Menopausal Mother Earth – Karin Blak

You could be excused for thinking of Earth as a mother. The creativity of giving birth to life, producing something from nothing, adapting and adjusting to make space for just another one at the table, always inclusive rarely divisive. The perfect picture of traditional motherhood.

Like a mother, she manages many life forms, supports and nurtures the young and the small. She works hard, sometimes day and night, to pull it all together and create an equilibrium in our environment. Like many mothers, she carries on when she is too tired, not able to take time out to rest. Too much to do, too many needing her help.

At dawn she stretches in awe at another day that breaks, another opportunity to witness her work prosper, another day of providing for others, another day of carrying on regardless. One day may seem the same as the rest, but it is the little differences that excite her.

Because she is so capable, expectations increase and she proudly tries to adjust, happy to help, happy to be there, happy to be needed … or so she says.

And gradually, as the demands overwhelm, the hours in the day too few and tasks too many, the stress of the creativity, the pressure of capability, the persistence of carrying on regardless reaches its peak.

Early menopause induced by stress on every aspect of her ability and her energy, she burns, she freezes, she blows and she heaves. Reaching out for support that isn’t there, for understanding that barely exists, research that proves that this is too much, but action hardly enough to placate her needs, much less restoring her former glory …

… the pressures compact, the voices as the world around her darkens: “You used to be capable, you used to have the creativity, you used be ok. You can beat it, if we dig down deep you can carry on providing if you really want to.”

Mother Earth reaches for her last resources and lets them go, all at the same time … Mother of Earth splinters, all she wanted was a little of what she had so proudly gifted for so long, yet no one came forward. She burns, she freezes but no longer blows and heaves.

In her later years, which came too soon, she needed a little of the nurture and the care from the children she loved and contained in her years of creativity. It may be too late for the former glory, but a little contribution from everyone whose life she created, would put her in a place where she could sustain herself. A place where what she gives comes back again, plus a little more.

 

KARIN BLAK writes poetry, essays and fiction about relationships, emotions, society and other awkward situations. This writing draws on her experiences and training as a psychosexual, relationship and family therapist. Curiosity is a constant companion in her search for where the stories start. She maintains a regular blog at https://karinblakblog.wordpress.com/

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Historic Preservation – Kathryn Kulpa

Mornings, the steep stone stairs grow steeper every day. The musty smell of locked rooms. Burnt-on muck at the bottom of the coffee pot that nobody cleans. But mornings are calls, appointments, applications to review; your fingers fly. It’s the hours after lunch that make you think about cell death. There’s a word for it, you looked it up: apoptosis. All those neurons, fizzing and popping. Life out of balance. Your life as a resource that cannot be renewed. Late afternoons, when the smell of cigarette smoke seeps through the walls, thick and grey and granite, but not thick enough to keep out the press of poverty. The brown ceiling stain that grows day after dull damp day, as if anyone could fight the rain and win. Whoever said safe as houses never played, as a child, in an abandoned house, never felt their foot break through rotted wood; never held tight to splintered floorboards, not feeling until hours later the eighteen shards of wood dug from your fingers by a sewing needle in a mother’s patient hands; feeling only the dangling weight of your legs, searching in air; the two friends who ran for help, the one who stayed, counting with you, one Mississippi, two; never dreaming of a time when hanging on every day would scare you more than falling.

 

KATHRYN KULPA is four generations removed from Ireland, four generations removed from Scotland, and, as she lives in America, feels millions of generations removed from civilization. She is a librarian, editor, and writing teacher, and her work has appeared in Longleaf Review, Smokelong Quarterly, and Pidgeonholes.

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In The Shadow of the Sound Tower – Paul Thompson 

The sound tower is silent, abandoned in the dunes, windswept and dated. Conditions are calm, nullifying its function. On still days like these, the tower finds itself a relic.

We find a spot in its shadow, down by the shoreline, surrounded by remnants of the ocean. Starfish cover the beach in dead constellations. The carcass of a rabbit, washed up and barren, bobs its head in the tide.

With the beach to ourselves, we waste no time in preparing our picnic. Far down the coast, crowds gather on a cliff top, the sky clear and perfect for the occasion. We eat salad and cold meats as we wait, our skin shrivelling in the presence of the sea. At midday it begins, muffled cheers in the distance, as red and blue trails paint shapes above the ocean.

