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First dates are always difficult. Instinct alerted me to whether it was going to be a successful or enjoyable evening. It was never both. Generally speaking it was the other end of the spectrum. Unsuccessful with a dull and boring undertone.
Tonight's date was surpassing even my worst fears as I watched the dandruff fall from this mortal creatures head. Each time I spoke he laughed with a bellowing raucous screech, his head moving backwards and forwards in an unbecoming bob, as if I'd said the funniest thing he'd ever heard and then a new flake appeared on the table in front of him. I watched him build a dandruff leaden snowball on the table between us.
I privately ticked the rejection box in my head. Internet dating was not working for me. I needed a robotic dating site where you get to design your own man.
My older sister was always known as the pretty one, my younger sister; the clever one. Where did that leave me? I was known as the flakey one. You would have thought my parents could have come up with something more complimentary, but they didn't even bother trying.
So what if I forgot to brush my hair before going out or I arrived two hours late? There's more to me than forgetfulness.
Like when I put bleach in Becky's shampoo and she ended up with green hair. Suddenly I was malicious. Or when I told Ella that if you say the word gullible really slowly it sounds like orange; she fell for it and cried. Apparently then I was spiteful.
I don't care, at least I'm no longer flakey.
It was never his chair to sit at, but he sat there with uneasy excitement.
It was always mother's chair; the flake of her skin now resting upon the nape of his neck. He loved her so, could never let her go.
That comfort of kin, the feeling of din relieved by the skin contained within.
It would always be a locket of sin. That gentle whisper of, 'all will be well', would always and ever be hell to him.
A mother's boy in heart, though quite apart from expectations that he should win.
The love he would give was a pin in a map of distain, then all would be pain unto him.
Those flakes would burn into his skin, and after her death he would ask what was truly left there within?
His love for his mother soon wore thin, and flakes dusted floors from therein.
While I pretend to share in the conversation at my table I watch across the room as she chases the last flake of pastry around her plate with a perfectly manicured finger. The cafe is hot and crowded. I know I am flushed, dishevelled while she is poised, cool, elegant. The bustle of the cowed weaving around us in an intricate dance and the heat bounce off her, leave her unmoved, untouched.
She sits alone now, her companion who sat with such worship in his eyes, the same worship I see in other eyes, eyes that should only look at me like that, has left, gone back to the world he has for now shrugged off for her.
As she gets up to leave I see that the last bit of pastry clings to her lip, I feel a smudge of satisfaction.
I'm looking through the window, from the safety of my home. It rained last night and this morning the water drops turned into tiny glittering flakes.
I could see them walking slowly down the street. He stopped and kissed her cheek, she blushed; the vestige of a once sacred feeling. It often would not be more than that; I see many passing by from my comfortable window.
The cold creeps in, I turn up the heat. They're gone, but more are coming. These ones are quiet and awkward, they uncomfortably stare at the nearby blocks, but they don't see me.
I turn around and glance at the picture of a familiar face. I sigh sadly. I catch a shadow with the corner of my eye. It's just a snowflake.
They're all just snowflakes. They only come when it's season and they melt away with the first ray of sun.
Rome, Italy, 1623
I sit in my studio with my chisel in hand and the cold marble in front of me. God has given me my talent, I know. I stare into the mirror and I don't see my face; I see the beauty I will create in the marble with the flick of my wrist. I need to capture his gaze.
I must concentrate...
I put myself in his place against Goliath, this boy, and furrow my brow as if I too fight the monster. But it's not enough. I bite my lip and stare in the mirror. My heart races as I see the first glimpse of the masterpiece that will emerge by my hand. I begin to chisel away at the marble and the first flake falls to the floor. David will come to life at the pinnacle of his glory.
Peering out from my window, my heart heavy and my mind dull I hated this time of year. The season of goodwill and family - I was never more alone.
In my solitude I watched the snowflakes fall for what seemed like hours on end.
My husband was taken away from me 4 years ago. I will never forget the knock at the door and my joyous, almost skip, I had used to get there ready to greet him.
As I opened the door to two depressing looking men in army uniform I didn’t even listen to what they had to say, I dropped to the floor in my night clothes. No crying and no noise, I knew.
It was freezing in the snow, but I didn’t seem to feel it, or the two men lifting me up and escorting me into my house.
I could say I’ve been numb ever since.
A Piece of History
A hairy, swarthy man is sitting hunched on a rock, his brow furrowed in concentration. In one hand he holds a large lump of flint which is poised to strike a smaller piece of flint in his other hand. At his feet lies a sharp flake of the material.
Close to him a woman sits cross-legged on the ground. Her hair is matted but held back by a few thin animal bones jutting at odd angles from her scalp. She has an animal skin stretched across her knees and a sharp-edged scraper in one hand. She's looking at the man with an admiring expression on her sunburned face. In a hollow of the rock near her are nuts and berries from the woods.
There's a pile of rocks in the background, with a suggestion of a cave entrance.
