Life in the No Flex Zone

Esmeralda stores her jewelry in a box on the high closet shelf, trades her paisley sundress for a brown shroud, ties the kerchief tight around illegal curls. Tuesday is shopping day.     She could take the steps two at a time, slide down the banister into the bed where floral rainbows used to grow, but a soldier stands across the way, watching, waiting.     Cans line the market shelves, black writing on white paper. Plain. Uniform. Esmeralda fills her basket with the week's rations, shows her card to a drab-dressed checkout girl.     "Better tuck that back in", the girl says, points to Esmeralda's temple. She does not smile. Smiling makes you look pretty, stand out. Smiling is a flex. Smiling gets you a warning.     Esmeralda walks back to her house, locks the door, trades the brown shroud for a bright floral, lets her curls free, pretends the soldiers aren't waiting outside. Watching.
by
Christina Dalcher
@CVDalcher
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Just A Crisp

There was a time before Lucy stopped eating. Creeping up behind me she plunged her hand into my Walkers Cheese & Onion and ran away, cheeks bulging. 'It's just a crisp,' said Mum when, with tear streaked cheeks, I reported my sister's crime. Now, years later, we sit at opposite ends of the kitchen table. My finger traces the knots in the pine as Lucy carefully peels an apple, cores it, slices it into wafer thin slivers. That's how I see Lucy. Wafer thin. If I held her up to the light I believe I would see right through her. She hugs herself to keep warm as we watch the uneaten apple slivers turn brown. I push my open packet towards her. 'It's just a crisp,' I say.
by
Alison Wassell
@lilysslave
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Diner

They stream in continuous convoy through Alma's daydreams. Campervan, caravan, overheard conversations. Sand, sweat and fermentation. Another 4x4 swings away through the dust, its void instantly replaced. New sparring voices to sweet'n sour the air. A milk jelly dollop of a child stares, pokes out her purple candy tongue, squeezes a tangy yellow trail towards the condiments. Alma doodles phallically on her notepad. Looks the father straight in the eye. "Make it snappy, love." The mother shrugs with her eyes. They leave behind an echo; the squinting rasp of chair legs, salt-sting resentment. Alma closes into herself. She blows through the girl's leftover cola straw. A fluorescent strip fizzes overhead. Bubble galaxies wink up at her through a thousand reflected pinpoints. She puts her ear to the glass. Listens. Believes in their frothy promises of something better. Above the sky; on the planets; on the eternal glimmer-eyes of beyond.
by
Linda Grierson-Irish
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Broken Splinter

I hear them every night, the walls can never hold his temper. Each night I lay in bed comprehending the wife’s role to a powerful man and every morning she is at the kitchen sink, her spine slightly more bent, her left arm, a little limper from his fresh beatings. Today I stare anxiously between her and my report card. I am suddenly realizing how dark our kitchen is, how hot and slow the spinning overhead fan is, how strong the contrast of the dirty beige wallpaper and her black pots hanging on the window rail, blocking that morning sunshine is... I wanted to tell her. When she turns around and sees my report card the smile disappears from her kind face and the single sentence that escapes from lips makes me see the darkness he has given to her. “I'm calling your father,” she says and my heart splinters.
by
Drew-Kiercey Whittaker
@drewkiercey
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Role Reversal

Fresher’s week. No peanut butter spattered work top, or wet tights cluttering the radiators. The toothpaste lid remains on the toothpaste tube, lined up in a neat row with our two toothbrushes. There’s a noticeable gap where the third one was. I spread the two brushes further apart. Her room, a discarded hermit’s shell. The photograph on the side shows a little girl in braces holding a pink fishing net. I pull sheets from the bed, her adolescent scent hits me. I close my eyes. I will only allow myself this one moment. The back door slams. He’s mounting the stairs two at a time, running into the room like an excited puppy, waving keys to the campervan he’s just parked on the driveway. His face an explosion of the youth I’d forgotten. I smile back at him and close the bedroom door. The sheets can wait.
by
Kate Jones
@katejonespp
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Days Like These

