Banshee – Claire Loader

They say the banshee came the night my grandmother died, the night my mother was born. Through their screams and wails it was said another sound could be heard, a keening howl that tore about the hedgerows, raced upon the fields. The desperate cries of life and death dancing above the thatch as both bled into the floor beneath it.

I never really believed in all that shite. My Grandmother dying as she gave birth on the barren earth of a dingy cottage was horror enough without the need of a spectral element. I think Mam was always disappointed in me in that way, as if not believing in another piseog I was turning my back on her somehow. Just another disappointment to add to the pile.

“Could you make your bed this morning please, just once?”

“Yes, Ma.”

“And don’t go using the dryer so much. You know it eats up the electricity.”

“I’m sorry, Ma.”

“And you better not fail that maths test this morning. If I have to be called in to talk to Mrs Kennedy one more time…”

“I’ve been studying Mammy, don’t worry.”

If the banshee really did exist surely it was in the form of Mrs Kennedy, she heralded the death of all things. That pursed upper lip, those awful tanned stockings, the way she spoke Irish like she was squeezing it past a carrot squashed up the hole of her arse. Her classes were like one long drawn out scream in which we were all forced to remain silent, not knowing which one of us would drop next from shear boredom. And I was late, again.

“Ms Kavanagh, Dia dhuit.” The words slid out of her mouth like putrid yoghurt. “Delighted you could join us.”

I sat quickly in my seat, determined to ace this thing, to prove to Mam I was more than just a future burger flipper at Supermacs, pregnant at seventeen to the likes of Enda Costello. I looked up at him from my exam paper, broad shoulders hunched over his own, the bottom edges of his pants mucky with this morning’s dirt. Up early on his Dad’s farm most like, his large hands at work long before I managed to drag mine out of bed. His pen was dwarfed by them, and I could suddenly see myself in its place, albeit far less rigid…

“Ms Kavanagh! Eyes on your paper please!”

The banshee again, screaming at me from my future. I looked at my blank paper, then at the clock. I didn’t need the gift of foresight to know I was in deep shit.

When I arrived home Mam looked shook, as if she knew already of my imminent F.

“You alright, Ma?”

Her hands paused in the sink, “Yes. Yes, it’s nothing.”

My eyes narrowed, full sure she could somehow see into my mind, into all of its scraggly compartments, see clearly my morning equations that had nothing to do with numbers. I wavered like an unsure cat, not knowing if it was truly safe.

“Why don’t you go walk the dog or something?”

My brow creased in suspicion. “Sure, Ma.”

I grabbed the dog, hand sliding over the small box in my pocket as I headed out to the quiet of the back field. My parents hadn’t built far from the old cottage, its stony gable end the only thing visible now through the tangle of brambles. I turned from the kitchen window, lighting up a cigarette away from the ‘Great Eye of Mammy’ that was otherwise always watching, Molly rustling about the long grass as I drank in the quiet of the afternoon, certain at any moment Mrs Kennedy would appear with my fast food uniform at the ready, the stitched white shirt proclaiming my doom.

Molly started barking suddenly and I nearly tripped as, quickly turning, I saw her growling wasn’t at the house but the ruins, a dark movement catching my eye from between the bushes.

“Those little Halloran shits again.”

I don’t know what I was doing heading towards the cottage, as if my cigarette was some kind of lightsaber against local vandals, but I stopped abruptly, the dog trembling at my feet, a hooded figure looming out from the stone.

“What the…”

A shriek broke the air and, not waiting to find out if it hadn’t come from my own mouth, I ran through the paddock, my fingers fumbling on the kitchen door, before slipping inside and slamming it safely behind me.

Mam spoke suddenly from the middle of the kitchen, as I leaned heavily against the door, my chest heaving. “You saw her too, didn’t you?”

“I, no, um… maybe?”

Mam stood ashen, her gaze suddenly fearful and I barely made out her whisper, “But she only comes to warn of another’s passing. But that means…”

Our eyes locked. Perhaps now was a good time to tell her about the test.

 

CLAIRE LOADER was born in New Zealand & spent several years in China before moving to County Galway. A photographer & writer, she was a recent winner in the Women Speak poetry competition and blogs at http://www.allthefallingstones.com

Cabinet Of Heed Contents Link 24

Image via Pixabay

Trainwreck – Alexa Locksley

First time in Denver, a highrise hotel
Smooth sweep of the sliding door whispers class traitor
recessed lights nod in agreement
My companion’s asleep—
exhausted by the mesas of Utah
the hazy opulence of Vale
or maybe my sullen silence
Tiptoe through the lobby of the Grand Hyatt
dress too short
hair too disheveled
flannel too flannel
too many toos for this place
and a copy of Burroughs tucked under my arm
catches the camera eyes of the elevator woman
fluorescent glare from her black plastic shells
insect eyes bulge from her face
She adjusts her orange hibiscus print dress
smiles a false robot smile
and telepathically opens the doors.

