The Treatment – Susan Earlam

In the round of the arena, black pumps settled on a dusty floor and a face turned toward a canvas sky. He was on the front row in his usual spot and in his usual state; transfixed by the trapeze rehearsals. Despite his constant gaze upwards, neck strain was never a problem for Pierrot. Sometimes he brought a sketchbook and graphite. Clothed in his loose costume, it was the only way his fellow performers recognised him, the Clown. The white makeup given a rest when not on duty.

“Have you nothing better to do, Pierrot?” Artem asked him from above. Pierrot ignored the man, gave no sign he had even heard the question.

This was the only thing for him to do. There was nothing else. Other than being clean. Bathing was Pierrot’s first love. It had been too long since the last time. The folds in his flesh were littered with a rash. Dusting powder no longer enough to stave away the damp, or the smell. He’d begged the boss to organise something for him at the next town. The next town was this one. He should go and check again. After the rehearsal that is exactly what he would do.

Below the trapezes, stagehands began setting up the spinning ring. The ring was a huge draw for the attendees of the circus. One of a kind; a metal frame that spun on the ellipse and was mounted on a support frame at either end. Tracks on the frame enabled the chair performers, whilst plenty of bars and joints supported the aerial silk team. A feat of mechanical engineering.

Pierrot sighed as the trapeze practice came to an end. Boris and Artem leapt down, they always made it look so easy. He watched them carefully. Another heated debate. These were happening increasingly often. Artem wandered off but Boris came toward the clown. Pierrot sat up a little straighter and placed a smile on his face. Don’t come too close, my sweet. I don’t want you to catch a whiff of the aroma I carry around.

Boris stopped as if he’d heard Pierrot’s thoughts.

“Are you okay? You look a little strained today, is something bothering you?”

“I’m alright. Thank you for asking though.”

Boris nodded in acknowledgement and continued past him and outside.

Right then, nothing left but to remind the boss about his dire need. He rose slowly from the seat, the faster he moved the more smell he’d give off. Even his gowns had started to yellow, especially around the crotch and armpit areas. He was alternating three of the costumes but they all needed a deep clean. Some of the knees and elbows were grubby and he didn’t know what else to do.

His place in the hierarchy of the circus was low. Very low. He needed permission for everything. Onward to the boss’s office. To Pierrot’s surprise the boss was expecting him.

Gemini Bathhouse; someone would be waiting for him there. He was to bring all his clothes for laundering. Everything. Excitement filled Pierrot’s bones as he packed his costumes into a bag. The boss said there were steam rooms, an exfoliating treatment, and a massage he could look forward to. Pierrot became aroused thinking about the touch he longed for. The pressure of palms on his body. He was overdue this treatment and the boss knew it. That would explain why it seemed so indulgent this time.

Pierrot left his caravan, making sure he had the map within one of his pockets. This time the circus was set up on a wasteland outside a greying town. He wore his only set of civilian clothing. The boss didn’t like townies making connections to the performers, Pierrot hated these clothes.

“Going somewhere nice, P?” Artem shouted from the backstage area that grew outside at every town. The performers’ caravans formed layers of concentric circles around a bonfire. Most would bring out camping tables and chairs to sit and chat between performances. Pierrot never joined them.

“I’m off on an errand,” he shouted back to nosy Artem.

Pierrot quickened his pace and found himself within the grey town sooner than he’d expected. He looked down at the map his boss had given him. He was close, the bathhouse was on this side of town.

Today is my day, everything is going my way.

He had five hours before the performance later that night. Plenty of time to get himself back up to scratch. He was going to enjoy himself. As if on cue, it was there again: the excitement clutching at him, and that feeling deep inside his pelvis.

The place was two streets away. The town was quiet, only laborers milled about getting food from street vendors. The shops and restaurants must be on the opposite side of town, he thought. The land is always cheaper to rent on the rougher edges, it was the same everywhere.

He arrived. Hardly able to contain himself he reached to ring the bell, but a voice stopped him.

“Pierrot, wait. You don’t have to do this.”

He turned to see Boris a few steps behind.

“What? Why? You followed…?” Pierrot felt confused, but flattered. What was Boris doing?

“You don’t have to do this. I’m sorry for following you, but I can’t stand back and watch this again.”

So that’s what the arguments were about with Artem. He’s losing it, not cut out for a life on the road.

The civilian clothes enhanced the acrobat’s beauty rather than diminished it; Boris couldn’t even pretend to be normal.

“Boris, I’m overdue some TLC that’s all this is. Nothing else.” He congratulated himself for not stumbling over his words. A truck trundled down the grey street, its inhabitant leaning out to get a better view of Boris. Pierrot wasn’t like other men, not like that anyway.

“Do you think I followed you here to stop you from having a wash? Don’t you see, Pierrot, it’s more than that, what they do here… in these places…”

“I’ve never been to this town before, I’m pretty sure you haven’t either…”

“It’s a set up, I know the boss’s scams. How long have you been in this circus?”

Pierott paused, his finger still above the doorbell, “Longer than you,” he pushed down. The bell reverberated into the walls beyond. The siren call of the bathhouse overwhelmed him. The thought of a clean body, face, feet, costume all too delectable. A buzzer sounded and Pierrot pushed the door open. He looked over his shoulder at Boris. “I’ll be fine, see you tonight. I’ll be looking up for you.”

“I’m sorry. I should’ve told you sooner, I wanted to—”

The pleading faded as Pierott made his way into the building. He followed the signs pointing downstairs. The humid air hit him along the staircase. The smell of tea tree, lavender, then camphor filled his nostrils. He began to perspire, the itch, the folds of his skin covered with sores, screamed at him. He hoped the staff here could help. He hoped he wouldn’t disgust them.

“How are you doing today?” A man dressed in blue cotton at a desk at the bottom of the stairs asked Pierrot.

“I’m okay, excited to be here,” the clown replied. “My boss arranged for me to attend today, I am Pierrot.”

“Yes, we have you here on the schedule. Welcome!”

The corners of Pierrot’s mouth turned upward as his shoulders relaxed. He left his laundry at the desk and followed the man to the changing area.

“Someone will come and collect you shortly. Put one of these on.” The man pulled a white waffle cotton robe from a shelf where they were folded on top of one another. Pierrot wanted to touch them. They were so white, so perfect; so clean. The man left Pierrot alone, leaving behind a fresh, grassy aroma. The clown made a mental note to ask for its name on the way out, he’d love to smell like that every day. If it were sold somewhere nearby he could go home via the perfumery.

The changing room was all terrazzo. Four cubicles on one side and a long row of benches opposite with mirrors above. He didn’t bother with a cubicle, being here alone, there was no point. He tugged at his civilian clothes and shoes and placed them on the bench.

Standing straight, he examined himself in the mirror; his beastly skin marbled with the pinky-red rash. A wave of worry washed over him; what if the treatments here stung, what if they made his skin worse? He couldn’t bear the reflection any longer and grabbed the robe. As he put it on he realised it was far too small for him. He went back to the shelf near the door to try and find one in a bigger size. He felt sick. This should be an enjoyable experience. There was a knock at the door.

“I’m not quite ready yet,” Pierrot said as he rifled through the robes. He took one that seemed bigger and put it on. It was still on the small side, but at least this overlapped and covered him up. Opening the door, he found the therapist waiting for him.

“Sorry about that, I had some issues with the robe.”

“No problem, you aren’t wearing it for long so there are no problems.” The therapist had an accent he didn’t recognise. They walked down the corridor and then directed Pierrot into a shadowy, small room.

“We start with massage.” The therapist explained. “You strip, lie face down on the treatment table. Put your face through this hole. This towel is for your modesty but I’ll be moving it around as I work on your body.”

“Thank you,” was all Pierrot managed to say. The therapist left the room. Pierrot trembled as he hung the robe up and climbed onto the table, following the instructions exactly. He lay there grateful for being on his front, the anticipation was almost too much to bear.

The warm room made him sweat, the itchy crevices of his skin pleading for attention. He gazed at the floor below the table, his features squashed into the face cradle. A knock at the door and the therapist reentered.

“You are here to relax, I will help you.”

“Thank you.” Saliva dropped out of his mouth onto the tiles below as he tried to speak.

“You don’t need to talk.”

He felt a pair of hot, damp towels on his neck. They pushed along his spine and down to his buttocks. It gave him goosebumps, his skin felt alive where they’d passed over. Then again, this time from the tops of his shoulders down his torso, over his ribcage and to his waist.

He flinched. “Sorry, I’m a little ticklish there.”

“No worries. We need to loosen you up.” The therapist ran the cloths over him more delicately this time. Then collected fresh ones for cleaning his arms and legs.

“Now we start the massage. We fix this rash for you.”

The kneading began. Around his neck at first, then across his shoulders. There were lots of knots, lots of clicking. The borders between pain and pleasure blurred. He felt the therapist’s elbow under his shoulder blades loosening things up.

The therapist brushed down his arms and legs with a steaming body brush. He couldn’t tell if his skin was stinging anymore, everything felt on fire.

“Now we do your facial. Roll over, please.”

Pierrot did as instructed. He covered his enlarged groin with the towel and closed his eyes, waiting for the more precise work on his face. It was then he felt a needle in his neck, his eyes sprang open and he tried to get up.

“Don’t worry, this is normal. You’ll be fine in a moment. You won’t feel a thing.”

The therapist held him down, he was losing any power he’d had. He couldn’t feel his hands, nor could he tell if he was even breathing. The numbness travelled quickly through his body. He tried wiggling his toes and then he was out.

A second therapist came in dressed in similar clinical scrubs. They wheeled in a tray of surgical tools and a large bin.

“Is he slackened?” They prodded Pierrot’s abdomen.

“Yes, very loose now. It shouldn’t be a problem removing this one.”

