Four My Little Ponies Of The Apocalypse – Caleb Echterling 

And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see. And I saw, and behold, a white horse. He who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given unto him, and he went forth conquering and to conquer. (Revelations 6:1-2)

Quivering fingers poked at a snoring duvet cover. “Dad, it’s five-thirty. Can we open presents now?”

“Did you make me a double caf venti latte with an extra shot of espresso?” the duvet asked.

“Of course. We know the rules for Christmas.”

The duvet grumbled, which set off a mad dash of limbs tumbling down the stairs and into the perumba of a Christmas tree. The owners of the limbs traded slaps and pushes.

Dad sipped his latte. “Cut it out. You both know the rules. The first present goes to the winner of a double-elimination, best three out of five rock-scissors-paper shoot out. I’ll count down the start. One, two …”

“Marci can go first, Dad,” Linus said. “The rock-scissors-paper tournament takes too long. I’ll open a present sooner if I give up my spot.”

“How very mature of you,” Dad said. “Which present would you like to open, Marci?”

“The big one! The big one!” Marci dove over the pile of loot. Flecks of spittle flew from her mouth. She wrestled a rectangular box to the ground, and ripped at the Arbor Day-themed wrapping paper like a swarm of piranhas skeletonizing a goat. 

Marci held her trophy aloft. “Yay, The Four My Little Ponies of the Apocalypse. You remembered, Daddy.”

“How could I forget? You reminded me ten times a day for three months. Please share with your brother. We’re not having a repeat of last year’s Slumlord Barbie incident.”

Marci fired up a table saw to remove the protective plastic shell encasing her new toys. She tossed a white horse to her brother. “He can play with this one, but I get the other three.” 

Linus whinnied and pantomimed the My Little Pony trotting over the shag carpet. His body exploded with red bumps. “Ow, Dad, this itches.”

When he opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, Come and see. And there went out another horse that was red. And power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that people should kill one another, and there was given unto him a great sword. (Revelations 6:3-4)

“I’m tired of this pony. I want the red one,” Linus said. He swung a sack of nickels at his sister. She ducked under the incoming bludgeon, grabbed an empty whiskey bottle by the neck, and smashed off the end.

Jagged fingers of glass groped for Linus’s nose. “You want the red pony? Let’s dance, motherfu…”

“Kids, please. You know the rules. Any disagreement over who gets to play with a toy is settled by best four out of seven thumb wrestling.”

The sack of nickels fell to the floor. “Fine,” Linus said. “but I’m picking my nose first.”

The broken whiskey bottle smashed into the Christmas tree. “Fine, but I’m sticking my thumb up my butt first.”

“Fine, I’m sticking my thumb up the dog’s butt.”

“Fine, I’m sticking my thumb in Dad’s hollandaise sauce.”

“Dad,” Linus wailed, “Marci’s cheating and being gross.”

“Kids, you know what happens when you can’t agree on the rules for thumb wrestling. Best five out of nine interpretive dance contest.”

“Ugh, never mind,” Marci said. She tossed the red pony to her brother. “I’ll get a different one.”

When He opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. So I beheld, and lo, a black horse, and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts saying, “A measure of wheat for a denarius, and three measures of barley for a denarius, and see thou harm not the oil and wine.” (Revelations 6:5-6)

Marci galloped the black pony over a wasteland of torn wrapping paper. “Dad, I’m famished. Can we eat?”

Dad rubbed his palms together. “Is it time for your Dad’s extra-special traditional Christmas dinner? Go check the kitchen for the main course.”

Marci rummaged through the pantry. “Sorry, Pop. We’re all out of Funyuns.”

“Arrrrgh. How are we supposed to honor the birth of our Lord and Savior without Funyuns.” Dad snapped his fingers. “I know, let’s check the Bible. They probably have some sort of cheat sheet in there.”

Linus flipped pages. “Here we go. No seafood unless it has fins and scales.”

“Well crap. Lobster thermidor was the back up plan in case Funyuns didn’t work out. What else ya got?”

“Crickets. Says here we can eat crickets.”

“Your grandma always makes crickets á l’orange for St. Barnabas’s Day. I guess we could switch that to Christmas this year.”

“Eww,” Marci said. “Orange is icky. Can we have Owl Bourguignon instead?”

