Commandment – Nuala O’Connor

It’s a fact that Trish has the most handsome husband in Aghabulloge. It’s a fact that all the wives covet him. It’s a fact that I do more than covet, I reach out my fingers and touch. It’s a fact that I’m a commandment breaker. It’s a fact that Trish’s husband is too. It’s a fact that for months we are clandestine heroes, fuelled by lust, Trish’s husband and I; we slip-slide-slobber in laybys and barns, up hills and down lanes, and no one notices. Until they do. It’s a fact that Trish is more than angry, she’s frenzied. It’s a fact that Trish tries to set fire to my car in our driveway. It’s a fact that when that fails she daubs large words across my car with yellow paint. Thou. Thou Shalt. Thou Shalt Not. Thou Shalt Not Commit. Thou Shalt Not Commit Adult. It’s a fact that Trish runs out of space.

 

 

NUALA O’CONNOR’s fifth short story collection Joyride to Jupiter was published by New Island in 2017; her story ‘Gooseen’ won the UK’s 2018 Short Fiction Prize and was published in Granta; it is now longlisted for Story of the Year at the 2018 Irish Book Awards. Nuala’s fourth novel, Becoming Belle, was published to critical acclaim in September 2018.     www.nualaoconnor.com

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Cabinet Of Heed Contents

How Not To Make A Birth Plan – Hannah Storm

Ride through the rain because the car won’t start. Get soaked by the old people driving too close to you and the kerb. Hurtle down the identikit corridors, your husband’s yellow bike jacket dripping water on the floor. Watch the women with pearls and pinched faces and wonder if they are tutting at you or the queue at the hospital they come to each week with their husbands, who turn to them with deaf ears and Daily Mails.

When it’s your turn to be seen, watch the midwife prod your belly: ‘You still planning that water birth?’, she scribbles in your notes. Watch the pinched faces turn to smiles then pull on your husband’s jacket again to go into battle.

Repeat after four weeks, when you’re too big for the bike. Try to follow the midwife’s advice to ‘relax’, even though you’re on a trolley with someone’s fingers in your fanny, feeling for something they can’t find.

‘He’s sideways’, she says; you don’t hear the ‘don’t worry’. She sends you to another hospital, where they scan your son and you joke that he must be confused about which way is up: after all his Dad is a Kiwi.

Repeat at 37, 38 weeks. Try not to panic when they say don’t worry.

At 39, 40, 41 weeks, listen when the midwife says second babies rarely engage before labour. Try to relax. Fail.

Wake a week later with the rush of warm water. Watch as your husband carries your older child to the car, thinking how small she looks asleep. ‘Don’t worry darling’, you say more for you than her. Wait for the first pains. Short. Manageable.

Spend the day at the country hospital. Walk and walk in the summer sun, but only manage four centimetres. Listen as another midwife says, ‘I’m afraid we’ll need to induce you’.

Arrive in the city hospital, to a room with five other women and no air con.

Then the real contractions begin. When they crescendo you vomit all over yourself, pain like nothing you have felt before. Relax someone says, fixing you with fingers and now a monitor for the baby’s heart. A man appears from nowhere, an angel in scrubs.

No time now for no worries. They heave you onto the trolley, hurtle down the hospital’s identikit corridors. Try to sign your name as you scream. The needle scarcely has time to take effect before a voice says, ‘we need to go in’.

The next thing you hear is a silence.

Then a cry. You wonder if it’s yours.

After an eternity, the angel places your baby on your breast.

‘Don’t worry, you hear yourself say, Mamma’s here’.

 

HANNAH STORM is a journalist and media consultant, specialising in gender and safety. Although she’s been writing since she was a young girl, she’s recently discovered a passion for short stories and flash fiction, thanks to an Arvon course with Vanessa Gebbie and Cynan Jones. Her Twitter handle is @hannahstorm6.

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Cabinet Of Heed Contents

Men in Different States – Rickey Rivers Jr

I want a good meal.
I want nice clothes.
I want a car.
I want a house.
I want a wife.