There's only so much that can be fitted into a diorama.
Every single apple she had bought was bruised, a circle of brown on each surface. Anna filled her fruit bowl, apples next to shrivelled tangerines, flesh wrinkled as her hands.
Dust motes swirled in the air, flakes of dead skin settled on the chair. Anna's hands heavy, ghosts guiding her, laying the table with one to many places. The scream of the kettle brought her sharply to the present, her heart skipped a beat. Time stretched as if an elastic band, thin in the middle. A slow motion moment and Anna's fingers flicked each knife and fork to the floor. Metal hitting stone, almost the sound of church bells, calling for the end. A vintage mirror on the duck-egg blue kitchen wall witnessed everything. Each tut of the clocks hands, pushed the weight of disapproval into the bones of Anna's body. Her womb the only place left with any hope.
Among Good Friends
She chose you over that flake and you are so happy it's annoying. You were the 'nice guy', you deserved to win. You even boast about that. Oh, how transparent!
You had no clue that schmuck actually cared for her. She was not a price for him, he treated her as a person with feelings, whereas you see her as a Rolex you can replace anytime you want. No wonder she is dejected with you.
I am being rude? Who are you to judge?! You ruined their happiness, they wanted to get married! I am sure you didn't care.
I really don't want to be a part of this group that has you around. Why do I persist in it, then? There is someone in it who noticed her misery. He listens to her, he respects her.
I keep encouraging him to ask her out.
Tonight my neighbour wears a burnished orange blouse and black pencil skirt. Her hair is pulled back in a scrunchy, her face makeup free, and her watchless-wrist bears a faint white mark from all those cycle commutes. My neighbour flicks on the TV, then drifts across to the sink. Shaking the colander free of water, she spoons green beans and new potatoes onto her plate, adds a knob of butter and watches as it melts, then she pours some wine. Chablis, her favourite. Next she pushes the prongs of her fork into the white flesh of her fish and raises a flake to her mouth. Staring straight ahead of her, she chews slowly, thoughtfully, elegantly, her face completely deadpan. Plate half-empty, she suddenly raises her eyes to glance in my direction so I drop my binoculars and hunker down in the darkness. My neighbour looks beautiful tonight.
Nap time was over.
Movie night meant pizza time. When he'd seen they'd left the parmesan cheese shaker out and open, Fred quickly grabbed his opportunity. It took restraint not to let out a celebratory wail. He sauntered to the counter, tipped the waiting container, and licked his fill of the scrumptious spill. Residue of evidence on his face, he exited the kitchen leaving a flaky cheese trail behind.
Striding through the family room unnoticed Fred managed to steal away to his favorite worn chair tucked in beside the fireplace. His family were engrossed watching an animated new movie release. He observed a flake fly off his body and float as he jumped up. It landed silent like him. Paws licked clean, he curled up, a tight black fur ball and went back to sleep.
He awoke an hour later to the excited shouts of the mom, "That damned cat!"
Time is of the Essence
We arrange to meet - he with total conviction that the event will take place as planned, me utterly resigned to yet another no-show.
The time arrives and there's no sign of him. I'm there, like I always am, ready and waiting patiently as I always do. But, of course, there's something much more important that's distracted him and diverted him from our assignation.
When we meet next, I remind him of the missed appointment; he just shrugs it off in his usual casual manner.
"Do you know what a flake is?" I ask, irritated by his dismissive attitude.
"You mean, am I a chip off the old block?" he jokes.
"No," I snap, "it's someone who's inherently unreliable, someone who bails out on his appointments."
He sneers, "I'm paying you a small fortune for these sessions."
"Yes," I reply, "but you need to actually attend them in order to improve."
Embers to Remember
Dust to dust,
ashes to ashes,
cast upon the fertile ground,
flake by flake;
distinct in texture,
one in structure,
floating on the currents of a morning breeze.
indistinguishable from the others;
their souls ring true.
The stench devoured as worms emerge and birds flock
to feast on the crippled fortunate,
left in pieces,
with a breath still lingering in the air.
The eruption sudden,
the deaths silent,
as molten crimson,
bright in its fury,
smothers mortar and flesh,
wrapping each in eternal peace;
panic etched on preserved faces,
sculpted by nature’s catastrophe.
Trapped forever in ignorance,
knowledge lost upon their descendants,
leaving only the beasts
into the night,
aware of a giant,
grumbling deep within the bowels of the earth.
A Masterpiece in the Making
A tiny flake of drying pigment fluttered from the whitened surface of the Lombardy poplar upon which the artist worked.
With brush strokes of masterly adroitness, the renowned painter had already committed the subtly enigmatic smile and reserved posture of his sixteenth century subject to the panel.
The painting's conception was within the terra-cotta tiled Tuscan city of Florence but the artist, as was his wont, lingered over the work for many years, and France became its adopted home.
The bearded Italian Renaissance polymath stepped back from the easel to assess the painstaking development of his painting.