“Bad news,” Linus chirped. “Bible says owl is out. Same with ospreys. Grasshoppers are okay, though.”

“That’s my vote,” Dad said. “I got a bushel of grasshoppers at Trader Joe’s last week. Gotta use ‘em up before they go bad.”

When He opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. So I looked, and behold, a pale horse. And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth. (Revelations 6:7-8)

Marci untangled the pale My Little Pony from its plastic bindings. She tossed it to the dog, who woofed with appreciation before chew-slobbering the toy into oblivion.

Linus opened the fridge. A swarm of grasshoppers tumbled out with a six-pack of beer, their hind legs twisted about the bottles. Tipsy mandibles sipped the sweet nectar inside. “Gross, Dad. The grasshoppers are alive.”

“Of course they’re alive. They taste like ass unless they die a horrible, painful death as you cook them, like lobster. Or collard greens.”

“Do they scream in agony like collards?”

“Damn straight they do. The screaming is what makes them delicious. Let’s boil up a big pot of cheap beer to murder us some grasshoppers for Christmas dinner.”

CALEB ECHTERLING is currently performing in a one-person show that combines self-esteem building strategies with insult comedy. He tweets funny fiction using the highly creative handle @CalebEchterling. You can find more of his work at www.calebechterling.com.

Image via Pixabay 

Cabinet Of Heed Contents

sweet//summer – Ehlayna Napolitano 

no place for my shoes, i
am sunsick in my best friend’s bathroom
while she is
straightening her eyeliner
in the mirror.

her father will never
fix the one cream-colored tile
that is cracked in the corner —
but on this day, she tells me
that the room is eventual;

projection is the act of
turning things into projects.

we are july-hot in the woods,
she is dotting her lips with
gossamer honey.

i put my shoes in her bathtub and
we sweat under the iron
as i straighten her hair out
and it slicks against her neck,
caught in sticky sweat, like
bugs in amber.

she has not occurred to herself
as beautiful yet;
and i am standing picking at my clothes,
running comparison tables in my head —

as if i could eventually uncover
the formula to explain the seeping dissatisfaction;
a matter of division,
one self here, another there — i could be beautiful too.

“i can’t get the lines straight,” she says to me,
and i agree.

 

EHLAYNA NAPOLITANO is a poet and editor. Her chapbook, “Penelope in the Morning,” was published with tenderness lit in 2018.

Image via Pixabay

Cabinet Of Heed Contents

Yon be Da Pickleman – Jim Meirose

Yon be da pickleman rocking her boat dry. Got out and told him.

Pickygrin?

Litbubby.

Prongies? May ketch the prongies?

Might?

Will. Have ketched the prongies.

Doc. Hey Doc. I need help done gone ketched da prongies.

Why? That’s why I’m here. Ask why I to you not backwards my way Doc. I think I need a new you.

What? Nut-cake. Here. Eat on my nutcake.

Why those?

Cause these.

Why these?

Cause them.

Why them?

Cause dose udder.

Why does udder?

Cause you da pickle-man. Pickle-man scritchie-scratchie his ones. What I told ya knackie. His ones. Those. So what you can’t see dem, dey’re dare. Yuppie noodles by gosh yuk, they dere.

Why? I should not know.

Why the sun, eh? Why the moon? Eh? Why? The stars eh? And so forth. And on. Downhill it all rolls. All quick and slick. This way and that.

She rocked her boat all up got out and told him. What she tell him? Pickygrin? She tell him dis. Litbubby. She told him dat. Prongies? She told him which way dat. Soul. Souls. No soul and no souls. Cause dose udder. My brain. What I told ya big knackie. Crown me. All quick and slick. Crown me right now. The stars eh? Not already crowned me, no. Pickygrin? Not later crown me promise me, no. Pickle-man scritchie-scratchie his onesies his twosies and—his threesies anon. Why them? You been told. Cause dose udder. And why dat so so? Ha. Cause you da pickle-man.

Pickle-man scritchie-scratchie his ones?

Ha.

Cause you da pickle-man.

 

www.jimmeirose.com

Contents Drawer Issue 13

Image via Pixabay

The Barfly – D S Maolalai

there was a spot
on the inside my wineglass
and the spot was yellow
and the spot
was a hornet. I fished her out
on the bent end of a spoon – no, not dead,
but drunk enough to be so –
and placed her on my table
with another glass sealing her in.

the legs were moving,
the body
looked large as a thumb,
the stinger glistening sharp
and deadly as cholera. her body
was segmented
and her wings
clung flat to her back.