I have great meals.
I have nice clothes.
I have a nice car.
I have a nice house.
I have a great wife.

I had a good meal.
I had nice clothes.
I had a car.
I had a house.
I had a wife.

I want what I never had.
I have what I always wanted.
I had all my wants.
I want more than you have.

 

Rickey Rivers Jr was born and raised in Mobile Alabama. He is a writer and cancer survivor. He likes a lot of stuff. You don’t care about the details. He has been previously published in Every Day Fiction, Fabula Argentea, ARTPOST magazine, the anthology Chronos, (among other publications). https://storiesyoumightlike.wordpress.com/http://twitter.com/storiesyoumight

.Contents Drawer Issue 14

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A Brief Time of History – Maria Kenny

My mother cried the day Stephen Hawking died. I came home from school and found her sitting at the kitchen table, tears on her cheeks.

‘Stephen Hawking is gone,’ she said, clutching a cup of tea.

Teacher had told us in school. We didn’t know who he was until she showed us his picture on Google. We remembered him from when he was on The Simpsons. He freaked me out a little. That voice.

‘The world is a less intelligent place now,’ Mam said dipping her biscuit into her cup.

I kept my eyes on the broken tile over the sink rather than look at her. I had been starving on the way home, but my stomach felt sick as I stood there.

She told me about a party he had thrown for time-travellers. He gave the invitations out after the party. No one had showed up. She said he had recorded the party, him, alone in a room surrounded by glasses of champagne, little plates of food on the table.

‘He did it to prove there was no such thing as time-travel’, my mam said smiling, but the smile wasn’t real.

‘He was witty like that.’

She suddenly sat up straighter, as if she had just thought of something amazing.
‘You should read his book’, she said.

I looked at her shining eyes, then looked quickly away. I promised her I would. I wanted her to stop crying. It was weird, it wasn’t like she knew him personally.

She pulled some kitchen roll from the holder on the wall, wiped her nose and stood up. I shuffled out of her way as she pulled jars from the cupboards.

‘Have you homework?’ she asked.

I nodded and she shooed me away.

Later that evening I asked dad why she was so upset.

‘Oh, your mother had notions of being a scientist.’

‘Really?’ I said.

I tried to picture my overweight mother crammed into a white coat, bent over a microscope.

‘Yeah, she wanted to study science in college, work in a lab or something. Stephen Hawking was her hero.’

He flicked through the stations on the television already bored with me.

‘Why didn’t she?’ I asked.

He looked at me, his eyebrows raised, then laughed.

‘You work it out,’ he said.

I shrugged. He turned back to the television as I continued to stand beside him. He looked up at me again and snorted a laugh.

‘You don’t have your mother’s brains that for sure. Go on, leave me in peace.’

He reached over for the ashtray, his other hand pulling a cigarette from the box.

On the way up to my room I looked in at Mam. She was mashing potatoes for dinner.

Dad’s tray already had his brown sauce, plate, knife and fork on it. The table had two placemats laid out and two glasses beside them. She glanced up at me.

‘Dinner in five minutes time,’ she said.

I didn’t move. She looked up at me again and tutted, rolling her eyes.

 

Maria Kenny is from Dublin. Her stories and flash fiction have appeared in journals in Ireland, the UK and Mexico. She was longlisted for the WoW award 2016 and was highly rated in the Maria Edgeworth Short Story competition and longlisted in The Casket of Fictional Delights flash fiction competition in 2018.

Contents Drawer Issue 14

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Swap Your Life – Sherri Turner

Carol hadn’t been expecting that. When the doorbell rang she thought it would be a parcel delivery or a meter reader. Perhaps one of those nice men in suits talking about God. She hadn’t expected a loud and overenthusiastic game-show host shoving a microphone in her face.

“Congratulations! You have been selected as today’s lucky Swap Your Life contestant.”

Was that a camera? She felt up to her hair – no rollers, thank goodness.

“I beg your pardon?” she said.

“Carol Adams, we are giving you the greatest opportunity ever offered on live television. Swap Your Life! Have you ever regretted the choices you have made? Do you wonder how it could all have been different?”

