My Bad Choices – Holly Day

I was knuckle-deep in the governor
when the phone call came, something about a pardon
some random fluttermoth that needed to be cut free
of its cocoon. The governor muttered something
about straight razors and handkerchiefs
blood evidence and popular opinion
finished with a parable about woodchucks.
I felt the tremors begin in my hands, come up
through the floor. It was too early to give name to forgiveness.

Later that night, I dreamed
I was sleeping with the governor of the state of Indiana
and my mother had been arrested for shoplifting.
In my dream, she brought her knitting bag to her electrocution
covered her lap with a blanket and curled her feet beneath her
as if preparing to watch a nature special on TV:
something about skyscrapers and whistlepigs
two of three things that still grow in Texas.

Holly Day (hollylday.blogspot.com) has been a writing instructor at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis since 2000. Her poetry has recently appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Grain, and Harvard Review, and her newest full-length poetry collections are Into the Cracks (Golden Antelope Press), Cross Referencing a Book of Summer (Silver Bow Publishing), The Tooth is the Largest Organ in the Human Body (Anaphora Literary Press), and Book of Beasts (Weasel Press).

Image via Pixabay

Streams Of Consciousness II

1. Untitled – Lindsey M. Heatherly

I’m exhausted and I’m angry and I hate myself and I want to be known but I hate being judged I need to throw the clothes in the wash I want to quit that project I started I’m tired of expectations I hate my body I hate that I’m fat I want to be skinny and dainty and quiet I don’t want to take up space I want to be what men want But I also want to be myself I want to be loved by someone who sticks around I don’t want to have to explain myself I don’t want to give feedback on that piece tonight but if I wait until tomorrow I might not feel well enough to do it It’s another thing to add to the list I want to quit Twitter I want to quit everything literary I want to skip work tomorrow I want to go on a trip I want to want someone who wants me back I don’t want to listen to her talk about her ex and I know I do the same thing sometimes I am such a hypocrite I need to get the oil changed on Saturday I need to eat better food I need to eat less I need to spend less time on Twitter I need to figure out how to find comfort when everything is scratchy wool on my skin I want silence and waterfalls and a black hole and the Aurora Borealis My head hurts I want to cry but I’m too tired The vaccine comes tomorrow which is good but I dread People don’t like me when I share who I am I’m not easy to handle or swallow I make things difficult I want peace I feel like my old life was a hundred years ago He isn’t talking to me Why am I surprised He only wants to talk when he’s horny Maybe that’s all men I want to die I don’t say that much anymore but it’s true sometimes It would be easier you know? To have all this behind me I hope the laundry dries by morning

Lindsey M. Heatherly is a Pushcart nominated writer (Red Fez & Pithead Chapel) born and raised in Upstate South Carolina. She has words in X-R-A-Y, Emrys Journal, Schuylkill Valley Journal, and more. She spends her time at home raising a strong, confident daughter. Find her online at https://r3dwillow.wixsite.com/rydanmardsey or on Twitter: @rydanmardsey.

2. Untitled – E E Rhodes

You know about the Beaufort Scale, which runs from 1 to 12. You’ve used it countless times, and not only for the weather. Maybe for the moods your oldest always seems to be in? Maybe for the state of your youngest kid’s room? Maybe for how you feel compared to all the other girls you graduated college with? Maybe to let your husband know if he should come home quick-smart? Yeah, you know what the different levels are exactly.

Where 0 is calm. The calm you feel when the laundry is done and the house is quiet and the shopping is put away and there is nothing and no one to see you hold on to the edge of the countertop so tightly your knuckles turn white.

Where 1 is light air, just ripples without crests, the sound of something awful, but only in the distance. So far away you don’t really hear it, you just know the effects it’ll have when the impact finally arrives.

Where 2 is a light breeze with wavelets with crests of a glassy appearance, not breaking, not breaking, not breaking, yet.

Where 3 is a gentle breeze, where the crests begin to break and there are scattered whitecaps. Because you read that note you found in his shirt pocket in the laundry. And you stuff your fist into your mouth and bite down hard.

Where 4 is a moderate breeze with small waves with breaking crests. Like you texted a photo of the note to your husband and know that something bad is now coming.

Where 5 is a fresh breeze with small amounts of spray. The kind that will soak you if you don’t pay attention. The kind that started, you’ll tell yourself later, when you weren’t paying attention, and that will make you desperate to start that part over again.

Where 6 is a strong breeze and long waves begin to form. The sort that knocks your feet from under you when you thought you were solid. You tell yourself that again. You thought you were solid.

Where 7 is a high wind, and everything heaps up. Actually breaking. And maybe is already irredeemably broken.

Where 8 is a gale with moderately high waves with breaking crests forming spindrift. With a spray that blinds you, scrubbing hard at your salt-smarting eyes. And you just trying to keep your head above water. Not waving. Drowning.

Where 9 is a strong gale which rolls right over you, and which crowds your visibility, extinguishing everything but the blinking-blue pilot-light on the stove.

Where 10 is a storm, that thing you never once saw coming, and all your thoughts are upended, foundering on the rocks of how is this happening? With much reduced visibility, narrowed down to that hateful blinking-blue light of whatever her name is.

Where 11 is a violent storm. With thunder and lightning. And everything in the kitchen is aggressively shaken, and your husband is belatedly home in answer to your level 4 text. Where you think things can’t get any worse.

And 12 is a hurricane force where she comes into the kitchen behind him. And all the gathered fronts come into alignment to create a perfect storm.

3. It’s not – Ellen Symons

When I wake crying it’s not because of you.

It’s because of the sun. It’s because of the way the snow glistens in sharp light. It’s because the moon played across the field all night long, chasing rabbit and red fox, coyote and mouse.

It’s because the cat is 12, when yesterday she was a kitten. And tomorrow she’ll be 20. It’s because of the grey in my hair and the wrinkles at my eyes, the cracking in my knee, the arthritic finger.

It’s because someday I won’t remember the years we had together, and all of this sorrow will have been wasted.

When I wake crying, it’s not because of you.

If it were because of you, I would have to call. I would have to rise from my bed, lift my head from your pillow, run into the world and appear at your door. I would have to hear you say no, it’s not a good time. The dishes aren’t done. The bed isn’t made. After all this time, of me washing your dishes, of me making your bed, I would have to ask why. Why, I would have to say. Is she there with you. I would have to listen. While you lied. No. It’s not a good time.

If it were because of you, there would be no remedy. There would be no stitch in time, no glue for my heart, no waterproof miracle paste that would hold the torn flesh as blood slicks its edges, as it slips through my shivering fingers. If it were because of you, I would never mend.

It is not because of you. I will stay in this bed for the sun and the moon that tumble across it. For the downy loft of its covers. For the small purring warmth of the cat at my knees. Not for your scent. Not for the smell of you ground into the fibres. Lemon and sweat, the shampoo you use, the heat of your body. Not for the way my figure shapes around the space. The space you once held. Where I held you.

I will leave this bed when. When it’s a good time. When my knees are cold because the cat has long padded to the warmth of the window seat. When I have followed the sun and the moon to the ends of their tracks. When the mouse and the rabbit have squealed in the night. When my water-chapped hands have smashed each of your dishes. When I have lost the smell of you to the fust of my own lingering malaise. When I have dreamed every dream I can muster, and no dream can undo what I have mended. When I have forgotten your lies.

Ellen Symons writes poetry and fiction from a corner of the sofa, or while walking through the trees and fields of Lanark County, Ontario, Canada. Her published work includes a poetry collection, Economies of Gratitude. She is completing her first novel.

4. On the eve of forty – Nicola Ashbrook

Is this forty then? It’s hard to concentrate with the echoes of Fortnite through the wall and my husband clattering in the kitchen. But that’s life now; rain pattering the window.

I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow on The Big Day. Not that much is happening but if it was dry while we walked, that would be something. It might take a slight edge off a BIG lockdown birthday.

I certainly didn’t think is how it would be when I imagined it a year ago. We even talked about a joint party at one point. Dancing – imagine that.

People say we’ll have to celebrate later, when all this is over, whenever that is, but the moment will have passed by then. No one cares about a fortieth six months after it. Maybe they do. Maybe I don’t. I don’t know.

I don’t know what I think. I know it’s hard she isn’t here. When I had all these frivolous thoughts a year ago about the best way to spend a thirty-ninth year, I didn’t envisage I’d be doing this – the major birthday thing – without her. I still can’t believe she’s gone and everything that has happened this year has happened. But nothing feels real. How can it in a pandemic? More than fifteen-hundred dead today.

Maybe it’s all inconsequential anyway.

What could I possibly even need when we can’t go anywhere? I feel materialistic wanting anything. It’s pointless. You don’t take the stuff with you. But I want things just the same. Not excessive things, just some things to make me feel like it has been a special day and people care. Maybe slightly excessive. I don’t know. A bit of excitement.

We’re having Thai. And cake, I assume.

I’m torn about how much fuss you should make about your own birthday. I feel you should love your own birthday but I want and don’t want the fuss. It can be a bit presumptive. I don’t think that’s the right word. A bit exposing, maybe. I don’t like the pressure to like things. I’m a nightmare.

I don’t want to be a nightmare. I want to be relaxed and pleasantly surprised. I want to survive it intact.

I probably should have a word with myself about positives and upsides and making the most of things and not being dead yet. Even though she is.

She’d be telling me my birth story now – if she were here – about how it snowed and my dad nearly didn’t make it. Imagine if it snows tomorrow. I sort of think it’s bound to rain for my luck. I should have been at the hairdresser yesterday. We should have been staying in

Chester tomorrow. Some presents haven’t arrived because of Brexit. I half think everything is shit.

But I know it isn’t. We’re okay. We’re well. I have my boys. I have everything I need. It’s just another day. No big deal. I’m overthinking it. I’m going to bed.

5. Walking Away – Mike Hickman

Geoff knew that, when it happened, balloon-limbed or not, he would try to walk away. He’d known, in fact, even before November’s trip to A and E. Because, of course, he’d gone and turned his ankle over on the way to the job, hadn’t he? It was a two mile walk, mostly uphill, and he’d no money for the pauper’s chariot. So he’d stood at the bottom of the just-washed steps in the shopping centre and he’d stamped on his foot until the feeling had come back. With the exception of a bit of a chunder into the gutter, and the loss of a shoe that he’d later had to cut off his swollen foot, it had all worked out well enough. The others had led the fuzz a merry dance while Geoff had walked the other way with the goods to conceal at his leisure. All as planned. With added limp.

And then there was the last time he’d spoken to Debbie. He’d started walking even before ending the call. By the time he’d got home, it was half two in the morning and she’d already had a go at leaning on the others to get the charge withdrawn. She meant well – she always did, poor Debs – but she ought to have trusted him. This once, at least. For his part, he’d gone down for six months. The rest of the crew hadn’t been so fortunate.

And then there was last November. Two weeks into the new job his probation officer had landed him, and Geoff had treated himself to a Friday night bus home. He’d been standing on the curb when he’d been hit by the dizziness and the balloon arms.

He could have got on the bus, could have headed home, could have cut out the middle-man and gone straight to the hospital. He’d done none of those things. He’d batted away the concerned old dears, turned on the weakest of his heels, and started walking. Even in the middle of a coronary, he’d tried to walk away.

And then, when he’d later on ended up at A and E, he hadn’t been able to sit down. He’d paced around the vending machines and he’d circled the Costa Coffee in reception in the hope that – what? That he could walk away from himself? That he could escape his own skin?

Yeah. Exactly that. And it had worked, too. Just a mild one this time, the doctors said when he was eventually discharged. If he rested up, he’d be fine.

And he would be. Now the others had been sent down, it was just a matter of retracing the route he’d taken that night when he’d called in with the anonymous tip. He’d buried his stash in the rec. If there was any strength left in those balloon arms of his, he’d liberate his share. For Debbie. For everything he’d not been able to provide her all these years.

Only then would Geoff be ready to walk away.

Mike Hickman (@MikeHicWriter) is a writer from York, England. He has written for Off the Rock Productions (stage and audio), including 2018’s “Not So Funny Now” about Groucho Marx and Erin Fleming. He has recently been published in EllipsisZine, Dwelling Literary, Bandit Fiction, Nymphs, Flash Fiction Magazine, Brown Bag, and Safe and Sound Press. His co-written, completed six-part BBC radio sit com remains unproduced but available to interested producers!

6. Kindness Cache – Shweta Ravi

Into the void of her open wound, kindness seeps like time, doing more good than love has ever done. Entangled in spaces with people who are supposed to love her and the ones she was born to love, the heart feels at home until it doesn’t. While chasing milestones in love, she runs into kindness like a possibility or a parchment addressed to her, unremembered under a heap of musty leaves. Kindness is her secret jab of serotonin that she takes without telling anybody. She rides its curve in the reciprocated smile of a stranger, leans on lines penned with words of encouragement and perches on those elevations felt within when kindness whispers – your being matters. Being nice can be the nicest thing.