I read my book a while,
drank some wine,
watching
as she came slowly back from sleep.
the head moved
briefly. then a
twitch. I’m used to flies
which die in my winebottles,
but a hornet
was a new
and interesting sight. I wondered
did she intend her drunkenness
or did she
fall into it
as many do,
trying to hurt me,
and now
could not get out.

eventually
she rolled over from her side,
bad as a sunday morning,
and began to shake,
buzzing angrily at the glass.
I picked it up
to give her some air
but she couldn’t get aloft,
just stumbled
drunk on the tabletop,
yellow stripes
livid on the wood.

I thought of winos on the roadways,
sitting outside
supermarkets, sipping cider
and eating cans of cold soup.
I thought of litterbins
busy with insects, and pity,
and all the other things. I thought of myself
shaking in the morning
and wondered idly
if insects can have hangovers.

then I brought the glass down again,
slowly
and bottom first
and felt the wetness of the crush
and the relief
that my own hangover
would go unwitnessed.

 

DS Maolalai recently returned to Ireland after four years away, now spending his days working maintenance dispatch for a bank and his nights looking out the window and wishing he had a view. His first collection, Love is Breaking Plates in the Garden, was published in 2016 by the Encircle Press. He has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

 

Contents Drawer Issue 13

 

Image via Pixabay

Uncle Sam, Bastard – M S Clements

My Uncle Sam is a bastard. An utter bastard. He turns up, unannounced, demands bed and supper while Nan flies around the house like a clichéd thing possessed. Nothing is too much bother when it comes to our Uncle Sammy.

Christmas is the worst. There we are, helping out as best as we can. Wrapping presents in last year’s paper. Cassie ironing out the creases and Jason getting Sellotape on every available surface. Some not so available. He won’t stick it to his head anymore. Of course, it isn’t real Sellotape, we just call it that. It’s the cheap stuff, the one where you can never find the end and, if by some miracle you do, then you get a one centimetre triangle. A patchwork quilt of the gift wrap variety. No doubt, somewhere in Shoreditch, a hipster nods his head, thinks it would be a great USP for the shop; patchwork wrapping, so responsible, so sustainable. Jason does it because there’s nothing else to do.

Nan lived alone until we arrived, dishevelled and lost. Mum says the court order means we won’t be disturbed. I never met Grandad. Grandad wanted to discover himself. He discovered himself at the bottom of a lake after the husband discovered him under the bed. Mum used to say of her father, ‘That man was so dim he’d use a chocolate teapot for the tea.’ All in all, not having that grandad is a blessing. One gift less to wrap. There’s a picture of him on the sideboard, a bit blurred and very dusty. It not in a frame, just propped up against one of Nan’s china cats. The one with the scary eyes and chipped ear. That wasn’t my fault, it just fell. Grandad is standing in a park with Sam, a bandstand behind them. They are grinning, and Sam has an ice-cream. ‘Lucky bastard.’ Mum says, moving the picture so she can wipe the dust off the cat. Mum doesn’t eat ice-cream now. It makes her sad.

November is the month for fasting. Nan makes out it is some sort of religious obligation. A bit like Lent, except without the fish. A month of baked beans. Our house fumigated by the stench of five stomachs, each reacting badly to the sudden pulse rich diet. We pray fervently every night to be allowed to survive the night time gassing from our siblings, just so we can get to December and Operation Reduced Basket. Nan, being the senior member of the family gets the choicest of picks, Waitrose. Mum and I do Sainsbury’s, Cassie, Tesco and Jason gets Lidl. The attack always begins precisely one hour before closing. Not in Cassie’s case though. Tesco is a twenty-four hour store, so she does the nine at night slot. We stalk the staff who are armed with the reducing gun, hovering just close enough to pounce on the smoky bacon but not so close to be considered a nuisance. Cassie works her charms on the lad in the fish department. We do well there.