“Good work, this a hide replacement only, they want him to keep everything else.”

“We still remove some memories though, right?”

“Yes, yes of course. Let’s begin.”They worked with a skill that came from repetition. The therapists sliced into Pierrot and removed his skin. Every part of his epidermis was peeled away, revealing a milky, near transparent flesh. Underneath was a steely mechanical structure: Pierrot’s skeleton.

“The silicone is starting to rupture.”

“That explains the rash, we should seal that. We’ll have to add it to the bill.”They set about their work, Pierrot’s old skin was thrown in the bin and its replacement wheeled in.

Later, Pierrot woke up on a lounger. The robe around him, fitted him like it had been made to measure. He must have dozed off. He felt groggy, but oh so clean. The therapist came in, smiling this time.

“I was about to come and wake you. It’s time you were getting back to the circus, there’s sure to be a queue forming.”

“Thanks. Yes, I was wondering what time it was.”

“Your things have are all laundered and are waiting for you in the changing rooms. We cleaned everything you brought with you.”

“Wonderful, thanks for everything.”

“No problem.”

At least he wouldn’t smell anymore. He was ashamed for letting it get as bad as it had. He dressed in the clean, civilian clothing and packed away the costumes. He headed back to the circus site, consulting the map more than he’d care to admit.

Artem spotted him arriving back into the camp and came straight over.

“Have you seen Boris? He’s not come back yet.”

“Come back from where?” Pierrot said.

“Didn’t he leave with you earlier?”

“No, I haven’t seen him since this morning when you two were arguing.”

“Yes, of course. You’re feeling much better now? You look it.”

“I am like a new man.” Pierrot said as Artem turned away. “Are you worried about Boris? Does the boss know he’s missing?”

“Yes, and no. I’d better go and tell him.”

Pierrot got back to his caravan and put his bag on the table inside. He went to the mirror and pulled off the T-shirt. His skin was beautiful, so smooth, there was no sign of the rash, nor the odor from before. The bathhouse had performed a miracle. Something did smell though, the caravan needed a clean. He hung the costumes up and opened the windows wide. There was an hour before the performance time.

As dusk fell the music of the circus boomed through the speaker system for the waiting guests. Pierrot put on one of his laundered costumes. It no longer irritated his skin. The caravan was clean and his face painted back to its chalky Clown White. Everything felt right again. Sitting back down at his dressing table he started to attach the ruff around his neck and heard a tap at the door.

“It’s open,” he called out, as he fiddled with the fasteners. The small door to the caravan swung open and in stepped Boris.

“Good evening, Pierrot.”

“They found you then?”

“I don’t know what you mean. I’ve not been anywhere.” He sat down and put his head in his hands.

“That’s exactly what I said. Artem tried to tell me you’d come with me to the Baths.” Pierott finally fastened up the ruff at the back of his neck and looked up at Boris through the mirror. He looked beautiful; covered in gold sequins with scarlet feathers entwined in his black curls. Was he crying?

“I’m scared, Pierrot. My head feels strange, I thought you might have some painkillers here.” He lifted his head off his hands and swooned, then his chin began to judder. He tried to speak but it was gibberish. Pierrot turned on his chair as Boris’s nose began to bleed. His body slid off the small cushioned caravan settee and began convulsing. He banged his head on a cupboard on the way down to the floor, scraping the side of his face up to the ear.

Pierrot jumped off his chair and tried to lift him onto the seat again. The acrobat’s head lolled around on his neck. Pierott called out for help while Boris convulsed in his arms and the gold sequins flew everywhere, covering the inside of the caravan. Then Pierott saw the scrape had caused the ear to be severed from Boris’s head. He stopped convulsing. Pierott knew no one was coming. No one had heard him over the loudspeakers. He placed Boris’s body on the settee and stood. Blood covered the front of his costume and the sequins clung to the red like stars in a claret sky.

 

Since 2010, Susan Earlam has written for a wide variety of media outlets. But, the call of the strange and unusual has grown irresistible. Now, she mixes words like potions at her laptop in South Manchester. Currently, looking for an agent for her first novel, she procrastinates by writing shorter, and weirder, stuff.

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 33 Contents Link

Photo by Alexander Shustov on Unsplash

Soap Opera Digest-ion – Marie Gethins

Cerise nails moved across her lap. A finger tarantella. Digits knitted, released, flexed. I took one hand, pressed it flat between my palms. The other, now partner-less, danced solo, gathering dress fabric into tufts. Five digits of chipped Fuchsia Fantasy creating a landscape of navy cotton mounds.

Her ancient eyes clouded years ago. ‘Ocean blue’ she used to self-compliment to the mirror. Never mum, she insisted we were on a first name basis. In the Day Lounge, I called to her and she scanned my face. A smile flicker and she looked beyond me, beyond the chair, beyond the window. I stroked her hand to limpness. When shoulders sagged into the vinyl wingback, I returned the right to the left, both settled for whatever mental reruns she viewed.

‘You’re so good with her,’ the nurse said. She placed a cup of tea and two mikados at my elbow. I demurred with a coy head tilt. The prefect trio for this tableau: Caring Nurse, Adoring Daughter, Senile Mother. A script I found easy to write. Earlier roles, the ones my mother cast, were harder to flesh out. I was the niece, later the sister, occasionally the roommate. At eighteen I wrote myself out of this series, but family dramas run forever. Those frequent call-backs. I became a featured guest, now a regular player.

I pulled the tiny ziplock from my pocket. It dissolved like sugar, this dust from angel wings. An extra generous measure to send her on her way. I watched the whirlpool swirl, gave the delph rim two taps with the spoon. She frowned at the first taste, but coaxing was central to this role. Cup empty, I took a final bow, air kissed her cheeks, and imagined tomorrow’s credits.

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 33 Contents Link

Image via Pixabay

Burn, Baby, Burn – Sandra Arnold

Sophie’s head was deep in her book when her father came into the room. He stood in front of her with his closed hands outstretched.

She dragged her eyes up.

“A surprise for you,” he said. Guess which hand.”

She pointed. He opened his fingers to reveal a fat red worm wriggling on his palm. Sophie clenched her teeth to keep her scream inside.

Her father laughed. “Didn’t specify the surprise, did I?”

“Not as hilarious as your spider in my bed trick,” she deadpanned.

He laughed again, “Learn to take a joke, baby. Humour gets us through life.”

The teacher asked the class a question. He said there’d be a surprise for the child who answered it correctly. Sophie’s hand shot up. When she gave the correct answer the teacher called her to the front of the class.

“Bend down and touch your toes,” he said, swishing his ruler.

She stared at him, tears welling.

“Now don’t be a cry-baby,” he grinned. “Enjoy your surprise.”

The whole class exploded with laughter when he tapped her bum three times with his ruler. She dug her teeth into her lip so hard she drew blood.

She hid in the bike shed after school. She was surprised at how easy it was to break the classroom window with a brick and strike the match and light the ball of paper and throw it through the hole.

She was reading her book when her father came home from work. She heard him tell her mother about the fire.

“Arson,” he said. “Lucky the whole school didn’t burn down. They know who did it.”

Sophie stopped breathing.

“That little sod in Sophie’s class. Caught watching the flames. No surprises there. Parents as thick as pig shit.”

Sophie turned the page of her book.

 

Sandra Arnold lives in New Zealand. She is the author of five books and her flash fiction has been widely published and anthologised.

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 33 Contents Link

Image via Pixabay

Stained Lass – LindaAnn LoSchiavo

Religion classes taught us to behave:
Defer fun’s gratification. Submit.

The patriarchy ruled the afterlife — —
Along with most improper things. Obliged.
Coerced. Imperfect those Confessions, stained.

Could any child prevent assaults or blab?

Each catechism lesson drilled down deep,
Swore death would be “the best day” of your life.

Meanwhile, your body was a sacrament,
Impure of thought and deed upon command

Swift holy water dip on the way out.

 

LindaAnn LoSchiavo is a dramatist, writer, and poet. Her poetry chapbooks “Conflicted Excitement” [Red Wolf Editions, 2018], “Concupiscent Consumption” [Red Ferret Press, 2020], and “A Route Obscure and Lonely”‘ [Wapshott Press, 2020] along with her collaborative book on prejudice [Macmillan in the USA, Aracne Editions in Italy] are her latest titles. She is a member of The Dramatists Guild and SFPA.
An interview — https://www.thepoetmagazine.org/interview-with-lindaann-loschiavo

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 33 Contents Link

Image via Pixabay

Bad Things and Good Socks – Haley Magrill

“Just be patient, Otis,” Ma says. I ignore this and keep tugging her long, blue skirt. She isn’t having any of that. Ma kneels down and gives me a look that says, ‘back-it-up-Buster-I-am-not-messing-around-right-now-also-I-saw-you-put-those-chocolate-eggs-in-your-pocket-they-better-be-back-on-the-shelf-in-three-two-’

I hate errand days.

Ma turns back to the green beans, muttering about prices that are ‘through the roof,’ and how the fat man is ‘robbing her blind.’

I’m very hungry by the time we finish the shopping and the little man in my belly is pinching me. Sometimes I like to imagine that he looks like Mr. Lagharty from next door and that he stomps around my belly throwing newspapers at the crows.

I want dinner immediately when we get home, but Ma says I need a bath first. I go upstairs and run the water, but I don’t go in. I wait just long enough that Ma won’t be suspicious and then I slink back to the kitchen, feeling only slightly guilty.

“Is it almost dinner?” I ask Ma.

“Did you clean behind your ears?”

“Is it dinner?”

“Just be patient, Otis,” she sighs.

“Where’s Jordy?” I want to know.

“Out.”

“Out where?”

“Set the table, Otis.” She slops something horrifying onto a plate.

Meatloaf.

