but she mimicked Jonathan’s scribbling at the bottom of the ocean, where the crabs and seaweed lurked, casting dark shadows on the sea floor.

By the time class was over, Hari’s page was full. Jonathan smacked her textbook closed and pushed it over to her. She closed her notebook before he could comment on the jagged lines and uneven shading of her drawing.

“Thanks,” Jonathan said, and then he was gone.

Hari flicked through her textbook, looking for where lead was scribbled into paper. She found the wrinkled page in the reptile section, which she had neglected to mention was her second favourite. Her heart sunk as she saw the page on gharial crocodiles coated in grey. Even the title had been scribbled on, a few letters of the word ‘gharial’ snipped off either end.

But then Hari read the message nestled in the textbook page, and smiled.

HARI. IS. COOL.

*         *         *

Jonathan didn’t come into school the next day, with or without his textbook. The absence of pencil scratching on paper made it hard for Hari to concentrate on Mr Clark’s lesson. Instead she made scribbling sounds of her own, drawing crocodiles across the bottom of a fresh page.

*         *         *

Jonathan was already sat at their desk before Hari arrived, his head and his pencil already buried in his textbook. He didn’t look up when Hari sat down.

“Where were you yesterday?”

Jonathan screwed up his face and circled a word. “My glasses broke.”

“So?”

“I can’t leave home without my glasses.”

“Why not?”

“Because I can’t.”

Jonathan gripped his pencil tight. His sunglasses were a different colour than before, their frame blue where it had been green. The single lens was a reflective one; when Jonathan looked up at her, Hari could see her own face distorted in the space where his left eye should have been.

“What did you draw yesterday?” he asked her.

“How do you know I drew something?”

“You always draw something. What was it?”

Hari took her notebook from her bag and opened it on the table. The crocodiles were piled up at the bottom of the page, crawling over one another, webbed feet and pale claws scratching at scaled faces, jaws snapping at passing tails. Hari hunched in her seat. She noticed the crooked teeth of one of them, the unshaded belly of another, a tail too long for its body, a leg too short for its huge foot. But Jonathan was smiling.

“I like it,” he said. “Can you give it to me?”

Hari sat up straighter. “You think it’s good?”

“No, it’s terrible. That one looks more like a sausage dog.”

He pointed out the wiggly formation of a crocodile nearer the top of the pile and chuckled. Hari looked at the desk instead.

“But I prefer it like that.”

She thought he was joking again, but the sincerest curve of the mouth rested on his face when she looked up at him. The smile spread to her before she could help herself.

“So, can I have it?”

Hari nodded, and let Jonathan tear the drawing from her notebook.

It was only when class ended that Jonathan turned to her and said, “I forgot to thank you.”

“For what?” she said as she packed up her books.

“For the drawing.”

“Oh, ok. Go ahead.”

“Thank you for the drawing.”

“You’re welcome.”

*         *         *

Hari drew crocodiles every day for weeks. She practiced the same image over and over again, trying to get the proportions right, trying to keep her lines straight and not wiggly, trying to shade the right parts, until the drawings began to resemble the crocodiles in her textbook. She read the reptiles section of the textbook three times over and then ventured online, learning that crocodiles have the strongest bite of any animal in the world, and gharial crocodiles in particular are one of the longest types. She drew crocodile after crocodile after crocodile in every class except biology, where she alternated between sketching boys in sunglasses and books soiled in pencil markings.

When she was ready, Hari drew her final crocodile. It lounged in the centre of its own page on a throne of sand, beside a pool where the water rippled and glistened in sunlight. She folded up the drawing and hid it between the pages of her notebook.

Jonathan had his pencil gripped between his teeth when he sat down beside her. He got out his textbook and didn’t say a word to her. Hari didn’t know what she was meant to say, so instead she took the folded drawing out from her notebook and flung it over to his side of the table.

Jonathan flinched like he’d been attacked. He unfolded the drawing and stared down at it for a moment before turning to Hari. “What’s this?”

“I drew it for you.”