Nan’s old freezer, the one she liberated from the forgetful neighbour, is switched on, and cooking begins. All day, the oven has to earn it’s keep. No shelf left empty. Nan turns down the thermostat, ‘No point heating the house twice.’ We cram into the kitchen, fearing frostbite on the trips to the loo. The previous month’s malodour replaced with spices and the mouth-watering aroma of sheer pleasure. I can feel the calories piling on just taking in a deep breath. There will be enough to eat. And that’s the point, enough for two adults and three children to eat. It’s not like Nan wouldn’t ring and check if Uncle Sam intended to visit. She would, and he’d say ‘Nah, not this year, Mum. Got an invite to Dave’s. He’s got a party going at the villa. It will be fun. Maybe next year, I’ll let you know.’ He never does, the bastard. He just stands there in the doorway, grinning inanely. A silhouetted bulk blocking out the winter morning. In one hand is bag of washing, in the other a bottle of cheap whisky. Barrelling his way past, he hands the washing to Nan and the whisky to mum on his way to the sitting room, ‘Got you a present, Sis. Hey, Jason get some glasses, would you?’ Not sure he ever notices that Mum and Nan don’t drink.

He lies across the sofa and tell us about his trips. We sit on the itchy carpet, our legs entwined, trying to find meagre space for our ever growing limbs. Uncle Sam drives a coach for a tour company. Best job in the world, he says. Tells us we should travel, see the world, just like him. Go to all those European cities, Prague, Rome, Venice and Barcelona.

‘What was the Sagrada Familia like?’ asks Cassie, expecting a vicarious tour.

‘Nah, didn’t do it. They charge you to go in, it’s not even finished. Bloody cheek.’ He then told her about the girl on the beach that wanted to practise her English. The bars and restaurants she took him to and the nightclubs where they danced. He laughs, ‘There’s always an opportunity for a free meal and a bed for a handsome chap like me.’ I wonder if they need opticians in those foreign cities.

Upstairs, Mum moves a mattress into our room. Her own bedroom commandeered for the prodigal son. Cassie irons out the creases on the best bed linen, while Jason fetches another bowl of crisps.

We open our presents, carefully. That paper could stand another year. A book on art for Cassie, a model plane kit for Jason. I get a Spirograph. Mum spotted it in Oxfam back in the summer. I kiss her and pretend to be thrilled. We all get new underwear, the annual tradition. Nan apologises throughout the performance of gift opening, ‘Sorry, Son. I would have got you a present if I had known you were coming.’

She opens her purse and pulls out a little piece of paper. Her treasure, replaced each week. Blush pink and fingers crossed, a row of numbers that never changes, 17, Mum’s birthday, 25, 16, 08, Cassie, Jason and me, 28, Uncle Sam and 12, the day Grandad died. She hands it to Uncle Sam, ‘Here, take this, it might be lucky.’

‘No, Mum. The lottery is a tax on the poor and stupid. You keep it.’

She replaces it back into her empty purse, ‘One day.’ she said, ‘One day.’

We squeeze around the table, Uncle Sam’s plate barely big enough for the portions piled high. Nan gives us the side plates, it makes our portions look generous. We clear our plates and watch Uncle Sam as he boasts about his life, his mate Dave is going to give him a promotion. More money, more holidays, ‘There’s no such thing as luck, kids. Just right time, right place.’ Uncle Sam strikes me as someone who’d buy that chocolate teapot. His father’s son. His plate finally wiped clean, he drinks another glass of whisky and take out his smokes.

Two days of disruption, silence in the sitting room so he can watch his stale comedies in peace. Cassie shivers under a pile of blankets in the bedroom, admiring distant works of art. Jason reads the instructions for his model aeroplane. He won’t start it now, not while Uncle Sam is in the house, not after last time. I sit crossed legged and stare at him while he gobbles my chocolate raisins. Mrs Cordwell gave a bag to everyone in the class. Nan cooks and cleans. Mum cries. And then he’s gone. No more Uncle Sam. Peace and austerity reigning over our house once more.

When the police arrive, we hide at the top of the stairs. We wait, the door to the sitting room shut. Jason lays on the floor, his ear to an upturned glass. ‘It’s Uncle Sam. He’s dead. A coach rolled backwards and squished him flat.’ I don’t think that’s the policeman’s words, but that’s what happened all the same.

Uncle Sam is front page news. He’d have been so chuffed. Dave’s to blame, apparently. Skimped on maintenance to pay for his villa in Spain. Forgot about the European Arrest Warrant too.

A quiet man from the tour company visits. He sits in the sitting room and drinks tea. Nan offers him cake and listens to the prepared speech of condolence. They do not want a fight in court, compensation is available. Dave’s case is still pending.

