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I believe the problem stems from when I was building a shelter somewhere in the humid depths of the jungle. The expedition had failed and we were making our long way back.
While cutting down some small unidentified trees, I managed to acquire a deep set splinter in my thumb. We got most of it out but I could feel a shard of it buried too deep to retrieve and thought nothing more of it.
Last year my thumb started to discolour, spreading across my hand - I had terrible trouble using it. The doctors were confounded and the problem got worse.
Then the skin started to flake off and moulder and the doctors decided to amputate. After numbing my hand they peeled back the flesh and found wood instead of bone, dowel-joints where knuckles should be - incredible as it was, I was turning into a puppet.
It was the weight of her love for him that bore down on her shoulders. The ice was starting to crack.
It made her heavy with a sadness deeper than the lake. He would not look up at her, choosing to stare instead at the sheet white that spread out beneath them. Two solitary figures connected only by the icy breath of accusation and disbelief.
Eyes, and a love now colder than the floor. And her burden getting unbearable. The ground beneath her buckled under the pain. Surely he could fix this. He could save her. With just a glance that said Trust. Love.
It gave way slowly at first like it didn’t want to. She never took her eyes off him. Even when the cold marble below her splintered into the upright crystals that were now her heart.
He finally looked up and said “Wait”.
The Apprentice and the Box
The carpenter's apprentice lifted the extraordinary little box to the light and examined it through his powerful convex lenses.
Marvelling at the inlaid marquetry of the lid, he rotated the exquisite wooden creation in his hand; nodding with deep satisfaction at the symmetry of the tiny dovetail joints which bound the mahogany sides together with a surprising rigidity.
He rubbed his hand lovingly across each side of his creation, following the wood's fine dark grain with his fingers.
Flipping the box over, to examine its base, his eyes widened-in-horror behind his pebble-lensed spectacles as he discovered a flaw in his masterpiece - a tiny sliver of a splinter protruding from the otherwise perfectly polished surface.
The apprentice shook his head in despair. He would have to begin again. Only perfection was accepted as a Thomas Chippendale apprentice.
They'd left her alone with him. His face was gaunt, grey, dying. Whoever this was it wasn't her dad.
It was quiet in this soulless, stale room.
She had to press the call button, which lay on his bed, when he stopped breathing. She picked it up, looked at it resting in her palm. Her gaze fell on the thin, dark splinter in her index finger. Memory, sudden, consuming, transported her back in time.
"You've got a skelf." Her father held her tiny finger in his hand, inclining his head at the splinter nestling in her fingertip.
"Be brave, pet. We need to get it out and gie it its freedom." He pinched hard, squeezing, pushing the skelf out.
"You've got a skelf." Her father's voice whispering, calling her back.
Her finger was in his hand. Hot tears slid down her cheeks.
"Be brave, pet."
"Bye Dad, I love you."
The house was once lit with the smiles and laughter of a family of three.
The apartment shelters a broken man who has nothing to live for.
The young woman would always put the tie on for her husband so she could send him off to work.
The suit never includes a tie even though the man has many in his drawers.
Toys were thrown all over the floor to the displeasure of the parents.
Trash and a splinter of glass litter the floor from the lack of motivation for living.
A mug of coffee sat on the table to keep the man awake for the day.
A bottle of alcohol is in the man's hand to try to keep his nightmare away.
The words it spoke
Not everyone could see it, and those who could did not seem to agree on much. It was in the sky, that much at least was beyond dispute; reports of its outward appearance varied almost as widely as opinions on what exactly it was.
I was one of the roughly-fifty per cent of people who could see it. To me it looked like nothing as much as a splinter under the skin of the sky. Long, pointed, and slightly translucent, it jutted through the polished dome of morning as if lodged there by some immense, unseen hand.
Some decided, of course, that it was first contact. Welcoming placards became a common sight on street corners, as did preachers decrying it as a sign of impending apocalyptic judgement. Some coffee shop beatniks decided it was art, and meant whatever you wanted it to.
I wonder why they don't hear it speak.
Childhood daisy-chained-crowned-days have wilted and snapped. I am with you now, sitting and sipping honey-laced beer for the next 28 days of the lunar year. A band of gold on my finger and spring has leaped into summer. We’ve got the marriage certificate; now, your life and my life to be lived out. Our skins withering beneath the sun’s rays… but our gold bands gleam in it. Our unbreakable loops twinned together.
Age sneaks into eyes and joints and minds. Children, houses, arguments. Our gold bands still shine. Fines, papers, police. The ring crawls unnoticed down my finger. A strange figure next to me. My ring slips off and, looking down, it lies hollow with the dried-out daisies and some other trinkets on the dark earth. The seamless gold remains in a quaint circle; my heart has splintered.
Slivers of rain seep down the back of my neck. Her ghost looms behind my eyes. I see her pale fingers, translucent face, her eyes closed in an eternal slumber. Her lips as red as the rose I lay on her coffin lid. The stench of flowers and death flood my airways, suffocating me. She fragments into stabbing splinters. My heart quivers, cracks, breaks.
Mourners murmur, sobbing softly. She is silent and cannot hear what plans I had for us. But now I see how those fragments of my heart fit. My heart had never truly joined with hers; what I loved most I did not own. So I will leave the land of the dead behind and live as they no longer can. That bittersweet love of joy and pain; she has taught me something new; that life is for living. For her, that is what I shall do.
When you tore me from your heart it seems a splinter was left behind. It really should be no surprise so brittle and jagged had you made me before you finally freed me.
To the world I don't doubt that I seem whole but I know that a piece of me remains with you. For in the day and in the night I feel the beat of you, the rhythm of you still and what else could it be but that you carry me with you
And more I see it in your eyes especially when you look at her. And then I wonder how it can be that something so tiny can weigh so heavily on you.
The only thing I ever made
I don’t know. It was the only thing I wanted to take.
The answer doesn’t quite satisfy her.
Is it heavy?
I raise the jar above my head. The mast inside taps against the glass, floating on the rising tide of my arms.
It’s not very heavy, no.
I bring it down.
Why do you still have it?
I don’t know who I am without it.
Oceans hit the roof and cascade down glass that protects the delicate paper and wood inside against getting wet.
Can I come in?
She remains in the doorway, tiny sentinel.
Can I see it?
She means touch and holds out her hands expectantly.
I pass it over. She pins it against her side under one arm and puts her other hand inside.
Careful. You’ll get a splinter.
It’s too late. She catches herself on the bow and the jar falls from her grip.
My child thinks I am the most intelligent, strongest, most handsome and bravest man in the universe. I wish I were.
One day, he solemnly asks me what the world is like. He must have read something in his book.
Ellipsoid, I say.
Next day, he asks me how we don't fall, while the bug I placed on the underside of my ball fell off.'
The earth's gravitation holds us in place, I say.
'What is that?'
I answer him. Then he asks how big the earth.
'A splinter in our solar system and a speck in the boundless universe,' I say. 'Just like my knowledge,' which I don't utter. Soon, he loses interest and goes to watch the Bugs Bunny show.
I am waiting for the day when he would begin to think that his father knows nothing. But the wait feels eternal.
We didn't mean to take on water. We didn't mean to tilt and tip until our precious cargo failed in her footing. Until the waves split and sighed, snatching her limbs from our protection.
If we'd had arms we'd have tried to catch her.
Maybe you didn't take care of us, didn't seal our surfaces sufficiently. We don't know.
We were close-knit as clams. A coalition. We synthesized from stern to bow.
The sea started mirror-bright today. Its treachery began later; a cat's paw swiping at its prey.
The divers persisted. Too long. You cowered on shore, prescient with dread. You knew, before they shook their heads.
It wasn't us you wanted back.
You fall to your knees. Your hands grasp at air, tear at your scalp, your body forgets to breathe. When you finally rise you are holding an axe. We feel ourselves fracturing, splintering.
We don't blame you.
Take It All
They didn’t stand a chance. When the core shattered, expelling a myriad glittering glass shards, they'd die. He’d realised it with that surreal serenity that comes with a future of only two options: hide or take it all.
His colleagues—his partner amongst them—watched in awe and horror as he stood, arms wide to embrace death, and walked towards the thrumming, vitriolic chamber.
They ran, pulling his lover with them. Some ran through fear, others ran because they understood. Banging on the metal door, they begged for escape, and in the control room, a kind and brave soul answered, but in the agony of a security protocol counting down, the churning reaction breached its constraints.
Lethal shards burst outwards, followed by the mysterious new energy they’d tried to tame. His body took as much as it could, shielding them…swallowing death. Not one deadly splinter reached the others.
The Lack Of Sandwiches
I was in the office with my student, discussing his paper. He seemed upset over me accusing him of laziness. He only rehashed what was said before, but I wished for his own opinion. He stormed out of my office, it appeared that was too much to ask.
I retreated to our cafeteria, yet they had no sandwiches. I had to go the store across the faculty, where they also had none, although they had gunshots. I didn't see the place was being mugged. I began to run, yet I got stopped by a bullet in my back that felt like a huge splinter. I collapsed.
Suprisingly, my student was also in the shop, hiding behind the cereal section. He noticed me. I looked back at him, breathing profusely. He raced straight towards me.
'Professor, does that mean I have more time?'
The Two of Them
Michaela’s splintered nerves made her apply too much pink blush. The doorbell rang.
“I’m almost ready, Tom,” Michaela spoke before fully opening the door, but it wasn’t Tom. Squeezing himself under the awning was Hank, shielding himself from the rain. Michaela stared speechless.
“My back is getting wet,” Hank said nervously.
“Oh—come in,” She said. Hank looked like he was about to speak when the doorbell rang again.
“Tom!” Michaela gasped.
“Ready?” Tom smiled before noticing Hank. “So, I’m not the only one with plans for you, tonight.”
Michaela shut the door racing for an explanation she didn’t have. Hank broke the silence.
“I came to say I’m sorry.”
Tears escaped Michaela’s eyes. Tom shifted his weight. Pulling up his collar, Tom opened the door. The crashing rain applauded as Michaela rushed back into Hank’s arms.
A Small, Wooden Perpetrator
I swept down the steps at an incredible pace, my nightie billowing out behind me. I had a small, grubby hand clasped on the banister and, whisking around the corner, I flew down the stairs like a ghoul. Running my hand down the wooden banister, there was an unforeseen pain that tainted my innocent fun.
The pain ripped through my finger like it was late for an important meeting, my finger flushing a deep red. I let out a juvenile yelp and brought up my throbbing finger to my face.
There was a slither of wood that had nestled its way deep into my flesh; I could make out the dark splinter under my glassy skin. Before long, droplets of blood began to bud at my fingertip. I smeared the blood over the edge of my white nightie, sucked violently at my wound, and disappeared down the dimly lit corridor.
Apocolypse on a Sunday
Heart shattered. Splinters cascaded, falling through the air, tumbling, turning. Glistening in the sunlight. Embedding in soft flesh.
A public place. That’s where he’d broken. Where she had broken him. No need for a scene, no need for a fuss. No need to cry.
She glanced around then standing she walked away. She was done.
Not him, though. Not us. The repercussions spilt over.
Public meant people. The shards scattered, his sorrow soaring, infecting those it touched.
The park was busy. Sunday afternoon frivolity filled the air. Except, the children’s laughter caught short, the dog sat slumped unwilling to fetch his favourite orange ball, the husband let go of his new wife’s hand.
Blue skies faded, shadows gathered. Storm clouds swirled in the angry sky. The park crowds sat and the dark rain fell.
The photograph of the late Mrs Cole fell while I was dusting and smashed on the fireplace. Fragments of glass landed on the rug, in the grate, even all the way to the window where they winked in the sunlight. I swept them up as fast as I could, listening for Mr Cole coming across the hall. I suppose it was my lack of concentration that caused the splinter of glass to lodge in my finger. By the time I had managed to prise it out there was a gaping wound and dried blood covered my arm. I hid the photograph in my room.
That night I woke in the dark, hot and dizzy, to see Mrs Cole watching me. The moonlight played tricks so that her face came alive and her eyes formed a look of anticipation, as if she was waiting for someone.
Like a Splinter in Your Finger
Loneliness is like a splinter in your finger; it doesn’t hurt itself, but when you touch something, it gets pressed into the flesh even more, and you don’t know how you could even forget about it.
Almost anything can push your splinter deeper, reminding you of the pain. Holidays, weddings, all events you have to have a plus one to feel good about attending. Nosy questions, asking when you’re going to stop, or at least admit you are unhappier than they are.
We got married to keep our splinter safe. Getting tired of trying to remove it, we decided to help each other avoid situations reminding us of it. Others may think it’s not a good reason to make such a commitment, but I think there are much worse reasons.
And who knows, maybe over time the splinter gets so deep, that nothing in the surface can reach it anymore.
Digging in, searching, teasing out
You know the feeling; you've been breaking off dried branches and now you’re watching TV but something’s not right. Your finger itches. It looks fine but the feeling persists and you turn on the light above the bathroom mirror, see the tiny mark and know you have a splinter.
You spend an hour trying to find a needle, another picking the skin with the sharp metal; digging in, searching, teasing out. And when it's finally done you look at the microscopic shard of wood and think, “that’s it?” This tiny fragment of wood has caused you so much discomfort? And you can't believe it.
Now imagine that feeling in your mind. That's me now, lying in bed, turning over and over, chasing zees like an elusive Pokemon. Picking over the day’s events. And I know, when I find what's causing all this worry, it's going to be so, so, tiny.
The Lonely Heart is a Vulnerable Heart
It is clear we are of one mind. I feel your presence even though we have not yet met. All these months we have been writing daily, I treasure your words and the photos you have sent, of your daughter in the primrose dress, taken just weeks before her mother lost the battle to breast cancer.
I have never experienced anything like this before. The notes on the flowers, the gifts, my dreams and yours so perfectly matched. This weekend we'll be picnicking at Kenwood House, listening to arias from Madame Butterfly.
That business trip to Boston came up so suddenly, and who'd have thought a splinter in the eye could cause so much damage! Of course you cannot ask your daughter to cover medical bills. I will pay until you have access to your accounts.
I'll be waiting for you at Heathrow T3 when you land on Thursday. Love
Ouch! You’ve dislodged it!
It’s just a theory.
No the splinter.
I had to distract you in some way when pulling it out.
All our history? That’s a bit rich.
What about the convicts?
Some were crims.
Only some. There was worse.
Yeah, that’s your theory.
The sadists who came over to keep the convicts in line.
Somebody had to.
The cardinal got away with stuff. The mad monk, too. Some are still at it. They won’t let go.
Where d’ya think they came from?
Not the poor convict buggars.
D’ya think it’s infected?
Nah, the bloody finger.
Can do. Better keep it clean.
We’re out of water.
Spit on it, then.
She lifted the long dead daffodils from the vase at her parent’s joint headstone. Their mummified seed heads like hazelnuts wrapped in paper. Her parents too, long dead. Mummified heads in wooden casks. She arranged fresh red roses in the vase, then stood and faced the lych-gate. Thirty years ago she’d been a bride and walked through that same gate on her father’s arm. She took a tissue from her bag and dabbed at tears. She wouldn’t be buried with her husband. Ten minutes in the same room was enough. Eternity would seem like an eternity. The tissue scratched on a splinter in her hand. A rose thorn, scimitar curved, stabbed into her palm. She pinched at it releasing a ruby-stone of blood. She squeezed the tissue into her palm and touched the absorbed red rose. On the way out she dropped it on the pile of other dead flowers.
In a budget Docklands hotel, only a few miles from her own house for reasons of her own, on a cool, clear summer night. Sitting on the second of three beds (excessive, just for her) (she felt quite spoilt), she twisted to look up as her body synchronised with the thrum and rhythm of an aeroplane coming into City Airport. Two highway maintenance men. A bus to Islington. A splintering windowsill. She never felt so connected with the world as she did when she was distanced from it. Right opposite, a picturesque tower block, a high-rise of Docklands apartments, filled with the kind of people who lived in Docklands apartments. People who were sitting on their balconies with their Saint-émilion, or maybe Pimms and Wimbledon, lots of windows open. She counted the floors, 16 floors. 16 by 4. In 64 flats, she reasoned, there must be someone who was happy.
But no one saw
I stepped out of the car and stopped.
I know it happened it happened it happened it happened.
Someone had told her.
Inside she sat, awake. Eyes bruised and heavy. Hair scraped back, dry and wild. Slumped and staring. A day spent imagining conversations. What on earth would she have to say to me?
At least, that's what she may have been doing. Maybe she wouldn't be there after all. Maybe her filament had blown, and she'd slid like warm ice out of the house and away from here, our possessions following her gravity.
Or maybe no one told her.
And no one had. As I rounded the corner to the door I saw the TV through the window and I knew nothing had changed. Not today. It drew out so slowly. My life, divided between the sting of the splinter and the rip of the remove.
The Burden of Coming Clean
"Daddy, I've got a splinter."
He is running towards me, the spit of his mother but with my sticky-out ears, too young yet to realise their curse. There are tears in his eyes though he is trying to be brave and I love him more for it.
"Help me," he pleads holding out a finger.
I will never get used to that look. That absolute conviction that I can make everything better. I want to capture it, never letting it go because soon it will be a distant memory. When he discovers the truth.
I prize the fragment between my fingernails and pull. Quick and painless. If only it were true.
"Did daddy make it better?" she asks while giving me an affectionate smile.
I feel my resolution wane, I can't ruin such a perfect day.
"I'll tell her tomorrow," I promise myself.
The trouble is I break my promises.
A Lifetime in a Memory
I sat in my old chair, the floral cushions faded after so many years. I gazed absent-mindedly at the row of pictures above the fireplace, the smiles frozen even as the memories splinter and dissolve.
But I can still remember my wedding day. It was a bright, clear day in March. The birds were chirping in the trees. I can remember how I rushed to get ready that morning, afraid that he would stop waiting for me. The clipping of my heels on the pavement still echo in my mind as I rushed to the church.
But when I arrived it was as though time stopped. The only thing that mattered in that moment was the way he was looking at me.
Years later, sitting in my chair, my hands close around both our rings. I hope he'll look at me like that when I see him again.
Once seen, we fell in love with the little gingerbread house in the woods. We hacked back the dense thicket of briar roses, mended broken chairs, swept cinders from the fireplace and planted the garden with silver bells and beans whose stalks grew high to the sky. At night we would often hear a faraway wolf howl. We lived very happily.
Then one morning, as I scrubbed the ancient wooden table, a call at the door startled me and a long vicious splinter drove deeply into my finger. The old woman waiting, watching, offered me a crisp red apple from her basket and as I bit into it eagerly a unexpectedly violent stab of pain made me cry out and fall to the ground in a deep dead faint.
I had the strangest dream.. about a frog, wearing a glass slipper, leaping from his horse to tenderly kiss my lips..
Dying in Instalments
At sixty he gave up the marathons - London, Paris, Boston - preferring golf instead, and then, abruptly, that stopped. An emergency admission with chest pain revealed the underlying reason, a stenosed heart valve that needed replaced. Soon, we predicted, he’d be swinging that lucky seven iron again but it never happened. Initiative departed with the diseased valve.
He’d never had any time for the garden; that was my mother’s preserve. But when she died, he tended it dutifully though unskilfully. It wasn’t therapeutic. Over time, the accumulating weight of her absence was disabling and after the next hospitalisation, a chest infection, he neglected her garden altogether.
Now, it’s his third admission in five years: I hold his hand, and see the linear streaks on his finger-nails. The doctor calls them splinter haemorrhages, evidence of his infected prosthetic heart valve, tiny clots carried by his blood, portents of his final disintegration.
“Pass the scalpel, please.”
The surgeon squinted tightly, peering at the scarlets and crimsons that ran before her. She tightened her grip on the tool that had been pressed into her palm.
“Does this look swollen to you?” she asked the assistant, making an incision.
“Only as swollen as it should be,” he replied. “I’ll increase the lights.”
As the brightness ramped up, the surgeon made an inquisitive noise under her breath and signalled for her assistant to give her the tweezers.
She dug her gloved fingers into sinew and bone, flattening a troubling section.
With her assistant’s breath down her neck, she angled the tweezers into flesh and plucked.
She released the tweezers onto the metal tray. The small, foreign object clinked twice before settling.
“What is that?” the assistant asked, grimacing.
The surgeon prodded at the tray. “It would appear to be a splinter.”
The Death of Me
I pull, it doesn’t move. I pull harder, not only does it not move again but my finger starts to pulsate in small painful rings. It’s just a splinter I tell myself it will not be the death of me, I just need to wait until I go inside and find my tweezers, it’s not a big deal.
Opening the door to my house provided another bout of pain as I had forgot about the slither of wood in the two seconds from pulling at it to pulling at the door. I wince as I try to remove the splinter again, I fail to notice the man standing before me before it is too late.
He smiles at me as he plunges one of my own very expensive kitchen knives into my gut, as the light faded I realised that I was wrong the splinter was the death of me.
The yew tree has stood for 4000 years. The number is a guess. It is real in Ashbrittle, Somerset and here is a tale sometimes told ... as true:
A swain or pillock (think adolescent with thin first beard) was sent by his trade master (if alive now he would be 1000yrs or as old as he looked to the pillock) to find wood for a bow.
Longbow the high precision rifle of it's day (less Robin Hood more ' for Harry, England, and Saint George') required a good straight piece of yew. The area was named after the Ash but had an old yew on a fairy spring protected by the spirits of folklore.
Well the feckless youth cuts from this tree and a splinter buried itself in his thumb. Struck by the toxin he rested against the trunk.
Tree grieved and is why it is split a longbow width across.
You can rely on Nurse Kelly to attend to your cuts and bruises. She’s a sprightly fiftyish Irish red head with a smile and a smart wit..
Slowly, gently, with sterilised tweezers, steady hand and eye she plucked away at my forearm. Already she had a neat little pile of sharp glass shards, dagger like slivers of wood, fragments of ragged edged plastic. My four mates had gone before me. Must’ve been a hundred blokes on the building site so why only us five?
She looked me in the eye and with a merry quip, “Were you not after telling me yourself that you got your injuries loading supplies at the depot? “
“Yes,” I said, “we did ,so what?
““Well there you are then to be sure.” She laughed,. “You five had to break away from the main gang. You were a splinter group.”
The Final Splinter
Pushing, pulling, twisting, swirling he made his way through each bedroom while the storm tore the house to shreds around him. Seconds were like days.
Madness, tearing, digging, screaming he grabbed at broken blocks and splitting timbers. Bloody hands scraped and tore at walls that no longer provided safety. Splitting skin and broken bones were secondary to the heart-wrenching certainty that he was now alone in the rubble.
Mumbling, quiet, sterile, beeping he slept and woke through bloodshot eyes and stitched up consciousness. They worked and fixed and mended all but the unyielding ache two inches inside his chest like a final splinter deep under his skin.
Alone, dark, wet, uncaring he stares with dead eyes and gut-wrenching sadness. They told him not to come, but they couldn't stop him. Alone he cries into the destruction, ready to remove the final splinter.
Cutting, bleeding, coldness, he rests, home.
Walking, not thinking anymore
The girl in tight blue jeans steps across me and I am forced to observe her strut and swivel along in those tight jeans.
The tea shop window displays determined customers and ingratiating proprietor; the patrons appreciate their tea and cake because it’s served on white china.
Still they leave no tip.
A cyclist rides fast and rides the wrong way along the one way street. Notwithstanding, with a studied insolence he rides on.
The blue jeans of the girl in blue jeans are torn at the knees, I observe.
The tattooed man smoking outside the Angel has one gold earring.
Panicking, I cross the street.
The splinter under my nail throbs.
I worry suddenly that the exchange rate is falling.
I worry that my cholesterol is bad cholesterol.
And you are not perfect, it must be said.
But you are mine.
Overhead in a School's Hallway No.83
“Well!, why is she like this? Why is she getting high before her boyfriend comes over? Why is she not out playing with the other pigtailed girls and freckled boys? Do they not like her? Well surely it’s her fault, isn’t it? If she’s too loud or too pretty or too dumb or too pink or bitchy or slutty or too fucking attached… she knew not to get too attached or she’d just be a splinter in a carpenter’s thumb. Annoying when you think about it, but easy enough to ignore. After all,” her chuckle distorted into a choke, “they’re such good, nice, kids -well rounded, too!- and would never do something like that on purpose!”
The mother cried, and the father lied saying it was going to be okay.
Emma said I shouldn't tell him what I'd done. She was right; what would be the point in telling him now that it was over? Why upset everyone? The time for talking had passed.
But I couldn't get rid of the pain I carried in my heart. Like a large wooden splinter was stuck there becoming infected, the pain grew worse, not better each day. The burden of guilt was too heavy for me to bear alone.
Emma said I needed to move on with my life. 'What's done is done', she said. She was right, but it's never that simple. That's why I decided to tell him in the end. He was the only one I thought would understand my loss. Our loss.
He cried, but as he held me afterwards, I felt the splinter finally begin to shift. I knew I was no longer alone.
The Wrong Key
Ding dong. Jesus, what fresh hell is this at 2:46 am? However, it’s not the door, but a text message. “Sweetest nightingale, please forgive my egregious behavior.”
Sweetest nightingale? He must be drunker than I thought.
“No problem,” I reply. “Could happen to anyone. ‘Night.” Press send, turn off the lamp, and roll over.
Ding dong. God, what now? “Not to me, never before. And I promise, never again. I kiss your soft feet.”
Never splinter a glass before? Hard to believe. There was certainly red wine on the Persian rug, this time, anyway. But let’s get a grip. No one would call my feet soft, in any state of remorse.
“Nothing to forgive. Morning is wiser than night. Xoxo.”
Ding dong. “You have the key to my heart.” Whereupon three more sappy texts were received by everyone on his contact list except the person for whom they were originally intended.
Full of you
There's a pain in my mind, a sliver, a dagger, a splinter of your thoughts slicing through mine saying you don't love me and the thought fractures my memories and happiness bleeds leaving greyness and misery and the splinter of you slithers down to my throat to rip out my voice so that my scream and my cry are muffled inside me as the splinter of hate tears down to my heart and pierces it through and I die full of you.
Crewcut and Longhair clash at a crowded bus stop in west Seattle. We are standing there, everything is calm, and all of a sudden clenched fists fill the air like hail in a summer storm. Profanities erupt, and we wonder how long it will take before one of the fighters brandishes a knife or, these days, a gun. I think of stepping in front of my wife to protect her from a possible bullet, but before I can get my legs to move, Crewcut and Longhair end their scuffle. Just like that. They exchange a few more choice words, asshole, fuck you, scumbag, and then Longhair leaves with a bloody nose, which he wipes with his black t-shirt, and Crewcut, his right eye already swollen shut, boards the bus as if no fabric had been torn and no splinter in time created.
Shades of Light
Dawn broke repeatedly; a bright ball rising up into the cornflower blue sky. Days of endless sticky heat and long light hours seemed to mock her when all she wanted was to be cocooned in darkness.
She’d found him in the bathroom, his body as cold and pale as the tiles, on a Friday after work. The autopsy revealed a massive heart attack, but what use was the pathologist’s information really?
Autumn colours fell from the sky and a low-slung sun threw splinters of light onto the sea. She stepped out of the front door into the chilled air. A puppy yapped, running in circles around her feet as she walked towards the horizon.
He crashed through the door in a fit of rage. He always had a problem with his temper. The grunting and panting had stopped, his tears ceased. Red-eyed, he scanned the room looking for her but saw only a rocking chair in the light of the far window. On the bed, neatly made-up, was a cream-coloured note. He picked it up and read it with urgency, only now wincing as he brought up his right hand, the hand which had lead him through the pine door. A large splinter was embedded through his middle finger and beyond the knuckle. Sheer adrenaline had provided anaesthesia to the painful intrusion. Holding the note in his left hand and taking in his splintered hand, it took him longer than he realised to work out which hurt the most.
If you were outside, observing the quaint cottage, you wouldn’t have suspected a thing.
Yellow like the sun
"Hold still while I get it out."
"Is it a splinter mummy?"
"No, its a rose thorn darling. Don't cry, you'll be fine."
Sonya picked the rose off the floor and put it in a glass of water.
"Do you like it mummy? It's yellow like the sun."
"It's special Alfie. Just like you and the sun."
Alfie was ten months old when his father died and was a constant reminder with his chock of blonde hair and brown eyes that danced with mischief.
Septicaemia took a rapid hold and the doctor's battled to save Alfie as he slipped in and out of consciousness and while Sonya was stroking his forehead, tears plopping onto his hand, he opened his eyes and said, "Don't cry mummy. You'll be fine."
Sonya laid the drooping yellow rose on the small mound of earth and knew that he was wrong.
Finding The Spark
Shaking with effort, mind fixed upon the object before him, Tobias felt as if his brain was being turned inside out. Determination seeped from every pore, this was his final chance. If he didn't do it this time he'd be thrown out on his ear with no prospects, no family and no home.
The old man in the corner watched, grimly sucking a long splinter as Tobias stood entranced. The fool of a boy better not prove him wrong. The ragged wretch he'd pulled from the gutter, fed and clothed, tested for the spark. He knew Tobias had it, the problem was the boy didn't. No self-belief. He growled harshly, ready to call the end, before his mouth fell open, it's wooden prisoner falling disregarded to the floor.
Tobias smiled as a rich, ruby apple rose slowly. He'd done it! He had the spark!
Now his training Could really begin.
I look up, my lazy summer daydream interrupted by a high pitched scream.
Millie runs across the lawn towards me in tears, her perfectly formed yet tiny finger held out in front of her, desperate that it be the first thing that reaches me. I examine the splinter and whisper consoling words which turn the sobs into sniffs which eventually stifle to a frown as I remove it as painlessly as possible without using the sewing needle my mum used to employ.
Within minutes she’s all smiles and laughter again as she bounds back the way she’d came in search of another adventure. I return to my daydream but now the focus has shifted, my gaze dwelling on Her as I witness Love personified, carelessly enjoying the abandon of youth.
Once, a man did grope me as I backed against a wall. I was dolled up to the nines and felt the fault my own. He must have seen it in me, something dirty, something low.
Once, a friend’s husband, placed a hand upon my leg. I froze as she chattered, unsure of my way home. When I told her of it later, she cursed his name and swore, but soon stormed off to meet him, and left me in the cold. I am a dirty thing, I know.
Once, a boyfriend dragged me, down an alleyway. He thought it was okay, I pushed him and said no. He found it somewhere else, as I despaired. Would the dirt ever go?
Each memory, a splinter wedged in my darkening soul. I reach toward a light, but it’s distant and obscured. The dirt, it stays within me, blinkering all I know.
It’s normal to keep things. It’s normal to fill a box with shards of a person, to retain that cinema ticket, or napkin with her phone number in smudgy kohl, no longer legible.
Like your love.
But a splinter? That’s just mad. You’re mad for her and for what she and you once were. You’re mad to think fondly of her wince of pain. To see her in a bubble of blood on a stranger’s finger.
A pin prick, a wince, a bubble of blood. Her smile is a shadow, but these things real. These things are her.
So the splinter went in the box along with the tickets and the forgotten underwear you felt ashamed to keep.
You take it out now, that splinter, and it’s an inch long and stained red from her at one end. You take it out and press it against your own fingertip.
Dave stretched out his middle finger to hit the ninth floor button at the precise moment Sophie went for the eighth. Their digits brushed each other briefly, but they both felt it. A tingle, like static electricity, neither flinched, not wishing to embarrass themselves. They exchanged smiles but avoided eye contact. The lift jolted into action.
Eighth floor, doors open, a rush of new air filled the space and washed away the heady mix of perfume and aftershave. Sophie alighted; Dave watched her perfect form, disappear down the corridor until the doors cut off his view.
It was like Sophie had driven a stake into him, he was smitten. Their relationship blossomed; they became lovers until ultimately it waned. Dave had had enough. Sophie was cramping his style. He broke the news gently, over dinner, but she couldn't accept it. Dave still says she left a splinter in his heart.
A Pain in the Glass
They operated for hours, trying to save the delicate tissues. The Glass Man was the greatest performer in the world. This stunt had been planned as always, on his super-computer. Able to work out any contingency, any problem, covering all possibilities. The glass was pre-cut by laser, creating the famous shimmer-shard fireworks when the massive sheets exploded.
The computer hadn't been able to predict the tiny stroke he'd had in the middle of his performance; throwing off his angles and his concentration. A huge shard had pierced his skull, one splinter coming to rest behind his left eye.
The chief neurosurgeon stood up straight and chewed his lip.
He sighed. 'That was his last performance.'
The team stared down at the Glass Man, his legendary metal hands, his scarred arms. 'He won't want to live,' said a nurse.
The chief blinked. 'We'll just leave the shard in. It'll be kinder.'
There’s a splinter in her toe. She can’t get it out. She can’t even see the damn thing. It shouldn’t even be hard to see. It’s from the bramble bush she’s had in her back garden since the war. Edward keeps asking if she wants his help to get it out. The thorn not the bush.
Edward’s in his uniform. He looks all smart and his badges are shiny. She keeps telling him she’s fine without him. She even shouts at him to go away. She hates his uniform. She hates that he always has to leave whenever he gets the splinter out. She won’t let him help this time. Then he won’t have to leave.
“Don’t come near me Edward!”
“Maggie you must take this.” The nurse with the big eyes puts a small white pill in the palm of her hand.
Madeline, sat with her knees to her chest, her eyes trailing across the lake stretching in front of her. Her cousin, Alice, swam with her friend Brody, their hands touching every once in a while, their heads bent together.
"Run along now, Mads," Alice said. She barely looked up at the younger girl. "Go do somethin'."
"I want to watch you," Madeline told her.
"You won't swim with us, so you've gotta go!" Madeline glared at her older cousin but didn't protest further. She pulled a splinter out of her foot and dropped it back on the wooden dock before slipping her shoes on and sprinting the whole way home.
"Why you home so early?" Madeline's mother asked.
"Alice and Brody told me to go."
"I'm sorry. I'll talk to them when they come home."
They waited for Alice and Brody to come home.
They never did.
She was going to use this opportunity to be creative, to put her inspiration to good work. Ignoring her mother's plea for her to "be careful" with the leftover planks of wood in the garden, she skipped out happily outside, her imagination already beginning to pick up.
Young Lou rubbed her chin thoughtfully, putting together her masterpiece in her head first. She sank to her knees, her head switching between the longer and shorter pieces of wood. Which was left over from the treehouse that her dad had tried to build for her.
Lou's small hand reached for the longer piece, suddenly pulling away with a cry. Her mother ran out to see her daughter clutching her finger, tears dripping down her face. A small splinter stuck out of her index finger. Her mother stared, quickly pulling out tweezers. The next moment, it was gone. And so was Lou's inspiration.
I slammed the door behind me. Gasping for air.
He was coming for me, armed with an axe and driven to insanity. Crack! Crack!
The door began to splinter in the middle.
"Please, James stop! I'm not the person who killed your wife. Stop!" I pleaded with him, backing away from the door, frantically reaching for a sharp object to arm myself with.
A kitchen knife!
I grabbed it, preparing myself.
He continued in a frenzied manner to chop the door down.
Suddenly the door broke off!
Hitting the floor with a thud.
He gave me a smile, the kind only a psycho gives, when he has you cornered.
I pleaded with him again. He laughed at me, moving forward.
He raised the axe, preparing to bring it down onto my head.
The business analyst his Bill's wife had hired, just told him that his net profits were down by forty percent compared to last year.
'But then again,' Bill thought to himself, whilst watching the rain lash down, and the wind howl, ' so were hat profits, beach ball profits and icecream profits
He owned a beach hut for Christ's sake, not a chain of high-street clothing stores; he didn't need some jumped-up city boy who'd take a day off work because he couldn't type with a splinter, to tell him that the weather was putting his customers off!
' You watch!' He thought 'A few sunny days this week and we'll be flying!
"Mummy! Mummy! Kiss it better...my finger hurts".
"Hey don't cry, let's have a look. Ah a splinter, were you playing by the old fence? Let's sort it out...there...no more tears, a magical Little Mermaid plaster and it's all better".
Mummy it's over, he doesn't love me. What do I do, my heart hurts? No plaster for the heart.
So I conjure a story of an emotional garden where the heart is a plant pot for you to nurture seeds of wonderful things to plant out in your garden; love of friends, love of family, happy memories.
But first you must mend the cracks in your plant pot and root out the weeds of anger, mistrust and unhappiness so when the Spring comes, new relationships start without being strangled by the old.
Now I look at you, confident and happy and think maybe Mummies are the sticking plaster?
Till I burn out
"... Walk on gilded splinters... " Dr John's gruff voice crooned into Jo's ears. Her hips swayed to the beat as she mused. Why gilded splinters? And why walk on them? For a penance maybe. The song created a voodoo landscape; sacrifice and blood must be part of the spell.
The little mermaid walked on splinters when she had her new legs. But she did it for love. She paid for her happiness in pain. That was a spell too.
The message was clear. For the spell to work, you had to pay for it in pain. Did she really want Frank that much? She could just let him go. She'd be miserable for a few months but that'd be better than messing with powers she didn't want to understand.
Yes, she'd let him go. After all, the refrain of the song warned her,
"Till I burn out..."
I couldn't get the splinter out, even with tweezers.
"You realise that if I DO pull this out," I said, "it'll be like pulling the pin out a grenade and you might explode any second after?"
"That's not true!" he protested. "I only just got this splinter and I didn't explode before that!"
Oh from the mouths of babes. How are you supposed to reason with reason?
His pinkie, meanwhile, was looking more and more like a bloodwurst. Before I could decide on the wisdom or otherwise of an unmarried man sticking his neighbour's child's fingers in his mouth, his dirty digits were between my teeth. They tasted of sweat and creosote. He stood, I knelt. He quietly broke wind in his shorts, which I could have done without. I kept sucking but the splinter wouldn't budge.
"Don't touch the fence, Mum!" the boy suddenly cried out. "It's still wet!"
"Will you hold still?" he grumbled, tugging at my hand and pinching my fingers hard with his nails.
"Ow!" I tried to resist elbowing him; there was no one else to get rid of this splinter and as much as I disliked coming to him for help, I wanted it out of my body. The pin glinted in his hand and I eyed it warily, instead focusing on his face in front of mine, bent and frowning, as he pierced my skin to lift it out.
"Stop making noise, you're being a baby," he sighed, and I rolled my eyes, not caring what he thought of me. We had never liked one another, though the close was a better distraction from the splinter.
"There. Done." He looked at me almost sarcastically and we stared at one another for a moment, my hand in his and our eyes locked.
Splinters piercing all over my body. I'm in pain.
Tear and sweat try to match the pace of blood dripping from the heart.
This ego, which had impregnated for all these years, doesn’t let go off me even after making every person I know to stand other side. “How affectionate on me?!”
While each drop of blood rush towards my mouth, with the same single word, it is zipping my lips. It won’t budge.
This pain seems perennial.
Somewhere within me, I hear, "this is what I deserve, for the sin palace I've built over the curses of many". "Please Stop. I can't take more", another voice weeps begging. This war doesn’t seem to end.
HE stands in front, looking sternly through my eyes, searching that word.
Just a blink. I find myself waking my wife and utter “SORRY”. Tears and sweat remain.
Just the beginning. Many more to utter.
The Water of Life
We run, although our shoes are in shreds. We run on, with the granite of sapped energy cramping our legs. We continue running, because Thadeus has convinced us to follow him.
We are a splinter group of Hadeans. We have been searching for the mythical well of Baikal for seven moons now.
Thadeus believes the others have been looking in the wrong place. He says we must head west, across the great Pacific Plains to where 'ice' once flowed, whatever that might be. I have never known it.
The vast San Andreas Gorge with its ropey rivers of lava is the obstacle that convinced the other Hadeans to head east across Americana. Thadeus is our last hope.
We now have forty-seven different ways to describe our thirst. He has forbidden us to use the word out loud. That, and the word ‘death’ if we do not find the well.
As their true personality comes to light breaking away from everything you knew, that new side buries itself deep within you, you feel a sting, a slight annoyance.
You keep thinking ‘where did that come from’? The sore area far exceeds the point of impact and more of you is affected than you thought possible.
The longer is stays buried within you - the more chance of lasting damage; possibly irreversible.
Extraction is they key and must be swift, however - not always painless.
That sap of a person, that diseased cretin must be cut from your life as the pain (even though it is not always physical pain) is too much. They’re infecting you and bringing the ugliness of themselves out in you.
Compare them to a splinter if you must. They get stuck into you, hurting you and causing discomfort.
What do you do? Remove it.
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.
Mel and Abby
Melissa heard her phone. But she was right there in the absolute middle of trying to get a splinter out of the fourth finger on her right hand.
“Let it ring Mel,” said Abby, “my boss always says if it’s important, they’ll ring again. Here, let me take a look.”
“It could be Mum you know,” said Melissa, “she’s due home next Tuesday, you’ll have to move out.”
“Hmmm, what’ll we tell her?” said Abby, “has she got any kind of clue about... about...?”
“God no, she’ll freak for a bit, but she’s open minded. I think.”
“Gottit,” yelled Abby holding the splinter aloft between pink tweezers.
Melissa smiled. But there was a lump in her throat. She imagined Brenda walking in through the front door, tanned from dancing around Greek Islands, saying, “well, have you patched things up with Nick, Melly?”
And Mel wished she could say, “yes Mum.”
With thanks to all the writers who have made this issue possible.A.J.Donnellan, Aine Ni Mhaoileoin, Alexandra Young, Becky Spence, Caitlin Thomas-Aubin, Carol Leggatt, Carolyn Ward, Cassie Hughes, Cherie Foxley, Chloe Gong, Chloe Moloney, Chloe Winterburn, Claire Smith, Daniel Wang, Debb bouch, Diane G. Martin, Drew-kiercey Whittaker, Elizabeth Graham, Emma Kay, Eve Lewis, Gwendolyn Jacob, I.L. Cadwallader, JO'G, John Barfield, John Lary, Jon Georgiou, Kathy McBride, KAthy Stevens, Kent Ocelot, Kim French, L Greig, Laura Besley, Linda Grierson-Irish, Lola Barron, Louise Mangos, Lucas Abbott, Michael Rumsey, Mitja Lovše, MrQuipty, Murari Sharma, Navaneetha Krishnan V, Nick Black, Nick Westwood, Peter Cannon, Peter Harrison, Phenix Dewhurst, Prince Cavallo, Rebecca Field, Robert Dudley, Rowena Fishwick, Ruben Stemple, Rudy Koshar, S.B. Borgersen, Sharna Young, Sian Brighal, Simon Gadd, Steven John, Supreet Mahanti, Sylvia Petter, Szilvia Mohai, Thomas Malloch, V.C. Sharma, Victoria Fielding
27th July 2016