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Mae was gunning for a power cut. A lull in electricity long enough to require a hysterical search for candles, unleashing an adequate level of adrenalin that would seamlessly lead to huddling around a few flickering flames, drinking wine, sitting so closely so that wrists might touch; but short enough so there’d be no real need to eat the tinned gherkins that had set up camp at the back of the cupboard in 1996. A sure-fire mood killer.
Glen hated storms, ever since he was eight years old. The family dog found and devoured five wax candles during a blackout, vomited them on Glen’s leg then proceeded to lick it all up again. This memory was the one to beat. He was barely able to blow out candles on a birthday cake without retching. He’s 37 and would rather eat 21 year old gherkins.
I fall through the hole in our fence at the exact moment the earth over-tilts on its axis. I know this because of the lurch in my stomach. I love my mum and dad. Even my brother’s ok, despite his embarrassing beat-box bravado. But on this side of the fence there are glitter ponies and bat-winged monkeys. A sparkle girl skipping around her diamond-eyed maker.
"Look, don’t touch," says Mum when it doesn’t belong to me. This stray locket though, no one will miss it. I crouch, finger, enfold. There’s a jolt. The earth righting its mistake.
Sparkle Girl clocks me moving out of sync, snatches the locket from my grasp, pokes my ribs with her double-dare fingernails. Diamond-Eyes grabs a fistful of my hair, "What d’you think you’re doing, Missy?"
I turn, see Mum criss-crossed with chain link. Blinking at me as though she’s never seen me before.
Even though me and my friends ended up playing at Wembley's, it all felt off. For instance, I kept missing the beat with my guitar, I rarely did that. Moreover, as much as we tried to deny it, we reached the end of the line.
This tour made us, but we mostly got drunk before the concerts, since we couldn't handle the routine. Surprisingly, the crowds didn't mind at all.
Once we finished this show, we retired to the backstage. There we all sat in silence, looking worse for the wear. Each of us intended to say something, yet no one did, the alcohol apparently took our speech.
Suddenly, I rebelled against that and stood up.
'Guys, things need to change.'
Those were my last words to the band.
Olive body broke the surface. A soft, fluid 'pat' sound and down she went. Streak of skin colour in the shimmering blue, not visible to the people on the beds around the pool - only to the birds that whistled and wheeled from palm to palm.
In her ears the sound of her own heartbeat - thrum-thrum, thrum-thrum - and the hiss of water.
She stopped when her hands touched the side. Smooth cold tile in perfect tiny squares.
Like the tiles in their bathroom where she'd found him.
She let herself sink to the bottom where silence became a beautiful shroud, intimate fingers of water caressing her body... all the places he would never touch again.
Her lungs, screaming now to be filled again, caved against her chest. Just one more minute. One more...
... and then... she pushed upwards with her legs and broke the surface with a gasp of pain.
Dad-beat. That's what my son calls whenever I see him. Sid, the guy that has the good cardboard box to sleep in says that it should be dead-beat. He should know.
I try to make an honest living; be a good person; do the right thing. Somehow, it just never works out. No one will give me a high paying job with oodles of benefits, so I squeegee; I don't talk ill of others, unless they deserve it, which is pretty much everyone - useless vermin that they are; if I see someone in trouble, I try to find someone to help, sooner or later. The ex-wife was always complaining and the the kids kept eating all the food, so I left them for a better life. Now, I have the freedom of the streets and the opportunity to make as much money as I can imagine. Life is good.
I Don't Blame You
"Gang, beat the daylights out of him!" Zack gave the command and his followers advanced toward Joe, wielding wooden sticks. The tattoos on their forearms were the same------that of an eagle in flight, with a chick in its mouth. Joe, wide-eyed, tried to flee but he was surrounded. Soon, a flurry of sticks hit his legs and arms, threatening to break them. A police whistle made the men stop in their tracks. Zack shouted,"Police!" The whole gang dispersed in seconds. Zach stayed behind and helped the injured Joe up. "Brother, this is the best I can do for you." Joe smiled, his bloodied teeth showing. "I know you have to do your job. I won't blame you."
Granddad bobs his head to the beat; the music of his childhood, inherited by mine. The monitor's beep is a metronome, it spoils our fun, reminds our memories of now. A generous man, a Father figure twice over, got it right both times, it was never his fault. They exploited his good nature, intruded; beat him in his own home. They turned a peaceful man in to a victim. They changed my pacifism to bloodlust. They stole more than possessions, they robbed me of the delusion he was safe without our company. Turn the music off, time to go. Say goodbye, he is tired; beat. Warmth frozen to a slab. The unsteady beat of my escaping footsteps echoes, leaving him alone again. Movement powered by the guilt of never turning up when visiting time was limitless. My exit blinded by his unconditional love and how we took advantage.
Somewhere I can hear music. A faint but incessant beat that somehow serves to make the silence around me more intense until it seems to wrap itself around me.
I sit here sleepless while upstairs you are dreaming of things you think I do not know. Do you, I wonder yet again, know the things that fill my mind awake and asleep.
Neither of us is happy. There is no contentment in our home or in ourselves. We walk around each other, pass each other by and do not talk.
Yet something as faint and insistent as the music I hear remains. I feel it in me and in you and I hope that that is one if the things you know about me.
My Daughter the Dancer
From the balcony of the Tower Ballroom, I spot the red flash of my daughter’s lycra costume. As she grins and waves to the crowd, I nudge my husband and point.
She leans against her partner, a big brute of a man. Her arms are folded, head cocked. When the music starts, they tap their feet, taking the beat into their bodies.
Synchronized, they spring to action, kicking high, arms punching at precise angles. They change place once, twice, three times, pinging back and forth like elastic fired from a thumb. The brute bends his knees. My daughter places one pointed toe on his knotted hands and he stands and throws her ten feet into the air. Her curled body is a kaleidoscope of red and silver and fragile pink flesh.
My heart beats with the music, 180 bpm. I pray she’ll land safely. I pray she’ll give this up.
Amongst Her Mother's Possessions
Amongst her mother's possessions was a note. Unread. Still protected by the envelope in which it slept. Bound by a pink ribbon, it lay there silent.