Love behind closed doors isn’t always a sobremesa, especially when love is ardently performing ‘the Hour of Judgement’- it was nice to have you born, but you weren’t needed enough, when you were growing up you weren’t achieving enough, if your past spills into tears you aren’t letting go enough, if your womb hasn’t delivered yet you aren’t holding enough, if you went down the cliff you didn’t have wings enough and now that you have been found alive, you just weren’t miserable enough!

When her love is a bleached jacket, compassion sews her a new sense of self-worth. In turn she wants to be kind to others, to treat them the way she wishes to be treated. Kindness makes her believe that the man with the toothless grin doesn’t have to be a crook, that the madness of the woman in the asylum is a manifestation of intense pain and in this price tagged world where even vials of happiness shall soon be available over the counter, often all one needs is shared time.

Love’s labour’s lost too insanely in expecting the entire universe to conspire when one wants something desperately. The universe must have more urgent matters to resolve, considering we are hundred seconds away from apocalypse on the Doomsday Clock. She finds more contentment in cosmic kindness, in the space and sun it spawns. She crawls up one ray of light each day to pluck herself half a ray of hope. Gratitude is goodness, perhaps all that the planet needs in this hour, to be handled with care what was manhandled in love.

In the continuum of love, kindness keeps her anchored. She strongly believes it has less cardiovascular consequences than love, agreeable or disagreeable. If she were to choose between love and kindness, she would keep love for stories and kindness for a lifetime.

Shweta Ravi is a writer and educationist, lured by both- the simple and the spell-binding. Her work mainly focuses on the intersection of ecology, culture and literature. Her pieces have appeared in Active Muse, cwwriters.org, Women’s Web and Ayaskala.

7. Eggcorn – Amy Barnes

I’ve forgotten my name. Again. Have you seen it? I look in the wanted ads to see if someone has found my name, perhaps lost in the park on a run or under a church pew or buried under a produce aisle cantaloupe. There are other missing things listed as found, a braided gold wedding ring with initials, dogs, cats, one shoe, a silver spoon, a bag of walnuts. They’re the odd things peoples’ lives are made of. As I search for my name, I see a neighbor with a missing finger band, another one holding a real leash to walk an imaginary dog, a mother winging baby food to a baby mouth on a spoonless airplane. I look down at my shirt and see only a name tag that says My name is

I write the alphabet inside the cloud-filled globe that is my head now after the accident. There are puppet animals peeking around cumulus and cirrus matter. They sponsor my day’s search with different letters but there’s no rhyme or reason in how they write chalk letters in my head, sing song the week day to me like a lullaby.

I want to see those letters out in real life, in architecture so I keep walking everyday. I find windows and doors that look like h’s and o’s and a’s. I look for my name in trees and high rises and roads and power lines with bird commas dividing each letter from the next.

I return home and turn on the box where sounds live. The game shows are the enemy, gaming against me, always winning people with first and last names and first money and last turns. I watch the named people for the letters they gift to me. Do you want to buy a vowel? Yes, please I scream at the screen just in case my name starts with a vowel.

When I can’t take the box people anymore, I turn to book people with sacred names. The most boring parts become the most interesting. The begats they are called. It’s a word that makes me laugh. I read the long lists of names and imagine those people forgetting their names too. Who could remember a name with that many syllables and a secret meaning that only g-d knows?

The stack of tiny people name books on my sleeping place table grows. I flip through pages for inspiration. The man who joins me wearing a not-lost silver band, the one with a name that rhymes with something and a last name that is mine too, reads mystery papers about mystery and names and rooms. I read books of mystery words. Blurred names. Not my name.

I dream of my name. In liquid lights against my liquid eyeballs. Of a newspaper column with lost names lined up waiting to be claimed. In the morning I call the paper and ask to place an ad. They ask for my name.

I laugh.

8. Unexpected Item in the Bagging Area – Steven Patchett

A brand of pasta in various sauces has a promotion for a video game. But only one of the flavours has it. I assume it’s because the mac and cheese is the sort of pasta that people who play video games would prefer. Quick, filling, familiar, safe. You’d never find it on the Tuscany sausage flavour. I have no idea if it actually tastes like Tuscany sausage. I’ve never eaten a sausage from Tuscany. I doubt I could find Tuscany on a map.

I add a couple of packets to the basket.

I check my phone again. It weighs heavy in my hand, cold, inert.

I’ve never liked tinned meat, I stare in horror at the stuff once it’s squeezed out of the tin. But I don’t have to defrost anything, so I don’t have to think about it. Time saved is time earned. A few more items added to the haul.

I check my phone again, just to be sure.

Cereal next. Her favourite has gone back up in price.

I had teased her about it, telling her it’s for kids, full of sugar, not good for her. As always I’d misjudged her mood, gone too far. I could see the weary look, the sparkle fade from her eyes. I told her I’d get some anyway, only teasing, didn’t mean it.

She nodded, but couldn’t look at me.

Bread, milk, apple juice.

A5 jotter, lined. These days she loves to write, scrawling words on the page as fast as she thinks them. Trying to squeeze all her thoughts out onto the page so they’ll be there forever. She doesn’t want me to read them.

Paracetamol, re-reading the notice telling me I can only buy two packs at a time. In my head, the words sound spiteful, full of denial. As if they know what I think when I listen to her tortured breathing at three in the morning.

The phone is starting to drag, like a millstone. I note the time. I’ve been gone longer than I’d intended. A sickening need is heavy in my stomach. I push it down where it tangles up in guilt.

I looked at her jotter a week ago. I won’t look again.

I prefer the self-service tills. No excuse to talk to anyone, until the assistant casually confirms that I’m old enough for the tablets.

My phone rings and I drop my shopping from nerveless hands.

The scanning machine is talking to me, but I can’t hear what it’s saying.

All I can do is stare at the flashing words on the phone.

Steven Patchett is an Engineer, Father and Writer, living and working in the North East of England. His Flash Fictions have been published in Ellipsis Zine, 100 Words of Solitude and The Cabinet of Heed. He can be found on Twitter, being encouraging @StevenPatchett7

9. It’s all about the boxes – Kinneson Lalor

It’s all about the boxes and the things inside and peanuts and seeds and the damp place in the middle of the page where my hand was wet from washing dishes and then I picked up the pen to write and it all came out and even though my wrist ached and my head felt like that sort of numb you feel when your toes are cold but your nose is warm but somehow it still runs in streams down your face and creeps into the crack of your collar. What even is starch? Starch. It seems so clean and beholden. Throbbing. There’s a cut on my palm only it’s not a cut, it’s some pinprick wound I don’t remember getting but think is probably from the thorns on the barberry when I was dismantling the Christmas centrepiece into the silver bin I thought I would use for chicken feed except coronavirus came then bird flu came and the chicken coop my boyfriend husband bought me for my birthday, the really expensive bright green plastic one that I justified environmentally somehow, all set up with tricks and treats since Halloween but completely empty, the avian flu-carrying wild bird shit collecting on the grass. But I’ll keep feeding them. They’re hungry and they’re pretty and I sort of love them and get heartbroken every time one of them breaks itself on my window. I wonder how Bret Easton Ellis is spending his pandemic. Weirdly, I assume. Strangely. I’ve never read any of his stuff but the spines are pretty, fading on my south-facing shelves. I’m not sure why I thought we’d have more plants than books. I guess I misjudged what sort of person I am. Why did I even want to be a plant person? I think it’s because they breathe. Yet I keep buying books and can’t give them away. Fucking pandemic.

Kinneson Lalor followed a PhD in Physics from the University of Cambridge with an MSt in Creative Writing from the same institution. She is Australian but has lived in the UK for over a decade. Her work has appeared in various places including The Mays and Tiny Molecules, and she writes a regular blog about sustainable gardening for edibles and wildlife.

10. Punctuations – Mandira Pattnaik

All I can think of now is punctuations. And interruptions, pauses, periods, truncations and interruptions.

We are outward bound again. We’re perennially moving out, in any case, infinitely agitated atoms. Only this time the boxes are stacked at the doorway.

When you take a call, and stroll out of the room, I invite the sunshine in. Don’t know why you always keep the curtains drawn.

A mynah sits on the window sill. At rest. Except its eyes. Flaps its wings twice and flies off, one last time, out of my sight.

Below, the cars hoot and belch. What a contrast from the countryside home you promised for sixteen years.

I close my eyes, imagine silence. I like the smell of soundlessness.

Towards the end of our fifth year, when I was at the University, I remember collecting lampshades. You hated the play of colored light, called it chaos. I thought it as comma, interruption, so when it all burst open, I’d be prepared.

I hear you shouting downstairs. Clash of syllables, pitches. Bass and pitch hitting the walls. Another something gone awry. There were so many over the past year. I’m waiting for the white light that holds all.

When you return, a huge exclamation mark calibrates your brows, you don’t elaborate.

We strap up on torn seats. The Fiat was the first thing we bought, the last thing we still own. The engine thrums steadily, loyal like a dog.

Ahead of us, the scenes flip and change. Strokes, semicolons, parentheses. Couples, stretchers, mothers with prams.

The unrest rages, the pandemic powers us out of our jobs, all I hear now are the ellipses.

Mandira Pattnaik (She/Her) writes in India. Work has appeared in print and online including in Lunate, Ilanot Review, EllipsisZine, Door=Jar, Cabinet of Heed and Trampset. Tweets @MandiraPattnaik

11. Figures on a beach – Colin Alcock

They didn’t see me, sat far back up the beach, on the sand bank, tucked into the marram grass. I’d first spied them from the cliff path, before descending the steep steps to sea level. Just two figures and a dog. It could have been anybody, out for an early morning summer stroll, but even before I knew it was them, I recognised Brutus, my dog.

Everyone had told me I was so lucky to attract such a young bride, when I was far more than simply mature. Twelve years between us; an unbelievable love that seemed unbreakable. And for many years it was. We blended as one. I, the artist, putting beautiful dreams onto canvas, when I could. Painting poetic scenes of Cornwall that filled the gift shop walls, for an income. Wandering coastline, fields and moors looking for inspiration. She, the writer, plucking emotive words from the sky, the trees, the waves that rolled into rugged shores, sandy bays and quiet harbours.

But, as I grew to a more crusty age, there were tourists who sought something more than my visual poetry. And sought Anna for more than just her words. I saw signs, yet tried to hide them from my mind. But always, they were there. I spoke my suspicions only to Brutus, my loyal companion. Soft furred, silly, always ready to play; ready to take my thoughts away from despondency. But Anna had changed; she took to walking Brutus, whereas before, she insisted he was my dog, my responsibility. Then, for two-week spells, in season, I would see the slight smile, the glint of her eyes, as she recalled a moment of the day, a thought of tomorrow. It was in her stories, too. Words that reflected cherished relationships. But I doubted ours. Those two weeks always ending with her taking Brutus for an early morning walk along the beach, on a Friday, sometimes Saturday. Changeover day. Saying her goodbye. Then, come winter, the fire between us seemed always rekindled.

Now, I have reached pensionable age and fit though I may seem, I lack the vitality, the virility she retained. This summer, I knew it to be different; two weeks long passed by. Brutus even more her constant companion. I was losing her. Completely. I was just wrong about how.

I watched them that day, unobserved. It could have been someone she only casually met, they stood so far apart, Anna tossing a stick into the oncoming tide, for Brutus to fetch. Then racing back, sea foam at her feet. He calling, laughing, then coming closer, walking with her, taking her hand, enfolding her. And then the kiss. Lingering. Loving. Brutus ignored, circling at their feet.

Today, distraught, I walk slowly from the Covid ward, having heard her last goodbye; having given her my forgiveness. Avoiding my own infection by taking that sudden, selfish break alone, after what I’d seen that day. Though never telling her why. Perhaps, though, it is him she is with, now.

12. Melancholy Roses (with apologies to Marc Almond) – Sheila Scott

Melancholy is part of the Scottish DNA. Why else would we choose a spirit that reduces you to tears as our national drink? Why else would we live in a country that, had Noah lived here, would have resulted in an armada of arks (‘That’s gotta be it this time, Naamah. I’ll be in the shed making a big fuck-off freighter if you need me.’).

For crying out loud even our flag is blue.

I think that’s why we do dusk so well. Skeletal trees watch, inert, as the pallid rainbow (yes, even our skies are peely wally) seeps into the horizon.

MS Word thinks ‘peely wally’ is incorrectly spelt but has no alternative to offer. MS Word is often prone to fits of what frankly feels like anti-Scottish vocabulary-based discrimination. Indeed, often I am to be found at my keyboard, hair knotted with irritation, screaming ‘outwith IS a word you piece of hegemonous shit!’

‘Hegemonous’ has also just been granted the red squiggle of judgement. And ‘often’ the blue double underline indicating that, once again, Word wishes to impose a comma where none should be. This is my consciousness, pal, and I’ll decide what’s a word and what isn’t, and exactly where you can stick your fecking commas.