The lawyer explains about the life insurance and the compensation scheme. Nan continues to tap his hand and offers him another slice of cherry cake. Reduced to 29 pence, the night before. Waitrose no less.

‘He died doing what he loved. Just wrong time, wrong place.’ she said, before biting into her generous portion of cake.

November will be fast free this year, and our letters to Santa will not be burnt and forgotten. I will eat chocolate raisins until my tummy hurts and remember that lucky bastard, Sam.

 

M S Clements is a former Spanish teacher of Anglo-Spanish heritage. She is in the process of completing her first novel, The Third Magpie. A dystopian love story set against a backdrop of xenophobia and misogyny. She lives on a building site with her family and assorted builders in rural Buckinghamshire.

 

Contents Drawer Issue 13

 

Image via Pixabay

Golden Prospects – Sarah Tinsley

The snip tap of the scissors played around his head. Too much off the top. Kayley wouldn’t let him lean into her hand when she touched his hair. Jab didn’t say anything. Just hunkered down under the flap plastic gown in the hope he’d be a smaller target for the blades. No time for small talk.

It was busy. Rows of them, sat like they’re at a show they’ve paid for but don’t want to watch. That careful look, when you stare at yourself, only just above one eye, so you don’t look self-indulgent. On his left was a right one, voice so low it’s coming out of his shoes, a careful crease down the arms of his shirt. Corduroy trousers. That sort.

No time to sit and chat, it’s the cut that’s got to do the job, send him on his way. Just keep looking at that spot above the left eyebrow, circle scar from chicken pox where he scratched his face even though Mum slapped his hands away and dabbed pink powder lotion on.

Mr. Corduroy was crowing, ever so pleased with the snip cut on his head. Jab was already up, out of the chair, shoulders in coat before he finished handing over the wrinkled fiver with a nod. The man at the desk, he tipped his head back, looked down at Jab like he knew, could see the thing that’s waiting there for him, lined up like the tip of a domino. A perfect tap in the right place and he’ll be set, pick up a House Special on his way home, set himself down on the floor in front of the sofa so she can settle her hand in his new haircut.

He let the gusts of people take him down the road. Coming out in little bursts, rushing out of Poundland like they’d get found out, clutching the shivering plastic bags to their sides, all full of Tunnock’s caramel wafers and some tat the kids might like, keep them away from the Xbox for another five minutes.

Jab had a higher purpose. There above the offy, Carl was waiting. In his hands were mounds of grey-green papery slips, squash them together and you’ve got no rent worries for the next six months. There for the taking. Practically his already. He tucked hands in pockets, felt something slippy, soft, like the money was already there.

Around the corner, he stopped. Pulled it out. Just a few steps away from the blue door his future lay behind. It was a yellow tie. The colour ached his eyes, something green in it, a slice of gold that had gone rotten. All shiny, like a snakeskin. It fell onto the floor, coiled up, a bright splatter on the pavement.

Mr. Corduroy. Jab could see him, rummaging in his pockets, all bent out of shape about his lost tie, maybe one that Mrs. Corduroy got him last birthday, in one of them presentation boxes, ready wrapped and smart as anything.

Jab looked back up the street. Busier now, suited types filling up the spaces in between the mummy shoppers, heading home from work, or going to the All Bar One to sink a few before facing the gauntlet of dinner at home.

If he went back now, tried to give it back, he’d be late. Plus, there was no telling whether Mr. Corduroy would still be there. He’d probably taken his uncreased sleeves home, no doubt there was a pile of fancy things like this he could hang around his neck. He wouldn’t miss this one.

Jab leaned down, picked it back up. A little dark spot down one end, that wouldn’t notice. He flopped it round his neck, let the material rub over the rough bit, when you get little hairs back there and it itches like buggery.

This could give him an edge. Carl would be impressed, the lengths he’d gone to, to look the part. He slip-tied the knot – they had a blue one with red stripes on at school – flopped down the soft collar of his polo shirt. A dark shadow of himself in the blackened windows of the old newsagent’s. Reliable, his reflection said. Boasted of how he could carry things off without a hitch.

He made his entrance, didn’t even bother to knock.

‘Here, Jabber thinks he’s an estate agent.’ That little one in the corner, ratty face and fingers. Not the entrance Jab was hoping for.