Her first instinct was to tear it open, gorging upon the words inside. But her mother had been such a private person. And so it sat there, on her mantelpiece…
For a while.
Picking up the letter, she turned it in her hands, her heart beating. There was a faint, fragrant odour. It was sweet and inviting.
She could hear her mother's voice scolding her. She pushed the note back into the envelope, tying the ribbon around it. Replacing it, she stared at the handwriting that announced simply Eleanor: her mother's name.
Eleanor - a lady with many secrets, but only one that could speak. A child. Born out of wedlock and locked inside an envelope, sitting upon a mantelpiece.
The kettle clicked off behind me. My heart beat thumped in my ears. This time I hadn’t imagined it. I slowed down my blinking. I trod carefully and silently out onto the dew soaked grass to the oak tree, slipper sinking into the wet lawn. And then I saw it, my breath caught in my throat. Eyes peeked out at me from behind the tree trunk. In between the thunderous ticks of the second hand marching onwards, I stood still.
A tiny hand appeared aside the trunk, delicate fingers wrapping around the rough bark. A face edged out, followed by a pair of wings. We faced each other. She stepped back, four, five, six times. A door appeared. They passed through it leaving it open. It grew larger with each step I took.
I lifted my feet out of my slippers and stepped over the threshold, into the enchanted.
‘He was very apologetic.’
That’s her Mother’s voice at the kitchen table. The one over Mr Churchill’s on the wireless.
‘And you said yourself that it was only the once.’
From the window, Marie watches John hang the Union Jack triangles between the lampposts. VE Day is unravelling out of boxes on every lawn in the crescent. A skipping rope keeps a steady beat on the road.
‘Three times,’ Marie says softly, picking up the tea tray. ‘It’s three times since he came home.’
‘Well, you can blame the war for that.’
Marie slides the tray onto the table. Her mother clicks the sugar tongs.
‘And your Father’s quite right. There’s no room at ours.’
He could kill me as easily as he killed the Japs, Marie thinks but doesn’t say. The war is over, and she doesn’t want to start another in her mother’s kitchen.
The Woman in the Cream Wool Coat
The sun finally appeared after days of relentless heavy rain. She raised her face to the sun and smiled as she took in the fresh air. She had taken care of her appearance that day and wore her best mauve wool skirt, a black turtleneck, and her cream wool jacket. Her shoulder length wavy grey hair hung like a schoolgirl on her shoulders. At sixty she was still attractive.
As she approached the café, she saw he hadn’t arrived yet. Seated on the outdoor terrace she ordered champagne.She looked at her phone and saw that her husband had called.
The first strains of Vivaldi’s Four seasons drifted across the square. Her toe tapped to the beat as the violins strained upwards and then back down.
Long ago she stopped feeling guilty for the affairs she had.She sipped her champagne and smiled when she saw he had arrived.
Once again, you sneak out of your lover’s bedroom in the middle of the night, and the familiar wave of guilt washes over you. You don’t know how much longer you can keep up the charade, but you don your uniform anyway. Tonight, the city needs its hero, and that means you.
Luckily, it’s only wannabe bank robbers you must stop, because tonight you’re distracted with thoughts of your lover slumbering. The old debate of whether you should share your secret rages inside as you easily apprehend the would-be thieves.
When you return to the bedroom, you’re still wearing your costume, a rookie mistake. Before you can change, your lover’s nightstand lamp flickers on. Without missing a beat, he says, “Good, you’re back! Don’t look so surprised. Of course, I’ve always known. Let’s get some sleep and you can tell me all about your adventures in the morning.”
My yellow prize.
He woke me early, before my honey curled sister dominated the day. 'If you beat everyone, I'll buy you a hat' Dad was leaving his family, me, Mum, and my sister, after the holiday; but I did'nt know it then. I agreed, and lined up with the other kids on the campsite, unconscious in my sandy white knickers and bare feet. All I cared about was Dad cheering me on. We lapped three times, and he roared his support. It's the proudest moment of my life, forty eight years on. My prize was a white hat with lemon flowers, and I posed proudly, holding my sister, who I called little Margherita, for a photo of honour, as she wriggled to get free. Dad took his freedom two days later, but my crumpled hat still sits on my dresser and urges me to stay strong when I'm feeling weak.
The knight protected his king's flanks whilst the warrior queen, in her elegant white armour, advanced upon the enemy. The king remained on the rear lines watching the battle progress. The Black Knight advanced before sweeping to his right towards the unguarded castle. The king watched helpless as it fell, sacked by his relentless enemy. His queen, resplendent in her ferocity, charged the enemy, the Black King, but it was a trap – the Black King stepped aside and his bishop knocked her to the ground with his staff. The king knew not what to do, his wife dead, his castle no more, only his loyal knight remained. It was time for me to surrender. She had beat me again. I laid my finger on the king's head and toppled him onto the board.
Joshua had read that when they had began to study deaths of Victorian era Londoners a list of the usual suspects was compiled; disease, accidents, violence. But he had been fascinated to learn some people simply laid down in the streets to die. Men, women, sometimes in couples, people just giving up, unable to move forward.
It didn’t have a lurid interest because it was mystery, but because Joshua saw the same beast stalking his own life. His mom with her oxycodone; Uncle Rob with the Wild Turkey and diabetes; Jessie with her violent men. All had given up, intent on speeding their end rather than achieving the necessary escape velocity.
But knowing that this killer had moved through time and geography, coming from London all the way to Ohio, made him all the more determined to dodge its claws. He was going to beat it. It couldn’t get everyone.
'My dad used to threaten to knock me into the middle of next week. It was one of his favourite sayings.'
Freya sets down the forkful of couscous that is halfway to her mouth. She wheels herself over on her desk chair and puts a hand on my arm. Apparently I'm a victim of a patriarchal society. She has a degree in sociology and never lets us forget it. She explains about male-dominated power structures and systemic bias against women. She says love can't exist in a relationship based on domination.
Her phone rings. She giggles into it.
'Bye, Munchkin,' she says. She makes kissing noises.
'How often did he beat you?' she asks me. I think of my dad, who never laid a finger on me, and once drove two hundred miles to my hall of residence with my favourite jumper.
'Some people are all talk,' I say.
