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I bought a pawpaw today. I peeled it, cut it and put the chunks in the fridge so they wouldn't spoil. The seeds I put in a small bowl. They are good for digestion, I'm told. They were the size of Iranian caviar.
In 1986 in Geneva, the Iraqis had just paid their respects to my boss. The Iranians were next, through the other door. I'd served them coffee. Glimpsed a revolver. There was no free lunch in international agreement land, so they bore gifts.
After they'd gone, my boss handed me what looked like a tin wrapped in fatty paper. A grenade?
A gift from the Iranians, he said. You take it.
At home I gingerly peeled off the paper. Iranian caviar, 500gm. I opened the tin. The dark eggs were like pawpaw seeds. Just grey.
My boss never asked what the gift was. I never said.
The Charm of a Historic Town
While exploring Nova Scotia (Canada), John arrived at Lunenburg, next to Mahone Bay, created from the water off the Atlantic Ocean. Lunenburg traces its origin all the way back to 1753, when British explorers established settlements here. Lunenburg saw its share of catastrophic natural and historic events, taken place over last 250 years. But none of these events could spoil Lunenburg’s charm and beauty. The town maintained its heritage, especially in architecture and city design, being one of the best-planned British settlements from that time-period, thus garnering UNESCO’s World Heritage Site designation. While exploring the town, John immediately noticed the variously painted well-maintained historic houses, especially the century-old Lunenburg Academy with an impressive architecture, painted in red, white and trimmed with black. Lunenburg’s old-town charm also emanates from the serene view of its waterfront where boats were sailing leisurely.
Amidst this history, John felt a sense of heavenly serenity.
Picture of Youth
(READ IN MALE AMERICAN ‘ADVERTISING VOICE’ FROM THE 1950s)
Slowly approaching your sell-by-date?
Only got a few more years until you spoil?
Want to be mistaken for your daughter?
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*ARTO-LABS cannot be held responsible for any damage, (accidental or otherwise) that occurs to ARTO-LABS pictures after purchase. ARTO-LABS also wavers the right to refund the buyer should they suffer negative consequences following the damage of any ARTO-LABS picture.
** Individual results may vary.
How do I tell her that people are bad, that the whole world keeps spinning even when you are sad?
I sit cross-legged on the worn, previously cream, carpet. Neck craned not long since ten, I devour the conveyor belt of news like a newly hatched chick, eager for worms. The anguish, the horror, the inexplicable urge to keep watching.
Head buzzing from the pixelated screen, I anticipate the morning, the charge of questions, the whys and what ifs.
She will soon learn that each generation is suffocated by its own spoil tip.
But for now, how do I tell her that people are bad, that the whole world keeps spinning even when you are sad?
Honey I think ...
Friday evening has always been our time for the family shop. Helping meant a visit to Beatties and dreams of model cars. Older and alone there was comfort in tradition and lighter carrier bags.
Decals and the go faster stripes made the supermarket car park look like an up ended Hot Wheels carry box.
The boy was rightly in boy racer kindred in body and the colours. Thick plastic spoilers bolted onto layers of paint and, varnish the enamel out of annealing.
Exaggerated dimensions ruled the tarmac under headlights and there that strutting in over sized trousers I did think for a minute that somebody had shrunk the kids.
"I'll spoil you for any other man" he said, laughing,
pulling me closer, "you won't want any other after me."
Words come back to haunt me.
Spoiled, despoiled; used, abused; spirit broken.
Voices raised, fists raised higher: slip, slap, snip, snap.
Broken bones and broken heart.
Butterfly caught in a spider's web, wings flapping going nowhere.
The fruit in the bowl was beginning to spoil, not that the occupants of the house noticed. Instead, it was the telephone next to the fruit bowl that commanded all the attention; everything else unimportant.
At first it had rung often, with friends and family checking in to see if she had made it back safely and then to ask if they'd heard anything yet. Eventually, it had fallen silent.
They had done all they could immediately after the incident with no success. The police had told them to stay at home, that she might make her way there, and that they'd call as soon as they had any news. But the longer they waited the more the despair grew, knowing that their daughter may not be coming home again.