An air display team, flying in unison, pixels on the horizon.

The sound of their engines reaches us, indicating it is time to begin. We fetch a tarpaulin and our shovels from the car. Our task is discreet, hidden by the distraction of the air show, the whole town focused on the planes. We work under the watch of the tower, now a silhouette against a smudge of colour, rainbows of smoke in the sky.

As we half-watch, one of the planes falls away from the others, a speck that disappears into the ocean. From our distance the scene is abstract, belonging to another world.

A breeze rearranges the sand. Slight but noticeable, enough to pause our efforts. Spots of rain follow as the sky darkens. All signs of the storm that has come out of nowhere, to the surprise of the pilots. More spots of rain, or possible drops of ocean from the impact, carried to us in the breeze.

The wind grows cold round our legs, salty and unforgiving. It flips the rabbit carcass over, blowing it into the shallows before breaking it in half.

This change in weather reaches the tower. Air flows through its apertures, its design now apparent. A familiar hum returns to the beach, a background noise. Sounds from down the coast feed into its song – crowd noise, an impact on water, the voice of the pilots. Indistinguishable, hidden within the tone, reaching us on delay

The storm escalates as our belongings shift and scatter, bouncing across the sand. The tarpaulin flaps open, fluttering like a ghost of the ocean. Starfish roll by, taken by the gale that is now reaching a peak. We make snap decisions between us, grabbing what we can before the wind decides for us.

The tower groans, the weather teasing new sounds from its vocabulary. An oily scent fills the air, a reminder of the pilots. We head back to our car, accompanied by their echoes, amplified by the sound tower that churns on the horizon.

 

PAUL THOMPSON lives and works in Sheffield. His stories have appeared in Spelk Fiction, Ellipsis Zine and The Cabinet of Heed. Find out more at @hombre_hompson

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Sgraffito Skies – M S Clements 

Passion sharpened nails tear the evening sky,
Scraping at the waxy black of dusk.
And across sgraffito skies,
Comes a bitter juice of yellow grapefruits
And sour Seville oranges,
Weeping from those citrus cuts.

Fill my bowl and fill it again.
With tart crepuscular fruit,
All laced with acidic poison,
To feed my sorrow laden night.

Impatience breaks the hold of darkness.
Chased away by dawn’s own bullwhip.
It cracks and snaps at sullen gloom,
With vicious flicks to summon reluctant fortitude.
New scars will lie beside the old,
Those scarlet welts conspiring.
A host of grievous sores
Concealed by diurnal calling

This battlefield life,
Where I am never the victor.
Yet I persist, never defeated.
And forward I advance
My limbs all trembling.
Weighed down by campaign medals,
Pinned upon a fragile psyche,
All jingle-jangling and chiming out,
‘Come to me, Sirius,
Find me once again.’

And that snarling cur returns my call.

With diamond tipped claws,
He slices with savage precision.
Opening the soft skin of night,
Licking at the freshly made wounds
That cross my sgraffito life.

 

M S CLEMENTS is a former teacher of Anglo-Spanish heritage. She recently completed her debut novel, The Third Magpie and hopes to see it published later this year. As well as editing the speculative love story, M has also had a short story published in Cabinet of Heed and another printed in an anthology of women’s writing, Carrying Fire.
She continues to live on a building site in rural Buckinghamshire with her family, assorted builders and a visiting peacock called Darren.

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The Hydrogen Fairy- Julianne Corrigan

I am a tiny particle.

I am moving in small circles but remain invisible within the vast universe. I am random and free, existing only as a concept.

Just a thought.

In the burning core of the solar explosion that you will know as a distant star I am biding my time. I am not waiting, because waiting is an idea that doesn’t exist in a universe where time itself is illusory. How can I linger in timeless space?

The length of my existence is measured in the massive explosions surrounding me. I cannot count. There are no numbers. But there will be and they will transform everything. They will become important and intricate, and the universe will appear too small. But I will become large and significant, surpassing all that came before, anticipating all which lies ahead. I will become the blueprint.

I will become you.