Nothing but a Number
Cynthia sings in a dead-end bar in a dead-end town for ten bucks and a beer. She rarely accepts the beer; the owner gives her the creeps.
The place is quiet tonight, but she’s spotted a couple of unfamiliar faces. You just never know: that man in blue could be a record producer, passing through on the way to visit his sick mum; the handsome jock with the cowboy hat might be a new DJ at the local radio station. So, despite already working a fourteen hour shift, Cynthia struts around the stage, shaking her hips to the up-tempo beat. ‘My time is coming,’ she thinks to herself. ‘Soon.’
The set ends as raucous laughter drifts from the bar. The jock has gone but the man in blue claps enthusiastically. Cynthia flashes him a killer smile, the same one she’s practised every day in the mirror for over thirty years.
Headline: Trump Street leads to Russia Row, EC2V
This is Donny’s beat. Not very far, a few steps in fact, although Donny likes to think he rules the world.
Each morning he puts on his orange mask, his chrysanthemum hair, his shark white smile and patrols from one end of his beat to the other looking for immigrants. He never finds any. They are too canny and hide behind a wall until he had gone past.
One morning he meets what he thinks is a real Russian. Donny tries to embrace him, but the Russian wriggles out of it.
“Go home” says Boris, “Go home. Your country deserves you.”
Boris is loud and friendly as a bear. Donny does as he is told.
Stockpiling a Painter's Materials
The ship wafted serenely between fluorescent rills in the Aurora Borealis. Twin helium balloons bound to the bow and stern protruded into the sky and carried the solitary deck amongst the turbid wind. The tattered rudder tore trails in the hoary clouds that interrupted the sinuous strands of light below. A canary-poncho-clad stumpy figure whipped an inky sack tied to a fraying rope over the starboard side, knotting the remaining end to a rusting cleat.
The figure tottered to a cleat on the opposing side. Calloused hands deftly unfastened a knot while simultaneously heaving the attached sack onboard, forcing the man’s grunts to empty into the atmosphere. Dangling from the line, a swollen bag beat unsteadily against the ship’s side. Once on board, the bag's shimmering contents were emptied into a cooler branded ‘Painting Supplies’, only for the sack be sent back overboard into the torrents of many-hued radiant light.
'Leave now, head for the woods. Run as fast as you can and don't look back. I'll find you. I promise.'
These were the last words I heard him say. Time was his gift to me. Time and a chance for freedom, for life. So I ran and I didn't look back.
A cave in the woods has become my home and I am feral, scratching an existence. Free. And afraid.
The Guard track me constantly but I evade them. I long to find others like myself, fugitives from The Regime. But I am alone.
A voice startles me. 'Step outside with your hands up!' I shuffle into the sunlight. I see The Guard, three of them. They eye me down the barrels of their guns. One lowers his weapon. 'I kept my promise,' he says. And I know the game is over. And I know that I am beat.
‘Bumped into Bernard and he tells me his boy is going to Oxford,’ Dad says.
I know he’s looking at me, but I focus on chewing, otherwise I might throw up.
‘You’ve been telling me that universities aren’t open for applications yet. Well, apparently they’ve already closed. What’s going on? Eh?’
‘I don’t want to go to uni.’
Beats of silence fill the room. ‘You don’t want to go?’
‘After all the time and effort I’ve put into educating you? Why would you give up this chance?’
‘Uni was your dream Dad-’
He pushes back his chair and it falters before falling to the floor. Hands clenched into fists, he walks away from the table and three seconds after I hear the front door slam.
‘Not mine,’ I say, but there’s no one to hear me.
Eventually, it gets you
When I was your age I served in Cyprus. I was a captain.
The Greeks and the Turks were fighting over ownership of the island; the British were in the middle. There was a nine o’clock curfew. It was necessary to restore order.
We spotted a young man after curfew. I shouted to him. He looked at me, and ran. I raised my pistol, called again to stop, and I fired. He pitched forward. He must have been one hundred yards away. I could never repeat that shot, no one could. When we got to him the bullet had entered the back of his head and exited through his right eye. He was no older than me.
I tried to bury what happened that night. For a long time I thought I had it beat. Last year I returned on holiday with my wife. That’s how I ended up here.
The wide plane of her white cheek, drowned in maternal tears, lies uncomfortable against the cold surface. Francis is the vacant owner of this face but unaware of the numb ache in her cheekbone, caused by the indentation of the porcelain rim of the toilet seat. Where her tears fall they are manipulated and meander to follow the grooves enforced by the pressure, they drop to the floor and mingle with soapy water. Francis is enveloped in a bath sheet, one corner appears ink-infected, mascara sinking deep between the once soft fibres. George opens the door to his sunken mother awash with misery, he loops an arm under her diminished frame, carefully lifting her. He lays her gently atop of Harry's batman duvet cover, she encloses the sheet in a tight fist and the sound of his last heart beat echoes from deep inside of her chest.
On A Mountain Breeze, The Scent Of The Hunter.
For a brief time they were able to interrupt the spin of the neutron star, aware that any civilisation watching would immediately notice the change in the metronomic beat of the pulsar. It was an epic feat of cosmic engineering that used up the last energies of their society, but they comforted themselves with the knowledge that they had done their duty to the galaxy’s other sentient life.
The signal moved at light speed from the dense galactic core. It left its source when Woolly Mammoth still roamed the plains of Europe, taking twenty-five thousand years to reach the relative obscurity of Earth.
The change in the pulsar’s rotation was noticed immediately by astronomers. When it became clear that the signal contained a message, global resources were mobilised to decode it.
Months passed before it was deciphered, it’s simplicity of expression both impressive and alarming.
“It’s coming. Save yourselves!”
Forty two and a half
You can't beat a small village.
I moved here from London. Bought a house, built onto it, made it nice and big, added value...
But when I lost my wife it became too big. They said, “Give it a couple of years, then decide.” I did that. Bought a bungalow across the road. The back looks out onto the fields: a whole green world in front of you.
It’s very quiet. I do have neighbours - nice people, friendly. You know how these villages are – people say hello as they pass, nod and smile. You quickly learn to recognise your neighbours. More personable than London, nicer. But, on the other hand, London is always open. Here everything is closed, especially on Sundays. Nowhere to go. I see the fields and my house across the street... It’s nice, except for Sundays...