The belly man hisses and says the word I’m not supposed to say but sometimes I do when no one is listening. I pretend to enjoy it so I don’t hurt Ma’s feelings.

Ma doesn’t talk at dinner. She never does when Jordy’s out. She thinks I don’t notice. I do. I notice these things.

“Will you play army men outside?” I ask her when she’s done washing the dishes.

“It’s too dark, you can play in the morning.” Ma says.

“Will you play tomorrow, though?”

“Who’s going to do the chores if I’m playing with you?”

Ma makes me wear the scratchy pyjamas to bed because she hasn’t gotten around to cleaning the other ones.

“I just need one more glass of water,” I tell her.

“You’ve already had three, you’ll wet yourself.” Ma snaps. The vein on her forehead is about to pop.

“I’m not tired.”

“Yes, you are.” Ma says and shuts the door. Only I can’t sleep because my neck is itchy and the blankets are twisting me into a knot. I wait and listen for Jordy’s boots to crunch down the driveway. Only they never come.

Ma is acting funny when I go down for breakfast. I know this because she has cooked my sock in with the eggs. I move the laundry basket off the counter and away from the frying pan.

“Where’s Jordy?” I want to know.

“Eat, and then go play.” Ma says. I notice around her eyes are quite red and I think now is maybe not the best time to tell her that my egg smells a bit like burnt foot.

“Will you play with me?” I ask her.

“Not now, I have to go out.” She’s all in a huff and running around the room like her head was chopped off, stuffing pens and loose coins into her purse.

“Ma, where’s Jordy!”

She stops for a moment.

“Jordy has to go away for a while.” Her voice is squeaky.

“Why?”

“He did a bad thing.” Ma’s chin wobbles. “I left a message on Mr. Lagharty’s machine and asked if he would come over and watch you. Don’t growl, Otis. He’s doing us a favour.”

“When will you be back?”

“Later,” Ma says and I’m not sure she realizes that she’s wiping down the counter with my pillow case.

“Later when?” I want to know.

“Just be patient,” Ma sighs and pushes me out the door.

When she’s gone, I line up my army men along the front porch, carefully, two finger spaces apart. Then I load up the slingshot Jordy doesn’t know I took with rocks and bits of bro-ken glass from under the steps. “Just be patient,” I tell my men as they wait in line to die. I’m wondering if Mr. Lagharty ever got Ma’s message because he hasn’t come over to watch me and he isn’t in his yard screaming at the crows or cleaning the hats on his little garden gnomes. I do not like playing army men by myself. I can’t do the voices the same way Jordy can.

Oh, please don’t kill me. I’ve got a lasagna in the oven! My parakeets will die!

I kick the porch because I’m angry at Ma for leaving and I’m angry at Jordy for doing a bad thing and now I’m angry at my dumb toe for hurting a lot. I say all the bad words I know be-cause no one is around to hear them and I stomp across the yard, growling at Mr. Lagharty’s gar-den gnomes. That’s when an oily little voice slithers out from the darkest part of my head and makes me load up my slingshot. I let the rock go. There’s a sickening crunch and the face of the purple hat garden gnome falls off.

For a moment I feel the most alive ever.

But then I start to get a rotten hole in my belly and I drop the slingshot. Drums go off in my ears and I’m panicked because Ma’s head will explode when she finds out. I tear across the yard and up the steps. I did a bad thing and I’m crying all the way down to my socks until I real-ize the water on the floor didn’t come from me. Ma left the tap on and now there’s a puddle where our kitchen is supposed to be. My thoughts pile on top of each other, all fighting to be heard, and all I do is stand in the water with cold feet getting colder.

“Mr. Lagharty, are you home?” I scream through the mail slot. “Mr. Lagharty! MR. LAGHARTY! I’m having a ‘mergency.” I wait but I don’t hear anything. I try the handle and the door is unlocked. The house is yellow inside and smells like the eggs I had for breakfast. Mr. Lagharty is fast asleep in a puffy chair. I poke his neck with my little finger but he doesn’t move. The belly man stabs me with his cane and reminds me to feed him and I wonder what Mr. Lagharty has got in his pantry. I find a big tin of sweets and I eat them all even though they make my tongue sticky and my mouth dry. Mr. Lagharty is still sleeping in the puffy chair and I’m starting to get a bit anxious because when I put my hand in front of his face I don’t feel any air come out. I shake him as hard as I can and scream down his ear but he doesn’t move even one inch. And now I’m very worried because he is dead and I wish I hadn’t beheaded his gnome. I wait in a knot in front of our house until Ma gets back. She says a bad word when she sees all the water, and her nose gets all sniffly. I go real quiet because Ma’s are not supposed to cry.

“Mr. Lagharty really isn’t having the best day,” I say to Ma in my smallest voice.

“Well, neither am I.” Ma huffs. She slams her purse down on the counter.

“Except that Mr. Lagharty might be winning on account of the fact that I think he is dead.”

“Dead?” Ma says and her eyes open really wide. And so I explain the ‘mergency, and how I went to ask Mr. Lagharty for help, and how the door was open, and how I waited for him to wake up from his nap, but he never did. Ma runs and gets the phone and tells the ambulance people to zip over quick. They pull up in our driveway with the flashing red and blue lights and I get to tell them what happened. Except I don’t say the part where I beheaded the gnome. Then Ma and I gather every towel we own and soak up the puddle. The floor is moldy and brown in some places but I think that is not the biggest problem of today.

Ma says that Jordy got into a tight spot with some bad people and now he has to ‘lie in his bed.’ Sometimes though we can see him if his behaviour is good. Ma says we are allowed to be sad for a while but eventually we have to ‘pick up our socks’ and get on with it. So I ask her how I am meant to do that if she keeps cooking them in with my eggs. Ma looks at me for a sec-ond and then she laughs, which means I start to laugh too. And we don’t stop for a real long time.

 

Haley Magrill is a Canadian writer and student at the University of British Columbia. She has previously published a short story entitled “Comatose” in Flash Fiction Magazine and “You Unloved Thing” in Mojave He[art] Review.

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 33 Contents Link

Image via Pixabay

Remora – Michael J Sacco

She was the six-two senior swim team captain and lead bassoonist in the school’s concert band, and I was the sophomore second bassoon. We performed a duet once.

Bassoons have six main parts: The bell connects to the bass joint that connects to the double joint which U-bends up to the tenor joint and finally ends with the bocal which curves down to the attachment of the double reed that she blew through. What makes double reeds so difficult to play is that both lips, more pursed than puckered, must be pulled over the teeth and engaged to produce a quality tone and sound. The bassoon is held diagonally across the body and is supported by the weight of the musician through a boot and strap mechanism that cups the double joint and extends under the player’s seated backside.

I wanted her to take me to the pool for swim practice so I could latch onto her belly as she swam laps – a remora attached to her underneath with my legs trailing behind me like seaweed or kelp as hers propelled us through the water. I didn’t even need her to pay attention to me – maybe just an occasional run through my hair as she pulled past the follow through of her freestyle stroke or a kiss on my forehead as she flip-turned into another lap. I didn’t want much.

Her legs came up to my ribs, and all I could picture was them wrapping around me like a lifejacket, keeping me afloat. I wanted to make love to her and be surrounded by her body and drown in her waters and not in some touristy way but like a long lost sailor’s welcomed homecoming.

She was my lifejacket, and she was the ocean, saving me and killing me simultaneously in second period. Maybe my haphazard splashing along her tides like some sort of capsizing buoy would end with my sinking, leaving nothing but a ripple across her molten surface.

The last two weeks of school were devoted to learning the commencement songs during concert band, but the seniors sat out because they’d be walking while we played. She was graduating that year, and I was alone for those two weeks, the only bassoon in the band.

But on graduation night, the seniors joined us for one last song. I waited next to her empty chair, until she swooped into her seat in her blue robe, her yellow tassel swinging at the side of her face like an anglerfish’s lure.

The female anglerfish has a luminescent organ called the esca at the tip of the illicium. The glowing is caused by a symbiotic relationship between the fish and bacteria. While the lure serves to attract prey in the dark of the deep-sea, it also serves to attract males for mating. The male anglerfish is significantly smaller than the female in an extreme case of sexual dimorphism, and both engage in a type of sexual parasitism in which the male attaches to the female for life. The male bites into the female and eventually fuses into her, allowing for continuous and multiple fertilizations while cutting the amount of resource consumption in their environment so that the female may thrive.

That could have been us.

I spent more time watching her lips than I did performing, trying to soak the image of her playing into my memory, each moment – each note she played – like a blot of ink dropped onto the canvas of my mind. The colors – the F-sharps a midnight blue, the A-naturals a crimson red, and the very few E’s a burnt orange – all melted together into a watercolor painting I’d never forget.

But we played, she returned to the rows of graduating seniors, and I picked up her bassoon that night and took it back to the school when everything was done and put it in her assigned locker that she never opened again.

I saw her four years later at our local gym in the lap pool. I hung over the floating dividers a few lanes away as she flip-turned back and forth. She was a marine biologist now, and I was a painter. Neither of us play bassoon anymore.

 

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 33 Contents Link

Image via Pixabay

Heading East – John Short

I left the rural town in Gascony
after camping in its graveyard
for a week with dog-eared poetry

then tobacco country, ratatouille,
tomatoes nabbed from fields
in the dead hours of afternoon.

At Lautrec, the Sisters gave out soup
and rustic loaves whose crusts
cracked and collapsed like old timber;

a madman with a shaven head
and heavy crucifix around his neck
persuaded me to drink with him.

Finishing one bottle he went off
for more – I thought to escape
but just sat there and made no move

and near my feet, our cigarette stubs
like spent shells buried in the dust:
one for each year of a misspent youth.

 

John Short lives in Liverpool and has had poems and stories in magazines around the world. Forthcoming in The Blue Nib, Sarasvati, Marble Poetry and Poetry Salzburg Review, his full collection Those Ghosts (Beaten Track Publishing) will appear later this year.

