Third Dimension – Sheila Scott 

Perhaps I should be less heroically independent. As I’d fumbled with my stick and the handles of the car door, the taxi driver offered to take me up to the entrance, but I waved him away, embarrassed by my need for assistance. Now I tic tac my way up to what he said was an impressive façade of shining glass.

A slight breeze from the revolving door alerts me I am near the entrance. I put up a hand to catch the speed, insert myself into its spin, and let the metronomic click of its passage tell me when to step out.

A vastness opens around me; I can feel its echo. After a beat I opt for the direct approach and start straight ahead. The leather soles of my shoes squeak across the hard floor, and my stick keeps a syncopated rhythm until it hits the front of the reception desk.

‘Good morning, sir. Can I help you?’ A young female voice with the flattened vowels of a northern accent.

‘I have an appointment with Doctor Eric Meadows at Third Dimension. Eleven o’clock. My name’s Roy Collins.’ I hear the flick of a page, forward then back.

‘Very good, Mr. Collins. You just take a seat and I’ll tell Doctor Meadows you’ve arrived. Here, let me help you.’ Her chair scrapes back. A gentle hand takes me by the elbow to a nearby seat and, as I sink into it, the firm vinyl makes a similar sound to the floor. The receptionist leaves a trail of violets and vanilla in her wake as she returns to her desk. I fold up my stick and lay it across my lap.

My GP put me in touch with this place. Doctor Calder is a good sort, one of the ones who truly cares about the patients, not just dashing off a prescription and propelling you back out the door. She’d read about the new process in some science journal or other and thought it might help me. ‘What do I have to lose?’ I told her, and she put her hand over mine and gave it a squeeze.

Now I sit and listen. A lift pings intermittently and voices drift past. Footsteps resonate confirming my original impression of great space. Eventually I become aware that someone has closed in and stopped before me.

‘Mr. Collins?’ The rustle of a sleeve as a hand is extended. I hold out my own hand and it is firmly grasped and shaken.

‘That’s me. Doctor Meadows I take it?’ We release hands.

‘Call me Eric.’

‘Eric. In that case, I’m Roy.’

‘And how are you feeling today Roy?’

‘Ach.’ I face the voice and give a shrug. ‘Can’t complain Doctor Me… Eric.’

‘Do you think you’re ready to come with me up to the lab?’

‘Yes, I believe so.’

‘And you brought a photograph with you?’

I pat the breast pocket of my tweed jacket and offer a smile.

‘It was always my favourite.’ I feel my eyes dampening already and remind myself of the vow I made this morning. No tears.

‘Good stuff. That sounds ideal. Right, let’s get started then, shall we?’

He also takes my elbow and guides me towards the pinging lift. ‘We’re very grateful for your participation in our trial. Your perspective will be most helpful to us.’

The lift doors shush open, we take a step and they shut behind us. I can feel the closeness of the walls and there is a strong smell of brass polish. Eric taps a button and the lift shunts into action. It is hard to tell if we are going up or down.

‘There’s nothing more for you to sign you’ll be pleased to hear, Doctor Calder kindly sent us on all the forms.’

‘Ah. She’s very efficient. Been a good doctor to my family.’ My voice catches.

‘I would imagine she would be, yes.’

The lift thrums. Eric gives a little cough.

‘I understand my colleagues have already gone through the process with you, Roy, is that correct?’

I nod.

‘I’d a very long phone call with one of them on…must have been Monday? I’m pretty sure we covered everything.’

‘Yes, that’ll be our Doctor Stewart. She’s a devil for the detail.’

The lift jolts to a stop and Eric guides me out. A silence hangs between us as we walk. Finally, he opens a door and escorts me into the room.

‘If you’d just like to have a seat, I’ll go and check they’re ready for you. In the meantime, is there anything we can get you? Tea, coffee, water?’

‘A coffee would be lovely thanks. Just black.’

‘No problem.’ The door closes. The air in the room is a mix of lemon freshener and institutional mustiness. There is a low hum, I suspect from the air conditioning, and a clock ticks loudly. I take the photo from my pocket and with my fingers lightly trace the scene as best I can.

The picture sat on the mantelpiece for years, watching as its occupants in the real world grew bigger and bolder or smaller and greyer; morphed from flat black and white to the colour of the three-dimensional world. The frame surrounding it changed, reflecting passing tastes and trends, but the picture remained a constant. When Gemma married and moved overseas, that image was a visual reminder of those early carefree days. A few years later, I would look at it to see Linda, the woman I married, as she gradually left us. When I could no longer cope and she was moved to the care facility, the photograph was still there. My sight went not long after that.

I’ve heard folk say the one thing they can never take from you is your memories but that’s a lie. I watched Linda stripped of hers. Then as I grew used to the darkness I realised that the images in my brain were also beginning to fade. One night as I was feeling my way to bed I knocked the photo to the floor. I picked it back up and tried to remember the scene. My chest chilled; I recalled the form, the beach and the chairs, but could no longer visualise their faces or what they were wearing. I couldn’t see them anymore.

The door opens again.

‘Hello Mr. Collins.’ A different, younger male voice.

I hear him cross the room. ‘I’ll just put your coffee on the table here.’ He pauses as I don’t react. ‘It’s just to the left-hand side of the sofa.’ He passes back in front of me and the door closes once more. I track the surface of the table with my hand until I locate the paper cup. The steam blasts my face as I lift it to my lips, but the coffee is low on taste and I set it back down. The clock counts the seconds aloud until Eric returns.

‘All ready for you, Roy.’ He leads me out the waiting room and into the lab. There is a buzzing noise and a smell like electricity. It reminds me of the strange odour given off by the little engine of my childhood train-set, as I laid my head at the side of the tracks trying to make it look life-size. I take comfort from it in this alien world.

Murmuring voices are working through a checklist. Every so often there is a loud clunk. From Doctor Stewart’s description of the process, I guess it’s the sound of the projectors being positioned.

‘Could we have your picture, please, Roy?’ I pass him the photograph and listen as he inserts it into the machine. Fingers rap on a keyboard and another voice says ‘set’. Eric ushers me on a few paces.

‘Sounds please Jez.’ The room fills with the staccato shriek of seagulls over the velvet rolling of waves to shore. Children laugh and chatter in the background. I have no idea where the soundtrack comes from but today it will be my North Berwick.