How long was I married? Forty two and a half years...
The Wise Way
Grimacing, you swallow, then straighten. Sour saliva builds bile in the pit of your stomach. The men have already left, careless now matters are concluded.
"You had to," Tam says, after a beat.
You nod, then shudder.
"She not happy?"
"Would you be? Considering?" you reply.
"We had to eat. And she was gotten already."
You shrug. "Not so hungry now," you say.
"You will be. Once she's passed," Tam replies.
"That could be days yet. Gramma'll stay to spite me."
"Shouldn't've taught you the trick of it then!"
"Likely she wouldn't've, had she known."
"Even after Momma? What way was there?"
"For us women?" you say, raising both brows, eyes serious.
"You're freeing her," Tam says, forehead creasing. "The Wise way. Aren't you?"
"Perhaps I can," you say, studying the dust circling your feet. "If I remember right. I'll have to live with it though, either way, won't I?"
Tom, Dick and Harry
“What’ve I missed then?"
“Last Friday, the Town Crier Harry Bidelow made a proclamation: from four until five, some rich bint would be riding through town to get her hubby to reduce the townfolk's taxes. But… she’d be doing it naked! Harry ordered everyone to stay indoors with the shutters closed, 'on pain of being struck blind'!”
“Some posh dame rode past... starkers! Phwoar!”
“But surely you were indoors?”
“I’ve got a peephole... I copped an eyeful!”
“What about the threat of being struck bl–? Oh! That's why you're wearing a patch!"
”Well spotted, Dick!"
"That's some price to pay just to ogle an unclothed woman."
"I've still got one good eye. Besides, the ladies love the pirate look; I'm beating them off with a stick!"
"I'd keep quiet about the peeping, Tom. You don't want to get a reputation."
"What are they gonna do? Send me to Coventry?"
I Am Urban
I could smell the sausages.
I waited until the lady pulled the door closed. I crept round the car. I hadn't eaten for a few days. 'Don't feed him. He'll only come back'.
It was dark. There was no cover for me. Not in the city. Even when it was dark the world was still alight. Urban. That's what they called me. I wanted to go home. Vermin,dirty-That's what they said. Don't belong here.
I took the sausages and ran through the victorian houses of East London.
'You!! Get!! Go on get away from here!!' A man chased me. My heart beat so fast I could hear it pulsing in my ears. I hid behind the trash from the bakery waiting for quiet. To be safe.
It was never safe in London.
Not for an urban fox.
July 4th, 1987
Hunting for sparklers in the back of the garage, the boy stepped on the upturned blade of his great grandfather’s scythe. The blade slid right through his foot, poking out between the bones at the base of the big toe and pointer. In the darkness he couldn’t see what he’d done. It wasn’t until he limped out into the sunlight that he got a good look. Blood welled up from the gash and ran down the driveway in ghoulish rivulets. The boy felt no pain, which he knew was bad.
His father heard his cries and came running. He carried the boy to the lawn chair in the side yard, sat him down, and wrapped his foot in a beach towel. Gradually feeling began to return to the foot—a soft pulse that grew stronger and stronger. The boy counted the beats while his father rushed inside and called 911.
When the last day is the best day
When the beat is more of a flutter, when the fear takes over feeling, when the river is more of a stream and even your blood wants to die.
When the rocks are reduced to pebbles and the skin is paper thin, when the nails are non-existent and the hair has disappeared.
When you want to say goodbye but even that takes more courage than you have. When the tears no longer fall but stay barricaded deep inside.
Hiding from your loved ones the pain they cannot see. So they don't have to suffer this all-consuming beast, of chemicals and blood counts, of needles, pills and phials.
All to stop the invader who has control to the end. Why not give it what it wants and take the easy way?
'Let's not do this anymore,' I say with ever-increasing strength. 'I'm going now, don't stop me.'
They finally give in.
You've got 5 mins to send me a pic of ur desk or ur dead
You lying WHORE. Ur wiv him aren't u?
That eye better be covered up good. Don't breathe a word.
Her permanent name on my arm changes shape as I clench and unclench my fist. The bitch in the suit reads out the texts. One by one. This is out of order.
My mouth is dry as Ghandi’s flip flop. I need a spliff.
The bitch is making me sound like a monster. Would a monster love her? Protect her? Keep her away from scumbags? It's out of context, man. She'll pay for this.
I get angry, yeah. Did I push her once or twice when I had no choice? Maybe. But no way did I beat her.
That's not me.
I'm not my Dad.
Why I Wish I’d Never put my Dead Mother's Photo on my Facebook Profile Page
She's been gone for two-and-a-half years, but only in real life. In cyberspace she's immortal, caught in a nanosecond just months before she died, her kind eyes sparkling wet with laughter, and me joined to her for all eternity, by an invisible thread behind the camera, telling her to zoom herself in, because I couldn't work out how.
She's not young and powerful or quick as sixpence, she's old and soft and grateful for every day.
At least paper photographs have the decency to fade, so you can pretend you're putting them away to protect them from the light. These digital pixels that used to be a comfort are as vivid as they were the day I fixed them, and that's all wrong, somehow. They've got me beat. To delete them feels like choosing to lose her, but seeing them every day, every single day, is like picking a scab.
A Lonely Star
His favorite part were the nights. He'd often spend them on the roof gazing at the sea of stars. I remember spending my midnight hours with him talking about how the twinkle's we saw were actually hundreds of years old. He once told me that the light that we see from the very distant stars was the same light that shared the birth date of an ancestor, and that if I listened really hard, I could hear the messages they left for me.
He was 79 on the day he joined the stars, and all he left behind was his only grandson - me.
That night was spent intently surveying the sky. Listening. Waiting for the message my granddad must have left behind, but even after blocking off all the sound, all I could hear was the slow, rhythmic beat of my racing heart - only this time, it was alone.
They think they’ve beaten me, chased me away, my wares spilling from my basket as I ran, tripping over my skirts. But I’m waiting in the ditch at the back of their grounds and tonight I will prove that I am more powerful than they can imagine. Oh, that laugh, that guffaw of monied assurance, as they watched their dogs threaten me away to the edge of their land.