There are many explosions in the core of my star and I am only a tiny particle.

I am moving closer to my metamorphosis. Very soon I will be two. When the last explosion of my life as being one finishes, I will fuse and multiply and nuclear energy will enable me to begin my journey. I will not be the hydrogen atom of my birth but will become the first stage of my growth. I am slowly becoming the complex compound you need.

It is the journey of my destiny and of your tentative life.

My voyage precedes the demise of my star, which has been burning for so much longer than you will ever know. As it transforms into a supernova and I move further away from my birthplace, I sense where I am travelling and embrace the cajoling and subtle pull.

The collapsing star is continually spurning my siblings. They are moving quickly in their attempt to catch me up on the long journey. It is a voyage lit constantly by other distant stars. My siblings are trying desperately to find me, to attach to me so as we can multiply together. They understand the importance of this journey and this knowledge encourages them to become part of me.

So we can become you.

I am passing much smaller and younger suns and at a time in the distant future, when they themselves are spent, they will produce more of us.

Barren planets come and go but these desolate places do not beckon me.

They are not my final destiny.

Cosmic debris is littering my path. But I need to focus on my journey and arrive safely at my ultimate destination.

Massive comets, which have their own tale to tell, smash into me, their energy so strong that I multiply again and again. I am becoming more powerful, more complex. My growth is exponential and my size is slowing me down. Some of my siblings are catching me up. They are hurtling through time and space in a supreme attempt to be with me. Silently jostling, they collide with me and once connected they are assimilated, becoming part of me.

As I will become part of you.

I move through so many solar systems. Each one seeming larger than the one I have just passed through. More and more organised they appear. Each one hinting at the promise of what will be. Hinting at the promise of what should be.

Of what will be you.

Now I am changing again. My siblings are now so a part of me that we are real matter. Our name alters. It changes again and again. I am becoming impenetrable. Still not as important as my parent – the star – but my destiny is drawn. And as surely as your sun will burn for a long but finite time, my destiny is as clear as the final fate of your sun. Perhaps clearer.

Because soon I am you.

I am now more than the hydrogen atom of my birth. I am expanding, filling space, creating a tiny part of gravity. As one I am nothing. But there are many more like me. Our births and multiplication are constant.

We need to be prolific. Occasionally instead of expansion the universe implodes, taking many of my siblings with it. There is no time or space inside the two dimensional hole. Does it exist? It might do to my siblings trapped inside, although as I travel to my final goal, I think it does not.

How can it?

When it isn’t part of you.

By knowing my size and complexity I recognise I’m nearing the end of my journey. I am now becoming the organic, stable matter I need to be.

The solar system I am now entering appears disparate from the others. More organised. With ripples of divergent energy it feels different. It is an energy which inspires me.

To become you.

I am beginning to perceive an irresistible pull and although subtle, it has been with me from the beginning. I am passing planets unlike anything I have seen before. They are directing me towards my destination: enormous pointers in the massive space all around me. And I can do nothing to halt my progress, my fate.

And your destiny.

Everything is becoming smaller. This solar system is more compact, and yet more complex. The evenly spaced planets and debris are depleting. I am serene. I am arriving at my real home.

I am beginning to feel who you are, to know what you will be, and what I will become. An excitement overwhelms me at the idea, of becoming you.

You, who will be more important than your sun and will know more than anything I have encountered on my journey.

It will be many millions of years before you become your destiny, but I am patient knowing we will achieve the goal of my dying star.

My arduous journey is not in vain because you nearly exist. The older solar systems already comprehend what you will finally become. They have glimpsed at your destiny. They know there is nothing that will compare to you.

You will be unique.

I am now reacting with oxygen and water vapour. I am growing up.

Gravity is pulling me ever more strongly towards the blue planet. A planet that is different from all the others. I want to get there. I want to be part of it. This planet will become my home.

Your home.

I am now moving faster than ever before. I see the spectacular blue planet in its glory. Beautiful and serene. Calm and peaceful. The white clouds hovering above its surface, cajole me. They are willing me not to make a mistake. Their hope is for me to be successful, to penetrate the fragile atmosphere and find my new home.

To find you.