‘That’s you, Roy. Just reach out.’ Eric lets go my arm and I stretch out my hands. A small gasp escapes my lips as I touch the soft wool and floral embroidery of Linda’s favourite cardigan. That’s right. She wore it most days that holiday. She’d got it in the women’s drapers beside the Co-operative when we’d just moved into the house. I can picture her standing in the kitchen swirling round as she held the front panels straight to show off the pattern. She’d never had anything so fancy, she said, but she just couldn’t resist it. She wore it all through carrying Gemma too, even when she couldn’t do the buttons up anymore, the panels sitting either side of her swollen belly like curtains. That little top was a constant in the early years of our marriage and one of the reasons she loved this picture so much.

I long for the sweet scent of her favourite perfume as I trace the shape of her arm up to her shoulder, then bring my hands up in front of her face. There is the gentle heart shape of her chin, the tilt of the corners of her mouth and the upward sweep of her perfectly permed hair. A pair of large round sunglasses, so fashionable at the time, perches on her small snub nose. Her face reforms in my mind.

My eyes are wet and I don’t care. For this fleeting moment they are returned to me, yet I am reminded of how much I have lost. My shoulders heave but I am smiling. It is worth it.

In the photograph Linda sits in a folding chair and I follow the cold steel of its tubular frame down to where I know Gemma kneels, frozen as a five-year-old. My hand skims her pigtailed hair, the cool cotton of her tee shirt with the three pearl buttons on one shoulder, and the frilled skirt of her bathing suit. She is carefully constructing a small empire of sandcastles with her bucket and spade. Over the soundscape conjured by the lab, I recall her soft voice explaining to the inhabitants of her castles how their sand city was evolving. I hear Linda’s voice too, sharing the gossip gleaned at breakfast about the other residents of our B and B.

I remember where I was immediately prior to taking the photograph and, with some difficulty, resume this position. Sitting beside Gemma, my back resting against Linda’s legs, I am engrossed by the B and B tittle tattle and Gemma’s great construction project. I run my hand around the contours of the castles and, as the details regenerate, I will them to stay in my memory this time. The pressure of Linda’s knees against my spine reawakens the sensation of her stroking the shorn hair at the base of my short back and sides. I can smell the mix of sunscreen, brine and ice cream that was Gemma after a day running around in the sun. Everything I used to see when I looked at the photograph, I sense as I sit inside it.

‘One more minute, Roy.’

His voice sounds quieter and a little less confident than before.

‘Yes, Eric.’ I give Gemma a kiss on the top of her salt straggled hair then haul myself up. The temporal distance, oddness and presence of an audience make me feel almost shy as I lean down to hug my wife a last time. Now I catch the light rose traces of Linda’s perfume. She feels firm and alive, not the frail echo that sits in the hospice hiding sandwiches in her dressing gown and screaming because she doesn’t recognise me.

A touch on my arm and I jump.

‘Sorry, Roy. Didn’t mean to startle you.’ Eric steers me back across the room. The seagulls and waves cease, and I realise, once again, they are gone.

Eric hands me back my photograph.

‘Thanks again Roy. Karen will be in shortly to look after you. You okay?’ Once again I nod. I don’t trust myself to speak just yet.

The next steps have already been explained to me. They’ll take me through to a clinic where all my vitals will be monitored, and a psychologist will debrief me. The scientists have learned to be more careful what they release into the public domain after the last time. They want to assess the medium-term impacts as well as the immediate, so in a fortnight I’ll go through a second batch of tests, then a third lot after six months.

The real world can wait, though. For in this moment, I see everything clearly again, and for as long as I can I will cling to this image. I will stay sitting on the beach with my young wife in her favourite cardie and my beautiful little girl building castles made of sand.

 

SHEILA SCOTT is a hybrid writer-scientist who most enjoys sitting with pen and paper turning idle thoughts into short narratives and illustrative doodles. Published in Causeway, Cabinet of Heed, Flashback Fiction, Poetic Republic, Qmunicate and shortlisted for Arachne Press Solstice Shorts, she also helps lead New Writing Showcase Glasgow and has an intermittently hyperactive Twitter account @MAHenry20.

Image via Pixabay

Cabinet Of Heed Contents

Four My Little Ponies Of The Apocalypse – Caleb Echterling 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Crickets. Says here we can eat crickets.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do they scream in agony like collards?”

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

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

Image via Pixabay 

Cabinet Of Heed Contents

Mathilde – Emma Venables

Mathilde looks at her reflection in a shop window: hair wispy about her ears, bags laden beneath her eyes, a slight kink in her posture. She looks typical enough to blend in with all the other women walking this street in search of intact store fronts, stocked shelves; no one will notice the slight shake of her ankles, the way she leans on the pram’s bar a little too heavily.

She reaches down, tucks the blanket under Henni’s chin. The baby stirs but does not make a sound. Mathilde exhales a fraction louder than she intended, relieved that Henni sleeps. She strokes Henni’s cheek with an index finger, enjoys the smiles of the passersby admiring the propaganda worthy image of mother and infant: a reassuring sight in these uncertain times.

A car horn toots. A horse exhales and stomps its hooves against the ground. Two men walk past, laughing louder than necessary. Mathilde stops stroking Henni’s cheek, gets ready to shush the child’s fretting, but she sleeps on as if she already understands, has already been versed in what to expect, how to act. Mathilde looks around at the cracked facades, the split sandbags, the grey faces of the women around her. Some clutch their grocery bags to their chests as if they were their children and Mathilde wonders what they have lost in this headless war. She allows Johann a spot in her thoughts, allows him to unfurl. Long-limbed and straight-backed. His bottom lip puckers. Mathilde fiddles with her wedding band, tries to distract herself from the words that stamp across every thought she has of him, but they appear black and bold on his chest, arms, forehead: missing in action. She bites her lip, uses the pain as a way back onto this bombed-out Berlin street before she starts thinking of Horst too.

Mathilde carries on walking, the pram rattles over the cobbles. She keeps her eyes on the end of the street, where she has to turn right, look out for the alleyway on her left and walk into it in the manner of a woman who does so every day. She cannot see any obvious obstacles to this endeavour, no men watching her a little too closely over their newspapers, but one can never been too careful. She throws her shoulders back, manoeuvres the pram around a pothole, a pile of bricks, a cracked sink. A boy holds up a toy aeroplane he has discovered in the rubble. His mother tells him to put it back, but he does not and she does not pursue the discussion any further.