He swept his outstretched palm in a wide arc, over the neat front lawn of the semi, past the tired Vauxhall, ending at Carol herself.

“Well…”

“Of course you do! In a moment we will be showing you glimpses of how your life could have been. Remember that party in 1978? What if you’d been a bit more – er – careful?”
Carol glanced back towards the living room door, which stood ajar.

“Or later, when you turned down that promotion? How might your life have been now if you’d taken it? What if you’d turned left instead of right that day in ’86. You know the one I mean.” He winked. Carol blushed. “Today is your chance to turn back the clock, see what would have happened – and choose that life instead!”

Carol took a moment. She smiled.

“No, thank you,” she said, stepping back as she closed the door, much as she had with the nice young men earlier in the week.

“Who was it?”

“No one, dear. Some salesman.”

Always selling something, these people: new life, better life, afterlife. No guarantees though. No refund if you changed your mind. And nothing was perfect, was it? Though some things came close.

She stood for a moment, one hand on the banister, repackaging the past and the could-have-been futures back where they belonged.

“Cup of tea?” she called.

“Yes, please, love.”

“Biscuit?”

 

Sherri Turner is a writer of short fiction and poetry and has won prizes in competitions including the Bridport Prize, the Bristol Prize, the Wells Literary Festival and the Stratford Literary Festival. Her stories have also appeared in a number of anthologies. She tweets at @STurner4077.

Contents Drawer Issue 14

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What To Do After College – John Sheirer

Fill your head with dirt–rich, dark topsoil. Plant flowers in your ears–daisies or azaleas. Grow trees in your eye-sockets–butternut or cottonwood. Cultivate food crops in your nose–corn, potatoes, grains. Plow them with your tongue. Irrigate with saliva.

Your brain? Keep it for amusement. Donate it to science. Or chop it up for fertilizer.

 

John Sheirer lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, and has taught writing and communications for 26 years at Asnuntuck Community College in Enfield, Connecticut, where he serves as editor of Freshwater Literary Journal (submissions welcome). His books include memoir, fiction, poetry, essays, political satire, and photography. Find him at JohnSheirer.com.

Contents Drawer Issue 14

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White Noise – Christine A Brooks

I want to cover my ears, I want to hum, or sing LA LA LA
loudly
Over your words, your memories, your testimony.

I want to turn up Dylan,
Beatz blasting
Tremblin’
So my mind doesn’t hear your
Thoughts, your recollections,
Your truth.

No
I want to scream, no.
I want to cry.
I want to die.
I want to unhear, unknow and unremember,
Those terrible nights, more than one, more than two,
Maybe even, more than three
When I could not scream, I could not talk, and I could never

Ever tell.

I want to change the channel,
Block out the noise,
I want it all to stop,
Like it did last time, when I

Just pretended it never happened.

 

Contents Drawer Issue 14

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Fool – Danny Beusch

Perched on the rusted chair, nursing my third coffee, thinking. About last night: the worst yet. About what I’m doing wrong. I watch him tame the rampant ivy with Grandma. He looks like any normal seven-year-old. He looks like sugar wouldn’t melt.

‘Good boy,’ she says. ‘They’re sharp. Keep them pointed at the ground. Good boy.’

She wanders into the shed. As soon as she’s out of sight he lifts the shears. The shiny edges dazzle me with sunlight. Seconds later, eyesreadjusted, the blades point at my throat. He inches closer. I grip my mug, legs frozen, palms burning.

‘James,’ shouts Grandma, holding a rake. ‘Point them down, please.’

He drops his arms, runs to her. I inhale the whisky in my drink.

‘Be careful,’ she says. ‘You’ll hurt Mummy. Now come here and help me clean up this mess.’

I cool my hands under the kitchen tap, pour something stronger, worry about what will happen after Grandma goes home.

*      *      *

He kneels in the old ceramic bath, facing the wall, hugging his chest, shoulders tense. Dirt from the garden muddies the water. The dripping tap echoes under the high ceiling.