'Bene!' he announced with satisfaction, before murmuring the portrait's title: 'La Gioconda.'
. . . Mona Lisa.
Resting on the bench. Heart catching exertion of climb through heat of South facing gorge filled with ferns and falling water I eavesdrop.
Across from me , shaded, is a man older than I and greyer from the climb. He holds a thick piece of blue grey slate in one hand. The other is waving to two young boys resolute on the higher trail.
When they are out of sight he removes hammer and punch from his canvas bag. The thick slate upended on the bench is swiftly struck and naturally flakes into slates.
Picking two apart he begins, tears rolling, to enscribe on each piece with the point of the punch. Poignancy hangs between blue and grey. Like rainy sky.
Furtively he secured a place behind distance rocks . Returns and with his phone takes a picture of the formation.
Spying me he turns, coughs.
"I was a miner"
Learn From Winter
She leans against the frame, staring through the black window. A draft sneaks in, teasing stray copper curls at her temple and causes her skin to burst into bumps. But her focus is absolute.
Nearer the fire, he’s watching her with kind and pure interest, wondering what exists in that mix of dark glass and ghostly reflection that would keep her by its cold side. Raucous chatter of petty, intoxicated guests bombards him. The window’s secret becomes clearer.
On approaching, his reflected face fades as her breath clouds the glass. It makes him feel…insignificant, yet free. She stirs, turns to him, her eyes bright and cheeks reddened from the chill.
He feels old, but steps closer. She rejuvenates him with a smile and answers his unspoken question. “The snowfall comforts me. Each flake falls and lies harmoniously with its neighbour: beauty in each and together.”
He settles beside her.
He reminded me of the winter; maybe that's why I loved him. So beautifully simple and complex like the snowflakes that coated my lashes, which I couldn't escape. He created a blank canvas for me to paint a new picture, one where I could finally be happy. But as the Sun made her appearance the snow began to melt, as did his once intricate love for me. The ice we once skated upon, like a scene from a movie, gave way and I was left drowning in my loneliness whilst he found a new life as spring rain.
Tonight's the Night
The throng of commuters spat Marianne out onto the streets of Brixton and she immediately spotted Zoe, who was nodding along to music being pumped out of her over-sized headphones.
Zoe pulled her headphones down and put them round her neck. ‘Hey! How’s you?’
‘You know.’ Marianne shrugged. ‘Too busy to enjoy it, but at least it didn’t drag.’
‘Unlike my day. Who’d have thought a shop in the middle of London could be so quiet. So,’ she said, rubbing her hands together. ‘You still up for speed dating tonight?’
‘C’mon, don’t be such a flake.’
‘It’s just not me.’
‘It’s not anyone. Forced conversation with strange men, ten times over, within one hour. It’s absurd. But somehow it’s fun. How else are we going to meet someone?’
‘Oh, you know, maybe the old-fashioned way, like, in a bar.’
Zoe rolled her eyes. ‘Alright then.’
Maybe next time?
He sat with her on the hill, and they watched the mushroom cloud yawn upwards. From there they could see cities explode into lifelessness, an expanse of death stretching across the sky, and the sun shrinking away like a great, red, swollen anus. A flake of ash parachuted down and landed gently on his lip. He puffed it away, entertaining the idea that it could well have drifted up from a calcined corpse, perhaps that of someone he once liked. As all things ended around him, he felt the trace of an old memory politely clear its throat.
"You remember I once asked you, if I were the only boy left in the world, and you the only girl, would you be with me?"
She looked over at him, and his stomach leapt up on a table and screamed. He continued:
"You said no, didn't you?"
"Yeah. Fair enough."
Cuthbert experienced a feeling of nausea building in the pit of his stomach. He had now been waiting patiently for ten minutes and knew that the girl would be out at any moment.
He leaned back against the wall and momentarily shielded his eyes from a passing car as he looked up at the window. Was that a figure there behind the curtain? He really wasn't sure. He looked down at the wet ground and sighed.
Cuthbert wondered if he had made a big mistake. Would she even want to see me like this? Is it best that she doesn't know? As these thoughts ran through his mind he lifted off his hat and a large flake of skin fluttered down onto the pavement. He then scratched his head and further flakes flew out in the air around his recently disfigured face.
He then turned around and walked away.
In the driving seat
‘Feeling flaky,’ he says, slewing off the motorway.
We shudder in the slipstream of a National Express coach. ‘I don’t drive!’ I shout at him. That’s when the awful retching starts. He insists on swapping seats. We stagger like two drunkards, choking on the balls of dust hurling past.
He slides the stick into its notch. ‘Just accelerate,’ he says, and shuts his eyes.
I test my hands for stickiness against the wheel. I’m on the starting-blocks, muttering to myself: mirror, signal, manoeuvre. I feel the pedal hit the floor. I clear the lorries in the nearside lane, gain on the line of cars in front. Gantries arch in triumph as I move into the outside track. Power burns into my voice, flakes away the scabby doubt. ‘I’m free!’ I scream. ‘Alive!’