A steady rain begins to fall over the city; the cobbles take on an oil paint sheen. Mathilde knows she must watch her step, not be too hasty, and yet appear to be eager to get out of the rain. She does not have an umbrella to put up, could not push the pram with one hand if she tried. The back of her dress dampens.

A man steps out of Mathilde’s way. She apologises, he shrugs and smiles, points to the heavens as if they provide an explanation for her lack of awareness. Yes, she thinks, I am desperate to get home, to take off this dress and hang it up to dry, to gather my baby in my arms and rock her in time with a tune on the wireless. After all, that’s what we woman do, isn’t it? She returns his smile, shakes her head at the rain. Unexpected, like so many things.

Mathilde lifts her face up to the sky, breathes in the cool air. Her arms ache, but she cannot stop, cannot slip into a café and sip something ersatz while the rain eases, the clouds break. Then she wonders whether her determination, the bend of her elbows and knees makes her stand out, and she should cross the street, go into that café with the cracked windowpane, and sit her damp backside on an ill-cushioned chair. She recalls the advice: they spoke of blending in, of complications caused by people but not by the weather. She carries on, pulls the pram’s hood up further, tells the sleeping baby they are nearly home so as to keep up the act, to dispel the potential doubters walking beside her. She pushes the pram harder, tries not to wince at its weight, wonders if she can manage to push hard enough so she can break into a brisker pace, an almost-run.

Mathilde’s cheeks and chest burn with the effort. She looks around, no one seems to be concerned with her, the rumble of the pram wheels over the cobbles. She nears the end of the street. One right turn. Left into an alleyway. Walk it like a resident of the building. Someone will be there smoking a cigarette, will offer her a hand with the pram up the stairs to the third floor where the apartment door will be unlocked at the sound of her footsteps and locked at her back. Then a pleasant face will wait while she collects her slumbering baby from the pram, pulls back the mattress and reveals her cargo of anti-National Socialist leaflets. He will distribute them, make sure they get into the hands of the women she pretends to be right now as she navigates her way down this street.

The rain eases. Mathilde’s ankle wobbles over a cobble loosened by war. Her muscles strain at the unusual angle and she tries to tense them, to regain her footing. She grips the pram’s handle, but worries she might tip it up, might hurt her daughter, spill her secret. Her knees give way; she tries not to cry out as they meet the ground.

As people flock to her, the fallen mother, Mathilde wonders how Henni will remember her, for surely this is the moment everything unravels. She knows the child will go to parents with the right beliefs, the right place in society, knows one day Henni will be reminded of how she was saved from growing up with misguided notions. Will Henni see past all that to the injustice her mother was fighting against? Mathilde cannot fathom the answer. She feels a hand on her arm, pulling her up. She tries to listen over the cacophony of concern, to listen for Henni, for broken sleep. She looks past the people, their eyes on her torn stockings, bloodied shins, waves their concern away. She forces herself to walk despite the stiffness of her limbs, her grazed skin.

Henni’s pram has not rolled far. A man in a long winter coat holds the handle. He mutters words Mathilde cannot comprehend to the child.

‘No need to worry. She’s still sleeping,’ he says, stroking Henni’s cheek.

‘Thank you,’ Mathilde says, reaching out for the pram. Her pulse booms in her ears.

‘You’ve cut your knee pretty badly. Do you need me to help you get somewhere?’

‘That’s awfully kind, but I’m perfectly fine. Thank you, again,’ she says.

A Party badge adorns his lapel and Mathilde finds she cannot take her eyes off it.

‘Are you sure I can’t help in some way?’

‘No, thank you. I really must get the baby home.’

‘At least let me walk some of the way with you,’ he says.

Mathilde looks up at the man’s face – at the slight furrow of his brow, the rain dripping down his nose, the freckle on his upper lip. He cannot be much older than her, something in the tilt of his head reminds her of Horst and she finds herself squinting, seeking more of him within the contours of this stranger. She turns her head, looks down at the pram. Horst would scold her for this, remind her that he was hanged at Plötzensee for such a lapse, remind her that his blood still stains the wall. Don’t get sloppy now, he would say. You’ve got a job to do. Think of your brother another time.

Mathilde smiles as if she did not fall, did not let go of the pram; as if her leg is not throbbing and her heart not raging in her chest.

‘Really, I appreciate your concern, but it isn’t far,’ she says.

He shrugs, steps back. ‘Heil Hitler.’

Mathilde coughs, presses one hand to her mouth and waves her other hand at the gentleman in a gesture she hopes implies annoyance at not being able to return his salutation. She walks the remainder of the street, keeps her eyes on a lamppost ahead. She knows he watches her, knows she must not stop.

The rain resumes, heavier than before; drops bounce off the cobbles and the pram’s hood. Mathilde turns right, casts a glance at the man, but he has moved on in the opposite direction, head bent against the sudden downpour. She looks up at the sky – a thank you to Mother Nature – and quickens her pace.

In the entrance way to the apartment building she nods at the man in the flat cap, smoking a cigarette.

‘Hello,’ she says.

‘Do you need a hand getting the pram upstairs?’ he asks.

‘Yes, please. I’m on the third floor,’ she says.

‘No problem,’ he says, throwing his cigarette to the ground.

 

EMMA VENABLES’ short fiction has previously featured in The Gull, Litro Online, The Lampeter Review, Strix, The Fiction Pool, LossLit, Spelk, FlashBack Fiction, and Normal Deviation: A Weird Fiction Anthology. Her first novel, The Duties of Women, will be published by Stirling Publishing in 2020. She can be found on Twitter: @EmmaMVenables.

Image via Pixabay 

Cabinet Of Heed Contents

This Is How I Get Under Your Skin – Sarah Edghill 

I have put a cashmere blanket across the treatment couch, so she immediately senses she’s in the hands of a sophisticate: someone who understands and appreciates her needs. My uniform is white, with creases in all the right places. The blinds are pulled down, the lighting soft. A candle burns on the windowsill, filling the room with delicate floral top notes. Hidden speakers play the sort of music she listens to during her regular mindfulness sessions: whales burbling, flutes warbling, water dripping from the canopy of a tropical rainforest.

‘Just relax,’ I say, as she lies back. ‘Close your eyes.’

Before she can ask questions, I dab at her face with a wet wipe.

‘This is a special non-alcoholic cleanser,’ I explain. ‘Gentle on the skin, with no harsh, drying effects.’