Cross the stone corridor
step out into the steaming gray morning, stand under wet humid sky
my antennae drooping, two wilted celery stalks
Take refuge among leather and lamplight
Crack open gold coins, melting yellow streaks
Cell walls expand, jelly replenished
synapses of cellulose stronger with intake:
poison word hoard and rich burn of espresso
wine & sour oil
faint hints of charcoal at the back of the tongue
an imagined memory of withered grass, oolong reduced to ash
false dairy, shelf stable and sanitized
in another world, twin apricot suns below ground
in the lindworm’s tunnel under Munich streets

Shake off the memory
shake out my powdery wings
dodge the streetcars and blend in with gray concrete
Disguise myself as a steamed salmon
lemon slice to keep up with the fashion
and join in the stream

A fresh bucket of deep-sea dread from a long-past meet&greet
(too serious and literary for the ampersand)
Warst du schon mal in Wien?
that deceptively innocent questionmark a tiny tadpole sprouting tentacles
transforms
octopus whirlpool spirals down to the depths
until your friends fish you out
reel you in
admonish in hushed strained voices because Jesus Al you can’t say that
and the sting of the fishhook still slices into your cheek

But now in the diegetic present
face to face
you’re one of us, I’m almost sure
our panicked transaction of phrases a mutual trainwreck
jumbled words casualties that limp from the wreckage
and for a moment I belong.

 

ALEXA LOCKSEY is an escaped Midwesterner living in Las Vegas, where they teach English. Their poetry and short fiction has appeared in Ghost City Review, Peach Mag, Shot Glass Journal, Rose Quartz Magazine, and Bone & Ink Literary Magazine. They are on Twitter and Instagram @AlexaLocksley.

Cabinet Of Heed Contents Link 23

Image via Pixabay

The Tutor – Bayveen O’Connell

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

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

Climbing the steps, I heard the door click open.

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

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

“John said you’re struggling in Bio.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What you think?”

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Image by Mylene2401 from Pixabay

Takotsubo – Rebecca Field

The inflatable Darth Vader in the hallway keeps making me jump. It catches me unawares as I nip to the downstairs toilet, go to answer the front door or pick up the post. It is a dark shadow lurking in my peripheral vision, about the same height as you were; three foot or thereabouts. In that instant when my brain forgets, I wonder if there is somebody standing there, if it is you come back somehow.

Your Mum wouldn’t have it in your house. I remember her bringing it over, saying ‘you’ve got more room for things like this here,’ and setting it down with a smirk. I hadn’t the heart to say we wouldn’t have it either. When you turned it on, it started making those heavy breathing noises and then you took out the controller and started moving it up and down the parquet and I realised the full extent of its robotic capabilities. I’ll admit, I did wonder if after a while I might be able to accidentally puncture it whilst hoovering whilst you were at nursery.

I tried putting it in the garage, but every time you came over it was the first thing you asked for. You loved chasing the cat with it, dressing it in different hats and scarves, pinning me into corners in the kitchen with it as I made your lunches, and so in the end it stayed in the hallway like a quirky piece of furniture, waiting for your next visit.

That afternoon, I came home with Fred in my black pencil skirt, hung up my jacket and slipped off my court shoes by the front door. It was there waiting, holding its light sabre aloft. It seemed to have an indignant look on its face, as if it had been denied the one thing it wanted, its sole reason for being. I know how you feel I thought. Keep busy, I told myself. Don’t stop or you’ll never get going again. I went upstairs to strip the beds, open the windows, let in some air.

As I was loading the washer I felt the first pain. It was sharp and unrelenting, like somebody squeezing my heart in a tight fist, trying to wring out every last drop of blood. I leaned on the counter, knowing it wasn’t right, but thinking that maybe it was a manifestation of grief and might pass soon. I went back through the hallway to the lounge, to the safety of soft furnishings and carpets. I saw it again in the corner as I passed and I thought that if this was my time to go then that wouldn’t be so bad.

I leaned back on the sofa cushions and called to Fred, only half-hoping he’d hear me. He called the ambulance and that’s how I ended up in the hospital with a cardiologist telling me it wasn’t really a heart attack; it was this thing called Takotsubo that had made my heart stretch out of shape. He said it was the shock of your death that did it, but I’d probably make a full recovery. I decided right then that he knew nothing about bereavement. Fred asked why it had such a strange name and the doctor said it was from the Japanese, something about the clay pots fishermen use to catch octopuses, and how they looked like the shape of my left ventricle. He drew a diagram on some paper and I wondered how an animal as intelligent as an octopus could get trapped so easily in an open necked clay pot. Maybe they were too trusting I thought, thinking they had found somewhere nice to rest, then finding themselves ripped out of the water before they realised what was going on. I don’t remember the rest of what he said but I stayed on that ward for several days, thinking that my heart was still broken whatever the monitors were saying.

When Fred brought me home, Darth Vader was still in the hallway where you’d left him. His face was expressionless, like the way I felt. I didn’t think you’d want me to put him in the garage just yet, Fred said. No, I said. I quite like him there after all.

 

 

REBECCA FIELD lives and writes in Derbyshire. She has been published online by Riggwelter Press, Spelk fiction, The Cabinet of Heed and Ellipsis Zine among others. Rebecca was highly commended in the 2018 NFFD microfiction competition and tweets at @RebeccaFwrites

 

Image by toxi85 from Pixabay

Blueberry Muffins – Steven John

Dymphna lived with her mother in three damp, square rooms above Greasy Joe’s truck stop on the drainpipe road out of a nondescript town, the name of which mattered only to those that lived there. Greasy Joe himself, Dymphna’s father, had keeled over from his lardaceous arteries when she was twelve, and her mother had been bitter about it ever since.