“Why?”

“Because you liked the crocodiles I drew. This one’s better.”

Jonathan considered the drawing for a few more seconds, then refolded the page and tossed it back at her.

“It’s boring.”

Hari sunk into her chair. “What?”

“I said it’s boring. It looks like any other picture of a crocodile.” He snorted. “I bet I could find the same crocodile in my textbook.” He flicked through the book’s pages until he found the part on gharial crocodiles. “See. It’s right there! They’re the same!”

Hari didn’t respond. She slipped the folded drawing back into her notebook and put the notebook in her bag. She watched Mr Clark’s lesson with distant eyes, forgetting every word once it was over.

*         *         *

Jonathan tapped Hari on the shoulder at the start of class.

“I asked my mum if I should apologise for yesterday,” he said, “and she said yes. I’m sorry for saying your drawing was boring. And mum already told me off for it so you really should forgive me. I’ve already been punished enough.”

Hari stared at the front of the classroom. Her notebook sat shut on her desk.

“So, do you forgive me?”

Hari screwed up her lips, then finally gave in and looked over at him.

“I’ll forgive you

“What’s the condition?”

“Tell me what’s wrong with your eye.”

“My eye?” Jonathan’s hand went up to his face as though expecting something horrible to be there. Then his confusion faded and he laughed. “There’s nothing wrong with my eye.”

He lifted his sunglasses for the first time, and the single reflective lens stared up at the ceiling. Beneath, his left eye was intact, unharmed, and the same hazel brown as the right one.

“You said you needed your sunglasses on all the time,” Hari said.

“I never said that.”

“Yes you did.”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Why do you wear them then?”

Jonathan shrugged, lowering the lens back over his eye.

“I like to make something interesting out of something boring.”

Hari smiled. “You’re not boring.”

“Maybe not, but I look way cooler with my glasses. Right?”

“OK.”

“So does that mean you forgive me?”

Hari opened her notebook, and took out the folded drawing that had been left neglected overnight.

“If you make the crocodile less boring.”

Jonathan huffed. “You can’t add extra conditions.”

“I just did.”

“OK, fine.”

Jonathan took the page and drew a pair of sunglasses on its face, only the left lens shaded in. He curled the crocodile’s rigid mouth into a smile, then pushed the drawing back to Hari.

“See?” he said. “It’s so much more interesting now.”

Hari took the page back, and scribbled out the drawing until only its head remained. Then she slipped it back into her notebook and pressed her pencil to a fresh page, ready to draw something new.

 

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 30 Contents Link

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Drenched – Randee Silv

Drenched: I was rushing somewhere. Shouts from a megaphone could be heard. They were not in agreement. They were not going to relocate. Others just sat. A few argued in silence. He came towards me. I couldn’t miss him. He put his face close to mine with a cupped palm and mumbled that his contractor had gone bankrupt. Nobody noticed him slipping out. He’d simply put on his street clothes and walked off carrying some magazines with a novel tucked under his arm. No one followed. No one came after him. Seeing how easy it was he knew he should’ve done it sooner. He said he only had nightmares when he was up. When he’s sleeping he’s fine. I was in a pine forest, barefoot. Moonlight. Streetlights. I was pressing a doorbell, but then I wasn’t. I did what the wind did. But it didn’t stop the sounds, not the ones I thought I was hearing but the ones that hadn’t yet come. I started whistling. Throat dry. I stood out in the rain with my mouth wide open.

 

Randee Silv’s wordslabs have appeared in Posit, Urban Graffiti, Maudlin House, Bone Bouquet, Utsanga, Otoliths, and in her chapbooks, Farnessity (dancing girl press) and in Fifteen Collages/Fifteen Wordslabs/Mumtazz/Silv (Nextness Press). She’s the editor of Arteidolia and the journal swifts & slows: a quarterly of crisscrossings.

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 30 Contents Link

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Crane Fly – Dreena Collins

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

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

So she says nothing.

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

We sing; we eat cake.

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

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

 

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

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