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 33 Contents Link

Image via Pixabay

The Library of Ice – Rebecca Harrison

“My mother taught me to dig for stars. She listened to the ice. I walked beside her but I only heard the sky – it was wind full. My furs felt thin. The world was night shapes. My steps made no sound, so I held her hand harder: I was afraid of turning into silence. The sky breathed low colours and I slowed to watch them. She said – Nishka, the stars we seek are below our feet.”

“Night lay on the ice. I tried to feel the stars through my footsteps but we walked over silence. The sky was moon melt. My mother pointed further than I could see, further than wind, so I shut my eyes until the darkness was just us. The plains were slow sounds and the mountains beyond were names I didn’t know. She spoke about star scent. But I could only smell the cold.”

“The world felt as if it was turning into moonsong. We stopped. My mother let go of my hand and crouched down. She said – the stars are here. I heard her cut the ice. But the mountains had changed the sky to shadow and I couldn’t see the lines she carved, so I tried to listen to the patterns. When she’d finished, she took my hand. I felt the ice fold and peel. Light struck through cracks.”

“The plain ice shook into dust and I saw a curve of sun colour. The star shone but it felt like coldness from long ago. It broke the night. I knew old stars turned into ice and fell, too heavy to stay in the sky. My mother told me to carry the star. It fit in my arms. I thought – I am stronger than the sky. She walked ahead of me, small against the star’s beams.”

“The plains were faster on our way back. I couldn’t feel my steps. My mother turned and talked to me, but I only heard the star’s glow. The sky shrank. The winds felt like far away. I didn’t look for our home in the distance. I knew the ice city was lit by stars my mother found – when I’d walked the passageways, the light had felt like it was mine. I jolted as my mother put her hand on my arm. She said – Nishka, let me have the star.”

“I stood under an archway but I didn’t know how long I’d been walking through the city. She took the star out of my arms. I felt dim. I stared up past the walls, over the jagged tower points, to the flowing night. I think I asked – will they all freeze? But she said nothing. Then hallways shone past and I was in my bed. Furs weighted me. I meant to scratch patterns on my walls. The sun came. I didn’t know I’d slept.”

Queen Nishka stopped talking. From the tower top, she looked across the night. Above her, over the peaks of the ice city, colours moved the sky.

“Later on, my mother took me here,” she said. “I climbed behind her – I thought the tower wouldn’t end, would go beyond the sky. The walls were falling light. I felt smaller than my footsteps. My furs were heavy. At the top, I wouldn’t hold her hand but I stood close so the winds didn’t touch me. We breathed night. The sky felt like sleep. She made me look at the city – it was moon-sharpened. Time was slow. She said – the age of ice is ending, Nishka; you will be the last. I knew then I’d never leave. I’m not going with you. You’ll find the others. You’ve been a good friend all these days.” She didn’t turn. She listened to the footsteps leaving the room and slowly descending the long spiral staircase. They sounded like long ago. They thinned into the distance and she heard empty pathways below. Her breathing was an echo. The city was filled with silence, but at the tower tops where she stood beneath fast skies, she heard the sounds of glaciers breaking far away.

She felt the world past the ice plains, beyond the mountains, unfolding and growing further away. The sky slowed. Over the city, the white towers and spirals, the wind faded into the ice. She breathed stillness. She moved without feeling her own steps, down the tower and out into the pathways. The air was cold gleam. Ice stars shone.

She walked along the starlit passageways, beside walls of ice as tall as winds. Above her, the city’s white peaks soared into the night. Her steps filled the silence. The emptiness felt solid. Below the towers and archways, her furs were moon-bright.

The paths wound in slow circles past hallways and spires under colours falling softly from the sky.

She stepped through a broad archway into a tunnel of glimmering ice. Her furs brushed the walls. The air was chill glow, but beneath the thickening silence she thought she could hear distant water sounds. Her breath was white. The tunnel opened into halls of cold stars and carved arches where spiral sheets of thin ice stretched to the ceiling, each engraved with tales of the city. They stretched back to the beginning of the age of ice. In the far reaches of the library, the sheets had already begun to melt, their words lost. She paused at a spiral and read:

‘Queen Drelder was old. Fearing the world without her, her people carved a hall to keep her voice forever. For a hundred days, they shaped the ice cavern under the blue glacier until any words spoken there would echo always. She walked the hall alone, her speech bright with wisdom. After she died, crowds knelt in the hall and listened. Many years went by. Other rulers reigned and passed and Queen Drelder was forgotten. Her words echoed unheard under the ice.’

She stopped reading. The air was weighted with stories of sky legends and long-ago Queens. She drifted slowly past the ice sheets, glancing at the tales. High above her, in the carved ceilings, the ice stars had begun to thaw. Light melted in soft silence. The ice ribbons twisted like white winds. She moved deeper through the halls. Star-melt fell on the ice sheets, lighting the words. She read:

‘Teakin walked in blue shadows. Before her, the glacier towered in chill heights. The air felt like waiting wind. The snow breathed silence. She huddled into her furs. The blue glaciers were once skies, but when coldness had cloaked the world, they’d frozen and sank. She picked up a small piece of the blue ice – it fit in her palm. She held it to her eye, peered through and saw long-ago lands and lost seas – the views from the ancient skies.’

Over the silence, the city creaked, and beyond the towers, the plains began to shift. She felt still among the stories of past ages. She gazed around the halls, her eyes full of the histories written on the ice. Pausing, she reached out and touched a melting sheet, running her fingers on the fading words. She turned to another and read:

‘The birds flew in the deep ice, our grandmothers said. They told us of flocks as wide as moon hush and fast as the skies, and they spoke of running on the ice plain while birds in colours too many to count flew beneath their steps. We looked for flock shapes below us and pressed our ears to the ice walls listening for wing beats. In my dreams, I saw birds the colour of night winds.

I closed my eyes when our grandmothers told stories. Sometimes, I fell asleep. Each morning, we watched the plains, but the ice was clear and quiet and only the winds had wings. I tried to guess how deep the ice grew. We wondered if the birds were flying far below us and we scratched patterns on the ice that looked like flight. We were afraid to ask if all the birds had gone.’

Nishka reached out and touched the sheet. It crumpled and fell. The air was damp with dripping starlight. She breathed in the glow. Her feet trembled: beneath her, the deep ice was stirring. Across the plains and the night, colours twisted from the sky, and through the city, in the passageways and over the tower points, star melt flowed through cracks in the walls. The spaces beyond the mountains sounded like slow water.

Moonlight swayed in the thawing air as chasms opened across the ice plains. The sky flowed into the city as walls of ice fell. The white spirals and hallways broke into strange shapes. In the library, starlight shivered into mist. The fading glow felt like slowed time. Nishka watched the stories and the stars melt together in the dim cold. The falling city around her felt like a long ago night carrying a star by her mother’s side.

 

Rebecca Harrison sneezes like Donald Duck and her best friend is a dog who can count.

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 33 Contents Link

Image via Pixabay

This Morning – Rickey Rivers Jr

Lynn called out for her husband. She ventured downstairs repeating. She had woken up late but couldn’t recall if today was a work day for him or not. The downstairs bathroom door opened, answering her thoughts. He stood there in the doorway smiling.

“Hey,” she said. “Didn’t you hear me?”

He scratched his chin. “Guess I didn’t.”

“Didn’t know you were off today”

“Yep, off day. Why are you yelling so much?”

“I wasn’t yelling. I didn’t know where you were.”

“You must have had a rough night, sleeping so late.”

Lynn rubbed the back of her neck. She couldn’t recall the previous night. “No,” she said. “I’m just tired.”

“Yeah, but you really slept late. It’s well past noon.”

“Yeah right, it’s not that late.”

“You think I’m joking?”

Lynn turned away from him and walked into the living room.

“What’s the matter?” he called.

She grabbed her phone from the coffee table. Sure enough the time read three thirty four. She put a hand to her head and thought. What was the previous night? The phone said today was Thursday.

“Did you reset my clock?”

He laughed. “What?”

She repeated herself, this time sternly.

He shook his head. “What kind of joke is that? I let you sleep and then pretend it’s later than it is? That’s a terrible joke.”

She smirked. “The kind you love to play.”

“You have nowhere to be. I couldn’t make you late for anything. So that’s no fun right?”

She stared at him, he seemed sincere.

“Did you take a pill?” he asked.

“What? No. I don’t think so.”

“You don’t think so?”

“Anyway school should be out. Alec should be home soon so get dressed.”

“Alec?”

“Our son”

He tilted his head.

“Don’t look at me like that.”

He approached her, putting both her hands on her shoulders. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Yes!” She pulled away. “What’s wrong with you? And what’s the point of this game?”

He took a step back. “Lynn, we don’t have children. What game are you talking about?”

She crossed her arms. “Are we really doing this?”

“Doing what?”

“Pretending!”

His face became tight.

“Answer me!” she screamed. “What’s going on?”

“Have you taken any pills? Answer me, please.”

She turned away from him and headed toward the stairs. He followed behind, grabbing her shoulders.

“Let me go!”

He did.

There was a thud. Not from her. She fell to the floor. The front door opened. She smiled, reaching out for what she wanted, hoping for what she needed. Tears came. The front door closed. She was home. She was free.

It was difficult to apologize for stumbling, and yet she had done it before. Those who knew expected the fall and the hoping ones hoped again.

“Lynn, you’re not in that hole anymore.”

She had heard this before.