My stream of consciousness has just been distracted by something of a meta-quandary. Has the burning question of whether to eat the last Roses chocolate now (Hazel in Caramel as you ask) taken me out of said stream or is it, in fact, just another random artefact bobbing along on the waters of my inner monologue?

There follows a brief hiatus to resolve the sweetie conundrum by quashing its existential reality and putting the wrapper in the wastepaper basket. A tidy desk is a tidy mind, allegedly. It seems my desk perfectly reflects my mind: a pile of partly read books, nick-nacks (okay so we’re going to fight about this spelling too are we, Word?) including a NYC snow-globe, knitted plane, tiny painting on an easel, astronaut (not life-size), a windmill in a flower pot, bike-clock, felt squirrel with a walnut, two toy cars, a small wooden clown missing one foot and, doggedly fighting its turf in the middle, my laptop.

The horizon has finally absorbed the rainbow and we now have a blank indigo backdrop beyond the window.

It’s been a week of mixed news and the scales are tipping in favour of the negative. I think that’s why I’m dwelling on the Scottish predisposition to despondency. Probably our saving grace is that it’s nearly always leavened with the strong belief a) it could be worse and b) for many it is. Whilst this may not appear immediately obvious as a measure of optimism, it helps us look outward, dragging our forensic gaze towards the bigger picture.

It now feels foolish to dress a bout of navel-gazing as a national trait. Think I’ll have a rummage in the sweet bowl; there may just be a Roses Truffle left…

13. Ten past Ten – Bronwen Griffiths

It could be ten past ten or ten minutes to two. I am not sure which time I might prefer, or even if it is morning or night. At ten past ten I might be watching the evening news or, if it were morning, working on the computer whereas at ten minutes before two I would be digesting my lunch time sandwich or, if it were two at night, dreaming of strange houses. In any case, now that I look at my watch again, it reads ten fifteen or ten to three, though probably that will make little difference either to my sleep or my digestion and when I check again and realise that it is indeed night-time I wonder if I might try to sleep but though my eyes are heavy I do not think my mind will let me sleep just yet because it is restless like a stone at the ocean’s edge, continually rolling back and forth and knocking against other stones. But sleep does arrive, perhaps at four or five, and I dream of fast cycling and a kiss on the lips and indeed as I often do I dream of strange houses and all the while the rain beats on the window and the world turns towards the morning and then it is ten past ten and ten minutes to two and so on it goes.

Bronwen Griffiths is the author of two novels and two collections of flash fiction and her flash fiction has been widely published. She lives in East Sussex and when not writing likes to draw cacti, fish and stones.

14. Not You, But Me – Kimiko Wadriski Lumsden

What if I have nothing more to say? Nothing to add to the noise more than what I’ve already done? Or what if I’m totally silent again, afraid to make a mistake more than I am of never speaking up? Can that happen – the life be sucked right out of you without ever realizing it’s being done until you’re dead.

But when I say you, I mean me. I always do. Put that distance between my writing and myself. Keep it closed away, just out of reach so it’s not really me. (But it is, you see.) It’s the way that I can just keep saying the same lines in different styles, trying to find new ways for an old phrase. Another time, another time. I have tomorrow or tomorrow’s tomorrow. Push it back to the next day. Something is urgent, but never my own desires.

It’s the baby crying, the kid whining, the house is on fire. The smoke from a burnt dinner, the never-ending laundry piles, dumped and stacked on the bed, making mountains of fabric turning mountains out of molehills. Every tiny problem, I help it grow. Ignore it until I can’t anymore. Then when it’s time, finally, to do something about it. Well, then I’m paralyzed – fight or flight wasn’t my fortune, I freeze.

Immobilized, I wait for the moment to pass so I can carry on with procrastinating and endless self-doubting, the debate between me and my brain about who wins this round and who relegates. I can destroy myself through inaction. Wouldn’t that be productive? So, it turns out I am accomplished. Take that!

Regardless, I feel that I run in circles in my head, in my words. Are you getting bored of me yet? I am. It’s like I have to watch the same stilted pilot over and over, knowing that the first episode is just a trial run, a practice. Let’s skip ahead already, see where this show takes us. What else can I do but press fast-forward. I’m so tired of hearing the same old, same old. I KNOW.

I sit in my own feelings and thoughts rather than write them down, paper to pen. Fingers to keyboard, click-clacking away at what’s trapped inside this gray matter.

Maybe that’s why they keep coming back – those phrases – like a recurring dream, meant to tell you something, teach you a thing or two about whatever is bothering you. And again, with the you. Come on kid, when’ll you ever learn. I have to do better at this.

I wonder if I’m manic again or if I’ve always been teetering on that spectrum because I have these conversations with myself, I haven’t had quiet in my brain since (well when was it?) But even then, I’m sure the gears were turning. There is forever that urge for me to write down what I’m thinking. Will I always be trapped if I don’t get them out – write them down!

I’m feeling much better now.

Read more Streams of Consciousness in Issue Thirty-One

One Year On – Sherri Turner

It isn’t the missing, as such,
(although it is that),
not the physical,
the hands,
the four o’clock silences,
(although it is.)
It isn’t the being unanchored,
uncertain,
unsheltered,
head of the queue now.
(Is it?)
It isn’t the day’s fragments
saved up to tell,
the absent reassurance,
the unshared celebration.

It is the never,
the always,
the gone,
the where,
the what the hell.

The gone.

The always.

Sherri Turner has had numerous short stories published in magazines and has won prizes for both poetry and short stories in competitions including the Bristol Prize, the Wells Literary Festival and the Bridport Prize. Her work has also appeared in several anthologies. She tweets at @STurner4077.

Image via Pixabay

Your Last Christmas – Ceinwen E Cariad Haydon

give us a twirl you whisper
on borrowed breath
ever my Dad you smile
on Christmas morning
wink admire my festive dress
I blush bully my leaden feet
to circle unfurl fanned-out hopes
you’ll lose your pain to death
but not yet never yet always
sometime later
later arrives
before afternoon sarnies
cold ham with mustard
pearl onions
and rum mince pies
your Christmas teatime favourites
so I eat double helpings
some for me some for you
washed down with lukewarm beer
you hate your bitter chilled

Image via Unsplash

Blinds – John Tustin

I felt the heat of the sun
On my hand, my face
As I raised the blinds
Higher, higher
After a twelve hour worknight
That turned into near afternoon
Before I could put my key in the ignition,
Get home and open the blinds.
My skin is nearly paper now,
So I go back to the darkness of my bedroom,
Where the room is cool despite the weather outside.

I open the shades for effect
And to feel better about the day that will die
As soon as it lives.

Sitting in the same chair
In the same room,
The same chill shooting through my fingers
As I type this.
Forgetting why I am even writing.

My view from this window a putrid old white pickup truck
With a sign that says
RICHARD’S TERMITE AND PEST CONTROL
On the side
Sitting in the parking spot
Beside my Ford Focus
And a lawn, some trees.
I can’t see any further.
I am limited, you see.

Hours pass.
The chill continues up my fingers, my arms
Into the center of me.
Nothing good written.
I get up to close out all the lights
Even though the sun will not set
For hours.
I shut out the sun.
The language closes up,
The blinds fold in,
The darkness seeps back in.
If only you heard the poems from my lips
And you were open enough
To believe them
And I was strong enough to live them
As I uttered them….

John Tustin’s poetry has appeared in many disparate literary journals in the last dozen years. fritzware.com/johntustinpoetry contains links to his published poetry online.

Image via Pixabay

The Last Book Collector – Michael Grant Smith

Canvas billowed anew. The rain’s hiss abated. I hoped signal strength would improve.

“Hello?” I said, louder. “Is anyone there?”

“You’re not funny,” interrupted my fare. “I didn’t pay for theater. Concentrate on landing me safely.”

“Madam, with my good eye closed I can navigate the entire Colorado Archipelago. Oftener than the tides have risen I’ve sailed thusly. Relax, let me skipper my boat.”

“Such a mariner, oh dear!” She studied the reflection in her own long-inert cellphone; plucked a rogue chin hair; spat overboard into salt water. “I suspect I’ve hired a fool to convey me to the Denver Islands.”

* * *

The sky’s weight presses the sea, prevents its escape.

I stroked the barely-visible implant scar on the nape of my neck. The snores of my angel complemented a symphony of wind and breakers.

“Wake up,” I said as I prodded her with my toe. “You commanded my silence for the duration of our passage, but we’ve reached our destination.”

She wiped slumber-sand from her eyes.

“So bold, you are,” she snarled. “To suggest one could sleep aboard this deathtrap of a cockleshell! I was deep in meditation.”

Like an anchor, my gaze dropped upon her.

“Your appraisal of this vessel may be correct, madam, yet thanks to your courage and perseverance you’ve arrived at the Denver Islands. I bid you farewell!”

“Again with the humor! Have I not demanded you cease your foolishness? We are nowhere close to shore!”

“My ‘cockleshell’ draws deep and we dare not risk the rocks. You and I, our voyage together ends here. Your contract is recorded on my device.” I held up my blank phone as evidence.

“Bah! Bring me in, pirate. I will double your fee.”

“My counter-proposal: I’ll eject you into the brine forthwith, and at no additional charge.”

“Carry me,” she said, and with a trembling hand drew her hood. “I cannot swim.”

I furled the reefed sail and set fast my oars. Across the railing slithered an anchor chain. I slipped over the side and waves caressed my ribs, welcoming me.

“Your taxi awaits,” I said, and extended my arms to her.

* * *

I eased my burden onto dry slabs of slate. She withdrew payment from her satchel. I hefted the gold coins — my luck was on the mend. Soon, I’d clear all debts and greet my future.

“Thank you and goodbye, madam.” I kept my eye mostly on the buildings and stone outcroppings far above us. She wrapped her cloak tighter against the breeze.

“Bunghole,” she said.

“I beg your pardon?”

“As well you should, and often! Bunghole, yes. The opening at the bottom of a boat.”

“No, you are mistaken. A bunghole is the means by which we fill or empty a barrel.”

“Well, you’re the expert. No matter what you call this, you may want to put it back.” She turned and began her upward trek.

In one hand I clutched my wages; in the other, a bronze drain-plug.

I splashed into the surf. My boat’s keel settled onto sand four feet below swirls of ripples and bubbles. Sunlight pierced overcast. Atop the mast a gull preened.

* * *

To raise my scuttled boat and refit it would cost all I’d earned from the trip. My first night ashore was cold — I catnapped in a ramshackle toolshed — although my rage kept me warm enough. How would I avenge myself on the Harpy who sank me?

In the chilliest hour before dawn I checked my phone for messages. As usual, there were none. I massaged my aching joints and set out on a prowl. These island-neighborhoods enforced curfews and I had to be sharp. I snuffled the bones of an abandoned commercial district until I found a prospect.

Some would encounter Sunnyside Booksellers and believe it a rind stripped of anything edible, combustible, or otherwise valuable.

Crafty me, I discovered a trap door. I wound my flashlight’s crank and spelunked the tomb-scented cellar.

Books in mounds, monoliths; volumes stacked like cordwood. Ink on paper! Bindings — every color and size! I’d outlast winter if I kept this jackpot a secret. Inside a stove, all words burn the same.

My implant chirped a warning. Above and outside, someone approached. Overburdened I fumbled ladder rungs and hauled a bundle of creative non-fiction, whatever that was. Three more nights and I’d empty this cellar of all the fuel I could stow.

* * *

By day I serviced my refloated boat: dried, cleaned, greased, re-stitched, nailed, and tied. After dark I lugged loads of books and hid them onboard underneath oilcloth tarpaulins. Planks creaked as the hull hunkered low in the water.

At last, my pre-dawn departure. Ribbons of purple and red glowed between the forsaken towers of Old Denver’s skyline. I set the oars into their rowlocks and there she was, the Harpy, not thirty paces away and jogging along the stone quay. She hailed me via a trumpet formed by her hands.

“Ahoy, as your type is fond of saying. Is this where I buy a ticket?”

I almost snapped an oar over my knee; instead, I smiled.

“It would please me to accommodate a repeat customer. Come aboard and you can disembark anywhere except dry land.”

“Always with the jokes. The seafaring comedian. Let us agree to allow bygones be whatever, and enter into a new contract. Will you take me home?”

“I’d rather use the butt-end of this oar to put out my remaining eye. No! My services are unavailable.”

Panting, she gave her satchel a shake and the effort nearly tipped her over. Coins were her orchestra, she the conductor.

“Five times the outbound rate is my offer. Paid when we arrive at Port Rainier.”

“Stay where you are, I’ll pick you up.”

* * *

Loathing runs as deep as oceans, and early in our journey my passenger’s unkind behavior caused me to take constant soundings. However, I possess the wisdom to forgive offences as long as revenge is inconvenient or unprofitable.

By the third week she laughed more and criticized less, followed by her unprompted vow to prepare the evening meals. Our conversations grew cordial and she seldom scolded me when I looked at my phone.