I suppose I should thank you. This is the place we stood where the sun turned the waves to diamonds, a twin to the ring you held out to me. Alone on the sand, alone in the world. The happiest memory.
All it took to spoil it was a picture, a slip of the finger, your phone to mine instead of hers. In this same place, on this same spot. The same diamond wave shining behind you. And her. And I wonder now how many you've brought here. And have there been other rings. Ones that sparkle as brightly as the one I twist on my finger.
So I suppose I should thank you. That picture has crowded out the memory of us. And the thought of you and her in this place can't hurt me in the same way the memory of us would.
Inside a train sat a man. His face, not unlike many faces, was more or less symmetrical, with eyes whose noteworthiness outweighed their mundanity. For no reason at all, his hands were an unlikely shape and size. On his body he wore an ensemble of clothes. Outside, the landscape took on dishonest colours and shades, and the weather abounded with portent and simile.
‘Why have you put me here?’ the man suddenly demanded. ‘Why is this this?’
There was no answer. The train passed into a long dark tunnel. Neither train nor man have been seen since. One can only assume that if the train were ever to emerge from the tunnel, then something, probably tragic, or at the very least poignant, would befall the man and spoil his short foray into our lives.
The night before my mother’s trial I saw the hare, as I waited on a spoil heap of dank, damp earth. It paid no heed to my presence and continued to dance in the moonlight between the gravestones of the churchyard.
Despite Father’s pleas they went ahead and hanged my mother like a criminal, swung her high.
The townsfolk hissed and spat when they cut her down from the noose. Later they blamed my father and brothers for stealing her back when her body disappeared from the burial cart.
At dusk I returned to the graveyard to wait once more, my back pressed against a cold stone cross. I sensed the hare, tasting my scent as it crept closer. I held out a trembling hand, whispering the words she had taught me. The hare’s warm breath teased my fingertips like a mother’s kiss.
My work always managed to spoil my appetite, but this case planned to top them all. The odour permeated the container I entered to find the source of the stink. Surprisingly, I did not locate it.
The cleanup crew did not arrive yet, so the cause of the scent had to remain at the scene of the crime. Nonetheless, I could not uncover it, no matter how hard I tried. The site continued hiding it, the place looked empty.
Yes, I was all alone in this chamber, my colleagues seemed to be late. While they told me they intended to call me, that did not occur. Looking at my cell, I could see why – there was no signal.
All of a sudden, I heard a sound, resembling a buzz. I quickly whirled to notice a flash of light, going towards me.
The room became quiet.
Afterwards, when she found herself splashed across the newspapers beneath headlines of CRUELTY and NEGLECT, she changed her story. Claimed she hadn’t known it was magic. Hadn’t believed. But she was the one who’d gone looking. She was the one who wanted a child. Not that child though.
It wasn’t that she was heartless. Not to begin with, anyway. She poured all of her heart into him – that was the problem – into the perfect image of the perfect son. There was nothing left for the sad, misshapen creature she got instead.
She took him from the oven too soon the papers said – before the magic had set. Before his limbs had hardened. Black eyes still bubbling. Hollow gash for a smile.
No. He wasn’t the child she’d been waiting for. Weeping, she put him out for the birds. Left him to spoil in the cold winter rain.
There's Always Somewhere It's Raining
For perhaps a mile all around raindrops pelt the ocean. No one can say whether it smells fresher or feels cooler, whether the blue shifts from light to a darker hue. No-one sees how the surface stipples, mapping out an island of water, a place apart.
On the beach six miles to the east holiday-makers lie in the sun, unaware. The wife whose breathy laugh sounds an inch from tears; her husband who eyes a newlywed bride in her bikini on the sly; their child who splashes in the shallows, straining against his flotation ring for the reassurance of sand beneath his toes: they smile at their own good fortune. They are here, and now, gazing lazily at the beneficent blue horizon, marvelling at its unbroken glory. Until they see that darker place, that other land.
But it’s only a cloud on the horizon, nothing to spoil their day.
Patience is a Virtue
‘You always have been an excellent cook,’ he says, slurping slightly on the carrot and ginger soup.
I smile a small smile, for it is a hollow compliment now. ‘I made cauliflower cheese.’