They always love the mention of ‘non-alcoholic’. Despite the fact that they’re about to put their bodies through a process of artificial cosmetic enhancement, they feel reassured that this initial cleaning stage won’t strip their skin of its natural moisture.

‘Keep your eyes closed and take deep breaths,’ I say, moving away from the couch towards the shelf where I keep my mobile plugged into its charger. ‘In…. then out again. Nice and slowly.’

There’s a text waiting, from a friend who’s away on a training course. Apparently she drank too much vodka last night and ended up having sex with a bloke she fancies from marketing. I send her a smiley face emoji. Then I add a thumbs up and a red heart.

The woman on the couch clears her throat, and I look round to check her eyes are still shut.

‘Nearly ready,’ I say, my voice as soothing as the burbling whales and warbling flutes. ‘I’m just making the final preparations.’

I check my reflection in the wall mirror. There’s something between my front teeth – possibly cashew from this morning’s muesli – and I lever it out with my fingernail.

‘Right,’ I say, moving back to the couch. ‘Let’s make a start. Keep your eyes closed and breathe normally. There may be some discomfort, but the process isn’t painful.’

This is a lie. It will sting, possibly even hurt a lot. But it’s amazing what people will put up with, for the sake of beauty.

I reach for the syringe, lying on a white sheet on the table. I prepare everything before the client arrives, mixing the crystalline substance with saline – the recommended dilution is half a teaspoon for each vial, but I add extra saline because it gives the impression they’re getting more for their money.

‘I’ll start on the right hand side,’ I say, smoothing the area with my forefinger, the papery skin crinkling into waves. Freckles litter her bronzed forehead: she’s probably just back from the Caribbean.

‘The first injection will go here.’

As the needle pricks her skin, she yelps.

‘Well done,’ I soothe. ‘Four more, then we’ll repeat the process on the other side.’

I take my time, it’s important not to rush.

‘Apply some ice when you get home,’ I suggest. ‘There isn’t usually any bruising, but it depends on the sensitivity of your skin.’

I have now finished this side. One of the pin prick holes is bleeding, so I clean away the crimson bubble with a wipe. I’ve actually run out of non-alcoholic ones, so this is a cheap pack from Superdrug. It’s scented with Tea Tree Oil so, to the inexperienced nose, smells suitably medicated.

‘How long should I ice it for?’ she asks, her voice wobbly.

‘Twenty minutes on each side,’ I say.

The ice is worse than useless; applying direct pressure to the area, is more effective in controlling bleeding and bruising. But for some reason they like being told to use ice. I’m never sure how many of them manage twenty minutes: by then they’ll have lost all sensation in their skin and will probably be struggling with the onset of hypothermia.

Once the other side of her forehead is done, I move to the eye area. This woman has a raggedy network of crow’s feet, the result of a lifetime’s excessive exposure to the sun, during one expensive holiday after another.

She’s trying to be stoic: it’s heart warming. I dig the needle a little deeper on the last injection.

‘All done!’ I say, putting the syringe on the table and covering it with the white cloth. ‘You were terribly brave! Some of my ladies have a little weep, but you’re clearly made of stronger stuff.’

She has opened her eyes now, and they’re brimming with tears. But she is swallowing hard: pleased to have been more resilient than others who have lain on this couch before her.

‘Goodness,’ she whispers. ‘It was worse than I’d expected!’

‘Take your time getting up,’ I say. ‘Avoid exercise for the rest of the day, and take painkillers if it feels sore.’

I’m guessing she has a bathroom cupboard full of Tramadol in her en-suite at home, which is good because she’ll need it.

‘Don’t expect instant results,’ I say. ‘It may be up to ten days before you notice any change.’

Her mouth falls open.

‘But… I thought I’d see the difference immediately?’

‘I’m afraid not. A common misconception. This treatment isn’t a quick fix. You may also need to pop back to have a chat about that crease, between your eyes.’

I tap my finger onto the area in question.

‘There’s a deep line there, and one session won’t make an impression. But we could think about using a filler?’

Beneath the bleeding dots at the edge of her face, she’s looking concerned.

‘But I hoped this would be all I’d need?’

I smile, resting my hand on her arm. People are so naïve about botulinum toxin. They hear their friends rave about it, and read testimonials from middle aged celebrities. They think it’s a miraculous cure-all, and presume that, when they walk out of my little room, the crevices decorating their elderly skin will have disappeared.

What they don’t realise is that Botox doesn’t erase wrinkles, it just relaxes them. Some of the superficial lines may disappear, but the deeper ones will still be there, and they’ll pay a price for attempting to turn back time. Right now, the bleeding and bruising are minimal. When this woman returns to lie on my couch for the third or fourth session, her face will have become bloated and shiny. The wrinkles will no longer be as visible, but only because the skin around them has swollen.

The puffer fish look, I call it.

I hold out her expensive coat.

‘So, you’d recommend some filler… for this bit?’ she says, tentatively.

‘I think it may be the only option.’

She smiles, reassured that something can be done.

I don’t worry her with the fact that there is controversy about using filler in the area between the eyes; research has suggested it can block facial veins, and the resulting loss of blood turns the skin white and lifeless. Patients have been left scarred.

That’s not as bad as the droopy eyelids though, which may eventually require surgery. Or the double vision, headaches and flu-like symptoms, which can be a sign that the toxin has worked its way into the central nervous system.

I’d never dream of using this stuff myself.

I pop her Gold Amex into my card machine and her shaky hand types in the PIN.

‘It has been lovely to meet you,’ I say, opening the door. ‘Take it easy for the next few hours.’

She smiles at me, lower lip quivering. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s already feeling nauseous. The skin around her eyes is very red.

She slides on an outsized pair of designer sunglasses.

‘Thank you so much,’ she whispers.

I close the door, and listen as her Jimmy Choos click down the stairs towards the street.

Over the next few weeks she’ll convince herself that the poison in that little vial of botulinum toxin, has indeed lessened her wrinkles. She will examine herself in every mirror she passes, glance at her reflection in shop windows, looking for signs that this procedure has succeeded. Her brow is surely less furrowed! Her crow’s feet are less deep!

Whatever happens, she won’t complain. However swollen and sore her face becomes, she will never admit this was a mistake, that vanity was her downfall.