I soak the flannel and squeeze; water trickles down his back. He flinches, turns, clamps his mouth onto my forearm. I pull but he clings on,piercing skin. I force my fingers between his teeth. Prise open his jaws. Push him away. Stumble over. Run.

*      *      *

Frozen peas numb my arm. Merlot warms my body.

He’s crying so I know he hasn’t drowned.

*      *      *

Back upstairs, the bathroom smells damp. I wrap my shawl tight, smile at the sight of my breath. Smile at the vivid bruises across his sunken chest, the cigarette burns that dot his knees, those bottle-blue eyes, that perfect nose.

‘It’s OK, sweetheart. Mummy’s here.’

*      *      *

He curls up in darkness. Silent. I shut the bedroom window, unscrew the light bulb.

A sob – just audible above the squeak of the lock. ‘You fool,’ I say. ‘Do you think you can win?’ I put the key in my pocket, wipe away tears. ‘You stupid fool,’ I say to myself.

 

Danny Beusch (@OhDannyBoyShhh) lives in the UK and tells stories. He spends rainy days reading Joanne Harris and Margaret Atwood novels. He started writing flash fiction in 2017

Contents Drawer Issue 14

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The Smartest Human – Marisa Crane

Another morning in paradise for Wilder. The fluid cushioning him is warm, and he hasn’t got a damn thing to do if he doesn’t want. He reaches his hand out in front of his face and examines the back of it. It’s pruny from his long soak, the soothing spa session that he fears is coming to an end. Or so he’s heard, anyway. Exactly when is uncertain.

That makes it all the more terrifying.

The Outside People—his Mommy and his other Mommy—always say “soon, oh so soon” and make smooching sounds when they talk about his impending arrival. There is a man who comes round and coos at Wilder as if he’s adorable and tiny like his unfertilized neighbors. The man says things like, “Can you hear me, little one?” He acts like Wilder doesn’t understand the world, but he does, visitor man. He does. He knows that the world is shamelessly uncushioned, that it hurts when people fall down. He knows when the man is about to come over because the Mommies start to bicker. Quietly, lovingly, even, but bickering just the same.

“I don’t trust him, Jenn,” Sonya will whisper. Sonya is the one whose warm, soothing fluid Wilder resides in. The host of his all-inclusive resort. She thinks he can’t hear her if she lowers her voice.

“Alan deserves to know his child if he wants,” is what Jenn usually says.

“Our child,” is what Sonya usually counters, a bit snappy.

“Shhh, we don’t want the baby to overhear any animosity,” says Jenn. “There’s enough of it out here as it is.”

They say this all the time. That the Outside is this drab, almost never tranquil place, full of torrential people who can and do hurt each other. From what Wilder understands, he will join those people and become the hurter and the hurt. Never one or the other.

Always both.

He once tried to draw a flowchart of all the Outside people he knows with his right big toe but he misfired and wound up kicking Mommy in the ribs. I am already a hurter, he thought, feeling quite down about it, but also strangely basking in the camaraderie of the Outside People. But then he heard cries of glee erupt from Mommy’s mouth (that is something he is a bit envious of—this noise-making skill, but alas, one can’t have it all.

He will gladly remain silent if it means never having to erupt out into the world a crying, screaming, bloody mess).

“He kicked! Wilder kicked! I felt it, I swear,” Sonya said. Wilder heard footsteps then Jenn’s soft musical voice. What’s a Wilder? He’d thought, the first time he heard his name.

“Oh my god. Oh. My. God.”

“I know.”

“Also, did you just name our son?” Jenn laughed.

“I guess I did.”

Wilder could detect her embarrassment through the many layers of viscous biology separating them.

Me, I guess I’m a Wilder, the fetus thought. He’s come to grips with the name by now, but it took a while. He’d heard of these things called wild animals, like bears and wolves, and he’d wondered if the Mommies thought he would become a killing machine too. The thought made him nervous, made him grab his toes and squeeze tightly.