“You have regrets,” she said on the brightest and bluest morning since we’d left. “You miss connecting with people and things.”

Hood thrown back, her iron-gray curls gleamed. Outlying Cascade Isles, lumps of brown and black, blistered the horizon. I rubbed my implant scar and rummaged for a response. Despite the day’s brilliance my thoughts were blobs of mercury.

“I suppose I’ve spent too much time on this cockleshell — yes, I remember you named it so. Anyway, solitude is my preferred companion.”

“Oh, a man of action, yet stoic! In my field of work I’ve never chanced upon someone so deliciously complex.”

She grinned at me and I mustered one for her. I’d come to find her aquiline nose and dusky eyes quite fetching. My implant throbbed in an unfamiliar manner.

I labored to push a reply out of my word-hole. “Who are we but water-spiders, skimming the surface, racing from one adventure to the next?”

“Yes, my captain, you’re the sailor-poet-philosopher, the burglar who talks in his sleep. I’m the librarian who won’t allow you to burn your precious cargo.”

Image via Pixabay

The Amazon of Bloomsbury – Shannon Savvas

(A re-imagining of the Byzantine mores of Vanessa Belland her set and their infliction upon her daughter Angelica Garnett née Bell by way of Duncan Grant)

Charleston Farm, East Sussex

Christmas Day Night, 1918

Today the child decided to be born. Before breakfast!! I cannot believe it. Our first Christmas since the end of the beastly war. Our first Christmas after four long, dull years of Lutheran sensibilities out of consideration for “the people” and their sacrifices. I should have been downstairs presiding over the feast of food and festivities I’d planned; festivities almost Roman Catholic in their excess. How delicious. But the child almost ruined everything but for my darling Virginia. Thank heavens, she oversaw the morning hunt and orchestrated the later dinner and party. Judging by the glee and shrieks rising from downstairs which punctuated my beastly labour, I suppose it was in the end, only my Christmas the baby ruined.

It wasn’t a difficult birth. I suppose I must be pleased that it is a girl and not another boy. My friends tell me daughters are so much more fun. I doubt it but I do believe they are cleaner and more reasonable than boys. Small mercies. Lennox is a Gorgon-faced Godsend, even though she demanded the Devil’s dues to return to service for this one. I suppose it was her form of retribution because we let her go so abruptly once Quentin and Julian were both away at boarding school. How could I have foreseen the spectre of another child? But whatever Duncan agreed to pay her, it is worth every penny to not have the onerous duty of tending to a crying, hungry baby day and night. I informed Lennox the day she moved back into her rooms that I refuse to be a heifer to this child. She has engaged a wet nurse who will arrive the day after Boxing Day.

Clive suggested we call the child Angelica, after all, he said it is on this day the angels brought good news. I suppose this baby is good news, but for whom, I am not certain. Not for me. Now the boys are at the Quakers’ school in Reading, a baby is not what I need. Clive has promised to take her under her wing. He is such a good man and will be more of a father to Angelica than Duncan could ever know how to be, so the least he deserves is to give her a name. God knows Duncan is too distracted and really, he has become such a bore. I do not always wish for his company.

Clive has barely been in. He has spent the day entertaining Duncan and Bunny. They came down yesterday and will stay until Boxing Day. With little consideration for me or this baby, the three of them have indulged in an inordinate number of raucous toasts ever since they returned from the hunt. I could hear their noise all the way up here, but I suspect they were celebrating the end of the war and their enforced exile from London as “conscientious objectors” more than the birth of Christ or Duncan’s girlie as Bunny called her. She is merely a timely excuse.

Later, Bunny popped up to see the baby, champagne in one hand, a filthy White Owl cigar in the other. He blew smoke across her little face which enjoined a stern cluck of disapproval from Nanny Lennox. But when has disapproval ever deterred him? He oohed and he aahed, towering over the child’s crib, a swath of Christmas ivy around his neck, a travesty of a merry fairy godmother.

Oh joy, he declared. She is delicious. Good enough to eat with a crème anglaise and strawberries. If she is as lovely when she’s twenty, let’s see, good Lord, I shall be only forty-six — I think I will marry her. Will it be scandalous, Vanessa?

Yes, it would. However, I kept silent. Sometimes Bunny is as insufferable as he is amusing. I accepted a glass of champagne and we toasted the absurdity of the idea.

Lennox has taken the child. The visitors have gone, the men retired. Finally, I have some peace.

* * *

Christmas Day, 1932

I don’t know whether to be pleased or annoyed with Virginia. She has gifted Angelica the outrageous sum of one hundred pounds annually to purchase clothes. Who in their right mind would bestow such funds on a fourteen-year-old? Dear as my sister is to me, Virginia has not been in her right mind for some time. I am worried. I told her she has been highly irresponsible but she dismissed my objections. She implied my allowing Angelica to travel on the Continent, unaccompanied but for Lennox, was more irresponsible, but both Clive and Duncan backed me up that for the purposes of education Angelica’s sojourn in Rome was far more valuable than that ghastly school in Essex.

* * *

Sissinghurst, Kent

Sunday Afternoon, 15th August 1937

Vita has invited us down for the week. A relief to leave London. I cannot bear anymore condolences on the loss of my darling Julian. It is a welcome distraction to be with Vita and Harold who has a quiet and thoughtful way about him that is quite calming. Between my grief and the talk of Oswald Mosley and his band of thugs and the menace of an increasingly strutting Germany, I have felt lost in a deep well of sadness. Still, I thank God every day for our Royal Family and the sanity and sensibility of British politics. Stuffy as society may be, it is a blessing that we are more obsessed with the marriage of the American divorcee Mrs Simpson to the Duke of Windsor, than with the rantings of that nasty little man Mr. Hitler in Berlin.

Angelica and I motored down with Virginia and Leonard on Thursday. Clive arrived with Duncan in tow yesterday morning. Bunny and his wife Rachael – I cannot bring myself to call her Ray (how vulgar, how gauche) no matter how often she insists I do – arrived by train this afternoon. Rachael is to my eyes much more interesting than when I last saw her; she has lost much weight and her face is drawn, tight and of a curious hue. I might ask her to sit for me in the autumn.

Angelica, who has become quite temperamental and rebellious since she decided to become an actress – a grave misjudgment in my opinion, the child has neither looks, allure nor talent of any description – was extremely beastly to Bunny and made cruel fun of Duncan at lunch. I thought enough. Time the child knew the truth. I took her for a walk in Vita’s wonderful white garden and explained that Duncan is her father not Clive. I tried to ameliorate the situation by telling her that in many ways she was lucky to have two fathers, not one. She spat back that in reality she felt she had none. Her performance was worthy of Isadora. I waited until she had calmed and run out of her diva tears before instructing her to not discuss this further with anyone. Especially Clive’s father who must not be made aware of Duncan’s role in her genesis as William has almost certainly bequeathed what he believes to be his granddaughter, a sum of money in the event of his death. Practical girl, she saw the sense. Well, she should. A woman’s life and fortune are precarious and only someone foolish would unnecessarily risk any upheaval. I have instructed her to make her excuses and not attend the party tonight. It seems only prudent.

* * *

Monday 16th August 1937

I am appalled. Angelica, despite my advice, not only attended the party, but dressed a little too provocatively for an eighteen-year-old girl. She certainly drank more champagne than was advisable. Laughed too loudly and danced with unseemly abandon. I asked Clive to tell her to stop, but he said let her have her fun, that if she was a little wild as he put it, perhaps it was because she still grieved the loss of Julian and has been forbidden to make a “pilgrimage” as she called it to Brunete in Spain. That debacle shows no sign of abating and it would be madness not to say pointless for her to undertake such a trip. Still, Clive is right. However, I felt I needed to address her outrageous behaviour.

When I spoke to her, she threatened to be indiscrete regarding her true paternity and ruin the evening in front of everybody, including several notables and minor Royals. After a while, she calmed and I left well alone. The child has always been willful and I can live with her irregular behaviour. What I found most distressing was watching her flirt shamelessly with Bunny last night, in the presence of Rachael who was visibly embarrassed and hurt. With Julian gone, there is no one to temper her. Perhaps Quentin can take her to tea when we get back to London and have a word. She might be more prepared to listen to her brother than her mother.

* * *

Charleston Farm, East Sussex

Christmas Day, 1938

Everyone has come for Christmas. Quentin has brought a young woman, Anne Popham for the holidays, they seem rather serious. I will get Clive to find out more about her family. Bunny and Rachael are here, but I fear her health has deteriorated. The last time I saw her was just over a year ago when she declined to sit for me. What is troublesome is that Angelica and Bunny carry on in a way that is wholly inappropriate and raises my concerns. I remember his drunken prediction about marrying her despite his being in a liaison with her father. And how can I tell her that this man was her father’s lover? It mattered not a jot until now. There is something quite wrong with this relationship. Not least that they are being quite disgraceful in front of his poor, sick wife. Perhaps I or Duncan should speak with him. Warn him off. Or do I leave them to have a fling, however distasteful? Perhaps an older man will help settle her. Let her get her rebelliousness out of her system and then she can move on and hopefully meet, marry someone more suitable.

I have just spoken with Virginia. She assures me my daughter will tire of that rusty, surly old dog with his amorous ways and his primitive mind. Typical Virginia – she has the most vivid and apt way of putting a matter. I hope she is right. She knows all sorts of interesting young men, closer in age and class to Angelica and has promised to send them Angelica’s way after the holidays.

* * *

Christmas Day, 1942

It is done. And I must be gracious and welcoming. Bunny might believe he has pulled off a coup, perhaps exacted a small revenge on Duncan, but I find it disgusting. An affair was one thing, but this marriage is partly my own fault. If I had found the courage, had informed Angelica about her intended husband’s history and more specifically his proclivities, namely that Bunny had not simply propositioned me (thankfully I rejected him – would he be so petty to marry her out of spite?) but had conducted a liaison with her father, might she have called off the marriage? In a note of sordid glee, she informed me she lost her virginity to Bunny while staying with the novelist Mr. H.G. Wells in Sussex. It is quite abhorrent to me that Bunny Garnett, fifty years old, has married my daughter, a mere twenty-four years old. The poor deluded girl is giddy with her new status and independence. They have moved to his place in Cambridgeshire, so it is somewhat of a blessing that I shall see less of her and her husband whom she refuses to call Bunny – he’s not a pet, Mama, she said – rather she insists on calling him Darling David. Quite nauseating.

It was all very well being tolerant when Darling David’s excesses were amusing, scandalous and delicious in equal measure, but when it is one’s own daughter sucked into the insobriety of others’ sexual mores, one finds one is forced to re-examine one’s own opinions – and admit to one’s culpability. I, we, created and glorified this sordid seeking of sensation and acceptance of breaking taboos.

It is not difficult to conjure a list of muckrakers hoping to be the first to inform Angelica of her husband’s dalliance with her father, enjoying the anticipation of her dismay. Then how gleeful will she be, I ask, if somebody tells her, as they surely will be keen to do, about not-so-darling David’s torrid relationships with both male and female intimates of our circle and beyond (more than I care to name!)? They will do so all the while claiming moral outrage but seeking revenge or social superiority over our eccentric little family, spreading the dirt and depravity so deep that it will be Angelica, an innocent, who is shamed and not her Darling David who has tainted everybody he has known. Including me.

I know this milieu; indeed, I have dabbled in it myself but that gives me advantage. I shall make it my mission to use whatever means, practical, immoral, sexual or sentimental, I will call in all debts owed whatever their nature, financial, patronage, discretionary – bearing in mind the large repository of secrets entrusted to me which I am quite prepared to use as leverage to ensure no one disillusions Angelica.

Let my silly daughter have her illusion of a great love affair. Better that than laying this family bare to ridicule and judgement heaped upon our name. But I confess, I am tired. Tired of these men; Bunny and his predilection for young flesh of any persuasion, our George and Gerald who took me and Virginia for sport, and Lytton and Roger and Leonard and all their ilk who offer praise and speak of equal artistic worth yet ensure we are crimped by social, marital and maternal expectations.

And if I must wield the librys to slay the switchblade tongues or lay down with husbands, wives, or fathers to ensure their silence, so be it. But given the inbred snobbery of our venal and socially ambitious times, I doubt nothing more than invitations to our dinner parties and readings and gallery openings together with promises of attendances at their parties will be suffice.

My daughter needs to be protected.

I will be her Amazon.

A New Zealand writer who divides her heart and life between Cyprus, England and New Zealand. Winner: Reflex Fiction (Winter 2017); Cuirt New Writing Prize (Galway, Ireland) (March 2019); Flash500 (Summer 2019). Runner up, shortlisted, longlisted, commended and published here and there.

Image via Pixabay

Expiry Date – Katie Isham

I skipped breakfast that morning. Very out of character. I always have breakfast. Cereal of some form. Mostly Shreddies but sometimes I throw caution to the wind and have Frosties. Never the real ones of course – supermarket’s own brand versions are just as good.