I am plunging through the ambience of the beckoning planet. Now I am what I need to be, complex enough to begin your life. I am entering on the bright side; your sun is shining strongly and emphatically. It is shining down so hard that the blue oceans are twinkling white as they swirl and dance in the invisible wind. Water which will be my new home and the start of you.

It is a sight more beautiful than anything I have seen travelling through thousands of solar systems. The view an image of loveliness and unparalleled in the infinite space encircling its precious parameters.

It is ours.

I am moving at great speed through the atmosphere, light and welcoming, warm and enticing. I begin to slow down and float gently and as I break my way through the fragile shell of the blue planet, incommensurate with its size and beauty, I am at peace.

I am sinking into a great ocean and it is here where I find my penultimate resting place.

Because soon, in thousands of generations of life, I will become a part of the puzzle that is you. I will become the part of you that thinks and reasons. Loves and hates. Laughs and cries. I will be a fragment of all your emotions.

And when you grow old and die I will continue on, forever and endlessly.

Because I am the fairy inside all of you.

I am looking backwards towards my star, a silvery dot shimmering in the sky. It is now long dead. It died giving birth to me. It died giving birth to you. And although I look and marvel at its persistence, it is the persistence of you and your planet which is truly marvellous.

I will never leave you.

I am your fairy.

 

JULIANNE CORRIGAN writes historical, suspense and speculative fiction. She was shortlisted in the Bridport Short Story Prize in 2016. In 2019 she made the final in the Write Stuff competition at The London Book Fair. Her contemporary suspense novel, Falling Suns by JA Corrigan, was published by Accent Press in 2016. https://twitter.com/julieannwriter

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Staples – Leslie Doyle 

Mary said she wasn’t getting any more mammograms, on account of the radiation. Trish looked up from her Moscow Mule, swirling the copper cup carelessly.

“I know, right?” Trish looked around the restaurant, one of those dockside ones where people pulled up on their boats and customers sat at wooden cable spool tables. Plastic crabs and lobsters in fluorescent colors on the walls. Wait staff in vaguely nautical outfits, the girls in apparently required tiny white shorts they kept tugging down, the guys in knee-length cargo shorts.

“Last time I flew—to Florida when Frank’s dad was sick? —I refused to go in the X-ray machine and I had to get searched.”

“I don’t like to fly anymore” Mary answered. “They’ll kick you off as soon as look at you, after pawing through your bags and touching your lady things.”

Trish nodded. “Well, I won’t fly again, that’s for sure. On the way home, they bumped me after I had an assigned seat. Then just before boarding, they called my name and announced they’d found me another seat.”

“Well, that was cool.” Mary stuck another tortilla chip into the crab dip. The bright yellow chip and pale pink dip echoed the colors of her off-the-shoulder blouse. She hiked one sleeve up, hiding the sunburn line. “I mean, that they made up for it like that.”

Trish shook her head. “No way I was getting on that plane. It was a sign. I started yelling I wouldn’t get on it and I thought Frank was going to have a fit, telling me TSA would arrest me if I didn’t shut up. The lady next to me said well then she wasn’t getting on it either, and I told her not to worry, it wouldn’t crash if I wasn’t on it.”

Mary listened and nodded. She and Trish were best friends now, since they’d met at Maid in the Shade, working all summer to clean rental houses between tenants and change sheets at the local motels. She knew Trish and Frank were recently separated and wondered if it had anything to do with this incident.

“So we drove a rental home. But anyway. You know that you can get an MRI mammogram now, right? No radiation.” She caught the server’s eye and held up her cup.

Mary shook her head. “Nope, no MRIs for me. Not since my lung collapsed last year and they had to stick it to my chest wall with staples.”

“Wait, what? That’s crazy!”

“Yeah. But here’s the thing. I can’t ever have an MRI now. The magnets would pull out the staples. Rip them right out of my lungs. They’d slice my heart to bits.”

The drinks came, and they each took a sip. They had an afternoon off, before the next round of tourists. There were a million beds to change and toilets to scrub tomorrow, but for this afternoon they had nothing to do but sit in the sun on a dock.

Trish looked out over the boats, pondering what was luck and what was fate. And the menace of Mary’s staples. She’d never heard of such a thing before, but at the same time, she knew exactly what Mary meant.

