Miracles

If you pee on toothpaste, and it fizzes, you are pregnant. I want to know, but I am afraid to jinx it with a shop-bought test. But how do you pee on toothpaste? If I were six, I'd know who to ask; we used to deal with disgusting things: frog eyes, mosquito bites, soup made of compost. Now we do spreadsheets and go to staff meetings. I'm alone, it's 3 am. I squeeze the toothpaste and pipe out little people into the sink. This one is lopsided, and this is more like a mouse. I try again: this blob is like a girl. Cadmus had it easy. If I had dragon teeth to sow, I'd watch my warriors sprout out – all grown up, perfectly formed, ready for battle. I'd brandish my sword. Instead, I must become small and slowly go back into childhood, earth, and the dark corners of my body.
by
Roppotucha Greenberg
@roppotucha
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The Bear

The striped walls flap in the wind, making a sound that reminds him of summer storms from his childhood. If he closes his eyes he’s transported to the lush greenery, the cool air, and the fierce rustle of leaves before the thunder rumbled. Here, in a world of candy floss, so little is familiar to that time. His new world is one of chaos, loud music, vibrant colours and applause that circles him like a noose. It makes him tired. The lights flicker to blue and his trainer comes towards him. He stumbles to his feet. Thousands of eyes bore into his soul as he first balances a ball, then keeps a balloon in the air. After the applause comes relief. He can hide in his cage, and in the shadows he can cry his tears and pretend for a moment that they are raindrops, and that he is home.
by
Nadia Stone
@gathernomoss
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Bare Bones

'Us sardines have to stick togevver, mate. Life's hard enough as it is. Have you niffed the body odour of twenty sardines squeezed into a tin? Course you ain't. Who'd wanna do that? We have delicate stomachs, us sardines. Delicate bones, too. We squash easy. Ouch! it hurts just'a fink of it.' 'Me, I'm allergic to tin. Come up in hives, I does. Gawd knows why they're considering me fer food. Me allergies an' stuff, that's why I don't holiday in Cornwall. All them tin mines. Not to mention the freezing water in January! And them sharks! Nuff said, eh?' 'Absolutely. You poor thing. I don't understand what we're doing here, though. I was perfectly happy swimming in the Algarve.' 'Ha! You stuck-up toff. We're heading fer toast. Brown bread, dead! Y'know, even if it kills me, I'm gonna makes sure someone chokes on me bones!'
by
Gillian Ainsworth
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In a Bookshop in Finland

They have placed you on a high stool – metal legs, pink vinyl top – a high stool on a platform in the centre of a shop, in Finland where, surprisingly, your books are kept in stock. They have fed you vodka – 80 percent per shot – and you are smiling as if you’ll never stop in a bookshop in Finland. But these are shy people, won’t meet eyes when they talk and all they want to do is walk silently round a bookshop in Finland. They have no desire to gawp. While you are Nelson on a column, David Blaine on his pole, talent sliding off that slippery seat, running out into snow-covered street where the air is clear and chill as vodka. And you are left completely alone.
by
Anne Summerfield
@summerwriter
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Too Much of Anything Can Kill You

At first, it was just an innocuous shopping list. She’d placed it on her arm where it was easy to read. But when she tried to remove it, she found the low-tack adhesive had stuck fast. In time, to-do lists, telephone numbers, don’t forgets, and reminders started to multiply capaciously. Post-it notes were peeled from their stacks and added to her personage in quick succession to conceal the tasks completed or left undone. When an email address became embedded in her elbow she started to wear long sleeved tops. Her clothes became baggy, misshapen, housing the sticky appendages. Her identity slowly smothered; she became a smorgasbord of fluttering patchwork squares, concealing layers of wafer-thin paper cuts, tiny slices in her skin where ink tattooed her veins. She finally freed herself from the burden of every day responsibilities crushed beneath the weight of words.
by
Ellen Kirkman
@poeticnihilist
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A Brief History of Time in our House

This second is the same as the last, a press of the screen, the same exhalation.We lie in bed having social intercourse. Our hearts have pumped four ounces of blood. Minutes replicate themselves like bacteria. Your quantum of likes leave you unloved. We have breathed sixteen litres of air. Little is different in this hour. Our livers have metabolised another drink, the sky sticks on black with white moon. Lunar and menstrual cycles are looping. With variant ingredients we cook the same suppers. Together we have shed a complete layer of skin. We took an excursion around the sun again this year, five hundred million miles back to where we started. The Earth is a fraction warmer although it doesn’t feel it here. Expended another 1.25% of our lives, give or take. On the event horizon of a black hole, time is white. Our white blood cells die every day.
by
Steven John
@stevenjohnwrite
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Peat