‘Nothing wrong with making an effort, you want to show a bit more respect, like, not turning any heads in your dowdy rags there, are you?’ The words tumbled out, like they always did. Rat Face was always with Carl, it wasn’t good to criticise.

‘Easy now.’ Carl was sat at the dining table, flap-up baseball cap tipped just to the side. Jab had tried to wear his like that, preened and flicked in the mirror until Kayley snatched it off his head, told him to go downstairs, the baby was napping.

‘I’m here.’ Jab stepped forward. Silence ticked out. It was better to say less, but the words bubbled out. ‘I’m here ‘cos of what you said was going down, and how you needed someone reliable, and I turned up to the Saturday job I had every week even when I got tanked the night before, and when we did our drama project I was always first to rehearsals.’

‘Easy.’ Carl put a hand up. ‘No need to explain.’ He turned, rummaged in a rucksack on the floor. ‘Here we are.’ In one hand, a thick envelope. In the other, a small brown package, about the size of a large special fried rice.

‘No problem.’ A delivery. Jab took both, no hand fumbling, envelope in the pocket and parcel swinging from one hand.

‘Address.’ Little slip of paper, jagged at the top where it’s pulled off the pad like Mum’s shopping lists.

‘Safe.’ Jab swiped the words with his eyes, his route growing out in lines over the roads – walk to station, get tube, bus, short walk. He could be home by eight.

He strutted out past the ratty one, that slippery slither down his front a marker of success. No questions asked.

Jab entered the crush going into the station – commuter crowd scrabbling and paper flick reading, that smell of print that you couldn’t get off your fingers. He took one off the pile, another mask for his mission. Beep tap on the reader, seamless, sliding through the crowds.

A follower. Hood up, face with shadows drawn on, looked like the ratty man. Scampering through the barriers over there, looking away as if Jab wouldn’t notice. Do the double, on the train then back off. This guy with the pointed nose would be on his way, snuffling through the window while Jab went back out, got the 259 from outside.

On the platform, crowds were lining up, clustered round the sweet spot where the train comes in and whoosh, doors open like they’ve been expecting you. Jab kept walking, up to the end, like he wanted that rattling bit where he could get a seat. Sniffling behind came rat face. Got to time it just right.

Dirt scent breeze from the coming train, eyeglare of headlights coming out through the tunnel. Rattle and click, thump and the train was there, squealing as it stopped. Jab waited, let the leavers get off.

He stepped in, kept to the line between in and out, quick check to see the back of ratty man further down, leaning on the pole next to a straight suit woman. Robot voice telling them what to do, everyone stood there like sheep. Not him, he was different.

There it was. The beep. Right at the end of it he snicked off, just before the gulp of the closing door. Perfect. Now he could carry on, get his work done.

Something wrong. He stepped away but his body didn’t move, something anchoring it back to the train. He pulled again, jerking free, only this time it hurt. A sharp pain round his neck. The tie. The bloody motherfucking tie had caught in the doors and there he was, suspended from it, parcel still swinging from one hand and that knot. Too tight, tied too well. He pulled, again, the doors were about to open and ratty man would find him.

It locked round his throat. Squeezing. He tugged too hard. Scrambling for breath, red panic heat rising up his neck, itch at the back from the little hairs and thank you Mr. Corduroy for your gift. He was going to get something for Mini Jab, a tiny cap to wear like his dad but now he’d strangle himself on a slip custard tie.

The doors burst open. Jab slumped down, air like water pouring into his lungs and he grabbed at the knot, peanut small, jerking it open to free his neck. A hand on his arm, scrabbling down and pulling the parcel out of his hand.

‘You should stick to selling houses.’ The rat’s claws were in his pocket, slipping the money out, off through a brick-round tunnel and Jab was alone.

‘Stand clear of the doors.’

He found the bench and sat, unwrapping the tie knot and staring down at his hands, all covered with a stink of failure.