But I know a way in, I know that lock is loose, and I know that the dogs will eat anything left lying in their path. And then I’ll be in their house, their bastion of civilisation. I’ll take my soiled life and I will trail it through theirs. I’ll choose what I fancy, and then I will light a match and I will burn their house down.
I will let them see me before it all comes crashing down.
You sweat your way through summer, searching for a room: walkups in the hundreds, flea-pits in Alphabet City.
Nobody in this town sweats or eats a damned thing either.
You feel the heft of fat sag over your shorts.
When the leaves turn, you graduate from a borrowed couch to a small, shared place by the river with a smaller room.
The air has cooled and you watch the runners, see flyers for a restaurant further down the block promising ill beats and good vibes.
You want to sweat still.
In the cool of a new morning, you shun the elevator, take the stairs out, into the fresh, crisp air.
You put in headphones, hear the beat of your new city: join the flow of humanity in all its amazing shapes and hues as it huffs and shuffles, sprints and glides along the river.
You move, plugged in.
Tonight we Rhyme
A swish of scarf, the beat of lines
light snap of fingers
heads bob and nod
The painted lips and moustaches
ask us not to question why
But leaflets flutter with outrage
trapped under espresso cups
Our rhythms build to a deafening crescendo
Howl and obscenity our MO
We don’t like labels, we don’t like fear
The reluctant floorboard finally gave way. With tentative fingers she explored deep between the joists. Excitement flooded her as she tugged the box free. Ignoring the musty smell she hugged it to her. A filigree of dust and cobwebs clung to her long black coat. She couldn’t remember the last time.
Anticipation struck rhythmic beats that made her fingers shake whilst a metallic taste shuddered through her. She looked towards the door half expecting him to come storming in. The buzz of silence filled both ears. Nestled in crumpled tissue were the shoes that started it all. Swapping her shoes for the knife she hides the box again.
A door slams below and her daughter’s voice shatters her dream, “Mum, they’re here, it’s time to go!”
She slips her feet into the shiny red shoes and allows their magic to guide her through this final act.
Time and tide
They come for you at night, as you lie in the warm bed. Doors and windows are closed but your eyes remain open, staring into blackness. They drip on you from the ceiling. Drip drip.
Did I lock the front door?
Is he still alive or has he stopped breathing?
Is she waiting for a taxi home from a club?
Has the dog's tumour come back?
Is granny taking her medication?
Is she eating properly at university?
Is that lump something sinister?
Am I going to die tonight?
You try to stem the flow by turning away, lying on your front. But the gathering waves wash over your body and seep into your bones. You lie beaten once again. An empty shell.
In the morning you waken,, drenched and limp. But as light streams in you feel strength return. Like Canute you have stemmed the tide.
Tommy's Medical Mystery
‘I played drums at school today.’ Tommy thumped the plastic bowl with a wooden spoon to demonstrate his new skill.
Chest puffed out, he marched around the kitchen drumming. Boom, Boom.
‘Time for bed. Be a good boy and leave your drum on the counter.’ Kelly suggested, knowing if she didn’t the musical interlude would transfer to the bedroom.
It was just after midnight she heard Tommy crying.
‘Sweetheart, what’s wrong?’ Kelly peeled back the covers and looked at her son’s tear-stained face.
‘Mummy, I think I have a drum stuck inside.’ The little boy took her hand and placed it on his chest. ‘Can you feel it? Can you hear it? It goes boom, boom.’
‘That, my darling, is the beat of your heart. I promise you it’s not a drum. Everyone has a heart.’
Kelly tucked him in and kissing him goodnight tiptoed out of the room.
You see some guys playing cards in a back alley on a cardboard box. They're shady, sure, but friendly enough, making just enough noise to keep things going. To attract you. One of them deals three cards, shows the queen and two jacks, shuffles. “Find the lady!” Though you sure as hell could, the guy betting doesn’t, and that’s that. You make your bet. You know how this ends, now. You know you were never going to win. Those guys? The dealer’s friends. That box? Portable for a reason. It takes you a few bets to wise up, and by then they’re laughing and moving on. Who are you going to tell? The cops? You’re going to say you were beat in a gambling game? No. You’re going to put on your hat and saunter down the alley like nothing happened. Because nothing did. Nothing ever does.
“I can see into their living room.” His eye pressed to the small crack in the wood. “If the angle's right I can see their bedroom, too.”
“Give me a look.”
“No, not yet.”
His friend heard creaking through the walls. The couple next door must be in there right now.
“C’mon! Give me a go. You can look through anytime you want.”
But he kept his face pushed to the plank, using his other hand as a shield so his friend couldn’t push him out of the way.
“You just hog it for yourself.”
And it was true, he was addicted.
“Can you at least tell me what you see?”
He took a beat, “Yeah.”
“They’re peering through a crack in the wall.”
Mozart by Metronome
The metronome clicks allegretto with impersonal resolve. Timmy stares hate bullets at its swinging metal arm.
His musicality rivals that of a toad. Which is what his piano teacher looks like. A warty-faced old guy with breath that could knock the rhythm right out of Gershwin.
Timmy floats chubby fingers above the keyboard. One-and-two-and-three, and now he's in on the off-beat.
He tries to keep pace but the metronome gallops off to the musical races, past the gates of Sonatina hell. Wolfgang A. would be horrified. Where's the phrasing and classical elegance?
Why should Timmy even care?
He stops, looks his toad-teacher in the ye and hurls the still ticking metronome across the room. His mother yips but Timmy heaves his eight-year-old body off the piano bench and away. He'll face her scolding later. For now, he's free of metric tyranny and responds only to the rhythm of his heart.
Dirty Dancing- the Musical.
‘Well, whit did ye think?’
Ah says, ‘Roisin, it was shite.’
Course, her face wis like fizz but she DID ask.
Ah says, ‘Ah need tae go to the lavvy. Ah’ll get ye in the bar.’
Anyway, Ah’m staundin’ there havin’ a pish, when this voice booms oot like the big drum beat at an Orange Walk.
‘DIRT-y DANC-in’ the MUS-i-CAL. BOYS! Wis that no HARD, HARD work! The THINGS ye DAE for yer DOLL!’