A hand is pressing on my knee. ‘Are we ready then?’ he asks.
Where was she? The Rust Witch had promised a civilised meeting but once again she lived up to her name, Witch because calling her ‘the-bloody-bitch-who-broke-my-heart,-stole-most-of-my-money-and-removed-herself-from-her-own-children’s-lives’ all the time was far too time consuming. The rust part of her name was actually a family description and the reason why all of this happened from the lack of caring to not turning up today, her whole family were like that, they were flakes. I first met her at a family wedding, my sister had dragged me along so that she would have someone talk to, that was when I had first heard the analogy, the people that had actually bothered turning up were all just sitting their staring at their phones paying no attention to the wedding. The groom, who was not related to them, gave up in the end, he ran away shouting, “Any less active and they will rust up!”
Don’t Go Down That Path
Donovan didn’t look like he was going anywhere fast enough, he just kept on lollygagging down the gangplank like he was born to it, Rolling, Rolling, Rolling on the north side where traffic is ever so sparse and that’s the only good to come of it because Donovan isn’t who he’s supposed to be; what with his yellow wig he forgot to combo over and over again like it said in the instruction manual, which is for beginners really or nobodies who give a damn about how things ought to look. That’s when I said don’t wear it so back, it’ll only lead to the ruin of that coziness you’ve been working so hard on keeping squeaky clean. You live in a world you don’t ever want to see anyway, you’re a flake of stardust filtered through a cinema camera; drifting through the panoramic of life’s big picture.
Hello Granma, can you hear me? Squeeze my hand if you can. Oh, good. Remember my fifth birthday and that big surprise? He must have stood five feet tall on your front lawn. He had one of your old straw hats on his head, tennis balls for eyes, carrot nose and a huge melon grin. Five candles in his right hand, a big sign in red letters in his other hand that said Happy Birthday Melanie. That was a wonderful gift Granma. But that day, February 16th, twenty five years ago was hot and sunny, I was afraid he’d melt away. Granma, let me tell you how you reassured me and made us laugh by what you said about the snowman because now it applies to you. You are strong, you will see many more sunny days. You will not flake away from us for a long time yet.
Her step quickened in the pelting rain. A tiny flake of ice was melting in the middle of her head; she was wet to her bone marrows, but this was no errand of convenience.
The spider has lost its art; the chameleon has failed to change; the lion is lazy. Frantically, she memorized these lines as she half-ran, half-trotted on her way. she was determined to get the message there on time.
She knew it was about somebody close to her. the rain was unrelenting, she banged violently on the stout door. The hinges creaked and a tall, skinny boy with a towel over his head opened the door and looked at her rather too closely.
The bar was his choice and of the top-shelf variety. From the photos, he was pretty and corporate. We clocked each other and my mouth went dry when he planted a stubbly peck and half hugged me.
Two and a half Mojitos later, the conversation moved from flailing to flirty. We were heading towards the kind of kiss where your lips fizz from the spark. 'I'll be right back', he said and squeezed my knee as he stood up. I waited and stirred the ice of my now empty glass. After twenty-four minutes, the heavy penny dropped. I waited a bit longer, just in case.
Later, after paying the entire bill, I spotted a man in the distance who was dressed just like my date with a woman dressed just like me. They were walking into an equally extortionate bar.
Why is the dating game run by the flake brigade?
Joe lived off Alicia's generosity. Joe was often grumpy, and suffered from insomnia. Nevertheless, he was the apple of Alicia's eye.
Joe suggested they stop in at the patisserie on their way home from the park one Sunday, because he knew she loved macaroons. Alicia noticed the lady behind the counter was very pretty. Joe did not order anything. Alicia had a macaroon.
The next day Joe was home late from work. He said he was held up in traffic. Alicia noticed a flake of pastry sitting ominously on the collar of his shirt.
Alicia cooked Joe a special dinner that night. She did not eat a thing.
Alicia packed a small bag, skirting around Joe who was now passed out in a dead sleep on the couch. Then she struck a match. When the firemen came, she was long gone. So was Joe.
There he stood in the middle of the road, tears streaming down his pale face and his breath visible in the cold night. His frail body shook as his grief radiated through every pore in his body.
It was a year to the day that his beloved wife had passed and the absence she left was expanding by the day. Every moment was a struggle and every breath he breathed he wished was his last.
‘Lucy, I can’t live my life without you. You were my soul mate and my best friend. Time doesn’t heal wounds, time rips them apart. Please Lucy, please give me a sign that everything will be ok, that one day I will see your beautiful face again,’ he sunk to his knees and cried out to the lonely night.
With that, a single snowflake fell. Her reminder that she is always by his side.
Snowflakes in the Window
Snowflakes drift down like dancing faeries outside the window, each flake its own unique self. You were always unique, unlike anyone else I’ve ever known.