From a mouth like a squeezed lemon her mother would say, “Your father fucked off and left us nothing but his arse to wipe.”

“Father didn’t fuck off Mum, he died.”

“Well that was convenient for him wasn’t it? Got him out of frying eggs for the rest of his puff,” Dymphna’s mother would say.

The red neon Greasy Joe’s sign pulsed like a bleeding heart into Dymphna’s bedroom. Her mother gave her Saturday night and Sundays off. A night and a day away from the water boiler where she made mugs of tea and coffee for fifteen hours straight. The day Dymphna had left school at sixteen her mother had said,

“You’re on drinks. I’ll do the frying,” and that was that.

There were Saturday nights, in front of her bedroom mirror, when Dymphna thought she was pretty enough. She blow-dried her long silky black hair and fluttered her eyelids at herself. There were other Saturday nights when she thought she was a flat-chested bag of bones that stank of streaky bacon. Either way her boyfriend Eddie would pick her up Saturdays, in his articulated truck, for the overnight haul to London.

After three hours on the road Eddie pulled into their usual layby and Dymphna ran over the carriageway for McDonalds and Cokes. Whilst she was gone Eddie pulled the curtains across the windscreen and laid out the blankets on the single bunk behind the wheel. When Dymphna climbed back up the steps to the cab Eddie poured two large plastic tumblers of rum and Dymphna emptied in the coke. Whilst they ate their cheeseburgers and drank their rum and cokes Eddie watched video of extreme fishing.

Dymphna rested her head on Eddie’s shoulder.

“Well this is nice Eddie, just you and me,” she said.

“You made me miss a good bit. He was on a monster fish” Eddie said and rewound.

At bedtime Eddie and Dymphna stripped off to their underwear and got under the blankets. Dymphna had in the past tried some experimentation with their love-making but there wasn’t sufficient headroom for anything that different. Eddie said that it seemed like a lot of huffing and puffing for nothing much anyway.

At five in the morning Dymphna woke to the cough of the truck’s engine and Eddie taking a piss on the front wheels. She pulled on her clothes, used the McDonald’s toilets and brought back coffee and blueberry muffins.

Whilst Eddie supervised the unload she redid her make-up in the sun visor mirror and never left the womb of the cab. On the return journey Dymphna talked about her dream to own a café by the seaside. Eddie said that was fine by him as long as he could go fishing.

“Maybe I could sell fresh fish from a corner of the café,” he said.

“And I would sell my homemade muffins,” said Dymphna.

Late on Sunday night Eddie dropped her back outside Greasy Joe’s.

“Same again next week?” he said, without stopping the engine, or taking his hand from the wheel. Dymphna leaned over and kissed him on the mouth.

Back upstairs in their damp rooms her mother lay hugging a cigarette on the sofa. She didn’t say hello or take her eyes from the TV screen.

“Had a good day Mum?” Dymphna asked.

“I changed the oil in the fryers,” she said, “whilst you’ve been out enjoying yourself.”

 

STEVEN JOHN lives in The Cotswolds, UK, where he writes short stories and poetry. He’s had work published in pamphlets and online magazines including Riggwelter, Bangor Literary Review, Fictive Dream, Cabinet of Heed and Former Cactus. He has won Bath Ad Hoc Fiction a record six times and was highly commended in 2018 ‘To Hull and Back’ competition.Steve has read at Cheltenham Poetry Festival, Stroud Short Stories, Flasher’s Club and The Writer’s Room on Corinium Radio.  Twitter: @StevenJohnWrite

Image via Pixabay

Cabinet Of Heed Contents

Kings Cross Examination – Dan Brotzel

Let us turn now to the evening of the 21st. An unusually hot Friday, even for July, as we have heard. At about 5.45pm you boarded a tube train to take you home, is that correct, Mr B?

Yes.

What route did you take? 

It was the Piccadilly line, heading north. I got on at Oxford Circus, then got off at Finsbury Park to get the Victoria line. 

Indeed. And it was at Oxford Circus that an incident took place. Do you remember coming into contact with a gentleman – Mr Jarvis, here – as he attempted to alight from the train?

There may have been a brief coming together. The train was very crowded.

Quite so, quite so! But you weren’t actually on the train at the point, were you? Or you were not supposed to be, at least. 

I’d stood to the side to let people off. I guess the momentum of the crowd carried me forward on to the train. It was hard to see if there were people still getting off. 

I see. Are you in the habit of being swept along by the momentum of the crowd?

Well, there are times when-

Have you, for instance, ever been swept under the wheels of an oncoming train by the hordes on a crowded tube platform?

Well. I mean, I hardly think-

Answer the question, please, Mr B.

I haven’t, no.

Are you aware of the protocols concerning the egress and ingress of passengers on tube trains, protocols which have of course especial sway and application at times of high peak use?

‘Please let passengers off the train first.’

Quite so, quite so. And yet you did the exact opposite…

As I’ve tried to explain-

-Leaving poor Mr Jarvis to have to fight his way out of the carriage, in order not to be stuck on the train and carried forth to another stop not his own!!

I regret this. But he did actually shove me quite roughly. 

He had to get off, Mr B! He had a gym appointment in Regent Street for 8.30! That muscle tissue won’t tear itself you know! 