The cloth of my life is purple. Each morning when I wake it waits for me. On good days I wear it lightly; a cape woven from the finest Merino wool patterned with innocuous swirls and swoops. If I am lucky, the cloth will remain soft but those days are rare. Each fold traps the day's stresses within and the pattern becomes an angry jangling mosaic of migraine and despair. On bad days the cloth swells into a huge greatcoat, sopping with troubles that hold me tight and I breathe shallowly, desperately, longing for the day to end. I dream of leaving this loathsome purple cloth behind. I will no longer carry the weight of daughter, sister, wife, mother: the tags that define my life. One day, just for a while, I will wear peach: cobweb light and butterfly free. One day, I will return to me.
by
Jane Lomas
@completelyjane
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In This Room

He’s worried about the others. The others who might get hurt. I tell him, there are no others. There is nothing outside of this room, this locked door, this bed. This moment. People are always telling me to be more mindful. I’m being mindful now. Removing his shirt, mindfully. Pulling off my t-shirt, soaked with anticipation, it catches on my earring. I’m mindful of the earring slicing down my earlobe. I make a mental note to buy antiseptic tomorrow, on my way to the station. On my way to the train. The train that will whisk me back, belch me out in that other life, where I am all kinds of things to other people. Their entire universe, making it rotate. But tonight, it is me rotating, spinning off these sturdy casters. The bind that has held me unbridling, unravelling. In this room, with this man.
by
Kate Jones
@katejonespp
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Trip of a Lifetime

He could hear her at the door and as usual, he shut his eyes, not to feign sleep but to exclude, to not witness. He let himself drift. The yellow lights of the tram in smog, the scratch-mark down his cheek on his first day at school. Twenty years later he’d marry her and ten years after that she’d leave him. His daughter would never recover and he would bury her at the bottom of her heroin descent. Thereafter his own life would snake down the board, through weekend binges, job loss and social isolation to house-bound decrepitude.

Time to engage. He opened his eyes. She was there, the bastard daughter of his bastard of a son. She would have had time to sneak a fiver from his wallet.

‘A wee trip down Memory Lane, Grandad?’
‘Trip of a lifetime,’ he said. Platitudes were so convenient sometimes.
Memory Lane by kerry rawlinson
Credits

fiction by
Thomas Malloch

image by
kerry rawlinson

© creators

Weekend Just Gone

He’s here - on his way to work – I’m guessing. Jeans and work boots. Re-enforced toecaps. Backpack over his shoulder – slight bulge. I imagine a couple of hard-boiled eggs, a banana, maybe a blueberry muffin. A bottle of spring water. And rough work gloves, dust pinched hard into the folds in the sweat-stained leather. Cell phone. Or maybe that’s in his pocket where he can feel the ring-tone. “Yes?” I say. “Americano to go.” “Double shot?” “Yeah. Live a bit, why not.” Nothing there. Not seeing me. Like Saturday never happened. Like double pointy finger shot-gun “You work in ‘HueHue Coffee’, yeah?” never happened. Like none of the weekend happened. “No worries.” I watch the black essence flow into the disposable cup, rippled like gran’s elbows. The last drops agonizing, slow - people kick off if they don’t get it all. A whoosh of blistering water. “Milk?” “Hot,” he says.
by
Mark Ralph-Bowman
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Moving On

A strip of passport photos in innocent black and white; she’s looking cross-eyed, I’m sticking out my tongue. Two ticket stubs from David Bowie’s Serious Moonlight Tour, old Valentine cards; my name always spelt out in kisses. That first hospital appointment card; she’d written on the back a list of names we would call the dog we were going to get, she’d circled, Titus. The small wind-up robot, with the now lost key she’d bought for my birthday one year – her little joke. Magazine cuttings of the couch we saved up a year for; it was a lovely pale green colour, she said it was called Silent Peppermint. The plastic Tomato-shaped sauce-dispenser we stole from a café in Hebden Bridge. And each night, as the world falls silent around me, I pick out each item from the old shoe-box. Lay them carefully on the kitchen table, in chronological order.
by
Stephen Wright
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Atlantis