You always used to laugh at my stupid jokes, you’d comfort me when I wept, but, most importantly, you made everyone around you feel stronger than they actually were.
Looking at you now in your bed on the ward you seen so much smaller than you once were. Six months is a long battle for anyone, and we all knew it would take its toll on you.
I suppose that, in my mind, you would never get sick. I always thought that you were invincible.
But in the same way that you are unique like every flake of snow, eventually you were always going to have to fall down and disappear.
He watches the clock incessantly as if by sheer will alone he can change the time. Change the fact that his father disappoints again. Change the fact that his mother was; after all the arguments, right. She’s always right.
He should be used to the sense of loss he feels at another visit from his father not happening. He’s not though. He’s fourteen and his mother keeps saying that he’s at that age. He wonders every time she says it; what age?
He contemplates waiting longer giving his father another chance. Traffic could be bad after all. Although, if it was a simple case of traffic his father would surely have rang. He checks his phone again just to make sure. Still no contact. He gives up. He goes home.
He attempts to sneak in to avoid hearing his mother rage about how his father is a flake. He fails.
“Only the crumbliest, flakiest chocolate, tastes like chocolate never tasted before.”
The song off the advert looped in his mind. Sarah Colgan tasted like nothing he’d tasted before. She was a new girl, prettier than the others. She had a soft, husky voice, like he imagined the puppy in the toilet roll advert would talk. She sat at her desk with her legs crossed, foot bobbing. She’d drawn a strawberry on her leg in red felt-tip.
They'd played kiss-chase at break-time. He’d tagged Sarah so he was allowed to hold her hand and lead to the kissing place. She’d closed her eyes and opened her lips. He’d pecked a kiss then expected her to run screaming back to the other girls, but she didn’t run. She opened her eyes and looked at him like the girl on the advert. He’d kissed again, longer. She tasted of snowflakes, strawberry flavour.
Abby is in bed with ‘flu. Mel coddles her with Lemsip, toast, and, once she’s found the perished pink hot water bottle at the back of the airing cupboard, filled it (with her fingers crossed it won’t leak), tucked her BFF in with a ‘hope you feel better soon,’ retreats to the kitchen with a beer.
‘Mum where are you?’ She can’t get the question out of her head. Mel hasn’t heard from her mother in over a week; should she phone the cruise ship company? Then, ‘how can I get Abby to leave when she is so poorly?’ comes next.
Her concerns are intertwined; one cannot release the other. She scratches her head. Watches flake after flake of dandruff float down into her beer glass like a gentle snowfall over her mother’s garden pond.
Mel decides. In the shower with the Head ‘n Shoulders she changes her mind. Again.
A Problem of Scale
The class after PE was Maths, the numbers (ha-ha) big enough for him to hide at the back and rub at his scalp in the mistaken belief that he could get rid of the dandruff flake in that forty minute period. But 800,000 dead cells for every square centimetre of scalp, would not be so easily managed.
Until now his adolescent changes had been predictable and therefore tolerable. But why had no one told him about this?
And then the cringing realisation; the new girl was looking straight at him, round-eyed and open-mouthed. Some time later, she would tell him that it was a ‘wondrous sight,’ ‘like shaking up and watching one of those glass snow-storm ornaments.’
The next day, she wordlessly handed him a bottle of coal-tar shampoo and he caught her faintly medicated scent. Years later, he still found it more alluring than any number of Chanels.
The forgotten snowflake
I watched as a flake of snow slowly embarked upon its final descent. It elegantly plummeted down to become one with the millions of others that had come before it. As my eyes remained transfixed a single tear escaped, dampening my cheek. The beauty before me may be something I would not remember tomorrow, or indeed ever again, as my mind was beginning to lose its biggest war.
As Autumn had become winter, and the days were becoming shorter, so my time was beginning to dwindle. The battles were increasing, names were evading me, pans were burnt as they were left too long on hot stoves and food was uneaten as my appetite was as forgotten as the names I could no longer recall.
But, for this minute, in this day, as the flakes tumbled with increasing abandon, I was still here and I was still me.
She stares across the table at the empty space. After thirty years of marriage, his absence hurts like an ingrown nail. With every move and often when she’s resting. Their house- a shrine. Dust settles quietly like snow on breezeless winter mornings. On his bottles of expensive calvados, the empty gun safes, the tennis racquets, his trench coat , the book he was last reading. The frozen silence between them is a shroud. It’s time to cut the wedge. She sorts, she folds, she arranges. His polo shirts, golf trousers, leather jackets, from cupboards into plastic bags. Holding his blue sweater, her hand wants to brush the dandruff of his shoulders, when it remembers that the flakes were once a part of his skin. She wants to crawl under them. Instead, they’re gathered in a silver box.
Without the pain she feels with every step she takes, she withers.
A New Chapter
I notice flakes of red paint on the ground as I unlock the door. Inside, I glance around the hallway, the silence embracing me.