I know. I’m very sorry. But I was in the way by accident. Whereas he pushed me on purpose.

And then what happened?

He stalked off.

Understandable, perhaps? And how did you feel?

I was upset. I was partly riled about having been shoved so roughly, and partly guilty at not being able to apologise. But of course, he never gave me a chance to explain, which was the worst feeling of all. 

Oh dear! Poor Mr B! Let us turn now to the morning of June 27thand to the testimony of Ms Pierce here. (And thank you so much for coming in to testify today, Ms Pierce, I now it’s not easy, the courts are not as accessible as one might wish.) So… at approximately 7.55am, you had boarded a train on the Piccadilly line, heading south.

That’s right. I was going to work.  

You were very comfortably ensconced in your seat, were you not?

No, I couldn’t get a seat at first.

That was a shame, wasn’t it, Mr B? I bet you were looking forward to getting stuck into your book. 

Well, it’s always nice to be able to sit down. That line gets very crowded in the mornings. 

Yes, of course. And you’ll stop at nothing to get a seat, will you, Mr B? And you’ll cling on to it at any price, won’t you? 

Well, I don’t think that’s entirely fair.

Let us see. Tell us what happened just after Kings Cross.

Someone stood up and gave their seat away. Only seconds after the train had left the station. 

Was that unusual? 

It was unheard of! I thought it must be a tourist, or someone very unfamiliar with the line who was nervous about missing their stop. They had a sort of fluorescent rucksack on, and a general air of panicky purposefulness. 

Any other thoughts?

Well. I did wonder if they’d spilt coffee on the seat or something. Or if they were incontinent.

Charming! But none of that worried you, did it, Mr B? What did you do next? 

I sat down. 

You pounced on the seat. Like a vulture.

Well I think I was technically nearest at the time.  

So no one else was interested in the seat at the time?

Well, there was a woman…

What sort of age?

About my age.

Did she make a move towards the seat?

I’m not sure. 

You didn’t think to give up your chance of a seat up for the lady?

I did think about it.

But you didn’t do it.

No.

What reasons did you come up with, in your own mind, to excuse yourself for your failure to extend this basic kindness to a lady in need a seat? 

I remember telling myself that women find that sort of thing patronising now. Equality between men and women makes a farce of all that old-fashioned chivalry stuff. Same as how they don’t like to be called ‘girls’ any more (or ‘ladies’ probably.) Also, I thought she was the sort of age where the offer of a seat would have been more upsetting than complimentary. Also, my back’s quite bad at the moment. And anyway, it’s dog-eat-dog on the Tube. 

I see. You went through all these reasons while you were in the process of sitting down?

Yes.

And did any of these excuses, these self-justifications, make you feel any less guilty?  

Not really. But I was also thinking of that time I stood up for a woman with a loose-fitting top on. She snarled: ‘Why does everyone keep offering me a seat? Do I look fucking pregnant or something?’ She did, of course. 

I see. But still – to return to the present case – you sat on.

My back does twinge a bit. 

More self-justifications, I see.

I’ve started doing pilates! Just once a week, but it does seem to be helping. It’s all about working on your core. 

Let’s stick to the case at hand. How many others were standing by the time the train neared Kings Cross?

About 7 or 8. 

But not you, of course. You were set up for the journey with your hard-won seat.

As I say, I think I was nearest. 

And then someone got on at Kings Cross that changed things. Or should have, perhaps.

You mean the blind woman. And her guide dog.

Quite so, Mr B. What did she look like? 

If I recall correctly, she wore a bright orange top and jangly earrings. They reminded me of the comedy Christmas tree ones my mum always wears. At Christmas. The woman’s eyes sort of fluttered. And the expression on her face was open, smiley.

So what happened next?

Nothing. She just stood there with all the other people standing.

A blind woman? Left to stand in the vestibule?

I know. But it was quite clear who should have stood up for her. 

Who?

The person in the nearest seat. The protocol is well-established. 

And who was that?

A teenage girl.

I see. And what did she do?

Nothing! She was oblivious, self-involved, headphones on, possibly asleep. Possibly foreign.  

So what did everyone else in the carriage do?

Well, we all sent out our strongest guilt-glares, of course we did. But the girl seemed to be immune to them. 

I see. So naturally, someone else stood up to offer the blind woman a seat?

Actually, no one made a move. It was all a bit tense. 

And where were you seated in relation to all this?

I was sitting opposite the teenage girl. 

So who was on the hook now, morally speaking, if the teenage girl was oblivious? Was it you?

No! I’d say it was the man sitting next to the teenage girl. A sort of bearded, geeky type, all wired up and immersed in his game of Minesweeper. Or the second season of I, Robot, I don’t know. 

You couldn’t actually see what was on his screen, could you?

No.

Have you ever actually payed Minesweeper? Do you even know what it is? 

Not really, no. 

More casual prejudice, I see. Anyway, did you all start sending guilt-glares this man’s way too?

Of course! It was getting embarrassing by now. The whole system was breaking down.  

And what did this ‘geeky type’ do? Did the guilt-glares get to him?

No! He just sort of… retreated into his beard.  

You didn’t like his beard, did you?

No, if I’m honest. 

Do you wear a beard yourself sometimes?

Yes.

And how do you feel about your beard?

I don’t like it much either. 

I see. Are you, by the way, in the habit of describing teenagers as ‘self-involved’?