 

Sarah Tinsley is a writer, teacher, runner and drummer who lives in London. Prone to musing over gender issues and eating cheese, she has an MA in Creative Writing from City University and won the International Segora Short Story prize in 2016. Her short fiction, reviews and blogs have been published on a variety of platforms and you can find her on Twitter @sarahertinsley and find her blog at http://sarahtinsley.com

 

Contents Drawer Issue 13

 

Image via Pixabay

Things My Mother Left Me With – Rebecca Field

A fear of cotton-wool. I don’t know where she got it from, but she passed it on to me at the age of six. I brought home a Christmas decoration I had made in school – a paper cone made into a Santa Claus figure, with a hand-drawn face, googly eyes and a cotton-wool beard stuck down with PVA glue. She started to hyperventilate when she saw it and carried it to the dustbin at arm’s length. I remember crying and her telling me it wasn’t my fault, though I didn’t believe her. She helped me to make another with a beard made from scrunched up pieces of tissue paper, but it wasn’t the same. I still can’t look at the stuff without wanting to cry.

A love of proper green pesto, freshly made and bashed up together in the pestle and mortar. She wouldn’t entertain the shop-bought stuff, said it tasted fake. We grew the basil from seed in plastic pots on the kitchen window sill. She showed me how to pick the young leaves from the top so more would grow. We ate it with pasta, on pizza, in sandwiches. Now I grow the herbs by myself, but Dad won’t eat the pesto anymore.

A photographic memory for numbers. Phone numbers, car registration plates, passport numbers – she knew them all. I thought this was normal so I learned them too. I memorised the value of pi to fifty decimal places with some spare time in my maths exam, knowing she would have been proud of me. I run through the numbers in my head when I’m trying to sleep.

The emerald earrings Dad gave her for their tenth wedding anniversary. She said they suited me better than her. I keep them in their box, buried at the back of my underwear drawer where he won’t look. I do all the washing now. I hold them up to my ears in the mirror and imagine I am a married woman going out to dinner, like they used to do.

A box of handbags and shoes she said I could grow into. Clutch bags with elaborate clasps and embroidery, in shades of peacock green and scarlet, leather shoes so narrow and delicate, my feet are already growing too large for them. There are imprints of her toes inside some of them. I wonder if she realised I would never be able to wear them, that I had inherited Dad’s feet and not hers.

Her scent on the winter coat at the back of the hallway cupboard. There is barely a trace of it left now, so I take it out only when I need it most. I hold it in my arms like a sleeping child, breathing deeply into its lining. Dad doesn’t know we still have it. He threw out the rest of her clothes when it became clear she was never coming back.

A father who looks a bit like mine used to.

A deep shame whenever anyone asks me how I lost my mother.

A guilt that grows each day, that I should have seen it coming and stopped her somehow.

Hope that maybe one day, Dad will believe me when I tell him I won’t leave him too, and let me look for her.

Rebecca Field lives in Derbyshire and works in healthcare. She has been published online at Literally Stories, 101 Words, Flash Fiction Magazine, Spelk and The Cabinet of Heed. She has a highly commended microfiction in the 2018 National Flash Fiction anthology, and can be found on Twitter at @RebeccaFwrites

Contents Drawer Issue 13

Image via Pixabay

The Landlord – Tabitha Burns

A thin brown envelope means one of two things: you’ve lucked out or your luck’s out. No guesses as to which kind this is, so close to payday. Over two hundred quid I owe them. Oh look, they’ve ‘automatically readjusted future payments’ — how bleeding benevolent of them.

My stomach drops at the date. New payments start today, which means my money is not going to add up: bank balance minus council tax does not equal rent. Grab your coat Carol, you’re pulling a fast one. If I hurry, maybe I can spirit my money away, out of the digital dimension and into my purse, consequences be damned.

Good God, this stairwell is as hot as hell. It needs flushing with fresh air, but the windows are jammed shut as per. I asked the landlord once, ‘How come they’re all stuck then? Should we be worried?’

He shrugged and gave me his deflective stock answer, ‘What do you want me to say?’

I used to wonder why nobody answered him. Then he said it to me. Somehow it knocks all the words out of you, except the few he wants.

Out on the street it’s as cold as old bones. I jog around the corner to see a long line coiling away from the cash machine and I join the back of the queue. It will be fine, they probably haven’t taken the payment yet. Even if they have, it’s only twenty quid — there has to be someone who can spot me. Maybe Penny, although she might resent it, given that the choice I’m trying to outrun is the one she signed up for.

She seemed nervous, showing me round her new place. I admired the floor-to-ceiling windows framing the slow, skeletal cranes and the crying gulls across the wharf. I ran my hand over the sleek white worktops and turned the shining taps on and off. And then, surprising us both, I asked, ‘Was it worth it?’