A’ aroon, snorts an’ smirks.
Ah had a wee look ower ma shooder. Built, ye ken, shaved heid, neat baird. Nae shirt-sleeves. So ye could see the tattoos ower his delts.
Course Ah’m smirkin’ anaw, but he’s goat me thinkin’.
In the bar, Ah spy Roisin. A bit edgy. Ah go over wi’ a Prosecco an’ a pint.
Ah says. ‘Ye ken, we could maybe watch the film version. On DVD like. Whit d’ye think?’
Did I know what an idiom is?
This was my first ever job interview, one I desperately wanted at the local newspaper. The Editor threw several phrases at me asking for an explanation. Trying not to count my chickens I took the bull by the horns answering questions at the drop of a hat.
Seemingly I was on the ball, hit the nail on the head because I was invited to jump on the bandwagon. But, I must make a long story short. I was not asked about Alf’s idiom.
In my youth he was the local Gamekeeper and during the ‘shooting’ season employed a few of us to trample the undergrowth striking with a stick causing Pheasants and Partridges to take flight towards the waiting guns. Far from avoiding the
main topic, as Alf’s idiom suggests, he put it straight.
“Boys, I want you to beat about the bush.”
Music and laughter crackle, arrogant, from the bedroom. Clinging white knuckles on the banister, I climb. Fresh wood varnish and perfume sting my nose as laughter turns to unmistakable, passionate sighs. The knife twists. A heart beat, then a scorching, unbounded pain seers my sternum.
Seven years married, we had drifted. Platonic nights grew barbs and resentment like a moss, exposing fresh wounds in bimonthly bickering. We woke, worked and passed evenings with idle niceties or television serials. We listened, but did not hear.
They do not hear. Nothing impedes my approach upstairs except the thought of an ugly image and indelible, hateful future memory.
I kissed her neck last night and had thought about it all morning.
And so, self-preservation takes me down a stair. Pain and cowardice sees me down two more until, after an eternity, I click the door closed. Better to walk away unheard.
'It's so tiny.'
Charlie's eyes filled with tears.
His Mum gently placed the bird, wrapped in a hand towel, in a cardboard box.
'No promises but we'll see what we can do.'
She smiled at her young son. He had a tender heart.
Dad was sceptical - the creature was barely fledged - but he did his bit.
They took turns helping Charlie feed the baby jackdaw using a small dropper. Over the next few weeks , Sooty, named for his blackness, grew in size and strength.
The bird would perch on the boy's hand, or shoulder. One day, it flew to the rooftop, swooped back down, and circled.
Charlie's heart beat a little faster - the moment had come.
Rain on a Flat Tin Roof
Sylvia bites into the wedge of dark rye bread. She examines the marks her teeth make in the thick layer of butter. Surprised at the unevenness of the pattern. Wondering why her teeth were so crooked when her mother had spent a fortune on them over the years.
She tries not to think of what happened to her mother, but it’s impossible to forget the night the rain beat down so hard on the tin roof. The hammering of the heavy rain, a constant reminder, every storm. Just like tonight.
As if it were yesterday, Sylvia remembers her mother going out into the same beating rain to find Tonto, her little dog. How mother and dog were found after the storm, both drowned in the river that still torrented through the valley.
Sylvia bites again into her dark rye bread.
Sigh, Teenage Fever.
I knew something bad was going to happen to me; I knew from the sad way my reflection gazed at me in the mirror, from the way hot coffee tasted on my sand-paper tongue, from the way Mom shouted "you reap what you sow!" every time I did something naïve, from the way my legs felt beat even when I had just woken up and had obviously not walked any considerable distance, I also knew from the way my voice rose when Dad said or did something insensible; how else could I cope with my incomprehensible situation dwindling life?
I'd had teenage fever,
we never said "never,"
it never let me be.
Teenage fever had me.
We were beat, they had echoed in terror. We were beat. We were beat.
We are beaten.
Aiva heard the walls whispering loudly over the explosions. Half of the ceiling held helplessly in tattered remains. Her mother cowered in the corner, weeping over a bundled grey blanket. Smears of blood speckled the fabric.
That was mine.
Men fled, ashes and dust rising. Others followed, guns turned against brothers. One jerked and fell, trampled by the masses. Some added insult to injury as they passed, just to be sure.
A rumble roared on the horizon, growing louder. Shrieks of hysteria intensified. Her mother mourned the dead, though she would soon join them. Black comets rained down. She peered through the wreckage as the eruptions arrived.
She whirled, pressing her hands together and closing her eyes. Her prayer began when the blast hit, stone exploding in fragmented missiles.
The beat goes on
This is not the beat. This amplified, compressed, distorted beat these plastic painted people think they dance to. This is saccharine to honey, a Macdonalds
to soul food. They dance on in their artificial nirvana, devoid of feelings in a chemical induced synthetic haze.
Then, corralled by time, they are herded back to the gilded cages of capitalism, their weekend of conspicuous consumption adequately recorded.
Yet somewhere in the heat of the night there is a young man, invisible to those who have sold there soul to Mammon, someone they would not even deign to talk to,
who, picks up a piece of driftwood and beats a rhythm on a old oil can. Shadows arrive on the beach, dancers answer the call of the drums. This is the beat, the head beat, the heart beat, the back beat, unrecorded, untamed, unsellable, wild, free, organic
The beat goes on
The beat of the drums and fuzz of the guitars lifted her high into the night, given up to a swirl of avidity and noise, pirouetting the lights and circling the moon. Far below, beyond the crowds and flags, the stages and the trucks, hills dipped and rolled away to the lines of forest that marked the boundary between dark earth and the glowing violet sky. All nature, all of the cosmos came together as an overwhelming sentience wrapped around and inside her, dancing as she danced, tumbling and cascading through time.
The glaring splendour of the moment shook her, regaled her, blazed in her soul and unwound her mind. Memory and emotion flooded through, pushing her forward to consummation, to do the only thing that fired and freed her spirit.
She drove the cafetiere into him again with one final gratifying slice, savouring the force of life inside her.
Parents insisted they’d match well.
‘Mona loves Australia. There’s a beat-up, old stuffed koala on her bed!’ her father’s well rehearsed pitch.