Er… yes.

And people with beards as geeks?

Yes.

I see. Meanwhile, back in the carriage, the blind woman still didn’t have a seat. 

No. I did send out a few more random guilt-glares of my own, but they come to nothing.

So perhaps it was down to you now, Mr B, as the only seated person apparently aware of the situation, to make a stand – quite literally – for common decency? 

In retrospect, yes. I fully accept that I should have got up at this point. 

So you stood?

Er, no. 

You carried on sitting.

Yes. I’m not proud of this. 

And how did you justify this to yourself at the time?

Well, I was still waking up really. But I did wonder if the blind woman had already told someone that she was happier standing. I started to imagine in fact that I’d heard her tell someone this. Also, I thought that it might have been awkward for her and her dog to make their way across to my seat.

What was the distance between the blind woman and your seat?

Ooh, six or eight feet at least.

I see. And of course, you still had your book to read. 

Well, yes. I suppose so. But the atmosphere was almost a bit too awkward for reading by now. 

Still, it would have been a shame to have to lose that hard-earned seat.

I’m not proud of myself. 

Remind us, for the benefit of the court, what sort of book you were reading?

It was an account of the genocide in Rwanda.

I see. Let us fast-forward now to Warren Street, and a new development occurred. What happened? 

The seat next to me came free. 

I see. And then?

This woman with cropped blond hair and a stern expression made a big point of leading the blind woman over to this seat so she could sit down. It was a foldie, I recall. 

And what did you do? 

At that point I leapt up so the blind woman could have my seat instead, which was actually slightly easier to access than the one that had just come free. 

So you were shamed into action at last.

I suppose you could say that. We helped the blind woman to sit down, and then I offered the woman with the stern expression the free seat next to the blind woman. 

Your seat.

Yes.

And what did the woman with the cropped expression do?

She said: ‘No thanks.’ And then she said, louder and more pointed, for the benefit of me but taking in the whole carriage: ‘And frankly I’m astonished.’ I noticed a hint of Liverpudlian in her stern accent. 

I see… Stern face, stern accent: did you want to use the word ‘Scouse’ just then?

It did occur to me but I wasn’t sure if it was OK to use it. Especially if you’re not, er, Scouse.

Such delicacy! Such sensitivity! Mind you, even the guards in the camps read Goethe. So let’s recap: you have shown yourself to be callously spineless and morally bankrupt. Your offer of assistance is rightly dismissed as ‘too little, too late’ by your righteously stern fellow passenger. So now what do you do?   

Well, there was nothing for it but to sit down again. 

Back to your fascinating book about genocide?

I couldn’t read! The words swam before my eyes. I felt that people were looking at me. I didn’t want my stupid seat. It was a relief to get off in the end.  

This was at Victoria.

Yes.

Where you were about to mount the escalator… 

Correct.

…Only to look up and see the woman with the stern expression staring down in your direction.

Yes. I hadn’t realised she’d got off at the same stop. I could see she was still talking about the incident with someone. And from the set of her chin and her tautened lips, she was obviously still seething about it. 

Oh dear Mr B! Not what you wanted at all, I imagine! 

No! Plus I had on these light blue trousers paired with tan shoes. I was a bit stuck for clothes that morning, and my outfit suddenly seemed ludicrously conspicuous. Everything a shade too bright to be plausible.

Yes, I remember. It’s one of our worst, isn’t it? You must have been terrified she’d spot you.

Terrified.

And did she?

You know she did. You’re me, remember.

So what did you do?

I hung back, slinking around by the bottom of the escalator.

How did you feel?

I was burning with shame, obviously.

I see. And what did she do?

Oh, she just carried on glaring down at me. 

From her ever-ascending moral high ground.

Yes. 

Serve you right, perhaps, Mr B?

But I didn’t see the blind woman! It wasn’t down to me to stand up in the first place! Of course I would have got up if I’d realised! I was half-asleep! My back! Pilates! Don’t single me out – look at my track record! Look at all the other fucks who did nothing! And these people never give you a right of reply! Most of my mental life is spent fighting these imaginary court cases! 

The self-prosecution never rests, m’lud.

 

Image via Pixabay 

Cabinet Of Heed Contents

Orangelip – Adam Kelly Morton

Jeff is the only guy I know who truly appreciates dinky cars. My favorite is a navy-blue Hot-Wheeler Ford Mustang that goes super fast on the plastic racetracks that we have laid out all over his basement floor. It smells like oil down here, but it adds to the experience. Jeff has a Matchboxer fire truck that goes pretty fast too, but it doesn’t go around the loop-the-loop as fast as my Mustang. He loves fire trucks though, and his has a moveable yellow ladder on it that’s pretty fucking cool.

Jeff asks me, “Why don’t you let me use your Mustang this time around?”

“No,” I say. “You’ve got your fire truck. Stick with that, Orangelip.” I call him Orangelip because Jeff always has Tang residue on his upper lip. My mom was the one who first called him that. She has funny mean names for all the neighborhood kids.

Jeff looks down at his fire truck and rolls it around in his hand. “I never get to use anything that wins,” he says. “I never get to win.”

“Well, that’s just too bad for you, Orangelip,” I say. “A loser is a loser.”