But that morning the milk had turned. It hadn’t reached its expiry date, but it smelt awful. I was unprepared; we had no bread in for toast. So I went without.

I should’ve taken that as a bad omen.

I drove myself to the hospital. It was a follow up appointment from the scan so there should’ve been no invasive procedures to stop me driving. I told Trish I could handle it and for her not to worry. I’d ring her with news on my lunch break. All routine.

Sit down the doctor said. Sorry the doctor said. Measured proliferation the doctor said. Hostile carcinoma the doctor said. Short period of adjustment the doctor said. I didn’t hear anything else the doctor said. She shook my hand and shuffled me through to the processing department.

The room was small and square. Empty and cold. The expiration machine dominated the room. I knew what it was of course, but I wasn’t prepared for its grand scale. Bulky and smooth. Why do they have to shape the scanner like a coffin? Fitting I suppose, in every aspect.

It was my time. Whirring and sliding, I entered the machine. It wasn’t painful. These administrative things never are. The blood tests on Tuesday made me squirm more. Hell, getting out of bed in the morning causes me more distress.

On completion they clamped the shackle on my left hand. The assistant didn’t make eye contact. I couldn’t blame him. I can’t imagine how he does this job. Every hour. Every day. Every week. Setting in motion the countdown. The giver of time and the taker of time in one role. I said thank you on my way out. It’s not his fault. I’ve never been a believer in shooting the messenger. I’ll keep my manners until the end. For another ninety-four days. According to the display on my wrist.

Intelligence requested. That’s what it reads on my medical report. I asked for this. I embraced the medical advancements. I signed up for the donor register. I donated blood and saliva and cells and sperm and willing. I ticked the permission boxes. I banged on the door of progress. I shouted about how knowledge was power. I never thought I’d regret it.

The traffic was slow, but I made it home by midday. Even considering I stopped at the supermarket for fresh milk and a new box of branded cereal. I’d called in sick when the hospital dismissed me. I may repeat the call tomorrow. Sitting in the car I fiddle with the shackle and wonder if I can hide it from Trish. She never ticked the box. She never wanted to have the information.

Ninety-four days, thirteen hours and seven minutes until my expiry date. Give or take. Modern medicine is marvellous but there is a ten percent buffer zone for computer error. Reasonably.

I have less time left than the box of cereal in my footwell. I thought the information would be comforting. I thought when the time came, I’d want to know. I thought that it would give me the opportunity to get my affairs in order and spend my last days doing what I wanted. Turns out all I want to do now is fight to outlive my cereal and wish that I had more time.

Katie Isham is a writer, teacher, drummer and mild adventurer from the UK. She writes angry emails, the odd fictitious story, and a travel blog that is currently somewhat static. www.vintagegnome.blogspot.co.uk. Her words can be found in Dear Damsels, Funny Pearls and The Daily Drunk. She can be found on Twitter @k_isham. 

Image via Pixabay

The Auction of Unlikely Things – Sheila Scott

An aura of decay clung to the air in the austere hall. Dennis, the auctioneer, was never certain if the odour emanated from the fabric of the building, the sale items, or the clientele themselves. He regarded the sea of faces before him with displeasure, trying vainly to recall the last time he had spotted anyone whose hair colour was neither grey nor that strange honey-blonde shade found nowhere in nature but so favoured by the dowager class.

His profession was also in its death throes, and he felt his shoulders sink a little as he stood at the podium. They had brought it upon him, this generation with naked greed glinting in gimlet eyes. So keen to possess, they left nothing for those in their wake. They’d created Generation Rent by refusing to relinquish ownership of anything.

Now no-one bought anything. Everything was leased, inadvertently favouring the planet as its raw materials experienced constant recirculation, rather than sitting in landfill-like cupboards awaiting infrequent use and entropy. Businesses slunk back to high streets offering temporary tenure at reasonable rates, and shared ownership had reignited a sense of community across the land.

That had really pissed his audience off.

Eric, his assistant, gave him a gentle nudge in the ribs, and stage whispered.

‘Next item?’

Dennis unhooked his brows and lifted his head.

‘Next item!’ He thunked the wooden gavel on the block, glanced at the day’s list and turned towards the door on his left. ‘The next item on today’s list is…’ Eric stepped sideways through the door, carrying a large empty wooden frame. ‘…a lovely day.’

A ripple of avarice passed through the audience.

‘Expression of pleasure in the exquisiteness of a full twenty-four-hour period will henceforth fall under your copyright. Starting price £6,000.’ The ludicrous and unseemly battle for possession of yet another basic human right played out before him, replete with the customary paddle waving and instances of stink-eye.

‘A Lovely Day’ went for £120,010.

The list progressed through ‘Love of Nature’ (now under the ownership of an aging physics teacher, who declared on successful bid that he hoped to dissemble it into “a rather exciting equation”), ‘Surprise Parties’ (personally Dennis was happy to see that one taken out the public domain), and ‘Canal-dwelling Shopping Trollies’ (that one only just secured the reserve despite the appetite of the audience).

‘Final item on today’s schedule.’ Dennis surveyed the slightly diminished gathering. Panic sweated the faces of those yet to secure a new item, the thought of a static, unenhanced collection of stuff clearly triggering a physiological explosion from their adrenal glands (which were, incidentally, scheduled for inclusion in next Tuesday’s auction). He returned his attention to the list.

‘Wellbeing.’

Dennis leaned into the lectern to allow the passage of Eric who was man-handling a large Perspex box. The auctioneer covered his microphone with a hand and turned it to one side before muttering ‘Really?’ at his assistant.

‘Yes, really.’ replied Eric, his breath momentarily clouding the box of Wellbeing.

‘Jesus.’

Eric carefully placed the large empty box on the table and exited stage left. Dennis stared at the box until an impatient cough from the cash-rich crowd reclaimed his attention.

‘Okay. Reserve price for this item is £20,000 but I think we can start a little higher than that. Who will bid £30,000?’

Paddles flew.

Hybrid writer-scientist, Sheila most enjoys turning idle thoughts into short narratives and illustrative doodles. Her work has been published in Edwin Morgan 100 Anthology, Postbox, Cabinet of Heed, Causeway, Ellipsis Zine, Flashback Fiction, Bangor Literary Journal, Poetic Republic, and 2019 Morton Writing Competition. Her intermittently hyperactive Twitter account is @MAHenry20.

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A Distortion – A R Salandy

There are problems beyond
The summation of equations
That exist only in the minds-

Of the few who yearn to solve
The questions of a universe
So questionably mathematical

That even their own minds
Fail to fathom the sheer depth
Of the numerators and denominators too

Which give way to all manner of theory
In a world where to be creative
Is frowned upon only till vain fame-

Seems to eclipse all judgement
And all rouge infringement dissipates
To an acceptance of intellectual creativity-

Quite unlike anything found
In the empiricism of formulae
Which bewilder all those that lack-

The natural ability to calculate
And hypothesize over an ideology
So positivist in nature-

That one might ask if notions of society
Were simply distortions
Of our futile attempts to justify-

A life of functional differentiation
So utterly contrived that perhaps
Even the creativity that is so ardently suppressed-

May be just a disfigurement
Of a natural ability
So positivist in nature-

That its judgement is but a sardonic irony.

A R Salandy is a mixed-race poet & writer who likes to focus on the contrast between nature and humanity but also the many similarities that bring the two together. Anthony travels frequently and has spent most of his life in Kuwait jostling between the UK & America. Anthony’s work has been published 45 times. Anthony has 1 chapbook entitled ‘The Great Northern Journey’.

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Slabs – Oliver Greenall

Candyfloss clouds. Azure sky. A sun straight from the Teletubbies.

Stevie lifted the glass to his sweaty lips, flicking away the slug that was clinging onto the side. The Coke was warm and flat. And diet. It was all the little old dear had in the fridge.

It was the fifth consecutive day of 25-degree sunshine. A once in a lifetime Scottish summer. And Stevie was stuck laying fucking concrete slabs. His uncle had reiterated it was a two-man job and they would split it 70-30. But he had failed to mention his plans to head off to ‘Eye-Beeza to piss sangria’ in the middle of the contract.

The non-existent buzz from the aspartame was only irritating him further, so he poured the remainder of the dark liquid onto a dandelion. The depressingly imposing council house loomed above him, mocking his predicament. The old dear had disappeared for her messages leaving Stevie free rein of the kitchen. But there were only so many custard creams one could take in this heat. What he wanted was a pint, to lick the condensation that puddled at the bottom of the glass, never mind the funny looks he’d get. He was missing Ryan’s barbecue for this shite.

He surveyed his work so far: only two slabs laid in four hours. His uncle was right, it was a two-man job. It was the longest and most laborious process he’d ever experienced. He had to lift the old 3 x 2 grey slabs, walk them a safe distance away, add a fresh coat of ballast and whin dust, before replacing it with a newer, practically identical 3 x 2 grey slab. What he didn’t expect was the sheer weight of the fuckers. He’d scraped his arms and knees raw and embarrassingly had to ask the old dear for a plaster. She’d just smiled as she applied it for him, making him feel like a ten-year-old boy instead of a nineteen-year-old not-as-strapping-as-he-once-thought lad.

There were still thirty-seven slabs to go, and his uncle wasn’t due back until the following week, so Stevie dragged on his gloves, laced up his boots and clomped his way back to pain and suffering and endless fucking drudgery.

Taking up his shovel, he dug underneath a slab, loosening the earth, lifting it slightly before gripping it with both hands. The most inconvenient part was getting enough purchase between the ground and concrete without crushing your fingers, but this time there was plenty of space, so Stevie hauled it up with surprising ease. Instead of being greeted by hundreds of slaters scrambling for a new home, he found himself staring into a large hole. Stevie wasn’t an expert on anything in life, and he was certainly no expert on holes (including those ones as Ryan liked to joke), but he somehow knew this wasn’t a hole created by an animal; it was perfectly round, and as he looked down, the edges seemed to have been crafted, as if the dirt had been sanded away for a smooth finish. As he peered further into the gaping maw, he realised that he couldn’t even see the end point; just more blackness, leading to nothing.

As an Indiana Jones aficionado, Stevie thought he knew exactly what to do when presented with a fathomless depth. He chose what he deemed to be a good-sized rock for the job and watched as it disappeared into the emptiness. He found himself focussing so much on listening out for the noise of the rock striking the bottom that he began to wonder if he’d already missed it. Choosing what he deemed to be only a decent-sized rock this time, he dropped it down. Once again, silence.

Stevie was never one for spontaneity, but something about this hole had him intrigued. Whether it was the heat, his frustration at his uncle, or the fact he was alone, he relished any opportunity to skive off laying slabs. And if finding a mysterious gigantic hole under a 3 x 2 slab in a council house garden in Prestwick wasn’t a good enough opportunity, then fuck knows what was.

Crouching down onto his knees, he leaned his head into the space. It was roomy enough for his scrawny body so he began to lower himself into it. As soon as his last limb passed the threshold, Stevie found himself in a tunnel. It was impossible to tell in what direction it was leading but Stevie began to crawl, hoping it followed some kind of logic, even if climbing into the hole in the first place wasn’t the least bit logical.

Now that he was in the hole, Stevie was surprised that he could actually see. From above, the hole looked inky black; yet inside that darkness, Steve’s vision was clear, as if an underground light had suddenly been switched on. Worms and ants crawled along the perfect edges of the tunnel, but as Stevie took a closer look, he discovered they weren’t crawling but hovering, as if an invisible barrier prevented them from reaching him in his crawlspace. Stevie reached out but his fingers didn’t touch earth; instead, he felt a smooth, soft edge, like silk. The bugs seemed to exist on another plane entirely.

Stevie wasn’t sure if he was expecting to see a light at the end of the tunnel, but it seemed infinite with no end in sight. Perhaps the slab had collapsed onto his head and this was death. An actual, physical tunnel to heaven. Or hell. He was going down after all.

Time ceased to exist as he continued on his subterranean journey. He saw more floating insects on either side, even a few spiders, which he was no fan of at the best of times but here he found them strangely mesmerising, knowing there was a force between him and them. They couldn’t touch him no matter how much they wanted to creep over his skin.

He turned his head to look back at where he’d come from. The hole he entered was no longer visible but still the tunnel remained illuminated. Coming to a standstill, he was surprised to find he could hear a faint noise to his right, behind the sanded dirt edge. Stevie thought it might have been laughter but that would be ridiculous. A limitless tunnel was one thing, but human laughter from within the earth itself? But there it was again, unmistakable this time. And glasses clinking. And music. He couldn’t be completely sure, but it sounded like ‘Mr. Brightside’. Of all the songs in the world, Stevie wasn’t surprised he could hear that one in the tunnel. He knew he could never escape Brandon Flowers singing about jealousy, no matter where, or how deep he was, on this planet.