‘Oh,’ he says, leaning back in his chair, ‘you shouldn’t have.’
I shrug and clear away the soup bowls. The key to good cauliflower cheese is all in the sauce. You have to be patient; stir continuously on a low heat for some time or it’ll spoil.
‘Thank you,’ he says, as I place the heaped plate in front of him. ‘Madeline, there’s something I need to tell you.’
He thinks I don’t know. About the late nights not spent at the office, the hotel bills, the flowers I never received.
I nod and wait. Wait for the extra ingredient in the sauce to work.
"You have to spoil everything," he says, wrenching the steering wheel so for a moment she thinks they're going to crash instead of turning round and leaving the car park.
"Why couldn't you have said something before we set off?" He glances over as he waits for a gap in the stream of cars. "Are you listening to me?"
She shrugs, unsure what it is she's unsure about. She imagines opening her door, sliding out and letting herself be carried away on the current, buoyed up by a hundred speeding bonnets, heralded by headlights. Where would she wash up?
"They're your friends," he says, sounding like he believes it.
"Let's go to the weir."
He opens his mouth to argue but maybe the shine in her eyes makes him forget the table back there waiting for a birthday girl. He turns the wheel the other way and pulls out.
The Jackrabbit had no business being under the porcelain bowl. He was out of bounds and clearly out of his depth. So he sat twitching his nose for familiar scents. A little girl with golden hair, skipped in and sat on the toilet. The smell reminded him of old uncle Ham who used to carry his waste everywhere. He instantly felt sorry for the tiny human. She rushed out, followed by a big, burly man and a haggard woman. The room tasted bitter as he growled curses at her while she looked like she'd given up, just like cousin Jean did before she was mauled by the grizzly. The bell commanded abrupt silence as the couple followed the sound. The Jackrabbit thought about his leftover food getting spoiled. He forgot what it would smell like. The sun bounced in again, found her feet soaked red and screamed bloody murder.
The man sat on a bench and watched the frantic crowds panic and shop around him. He smiled to himself; he found this time of year so much easier than most people.
A family walked past, two children squabbling as their parents exchanged conversation barbed with
resentment and weariness.
When it started to rain, the man looked around for his wife. Not that grey weather would ever spoil his cheerful mood.
“I’m here, love,’ said his wife, appearing behind him and shaking her head at the scene. “Best thing we ever did, convincing the world that you didn’t exist.
“I couldn’t agree more,” said Santa. “Makes Christmas so much more relaxing for us.”
The young man spoke with an adopted accent that suggested an enthusiasm for cannabis. Paul sat in front of him, gripping the armrests of the empty seats on each side - his brow furrowing and broadening the balding of his head, unable to focus on the candy and soda being marketed to him.
"You seen it?"
The youngster's voice filled the otherwise whispered room. He sounded as though his mouth contained cheese, even though it did not. Paul dug his fingers deeper into the pleather, his pupils contracting further every moment.
"Wait till you see it's the blonde guy who's the bad guy all along. Watch."
Paul rose to his feet. The lights abandoned the theater, as if the picture were beginning. "Please don't spoil the film."
The young man seemed as though he would look surprised, except his mouth had become nothing more than a layer of tight skin.
Castle in the Rain
“Don’t let the rain spoil our day,” you whispered in my ear as we made our way across the street to Cardiff Castle. Your voice was a low rumble, reminiscent of the steady downpour. Honeymooning in Cardiff in the fall might have seemed a strange choice, but it was very “us”.
The steady rain was a soothing soundtrack as we toured the castle. My favorite part was The Winter Smoking Room, for more than its mesmerizing Zodiac ceiling and sun motif twinkling from the walls. It was here you smiled at me, the warmth of it magnified by the bright colors of the room. You held my hand, and it was then I decided I loved rainy days most of all.
The Other Side of the Fence
You look in and see how bright it is. You can almost feel the warmth radiating from them. They know each other inside and out. They've grown together, so closely that each is entangled within the other. They know nothing else, nobody else. Who would spoil such a beautiful thing?
You look in and speculate they are only together out of habit, or fear of the unknown. Is it really so beautiful, to never know yourself without another person?