After a while, we go upstairs to the kitchen for lunch. Jeff’s mom’s blonde hair is usually done up in pretty curls, and she always wears makeup and light-colored clothes. Now, she’s just wearing an old, beige bathrobe that has brown stains on it. She’s barefoot, has hairy ankles, and her face and hair aren’t done up at all. She stands behind the counter and scrapes a thin layer of Skippy onto a piece of white bread, then covers it with another piece and puts it on a plate. Then she gives us couple of plastic cups of water and a container of Tang, and walks out without putting anything away.

“Why is your mom so quiet?” I say, as Jeff starts spooning Tang into his cup.

“I dunno,” Jeff says.

“Your parents getting divorced or something?” My parents are divorced, so I feel bold about asking.

“No,” Jeff says, with his mouth full of sandwich. He takes a gulp of Tang to wash it down. I take a heaping tablespoonful of Tang for my water. We never get tasty shit like this at home. “But he lost a bunch of money,” Jeff continues. “The bank called my mom the other day and-”

Jeff’s mom appears in the kitchen doorway. “Eat your sandwich!” she says. Jeffrey looks up at her, then down at his plate. She keeps standing there, staring sometimes at us, sometimes at the kitchen stove as we eat in silence. Afterwards, we go back downstairs, put our dinky cars and racetracks away and go out. It’s too quiet at Jeff’s house. He should get a dog or something. We have a dog named Daisy. She’s fun, even though she licks herself all the time.

Jeff’s backyard has wooden, vertical fence on two sides and high, chain-link fence at the back. Beyond is a field full of trees and wild brush that’s called the Dead End. It’s at the edge of Foster Park, and I’m not allowed to go in there. But there’s a hole in the side fence that we can pass through into the neighbors’ yard, and from there it’s easy to slip through a gap in the fence and into the field. Jeff takes a look back at the house to make sure his mom isn’t watching as we go.

The week before, we’d explored a bit, and found a dead cat. It had grey, tabby fur and its eyes were green, and glazed open. Bugs were crawling and flies were buzzing all over it. Neither of us knew what it had died of. We decide to go find it again.

“Jeff,” I say. “What does your dad do?”

“I dunno,” he says. “Sales or something. But he’s not home as much as he was before. Now he doesn’t get home until after I’m in bed.”

It’s weird to me that Jeff doesn’t know what his dad does for a living. My dad is a textile dyer, and Jacques is a mailman with Canada Post. Mom’s a homemaker, like Jeff’s mom–only my mom is a much better cook.

We find the cat. Its carcass is flattened, and it seems to be just fur—a cat-shaped mat. There are a few tiny, white worms wiggling around on its surface.

“Touch it, Orangelip,” I say to him.

“You’re crazy,” he says. “I’ll get worms all over me.”

Jeff picks up a stick and starts prodding the dead cat. He digs the stick underneath the cat and starts lifting it up.

“I’m gonna throw it at you,” he says.

I back away from him. Jeff is walking towards me with the stiff cat out in front of him on the stick when he stumbles on a tree root. The cat falls off the stick and lands on Jeff’s left foot. He screams and jumps up in the air. The whole underside of the cat is covered with maggots, and a bunch of them get onto and in his shoe, which he yanks off. Jeff is screaming and has tears in his eyes.

We run from the Dead End back toward Jeff’s.  When we get to his backyard I look up. Jeff’s mother is there and staring out the window. She probably heard Jeff’s hollering. Now, if it had been my mom, I knew I would be in trouble right away. She would know that I had done something bad. But I realize that we are going to be okay, because Jeff’s mom isn’t looking at us. She’s just staring out into the field.

Back inside, we play dinky cars some more. We stay downstairs, and Jeff’s mom stays upstairs. When it’s time for me to go home for supper, Jeff opens the garage door and I leave.

“See you later, Orangelip,” I say.

As I’m walking back, I see Jeff’s dad coming down Harmony Street in his rusty, brown Plymouth Reliant. I wave hello, but he drives right past me.

I get home and me, my mom, and Jacques eat spaghetti with meat sauce and Caesar salad for dinner. We’re in the kitchen and The City at Six is on our black and white kitchen TV. Daisy is eating kibbles out of her bowl.

“What do you suppose Jeff eats for dinner?” I ask my mom.

“Orangelip?” she says. “Tang, probably.”

After dinner, I do some homework, then watch a bit of hockey in French with Jacques, brush my teeth and go to bed. While Mom’s tucking me in, I come really close to telling her about the dead cat, but there’s no way I can do it without mentioning the Dead End. She would just know.

It’s later on that night that I wake up to police sirens. Through my bedroom window overlooking the driveway, I can hear Mrs. Andrews from next door talking to my mom on the front lawn. My clock says 1:20am.  I kneel on my bed, pull back the blind and look out through the window screen. It’s a warm night.

Jacques and my mom are out there with Mrs. Andrews. Our French neighbors from across the street are out there too, standing in their lit doorway. Suddenly, a couple of police cars rush by with their flashers on.

“I’ll go see,” Jacques says to my mom.  He starts walking down the hill. I see dozens of red and blue lights dancing on the houses where the street turns west toward Foster.

Mom sees me, and comes back into the house. I hear her walk up the stairs and through the hall to my room. She opens my door. Daisy runs in and jumps up on the bed. I pet her while still kneeling. She starts licking herself.

“What’s going on?” I say.