There were no brides in Manchester in 1989. Unemployment, falling cinema attendance, and The Problem with Wearing White were offered as factors on the news. It was the year the bog man exhibit came to the museum. Visitors pressed their noses to a glass case, staring at the young man found preserved in peat. He appeared to be sleeping, cradling the land. His tanned arms curved loosely in front of him, as if allowing someone to slip in and out of an embrace. Girls clutched their satchels and wondered if they touched something enough every quality it possessed would seep into their hands. Rent was increasing. Satin reminded people of rain, but the most popular reason for not marrying was peat. Women addressed the camera and stated, Some nights I think about going clubbing, but find myself laid in the garden, touching soil, letting the cool soak into my legs.
by
Angela Readman
@angelreadman
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No room for dark thoughts

While a suicide bomber killed whole families in Kabul and Hindu men raped a Muslim girl in Jammu, while Boko Haram kidnapped young women in Chilbok and US diplomats shared porn in Phnom Penh, while Assad gassed his people in Douma and five rangers were killed in the Congo, I walked my dogs over Bathwick Fields and watched the bloodied sun set over the city and breathed the soft English air and allowed no room for dark thoughts.
by
Colette Hill
@colettesylvia
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Fishing

Sitting with Suzy, tears rolling down her face yet all the while certain he would come back to her, I thought of the summer we made that place in the woods our own. Children one moment adults the next, screaming as we dived and splashed in the water, flirting as we lay by the river bank, the fast flowing water like silk against our fingers. And Suzy standing every day on the bank, fishing rod in hand, swearing the flashes of silver that lit up the water were fish. Of course he never came back and the fish were only sunlight glinting on the water.
by
Carol Leggatt
@cal1
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Sunday Roast

He slips sage leaves and lemon slices under the skin of the chicken, wipes his hands on a towel, and squints at the recipe book. Gas Mark 5, it says, but the numbers around the knob stretch into hundreds. He pulls his phone from his pocket and Googles, swiping salmonella over the screen. He should have taken his daughter up on the offer to eat with them, but that's not the way they do things. Sunday means a roast here in the family home, where the walls throb with memories of the girls as children, bickering over Barbies and scattering Lego bricks that later he would step on and have to bite his lip to avoid swearing. He chops an onion for the gravy, the way she did, just last week standing here in her yellow dress, only sixty-nine, heart thudding reliably. His eyes water.
by
Hannah Whiteoak
@hannahwhiteoak
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The Language of Seasoning

Don't get me wrong, Grandad told a lot of stories. Nobody believed he really crossed the Atlantic on a raft made of plates, or taught Winston Churchill how to make a good salsa, or invented the doily. But, the way he cracked pepper. The way his hands held the mill tight and gave it a sharp twist, one way then the other, his face plain and tight, made me think that the stories he didn't tell dripped out of him like drying paint. Slow. Mournful. Permanent.
by
Richard Kemp
@boredwizard
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Collapse

I lay the belt out on top of the jeans, dark blue shirt, grey jersey and socks, ready. I pick up the belt again, the metal buckle under my fingers. This won't be allowed for the cremation. I put it aside.
by
Carien Smith
@SmithCarien
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The Butcher

His hands reflect his trade. The weight and size of hams, as pink as the pork he rolls in peppercorns. He is pristine, always, in his starched whites and striped apron. Not a blot or bloody cuff in sight. His father taught him the importance of that. No-one trusts a grubby butcher; they want immaculate. The flies don't get to cruise in here, or knit their legs on his meat. He's installed double doors, hung a bead curtain between. His customers enter in a sprinkle of rattles. The way he cleaves a lamb. Bones a joint. Like he was born to it; they all say it. But if he'd had his way, or another father, things would be different. Each night, he turns the sign to Closed, fills the sink. Lets himself imagine the cakes he would bake. Wedding cakes up to the ceiling. As light as breath. As delicate.