Lahore to Melbourne was as long as it felt. Her new husband fought with the suitcase as he unlocked the door, asking Mona to remove her shoe first. Barefoot, she stepped carefully onto cool floorboards. Ran cautious hands over foreign shapes. Kitchen surfaces seemed unused, reminiscent of the ease of bachelorhood. The whole apartment devoid of life. Where were the noises, colours, and smells that danced like confetti from room to room?
At night, she pulled crisp white bed sheets high, nervously tucking them under her arms.
‘Just pretend he’s your cuddly koala.’ her mother had joked.
A tall silhouette appeared in the doorway.
‘Goodnight Mona, I’ll be in the spare room.’
Shutting the door behind him, her confusion was masked by darkness, sadness swallowed by empty space.
Out of the cold
“Oh, I love this song,” Sherry said, singing along “Two hearts that beat as one.”
“Come on, you don’t believe that crap.” I adjusted my bra, ensuring the girls were on display.
“You’re kinda young to be so cynical.”
“Yeah, and you’re too old to believe in fairy tales.”
“It happened in Pretty Woman.”
“That’s just a dumb movie. If it was real – places like this would be out of business.” I pointed at the drunk bar fly, the ring-less blonde draped over the man with the gold wedding band, couples in dim corners, walking on tacky floors.
“We better get going.”
“Another five minutes. It’s freezing, and this skirt is too short.” “
If it was shorter, you wouldn’t be outside for so long.” “Money can’t buy me love,” the song rang out. But that was wrong too. I should know - I sold love by the hour.
On the Other Side of the Lot
She's watching them play. They're on the other side of the lot, separated by an invisible fence that creates a line between the two houses. This side, mine, that side, yours. She can't stop watching them. Her hands itch for her to join them; her heart beats for her to hold them in her arms, if just for a moment.
Their souls are some sort of intricate mesh; wired together to be one perfect picture; one more thing that separates her from the life she aches to have. She wants it so bad--to be that woman and child.
They don't notice her. They never do. She could be over there, talking, laughing, holding that child.
But she's here. On the other side of the lot, separated by an invisible fence.
To The Victor
The beat of my heart filled the dark room. I had forgotten why I was there, when I had arrived; all had been taken by the steady thump of my heart and the darkness that surrounded me.
Time returned with the light. Harsh and burning, it brought the reality of where I was along with the why.
How could I have forgotten? How could I have let the beat take away reality? Fool! Here there is no escaping reality, no peace from the light, the cheers, the stadium. Tens of thousands of aliens there to see us few strange Earth creatures battle it out. To the victor the right to return home...
Beating a dead horse
Run to the beat,
Dance to the beat,
March to a different beat.
This is what I do.
Time time to its beat.
The oxygen machine huffs and puffs and I listen for Its beat.
Huff, puff, huff, puff.
Over and over again.
The beat punctures everything I do,
Everything I see,
Everything I hear.
Ha ha, I even push and pull back the vacuum
Over the rug by its beat.
My time - as they say - 'is measured out' by its beat.
Well, that machine is 'beating a dead horse' now,
Because today he turned the machine off.
He didn't 'beat around the bush'.
He said it's "like beating my head against a brick wall."
He's dancing to own his own beat now,
And that beats everything.
Today we are making....
"Right, this is how you do it."
I am teaching my four year old how to cook. Can't imagine why somebody wants to learn, I hate it and avoid it at all costs.
Eating out and ready meals, that's what she needs to learn.
"When it looks like this you beat in the eggs."
She's very good, maybe she will cook when she grows up.
I'll settle for about three hours time when her father gets home and is hungry.
Later, many years later, my husband calls up the stairs,
"Are you ready, we can't be late for the opening of Amanda's restaurant."
Yes she can cook better than me.
Beat Him To It
For the first time in his life - it was his mate's retirement after all - he drank the ethanol, the methanol, and the aerosol (the latter he regretted at once, but by then the night had gotten dark and blurry).
The alcohol, of course, stirred in him the desire to beat up his lowlife wife for calling him a wimp, because that is what must be done in cases like these. But he made a mistake. He announced the forthcoming beating by text.
So when he got home, his wife was already waiting
for him at the door. With a smack to the head, she sent him straight to bed. 'We'll talk in the morning,' she said.
'It's just pearl diving at the pub, but hey, it's a job.'
'What's pearl diving?' Daisie asked her American boyfriend, Si, as they both lay absorbing cosmic energy in the centre of the Neolithic stone circle.
'Oh, sorry, you don't speak Beatnik, do you?' Si winked. 'Pearl diving is washing up.'
'Cool,' Daisie said and sat up.
'How old are these stones?' Si asked.
'Old, really old. Weird things have happened here and you must always leave a gift for the guardian of the stones.' Daisie took a strand of velvet ribbon from her bag. On bare feet she walked to the tree where people had tied small offerings. With trembling fingers she knotted the ribbon. Dusk was falling; she and Si were the only ones left at the ancient site. Last night the voices had told her that the stones needed blood. Daisie flicked open her penknife.
The Referendum was announced immediately, as promised during the new PM's campaign.
Despite cries of foul play from the United Kingdom camp, claiming January 2023 was too soon, they seemed complacent. Winter votes always came with a low turnout, and the Divided Kingdom camp didn't seem to have any grasp of the practicalities: would everyone have to move house? How much land would each political party be given? Who would get London?
Leading mathematicians published satirical solutions based on voter density and party popularity across constituencies, but this ceased after the Dividers copy-and-pasted one into their manifesto.
Team Divided beat United almost 2:1, and, in 2029, once the paperwork was done, our nation divided. I was relocated to Bradford.
That was three years ago. Next week, we're having another referendum, to put it all back. I hope the Tory who's been living in my house has looked after my hydrangeas.
A Mother's Love
I hang up my daughter’s wedding dress and help her into her evening gown. ‘Yvonne made a fantastic job of the dresses,’ Abby says, admiring herself in the mirror. ‘And that cake …’
‘She seems competent. I don’t envy you though – I couldn’t have lived with my mother-in-law.’
Abby doesn’t miss a beat. ‘It’ll be good. Yvonne’s lovely. And she’s so excited about the baby.’