“Something,” Mom says. She puts her arm around me, and we stare out the window together.

Every few minutes there’s another police car, or special police van that goes by—then a couple of news trucks from CTV and CBC. People from the neighborhood are walking down the street to see what’s going on.

My mom and I are still awake when Jacques comes back. The three of us are in my room. “It’s at the Moodys,” he says.

“Is their house on fire?” I say.

“No,” says Jacques. “Go to sleep, Alan. We’ll talk in the morning.

“But, I want to know if—”

“Alan,” my mom says. “You’re safe. You go to sleep now. Do you want Daisy to stay with you?”

“Okay,” I say. Mom and Jacques leave, keeping my door ajar for Daisy to go out if she wants to.

I lie there for a while, thinking about Jeff’s house on fire. It probably started from the oil smell in the basement.

In the morning, Mom is sitting on my bed beside me. She is stroking my hair. “You up?” she asks.

“Yeah,” I say.

“Come into the kitchen.”

Jacques is already there. “Sit down, Alan,” he says. I do.

Then he tells me what’s happened.

It doesn’t make sense. Jeff’s dad did something horrible, first to Mrs. Moody, then to Jeff, then to himself in the garage, and that I’d never see any of them again because they were all dead.

“Are you okay, Alan?” Mom says.

I don’t say anything. I just start to sort of shiver and cry. Mom and Jacques hug me and tell me it’s going to be okay, and that I’m safe.

But all I can think about is not being able to play dinky cars with Jeff anymore, and that it’s really too bad.

Orangelip would have loved to see real fire trucks in front of his house.

 

ADAM KELLY MORTON is a Montreal-based husband, father (four kids, all under-six), acting teacher, board gamer, filmmaker, and writer. He has been published in (mac)ro(mic), Soft Cartel, Spadina Literary Review, Black Dog Review, Fictive Dream, The Fiction Pool, Open Pen London, Talking Soup, and Menda City Review, among others. He has an upcoming piece in A Wild and Precious Life, an addiction anthology to be published in London, UK. He is the editor-in-chief of the Bloody Key Society Periodical literary magazine.

Image via Pixabay

Cabinet Of Heed Contents

Movie Night – Brian Wilson

On the night my dead son showed up at the front door I was about to watch a movie. His face was grey and there were dozens of holes in his skin the size of bottle caps. The least I could do was let him inside, given everything that had transpired between us while he was alive.

My dead son took a seat in the living room. He stank to high heaven. I made some comment about it being stuffy and opened a window. “You’ll be thirsty,” I mumbled, and went into the kitchen to fetch him something, nervous about leaving him alone but glad to be removed from the smell. I tried to remember what sorts of things he liked to drink. At a loss, I boiled the kettle.

He was standing next to the mahogany liquor cabinet when I returned, peering in through the smudged glass. I wondered if he could see his reflection, and if so, what he thought about it. Steam rose from the mug in my hand.

“Got rid of it all as soon as…” I started, trailing off. His neck was covered in purple bruises, blooming around his throat. “I’ve been doing better.”

I placed the mug on the table in the centre of the room and sat down in the armchair opposite the television. My dead son lay on the sofa.

“I wish you hadn’t worn that,” I said, gesturing towards his hoodie. It was the same black hoodie he was wearing when I found him hanging in the garden, his body twisting in the breeze like a bloated piñata. “Maybe you don’t have a choice.” Then, realising: “It’s what I deserve, I suppose.”

An uncomfortable silence descended. “How have you been?” I asked.

“I’m here to kill you,” he said, matter-of-factly. His voice was rougher than before, as though his larynx was lined with sandpaper.

“You are?”

His arm cracked as it rose, and when his finger unfurled it was pointed at the empty liquor cabinet.

“I was in a bad place. I never should have taken it out on you.”

The holes in his flesh gaped like parched mouths.

“There is no other way,” he said.

“If I had known what you would do…”

“There is no other way,” he repeated.

Silence resumed. I noticed he was staring at the television screen, frozen mid-picture, and I was struck by a ridiculous thought: that my dead son had come back to watch a movie. When he was alive, movies were the one thing we bonded over. After his mother left us they became a necessary distraction. Every Friday night he would select a DVD from the rack, pop it into the player and then join me on the sofa. We didn’t say much on these nights – the movies did most of the talking. Usually I could tell what kind of a week he’d had at school based on whatever he picked. As much as I loved this ritual, it wasn’t enough to buoy me during the six remaining nights of the week. But no matter how bad my drinking got, I never laid a finger on him during movie night.

Without saying anything, I lifted the DVD remote and pressed play. Within seconds we were back in that familiar bubble, sharing the only thing we ever really learned how to share. It was a movie we had watched together a few times before. Time passed in a haze.

I paused the movie about halfway through.

“Will it hurt?” I asked. My dead son said nothing. A couple minutes later we went back to watching the movie. Near the end, I paused the movie again. He glanced at me as if to say: what gives?

“I know it’s too late,” I said. “I know that whatever I say now is meaningless. But I’m sorry. I wish you could know how sorry I am.”

I looked into his eyes for the first time since he arrived. They were cloudy. They had the same look tea gets when you add a drop of milk. I saw him through the rot then, my son; that fearless young man who sat on my knee when he was a boy and asked why some movies have colour and some do not.