A truck-rumble, mind-music-juxtaposed, jumps out loud behind the window, for a few seconds roars, then ebbs steadily away.  The office we’re in is third floor, creative, progressive, there’s beer on Fridays and a ping-pong table upstairs – a PING-PONG TABLE for god’s sake. Sometimes reception gets goody deliveries.  Chocolate in April, wine in December, doughnuts when a new place opens and we’re hip enough to be on their exclusive ‘Want You’ list.  Tweet Us the sugarpowder screams, Retweet Us, Doubletweet Us, TrickRTweet Us. Delicious.
We make creative things to sell you dreams.
We are made of lens flares, scintillation, fish-scale seduction.
We never bore, never tire, never run dry.
Our world is willy wonka, wizardry, wonderland.
You can’t come in but we’ll give you little pieces, piece by piece, outside the window, and we hope (clutching secret clipboards, projections, targets) that you like them – really like them. Love them. Love us.
Atlantis
Credits

fiction by
Laura Halpin
@LauraHalpn

image by
Sarah Jane Robinson
sarahjanerobinson.tumblr.com

© creators

tear down #6 by Kerry Rawlinson

Zeus Falls to Earth

The roof still smells of gunpowder.   The rain has left the slates a purple black, slick like fish scales. Zeus sits with his legs apart, on the saddle of the ridge as if he has fallen from the sky. He studies the damage, where lightning has punched a hole through the roof, the size of a man. It reveals the relics of a child’s bedroom, once safe in the belly of the house.   The foreman screams up at him to stop dreaming. That he can find a hundred migrants off the beaches to fill his job for half the money. Zeus clenches his fist to summon the lightning bolt, but finds a hammer. Inside, he curses the impertinence of mortals, vows wrath and vengeance. But on the roof, as the rain passes and sweeps on towards Athens, Zeus bows his head to measure the battens and count the slates.

Credits

fiction by
Henry Peplow

image by
kerry rawlinson

©
creators

Mother Knows Best

Femi puts an old teapot between us. It whispers steam, conjures memory. Talldark Everafter When I was little Mum loved the game as much as me, headscarves, wide staring eyes, the sombre room. The anticipation. Femi smiles, her eyes bright. My heart quickens. Breathless, the air all possibility and my mind reeling, could it be? It was the magic of the scrying I craved. ‘Time needs time, girl,’ Mum would say, agitating the pot. Then the tea’s bitter tang, abracadabra, the up-ended cup and tell me, tell me. Her witch’s croak, her dazzling generalisations. Were they real? Opposite Femi’s lovely smile I reach for the pot, my tongue flooded with the need to know. She stays my hand, her fingers lingering. Talldark Everafter But no prince for you ‘Let it steep,’ she says. ‘Time needs time.’ Her lips gently brushing mine. And I always thought Mum was a faker.
by
Van Demal
@Van_demal
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...And tied in a bow

You tease my heartstrings out and tie them in a bow. But not before you've YANKED with all your might, unreeled me to my spinning, naked core. Not until you’ve run with my quick around the neighbourhood, twice, (I grab the door frame with both hands, not to be dragged after), wrapped my sweet and tenders ‘round house and lamp post and dazed-looking dog. (The door frame’s splintering.) THEN we get to the neat, tidy bow. Not as light as you’d think birds alight on my wires. After-school kids use my innards for skipping. Total strangers stumble over me. The Special Brew crew use my elastics as hammocks in the lager-y light of evening. I’m all out there. Spooling through this pinhole in my chest. That's what you do to me. Every single day. And every day I come back for more.
by
Nick Black
@fuzzynick
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blue