All of that is to say, Wilder’s dream vacation is soon coming to an end. In the early days, he’d falsely believed that his amniotic sac was all there was to existence. Rad. The temperature’s always ideal, he’s always satiated if not absolutely stuffed by the tube’s glorious deliveries. No roommates, just some single-cell neighbors whose company he tends to enjoy when they’re not sending his sky (or uterus ceiling, if you will) crashing down with catastrophic news of his eventual departure. It was about three months ago when they gave him a little biology lesson.

“You know you’re gonna have to leave this place eventually, right?” the one egg had squeaked. She’s a bit of a know-it-all, but she means well.

“What are you talking about?” Wilder had asked, placing his hands behind his squishy head, as if he were lounging in a hammock.

“You’re only in here until you’re big enough to join the Outside People.”

The others had murmured in agreement, sending a shiver through his chunky legs.

“Well, uh—when is that exactly?”

Wilder hadn’t been convinced she was telling the truth. The eggs loved to gossip since life inside the ovaries could be a bit dull. And the notion of birth was simply too bizarre to comprehend. Who would leave such a cushy, luxurious environment? He figured that some people—those who had picked the short umbilical cord for sure—lived Outside while the more fortunate ones resided Inside.

The know-it-all had turned to the other eggs and they’d whispered amongst themselves while Wilder leaned against the walls of his sac, feigning casual indifference.

“We think your Birthday Ceremony is in 3 months and 1 week, give or take.”

“My what? Speak sensibly,” he’d said, mildly irritated.

“The day that you are pushed by some mysterious force out of your warm sac and into the Outside. We saw it done once before, long long ago, before the Mommies knew each other.”

“What was it like?”

She’d taken a deep breath and quivered. Wilder hadn’t liked how she looked at him, her eyes uneasy and apologetic. She was usually pragmatic and matter-of-fact, a strict but fair source of knowledge and kinship.

“He screamed like I’ve never heard anyone scream before. There was a lot of blood. I don’t think he survived.” She’d paused. “I hid from the cascading sperm, those handsome fucks, for a while after that. I feared what would come if I hooked up with one of them. I didn’t want the same fate.”

Wilder hadn’t known what to say. He’d looked around at his surroundings accusingly, as if the heated sauna he’d come to call home had now been replaced by a conniving, lying betrayer. He’d now become the hurted. The Outside was somehow capable of inflicting pain from the Inside. Normally he’d consider himself to be fairly eloquent but all he’d been able to muster that day was a simple, “fuck,” then a low, ominous whistle.

“You come out of that hole,” another egg had spoken up, gesturing towards an unbelievably small tunnel.

“There?” Wilder had asked, bewildered.

“Yes, I know it seems insane, but that’s exactly what the Outside People are.”

“That must be a joke. There’s no way my head is fitting through that tiny space.”

The egg had shrugged, as if to say, That’s all I know.

Wilder hadn’t asked for this. He hadn’t asked to enter a world he’d heard so many treacherous and terrifying things about.

Out there, people were killing each other over technology and the lack of technology and breakfast and green slips of paper and love and the lack of love and bad weather and bad hair and games and houses (without lovely fluid in them) and arbitrary borders and beliefs and betrayal.

I refuse to be betrayed, Wilder had thought. When the time came for his Birthing Ceremony, he would simply refuse to come out. It would be as easy as that. He would never be ready to quit that good good and he didn’t see why he should have to.

This morning, about three months after the life-changing discovery, the morning of Wilder’s would-be birth, Sonya goes into labor and nothing happens. Her water doesn’t break, there is no crowning, the contractions don’t accomplish shit. Jenn furiously searches Google for records of this having happened elsewhere. Nada. Just some discussion boards about possible alien insemination.

The doctors, upon further examination, conclude that the baby would prefer to stay where he is for the rest of his life. They deem Wilder the smartest human being to ever exist. Out front of the hospital, they erect a statue to commemorate him. News spreads, and no one is ever born again.

The Earth is very grateful. It blooms like you’ve never fucking seen before.

 

Contents Drawer Issue 14

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