Feeling more and more uncertain as to what he was supposed to do in this situation, or what the meaningful purpose of his finding the tunnel was, he kept on crawling. He could still hear the music; it remained just as loud as he went further into the unknown. He began to worry about the old dear; if this was real, and if she returned to find this hole, she might decide to climb in and join him. And then she’d get stuck, become dehydrated and die down here. He upped his pace, channelling his inner mole as his nails gripped the ground ahead of him.

After frantically pushing himself forward, like a fat seal on land, he saw a light in the distance. The music seemed to grow fainter as he got closer and closer to what he hoped was an exit to the real world and not his eternal damnation. He powered on, propelled by the urge to discover where he would emerge.

Which made it all the more disappointing when he found himself climbing out of the same hole he’d entered. He was a little bit muddier, a little more confused, but still surrounded by slabs outside the same council house in Prestwick.

‘So there you are.’

Startled, Stevie raised his head to see the old dear standing over him, a tray in her hands. She had that same smile which never seemed to leave her face.

‘Ah found a hole.’

‘And I got you some full fat Coke. With ice.’

Stevie clambered to his feet. Had she heard him properly? He knew she wasn’t deaf, and she definitely wasn’t blind. Did she somehow know about the hole?

‘Thanks,’ he said as he reached out for the perspiring glass. There was a rectangular piece of paper sitting next to it. Stevie assumed it was a coaster before realising it was the wrong way around, and there was writing on the other side.

‘I got you a little something. Just between us. You deserve it, slaving away on a day like today.’

Stevie picked up the paper. It was a cheque, the first he’d received since he was a child. £100.

‘Oh no, ah cannae take that, it’s too much.’

‘Nonsense, it’s the least I could do. Missing all your friends on such a lovely summer’s day. In fact, take the rest of the day off. Enjoy yourself.’

Only now, standing this close, did Stevie look at her face properly for the first time; he was always one for glancing at his feet during conversations. She was the oldest woman he’d ever seen. If she were to lie down during a rain shower, the water would gather and form rivers in the cracks on her face. Yet something about her eyes betrayed the rest of her face. They were youthful. An innocence and naivety still shimmering away inside.

‘Ah really appreciate it…’ he stopped himself, realising he didn’t even know her name to thank her. He glanced down at the cheque in his hand, his eyes immediately darting to the signature. Her handwriting was flowery, old-fashioned, and it took him a couple of times reading it over to fully comprehend what she’d written. He almost dropped his glass.

‘Yer kidding.’

‘Is something wrong?’

He checked the signature once more. His eyes weren’t deceiving him. That was definitely an ‘A’, followed by a very elaborate ‘L’.

‘Yer name’s no Alice, that’s… that’s…’ he had the word on the tip of his tongue, but saying it out loud would be strange, bizarre, odd. It would be…

‘Curious?’ she wondered.

Oliver Greenall is a writer, actor and filmmaker from Scotland. His films have screened at the London and Glasgow Short Film Festivals, amongst others. He has appeared on the West End stage and in various television series. His feature screenplay was shortlisted for the BFI/Sigma Films producer acceleration programme.

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The Money – Jim Meirose

It’s mass. It’s the second collection.

Now the object of all this is to get the money.

Concentrate on this, and this only. Get the money.

He walks down the aisle toward the altar holding the long-handled basket; right down the center, he walks. Once at the first pew, he turns. He thrusts the basket into the pew under the noses of the parishioners. Everyone generously contributes. Row by row, slowly he proceeds up the aisle. The basket is filling with money. He reaches the pew where the woman sits; the woman he always watches, who intrigues him. She places her envelope into the basket. But for this, she is forever a stranger. Stony-faced, he continues. For some reason the sight of her makes him glance back at the altar. It’s black-veined marble. The crucifix hangs above, the cracks show in the wood. The corpus is bloodstained. Before proceeding to the next pew, he glances at the woman’s long slender legs. Feelings rise in him.

But no.

Oh, would that he were a statue with no feelings.

A bloodstained wooden statue. Like that Christ.

He thinks of that man from the night before; he sees his face. His mind wanders. He moves the basket slowly so they may put in the money easily. Where is the man now? And somewhere, someplace, the host was being elevated at the very moment it happened.

Somewhere in this big world, there was mass at that very moment.

He moves along the row of pews. Someone is kneeling in the way with his head in his hands. The basket won’t go past him. He won’t move. He wishes to be kneeling too. He wishes to pray with his head in his hands. But—the basket’s just half full. Need to fill it fully. He moves more quickly.

He is the collector.

How ashamed his parents will be when he’s found out—

No. He thrusts the basket out. Now is for the money. Now it is mass. Mass is eternal. Mass is of God. He smiles dimly pushing out the basket. What a laugh; to care about his parents now, now that it is too late. His hands grip the long handle. His hands are clean. The effects of last night’s liquor are long gone. He sees the blood, the cuts, the seeping wounds. He sees the drip of the blood into a puddle. But maybe it’s not that bad; maybe the man survived; he didn’t hang around long enough to find out. Truly he was a coward last night—the basket’s too heavy to hold—he’ll drop the basket—

No! Stop it!

Lord, give me strength. Squeeze the handle. He shudders. The basket moves filling. The organ music swells. Perversely he thinks of a woman he read about once who was enamored of a bull. That was unnatural. He feels unnatural. Now is the time to think perverse thoughts. The dark blood begins to congeal. He steps to the next pew. He thrusts in the basket. What’s it like to be lying on the tracks with a locomotive bearing down? This is how he feels. There’s a locomotive coming. He hears it. He feels it. But this is all fantasy. The money is becoming heavy. His muscles flex. He clenches his teeth. Drinking wine will do no good. Drinking wine does no good. Drinking wine is no good. Wine costs money.

Get the money.

Basket in, basket out—much too mindless. But look at all that money. There’s plenty of money in the basket now. Yes, he must be the devil. Yes, he is worse than the devil. Even the money is evil; the basket’s overflowing now; but no, this is God’s money. Nothing of God’s is evil. Would that he were of God.

He glances over to his family, in the back pew. The thoughts swarm upon him. The money is too heavy. He sees the wife he will lose. He sees the children he will lose. He’s near the end. His glasses are sliding down his nose. He pushes them up. They slide back down. There’s no use. He paid nine dollars for liquor last night at three a.m. He glances back to the priest in his heavy vestments. The innocent holy man. So unlike him. But think of it; think of it; the money becomes his once it’s slid into the basket.

How easy it is to give up ownership of something.

Of one’s life.

A pale slumped old man in one of the last pews gives an envelope. Every rib is showing under the old man’s thin shirt. And the skinnier one next to him is bald; they sit pale bald and bony, like dead men.

But they give money.

In the last pew, he is given money by a scowling man; it is him; it happens to be exactly the way he feels. He turns and looks out over the church; they could all be his brothers and sisters.

They could all be him. But they are not. Since last night, there is a chasm between he and them. If only he had not done what he has done.

But he is at mass now.

He steps to the back wall of the church and pours the money out into a large basket on the floor. He holds the empty basket.

The money’s gone now.

They’re pulling up outside; there are sirens.

But no; he is at mass now. Car doors slam outside.

He gives up the basket. He goes to sit by his wife. He is at mass now.

The back door opens.

That back door creaks so badly why don’t they do something about that back door—after all, they’ve got the money. He knows they’ve got the money. He got it for them.

Jim Meirose’s short and long works have appeared in numerous publications, including South Carolina Review, New Orleans Review, Xavier Review, Witness, Into the Void, Exterminating Angel, Phoebe, Otoliths, Baltimore Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, American Literary Review, 14 Hills, and many others. Twitter: @jwmeirose jimmeirose.com

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Recipe For A First Marriage – Rebecca Field

Ingredients:

One younger sister who has never measured up, one younger brother looking for escape

They shared a lifetime of coming second, failing to impress, being overlooked. She had the idea she would beat her sister down the aisle. Once the idea had formed, it took root in her mind and flourished like a Buddleia in a paving crack.

Five encouraging friends

They met in a bar in town, somebody’s birthday. The girls loved his accent, his American teeth and button-down collar. He took an interest, paid for the drinks. She was elated when it was her number he took. He fitted easily into her circle of friends. At her house he took charge of the barbeque, set out the chairs, she handled music and drinks. They went on trips to the coast, country houses, walks on the moors. He developed a liking for tea and English breakfasts.

An inability to acknowledge areas of incompatibility (earplugs and rose-tinted spectacles are useful here)

She realised he used humour as a defence mechanism if the conversation got difficult, but told herself that if he could make her laugh, she’d always have fun with him. She said she’d go anywhere with him, as long as they were together. He didn’t like her taste in dogs or the fact that she had so many male friends. He agreed to a French bulldog named Reggie, though he would have preferred something larger. The sex was great – everything else would work itself out.

Three or more parents (to include at least two reluctant and one enthusiastic)

‘I suppose you can always divorce him, but don’t think we can pay for another wedding,’ her mother said as they shopped for dresses.

‘Well her Mom looks great for her age, but are you sure about this?’ his father said on the morning of the wedding.

‘Don’t listen to anyone else. If she gives you goose bumps, you go for it,’ his Mom said, plucking fluff from his suit.

Method:

Put all ingredients into a large vessel and stir. (You will need to wear protective clothing as the cooking process can get messy)

They honeymooned in Mexico, then he moved into her place. The housemates made themselves scarce. They shipped over some of his things, made room for the gifts from his extended family. She hated the ornate clock he insisted on hanging in the hallway but hoped she could learn to live with it. He decided it was normal for the husband not to have much space in the bedroom closets. He busied himself in the garage, stripping old varnish from her dining suite, sanding down table legs. He wanted to show her he was good with his hands.

When the housemates moved out, there was space in the fridge and an emptiness in the rooms upstairs. They increased their TV package so he could watch the baseball, and got a rescue cat; black and bitter, with a smudge of white on his chest. He scratched his claws on the newly sanded table legs.

Transfer into a pressure cooker and turn up the heat. After nine months, the mixture should become saturated, bitter and completely unpalatable

He took her back home for Thanksgiving, showed her around his home town. She ate his Mom’s pumpkin pie, teeth scraping the tines of her fork. She laughed nervously at remarks

about grandchildren and spent a lot of time on her phone. He wondered if the goose bumps would return back in England.

Back home she started a new job, further away. His contract came to an end and he struggled to find work. Sex became sporadic and functional. Reggie started earning good money as a stud dog. He said he wouldn’t mind being a house-husband, but not in this Godforsaken place where it rains all year round. She said she’d never agreed to move to the US and asked how he could ever have thought she had.

Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely

Her sister announced her engagement to a partner in a law firm. She got a coil fitted. He discovered that he enjoyed soccer as much as American football, but this wasn’t an interest she shared. She disagreed with his views on American politics, which he interpreted as a personal attack on his identity. One of Reggie’s girlfriends had puppies and she brought one home without consulting him. The hallway clock stopped working one day and neither of them noticed.

Serve with a shot of Decree Absolute

Rebecca Field lives and writes in Derbyshire. She has been published online by Riggwelter Press, Spelk fiction, Reflex Press, The Cabinet of Heed and Ellipsis Zine among others. Rebecca has work in the 2019 and 2020 UK National Flash Fiction Day Anthologies. Tweets at @RebeccaFwrites

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I Have Something To Say – Madiha Ahmed

Em? Emily…?

Oh, Emily, I’m so glad you’re here! I wanted to talk to you and didn’t know if you’d come.

I see you’re mad at me. I can sense it in your silence. Well, you have every right to be. Sigh. I’m sorry Emily. I’m really sorry. But please, hear me out. One last time. Just hear me out. I have something important to tell you.

I just want you to know…all my life has been…tch! You’re probably thinking why I never said anything before today. I didn’t think this is how things would turn out. Not after all you did for me. Maybe things would have been different if I had, eh? Maybe we wouldn’t be here today? Maybe I wou-sigh. Emily, sorry. You’re right. This maybe business is not helping right now. Just…just listen to me, okay?

Emily?

Just listen. Please.

I remember the day we met very well. I was only nine. Seems ages ago now. The social worker who drove me looked like she perpetually had a bad smell under her nose. I don’t remember much else except her voice. I can still hear it some nights. Telling me…well, telling me all the not nice things about me. How I was running out of chances. How I should be grateful for people like her and you who were saving me from me. I just wanted to jump from the car and run.

You greeted us next to a full trailer, and before I could process anything else, I coughed, gagged, my eyes watering. The onslaught on my nostrils was severe. I heard the social worker struggling to speak. Not wanting to offend, I didn’t look up when you introduced yourself. Remember that, Emily? You even said something about it, remember? How I found the ground very interesting?

I had caught a glimpse of you from the car before we disembarked. Your face looked like it belonged to a kind woman. Kinder than anyone I had known. My heart thudded faster with excitement. But I didn’t want to get my hopes up. I was too scared, Emily.

I remember your dirt-caked gumboots. I couldn’t look up. I didn’t want to look up. So I made myself trace all the shapes the dried mud on your shoes had made as you spoke. At least, I thought it was mud. You told me you were glad I was there. That you were sure we’d have a great time. That the only thing that mattered was the life we’ll have now.