You look in and see they're so intricately twisted together, it's impossible to separate them without fracturing them both. Pieces of each of them coming away with the other as they part, forever entwined, even as they finally move their separate ways.
You look away. There's no warmth for you here, just heat, that will soon fade to ice. If there was ever anything at all.
Inspite of everything.
He wanted to spoil his chances with her. Told her she was too pretty for him. He didn't like her expensive floral scent, and could only get turned on by the smell of alcohol. He told her it went back to when he was five, and was fed gripe water with it in , before that. Inspite of everything, he couldn't shake her off. She told him he gave her something no one else ever had, which wasn't to do with money or looks. When he asked her what? She said he made her feel like she'd known him from another time, and was there now to protect her. They had only known each other two days, but he was able to tell her things about her family, going back a hundred years. Four decades on, when she's scared, he still makes an appearance.
Aunt Ada made my dress, it's parachute silk; my fingers tremble as I smooth it over my stomach. Somehow, despite the lightness of the fabric, it feels heavy about my legs; yards of softness that shhh-shhh if I take a step, giving me away. I stand by the bed; if I wrinkle it, I'll be spoiled. Aunt Ada says that's what I am anyway, but no one must know and so the dress must be perfect, and white; well it's off-white, and it's tight about the waist. Aunt Ada said I shouldn’t have let him. But the world could end tomorrow. I breathed him in like he was my last breath on this earth, and me his. I hoped. Today, he’ll look handsome standing at the top of the aisle for me, in his uniform. He can wear it on the train tomorrow morning. I shone his shoes last night.
And It Goes On
"So, this is the beginning?"
"Yes, it is."
"What happens at the end of it?"
"At the end of it, well, nothing. You could say in a way there is no end."
"Then what's the point in it?"
"Well some things in this world don't have a point, a destination. They just carry on
"I thought everything had a purpose; you told me that."
"Okay so there might be a purpose to it, but I wouldn't want to spoil it for you, the ending."
"But, you just said some things carry on forever!"
"Look at it this way, what if some things had a beginning that was also the ending, and vice versa."
"My brain hurts."
"Oh look! Look! I can see it, the end!"
"Well would you look at that, the end indeed."
When Worlds collapse
The soldiers felt no concern for the fate of the elderly ladies practising yoga in the village hall, there was no intention to spoil the session, it was completely outside of their sphere of comprehension. They just got on with their jobs of patrolling the boundaries, protecting gardeners and guarding their queen.
The ladies were, ironically assuming "savasana" more commonly known as corpse pose and were completely oblivious to the oncoming catastrophe.
Then, after withstanding years of neglect and the onslaught of the summer rains, one last termite bite brought the whole ceiling down on the yoga class.
There was much mayhem and screaming as the dozen women were covered in rotten joists, ceiling tiles and angry termites.
Later, letters were written to the council and local newspapers detailing precisely how the ladies felt.
No-one knows how the termites fared, but after all their whole world had just collapsed.
The last time they eat, dinner is spoiled. Oblivious, Gertie crunches into charred steak, rolls an ash marinade round her gob until her tongue is cinder coated. Burnt flesh rips between her canines as if it were his sweet, thin neck. She pokes a finger between the gaps of bared teeth to lever out escaped morsels, no scrap wasted. She doesn’t bother with cutlery; fat fingers shove blackened chips into her face, haemorrhaging ketchup from her mouth.
On the other side of the table, Brian hasn’t eaten a bite. Watching Gertie’s cheeks grow chipmunk fat, he tries to remember when he last ate. He fasts for longer and longer these days, letting her gorge herself silly. A beast growls in his stomach but his patience steels him.
Tonight, after a third tiramisu, she falls face down into her plate. Brian takes a knife and begins to carve.
It had been a long day. The smell of garlic wafting around the front door suggested spaghetti bolognese. My taste buds tingled.
Mama stood at the stove, her wooden spoon poised above a large pan.
‘Did you see your father on the way in?’ She added red wine to the bubbling liquid.
‘I assume he’s running late. The traffic was terrible and this snow doesn’t help.’
‘Typical. His favourite meal and it will spoil if he doesn’t get here soon.’ She turned down the gas.
An hour later there was still no sign of him.