 

Rickey Rivers Jr was born and raised in Alabama. He is a writer and cancer survivor. He has been previously published with Fabula Argentea, Back Patio Press, Cabinet of Heed, (among other publications). https://storiesyoumightlike.wordpress.com/. You may or may not find something you like there. Twitter.com/storiesyoumight His third mini collection of 3×3 poems is available now: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07VDH6XG5

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 33 Contents Link

Image via Pixabay

Sweets and Chocolates – Aminat Sanni-Kamal 

I pulled my car into the parking lot at Sweets and Chocolates café. I was nervous as hell, I sat back in the driver seat contemplating whether I should get out of my car and carry on as planned or just drive away, I could call him and make up some excuse. I shook my head at the thought of it. I couldn’t do that… it wouldn’t be fair to him, because I was the one who had suggested we meet in the first place.

“What is wrong with you, Ivie?” I asked myself and sighed heavily. I was never this nervous with anything or anyone and it wasn’t as if I had never been on a date before. I guess I must have really liked him to have been so nervous.

“There is nothing wrong with you,” I said to myself again.

I picked up my purse and dug through it until I found my small black mirror, the one I always kept in my bag for times like this. I could have used the rear-view mirror but it didn’t come with a compact powder.

My makeup was perfect; I had opted for a nude look. So, apart from my highlight nothing else on my face glowed. I didn’t want it to look as if I was trying too hard to impress him. Even though we had been talking and chatting frequently on the phone for the past six months, we hadn’t actually met.

I sighed again, and finally got out of my car, it was now or never. If he found a problem with me, there was nothing I could do about it. Even with that thought, I was still nervous. What if we couldn’t connect in real life and our connection was just over the phone. I shook my head again, I was already out of my car, and there was no turning back.

I straightened my flare cream coloured mini-gown with my hands, normally a pair of heels would have gone with the gown and, I would have actually preferred heels because I wasn’t tall. But, I was not allowed to wear anything besides flats, so I locked my car and walked to the cafe in my chocolate ballerina shoes.

The morning breeze worked wonders on my hair. I thought the Alice-band would be strong enough to secure my wild, natural hair; how wrong I was. My hair had been like that since I was a child. My mother said I cried every time she took me to the salon to relax it. So she had given up and let it be. As I grew, the thought never for once crossed my mind to relax my hair, I loved the way my hair looked, last year I had the tips dyed into a dull wine colour. I wouldn’t trade my hair for anything in the world. My hair and bronze-brown skin were my prized possessions.

As I walked towards the café, I added choosing Saturday as a day for us to meet to my list of regrets for the day. Sweets and Chocolates was the largest café in the city and Saturday mornings were their busiest. And at that moment, it was as if everybody in Lagos was there, including people who had only come to take pictures for Instagram. By the way, Jamal and I met on the gram.

“What were you thinking?” I asked myself again although, this time in my head. It was already bad enough that people were staring at me, wondering why I was limping. It wouldn’t do for them to think I was crazy as well. When I stood, no one noticed anything, but when I walked the discrepancy between my legs showed. My limping was even more pronounced when I tried to hide it, so I had learned earlier in life to just ignore the stares and focus on my destination instead. It was a condition I was born with and when I was a child, I walked with the aid of a shoe raise, but when I grew older the doctors decided I didn’t need it anymore.

I spotted him almost immediately I entered the café, and I sent a little prayer of thanks to heaven that he had not chosen one of the tables outside the café. Inside wasn’t as crowded as it was outside. Still, I could have chosen a quieter place.

I could tell that he had seen me too because he smiled and stood up as our eyes met. I smiled nervously back at him. I was irritated with myself, why was I so nervous?

I looked good, I owned and managed my own salon, I drove a very expensive car, I had a life many girls would die to have, yet I was nervous because I was meeting a man. But, Jamal wasn’t just any man; he was a man I really liked. And, as I walked over to his table, I concluded that if he was the man I thought he was; my limping would not matter.

“You look amazing.” He said when I got to the table, and his deep rich voice, the voice I had fallen in love with over the phone made my nervousness disappear. A combination of his voice and his smile could make a woman do anything.

We hugged and I sat at across him at the table. A young dark-skinned waiter came to our table and took our orders. I was glad that our connection wasn’t just over the phone, it was real and I enjoyed every bit of our breakfast date. He made me laugh and I enjoyed staring into his dark brown eyes. I never in my life thought that I would fall in love with a light-skinned man; I considered them too fine and too dangerous.

Jamal could pass for a model with his high cheekbones which perfectly complemented his face but he also had a depth to him. It was what drew me to him, it was something that made me kind of curious and awed about him; he wasn’t like other guys I had dated in the past. I also liked that he was not a part of the beard gang trend; I liked his clean-shaven face.

I enjoyed our date, but it bothered me that he never for once mentioned my limping and I was very sure he had noticed because he had taken a quick glance at my legs when I walked towards him.

Don’t get me wrong, I liked that he hadn’t really started at them. Although there was really nothing to stare at, they looked perfect until I walked. I also liked that he had not let it affect our date. But, I had hoped that he would at least ask me about it as he walked me to my car because I badly wanted to get that part off my chest. He still did not say anything when we got to my car; he only kissed me lightly on the cheek and waved at me as I drove out of the café.

Before the date, I had been worried that all he would see were my legs. After the date, I was worried that he had pretended not to notice my limping and hadn’t said a word about it. Even though I knew I was just working myself up for nothing, that didn’t stop me from worrying. I concluded that if he didn’t bring it up on our second date; I would.

Yes, we had made plans to meet again, and I am super excited about it.

 

Aminat Sanni-Kamal is an author, a lover of African literature and cats.

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 33 Contents Link

Image via Pixabay

Clowning Around – R C deWinter

loud and infuriating
full of yourself
so boastful
egocentric
so
so
so MALE
shedding testosterone like a leper shedding skin

you make me crazy
why should i love you
when it’s obvious you’ve found your true love
and it’s YOU

and then i stop
simmer down
cool off
blink my inner eyes
and take a good long look
inside your shadow self

and there i see what lies beneath the raging clownsuit
you wear for everyday
a thick molasses pool of doubt
small boyfeet firmly stuck in that gooey morass
feeling unworthy
feeling unloved

but wait
i blink again
i have this habit
kindness
always playing out that deceitful rope
projecting what i think
always flavored with compassion instead of truth

now i’m flummoxed
and don’t know what to do

should i trust my intuition
help that small boy
if he’s real
come unstuck
or should i shut this down

take you at face value
and kiss the loudmouth clown goodbye

 

RC deWinter’s poetry is anthologized, notably in Uno: A Poetry Anthology (Verian Thomas, 2002), New York City Haiku (NY Times, 2017), Cowboys & Cocktails (Brick Street Poetry, April 2019), Nature In The Now (Tiny Seed Press, August 2019), in print in 2River, Adelaide Magazine, borrowed solace, Genre Urban Arts, In Parentheses, Night Picnic Journal, Prairie Schooner, Reality Break Press, Southword among many others and appears in numerous online literary journals. Her art has been published too, and was licensed to ABC for use on the television show “Desperate Housewives.”

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 32 Contents Link

Image by annca from Pixabay 

 

 

Tunnel – Wendy Burke

I’m in trouble. Big trouble. There’s been an accident in the tunnel.

It’s dark. Can’t find way to the cool air. Panic. Blood bangs where? There, in my temples.

Confusion, noise and medics they trying help. Voices say, ‘keep moving, that’s it, that’s it.’ Are they know I, the voices? They- the memory dark. It… it’s colder getting. I not reach the out. Legs no work. Begin shut down. It’s I- okay, stay here deep dark. Stay now in longest night. I-

‘Come on son,’ someone he shout, far away, like through water. They not. Give up. Hands on my head, my shoulders. Pull, pull, the wrench-pain of a limp-limbed beginning.

Then comes bright light of outside. Someone screams. Or it’s a boom of beeps and talk.

Man, woman – oh. Oh! Are you Mum? D-dad?

I am safe.

I am born.

 

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 32 Contents Link

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay 

Sun Squares – Dave Alcock

It was almost noon on a Wednesday morning in July, and the year’s final weekly meeting of the village toddler group had just taken place in the Parish Hall. John Litttlechild, and a handful of other parents from the group’s organising committee, had just finished packing away and tidying up. The toys and climbing frames had been stacked neatly in the shed, the plastic plates and cups washed up and stored. John had swept and wiped clean the floor and now, since the others had said their goodbyes and left, it was his job to lock up the doors.

With his youngest son Blake trailing along at his side, John double-checked the fire-escape, and unhooked the main swing doors, but as he stopped at the doorway and put his hand in his pocket for the key, he turned around and looked back into the hall.

During the summertime, in the morning, when the weather is good, the sun streams down on the Parish Hall’s east-facing wall, and through each of that wall’s three sash windows it throws a sloping column of light. On the dark wooden floorboards, it casts three slanting yellow rectangles. At first, they are long and reach out almost to the stage at the front of the hall, but as the sun rises and moves west, these bright squares of sunlight shorten and change direction, until they strain towards the swing doors at the back.

John stood still in the doorway. His eyes settled on the sun squares, and for a moment he considered their change of direction and shape. “How strange,” he thought. “For four years I’ve been coming here, and never before have I noticed them change.” Then he looked up at the windows, and remembered something he’d forgotten to do. “I must just close the curtains,” he said to Blake. “I’ll do this, then we’ll both go outside.”

He walked over to the east-facing wall, and pulled two sets of curtains shut. Two of the sun squares vanished, but, at the third window, John looked up and stopped. Through the glass, he saw the small grassed garden, into which the children often went to play. It was there that they splashed in paddling pools, or hurtled on ride-ons down the sloping concrete path. There that they chased and tumbled, or looked at insects that lived in the ivy on the fence.

As John looked through the window, a look of sadness came slowly to his face. Blake was four. He’d go to the primary school in September. Their time at the toddler group had come to an end.