 

LESLIE DOYLE lives in New Jersey and teaches at Montclair State University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Gigantic Sequins, The Forge, Electric Literature, Fiction Southeast, Signal Mountain Review, Rougarou, and elsewhere.

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In The Dark Garden – Lorraine Wilson 

You walk down through your dark garden to the bench at the far end, and you sit there, pulling your knees up and folding your arms around them. Your feet are wet from the grass, from the rain earlier and tomorrow’s dew. There is the very faintest of breezes, but it is enough that where your hair lifts from your neck, the skin cools. You don’t mind at all, the chill in your extremities and the way your shadow lurks at your feet, they hardly register as you tip your head back and fill your eyes with the night. Mountains rise around you, a steeped blackness that swallows monstrous shapes out of an indigo sky where the stars are unfettered tonight by either cloud or moon, and their presence feels so close, so tangible that you almost convince yourself you can hear their voices, murmurs from the abyss, or from the past.

It is a comfort, that thought – that the stars dusting your eyelids are so far in the past that you were not born when these photons were. You wonder if the light is altered somehow, by touching you. If it is tainted.

An owl calls in the trees, half of a song, and you and she both wait in silence for her mate to respond. He doesn’t. She calls again, from further away and he answers her. The forest murmurs on, teetering on sentience under the cover of darkness and you can feel the lure of it, the utter pitch of the shadows beneath its branches that stretch from the slopes above almost to your garden. It would be easy to do. Step down off the bench and take two paces through foxgloves and early borage to the fence. Climb over into the sheep field just as you do during the day, cross ten metres of hagged and frayed grass and then step into the forest.

Maybe that complete, inkwell blackness would offer you a better oblivion than the starlight. Maybe. But it would also offer splinters, twisted ankles, a compassless disorientation.

There is a temptation in that, too. You pretend there isn’t, or that you don’t feel it. But there is, and you do.

A tiny spark of pain lights upon your temple and your response is reflexive, brushing away at the unseen insect with the edge of your hand. It brings your mind back into your body, reluctantly, sadly, back to the cold creeping around your ankles and the tangle of hair against your cheek. Back to the ache in the pit of your abdomen, the pull of gravity and endings within the cradle of your pelvis.

You take a breath, rest your forehead against your knees and close your eyes. You do not cry. Not now, although you did earlier when the pain began. You did when you stood in the shower and watched your red blood spell out the breaking of your heart.

The thing is, you think, you do not know how to say goodbye to someone you never got to meet. You do not know how to let go of someone whose cells still circulate in your veins, whose bones and heart you were building from your own.

The thing is, you think, this is not the first time and you still have not learned how to bear it.

Above you, the beech trees tap out leaf-and-twig signals, and you can smell their new growth. It is a part of the night’s scent, the beeches, sheep and wet grass, pine and the tang of peat, solitude. The world turns, and sitting so still, you almost believe you can feel it. The world turns, the present becomes the past; becomes memory, scar, secret.

You realise that you are now entirely cold. Perhaps that was what you were waiting for, to be fully numb. Rising to your feet, you press one hand over your cramping muscles, your empty womb and you take a last look at the forest with its outheld promise of shadows.

Then you turn around, to the house where a light is still on in your bedroom. Where your child, the one who made it, the one you are so lucky to have, is sleeping and will soon wake. Where your husband is sleeping and will not wake, but will bring you tea in the morning, and will love you.

The grass leaves remnants of itself on your feet, and over your shoulder a gibbous moon lifts one corner of itself above the moors. The night is kind to you, and you are grateful for it. As you open the door and step into your home, it is almost enough.

 

 

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I Still Remember The Number Plate Of The Peugeot 308 – Lydia Unsworth 

I passed the autumn and early winter noticing the flies but, whether from stubbornness, pride, contempt, or lethargy, refusing to do a thing about it. Sometimes I look at the edges of squalor and think, is this squalor? Not yet.

Unable to remember the sound of my own voice, I recall VHS tapes that might have proved it. For when I might need to prove it. Taped over; haunting cupboards everywhere.

The buzzing reminds me I am still responsible.