Walking away down the high street, she is probably already coming up with excuses; for a start, she’ll need to justify the £450 that has just zipped into my bank account. She will also be working out how to explain away the inflammation and bruising. An allergy perhaps? A reaction to an insect bite?

But I’m sure she’s worrying unnecessarily. I doubt she’ll need to do any explaining, when she gets home to her equally wizened husband. He won’t notice there’s anything wrong with her face, because the sad truth is that he hasn’t looked at her properly for years.

 

Image via Pixabay 

Cabinet Of Heed Contents

Forgive Us Father For Someone Has Sinned – Copper Rose 

I was the one holding his hand when he took his last breath. Not my mother who left because she forgot to sign the important papers. Not my sisters, one who hadn’t come home from the next town over for the last ten years, the other on the porch smoking a discount cigarette. Nor my brother, ashamed to make an appearance lest someone ask too many questions about his perfectly painted life with what turned out to be an unfaithful wife.

I plugged in the slow cookers and put the food on the tables. Pa had liked horseradish on his ham sammiches. Put the coffee on to drip. Pa had liked his coffee black. Straightened the photos around the urn. Pa had liked to wear his striped-shirt when it came time to get his picture took.

I said my piece in front of those who gathered there. I sang a song in a shaky voice. Shook all the hands, gave all the hugs, patted all the backs, saying, “Yes, we really should do lunch some time,” knowing I didn’t mean it and neither did they.

I put the leftovers in empty cottage cheese containers. Stuffed the paper tablecloths in the garbage cans. Folded the tables and chairs. Put them away.

I stared at the brown urn, broke off one of the roses and tucked it behind my ear, opened the old autograph book set amongst the memorabilia. Mama gave it to me for Christmas when I was seven. Saw his chicken scratch scrawl, one of three times he’d written something especially for me during his lifetime. He never signed them with to or from. Or love. “You’re sure a swell kid, Dad.”

I thought about the other two times he’d written something to me, those two notes in the box under the bed at home. One was when he asked me to prepare the conference room for an important meeting. “The pitcher of water with the oranges floating in it was a nice touch.” They were lemons.

The third time was when he borrowed my only homestead credit after my divorce. “I, George Bellings, owe Cynthia Bellings $3500.”

He never did pay it back.

 

COPPER ROSE perforates the edges of the page while writing unusual stories from the heart of Wisconsin. Her work has appeared in various anthologies and online journals. She also understands there really is something about pie. Connect with her at https://julieceger.wordpress.com/copper-rose-author/ and on Facebook: Author Copper Rose

Image via Pixabay

Cabinet Of Heed Contents

Spidey Manda da Plumber Boy – Jim Meirose

“After a three-hour struggle to get him on the phone, he was rude and I should have just said I wasn’t interested.”

–Actual online review posted by disgruntled plumbing service customer

Spidey Manda the spidery wallclimber pushed in from his maternal gohole bigger than the average baby but smaller than the smallest grown man but as all large babies his appetite dwarfed every other aspect of himself. Sit down to this meal he ordered himself silent. Once down in a meal it became the world. It did. All art begins in babies. Far out woman’s drain stopped three miles or more out. Spidey had-a his number stuck up at the market. Far out woman pulled down the wallset and keyed the number believing he’s a plumber boy. The kitchen sink’s backed up oily and filthy all swirling with foodbits—my Wanda did dishes and it’s all up in there, she prepared to say when the phone picked up. Right foot tap began making her say My Wanda did dishes and it’s—the phone three miles or more out rang out over Doc Manda’s impenetrable meal of a world—fifty forks in the phone went on. Sixty forks in. The phone went on. Tap to left foot to right and then back. My Wanda seventy forks in did dishes eighty-one two three forks in and it’s. Three quarters of the plate went in S. Manda by now all up in there hey this phone’s faulty a hundred and five. Meester Manda paused. Why have I paused. Why. Salt it is. Salt’s not on the table and I need salt. This phone is faulty said the crack of her hangup her waiting a second here’s why you know. Anything that won’t start working right away causes reflexive shut down count to thirty push trying to start whatever again—and so forth. Like smacking the side of the unit used to be. Where’s the salt I know I got some hey he said to no one at the cupboard out of the meal world huh mealworm not mealworm world’s the thing yah listen next time I  said meal world—her fingertap one number at a time she’s a read off the paper and  tap the corresponding number on the set; back repeat until entire string’s entered and. Ah here’s the salt get back over sit back down the meal world domes over and Spidey Manda da Plumber Boy hot dog bat damn! The salt’s gonna fine up this meal. Fine to the top! The phone rang and surely this time it will. Work. Done salting the forking reset back to one, then go; My Wanda did dishes and it’s all up in there; One fork in yes two three four. Five my Wanda did pick up damn six seven forks in. Tapping then glance to the sink. Water calm water smooth water deep water blue. Ring ring ring think of deep water blue sparkling midsummer Sun beating over all not humid slight breeze trees rustle lock rhythms with rings over over again over and; the salt’s good not much left water calm water savor it slow. It’s too good yes good slower forking slower savor. Slow. Deeply lower the basemented founders of the plumber-firm Billy and Bluto having observed quite long enough began deciding having been at it since their big machine tapped randomly into franchise number two tagged with S. Manda, proprietress. Mysterious cleaning of my thing hut. Done daily in the dark unnoticed. Mysterious cleaning. Wanda did dishes. Of my thing. Salt’s finin’ yah finin’ up the remainder of Manda’s meal. Hut. Tap counter. Yes. Wanda did dishes space the start hold it there back a bit Billy okay Bluto did dishes and watch the gauge okay up a hair, yon; there there there hear there ring one ring two ring—penetration of a world-impenetrable the miracles we do today. Hut. My Wanda. Salt good. Wanda. Thirteen good. Bread good. Salt finin’ finin’ eat faster it just happens no not with my mouth full; Fire, no good! belched the monster. Shut the set down Billy. Shut the set down. It’s too distracting. Hundred two hundred and more and more ring. Relax and go upstairs. See him call him out for. 

Salt good salt salt good God yes slower slower. 