For a moment, John’s eyes closed, and he remembered all the things that had happened in the hall. He saw his children crawling in baby-grows, standing and staggering, then sitting upright on chairs. He remembered them climbing in his hands up ladders. He heard them giggling as they slipped down slides. He saw them baking things, and making things, and singing and laughing with their peers. He saw them changing their shape and direction. More clearly than ever, he saw his children growing up.

“Growing up?” John wondered incredulously. He went cold with a feeling of loss. “My children have ceased to be toddlers,” he thought. “The time of their infancy has come and gone.” He looked again through the glass at the garden. His throat tightened and his eyes cooled and blurred. And he hesitated, soft with nostalgia, wishing he could live through that special time again.

Then a voice groaned wearily from the doorway. “Come on, Dad! It’s time for us to go!”

John blinked and swallowed deeply. He took a breath and forced his feelings back down. “You’re right,” he said, and he drew the final set of curtains, and the last golden sun square disappeared from the floor. He turned around and went quickly through the darkness. And he said, “It’s about time we locked up the door.”

 

Dave Alcock lives in Devon, England, and writes about the ordinary people and places of the British provinces. His stories focus on psychological change and the seeing and acceptance of new things. His flashes have been published in print by Ad Hoc Fiction and can be found online at Every Day Fiction and STORGY Magazine.

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 32 Contents Link

Image by Danielle Teychenne from Pixabay 

A Weighty Investigation – Duncan Hedges

Maxwell’s punctuality at mealtimes led Ann to suspect that his stomach was built in Switzerland, even if the rest of him was of pure Scottish stock. Therefore, his absence from the dining table one mild autumn evening came as something of a surprise. Not wishing to appear overly concerned, Ann took a walk into the farmyard, still wearing her carpet slippers, in search of her wayward husband. She started in the feed room but finding it deserted continued to the chicken shed, which was quite the opposite, though only occupied by avian residents. Finally, she headed for the milking parlour, but on entering, all she could see through the gloom was a large Friesian cow apparently in a state of levitation. The harmless beast looked at her solemnly, its big doleful eyes expressing no alarm. With a feeling of gentle resignation, Ann concluded that her husband must be up to his tricks again.

‘Maxwell?’ she called out in expectation.

‘My name’s Dolly,’ came the deadpan reply, in a gravelly Scottish accent.

It was the kind of humour Ann had suffered for the best part of 20 years. At least her suspicions had been confirmed. And when she finally remembered her husband’s latest harebrained idea, everything fell into place.

It had all started months before on the day of Dolly’s birth. She had been carried from the fields, Maxwell cradling her in a delicate grip that would impress the most learned of midwives. It was an action he had performed many times before but only with Dolly had he considered the long-term possibilities of such behaviour. It struck him that if he were to lift these same ungulate bones on a daily basis, then the incremental increase in weight would prove negligible meaning that one day, he would be able to lift a fully grown cow. Ann had received full briefing of the idea and had suggested that he trial it with a creature of more manageable size, such as a sheep or a pig at the very most. Not one to entertain half measures, Maxwell resolved to stick with the original plan and so Dolly became his subject for investigation.

As Ann stood looking on, it became apparent that Maxwell had no intention of returning the poor beast to the ground. Evidently, he had finished the milking for that evening, so Ann grabbed a couple of bottles and returned to the farmhouse, safe in the knowledge that her husband hadn’t suffered an inglorious farming accident. No, he just happened to be holding a cow aloft. Shortly afterwards, she was relieved to hear the sound of the front door, the power of his appetite having not been totally usurped by other activities. Her husband sat down and she bounced a large bowl of beef stew to him across the kitchen table. They were not the most talkative of couples at the best of times, often surviving on a series of grunts and purrs, but this evening Maxwell seemed unusually quiet and contemplative. Maybe he was reflecting on the irony of his unbelievable cow lifting strength being based upon a hearty consumption of beef. Or maybe there was something else on his mind now that his latest physical challenge had been successfully completed, as witnessed through the impartial eyes of his wife.

Maxwell got up from the table, his body uncurling like a party blower as he stretched to his impressive full height. Taking a bottle of milk from the fridge, he poured himself a full pint, the glass fitting his hand like a half pint would for any person of average build. He opened his gullet and took a long steady swig, his contemplative gaze slowly subsiding to be replaced by an expression of mischief and mirth.

‘Ann,’ he said inquiringly, ‘do you think there’s a market for elephant milk?’

 

Duncan Hedges lives and works in Leeds, West Yorkshire. He writes short stories in his spare time. He has previously been published online at Ellipsis Zine, Spelk and Bending Genres. https://twitter.com/duncan_hedges

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 32 Contents Link

Image by Robin Greenwood from Pixabay 

 

Whale Fall – Lisa Creech Bledsoe

Baleen whales can live a hundred years—
a fact known from generations-old harpoons locked
in the flesh of harvested whales—artifacts:
antique bullets, unexploded mines from a war
about which someone’s grandparents still have nightmares.

What will be cut one day from your body
or mine, that might be considered museum quality—
and what generation’s stories will be sealed in
such a reliquary?

Having made immense improvements to the diving bell
in the late 1700s, Charles Spalding and his nephew
Ebenezer proposed to recover silver, lead, and other
cargo from a ship wrecked in the Irish Sea. Seated
together in the bell, they were guided down with weights
but died, it was thought, after toxic gasses
from rotting bodies pinned in the wreck bubbled up
into their muscular, resolute shell.

Something in me bends away without my understanding
from the exquisite peal of swan and owl, burrows down
to a dreadful — or perhaps magnificent—lightlessness.
Our bodies grow heavy as if guided down by weights, and will
one day be given, or taken by fluke, weapon or
waters slashed to white by sea winds—

then we will fall like the whale,
whose curving architecture, whose mineraled vaults
and sweeping courtyards are briefly thronged with votaries,
then embraced by the current, and more tranquil songs.

 

Watched by crows and friend to salamanders, Lisa Creech Bledsoe is a hiker, beekeeper, and writer living in the mountains of North Carolina. Her first book of poetry, Appalachian Ground, was published in 2019 and she has poems forthcoming in The Main Street Rag, Front Porch Review, and Jam & Sand.

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 32 Contents Link

Image by 272447 from Pixabay 

Softly, Softly – Paul Nevin

Simon Markham had been heating water in a saucepan, but now his kettle had arrived. His new neighbour Mrs Stephens had taken in his Amazon parcel, and when he called upstairs to collect it after work she moved past their nodding acquaintance and ushered him in for tea for the first time.

He waited in an armchair in her neat living room, watching her son, or more likely grandson, Nathan (Mrs Stephens was well into her fifties, the boy about ten), bash two toy cars together in one head-on collision after another. The boy was still dressed in his school uniform, and he sat on the rug in front of the electric fire, on despite the warmth of the spring day. He ignored Simon, and the only sound he made was the explosion that accompanied each car crash.

Mrs Stephens came in carrying a tea-set on a tray. She set it down on the coffee table beside Simon’s parcel, and sat on the sofa opposite him.

‘So, did you know the area before you moved in?’ she said.

Simon nodded. ‘I used to live in a house just the other side of town.’

She glanced at the wedding band on his finger as she poured the tea. ‘And will Mrs Markham be joining you?’

Simon thumbed the ring and thought of Ellie. He guessed that Mrs Stephens knew the answer to this question— there were few reasons you moved from a house to a basement flat in the same town, and she’d seen him coming and going on his own for the past fortnight.

‘No,’ he said. ‘We’re separated. That’s why I’ve moved.’

‘I see,’ Mrs Stephens said. She handed him a cup and saucer. ‘You’ll be looking for a new wife then?’

Simon let out a hoot of laughter, more in shock than amusement, but Mrs Stephens didn’t seem to realise that she’d said anything untoward. She stared at him over the rim of her cup as she sipped her tea, and he realised that she was waiting for an answer.

‘I might let the dust settle on this one first,’ he said.

‘Do you still love her?’ Mrs Stephens said.

He paused, assuming he’d misheard her, but then realised that she’d really been so direct. He felt a flash of anger, and then confusion as to how to react. A weak ‘It’s complicated,’ was all he managed. He gulped at his tea, although it was still too hot and the room too warm.

She gestured at his cup hand with hers. ‘It’s just the ring,’ she said. ‘You’re still wearing it.’

‘Oh, that,’ he said. He meant to add something bland and innocuous, perhaps that it was just force of habit to keep it on, but he found himself telling the truth: ‘I’m just not ready to take it off.’

‘Hers was off right away though, I imagine,’ she said.

He thought back to the day he’d moved out, to sofa-surf with friends until he found the flat downstairs. That was two months ago. Ellie’s wedding ring was off her finger by that point, yes, but it had been absent for months already.

Simon offered Mrs Stephens a thin smile. He didn’t even know her first name; he wasn’t about to discuss his marriage with her.

Mrs Stephens set her cup on its saucer. He braced for another invasive question, but she turned her attention to the boy.

‘Did you meet Nathan?’ she said.

‘I did,’ Simon said, but the boy hadn’t even looked up from his cars.

She beckoned the child to them.

Nathan put his cars down and wandered over, staring at Simon. He stood beside Mr Stephens, leaning on the arm of the sofa and twisting in place on one foot.

Simon leaned forward to put his cup on the table, and a thought popped into his mind – fully formed and with an urge to be acted upon – that he has been an awful husband, that he had made a terrible mistake, and that life without Ellie wasn’t worth living.

The boy was still staring, but now he was smiling. The thought grew stronger, setting down roots, not just intrusive but compulsive, and as bleak and hopeless as depression. There was a hot water pipe running across the top of the bathroom wall in the flat downstairs, and he wondered if it might hold his weight.

Simon could feel a ring of sweat forming around his collar. He leaned back in the armchair, and the idea evaporated at once, a dark cloud that had blotted out the sun, but which had now passed by.