Look lively, Carol! I’m at the front of the queue, hoorah. Ah, they have taken it. How proactive of them. How splendidly dynamic. Pity they weren’t this organised when they were calculating my tax in the first place. Right. I think it’s time to pay the landlord a little visit.

I stand outside the building for a few moments, enjoying the brisk wind against my skin, and then I slip inside. There is no reason for it to be so stuffy in here. But then I suppose there’s no reason for the unholy stink under my sink either, or the maggots in the meter box, or the scrape of wings in the walls at night.

Still, this isn’t the worst place I’ve ever lived. Must be why I don’t mind him as much as the neighbours. ‘He’s the devil,’ they hissed, when they saw me dragging boxes through the front door. By then it was too late, I’d already given him the deposit. Apparently he gives deposits back, which is more than most landlords will do for you, but only after ten days, as is the legal requirement. Your new place will need the deposit when you move in, so what are you going to do, save up? In this city? You’re the snake choking on its own tail.

My thighs are aching by the time I reach his door. He would have to live on the top floor, wouldn’t he? King of the damned castle. The gnarled bronze handle feels like a clawed hand in mine. I give it a stiff knock and the door opens swiftly, white light cutting a slice out of the shadows at my feet. And there he is, filling the doorframe in his light blue shirt and dark jeans, looking just like the ordinary bloke he isn’t.

I start talking before he can get inside my head. I tell him my bank is being a nightmare, I’ll need to pay my rent tomorrow instead. He just stares. I stare back. His mouth slides into a smile and I know what’s coming before he speaks the words.

‘What do you want me to say?’

He’s taunting me, coaxing out the answer he is sure I am ready to give. I clamp my hand to my mouth and shake my head. I take the stairs two at a time, followed by the sound of hooves until I spin round to see that the stairwell is empty and still, save for a cloud of condensation blooming across the small window.

Back in my flat, I catch my breath. I need to think on my feet, keep my head above water — easier said than done in this city.

I call Penny, who else? She’s happy to hear from me, says nobody visits her since she signed for the flat, says even the cat hisses at her. I tell her she’s being paranoid and promise to visit soon. Then I close my eyes and ask her for the money.

‘Just until I get paid,’ I promise, but she doesn’t need convincing. I hear her starting up her laptop and tip-tapping it across to me. She’s an angel. Surely that will save her, when it comes to it.

I force myself back up the stairs. He is waiting in front of his open door. I tell him it’s all sorted, the money should be landing in his account right about now. I apologise for the mix-up. He shrugs, as if my rent is the least important thing in the world.

As I’m walking away, I hear his footsteps following mine and I realise he still expects me to say it; he thinks my soul is as good as his. But I’m already down the stairs, wincing at the sound of hooves I know aren’t really there. I dart inside my flat and slam the door behind me — home at last. Despite everything I do feel safe in here, once the front door is locked. Like I said, I’ve lived in worse places.

 

 

Contents Drawer Issue 13

 

Image via Pixabay

Another One Bites the Dust – Frank McHugh

Nothing fills the space between them

So now he comes face to face with her,
no longer dead and an expectant look
in her pale pale eyes.

Through slanting sun shafts the dust fairies
grow in number and size
until the stairwell fills with moths

which cluster to shape
the words on his breath and
more appear as he opens his mouth.

He knows they must come
but that does nothing to temper
the dry delicate horror of it.

Moth words fill the space between them

Gently palpating each letter as the outpouring slows,
spitting out the last moth stuck to his withering lips,
he reads the hovering words,

‘Do not confront me with my failures,
I have not forgotten them.’

Not even his own. Borrowed, old, moth-eaten
cloth words smelling gently of burnt hair
Waving a weak hand through them

the words disperse, the beloved also fades,
the motes rearrange themselves,
drift through the sunslats
then appear to disappear.

 

Frank McHugh is from the west coast of Scotland. He teaches and writes poetry in both Scots and English, as well as songs, short fiction and plays. His poetry has been published in Acumen Poetry, New Writing Scotland, The Glasgow Review of Books, SurVision, Bonnie’s Crew and The Runt. One of his poems was named as highly commended at the Imprint Writing awards 2016.

 

Contents Drawer Issue 13

 

Image via Pixabay

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