And then I saw your gumboots getting closer. Felt a pair of arms around me and this – oh! how do I describe it? – this sweet, sweet scent enveloped me. It was magical. Intoxicating. I took deep breaths. Trying to savor the fragrance that felt like it belonged to the heavens. To take it all in. To keep it with me forever. My brain freezing, relaxing, letting go.

In that moment, I felt as if everything was right with the world, Em. That everything was right in my world. You were saying something and the social worker was saying something. But the words washed over me. I just remember being hugged. I just remember how you smelled. I had never really experienced the joy of either before.

Oh, Emily. You have no idea how peaceful I felt with you! I was nine, deeply troubled, adrift. But you became my safe space. My anchor. Clichéd but true.

You truly helped me turn my life around. Farm life was difficult to adjust to with its gruelling chores, along with regular schoolwork. My nose had the hardest job, though. I remember gagging at each individual assault as I went about my chores. I never knew how much animals pooped or that I’d be the one hauling wheelbarrow loads of it from one end of the farm to the other. I just tried to remember how happy you were with your flourishing roses and vegetables. You used to laugh at me when I would judiciously close all the windows of the house, but you also always had something in the oven too – a simmering roast, fresh buns, chocolate cake.

That was nothing compared to you, though. Every time you’d hug me, your scent would bewitch me. I would feel the weight of the world lifted from my shoulders. And it’s funny that you had no odor despite being busy with farm stuff all day. Even just being near you was enough most days. You kept me grounded. You kept the demons away. I only had to think about coming home, to you, and I was able to keep my head down and my nose clean. Ha-ha! That’s almost a pun.

What you don’t know is that it wasn’t easy. It wasn’t easy at all.

You see, it was hard to break habits. It was hard to rewire my brain. I read somewhere that early experiences shape our psyche. And what we think, what we do, what we want to do. Every day, I battled with my fears – of messing up, of losing you, of being alone again. Of being abandoned again. Like every other person before, but this time by you.

It was a daily struggle. Dark thoughts would creep up no matter how busy I was. Laying the hay, feeding the hens, hauling animal faeces, doing homework, having dinner with you, reading before bed. Phantoms lurked in the unreachable corners of my brain and I was unable to banish them.

Do you know what that’s like? Do you have any idea? Tch! Stop saying that. Yes, you took me in and raised me like your own. Perhaps better than how you would have raised your own. But I’m telling you that you have absolutely no idea what a troubled kid actually goes through! Of the daily battles we fight and the gambles we take. Of the dread that follows us like a shadow. You don’t know – you can’t know – what it’s like to only be loved when it’s convenient for other people.

Despite all that, I did well. When I moved to town, got a job, a place of my own, you said you were proud of me. And that’s all that mattered. Till you went ahead and…

And now you sit here, angry, disapproval etched into every wrinkle – yeah, you think I don’t see that? – making me feel like I’m back in the dark. Like I’m nine again and the worst kid in the room. The kid who can’t do anything right. The kid no one loves. The kid who’ll always be alone.

Yeah, holding in your protests and I-love-yous, eh? Right. I know where you’re at now. Pfft. Yeah. I know your deal. What, did you think I wouldn’t find out? That it would be as simple as that to brush me off, huh? Done and dusted. That you could just go and get another kid to replace me? That’s how easy it was for you. We’re available a dime a dozen, anyway, right? God!

Tch! I don’t believe you anymore. Do you think I’m blind? Or stupid? You broke me, Em. You made me and then you broke me.

That’s the trouble, Em. The demons never go away. So, of course, I did what I did. You left me no choice. I had to figure something out, to keep you with me. And I have no regrets. I got you back, didn’t I? You’re here, right now, aren’t y-

Hey, Emily! Where are you going? You can’t leave! I’m not done talking. Emily. Emily. You can’t go. You can’t leave me here. Hey, pal, get your hand off of me! Emily! You have to understand. You’re the only person who ever understo- hey, I said leave me alone! Emily? Emily! Come back. Come back, Emily! Emily, come back! Don’t go, please, don’t leave me with them. Emily, get me out of here. Don’t leave me! Get off! Emily, I have more to say. Please! Emily! Emily! Emily!

EMILY!

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Graduation Day – Rachel Hessom

Our gowns all rustled in a plume of red,
I felt a little like a parrot, perched upon my plastic seat,
With spiky sunshine puncturing my skin,
And marbled beads of sweat running down our spines
That arched and curved in vain attempts
To stave off heat that swathed the cooing birds.
It was, of course, unfortunate that the heatwave hit
The day we were to walk the stage.
And yet it strangely added something to
The summer dream that day became,
Remembered as a Polaroid that slowly burned
When my name was called.
I smiled and tilted mortar board
If only others knew the heat
Between that teacher and myself.
I shivered as the memory called,
The way he gasped the night before,
Falling into downy pillows, still hot
With rays of sun through afternoons
Of heat of which we’d never seen before.
He shook my hand, his eyes kept low,
I saw the sweat stains on his shirt
And wished that I could call him out.
Not a woman but a student in this gown,
I knew that we would never share a bed again.

Rachel Hessom is a writer based in the UK. She writes daily poetry on her blog, patientandkindlove.com and she enjoys tweeting words that vaguely represent poems. She is currently training to be an English teacher so that that she can pass on her love of literature to the next generation.

Image via Pixabay

Ten Green Bottles – Sheila Kinsella

Monica picks up a wine bottle from the plastic carton and reads the label – ‘Chateau Saint Veran.’ She looks up at the house; bespoke window shutters, burglar alarm and double spiral Buxus topiaries by the front door. The beam from her mobile phone torch swathes the green glass in stark white light. Monica twists the bottle around to look for the tiny emblem of four arrows pointing anticlockwise around a circle on the bottom left side. Best to be certain that there’s a deposit, no point in carting the bottles around for nothing. The ten empty bottles of ‘Chateau Saint Veran’ chink party sounds against the others as she places them inside her box shaped ‘bag for life.’ Monica takes a pencil and her list out of the small pouch she carries around her middle and adds the house number to her notes on Rue des Tulipes: 23rd April 2020, number 22, ten bottles. For Monica, only harvests of ten and more deserve a mention.

Ten green bottles, Monica chuckles as she pads quietly up the street, opens the boot of her 1993 Ford Fiesta and places her pickings inside, taking care not to clatter the bottles. When the boot is full, she coasts the car twenty metres down the street in neutral. After all, Monica wouldn’t want to wake the neighbours.

It’s a dark but clear night, Venus and a full moon glow in the sky overhead. Monica takes an empty bag, closes the car door and scuttles across to number forty-three. When she sees the fox in the middle of the road she pauses; it freezes and stares. The fox is the size of a small dog. Their eyes lock. He loses interest and slopes off in the direction of the dustbins.

Monica pulls her silicone gloves up, tucks her mousy hair under her beanie and inspects the contents of the recycling box. ‘Macon Lugny,’ and ‘Pouilly Fumé,’ ‘Chablis Prestige 2018,’ – excellent taste and all bottled in Belgium by her favourite supermarket, meaning at least 30 cents deposit back each. She pushes the minor wine bottles aside or removes them to access the depths of the container. Eight bottles from number 44 clatter together in a chain reaction as Monica slots them inside her ‘bag for life.’ Number 52 is a beer drinker, Monica cannot abide that sort, it’s just not worth the effort, all those bottles for so little. She passes it over to rejoice at number 54’s over brimming recycling box; completes the bag and returns it to the car. She treads lightly in rubber soled sneakers. Her grey jacket and navy trousers are equally unobtrusive.

Yellow light suddenly spills out through the windowpanes. Monica blinks but the facade of the house is imprinted on her retina like a chess board. The curtain twitches. Monica scurries past.

Inside number 54, Claire hears the clinking of glass against glass. A light sleeper, her curiosity compels her to rush to the window and peek outside. Since her children left home and she retired from her teaching job, the outside world has taken on more than a passing interest. She sees a stranger pilfering from the recycling containers. The cheek of it. After observing for a few minutes, she realises that it’s a woman. There’s something strangely familiar about her gait. Poor thing, being driven to rummaging through others’ rubbish, she thinks. Wait. The woman is putting stuff into a Ford Fiesta loaded up with shopping bags. A car! Well really! Organised crime in Kraainem! Claire raps on the window.

A groaning noise breaks the silence,’ What are you doing?’ Claire’s husband mutters, ‘I’m trying to sleep.’ He turns over.

Smartphone in hand, Claire takes the stairs two at a time, grabs a coat, unbolts the front door and dashes out into the night. Thank goodness for those Zumba classes, she thinks. As the silver Ford Fiesta rolls past, Claire pushes the camera button, flash! Just in case, she takes a mental note of the registration plate: ‘SS0 203;’ and repeats the combination in her head until she grabs a pen in the hall and scribbles it on a stray car parking ticket.

Phew. So much effort, so early in the day. Claire sits at the dining table sipping filter coffee. She rubs her eyes and yawns. It’s one thing that a person in need is stealing bottles and claiming the deposits back, but in this case the act is pre-meditated and organised. That’s it, organised crime.

Meanwhile, in Rue des Roses, a block further on, Monica’s Ford Fiesta is packed to the roof with thirty-three bags each containing 12 bottles, plus the four extra loose bottles Monica picked up to round the figure up to 400. By Monica’s calculation, that makes 120 euros in deposit back. Some days she is tempted to carry on despite her lack of car space, hiding bottles in a ditch by the park to pick up later, but today she is tired and knows that the glass collection for the adjacent area is scheduled for tomorrow.

Back in the car, a flicker of headlights in the driving mirror causes Monica to sink low in her seat as a people carrier swishes past. Monica engages first gear and drives off, her face low on the steering wheel. She’s home in time for breakfast.

Inside number 54, Claire picks up the telephone and calls the local police station.

‘Hello, this is Claire Wrigley, of 54 Rue des Tulipes and I’d like to report a crime,’ she says.

‘Er… Hello Madam. What sort of crime are we talking about?’ The policeman replies.

‘At four o’clock this morning I saw a woman stealing bottles from the recycling bins on Rue des Tulipes.’

‘Bottles you say?’ comes the reply.

‘Yes. Are you taking note?’ Claire says.

‘Madame, technically speaking we’re not talking murder or aggravated violence in any form?

‘Well, no… but it’s theft, and I have the car registration number of the perpetrator,’ Claire interjects.

‘We’ll make a note and get back to you Mrs …. what did you say your name was?’ The policeman asks.

‘W-R-I-G-L-E-Y, 44 Rue des Tulipes,’ Claire’s dictation is interrupted by a dialling tone at the other end of the line.

‘Really!’ Claire slams the receiver down.

Claire lifts the calendar on the back of the kitchen door to check the recycling dates for the month of May. The next glass collection is Friday, 29th May. Five whole weeks away. Then she has an idea. On her laptop Claire consults the website of the waste disposal company. The glass pick-up day is Friday, 24th April for the neighbouring district of Wezembeek-Oppem – tomorrow.

Upon waking, Monica stretches her arms and legs out like a starfish, then sits up and shrugs her shoulders several times to loosen her joints. Out of habit she places her hand in the dent in the bed where Richard used to lie. Monica’s body aches from the constant bending down to place the bottles in the recycling machine of several supermarkets. Even now, the garage is so cluttered with bags and bottles that she leaves the car outside. One more mission this evening and then she can rest for a few weeks. Prior to leaving, she consults her notes and plans her trip, and fills the car with shopping bags.

Upon arrival in Wezembeek-Oppem, Monica parks at the top of Rue des Narcisses and starts at the odd numbers. Number 3 is prime real estate in deposit bottle terms; a strong, spicy ‘Saint Joseph 2019,’ – five times, followed by a full bodied ‘Saint Emilion,’ – tenfold. She doesn’t lock the car as she trudges up and down checking the plastic boxes and filling her bags. Monica places each bag of bottles in the car and walks from house to house checking boxes. As always, she gently lifts unwanted bottles out and places them on the pavement to be able to access any hidden treasures.

A car cruises past, its headlights shine full beam on Monica. She keeps her head down. As usual, Monica sets the car in neutral and allows it to roll further down the street. Suddenly a car cuts in front of Monica’s forcing her to slam her foot on the brake, she presses hard on the pedal, to no avail. She tries to steer away from impact, but the wheel won’t budge. It all happens in an instant. Monica’s Fiesta shunts into the Range Rover and comes to a halt. The sound of bottles rattling rings in Monica’s ears long after the car stops. She rubs her neck.

An urgent tap tapping on her window wakes Monica out of her trance. Due to the mist on the inside, she can’t see who it is and as the window is broken, she opens the door.

‘What do you think you’re doing?’ Monica steps out of the car.

‘I’m making a citizens’ arrest!’ Claire shouts.

Lights begin to flicker on and off in neighbouring houses, their glare filters out across the street illuminating both the women’s faces.