Far out woman given up calls out Wanda my Wanda hey. Come here. I want you. I want. Billy Bluto punch on the off speakerphone the toetips of which recall sweet gentle deerhooves. Calling Spidey Manda with a ring other than the Far out Wanda line termed number one. For purposes of clarity we will refer to Billy and Bluto’s as number two—even though we know that labelling these lines suchwise relies on the fiction that says these are physical lines like lone away a love a last or somewise similarly named time-passages, when nowadays nothing that’s working looks like it ought to to the mostly thinkingbound still-fooled-into-thinking that; logic is a noun. Touch it; Billy and Bluto alternate punching Spidey Manda’s designed to be instantly remembered registered and copyrighted phone number. Wanda! Even though in this heah’ yeah’ the term phone number is patently inapplicable. Write what you know boy, stated Miney Fuerer. Miney Fuerer is long dead though so, punt! And the call started through goosed in the Willy and got ready deeply in-breathed but not the holding kind, whichkind would lead to freezing with the immediately fatal network failure that would lead to, and kicked the ring-sound out the earpiece piercing the thinskin of the worldrind wound about Spidey twisting his head around then ringing again getting his butt up and one more last time slinging his bulk across at the wall unit sweeping and tapping it down to his rightlobe by habit always used for answering because the leftlobe has less than half the hearing for some reason no medical specialist has been able to discern therefore just chalking it up to g-g-g-g-enetics, Hello? No genet-t-t-t-t-ics We need to speak to Spidey Manda okay this is it here goes for the money—genetics hah yah genetics woo hoo ah—I’m Spidey, heybob. Who comes in my ear here? Who who. Comes? Comes at me? At me in my ear?

Billy as Bluto, after throwing themselves around each other for several hours, and about one half more after, got to it saying but not in unison—and which one said it’s really not something you need to know—we have seen that at least once and possibly other times too but for sure this once though possibly othertimes possibly othertimes p-p-p-p-possibly other-timesss too, eh; you took a long lunch. Right in the office. Right by your phone. It rang and rang—the robot numbermen who clock in these things say their counters got full. Fully fully. Did this happen from where you sit out yonder past the otherside of the great crack between us? Yeah did it? echoed the other either Billy or Bluto you do not need to know and do not think that the order their names are given in is any indicator of who spoke when. Past performance is no indicator of future results, Bob. You are on your fucking own. Yes, that’s right hardthrusting shitty notions a’fly everyplace allwheres hereto and tomorrow for you are on your fucking own—no no no phone rang. The warriors! Also no object in earshot gave forth any clear resonant sounds, as bells being struck do, my sillies. Okay if that’s your attitude sir Spideyman, I think we have to examine the freaky fucky timeline baby—spanning many too many years of time; the great joke. Life starts with a great spurt. Big greasy rice corn gristly blackball down in the lower pipebend. My God George this can’t be my baby. Wanda come here do we have a plunger?  Blackspined leatherbound mechanical manuals on this low shelf. How the hell do they know on them thar’ TV medical reality shows how to. There’s a number of discoveries each person’s made since birth but by the time you’d like to know the number it’s become impossible to determine. You are trying to solidify the past and that only gives rise to a lie.  However the number of blades of grass on the planet has been measured and documented. The slimingly slithery mucousy glistening organ-masses all pulled out to look for a leak. Hah! Really? Okay then look it the fuck up. Wanda came with a plunger. At least three hundred fat books in the library at Trinity are hollow containing the most popular contraband of their specific era. Or a tear. The first boil lance of any lifetime. Three. Tends to never be forgotten. No bell made an impression on my mind. Sets of hands shuffling through the live guts. Skinny scratchy itchy. She splashed it down in the black water and up down up she set it to sucking. Hey, Ferp! How do they get all those guts back in properly? On a descending stairwell going to the next class was where I was when he died, senor Wildenstein. I detected nothing and no one summoning me using bellsound or any other sound. South River. Plunger it plunge sure but those bends are iron. Comic book back cover, Hey boys! No Wanda careful you’re. Sell Grit. And maybe steel. Door to door. Wide shallow grey dull-lit aisle. I had the salt. Chain link. The garden hose kinks just one spot everything stops. Men’s room there. Spraying water all. Ladies’ room here. The intestines just kinked just one spot everything stops. Pubic ah. The salt is the life. Pubes-stench. Over the room. Pubes-stench in the Dahmerspace. Jesus said put away childish things. I mean, I would expect to hear the phone if it really rang as I did when you called. The water stops it’s just easy to walk the hose find the kink and kick it away. Gimmee that sucker here. The recovery room. Nothing filled with sound. In the recovery room the nurses are told watch for defecation. No I almost got it. I am sorry mister Simpson but you can’t go home until you amply evacuate. No echo. Garden hose kink yah. No you don’t. Green summer garden hose kink stops evacuation yah. Just salty goodness. Evacuate on the one hand squirt on the other. Give it here. I can tell you what’s true though Mister Wet and Mister Whistle. Mister Simpson we need to see an ample bum-squirt out you before we can. Kinkhose. The phone never rang. Kink the hose kinking of the hose is almost never desirable unless. How does that come out through there so easy Lord! Dense. Stiff. Long. Damp not wet. Not liquid. The creator the great engineer. Big soft bulb-headed pushplunger up down up Wanda roiling up slimy blackbits from the deeptrap. Wanda pushed pulled pushed pulled, stating, It will not let go. Call the plumber—what was the matter I thought you were calling a plumber why did you call for a plunger? This doesn’t work—is the plumber coming? Whoseit—is it—that Spidey Manda—that guy.  Is he coming? He coming I no plunge no more eh eh. Manda drop what you are doing and tell us why you did not answer the customer. Wanda, don’t play the silly fake accent there’s no way it’s cute. Three problems with that question Messrs. Billy boy Bluto; first is that I am doing nothing to drop. Unless you count my paying attention to the two of you. In which case I will do as commanded. Since you are in positions of authority, and that all authority comes from God, consider yourselves as ignored. Eat your ways through those ones my biddies. Call the plumber woman; and I am going to ask you the question I have kept to myself since the day I hired on. Ready? Of course man we do not mean stop paying attention to us. Quite the contrary. Look at us! Look! What is it Wanda? I’m ignoring you! I’m not touching you! I’m ignoring you! I’m not annoying you! Heh heh heh. Aw. You have never paid me the simple courtesy of allowing me to know your name. Spidey Manda, do you want to be terminated? Huh? You know my name. I told you my name at the interview. Hmmm hmmm hmmm I’m ignoring you! I’m not touching you! I’m ignoring you! I’m not annoying you! Am I annoying you? Hmmmmm—No you didn‘t! Spidey Manda, you have to our count of four to reverse your direction ah—I suppose you weren’t paying attention at the interview, though you seemed to be. What other things did you deceive me into thinking you were paying attention to that day? Hey hey hey that day? Uh. Uh. Am I annoying you? I’m not touching you. One, Spidey Manda. PLAN the scambot came homing in under telling Wanda to spurt out spurt fast, Caulinda Plummah should be your name boss. Number two. Wake up please. Three. Someone I’m ignoring I suspect is trying to trap me. Caulinda Plummah yah should be your name. And, four; okay okay so’s as I walked up Washington past the borough hall laughing like at just being school age, I think that’s when it happened yah that’s when I think—God touched me in the head and asked me, What if you had to sit and write down everything you know? Spidey Manda. This is it, Spidey Manda. Caulinda Plummah baby, Caulinda Plummah, hey—this is it; could you do it Master Manda eh could you could you could you do it could you do it eh—eh?