‘You’re doing it the wrong way,’ Mrs Stephens said.

Simon shook his head, not understanding, but she was talking to the boy. Nathan stepped forward, lingering between sofa and armchair.

Simon thought of Ellie, and how quickly their marriage had come tumbling down. They’d planted green beans together in the spring, but she would be harvesting them alone. Maybe he could call and offer to help? Maybe she would say yes. He jumped from one scenario to another, and in all of them he saw a way back to happily married life. And why not? He hadn’t been an awful husband and they hadn’t had a terrible marriage. They’d drifted apart – that was all – and that was a situation that offered hope.

‘I should get going,’ Simon said. He stood up. He would call Ellie as soon as he got back downstairs. Or maybe he would just turn up at his old house, and surprise her.

‘You’ve gone too far the other way,’ Mrs Stephens said to the boy. ‘Softly softly Nathan—she’s supposed to come here, not him go there.’

Simon had made it to the living room door. He realised that the idea of turning up at his old house – Ellie’s house now – was ridiculous. They hadn’t ‘drifted apart’ – they’d grown bored of each other – and that had festered into resentment. But earlier in the year he’d tried and failed to have an affair. Ellie had found out. That’s when she pulled the plug, before the resentment could boil over into hate. It was a wonder that she was still speaking to him.

He turned back to Mrs Stephens. ‘What did you say?’ he said.

‘Oh, it’s just a game we play.’

‘Is it?’ he said. He stepped towards her and Nathan, and felt a rush of excitement at the thought of Ellie, and an urge to run to her, to go now and never come back here. He stepped back, sensing that he was somehow stepping out of range of the boy and whatever it was that he was able to do, and back to his real feeling about his wife and their marriage: disappointment.

Mrs Stephens frowned. ‘I told you not to be a kid—I told you you’d forget how to do this properly,’ but Nathan wasn’t listening. He wandered back to the rug and picked up his toy cars.

Mrs Stephens pushed herself up and off of the sofa. ‘I’ll do it myself,’ she said.

‘What’s going on?’ Simon said. ‘You’ll do what yourself?’

‘We’d like to meet your ex-wife,’ she said. ‘It would be helpful if she could visit you. Then you could introduce us.’

This wasn’t funny, and Simon didn’t laugh this time. ‘We’re still married,’ he said, but he wished he’d told Mrs Stephens to shut up. He turned on his heels and left the flat.

He walked down the steps to the basement flat, cool air drying the sweat patches on his cheeks. Wait until Ellie heard about these weirdos, he thought, but she wouldn’t hear about this at all. Their split had been amicable enough, but they weren’t at the point where he’d be telling her anecdotes about moving out. And these two weren’t weird; they were just different. Mrs Stephens clearly lacked social skills, but she had invited him in for tea, and it didn’t feel fair to mock them, even to himself. A guilty gloom descended, and with it the vague feeling that this wasn’t the first time he’d felt down recently.

He got as far as the door to his flat before he remembered the kettle. He paused, keys in hand. ‘Tomorrow,’ he said aloud. ‘I’ll call in tomorrow after work.’

*      *      *

‘It didn’t work, did it?’ Nathan said. ‘Is the man coming back?’

‘No, it didn’t, and yes he is,’ Mrs Stephens said. She patted the parcel on the table. ‘He’ll be back again tomorrow to try to collect this.’

‘And will we try again too?’ Nathan said. He was still holding one of his toy cars, although there was no longer any need to pretend to be a little boy.

She shook her head. ‘No,’ she said. ‘Tomorrow I’ll try on my own.’

‘And will we be together then, like him and his wife?’

Mrs Stephens nodded. ‘Yes, just like them, Nathan. Just the very same.’

 

Paul Nevin is a London-born and based author of short dark fiction. His work has appeared in Fictive Dream, Idle Ink, Vamp Cat Magazine and XRAY literary magazine. You can follow Paul on Twitter at @paulnevin.

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 32 Contents Link

Image by josemiguels from Pixabay 

Rooted – Davena O’Neill

Nana planted an acorn on her wedding day. You grew to be my best friend.

As a baby, I was protected by your thick green foliage, lying on a blanket, wondering at my fingers and toes. As a small child I rocked on the tyre swing Dad had made, safe on your strong limb, holding me as securely as Dad held Momma when they danced.

Golden summer days, picnics and barbeques, skipping through rainbows made from sprinklers, you stood smiling, squirrels racing among your branches. I hugged your rough skin and learned to climb to your crown, queen of all I surveyed; sitting there I could see for miles. I hid in you whenever I didn’t get my own way, until Momma would coax me down with sweet words or the promise of cinnamon milk.

“Good night” I’d whisper, and kiss your bark, your reply a sigh as I ran to the house.

I learned to count with your acorns, learned my colours in your autumn glory. Made leaf mountains, then dived into them, swooping gold and brown and orange into the sky. Raked them all up, to do it again and again and again. I swear you laughed with me, shaking your canopy in the wind to give me more to play with.

Dad teased me when I worried for you when the snow came.

“You want to put your scarf on it?” he asked. I said that was a good idea, and Nana helped me knit one long enough to fit around you. Dad just shook his head when I proudly tied it and gave you a kiss, then made snow angels to celebrate.

“Sometimes I wonder about you”, he said, then he and Momma joined in. The shapes of us stayed, side by side before you, until the thaw.

Before the next summer I woke one night to commotion, anxious voices in the hall, Dad carrying Momma to the car, her saying over and over “It’s too soon, it’s too soon”. Nana tried to hush me to bed, but not before I saw the blood covered sheets. I ran to you and watched our car till the red tail-lights blinked out of sight. I wanted to stay up there all night, but Nana said I’d only be causing Momma more worry and she needed me to be good.

I wasn’t good enough, Momma never came home. We buried her on a grey wet day, like she had taken all of the colours with her. You stood bowed as I hugged you; branches dipped low to shield me as much as you could. Dad drank and cursed, walked away when I tried to hold his hand, shut himself in their room. Nana said to give him time.

I found him hanging from you a few days later. Granddad took a chainsaw to your branch, angry as if you were to blame. Nana held me back as I screamed, but I never forgave him, any of them. Still, I suppose it was right we were both scarred from their leaving. We buried him with Momma. Granddad too, not long after.

In time Nana and I got into our own rhythm. She kissed me off to school, had supper ready for my homecoming. We sat outside every evening, in all weather, she on the porch knitting, I on a blanket leaning against your trunk, counting the stars.

Nana cheered with me when I budded, wept with me when I bloomed, shared my secrets, hopes and dreams. She became parent and sibling to me; weathered the storm of my adolescence with a quiet grace I hoped to inherit. I sometimes watched her from my bedroom window place her hand on the stump of your severed limb, counting out the rings of life her son would not reach. Nana was the only one who could understand how much I loved you.

My first kiss happened beneath your boughs. I pressed my palms into your bark as he pressed against me. Our romance blossomed underneath your shade, it was only right you should stand for me at my wedding. We dressed you with fairy lights and danced in your glow, paper lanterns on wooden tables, a stereo playing our favourite songs. I waltzed with Nana, her head against my chest.

“I’m so happy for you girl”, she said to my heart.

“Thank you Nana”, I whispered into her hair, “for everything”. But I meant especially for you. She left me soon after and we wept together, your leaves falling as freely as my tears.

Joe never really understood how I was with you. He tolerated it, for a time. But each month that I leaned my tear-stained face against you he pulled further away. I hadn’t meant to shut him out, I just knew no other way. Your children have spread far and wide, grown and multiplied. Joe and I hadn’t roots strong enough to hold our seedless love together. Once again you took the poison of my grief and breathed into me the strength to go on.

So many seasons have passed, with you as my constant, but I am growing bitter like the taste of your fruit. Grey hairs frame my wrinkled face; my limbs resemble your fallen twigs, dry and shrivelled. You are so much stronger than me, aging gracefully, still in your prime, I cannot last.

The knife feels heavy as I stand before you. I push away thoughts of your shock as I carve into your bark, exposing the smooth white wood beneath. I am doing this for you, to leave you something of me. I slice my flesh, press my palm against you, blood mixing with sap.

The wind rustles through your leaves and I feel a rumble beneath my feet. You open up the heart of you, as I step closer, spiralling as we are entwined. I should have known, dear friend, you would not let me depart this world alone.

 

Davena O’ Neill writes about moments, the small everyday events that shape us. She is a published writer of poetry, flash fiction, and short stories, and lives in Kerry, Ireland.

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 32 Contents Link

Image by _Alicja_ from Pixabay 

Walls – Carl “Papa” Palmer

have ears
listen
pay attention
available
don’t talk back
or offer opinion
never interrupt
let you have your say

being the wall
should be mandatory
taught in school
at home
on TV
a college class
before marriage
prerequisite for politicians
and not just in America

 

Carl “Papa” Palmer of Old Mill Road in Ridgeway, Virginia, lives in University Place, Washington. He is retired from the military and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) enjoying life as “Papa” to his grand descendants and being a Franciscan Hospice volunteer. Carl is a Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net and Micro Award nominee. MOTTO: Long Weekends Forever!

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 32 Contents Link

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay 

Mealtimes with Milly – Leonie Rowland

‘Hello, and welcome back to Mealtimes With Milly. I make new videos every day, so you’ll never need to eat alone.’

I have been living, sleeping and eating alone for six months. There is nothing old about this city, and yet here I am, afraid of ghosts. I found Milly after eight lonely weeks, or one hundred and sixty-eight solitary mealtimes, in a quiet moment of serendipity, or perhaps divine intervention, that meant nothing at the time and now means everything.