In the musty dining room, a solitary upright piano, dust layering its closed lid. The curtains are half drawn, shutting out sunlight. Wistfully, I remember Aunt Isobel playing as I sat on the rug, rain thrumming at the same windows.
I step cautiously upstairs, feeling like an intruder, sensing a life abandoned. Hesitantly, I enter her bedroom; the bedstead remains, stripped of covers and mattress. An empty vase sits on the dressing table; I recall the wonderful scent of lavender.
Sitting on the hard window seat, devoid of cushions, I take out the piece of paper again. I see my name as the owner of 'Lonsdale House' but it feels unreal.
Gazing out across the hills, I cherish her memory.
Perhaps I will learn to play...
Old Sally Flaky Head.
Lonely old Sally had trouble with a flaky head and wore a hat her entire life. She was sad that she never married but desperately sad that she never had children, if only to watch them smile.
Sadly on the day of her death the hospital porter was pushing the gurney with her body on it when he tripped. He accidently let go of the cart with a push and it sped fast crashing into the wall and the body of poor Sally sprang up and her arms slammed open the window and her head drooped over the sill.
She would have laughed if she hadn't have been dead for her hat flew off into the sky and all the white flakes from her scalp floated peacefully into the air.
In the childrens ward below little voices were rising with excitement. They hadn't smiled that much in a long time.
You're at the regular pub and place your bet. You swell bright from liquor. Outside, the wind seems to align with undivulged struggle, scraping off flakes of paint from your truck.
You have little to lose and today you win a yellow boat and you pack everything you own in it. All shaky with excitement and fright, you take to new sights.
You become familiar inside blistered skin, tighten the grip on the oar handles in storming waters. The sea stretches its unclosed wings, inexhaustible territories waiting blue and haunted.
Your breaths are as much collectable seashells as are your destinations. You think you must look like a coconut flake to whoever is watching you claim - tears by tears - a draining soul-search.
She couldn’t see. The air was thick, poison. Everything sounded fuzzy. Like she was lost underwater. She wriggled her jaw, tried to break through the barrier. Nothing. Blinking rapidly she stumbled forward. Tripping on unknown debris. Heading for where the shadow was lighter.
Fumbling through, her skin itched in the uncomfortable heat. She rubbed her arm, scratching hard. The ache didn’t fade, the heat didn’t relent. She must be going the wrong way. This couldn’t be the way.
Reaching out she retracted quickly. Pain seared through her hand. The shadows fell into fire. Burning, leaping angry tongues. Collapsing she gripped her hair. Fingers snagged in flakes of the buildings scattered remains.
Each breath hurt as her withered lungs objected to the pollution. Her throat burned and her skin was raw. In the distance she heard the sirens. Softly closed her eyes.
Happily Ever After
Those glass slippers have chafed my heels for the last time. And don’t get me started on that godforsaken carriage that’s supposed to be stylish and ornate. I call it the bone-rattler.
He’s gone out on his horse again, left me in the tower dusting the cobwebs off the golden bells, said in that wheedling voice of his, you know how good you are at cleaning, my love. Pah!
He’ll flounce back in, tread mud all up the marble staircase, breathe wild garlic kisses all over me. And as for his dandruff – shocking flakes all over his shoulders. Princes are supposed to have washed hair. Their horses are supposed to smell of fresh hay and cowslip roots. They are supposed to lift you with one arm around your waist and gallop towards a cinnabar sunset.
I’m still waiting for the distant coconut shell of hooves and waft of shampoo.
She came anyway. She had always been a flake but I thought the hints – four hours of tennis practice and an imaginary boyfriend – would have put her off. My greatest fear was that she was expecting something from me.
Let me explain. A few years ago we had been employed on a project in the middle of a desert, 100 kilometres to civilization. As always happens there was gossip groups among the ex-pats, and the things said about her, among other things, was that she was always drunk and preferred ladies. I felt sorry for her.
As the project expanded, I was promoted and given a new team, containing only one member. I was sure head office had set me up to fail. She voluntarily doubled her work load to try to help me, and although she wasn’t that good at her job, I was grateful.
Now she is here.
The Insignificant Significance of Life
He lay on the grass and stared up at the rapidly darkening sky. He watched the stars as they emerged and listened to the sounds of his children playing inside.
He stared up at that sky and thought. He thought of jobs, promotions, opportunities, regrets. He thought of his wife and children and his home.
He thought of all of this as he gazed up at the cosmos. He gazed up at the universe that would one day swallow him whole, almost as if he had never existed. As if he were a flake of dust spiralling through the blackness.
He lay out on that lawn for a while. He pondered the fate of the human kind and how the world might end. But then he went inside to kiss his wife and fill her glass with more champagne because in the grand scheme of things; that was more important.
Do not tell me the crisis is over. Do not tell me the Tower Guard have their wards under control. You were not at Vereby when the black rain fell; you did not witness what we witnessed.