‘His phone must be out of battery, perhaps we should eat.’
As my mother said this, we heard a knock at the door. Her face turned white.
I went to answer it.
‘I’m sorry, love. There was a bad accident. I stopped to help and lost my keys somehow.’
‘Gino, you’re home. Thank God.’
My feet glued to the ground, I stood by the lifeless water fountain. There were many people similar to me, disappearing and reappearing from all known directions. My eyes focused on how they were rushing and scrambling around like mice, and I could only identify it as complete chaos.
Those people seemed to blend into the background of the dull, tall buildings, not to be seen again for approximately another nine hours, their books sighing heavily in their spoiled arms.
Just by taking a step back, I realised that I would become exactly like them. I realised I would be bound to a hard surface and tied to literature, hoping and praying that the words would somehow fall off the pages.
However, the ground that I stood on was very real, and would continue to stay intact as long as everything would be in working order.
That was the campus.
Spare the Rod...
Mary’s parenting style was encapsulated by the maxim ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’. To an outsider, young Bobby didn’t seem in much danger of spoiling, as the rod was rarely spared. Mary would assure Bobby with each swish of her switching stick that this built character. Bobby wondered just how much character he needed.
Perhaps, in a moment of honest reflection, Mary might have conceded to feeling a degree of pleasure whilst administering corporal punishment, but introspection was never one of her strengths.
As for Bobby, his character may not have grown, but his animal cunning did. At age ten he mixed his mother’s sleeping pills into her fortified wine and that was the end of Mary. A neighbour raised the alarm the next day and Bobby was found sitting in front of the fireplace, revelling in the warmth, as his mother’s switching stick slowly turned to ashes.
A Matter of Interpretation
Luisa chased Carlo with a frying pan. Annette favoured an axe. Nora just undermined John on every possible occasion. Skills learned from their mothers they never planned to use.
Carlo, Glyn and John met in the pub every Thursday night for a cheerful chat.
“Whatever I do is wrong” said one.
“I don’t know what she wants” said another.
“They just don’t understand” they chorused, “We know we’re OK. They don’t appreciate us.” They agreed that women were beyond mysterious.
“Maybe we should start a support group” said John.
“Yeah, we’ll call it the Society for the preservation of incredible lovers.” said Carlo.
Luisa, Nora and Annette got to hear about it. Glyn never could keep his mouth shut.
“SPOIL. That’s right” said Luisa. “Society for the protection of inadequate lovers."
April when they woo
When I brought Andrzej home to meet my Noni, Noni grabbed me hard by the elbow and whispered her fiercest advice. I know you want handsome, my doll. You're a woman. It's natural. Certain parts of you will always want without thinking. But spoil those parts now and you'll lose your life, trying to hold that man's attention.
She pointed at Grampa lying on his back under the Oldsmobile, groaning about oil in his eye. Now, a man like that'll do anything for you, spoil you forever--she dug her fingers into my arm as punctuation--just so long as you never, ever let him know for sure he's got you. He emerged, blinking; we waved.
I could hear the clinking sounds of Andrzej, my Andrzej, in Noni's kitchen stirring lemonade powder into water in a pitcher; adding ice; setting two glasses on a tray for us. My beautiful Andrzej.
He Dreams Of Satellites
I wanted to take them back. He loved them so much I decided to keep them. Two robots. It’s amazing he got them into my bag and out of the store. He’s always been good at things like that. Where cameras are, what people are watching.
'Why did they call the earth, Earth?' He asks.
I don’t know to say. I'm looking at the robots, wondering what to do with them.
'They are us,' he says.
I wish it wasn’t.
He positions the lamp over the two robots, says 'This our sun,' and 'I want to stay up, I want to watch the sky.'
I let him. I always let him. They say I spoil him. As I try and fall asleep in the early hours I hum the words to a song I’d heard. The same words, over and over again.
He put two crosses on the paper but then couldn’t remember what she had said.
How many crosses? To be safe, he put crosses against all the names.
‘Fold it in half.’
He folded it very carefully and went towards the door. Didn’t want to spoil it. That was what his mum had said.
‘Don’t spoil your paper.’
He would tell her he had been very neat.
‘In the box love.’ said the fat lady, sat at the door.
He turned, placed the paper in the slot with great care, not releasing it from his fingertips until he was sure it would fall neatly without creasing. He picked up his bags and left the Village Hall. Just for a moment he thought he couldn’t remember seeing her name. May. Had he done it right?
‘Private. Secret. Don’t tell people who you picked.’
Picked them all, he thought. All nice.
Dinner for Two
Her carefully designed face was placid as she considered the ingredients for the meal: small, ripe cherry tomatoes, garlic, deep green, fresh spinach, sugar, olive oil, farfalle pasta, and freshly grated parmesan. It all sat leering at her. Challenging her.
Cranking up the heat to boil the water, the faintest flicker of something not quite right crossed her mind. She knew (or at least she thought) he loved her, but one never really knows do they? Words can be hollow shells through which actions often show shortcomings. She shook her head. She began to wash the spinach when her phone rang. The water began to boil.
Eleanore didn’t see the water on the floor. She stepped, slipped, and was gone. In three simple motions, dinner was spoiled. Water brimmed over the edge of the large pot, cascading down. Her efforts to save an inexplicable something caused the greatest loss.
Savour the moment
A pea-green sea you wouldn’t photograph and I like it all the more for it.
Slipping down behind a ridge of brown grey stones.
A conveyor belt tucking its waves underneath itself. Pulling water back to feed a ravenous cycle of off-white crests.
But really fast, you know? Real and volatile, striped by the shadows of streaky bacon clouds.
Shadows because we have sun but this is England.
The sea kale is growing in lush beach bushes.
I don’t remember from childhood but it can’t be ignored now.
Seaweed washed up, pebbles, sand, crab carcasses but not these living plants.
They thrive, there’s life down there.
Under those hard, cold rocks and that thought, today, well, it matters.
Nothing can spoil this.
Spare the Cake, Spoil the Child
Food parcels arrived by army lorry once a month to us fortunate girls at the convent boarding school in Nicosia. Mothers sent eggs, tins of butter, Marmite. And homemade cakes.
The food was stored in our personal cupboards with mesh fronts to keep out flies. But the cakes always had to be opened up to check for ants.
Mothers packed the cakes in tins and then wrapped them in Egyptian cotton, stitched to keep them safe. But, without fail, they were invaded by armies of ants.
The nuns, renowned for their resourcefulness, said, eyes twinkling, “They will not spoil, unpack them, girls.”
We knew the drill and placed our ant infested Victoria sponges, ginger parkins, and chocolate sandwich cakes on the low wall around the refectory patio; to be bathed in the harsh Cyprus sun.
Within an hour the ants scarpered, leaving the cakes perfectly edible.
I told her 'the way you go on, she'll turn into an entitled brat still living at her parents' when she's thirty.' I mean, she let little Lara sleep in her bed whenever she was a little scared, all her savings went into the kid's education fund, and off the little she had left, she bought her those pretty pink scandals the kid kept yammering about. 'It's a bad idea', I told her, 'to spoil a child like that.'
Yesterday, our paths crossed at a coffee shop. She came up to me and told me about how Lara is now a foster parent to two lovely (her words, ugh) kids who occasionally sneak into their parents' bed at night and how Lara works as a computer scientist who wears pretty pink sneakers. 'The universe doesn't give a crap what you think,' she said.
Breath held, they waited. Nothing.
The search continued. Downstairs offered little so they headed for the bedrooms. Three doors - surely there would be valuables somewhere. Two down, one to go. The third room was the master bedroom.
Wardrobe doors flew open, clothes thrust aside. Bedside drawers slid out until a long, low whistle emitted.
'For God's sake! Do you want to alert the whole neighbourhood?'
He shrugged. 'Sorry.'
As he turned to grab the gems lying there for the taking, a different glint caught his eye. He nudged his pal, a shaking finger pointing to the moving curtains.
The need for quiet, abandoned, spoil forgotten, he yelled, 'Get out of here.'
Their one and only torch reached the bottom of the stairs first, followed in quick succession by two boys in an undignified heap.
Green eyes narrowed, peering down from the doorway. Godzilla stretched and licked her paws.
“You wearing that lipstick again Agnes? Where you going?”