‘Claire?’ Monica says.

‘Monica?’ Claire says.

‘From Zumba?’ They both say at once.

‘Well I wouldn’t expect this from you?’ Claire says.

‘This? What is this?’ Monica looks up at Claire.

‘Stealing bottles from outside people’s homes.’ Claire prods Monica’s arm.

‘Well I wouldn’t expect you to pull in front of me like that, causing an accident!’ Monica replies.

‘We’ll see what the police have to say about it shall we?’ Claire pulls her smartphone out of her pocket.

A man’s voice cries out from a house, ‘Keep it down out there!’

‘It’s not what you think.’ Monica replies.

‘I know what it looks like.’ Claire looks down her nose at Monica.

‘Since Richard died my life has never been the same,’ Monica wipes a tear from her eye.

‘We all have our burdens to bear,’ Claire replies.

‘I collect the bottles with deposits that people can’t be bothered to return to the supermarket. Each bottle is worth 30 cents. It may not seem much but multiplied by hundreds every week…’ Monica says.

‘And bank the money no doubt!’ Claire says, starting to dial…

‘The money goes to the Belgian Cancer Foundation.’ Monica replies, ‘I can show you receipts.’

‘B-b-b-b….’ Claire stutters, ’I-I-I d-d-don’t know what to say.’ She touches Monica’s arm. ‘I’m sorry.’

‘Look, you weren’t to know.’ Monica, ‘It’s not something I shout from the rooftops.’

‘But your car,’ Claire says. Both women turn to look at the concertinaed bonnet of the Fiesta.

‘That’s why we have insurance,’ Monica reaches inside the car to retrieve the papers.

Monica suddenly finds herself enveloped in an awkward embrace, her arms stretch out by her body, the papers in her hand flutter in the breeze.

‘So sorry,’ Claire crushes Monica’s slight body to her.

One month later. Early morning on Friday 29th May, Claire parks the Range Rover at the top of rue des Tulipes, she hands a ‘bag for life’ to Monica and keeps one for herself.

‘You’ll do the odd numbers?’ Monica asks as she steps out of the car.

‘And I’ll do the evens,’ Claire laughs.

Belgium based writer Sheila Kinsella’s short stories draw inspiration from her Irish upbringing. An avid watcher of people’s behaviour, and blessed with abundant natural curiosity, Sheila lures the reader into a shrewdly observed world via imagery and comedy. Her work has appeared in The Blue Nib Literary Magazine and the Brussels Writers’ Circle anthology ‘Circle 19.’

Image via Pixabay

Cupcakes – Bill Merklee

Our neighborhood on East 59th Street was an urban backwater, a still pool off the main drag where everything and everybody swirled slow and lazy. As kids we hoped — no, we knew — one day we’d catch the current of Kennedy Boulevard and be swept away forever.

Sundays were the worst. Once noon mass let out most people got raptured away to their kitchens and living rooms or to some out-of-town relatives. Real ghost town outside. TV was dull after the Bowery Boys finished their routines. Whatever Mom cooked always involved boiling water that steamed up the windows. Made that apartment feel even smaller.

This Sunday was like every other one. The corner store was closed. Me and my friends Dwayne and Izzy stood at the glass door, coveting the Hostess cupcakes resting on wire racks just beyond the doorway. Cream-filled devil’s food delight with white swirls on top of chocolate icing, taunting us from the store’s dusty shadows. I was five, Dwayne and Izzy were six.

If we bust the window we could get some cupcakes, I said. Dwayne went round the side of the store to the gravel parking lot, came back with the corner of a cinder block and heaved it through the door. The glass shattered the day like a starting gun. Izzy was in and out and down the street before anyone else showed up. Dwayne stood there expecting thanks. I stepped back saying look what somebody did.

The dads paid for the door. I was still allowed in the place. But I never saw the other two after that. Some of us really did manage to get out of that neighborhood.

I heard Dwayne was somebody’s bag man when he got killed. Izzy’s probably in office or in jail. Me? I’ve always been an idea guy. I do all right.

Bill Merklee loves short stories, short films, and very short songs. His work has appeared in Flash Flood Journal, Ellipsis, Bending Genres, X-R-A-Y, Ghost Parachute, Gravel, Columbia, New Jersey Monthly, and the HIV Here & Now project. He lives in New Jersey. Occasional tweets @bmerklee.

Image via Pixabay

Once In A Lullaby – Chella Courington

Sarah always wanted to live in a world of color, not the ash-gray monotone of her home. But color costs. Color isn’t free. You have to earn it. Her mama died giving birth to Jacob, and Sarah had to become his mama. Her papa worked hard but lost most of what he made—trying to forget, to ease his loneliness.

Sarah had a way about her and could sense what people wanted. Nobody could barter like Sarah. She traded a white platter for a green blanket to cover Jacob, her mother’s ring for his blue jumper, even her wedding gown for Sarah’s tangerine dress that brightened her sallow world.

One Saturday Jacob was playing with the sock rabbit Sarah’d made, and she was sweeping the yard in front of their house. A stranger in a dark suit with shine on the jacket sleeves and dirt in the creases of his patent leather shoes walked up to Sarah, almost knocking her over. There was a glint of desperation in the old man’s rheumy eyes as if he’d hiked miles before stopping there. He carried two large buckets of paint and a short-handled brush. Plenty enough for the whole house.

“See this paint, it can turn your clapboard dwelling into a place where stars come out to get a view.”

Sarah smiled, imagining her walls bright as a summer orange and looked down at Jacob, pulling the rabbit’s button eyes. When she picked up Jacob, he grabbed her hair hard. She set him back down.

“Where’s your Papa?” the stranger asked.

“In town.” Most likely getting pissed, she thought.

“Your Mama?”

“Dead.”

“You tending the boy?”

‘He’s my brother.’

“I see you like tints by that dress you’re wearing,” he said. “I’m going to show you about color.”

“I’m not supposed to let strangers in,” she said.

“I don’t want an argument, but you will hate yourself if you don’t see what this paint can do.”

With his buckets and brush, he walked straight in and looked around the room, noticing the scattered pieces of green and blue. Sarah watched him search for a spot that would give him an advantage. He went to the board with the coat hooks and streaked it with his apricot paint. It looked as if the sun had settled indoors, laying its refracted glow on everything in sight—the wooden table, Jacob’s crib, her papa’s rocker, the shelves stuffed with ragged newspapers, even the pale face of Jesus staring at the ceiling.

“Want these buckets?” he asked.

“Do you see anything you want?” she replied.

“Make me an offer,” he snarled.

Sarah noticed the old man’s gnarly hands, cracked and calloused, and looked down at Jacob’s chubby arms like a baby angel she once saw in the Bible. His fingers soft and shiny. She trembled, suddenly aware that Jacob was her pot of gold.

Chella Courington is a writer and teacher whose poetry and fiction appear in numerous anthologies and journals including SmokeLong Quarterly, Potato Soup Journal, and X-R-A-Y Magazine. Her novella-in-flash, Adele and Tom: The Portrait of a Marriage (Breaking Rules Publishing), was featured recently at Vancouver Flash Fiction. Courington lives in California.

Image via Pixabay

Blown Away – Dan Brotzel

‘The judges were blown away by the quality of the submissions.’ Yeah, yeah. I have read quite a few summings-up by judges of short story competitions over the years, and invariably they go on about how they were astounded by the brilliance of the entries, how so many of the stories could have made the shortlist on a different day, how basically everyone deserved to win and coming up with the winner was an exquisite agony, darling.

Well not this time.

Your stories were all sadly very mediocre, and the only vaguely decent one basically picked itself in a matter of minutes.

The bar was embarrassingly low. Within a few minutes I’d managed to get rid of about 95% of your entries with a quick glance.

Not that I was quixotic or rash in my choices. I began, logically enough, by throwing out all the stories formatted in Ariel, Calibri or Garamond, which are all currently on my typeface shitlist (they know why). Next went stories formatted in less than 24 point. Despite the beat carnivalesque experimentalism of my own prose I’m not as young as I was, and forcing your judge to squint is just bad manners.

Stories with names in title case got whacked next because I mean, who are you, Samuel Pepys!? Then I remembered that I’d recently switched allegiance to title casing from sentence casing myself (it’s an age thing) but the story pile was going down nicely and I wasn’t going to go back and try and retrieve all those printouts from the roadside now. (I was driving overnight to a secret ayahuasca ceremony in Aldershot, so they could have gone anywhere.)

The next thing I did was to go though and identify the story by my ex-wife. It was a story about a bloke with a boil on his forehead who belched a lot, and ignored her dog, and stayed in bed half the weekend eating plain nachos, and wore the same red cardigan for weeks running till it stank. He had a birthmark on his left calf roughly the shape of Cyprus, and ended up (she claimed) in an old folks’ home taking pot shots from his balcony with an air rifle. It was called ‘Yes, Yes, This Story’s About You, You Stupid Sad Bastard’, or something like that.

So that one had to go, which was a shame in its way. I really liked that red cardigan.

Next I got rid of any story with animals in it. It is well known that the cats and their heathen brethren have already taken over the entire internet; these days, I can’t move on my timeline without coming across a video of an otter cosying up with an armadillo, or a pair of excited alpacas doing some moves that look oddly Latin. (Do. Not. Say. Llamabada.) Enough is enough, people! Animals suck. They steal our time and energy, when we could use that vital lifeforce to be out agitating for real political change – campaigning for free mouthwash, demanding an end to cordless dressing gowns, petitioning the powers-that-be for proper research into the mysteries of lucid snoring and all the rest.

I didn’t like any stories that referenced the weather either. It’s just a cliché. Ditto the sea. Ditto stories that began with the ‘The’ or ‘I’. It’s just too late in world history for that kind of shit, man. Read your Pope. Or get elected pope, I really don’t care. Your stories are still out.

I looked for a story by my other ex-wife though she’s not really much of a writer. There was one called ‘Cutting The Toxins Out Of My Life’, which did give me pause.

I also cut out all the stories with stupid or fancy language in. Words like albatross and flummox and frisson. Ditto plinth, helium and Albuquerque. Ditto ditto.

I also removed any stories that didn’t end in death because, really, what’s the point?

After all this critical winnowing and expert filtering, the only story left that was any good was one by this bloke called Donny Pretzel and it was about a man who arms himself with a 23” Sub-Automatic Pump Action Super Soaker Assault Water Pistol, which he fills with a base of tomato ketchup and garlic puree, laced after much experimentation with one part chilli spray to three parts Thai ginger paste, and he goes out and messes up every person who’s ever done him wrong. He gets to shoot them and they get to be covered in red stuff, but when he gets taken to court, the jury find him not guilty because he obviously has moral right on his side and he’s basically just such a charmer. And it was beautiful, it was like the Wild West but he didn’t kill anyone, maybe just got a bit of spice in a few eyes.

Donny, whoever you are, you’re an amazing writer and I know you’ll go far. Reading your story, I felt like I knew you already and you were writing just for me. You’re clearly a very sensitive guy whose been through so much but come out the other side with your talent and significant portions of body hair intact.

It’d be my honour to present this prize to you in person, Donny. So in the meantime I’ll hold on to the cash until you can make it over this way. Try and get here for a Thursday lunchtime if you can. It’s two for one at Pasta Lodge, and we can maybe go for a game of crazy golf afterwards and make an afternoon of it?

I think maybe we could be friends. I think maybe we could start one of those famous literary friendships that people make films about. I think I’d like that. I think maybe you could use a friend. I think I probably could.

Bring your piece if you’ve got one. I googled it in the library and feral pigeons are legal game, but it’s probably best not to try and cook one this time. Also we have to make sure the pellets don’t drop onto the petrol station forecourt next door as there have been a few complaints.

Image via Pixabay

Early Morning Finding – Ursula Troche

Nearly empty spaces
Manifest in the early morning
Reveal themselves and other things
To be found in place where you didn’t expect
To find things you might never have considered
To look for in the first place, or even the one that follows
The first place

Like urban railway stations
Which routinely echo
The fact of the city
Slightly, time-wise, before
It wakes up, as its daily introduction
And reveals itself to itself and its witnesses

Sometimes
We need silence, as well as early mornings
To notice things
And sometimes silence is used only
As a mistaken assumption
Because just as emptiness is not necessarily empty
Silence is not necessarily silent

There are spaces within silence that reveal a world
Of undercurrents, forgotten incantations, and even
Forgotten or denied spaces, beyond the ends of sentences
Behind a wish or within unconscious walls of negligence
Lingering lonely and sometimes dangerously
Lacking memory or courage to be recalled

Silence as absence of interference
Is a good starting point for thinking
But silence, as an alternative to speaking
Elongates distances and misunderstanding
Becoming a poor substitute for dialogue

Silence, when used instead of conversation
Emulates emptiness and thereby contracts
The bridging and breathing- spaces available to us
So I like to call out here, to speak these points
Where silence has not heard a word for some time.

Image by Ursula Troche

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