You did not behold the columns of smoke rising, nor discover that these came not from the buildings but from the townsfolk, smouldering in the streets and alleys where they stood. You did not see the skin flake from their bodies to litter the air like ash. You did not hear the cries of those fortunate enough to find themselves sheltered when the plague fell from the sky, fortunate enough to watch those they knew, those they loved, perish before their eyes.
Do not tell me to stand down. You will permit us entry to the tower, for this crisis shall never be past until those responsible are as dead as Vereby.
Autumn had passed and then the snow of winter. In the spring when the days grew warm and sunny, my friends and I would go out to play in the woods behind the house. Before we knew it there was a bright, full moon in the clear sky, and the sunset was still shining faintly in the West.
Suddenly, my awareness would become fixed on her rosy red cheeks, and her eyes sparkled as she spoke warm persuasive words to me. Then, like a flake of wonderment, there it was again, that bewitching smile as she faded away into the whispering tree. Oh, how much I miss my mom and how my memories of her seem to never fade. Those timeless moments are a twinkling of dreamlike time, always available to me, but only if I’m paying attention.
The end of the world
Chuck considered the existential crisis, the question of his very existence, the ultimate choice that Hamlet had posed. To be or not to eat another meal of cold canned butter be...ans. Our procrastinating protagonist idly scratched his forehead as he philosophised and watched his irradiated skin flake and float into the bowl before him and dissappear into the pallid prospect of his lunch. It remained just as appealing as before. As Chuck pondered whether he would rather die of starvation or one of the various cancers he was likely to develop he also cursed the human race and the entire history of its existence that had lead to this nuclear winter. The hateful heart of man that made these fatal, fateful choices. One arrogant, misguided, selfish, short sighted act after another that culminated in the glowing orange explosive disaster that was Donald Trump.
When he ran his left fingers over the jamb of muscle between his right index and thumb he could feel the nib of glass. A flake had dug up through the crease; drying blood slipped over the joints and the entirety had buzzing dullness to it. He wrung the hand and stumbled off into the night.
He could not remove the splinter. The smashed barglass stayed with him there throughout the night and lingered the next day like a bad dream suppurating. The fragment wormed deeper. When he took his daughter to school it was like a little version of himself, crying on the steering wheel. He got a bacon butty from the cafe for his hangover and he could not feel his right fingers. They pushed through the bread and rested on the hot meat, calmly burning. Ketchup smeared up between his knuckles. The butty collapsed.
The Greatest Fear
There once existed a land in which people buried their loved ones’ ashes with the seed of a tree. Once every flake of ash was buried with the seed, the tree grew at an extraordinary rate. The dead person’s greatest fear couldn’t ever exist near their tree. This was useful to the people for it meant that a lot of harmful things were banished from their land. But no one’s fear was as useful as a particularly ambitious boy’s fear. This boy told his mother something that made her very happy for her people, for it meant that they would prosper very much. The boy, in a tense state, said, “Mama, I know what my greatest fear is.” The mother said, “Don’t worry dear, we’ll protect you from it, and then when your time comes, you’ll protect us from it. What is it?” The boy let out the word: “Failure.”
For your entertainment
We are each other's excuse.
When the world wants to intrude with responsibility and irritation; one will conjure the other.
"You are a pleasant distraction."
"I am ignoring today."
What shall be offered this time in between quick banter, and enthusiasms?
He hands over a platter that is heavy with pieces of himself.
Given so freely.
I watch with amusement as little pieces flake off in his haste to offer it to me.
I offer him an artfully arranged tidbit that is quickly taken.
Like a Strega I hide the melancholy, amidst the light and sweetness of that confection.
Becky Watts always sat at the back of the classroom, near the shadows. She never spoke and we might have forgotten her if it wasn't for the smell of unwashed skin. Her school blouse was stained yellow, her hair hung in strings down her face and she always left a flake or two of dandruff in her wake.
We did our best to ignore her but sometimes we had to look, the same way you stare at a road accident.
School ended and as the years passed old faces slipped out of my memory to make way for new ones. Apart from Becky. I think of her at odd moments, like when I smell bad body odour on the bus - but it is never her. She vanished, as if the shadows in that classroom corner had finally taken her away from our stares to live inside them for good.
Rachael was bemused to receive Sophie's party invite; they weren't really friends anymore! Maybe she wanted a truce again. Their friendship was demanding at best and the latest reason for conflict was the gorgeous Ben Summers, who had unknowingly caused this rift. They'd argued for weeks over which he fancied the most.
Sophie would definitely have invited Ben so why did she want her rival there?
The big day arrived and both girls wore their most daring dress hoping to impress their quarry. Sophie pretended everything was cool between her and Rachael, but she had an evil plan. All it would take was one little almond flake to trigger Rachael's allergy and she would be sick, ruin the party and make Ben come to comfort her. Then she could seal the deal with a kiss.
In your dreams Sophie! Something's just don't go to plan. Ask Mrs. Rachael Summers.