‘I hope you’ve had a scrumptious day. Tonight, I’m eating cheese ramen from my favourite restaurant.’ Milly has a lot of favourite restaurants, but I phone this one all the same. My order follows hers exactly: one large bowl of cheese ramen with a soft-boiled egg and a side of beef rice. I have been a vegetarian all my life, but Milly wouldn’t like that.

‘Mmm, it smells good.’ She is wearing a yellow bow today, presumably to compliment the cheese. This tells me that she has planned her dinner with some foresight, which, besides her company, is more than I can say for myself. But my niggling sense of inadequacy is eased away by her first mouthfuls, the steaming soup, the moans she makes when it passes her lips. ‘Whoops,’ she says, laughing as a noodle trails against her chin like a slug. My mouth waters in anticipation.

Like everything that changes you, Milly made caves of my assumptions and called for re-evaluation. If someone else had been in my position when she pulled me from the pit, I might have laughed, or made a face like Milly did when she ate a plate full of lemons.

‘It’s so good to see you again. How’s your day been?’

There is a pause, in which I answer: ‘It’s been okay. I mean—it’s better now.’

‘Thank you so much for stopping by.’

‘You know I always do. How’s your day been, Milly?’

‘Let’s eat ramen!’ There’s always a slight disconnect in our conversations, but I have grown used to it and find that similar disconnects exist in my daily life. Since Milly, I have learnt to appreciate these gaps as profound moments of intimacy, the space where minds can meet, and I would venture my relationships have improved as a result.

It could be the excitement, or perhaps the knowledge that soon my body will be full, but I need the bathroom. Milly freezes with a spoon hovering seductively over parted lips, her little pink tongue just visible. I try not to go to the bathroom too many times because it spoils the flow of our conversation. Milly doesn’t like spoiled things. Once, she made a bowl of cereal, and the milk came out in large, quivering clumps. Milly screwed up her face, but she still looked perfect like that, like a little wincing doll. ‘It’s disgusting,’ she said—but looking back, if you mute the sound, void the expulsion, the words still look pretty falling from her lips.

When I lock the bathroom door, I often think of my mother. Sometimes I lock it quietly, so the metal barely makes a sound, and I can pretend it isn’t happening. Sometimes I lock it loud, with a flick of the wrist, quickly and with purpose. The door, I know, needs to be locked today, and I accept it. Sometimes I do it without thinking, and these times are the worst. A numb realisation washes over me and my clean hands when I try the handle and realise what I have done.

I don’t think she noticed me locking the door before I moved away. Or if she did, she thought nothing of it. I think that’s part of the problem. It put distance between us that she could not breach without breaking it down, and I am not sure which of us that isolated. The door was frosted glass, so I knew I could get out if it came to that, but I hoped it wouldn’t. There would have been nothing left to break.

When I was at university, a friend of mine liked playing the ‘imagine if’ game.

‘Imagine if your mother drove over and took you out for lunch,’ she would say.

‘Yes,’ I would reply. ‘Imagine that’.

Imagine if you came home for dinner one night, and there was nothing to eat but soap. Imagine that!

Imagine if all the toothbrushes came to life and became very malicious and started swearing. Would people still put them in their mouths? Imagine that!

Imagine if you locked the bathroom door and stayed inside for two whole days until your mother called the police. Imagine that!

My friend says I don’t understand the game very well.

When mother did come to visit, she banged hard on the bathroom door. If I think about it now, I can see the shape of her body in the glass. But she is already a spectre, here from another time, travelled all this way to haunt me.

Perhaps she did notice me locking the door, after all.

My doorbell rings, and I spring into action. The elevator pings seven times, counting the floors, and even though it is a logical impossibility, I hope it will be Milly waiting for me when the doors open. I have tried to smile like she does a few times, and I practice now in the mirror; but my face has none of her warmth, and I am suddenly aware of my skeleton. The delivery man is loitering outside, checking his watch, and I apologise as he hands me the bag.

‘It doesn’t matter,’ he says.

‘I hope you weren’t waiting for long. I’m having dinner with a friend, you see.’

‘The restaurant sends its compliments.’

‘It’s a pretty night, don’t you think?’ You can almost see the stars over the city’s spectral haze. I notice the moon is shaded yellow, so I add, as Milly might: ‘The moon looks like a giant bowl of ramen!’ The man looks at me suspiciously and, thanking me again, returns to his bike. I return to the lift and let the scent fill it up like steam in a sauna.

I had similar conversational success during a phone call that happened with my mother last Tuesday.

‘Hello, mother,’ I said to the air. Her voice arrived back, and I thought about how far we can reach without actually touching. She said: ‘Hello? Hello, darling,’ and then she asked how I am. Luckily, I was prepared. I have practiced my answer with a giant smile every night for two months. I know it is good because I’ve seen its reflection. ‘I’m very well, thank you. How are you?’ Milly always cares when she asks how I am, so I would never disappoint her with the truth.

My mother was well. She had decided to open a little shop in the village. That’s nice, I said. I think there’s something very sad about her hypothetically small shop, but I didn’t tell her that. The shop is pretty in my head, the kind of place I would like to go myself, but she looks wrong dressed in black among the pastel pinks and blues. I wonder what she’ll sell. I wonder if she’ll still buy me birthday presents or if she’ll just pluck one off the shelf. I wonder if I’ll like it anyway.

‘Maybe Milly and I will visit when it opens,’ I said, but I know that’s ridiculous. I have no plans to go home.

My mother said that would be nice, but I don’t really know Milly. It upsets me when she says this, because although four months isn’t long, I feel like I know her quite well.

‘Do you love her?’ she said.

‘She’s my best friend.’

‘Do you love me?’

‘You’re my mother.’

Imagine if I forgot to lock the door, and she tried the handle. Imagine that!

Imagine if she moved too fast and slipped on soap and hit her head. Imagine that!

Imagine if the insistent water forced her throat and found her lungs. Imagine that! Imagine that!

‘Maybe you could sell soap in the shop,’ I said. It’s a coincidence, really, because that night Milly told me she was opening a shop too.

‘It’s online, so you can visit it wherever you are.’ She has always been so thoughtful. I don’t think her shop will be anything like my mother’s. If it sells soap, maybe it will smell of her. I don’t think that’s out of the question. Mother said she was going to visit soon, so it would be nice to have a few Milly bars on hand.

When I return to my flat, ramen in hand, I am comforted by the glow from my laptop, which is gathering quietly in the darkness. The walk from the front door to the light switch, however short, always fills me with dread.

‘You’re home from a long day at work,’ says a familiar voice.

‘Hi Milly,’ I say, placing the hot plastic bags onto the table. Her voice is sweet, and I feel it stirring my cells. ‘It has been a long day.’

‘You are very special. Well done.’ I am suddenly filled with a deep uncertainty. I look closely at my laptop on the table.

‘You’re here,’ I say.

‘It’s so nice of you to drop by and see me.’

‘It’s my home. I have to drop by.’

‘Grab your food and get comfy.’

‘I’ll get you a bowl too,’ I say. But she is already eating. I walk to the kitchen, leaving her behind me. In my mind, I search for her shadow. ‘Would you like a drink?’

‘I love soup,’ she says. I empty a tin of tomato soup into a mug and place it in the microwave. I realise too late that it is decorated with her face. It turns smiling pirouettes in the blistering heat, and I am reminded of the day I moved away, when it was hot and disorientating, and I had no one. It was unclear whether she wanted the soup in place of a drink. I hope that by placing it in the mug she has the best of both worlds. I adapt quickly, you see.

I return and place the soup in front of her. She is paler than I remember, like her skin is made of porcelain. She has two red bows in her hair, and as she crouches over her dinner she looks feline, predatory almost. All she needs are whiskers, and she could be a beckoning cat.

She looks at me then. I feel it pierce my heart. She has always been so familiar. ‘Won’t you come home?’ she says. ‘Won’t you, please?’

‘I am home.’ I can smell something strong, like eggs, but I can’t see what she’s eating.

‘Please visit my shop.’

‘I will.’ I unwrap my food and break apart the wooden chopsticks. I can use them as weapons if it comes to that, I think. With hot mouths that taste the same, she is so close that we are almost touching.

When it is done, I place the containers back in the bag. It is like they were never there, and the thought of them arriving so recently and then being disposed of makes me want to cry. ‘I want to cry,’ I say.

‘I don’t like that,’ she replies.

I stand up and walk to the bathroom. Her face screws up as she watches me go, like it is full of lemons. I close the door, flick the lock. Only then do I realise my mouth is swollen with soup. I spit it into the sink, but it has burned through my cheeks, and they are red.

‘What are you doing?’ comes a voice from outside. I turn to the door just in time to see a silhouette advancing towards the frosted glass.

 

Leonie Rowland has just completed an MA in Gothic Literature at Manchester Metropolitan University. She was long-listed for the Bath Flash Fiction Award in October 2019 and the Reflex Fiction Spring Award in March 2020. Her academic writing has recently been published in the Dark Arts Journal.

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 32 Contents Link

Image via AdobeStock

Ashes to Ashes – Mari Maxwell

She got the gold.

In the end it didn’t much matter.

She was all about the money, the having. She’d probably hock it anyhow.

Gold to her was orgasm. Dull warmth burnished. She had to have. Must have. Will. Have. It.

Kept the monster fed so she could weigh and stamp each nugget. The pure stuff. High end. First class. And if she draped herself in 24 or more karat how her adoring public would bow and scrape and she could just flutter her fingers, gold bracelets tinkling as each smashed into the other.

I hope her Midas touch turns it all to clay.

 

Mari Maxwell’s writing has featured in a Coercive Control exhibition with Wexford Women’s Refuge Nov. 2019; Healing Words Exhibition in London Oct. 2019, University College Dublin’s Poetry Wall in 2019 & 2018. Her writing features online and in print in Ireland, USA, India, Brazil and Australia.

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 32 Contents Link

Image by Frank Winkler from Pixabay 

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: