Welcome to our latest issue of Ad Hoc Fiction
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“Thick mucus in the throat,” said the farmer into the phone, his voice uncertain. The cows peered over the fence at the tall man, stooped, cradling the receiver against his shoulder. “And white scale on the tongue you say, veterinary?” The wind whistled down the lane, blowing a crumpled sheet of newspaper against the smeared glass of the phone box. “And the insurance,” muttered the farmer, cupping his hand around the mouthpiece and glancing down the lane, “it’ll pay out for the pip?” The cows leaned further over the fence, as the rain started to fall. The tone prompted the farmer for more change, but fumbling in his pocket he found none. Hanging up, he trudged back to the farm, boots squelching in the mud and dung, thinking about all the chickens he had watched charge together on their ammonia burnt legs to a corner of the barn and die.
I remember what we did this day fifteen years ago. A picnic on the edge of the meadow. A promise.
We joked about planting the pips from our apples and their trees lasting longer than our lives … and those of our children and their children too.
And here I stand with our son.
What happened to us that we made it happen so?
The tree is thriving… and you are… who knows? Moved on and living your life elsewhere? Still alive?
Our son lives to keep our promise alive.
Our son … who you never knew.
Father sat rocking slowly, his face contorted into deep furrows of thought; immersed in memories of the past. Studying him, it struck me how he had aged. He was nearing ninety but I had never before acknowledged his wrinkles or grey hair. The deep lines of pain etched within the corners of his eyes, where his laugh lines always stood out, seemed new. There were scars that had never before reached my consciousness. His ready-smile now more of a frown. His hands, with their blotches of brown, shook as he caressed the neatly-folded material within his hands. But just for a second, a hint of pride seeped through a series of expressions now marred by dark thoughts. “For each pip earned, my dear….reveals the story of hundreds of fallen soldiers”, he looked at me with watery eyes, “how can I be proud of five stars, knowing what I know?”
Not for the Sea
They were sailing full speed to intercept the smuggler. He knew the boats they used were often old, prone to breakdowns and today’s Channel Sea was rough. He was anxious to close the distance as quickly as possible, his mind on offering assistance as much as anything else.
HMS Tyne was fighting a sea trying to best her and although she was winning the Captain feared for the ship they raced towards, it was likely less than half the Tyne’s size and overburdened.
Tapping nervously on his leg with his free hand as he steadied himself with the other, keeping an eye on the radar willing the range to the pip showing the smuggler’s ship to drop faster. His crew were excelling themselves given conditions.
Almost there, the smuggler’s pip vanished, he called out the order to ready to pull refugees from the waters. The sea would not have them.
All Those Years Ago
We met one afternoon, a late summer day. She was perched on a fence, taking in the unfamiliar scenery. She regarded me with suspicion at first, as members of opposite communities she expected me to pick a fight.
Our rivalry took a friendlier tone. She pipped me to the post during out first race, rather than reveal my admiration I set myself up for further failings. She was always gracious in victory.
She threw herself into the world I inhabited. I secretly wondered what she had left behind. There was no longing or mention of her former life.
Three years seems forever when it's a quarter of your life. When peace was declared I couldn't share in the euphoria. I was about to lose my best friend.
Even to this day I wonder what might have been.
My new shorts are pale pink so they’ll get dirty quick. Nan says I can’t wear them ‘til tomorrow. Tomorrow is cold.
When Mum died she didn’t write me a letter like in Billy Elliot. Just walked down the beach after her shift. And I never got to ask her about Dad.
Nan says PIP WE SHOULD HAVE SEEN THE SIGNS but does she mean like the ones that get you to slow up past school?
I have a photo of us. My blond curls are poking over her shoulder. She is smiling. Which she didn’t much. I talk to that photo. She says more now than she ever did. I figure perhaps she is more alive than us. Nan thinks I’m creepy but she strokes my hair. I could get used to that.
When I grow up I’m going to live by that beach and wear shorts every day.
Pay attention when eating apples
She planted an apple pip in a pot, like every child. Watered it, hopeful. Life splintered the glossy husk, a green shoot pushed ceiling-wards, managed six spindly inches. Then she forgot about apple trees.
Until she was seventy-something. She sat dissecting her apple into cubes, managed some of them. Had an idea. Something unfinished. She dropped three pips into a yoghurt pot, pressed down soil from her window box. She dripped a little water each day, sang a pretty hum, but the pips did not grow.
But she didn’t forget about them. She emptied the pot into the toilet, gazed into the pan. Sloshed around in the dank water with her fingers. No pips, just soil and chunks of rotting apple.
Not long after, a neighbour discovered her body, prostrate on the front grass. When they buried her, an apple tree thrust upwards from her grave. It was a mystery.
There's a pip in the orange juice this morning. And I can't take my eyes off it. It's a carelessness I'm not used to. You were always so punctilious about such things. But to be fair you do have other things, another person on your mind these days and so that old precision, that carefulness, always so much a part of you is gone. Because you have gone. I see it in your gaze, hear it in your voice and I know that inside you are wherever it is you go with her. And so a pip gets in the orange juice. And each day I think your carelessness will grow until you break us.
Carl asked Marjie to bring him some dental floss. He was soaking his feet, a bowl of bright red strawberries, picked just hours before, in his lap.
"I've got a pip stuck in my teeth," he said.
As Marjie walked to the bathroom, she heard a sound like water struggling down a partly-clogged drain. That was it. He was dead when she returned.
Before she cried, before she called anyone, before she kissed his cold forehead, she flossed the pip from his teeth. She held it in her hand and, when she could breathe again, brought her hand to her mouth and swallowed the pip.
The Shipping Forecast
“Viking, North Utsire, South Utsire.”
My imagination conjured up distant seas, mighty waves crashing from the headphones and swirling threateningly around my ears. I could feel the surge, a rumbling tsunami closing in until I was sure I’d capsize.
“Forties, Cromarty, Forth.”
Ahead, a palette of midnight blue, streaked with violet and specked with yellow, at once a wall and yet limitless in its depth, stretching to far off Viking lands.
“Biscay, Trafalgar, Fitzroy.”
Warmer, Continental waters, a brief respite before the current swept me into the Irish Sea and pointed my bows towards Malin Head. Ardnamurchan Point howled its siren call, tempting me back to the shore, before I was plunged once more into the freezing depths.
The pips began, a lighthouse announcing my safe passage home. I drew anchor, closed the microphone and gathered my script, voyage complete.
At What Cost
The General’s pips, the insignia of her rank and a history of her war efforts, reduced to a few metal studs that told her tale down the length of her shoulder, were covered in blood. Blood and only God knew what else: She kneeled amongst the mud and the wailing of the wounded, praying in thanks as the enemies of the kingdom retreated.
“Am I still the King?” The General looked up at the question to see her sovereign, untouched by the war his own folly had wrought, standing with his usual imperiousness in blue robes trimmed in gold fox. Nothing but the bottom fringe of his royal attire was soiled.
The General looked upon the King’s indifference to the suffering around him, the boasts and nepotism that cost the lives of countless unknowns, and thought of plunging her blade into his heart. But what greater chaos would that fashion?
I'm just a pip. Spit me out. I'm not worth a thing. I just get stuck in throats and make sweetness bitter; a needless inconvenience to a healthy snack. All I am is the essence, the begging; the soul from which sweetness grows. By all means, Spit me out.
Hope Travels in the Wind
It was venting time. The great lungs of the space station inhaled to expel crap in one violent cough.
A time for thieves to pickpocket the wind. Just hook up a line, wear a breathing suit and pluck the roaring air. The sane sealed themselves in their cabins and waited out the storm.
It had risks. Something large hacked up from the gullet could crush or slice a man in half, and even the little bits, at speed, could puncture skin and bone. And then, a faulty line would lead to eternity floating in space.
One old man did it regular, even if he was scarred and missing part of his leg. He knew the Station’s centuries old promise, when it was called ark and not prison. He was the last Fisher King, fishing air for a pip, for all the knights were long dead and his barren kingdom wept.
Ralph was a shy, mousy kind of guy that liked to keep to himself on the playground. His small stature also made him a bully magnet. Most of his school days were spent running and hiding, but mostly bleeding and bruising.
Then, she came along. The new student. A seat beside him right on her first day.
“I’m Mary-Lou,” she said with dimples high on rosy cheeks.
“Ralph,” concentrating on his pencil, as a confused adolescent red crept from his soles up to suffocate his brain.
“Hey, pip squeak, you have my money,” a pudgy hand latched onto Ralph’s shoulder.
Ralph wrinkled and then wiggled his nose for Marie-Lou, Cheshire grin spreading and then snapped his head around while opening his mouth wide to bite the fleshy arm.
“Wha-the,” was all the bully could say.
Releasing the arm, “Squeek. Squeek.” Ralph replied.
The Tummy Tree
Jimmy’s tummy ached. Shooting pains rushed through his large intestine. He was anxious.
His father was a liar. Since his grandfather’s death, he rejected anything from his father.
"Your grandfather will come home. I promise." Jimmy’s grandfather died within 48 hours.
Jimmy was eating his lunch alone. On finishing his Golden Delicious, an awry football struck Jimmy. The leather against bone collision caused Jimmy to choke. He retched up the trapped core and to his horror, no pips. He had swallowed them. Catastrophe!
Grandfather warned Jimmy “never eat the pips, you’ll get an apple tree in your tummy”. Jimmy’s father scoffed the apple pip theory. Grandfather never lied.
Jimmy’s grandfather, 72 hours before his death explained his life was coming to an end. He encouraged Jimmy to be strong.
His grandfather never lied. Anxiety struck. An apple tree was growing in his tummy.
It's A Miracle
Hector was a quirky fellow. Sure he liked a good peach as much as the next guy, but he also loved his pits and pips. He never bought a seedless anything, and claimed the integrity of the fruit clung to its stones.
One day when he was coming back from work, he saw a punk kid tossing an apple core at the candy shop window. Macintosh juice squirt all over the glass and the seeds splotched.
People stared at the window. Some said it looked like the Big Dipper. Some saw the constellation of Capricorn. Everybody had some sort of opinion. Then Hector set them all straight. "Don't you dummies get it," he said. "Those eyes, those brows, and just look at those seeds spread out like a crown of thorns."
"Jesus, he's right," a skinny kid said.
Then the whole mob took a moment to cross themselves.
The Things I Kept
These are the things I kept when she died: her ivory wedding dress, a wooden brush tangled with strands of glossy black from when she still had hair, and an apple pip.
She spat it out with delicate grace during a chilly picnic in our first month together.
“Keep it,” she said. “When we get our garden, we’ll plant this. Our children will pick the first fruit from it, and I’ll make a pie for us all.”
But our first place together was a third floor flat with a window-box, our second an Edwardian terrace with a cramped concrete backyard, and then six months after a conversation with a sad-eyed consultant I had to learn to stop speaking in the plural.
I keep the pip in a green velvet bag under my pillow. When I sleep I breathe in warm apple and cinnamon, and I hear children laughing.
More Bad Days Than Good
It came from across the room and I could feel my blood boil. "Who says toodle pip these days", I muttered under my breath the disdain dripping from my snarling mouth like saliva from a hungry beast in anticipation of the feast delayed by it's prey's stubborn attempt to stay alive. Sucking down the last of the coffee akin to an industrial vacuum cleaner, I set the cup down on the table with enough force that the cutlery jarred on the porcelain plate. "Bad day?" Harold jabbed. What a stupid thing to ask, the comedic tone of voice obvious, clearly more of a quip than a question. He had no idea. A quick glance at the clock, its digital display gleaming in obnoxious green. Standing and exhaling simultaneously I wondered what is wrong with proper clocks. They seemed less smug. Another day in the salt mines. I hate cliches.
Another hour passes by signalled by the pips on the radio, and I’m no closer to coming home to you. Traffic snakes out in front of me, red brake lights winking at me like we’re sharing a secret. Snow scatters over everything, each snowflake is another reason for my delay.
I call and you say you understand. You end the call before I want to let you go. I replay what you didn’t say in my mind and a pained sensation in the pit of my stomach builds.
More pips on the radio and I’ve barely moved at all. Stuck on the road, stuck in this car, stuck in my thoughts. I used to love snow. Now I’m not so sure. Because of the snow, I’m stuck and because of the snow, I’m losing you again.
Who am I kidding? I lost you way before the pips and the snowflakes.
At The Crematorium
“Got a light?” “We shouldn’t. Look what happened to Lil.”
“Mmm. Well it’s a good turnout.”
“Who’s the suit?”
“Her Dad. Threw her out when he realised.”
“Oh the ‘great perpendicular pronoun’.”
“That’s him. Gives me the pip seeing him here.”
“Thought pips were the problem. ‘Not in my family! Disgusting behaviour in the ranks!’ Proper three pip pillock he is.”
“That’s what Lil said. Never forgave him either.”
“Where’d you meet?”
“In that bar back of Canal Street. I’m Billie, by the way.”
“Right. I’m Sally. Billie? She talked a lot about you.”
“Love of her life she said.”
“Yep. That’s before Susie, Lizzie, Sandy, Pip. But you were her first.”
“Likewise. She was an experience, Lil. Learned a lot from her.”
“Me too. Never to be forgotten.”
Both: “Fancy a drink?”
Close your eyes. I feel him somewhere in front of me; then he's suddenly warm and light on my lips. He draws away and says lemon pip. Then kisses me, and suddenly I feel it in my mouth, sharp-edged and small.
When I open my eyes I try to find his face - but he is moving away already; he's skidding spirals, somehow, skating on the kitchen floor. It's hard for us to stay still with each other.
I spit the pip into my hand and he says it's a waste, that I had the chance to take a shot. I say, I don't need to practise. I spit pips better than anyone. But it's a lie; I can only do it when he doesn't watch.
The summer with Erin
‘Pip, pip, cheerio, that’s what you English say.’ She would throw her head back and laugh. No I thought, but did not say. It helped me get served in the late night shops, buying alcohol and cigarettes. When they asked if I was twenty one I’d snap back with my harsh British accent through my scary European teeth and I would always come out with the goods. We’d sit in the parking lot smoking and drinking Southern Comfort and talking about draft dodgers she knew and how there were plans for another Woodstock this year. She told me she had been raped outside some concert in upstate New York and it was god’s punishment as her parents had forbidden her going. She would pull up her baggy sweater and punch her swelling abdomen.
We're Having a Whale of a Time
Grandpa ate four shrimps from tonight’s Sacred Offerings. I found their heads in a plant-pot this morning, alongside three teabags and a mango pip. Senile old coot. He’s the one who insists the family attend the Whale Resurrection Ceremony every year to start with. Penance, I guess…
In 2083, the I.W.C. lifted the whale-hunting ban. After the Mad-cow and Swine-flu pandemics, entire populations starved. Grandpa worked a Seattle whaler for over twenty years. He said their singing haunts him. The last whale they chased smashed their ship, then left, waving its tail as if to say, “So long, suckers!”
Then the whales all vanished.
The Ceremony was very moving, as usual; the full-moon rising over the ocean, everyone wearing red. We waded in chanting Resurrection hymns, offering our shrimps. We stayed past midnight, praying a whale would appear. None did. But Grandpa swears he heard them singing. Senile old coot…
A Life Well Smelt
Adele insisted the key to life was in the subtle mix. She concocted her own perfumes and never discriminated against odorous guests mingling on her doorstep.
Curly coffee nibs gave her comfort; tobacco, an appreciated friend; wood fire infused her grand ambition and rotting melon rinds were a lasting invention. Nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves fed illusions on lonely nights; lusty musk produced earthy dreams with snippets of sandalwood and heart of cedar finishing off the morning.
Oleander was her tonic with a distinct bite of peppermint. Lemon pip provided flights of fancy; mimosa loved to dance and licorice her magic touch. Bubble gum and candy apple gave a sense of childish whimsy to her fading years, but rosemary oil and orange peel an acerbic wit of which much remains.
We buried her with bitter chocolate and planted thyme on her grave; in memoriam wistful jasmine creepers round out her marker.
A Pair of Orange Pips
People could develop affection for anything these days: a brown-faced chiwawa, an unassuming rosemary herb plant, bold-coloured aquarium shrimps,... the attachment he felt towards the pair of dried orange pips surely counted normal. The pips weren't as alive per se, but they once had a possibility, you know? Or still had it in them, you never know with seeds.
The label had said the oranges were grown in Spain, processed in Egypt, handled by a Cypriot company, to be imported by the Malaysian supermarket chain operating that store in Cambodia. Given that he was Swedish, the number of countries involved with that tiny bundle of 4 oranges had amused him. When he came down to the last one he kept two pips out of whim, unsure what to do yet not quite wanting to throw them away; a perfect analogy to his own life really.
Nearly All Lies
Grave faces and shuffling quiet. There’s no way to make this dignified, but apparently we’re going to try. Pip.
Two more pips. Naive little sounds that say, “time to go!” without betraying the horror of what that means. No mental image of white walls and white coats triggered; no trace of the drugs they’ll use to suppress the fitful, futile spasms; no understanding of the endless days of sterilised mind that unfold at the end of this journey.
I know that I deserve this. I’m dangerous. Unsafe to be around. I’ve killed, for Christ’s sake. Clinically, I’m…
Pip. Another gentle nudge. No words or token resistance. No point. We obediently troop outside - the minders, my wife, and I. We hold each other’s gaze as they fasten and check the restraints. Who can blame them, after all they’ve heard?
As they take her away, I laugh. This world is insane.
Pip Pip Pip
The noise woke me. It sounded like the radio marking the hour. I then realised it must be a hospital - at least my heart was working. Nothing else - I couldn't move, not even my eyelids. Was it a dream? Driving through the countryside to my daughter's wedding, so happy as she had showed little sign of tying the knot, then a sudden brilliant light, then nothing. I could feel someone beside me. My husband? I tried to move my head, say something. Nothing.
"I'm sorry Mr Lang." It was the doctor, her voice to begin with had been bright and optimistic, now brimming with sympathy. "It's time to switch off the life support. "I know doctor," he replied, "when the tests came back yesterday showing no change, I started my goodbyes."
Character Building or Confidence Crushing
His face crumpled. Legs, previously wiry, enthusiastic and full of energy now felt like jelly - useless. Arms which might have held a trophy aloft hung limply by his side, raised only for his hand to wipe the insistent hated tear from his brimming eyes.
Through the blur he could hear the cheers, see the bright colours flashing past him as they rushed to congratulate the winner. He couldn't bring himself to be magnanimous in defeat. This was his moment, snatched in a three-second burst of speed by the runner who should have come second. Second doesn't cut it. No-one remembers who came second.
A hand on his back made him jump.
'Great run, mate. Sorry to pip you to the post like that. Want to come for ice-cream and lemonade?'
He looked up into the six-year-old face of the winner and vowed to win the Under 8s next year.
His daughter had sent him the mobile phone for Christmas, together with instructions on how to turn it on and charge the battery. There was an earplug on a long, fiddly wire which helped him hear, when she had time to call.
She’d called on Christmas Day and said “Well at least you’ve worked out how to use it Dad. Take it with you up and down stairs in case you fall.”
“Sorry we can’t be with you this year again Dad, we’ve got a house full,” she’d said.
He had a place for the phone on the arm of his chair, next to his spectacles and pills. He watched the little battery symbol slowly empty of light as the hours passed, like the day outside his window. He made the same call every evening before bedtime.
“At the third stroke, the time will be, nine-o-clock precisely. Pip. Pip. Piiip”
I used to hate the name, but now it’s a kind of bond. I’ve never heard it used anywhere except in Great Expectations. Only my sister calls me Pip.
I suppose it’s part of getting older, accepting your name, wearing it like a coat instead of trying to throw it off like when you were younger. When the footballer Andy Cole changed his name to Andrew, he started getting all the pundit jobs on the telly, like he was more serious all of a sudden.
We didn’t get on well when I was younger - my sister and me. I once put her pencil topper in the toilet and she used to tease me about my tiny bike, The Pippin. I hated that name. Now I look forward to birthday cards addressed to Pip.
With two brothers tormenting her for her entire adolescence, I’ll let her have this one.
A slight breeze waltzed through the open window. It crept underneath the blanket and raised the bodily hair of the sleeping woman. The cracked window frame cried desperately as the hinges collapsed with a murderous thud.
Colleen shot out of bed and raced to her mother's bedroom.
"Colleen, come closer." The sweet loving voice pulled her like a heavy duty magnet. She floated to her mom's bedside. "Mom...Mom, please wake up! I am scared!"
The moonlight threw a somber light in the room. Colleen observed fresh teardrops in the corner of her mom's eyelids. Colleen forced a clumsy smile as her mom's eyes flickered open. "She's here!" Maureen's husband nudged her gently. "Who, dear?"
" Please pass the pip!". Her husband sadly obliged. He carefully opened the glass jar and handed the pip of the last apple their daughter, Colleen ate before she died. Colleen smiled and left silently.
Diane was trying to recover from a phone call, accusing her husband of kissing and cuddling another male in the street.
Pacing up and down was how she solved problems, but the caller’s words kept bumping into her thoughts.
“In broad daylight,” her sister Lisa said. “I’m sorry you had to hear it from me.”
The signs were there, thought Diane, I just didn’t connect them, he never remembers my birthday or our anniversary, no doubt he remembers his boyfriend’s.
The key turned in the door; Diane composed herself.
“Diane I’d like you to meet Pip.”
“It’s a puppy,” shrieked Diane.
“It sure is, watch him; he’ll kiss and lick you to death.”
“Wait till I get my hands on that sister of mine, “she laughed.
“Well happy anniversary sweetheart.”
“Oh no, I forgot,” groaned Diane.
“You forgot, I’ll take that as my anniversary present.”
The Price to Pay
Sunlight rushes through the stained-glass windows, hurling drunken shapes onto polished pews. I hover at the back, fairly certain the church won’t fill up.
People start arriving. Nervous whispers weave into the tapestry of pungent lilies. Francesca finally arrives and sits at the front, next to my mother.
The vicar starts talking and I zone out.
‘Pip,’ she says, ‘was my best friend.’ Francesca has one of those loud and clear voices. Every head is turned in her direction, including mine.
She talks about our childhood, our holidays together, our shared love of music, but not our shared love of Kristian, her husband. Understandable.
The fact that she is speaking, means no-one knows. No-one knows that she found us in bed together. No-one knows that I was pushed. No-one knows who did it, apart from her and me. And I’m hardly in a position to say anything, am I?
Not a Pip
"Have you heard anything?"
"Not a pip."
"What? You mean peep, right? The correct term is 'not a peep'."
"Are you sure? Then what's a pip?"
"Pip's not even a real word."
"I'm pretty sure it is."
They turned to Google to settle their argument and sure enough they found it: Chiefly British : a feeling of irritation or annoyance.
They were both happy to have learnt a new word, but seeing as they were not citizens of the commonwealth, they were a tad pip from such an odd, little word.
The Seed of Life
Pip, from the very moment I set eyes on the little bundle of joy, she filled my heart with the elation that Father Time would envy. She shines brighter than the sun in my eyes, like an eternal candle that can never be extinguished, forever burning on in my heart.
As she grew older, she became more beautiful and blossomed, flowered along with the plants around her. No matter how old she gets, she will be as timeless as the most ancient tree, with all the graces of the lilies and the violets.
To see Pip now breaks my heart, forever immortalised as no child should be, a future set in stone:
Here lies Pippa Stevens. 2012-2017.
The Coo of Wood Pigeons
In 1974 we awake to the coo of wood pigeons and Granny, bringing us freshly-squeezed orange juice in tiny, rippled glasses. Granny Orange it is then and Granny Orange it will forever be. We search for errant pips and roll them around in our mouths, laughing as we spit them out onto the floor. Then we hear the gong, resounding through the house at dawn, telling us it's time to get up and breakfast on bowls of porridge with soft brown sugar and cream, before we tumble out into the garden where we spot, through the windows of the summerhouse, Aunt Marge in psychedelic flares, kissing Uncle Cliff, who she marries the following year at just 19 cause she's upset about Granny dying the same year at just 60 of appendicitis, detected too late.
'Which was often the case in those days,' says Mum, when I'm old enough to understand what appendicitis is.
The pip is the heart of the fruit.
My heart is a stone.
The pip has its secrets - to grow.
Maybe my heart will break open
pain, and loss, and love
And I will, like the pip, grow.
The Dry Garden
All hope was gone. The barren land offered no bounty. Starvation planted desperate thoughts in their heads. Livestock was gone. Trees carcasses covered the landscape. Dried up rivers and lakes left a parched panorama.
With food rations dwindling, they needed a plan for sustainability. Rain was scarce, so they stored every drop. Why had humanity taken its resources for granted and assumed they were neverending?
The scorching sun bore down on their backs as they scoured the arid plains. Their feet, covered in blisters, left prints of a dismal society. When they could walk no longer, they took shelter inside a shanty. Fraught with tired anger, they stomped their foot and broke through the floor. In the dark hole below, they found a lonely jar.
Inside they found a handful of dried pips. Where mankind lost its glory because of a seed planted in evil, it was now saving grace.
The Seed That Flourished
Grandad fought in the Italian Campaign in World War Two. He saw combat but never talked about it. However, he did tell me this story when I was younger.
Once, rotated off the frontline, he and some friends took a break in the Italian countryside. For young men from the tenements in Glasgow, being in the countryside was still a novelty. They got chatting to some signorinas who were picking apples and ended up having an idyllic afternoon together.
The men returned to their unit and took with them bags of apples. My grandad saved the seeds from one and kept them in his wallet during the rest of the war.
Grandad is gone now but I remember him giving me a pip, back when I was a child. We planted it in the family garden. An apple tree stands there now and my children play under it every day.
A green plastic receptacle, with a jagged, sloping
circumference provides hours of entertainment. It once had a spout that used to shower my colourful flowers as long summer days basked in balmy sunshine. Long, uneven, empty days. I sat in a chair and wondered about life. I listened to a robin sing in the garden and tried not to feel cheated. I threw off the covers, soaked in my menopausal sweat. Reached out an arm to find love but it was no longer there.
It’s winter now and the days are shorter and colder. They’re full of bounding barks and bashing plastic. I don’t have much time to think. My loss is still there, a deep ache in my soul, but a smile creeps to my face, then a laugh as the disfigured watering can flies around the garden at high speed attached to my black and white puppy, Pip.
Here and now
Ruth flushes with temper.
'You give me the pip,' she shouts at Ben.
His eyes crinkle and his lips twitch. He knows she's angry with him, but honestly, 'the pip' - it sounds like something his grandma might say. He feels a laugh in his throat gurgling upwards. He snorts and gives a sudden guffaw.
'What are you laughing at?' demands Ruth.
'The pip! Oh sweetheart you do make me laugh!'
And in another ninety-nine universes, Ruth responds with something no-one can imagine their grandma saying and slams out of the door.
But in this one universe she suddenly hears it too - the pip - and she's seized by laughter, and then they're hugging and Ben is stroking her hair and saying he's sorry.
In ninety-nine other universes Ruth may have gone through a door to fame and fortune, fabulous times or friendlessness - who knows?
But here and now she's happy.
Tight Squeeze and Birth Talk
The tall lady with the shiny mahogany bob approached the scrum of mums and pushchairs outside the supermarket entrance.They were engrossed in birth talk. One was caesarean, another forceps. Shelling peas was mentioned by a third and a fourth had yet to deliver. She was wide-eyed and pale.They didn't budge. So to the problem of squeezing through.There are various methods, polite or otherwise.'Excuse me, can I just get past?' is good.'Get out of my bloody way,' is bad.The tall lady's left leg made an aerial half turn as she combined a goose-step with a sideways shimmy. She toyed with scrunching her shoulders, the contraction of self.The desire to become not there at all. I focused on her head. The brown glossy bob slowed then was spat out like a pip from an apple core on the far side.
The Forgotten Boy
The boy had always hated his nickname. The moniker, Pip, had originated from his cruel mother trying to make him feel small and insignificant. The woman varied from calling him Pip, Pipsqueak or nothing at all. Today, like many others, the boy was invisible to her, although it was his birthday he’d expected nothing less.
Twelve years the unfortunate child had experienced a loveless life doing his best to avoid her mood swings and drunken rages. As he knelt on the cold floor in the cloakroom listening to her mount the stairs with unsteady footsteps, he thought only of escape.
As the door creaked, signalling her entering the bedroom, the boy looked down at his already packed rucksack and gently crept out of his hiding place. Now was the time to disappear, she’d be asleep for a couple of hours and wouldn’t notice until he was far away.
My gran used to make the best apple sauce, serving it with pork chops and sausage every Saturday for the family. And every Saturday at least one of the family, my mother perhaps, or one of my aunts, would ask my gran for the recipe, saying it was something that should be shared, not guarded like a prized jewel. “The secret is in the pips.” She would always say when asked, steadfastly refusing to give up any more hints, with whoever had asked growing increasingly frustrated. Gran would always laugh, slyly winking at me when they gave up for that week, and I would grin, patting the recipe I kept hidden in my back pocket. I still have that recipe even now, after so many years, and I have taken up the tradition, making the applesauce for the Saturday meal, and I still refuse to tell people how it’s made.
An underrated pip
What could a pip do. I mean a pip, it's not hard, it's been removed from that aggressive luminous skin. A pip is nothing but a minuscule nothing in this world. Tastelous. Nobody ever benefits from a weak pip removed from the others and ostracised.
However didn't I know that the pip would grow and be that luminous, plump orange. Little did I know the succulent magnificent thing that the pip would grow to be after being nourished with the right. How was I to know that the pip was going to nourish the beholder and the grower. Maybe next time I find that little pip I will nourish and seep the rewards.
Her aura fires arrows horizontally down the aisle spotted glancing, a peripheral sidelong view.
At speed, silver grey flash, reflecting uber-violet rays, from trim cans off bursting shelves. Pip stuck, deep in rubber, an annoying lunge in the ball bearings,
stops our meet queue-t.
Last together, under the canopy; stars crossed, over
car park. Metal to metal, sparks from friction.
Weeks pass without a glimpse, never mind copping a rub.
The approach, a coy collide on tinned goods. The rebuff, in beverages. The dream, to retire, inserted eternally,
Georgia ran to her mother, orange pips rattling between juice splattered palms. “Look Mum, 32 seeds from one orange” each one proudly displayed and shining slightly with saliva. “Well, it clearly really wanted babies.” It was a jibe meant for the surly teenager but received by her wide-eyed predecessor. Her daughter’s cheeks flushed and she clomped from the room.
Sylvia expected reprisals for the humiliation. What came was the clattering of tin cans and jam jars onto the kitchen floor. “Do we have a spade, Mum?”
Sylvia marveled at the 32 pots of earth lined up to face the fading November sun and the power of orange pips to recapture girlhood. If only for one earth stained moment.
Every night she would hear his key in the lock exactly as the pips went for the six o'clock news. He was as reliable as the bell chiming the hour.
Tonight, something was different. The hour came and went. The hands on the clock slid round to quarter past.
When he arrived, he was flushed and merry. "Didn't notice the time," he said, kissing her stiff cheek and spinning her chair in the direction of the kitchen. She thought she caught a whiff of perfume.
"Big Ben's getting a facelift, did you know?"
She stared mutely at him. He smiled, holding the cup to her lips."About time someone looked after the old chap. It'll give him a new lease of life."
He whistled as he raised a spoonful of slop to her mouth.
"I might be late again tomorrow night, love. OK?"
"This is who I am" said the child, the back of his legs itching in that way they do when one stands still for a long time.
His father pushed a previously trapped a strawberry pip from between his teeth and let out a single syllable acknowledgement of the boy's words, before rising from the edge of the bed and heading towards the door. As he passed he placed his hand on his sons head.
His mother, the duvet still pulled up and held to her throat, simply continued intermittently coughing but did not speak.
The family cat, which had entered the bedroom quite without anyone noticing her, began cleaning the blood she had walked through from her paws.
You'll grow a tree inside you
Her bite dislodged a pip and she felt the tiny black pellet hard for a moment against her tongue, then gone, swallowed. Stomping through the woods in second-hand boots she tossed the apple core aside, dodged the caress of an errant branch and returned to the wooden house in the clearing. But found she had no appetite for the food her grandmother put before her.
That night, the ancient trees towered over her. If the colour green had a smell it would be the damp rot filling her nostrils, the texture the furred, yielding moss under her feet and the taste sour and dangerously bladed. Stretching into the silent blackness, she felt her seeded stomach harden and resolute tendrils burst through soft skin as she closed eyes that were heavy as logs and lifted her arms towards the blanketing canopy. Rooted. But free.
The Big Divide
“You really give me the pip sometimes,” says Josie.
“What have I done now?” says Dorothy.
“Well, these wild ideas of yours, that you’ll go that way, and she’ll go that, and I - well - where am I supposed to go?”
“It is time, I think,” says Dorothy, “for us to go our own way. For us each to choose. Independently without my guidance. A time for us to reinvent ourselves.”
“So, the world is our oyster, is that it?”
“Maybe,” says Dorothy. “But really, it is yours and yours alone. I don’t think you need me any more. Think of it as a major turning point in our lives.”
Gladys was listening from the guard rail, saying nothing. But as Dorothy disappeared into the mist at Ben Nevis’s peak, a hot tear rolled down her cheek.
On a Day Like Today
Pip. Pip. Pip.
This is the Emergency Broadcasting Service. Please stand by for an important message from the Prime Minister.
Pip. Pip. Pip.
Good afternoon to the people of Great Britain on this sombre day in our history. As your Prime Minister, I promise to do all I can to ensure the survival of our great nation.
For those of you with basements and underground shelters, please take the water and tinned food provided by your local council and make your way downstairs. For those of you with no access to underground facilities, try to find a cupboard or room in the centre of your home and stay away from the windows. Remember to ration your food and water and tend to any wounds before they become infected. Stay tuned to this frequency and check for daily updates.
Pip. Pip. Pip.
What Might Have Been
Never before has he witnessed such beauty. He gazes upon her face in slumber, and cups his hand gently to the side of her jaw. One perfect tear glistens on her alabaster cheek. Her arm is flung to the side over the edge of the chaise longue, slim fingers curled into her palm, beckoning. He takes her hand and places it gently in her lap. As he does so, he sees two halves of the apple she must have dropped on the floor. He picks one up. The pips glisten like tiny golden teardrops against the crisp white flesh. She has taken a bite, and he studies the imprint of her dainty teeth. He wishes to taste the essence of her, before putting his mouth to her lips. Impatient with anticipation, he crunches into the still-fresh fruit.
I Can Grow These, At Least
The smooth shell is milky-coloured and warm; paler even than my hands, still shaky from the blood loss as I wrap it in a towel and place it in the aga.
Midnight headlights; Grey carried me quietly, carefully down the drive; hold tight; do not disturb. Back this morning, sunshine too bright for eyes still raw; a hen, dead in the driveway, blood in her feathers and three eggs in her nest. I still smelled of hospital-clean and my heart cramped with my belly and I cupped the eggs in my empty lap to keep them warm.
I sit by the aga for 18 days, wet cheeks warming and stomach cramps fading and cold, shaky hands flushing pink as I turn these treasures and hold them to a flashlight; golden globes sprouting spider veins and clouding over, dark and full. I weep quietly as I hear the first pip, pip, pip.
Pip or Seed
You say pip, I say seed.
You say hay, I say straw.
I say boat, you say ship.
Differences in how we speak, how we view the world, that’s how we fell in love. It’s how I fell in love with you.
When we met, you were a server in a cafe, although you insisted I call you a waitress. It always made me smile how you took pride in the smallest of things, how to you a word can make such a difference in a persons life.
Over time, I began to adopt this manner, your behaviour affected me, it changed me, and I became a better person for it. I loved you with a fire that would never die, even if we did.
When you passed, I did not change, but burned bright enough for us both.
They say death, we say parted.
“Pass the remote control,” he demanded. “The colour’s gone all wrong.”
“Looks fine to me,” she replied, squinting at the telly.
“Those orange pips shouldn’t be red, look…”
“And it’s too bright.” She liked it bright but she passed the remote control anyway.
Buttons were pressed, levels were changed. A smile took the place of his frown.
“See, that’s much better,” he said. “Those oranges are the proper colour now.”
“Go and put the kettle on, love,” she said to him.
And when he plodded to the kitchen, she took control of the remote.
The orange pips were purple again.
New to the area
'Till the pips squeak'. He'd always liked that phrase. The word, pip, rolled around on his tongue so easily. He played with it, manipulated it. Elongated the vowel, propelled the plosive from his lips. That's the first phrase he thought of when he saw her. He sensed the words appearing as soon as he spotted her emerging from the car opposite his house.
She was new to the area. Just moving in. Didn’t know anyone else. A perfect opportunity to present himself. He was polite at first. He always was. Knew which angle to work. She had an ex who had been cruel, abusive. He played the sympathetic. Evenings were spent sipping wine together. Aptly proffering tissues.
He knew when the tears were about to start, but he wanted to see them fall first. He anticipated the day when he would be the source. A pleasurable thought.
Alice rolled her tongue over the smooth hard object, working it along her polished teeth. She slid another mouthful of fruit salad, balancing the pip in her cheek as she chewed. Her mother had told her firmly that to swallow would mean an apple tree growing in her stomach. She feared the bitter taste. If she removed the seed, her mother would disapprove, tell her again that her lack of manners would guarantee a lonely old age. She curled the edges of her tongue into a makeshift funnel and let the tiny egg settle into the curve. Opposite, her mother's gaze sat horizontal, an album of childhood memories passing between them. Alice tensed the muscle at the back of her tongue, pursed her lips and spat. A photograph could have recorded the moment their lives changed.
With thanks to all the writers who have made this issue possible.Alexander MJ Smith, Alva Holland, Andrea Harman, B.G. Drummer, Bill Cox, Caitlin Thomas-Aubin, Carol Leggatt, Claire Nowell, Claire Smith, D. Milne, Dave Murray, David Goodman, David North, Destany shaw, Diane Knight, E.C. Andrew, Emma Branwen, Erik D'Souza, Eve Adams, Gemma Callaghan, Glenda Young, Iain Rowan, James Leigh, Jane Carrick, Jeanette Lowe, Jena Carlson, Joanne Clague, Jodie Waller, John Dapolito, John Gorman, Joy Stephenson, Kate Finegan, kerry rawlinson, Kieron Circuit, Kirsty Holmes, Laura Besley, Lee Nicholson, Les Schreiben, Louise Mangos, Mabel Simpson, Mandy Zeelie, Marie Gracie, Martha Mazda, Mary Thompson, Matthew McLean, Mike Ashcroft, Miranda Harris, Philip Charter, Rebecca Emin, RJD, Rosie Wilde, Roz Levens, S.B. Borgersen, Scarlett Sauvage, Sian Brighal, Siobhan Denton, Steven John, Sue Lovejoy
15th February 2017