The next day, I cry as I begin the long journey home. I never considered Abby could worship another mother. She’s landed on her feet though – a mother-in-law with a house in Hampstead, a husband with no siblings.
When I stop for lunch, I check for missed calls, wonder how long it will be before I hear. No doubt Yvonne has hundreds of friends and it won’t be left to the returning honeymooners to discover her body at the foot of her perfectly-hoovered stairs.
The Bird in the Chimney Breast
The bird flapped wildly, its wings clipping the bricks and sending echos around the house. I sat with my pillow over my head, willing it to die quickly so that the sound would stop. My father sat on the settee, his cup of tea almost empty as his hand trembled. The noise grew louder as the bird began to call for help. Peering through the crack in the door, I watched my father stand slowly and walk towards the fireplace. He lifted the axe, turning it in his hand once before swinging it over his shoulder and sending it crashing into the chimney breast. The room fell silent as the beat of wings stopped briefly before a flurry of soot and feathers darted over his head and out of the open window.
Things That Have Made Antonia Cry
The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
The stick-thin limbs of hungry children in UNICEF appeal advertisements.
Random acts of kindness posted on her Facebook timeline.
A perfectly aerated zabaglione in a restaurant on the shores of Lago Maggiore.
Crossing the finishing line of a marathon with a thousand inflatable plastic batons beating on the barrier panels.
Holding her firstborn son in her arms after hauling him from her body.
Sunrise on Monte Limidario after an unexpected heavy snowfall.
Tomaso Albinoni’s Adagio in G minor.
But even after the jaundice of Giovanni’s fist on her cheek has faded, the tears will not come.
That was the first thing I noticed about her, that smile off hers. Of course back then I didn’t know what it signified, I just thought it was a smile, pure and simple. But with Janet, nothing was pure and simple.
Today was her birthday, with an angry face she welcomed her guests, thanked them for their gifts through gritted teeth, for Janet suffered from a rare neurological condition. Simply put her face expressed the exact opposite of how she actually felt, a grimace meant joy, a smile meant she was upset and so on.
So as the flames licked around the building and the house began to crumble, we stood helpless as Janet’s face appeared at the bedroom window. She was smiling the biggest and most beautiful smile you have ever seen. As her clothes ignited, her fists beat wildly against the windowpane, but that smile never wavered.
Adriana had added the rat poison quite generously. She had estimated that seven times the fatal dose for Daisy, her old neighbor's beloved pug would suffice.
She waited in the lobby of her massage parlor, outside the room where as instructed mr. Sharif after drinking the 'relaxing tea', by now should have undressed and laid down. As she counted the minutes on her watch, the movie director's sexist remarks echoed through her head.
"Harder please, harder! Like this Sugar."
"Could you give the other leg a squeeze? No, the other leg!"
"Now how about that happy ending?"
Always followed by him groping for some body part, while laughing deviously.
Time. She slipped inside. Shariff laid perfectly still indeed. She put an ear on his chest, looking for a non-beat, when suddenly he veered upright.
"Must have nodded off for a bit there. Say, you don't happen to have any sugar?"
The maintenance man winked and turned on his heel. He paused at the door, prodded the umbrella can with his left foot until it nestled between his legs, then glided into the dark of the corridor. My door stayed open. He left me an out. I opened my mouth to call after him, to thank him, but his image fizzled away.
I clicked. He was like me. How could he move around as though still alive? He could touch things! I needed his abilities, I needed to find whoever did this to me. I needed to find peace. He had the answers. I turned to the box in the corner.
I summoned all my focus and willpower and grabbed ahold of a wire. It pulsated between my fingers like a heartbeat. He would have to come back and fix it again. I had to know.
Was he dead as well?
Mexican Standoff at the Tenth
The gated, golf course mansions ostentatiously out-Jones each other with elaborate rock gardens, fantastical fountains, tiled turquoise pools.
She's lounged for hours, sun-bathing. Her warmed skin tightens. Eyes unfocused, she's stretched out, absorbing the tranquility of trickling water, cicadas, birdsong; bissfully lizard-brain. Her blood stirs, sensual with residual heat. She's utterly breathtaking.
But now she needs a nap. Circumnavigating a cactus's painful hairs, she heads for home, moving beyond the fairway's softly thatched grass, tingling in its clorophyl and cool dampness.
But a hard, egg-like entity drops abruptly from the sky, bouncing with ominous thuds. She stops, startled. Footfalls from afar crash closer. Curses beat the cactus. Her tongue slips out, delicately testing the air's vibrations. Her head spasms in panic -- her rattle flicks. He gasps, instinctively lifting his club.
Eye-to-eye, down through millennia, man and reptile glare at one-another, frozen. Both deadly; both equally ready to strike.
With thanks to all the writers who have made this issue possible.Adebowale Tyler William, Alison Wassell, Alva Holland, Anastasya Shepherd, Anike Kirsten, Ann Hutchings, Bill Cox, Carol Leggatt, Catherine Connolly, Chad Munger, Charlotte Williams, Christine Nedahl, Clara Mok, Crilly O'Neil, D. Milne, Danny Beusch, Debbi Voisey, Deirdre Ann Weber, Denice Penrose, Di McKee, Diane Simmons, Donna Frances Thomson, E. Moyle, Emma Carper, Emma De Vito, Esyllt Sears, Faiza Bokhari, Gail Warrick Cox, Geoff Holme, Gillian Davies, Hannah Whiteoak, Jack Hanlon, Jack Somers, Jan Kaneen, Jane Clare, Janelle Hardacre, Jay Bee, Joe Lawther, John Herbert, julie hanson, Justin Rulton, Kelsey Josephson, kerry rawlinson, Laura Besley, Linda Grierson-Irish, Louise Mangos, Mark Warren, Mary Davies, Matthew McLean, Michael Emerson, Michael Rumsey, Mitja Lovše, Molly Wilson, Musab, P J Smith, Peter Jordan, Philip Charter, R. James, Rae Kennedy, S.B. Borgersen, Sally Basmajian, Sarah Davy, Sesame, Stephen Wright, Susan Carey, Susan James, Tessa Vanderkop, Thomas Malloch, Vivian Wagner
7th June 2017