 

JIM MEIROSE’s short work has appeared in numerous venues. He has published several novels as well, including the upcoming “Understanding Franklin Thompson” (JEF pubs) and “Sunday Dinner with Father Dwyer” (Optional Books). Info: www.jimmeirose.com  @jwmeirose

Image via Pixabay  

Cabinet Of Heed Contents

Past simple, present continuous, future conditional – Sandra Arnold

While he protested about the dangers she stepped gingerly over the barbed wire that ran along the top of the fence and stood laughing on the other side, kicking her shoes in the air. She looked down at her bare toes and noticed a scattering of small holes in the soil. Peering into one of them she found it was full of dead scorpions.

He handed her a torch. “Look down the other holes. You may as well know the truth. When you realise what I’ve tried to protect you from perhaps you won’t think so badly of me.”

She shone the torch down a hole and saw it too was packed with scorpions. Writhing red live ones. She clapped her hands to her mouth.

He shook his head. “You see? With bare feet you’ll never be able to walk past them in safety. That is why – knowing your propensities – I built the fence.”

She reached over the wire and handed back the  torch. “Thanks. But I know how to avoid that problem. I’ve been practising.”

His protest froze on his lips as she rose a couple of metres above his head, waved and glided across the fields with the wind in her hair until she reached the place where the factory stood glowing in the sun.

She landed with a little bounce and looked back. He was just a dot in the distance, but intermittent flashes signalled that he was watching her through a pair of binoculars. She turned her back on him and looked up and down the street. It was empty because the factory hooter had sounded long ago and all the workers had gone home. Free from prying eyes she explored. The building had been brought up-to-date and the surrounding area was partially landscaped. The front of the factory was covered in mirror glass which looked like a giant cinema screen. As she approached it she saw the hills and sky reflected on the screen and further back, a long way back now,  her home and garden were barely visible with her husband behind the fence.

She stood still to admire the greens and blues and golds shot through with bronze like the bolt of silk her mother had once bought in a sale because it was so beautiful. It was too beautiful to use, her mother had said, wrapping it in tissue paper and putting it in a drawer to keep it safe. Then her mother died and the beautiful material was thrown out with the rubbish.

A sharp tap on her shoulder made her jump at the unexpected intrusion on her privacy. An old man in a long greasy raincoat stood grinning toothlessly. “It’s comfortable behind those bushes,” he slavered.

“Piss off!” she hissed.

He flushed livid and bunched his fists under his chin then thought better of it and sloped away.

She moved out of sight into a doorway and settled down comfortably where she had a good view of the screen and could enjoy undisturbed the reflected scenes of clouds, trees and lakes. She waited patiently for the main feature film to begin. While restful music tinkled in the background, the faces of her parents, grandparents, school friends and  teachers appeared on the screen. Only those who had died, she noticed with a twinge of unease. Old scenes from her past were replayed so vividly she wondered if she had died too without realising it. To test the theory she walked up close to the screen to see if the other characters reacted to her. When they didn’t she sighed, vastly relieved, “They’re only two-dimensional.”

As the film progressed she was so engrossed in the story that she didn’t know exactly when he’d sat down beside her. He watched the film in silence and waited until the interval before interrupting. He’d always had nice manners, she reflected.

A girl walked towards them carrying a tray full of soft drinks and rainbow-coloured ice-creams. They both dug deep in their pockets for money and bought one each.

She licked the last creamy drop off her fingers. He set down his empty carton. The second half of the film was about to begin.

 

SANDRA ARNOLD lives in New Zealand. Her work appears in numerous journals and anthologies, most recently in Bonsai: Best Small Stories from Aotearoa New Zealand (Canterbury University Press, NZ, 2018). Her third novel Ash (Mākaro Press, NZ) and her first flash fiction collection Soul Etchings (Retreat West Books, UK) will be published in 2019. www.sandraarnold.co.nz

Image via Pixabay 

Cabinet Of Heed Contents

Book, Kitchen, Shelf – Angelita Bradney 

Book

The notebook lies on the table like a brick thrown through the window. It smells of dust, its pages are furred and grimy, and the cover is spattered with unidentifiable stains. It arrived a week ago – sent by the care home, though I told them not to bother. 

Just one look, before I throw it away. 

I put on my reading glasses. Your handwriting leaps out, bold and curvaceous: Queen of puddings. 

I expected an old woman’s script; faint and meandering. Like in the letters you sent until the end, the ones I never replied to. The writing in this book is assured; the paper is indented, the letters loop and swirl. A much younger you wrote this. Someone I barely knew. 

Queen of puddings

Warm 1pt milk in a saucepan. Add 1oz butter, lemon zest and 2oz sugar. Stir until dissolved. Lightly whisk 3 egg yolks then add the warm milk. Sprinkle breadcrumbs over base of dish and add custard mixture… 

As I read my chest constricts. Bile rises in my mouth; I clench my teeth.   

… Make meringue from 6oz caster sugar and 3 egg whites. Spread raspberry jam over custard mixture and pipe meringue on top. Cook for 25-30 minutes. 

The last word is written with a flourish. Were you proud of setting down your first recipe? There is a date – 1952. The year you got married.

I flick through more pages. Lemon cheesecake, Scones, Fruit Cake, Gingerbread Men. Memories crowd into my head. The recipes get shorter. The pen changes, ink gives way to biro. Towards the end some entries are no more than scratched lists of ingredients, linked with brackets and single words: Mix. Add. Then they stop. 