After these sweltering days, we are all grateful for a little wind, a little rain. The slightly open door keeps hitting the frame. I joke-clenched my fist in the baby daycare place, for which I am not sure of the English name, only because I didn’t have a sophisticated enough repertoire for what I was trying to say. Then I followed the lines of all the adult eyes to see if they were seeing what I was seeing; i.e. the fist in the baby daycare place.

I close the windows because the children playing football outside are not mine and the sound of the ball bouncing off modern surfaces is slamming into the bulges of my barely contained rage. I would like to speak in a clear, calm timbre. Wrap a towel around the exterior walls of my returning body. Walk like I grew up with newspapers. Exhibit the confidence of a six-digit number. Mediate.

I would like to take drastic action. Gather my hair into a ponytail and just chop. I think I did that once. When I was drunk. When my hair was short and my ponytail shorter. And in the morning I hardly remembered and nobody else noticed at all.

 

LYDIA UNSWORTH is the author of two collections of poetry: Certain Manoeuvres(Knives Fork & Spoons, 2018) and Nostalgia for Bodies (Erbacce, 2018), for which she won the 2018 Erbacce Poetry Prize. Her work can be found in Ambit, Pank, Litro, KillAuthor, Tears in the Fence, Banshee, and Sentence: Journal of Prose Poetics, among others. Based in Manchester/Amsterdam. Twitter@lydiowanie

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Remembrance – Mark Left

She sees him first. A figure through the steamy window, waiting to cross at the lights, looking diminished by the modern-day traffic, and still unaware of her gaze. He is adrift in the noise of the street, fresh from the Remembrance service and too smart for round here in his blazer and medals, his polished patent leather shoes.

Shorter than she remembers but he walks well. There’s a spring in his step, just like the Bernie of old. She recalls watching him marching in parade at the airfield. So many lovely young men but he always drew her eye. So many of them died. She remembers them all and feels a surge of regret despite the fifty-seven years in between.

She is excited to see him again. At seventy-eight, she wonders if she should feel like this. It feels odd and a little inappropriate in public. As if anybody’s watching, she tells herself. She finds herself considering if she looks attractive, if it really matters now. Then he’s through the door, and they greet each other and embrace. His voice is shaky – perhaps with nerves – but the same tone, steeped in the years but still familiar. His face, his blue eyes, the way he lightly holds her at arm’s length and smiles at her. She remembers the New Year dance and the kiss of the younger man.

“Oh, Bernie. How lovely to see you again.” She cannot stop smiling. Inside, her heart fuels the fires of expectation and she turns the corner into a widening memory lane. She could talk for hours, and she will.

*      *      *

He sees her first. He’s hesitating behind the pillar box over the road, watching her sitting in the misty window opposite, concentrating hard to see her well through the patchy clouds in his eyes. He searches his memories, leafing through the synapses that store faces and places, finding broken links and voids where there was once history. The angle of her nose, her jaw, it seems wrong. He cannot be sure.

He stands confused in the rush of passers-by, the air booming with the noise of traffic. He adjusts his hearing aid and smooths his blazer, checks the medals are hanging straight, but at last admits to himself that this is not the Mary he thought it was. He has surnames muddled, her married name on the website, too much time passed. She is not his Mary, not Mary from 1944.

Yet their correspondence says she knows him. Who then? He has no recollection. Nothing.

It does not occur to him to not turn up. Despite the years, there is such a thing as duty and he moves to the lights and crosses when the traffic stops. Now he thinks she has seen him and he walks as straight as he can without his stick, and he tries to inject a youthful swagger. He’s not sure why it really matters now. But his bad hip hurts like hell and he’s glad to reach the café door. He goes inside and she rises and he embraces her as if she means something, murmuring her name, holding her at arm’s length again to look at her while his smile hides the truth.

No, this isn’t who he hoped it was. His heart rings hollow with the disappointment and a desire to distance himself settles in. Still, he’s here now. One coffee and half an hour won’t hurt.

 

MARK LEFT writes stories and sometimes poetry. He has been published in @EllipsisZine and was highly commended for his entry in the BIFFY50 Microfiction Contest Autumn 2018. He lives with his family on a hill in the middle of England and can be found on Twitter: @ottobottle

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