Blue

Blue is the only colour. They all look at me as if I am crazy. I'm not crazy. The sky is blue. The sea is blue. I have blue swimming trunks, a blue bucket, a blue spade, a blue towel and a blue lunchbox. With a wave of her hand, Mum makes them stop sneering and laughing. I love Mum. She wears a blue slide in her hair, for me. I spot a small lump in the sand. "Look Mum, it's a red stone." I put it in my bucket. Mum's hand flies to her mouth. A tear appears in the corner of her eye. She smiles triumphantly. Nobody is watching her. Nobody else sees her tear and her smile. I'm not crazy. I'm special. So is my red stone. Blue is not the only colour. There's red. Mum knows. Now she can wear a red slide in her hair.

Credits

fiction by
Alva Holland
@Alva1206

image by
kerry rawlinson

©
creators

Lights Out

"Chokedamp!"
 
The cry rolled out, silencing all other sounds. Wide eyes, shocking white against mud-coated faces, stared at the low flames in the Davy lamps. Tools clattered to the ground and feet pounded: Hell was coming. A young boy stood, looking back into the darkness for the other miners.
 
"Dad?"
 
Only his voice echoed back. With a whimper, he bolted forwards.
 
An old miner caught him, pulling on him. "Ye cannae go, lad!" he shouted. "Rotherhithe's got 'em."
 
"Dad!" he screamed again, tears leaving silver streaks on his cheeks.
 
The old miner peered into Hell's maw for any light from dying lamps. He saw nothing, muttering truth into the boy's ear. He keened, then stiffened: the lamp at their feet guttered into a taunting wisp of smoke and light.

"Run!" the miner growled. "Stop for nowt."

He fled, and the miner smiled, even as blue wisps danced for him.

Lights Out image by S.B. Borgersen

Credits

fiction by
Sian Brighal
@sian_ink

image by
S.B. Borgersen
www.sueborgersen.com

©
creators

The eye of the beholder

I have a secret. I am a secret. I feel the clasp of my bra bite into my back and pinch my skin; instead of irritating me it feels like a softly whispered secret - “I know you”. Beauty is pain after all. The dull girl on the customer service counter calls my name - “Paul Roche” - and I stand up while the same voice that whispered softly now indignantly screams “Paula” in my head. The inner Paula strides confidently forward in high heels, the docile Paul shuffles in loafers.
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Blot

She is like an ink-blot – this is what I thought. Dark, shapeless. I grew used to having her there, she became... part of the furniture. I felt happier, in some vague way, when she was present. And then one day I came down to breakfast. The room lay brilliant, stroked by sunbeams. But her face turned as I sat down; she looked not at me, but at the newspaper. It was the subtlest gesture, the slightest sign. And I felt slighted. Cut, to my very heart. I was surprised at the pain of it, and at how the ache persisted, as I drank my coffee and discovered I could not eat. The bread became tougher as I chewed. I glanced up, just twice, and yes, she was like an ink blot. The longer I looked, the more I saw in her.
by
Sheena Power

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Telegraph

First came men with stakes and measures, next the hole-diggers, then the pole-setters, last of all the wire party. Ox-wagons, heavy with felled trees, shook the dust from the earth. The workers had such a thirst she feared they’d drain the well. Her silent husband counted the bills they paid him into the strongbox under the bed. A young Irishman showed her the tiny machine at the head of the line. It clicked like a locust, devouring words. They rumbled onward, straight, across the plains. She shaded her eyes until all she could see of them was a dot. Her husband flattened her, then, for talking to the Irishman. Now, while he harrows the fields, she leans against the pole, one hand on her swelling belly. She listens to the wind humming through the wire, imagines the words chattering up and down, the swarms of unseen people in cities faraway.
by
Sharon Telfer
@sharontelfer
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