Credits

fiction by
Cheryl Pearson
@cherylpea

image by
Chris Espenshade

©
creators

In Too Deep

She takes a deep breath and explains it’s been going on for months, that the ticket you found in her pocket was only the latest in a run — she's seen them all, Blood Brothers, Billy Elliot, Les Mis — he appreciates theatre, unlike you. She throws out confessions like accusations: that business trip to Paris, you didn't even suspect, you don't see her as anything other than a mother. You want to hit her, or at least throw her clothes in the street, but you're in too deep, with the house and the kids and the years you aren't ready to admit you wasted, so you swallow a sob, grit your teeth, and ask what you can do to fix it.
by
Hannah Whiteoak
@hannahwhiteoak
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Project Calm
Ad Hoc Fiction Spring Special Winners

Winner

Emily Devane

Runners Up

Henry Peplow & Trasie Sands

project-calm-smallCongratulations to Emily, Henry and Trasie. And huge thanks to everyone who entered and supported our Ad Hoc Fiction Spring Special with Project Calm. These winning fictions will be available to read in Project Calm Issue 8, out 12th April in the UK and Europe, 12th May in the USA, and 12th June in Australia.

A Cold Autumn

The last time we spoke was deep in the cold autumn of 1973, in front of a shuttered store on Front Street. I found him brushing crumbs from the lapel of his corduroy jacket with one hand and brandishing a crust of bread in the other. Tall and thin, with curly dark hair and horned-rim glasses, his appearance was intense and scholarly from across the road. Nose-to-nose, however, there was desperation in his eyes and spittle at the corner of his mouth. He tried to hold onto a coherent thought while asking me for money. I, his only son, turned him down and walked away. When he was found near the railroad crossing east of town, I was the one they called. The side entrance to the morgue was frost-covered and locked, but I remember turning to face gorgeous, metallic starlings wheeling and calling in bright shafts of morning light.
by
Tim Hawkins
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Winter Garden

In the garden she sprinkles nuts on the bird table, breaks the ice on the pond and throws in fish food. If the wind is blowing she'll light a bonfire and stare into the flames until there's nothing left but charred ends. He was always the feeder, she – the burner. She takes a spade from the rack of tools and looks over the overgrown vegetable patch. Since he went nothing had grown but weeds. She slices into the heavy winter soil and turns a sod, then another, then another. Soon the plot is weed-free, loamy and ripe for seed. She digs deep, straight furrows, marked with twine tied around sticks. She plants his expensive secateurs, his fleece-lined gardening gloves and calibrated dibber. She tears open his packets of seed and sows them onto the bonfire's embers. Some of them pop and crackle, others just hiss.

Credits

fiction
&
image
by

Steven John
@stevenjohnwrite

©
creator

Mutability

Pair the socks, he says. She couples black with blue, red with green. Tidy the tins. She mixes tomatoes with beans. Sort the rubbish. She plants cress seeds in a yoghurt pot. Highlight the nouns and verbs, he says. She underlines adverbs and adjectives too. Memorise the eight times table. She learns six, seven and nine. Write three hundred words on your favourite character. She writes three thousand and could go on. Be back by ten, he says. She doesn't come home. Don't go out alone at night. She hitches to London. Phone once a week. She calls him every day. At college, she studies the physiology of a horse, adds a horn. Takes a fin from a fish, gives it an engine, splinters the sky, explodes a shed. Hangs it in a gallery. What a mess, he would say, if only he could.
by
Alison Woodhouse
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Gaps

Clearing out their mother's house they found bunches of hair tied with satin ribbons at the back of the drawers in the dark wood dressing table. Not their hair. They were both curly. This hair was straight, long and silky, the colour of warm honey. Had it been hers? But they'd seen pictures of her as a child, always short hair and darker than this. They sat on the edge of the bed and looked at it lying there between them, a puzzle forever unsolved. They thought of all the gaps that could never be filled.
by
Andrea Harman
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Directions

Lost are you? Yeah I know where that is. Turn left here, trip over the uncollected rubbish, walk quickly through Cardiff’s most vandalised park, past the sleeping drunks. Make your way past the shooting galleries. Cross by a Tesco’s. Walk past a wheezing accordion played by a Romanian woman who dreams of home. Step back from being hit by a cyclist. Cross by a Tesco’s. Stroll past the pub of your youth. Cross before the probation office and those who congregate in its damp shadow. Up the steps to the shiny glass foyer. Flash your card to security. Wait for a lift. Press 10 for the 10th floor. Turn left. Swipe your time card. Walk through the double doors. Make your way to your desk. Log on to your workstation. Answer the phone. There, there it is. The rest of your life. You can't miss it.
by
Paul Jenkins
@fourfoot
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