 

Kitchen

I’m sitting at the table, legs dangling. The warmth of the oven is on my back. Your pushed-up sleeves show bruises on your arms but when I ask how you got them, you don’t answer. Together we make pastry. You line a pie dish and trim the spare dough from the edge. I roll it out and use my special cutter to make stars. We place them on a tray and sprinkle them with sugar, then you put them in the oven with the pie. Soon the kitchen is filled with the golden smell of fruit and butter. The stars are honey-coloured and glistening when you take them out. You prise one off the tray for me. Careful, darling, it’s hot. I bite and sweetness explodes in my mouth.  

*      *      *

In the gloom my stomach growls. The ham is fridge-cold and the bread stale. Crumbs fall on my school uniform. I’m trying not to panic, but I’ve never come home to an empty house before. Outside the sky darkens. I’m still hungry but I don’t know how to prepare anything else. (Was it partly my fault? My constant demands, the selfishness of childhood?). Your apron is hanging on a hook; I go over and press it to my face, hoping to sense you in its fibres. 

I hear the front door open. Father is back. He listens, stony faced, to my wails, then pounds upstairs and into the bedroom. I hear drawers open and slam, the faint jangle of bare hangers in the wardrobe. He returns to the kitchen, face hard as a hammer.

‘Stay here,’ he says.

From the window I see his dark shape turn the corner. I hug your apron to me as the street lamps sputter on. Cars pass. Beyond the houses, tree branches stretch pleading fingers to the sky. A draught curls around my skin, penetrates to the bone, but I don’t move. 

 

Shelf

I wash my hands. On the counter is a mixing bowl and your book. I’m not sure how this is going to turn out.

Fruit scones

Sift together 8oz SR flour and 1 ½ oz sugar. Add 3oz butter. Crumble the mixture then add 2oz dried fruit and 1 beaten egg. (Save some egg for glazing). Knead into a dough.

It takes me a while to locate the kitchen scales. I measure the flour, sugar and butter and tip them into the bowl. Then I plunge my hands in and start squashing the butter into the flour. The greasy mixture gets under my fingernails and coats my skin. But after a few minutes of kneading, the contents feel smoother and more elastic; my hands look cleaner. I add the dried fruit. 

Roll dough on a floured surface until just over an inch thick.

I roll the speckled dough until it’s the right thickness. What should I use to cut the shapes? I settle for an upside-down glass. It descends through the mixture with a soft wumpf. I repeat until I have several round pieces to place on a tray. When I pull open the oven door searing air blasts out, steaming up my glasses. Blind, I push the tray in and slam the door shut.

There is a new scent in my kitchen. I don’t have words to describe it. The table is a mess of flour and I haven’t done the washing up. The scones are out of the oven. They’re risen and golden-brown, with tops that are slightly dimpled. I find some raspberry jam in the cupboard. Steam rises when I slice open the scone. It’s springy and pale yellow inside. I scrape on some butter, which melts instantly, add the jam, then bite. It’s sweet and intense, the scone is dissolving in my mouth. I take another bite, then another and another.   

When there are two scone-shaped spaces on the baking tray and my plate is empty, even of crumbs, I take up your book again. Flick through the pages, from back to front. My eyes linger on the graceful script in the opening lines. Then I close it and gently place it on the shelf. 

 

ANGELITA BRADNEY’s short fiction has been published in anthologies and literary magazines, most recently Riggwelter, Ellipsis Zine, and the Fiction Pool. She won the 2017 National Memory Day short story prize and has been shortlisted for the Fish Prize, amongst others. She is an alumna of the Faber Academy and lives in London. Twitter: @AngelBradn. Website: www.angelitabradney.com

Image via Pixabay 

Cabinet Of Heed Contents

Take The Shot – Kelly Griffiths

A rough hand rattles my shoulder. “Get up, Danny. The sun won’t wait.” 

I slump into the cold glass of the passenger window. Dad’s burnt coffee and cigarette smoke vie for dominance in the pickup. A wisp of outside air slips through and I lap at it. 

Our endless footfalls pulverize the frosted grass. Dad finally finds the perfect spot and we crouch in the biting wood, coiled for sound or movement. I allow my eyes to close and a second later feel the rousing shake. 

“Look. A ten-pointer.” (Like it’s Christmas.) “You take the shot, Danny.” 

My vision blurs. I travel back in time.

Bounding across our toy-studded backyard with his pink tongue flapping is my Scotch. He jumps and paints my neck with warm slobber. I dig my hands into his thick fur and hug him back. 

He isn’t real. Scotch is three-years’ dead. But still, I hold the vision like the wrestler I am. Like the wrestler Dad was.

Scotch, best dog ever. Pillow. Blanket. Monster-slayer… Sick. I begged for a pet doctor.

Dad snorted. “A vet? They’ll charge us out the wazoo for nothin—tests and crap that ain’t gonna make him no better.” 

“How do you know?” 

“I just do.”

“But how?”

End of conversation. It wasn’t about the money, Dad said. He was going to take care of Scotch. 

He prepped with a case of Budweiser and stumbled out the door, Scotch in his arms like a new bride. I pulled at his legs but he kicked me off. 

I followed. I thought by coming I could stop it.

The whole way from our place through the farmer’s field and into the copse beyond, I reasoned with him. “Scotch might get better. I’ll take care of him. We don’t need a vet…Dad?”

Dad slid back the action like he always did before a shot. Until that moment, I associated the noise with New Year’s Eve. 

I did what any boy would do: threw myself over Scotch’s wheezing form like Pocahontas. 

Dad swore and almost lost his footing. “Dammit, Danny. I almost killed you.” He grabbed me by the arm and held me aloft. With his other arm, he pointed the gun at Scotch and shot him as I dangled, thrashing. 

“Now look what you did.”

Scotch was hit in the leg. He tried to bring his tongue to the wound but didn’t have the strength. Dad dropped me and crushed my face to his thigh as he raised the gun again. I beat at him with boneless fists. 

The blast and Dad’s recoil and Scotch’s silence said it was over.

A rough hand rattles my shoulder.

The calloused, thick hand that wants me to grow into it shakes me out of the memory. “What the hell, Danny? Take the shot.”

 

KELLY GRIFFITHS lives with her husband and children in Northeast Ohio, where the sun always shines and her muse does the housework. Her work appears in Reflex Fiction, The Forge Literary Magazine, and Ellipsis Zine.

Image via Pixabay 

Cabinet Of Heed Contents

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