The remainder of the movie withered away, and when it was over we went out into the garden and he took from me what I could never give back.

 

BRIAN WILSON is a writer from Northern Ireland. He recently won the STORGY Shallow Creek short story competition. He likes to tweet from @bwilson4815

Image via Pixabay

Cabinet Of Heed Contents

Hands At Ten And Two – Ashley Naftule

There was a drop of my father’s blood on the dashboard. He held up the pinewood car with bandaged fingers; the one wrapped around his right index finger was sopping red. “Best one yet, kiddo.” It really was.

Dad and I had a deal: he’d carve the cars and I’d take care of the rest. Dad kept it simple: he whittled the wood down and shaped it with my granddad’s hand knife. Dad was pretty good with it but occasionally his hands would get shaky and the knife would slip.

Dad said all the other vets from Peru had the same hand tremors. Some kind of gas they breathed in during the war. I never asked for more details; I was little then, but I knew when an adult was pulling the drawbridge up on me.

“What color should we paint it?”

Dad always let me pick the colors. I never picked the right ones: I always wanted to do polka dots, zebra stripes, or neon splatters. Dad loved accuracy; he’d spend hours pouring over repair manuals and photobooks, making sure every inch of the wood car was a mirror image of the original.

“Let’s do blue and silver. That’s how it was in the movie, right?” We were both surprised by my choice. I don’t know why, but I felt like this time getting it 100% right mattered in a way it hadn’t before. Maybe some part of me already sensed the thing growing on my Dad’s brain and was just trying to make him happy in the brief time we had left together.

“Blue and silver it is, kiddo,” he said. He set the car down on his workbench. It was a perfect replica of a 1955 Chevy 150. Dad reached into his pocket and pulled out a tiny black strap. “I finished the seatbelt this morning. Black nail polish and a rubber band. Not bad, huh?”

It did look pretty good, but I noticed that something was missing. “How are they going to-”

My Dad smiled and pointed to a pile of safety pins on the bench. “I was going to make the clip last. Hammer it out of a couple of these.” Dad had taken care of everything: it was on me to get the last missing piece.

I left the garage with bait, a small net, and a holding box. I saw a couple of drivers behind Matt’s house the last time I slept over. Matt said he heard his mom complaining that the littles were getting into the pantry and stealing food. We went over the fence after dark and saw a few of them scurry off into a nearby bush.

I knocked on Matt’s front door but nobody answered. I knew where the key was to their garden door; I had seen Matt fish it out of the bottom of a hollow rock by their mailbox. I grabbed the key and snuck into the backyard.

Climbing over the fence, I landed as lightly as I could on the ground. I didn’t want to squash any of the littles. I remembered my scout training and scanned the area, searching for tiny footprints, campfires, shacks.

Near a cluster of mushrooms I saw a pair of thimble-sized tents. I set down the bait and peeled the plastic lid off: instant beef stew with roast vegetables. It wasn’t long before the littles came out of hiding: a male, female, and a pair of younglings.

I struck fast, swinging the net at the male. He and the female dove out of the way. I stepped forward to swing again and felt something crunch beneath my feet. I heard tiny voices wailing incomprehensibly at me and realized that I had stepped on the younglings.

The male and female stood in place, making weird noises that sounded like sobs. My scoutmaster told us we shouldn’t be fooled by these sort of noises. The littles may look and act like us, but they’re not us. They’re soulless.

I scooped up the male and dropped him in the holding box. I hopped back over the fence, leaving the female behind. We only needed one to be our driver. On the way out I stopped back in front of Matt’s door and wiped my feet on the welcome mat. I saw something tiny, stiff, and blue stuck in between the mat bristles. It looked like a pair of bloody blue jeans.

By the time I had come back, Dad had finished the seatbelt. “Look at what your mom made!” Dad held a tiny pair of racing gloves, a crimson red jumpsuit, and a white scarf in the palm of his hands. “He’ll be the most handsome driver in the derby”, Mom said later while we were having dinner.

Dad put the driver under his microscope. “You picked a good one,” Dad said. “He’s healthy, young— good reflexes, too. Look at how he’s wriggling. This one’s going to put up a fight.”

Dad wasn’t kidding. It took us two weeks to train the driver. We had to go so far as to lay down pillows all over the garage floor to keep the driver from jumping off Dad’s work bench.

After two weeks, the driver began to “rag-doll.” That was the ideal state for a little, according to the pinewood handbook. You could just pick them up, buckle them in, and push them around without complaint. We did a couple of trial runs on the race track my Dad set up in our backyard. No crashes, no casualties. The perfect car.

Perfect car or not, we came in second at the derby. Dad and I didn’t care. We knew we had put together the best car and driver, even if gravity didn’t agree with us.

I still have that car. I keep it on a shelf in my living room. The driver is still in there, too— hands at ten and two. The taxidermist said it was his best one yet.

 

ASHLEY NAFTULE is a writer and theater artist from Phoenix, AZ. He’s been published in Pitchfork, Ghost City Press, Vice, Popula, Occulum, Rinky Dink Press, Bandcamp, Four Chambers Press, The Outline, Cleveland Review of Books, Longreads, Amethyst Review, Bone & Ink Press, and The Molotov Cocktail. He’s a resident playwright and the Artistic Director at Space55 theatre.

Image via Pixabay 

Cabinet Of Heed Contents

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