People love a sad story. The prick of vicarious pain. So, you can choose. This flake that I'm repeatedly turning between my fingers. Is it the peeled-off scale of some dessicating ailment that isolates me from intimacy, from love? The human onion, layer after layer after layer comes off and still there's more. A sliver of paint, perhaps, scraped with nails from the bottom of a windowsill in a bedroom once safe with love? A memento of 'home', now flicked away, so much detritus. Or maybe you're seeing a fleck of char, caught fluttering in the night wind as my house burns to the ground, and you're not sure from the blank face that you're imagining, lit by firelight, tears and soot and sweat all mixed up, if I've people still inside,
I haven't it in me to tell you right now. Write the story you want to hear.
The Crime Scene
He might have missed the clue had there been a wind or even a slight breeze through the smashed window-pane. The tiny translucent shadow on the blackened log would have been lost, gone unnoticed by the untrained eye.
Tweezers in hand he bent slowly to lift the limpid flake of skin from the wood. Shaking open his evidence bag he dropped the damning item inside. Gotcha! It was a large enough piece for DNA extraction. A flush of satisfaction reddened his cheeks as he rose from his bent position.
'What the hell are you doing in my house?'
Too late, he saw the flash of the hunting knife.
'This is a crime scene. You're not supposed to be in here.'
'Now it's a crime scene,' she whispered in his ear as she plunged the knife under his ribs, tore the evidence bag from his fingers and left him to die.
Voyage of Discovery
‘Keep it safe,’ you said, as we embraced on the gangplank. You pressed Grandma Weir’s enamel pendant into my palm, and I promised to wait.
Your reluctance to leave contradicted your excitement for adventure. When a summer breeze ruffled Plymouth Harbour, the call for Endeavour to set sail was sudden.
For a decade I placed objects I found onto the faded velvet cloth in my trousseau. Shells from Whitsand, pebbles from Salcombe, and botanic samples from my wanderings on Dartmoor. I wanted you to return with natural treasures I had never known.
As time and the elements flake away the paint on the cedar box, my tears are for our lost future. It is only now, as an old maid, that I learn you made it no further than Madeira. An accident with the anchor chain snuffed your dreams even before the first leg of the voyage was complete.
Hands up - I surrender
The sky became so bright it was like the planet had hit the sun. Then I was knocked over by a rushing wind. I saw people running, falling, crawling, dying; pulling at their skin, which was cooking. I was hoisted out of the rubble by an old man with no face. He laced his fingers through mine and dragged me into a brave new world. The skin came off his hand in one giant flake. I was eleven at the time.
There are no muscles in the fingers. Ligaments join the finger bones, and muscles in the forearm move the fingers via tendons. I saw many naked, denuded hands when I trained to be a doctor. Now I counsel fellow survivors and we share our nightmares. I woke this morning with hands covering my eyes; I'm peering through my fingers at the mushroom cloud towering above me. Don't you remember?
The dirt started to flake away. Intrepid explorer, William Miller, gestured for his portly sidekick to come closer and look upon the golden plaque laid deep in the ground beyond his muddied fingers.
“We’ve found it,” William beamed, beneath the deep canopy of trees, beyond the gaping ravine and now within sight of the large snow-capped mountain.
“Treasure lies ahead,” he said wistfully as Paulie Reiner’s jaw dropped, taking in the realisation that their route was literally paved with gold . . .
From the kitchen window, Alice looked out into the garden at her son, William, and his friend, Paulie. In the glow of the sunshine they were lost in their own little world, gesturing and traipsing around. She wished she could do the same where she was standing; turn her kitchen into a ballroom, turn the cat into a prince.
The thought made her smile. That hadn’t happened in a while.
With thanks to all the writers who have made this issue possible.Abbii Jenkins, Alva Holland, Ana Prundaru, Anita MacCallum, Becky Spence, Carol Leggatt, Christine Collinson, Claire Smith, Clive West, Damaris West, Damien Fidelore, Dani Mahony, Davy Bee, DJ Jarvie, Elaine Banfield, Felicia Taave, Flora Clark, Genevieve Jenner, Geronimo Lee, giantgreenfrog, Havok21, I.L. Cadwallader, Jacqui Scholes-Rhodes, James Freeze, John Dapolito, L Greig, Laura Besley, Leah Reynolds, Letitia Prescott, Lloyd Horslen, Louise Mangos, Martha Mazda, Mary Thompson, Michael Rumsey, Mitja Lovše, MrQuipty, Myra Ochoa, Nathaniel Spain, Nick Black, Nick Westwood, Nina Major, Peter Cannon, Peter Harrison, Polly Hall, RJD, Robert Dudley, Rowena Fishwick, S.B. Borgersen, Sam Caunce, Sian Brighal, Sophie van Llewyn, Steven John, Thomas Malloch, V.C. Sharma, Victoria Fielding, Vlad Constantin
24th August 2016