“Claude it's Friday. You know I meet my friends tonight for a little game of cards.”
“Why you got that hat on Agnes? You don't never wear your hat normal times, you don't want to spoil it.”
“Because Lottie Bainbridge has a new one. I don't want her thinking I can't afford one same as her.”
The White Hart had witnessed countless private card school gatherings, but tonight was something special.
A lad from the city, who, according to Lottie, would take all of his clothes off if they clubbed together to rain a few bucks down on him.
A girl had to look her best for such an occasion.
Chicken and potatoes
Steaming chicken, crispy skin, with golden roast potatoes and thick gravy. After two hours I’ve finally plated up and left the dishes to soak. I bring the plate through to the lounge and set it down on the table, next to the glass of white wine. I reach for the remote.
Before I can switch the TV on, my mobile rings. It’s the phone company. Great; dinner will be spoiled. They tell me they’re investigating why they’ve cut off my service, like they are detectives working a case. No-one apologises. They’ll call me back within five working days.
After the long sigh of acceptance, I hang up. I spear a potato on my fork and dip it in the gravy, now lukewarm. Just like I thought, it tastes of cardboard.
They were strangers seated on adjoining seats. He was awaiting his flight; she, something that would take her closer to her destination. Now deeply engaged in not-so-mundane conversation, they discussed family.
'What about you?', he asked politely.
' I last saw her two years ago. She'll be sixteen today!'
'That's great! If I'd a daughter, I would spoil her rotten!'
Wishing the girl on her mother's behalf, he headed away following an announcement. But she stayed rooted to her spot, anxiously staring at the display board.
She rubbed her backhand to allay an itching sensation, but just then,noticed its source-an eyelash clinging to her skin. She stared at it wistfully for a minute, but as she'd once promised, shut her eyes, wishing with all the power she could summon. She blew, softly. And opened her eyes, gently. But stared again. The lash was still there. Her daughter would always be fourteen.
Manod Slate Mine, 1940
Gilded frames and painted scenes of life and death glint in the half-light. The final Rembrandt is in place. I feel I’ve been holding my breath for days and now he looks down at me quizzically, unamused at his new home in the hillside. Better here, I tell him, with the slate than being the spoils of war for some German officer or, worse, bombed to smithereens back in the gallery. We’re all on edge but this latest plan has taken our minds off the empty rooms, the news from across the channel. He’ll be safe here, hidden with his contemporaries. And should the Germans invade, they won’t be finding them easily.
As the final packing cases are emptied, and as the workmen move back along the track to the rain outside, I say my farewell and leave him, the sombre figure staring back in the dark.
How strange. Our glorious victory and my most profound defeat, scattered across the landscape by one of our own shells. There one moment, gone the next; the swiftest and most insignificant of tragedies.
On into Kobarid, the Viennese papers fit to burst, jubilant. The Italians roll back across their borders in waves. The American ambulance driver is there among them, making his name. He captures it all.
For a little while after, the mountain rung with my noise. My sonorous metal beaten only once; struck hard and left to hover, just so, on the edge. But, slowly, the vacancy trickled in and dulled the sound. You might see me sometimes, when the mountain’s face glows blue in the morning, or when the snow reconciles on a pine branch, but you won’t hear me anymore.
All is spoiled. Nothing left to break the heart, and nothing to heal it.
Little White Arches
When we were kids, it was our playground. We’d race each other up the steep slope, see who could make it to the top first. Dad would let me sit on his knee in the dragline and tip a few buckets onto the spoil heap.
I stagger to my knees and drop a bunch of flowers on the low wall. Purple petals roll over the trimmed grass and flutter across the little white arches.
It had rained heavily for a week. We’d just sat in our chairs, the teacher calling out the register. There was a roar, and the wall exploded. Blood. Darkness. Pain.
The worst of it was the silence.
I was among the lucky few. Dad dug me out with his bare hands, kept digging until they’d found every single one.
On Sunday, he’d lay a hyacinth beside each headstone, so I do the same.
Every single one.
Jack took a deep breath and composed himself. The moment he had dreaded was finally here, the fight was over. The union marches, the community rallies had all been for nothing.
The beam of light from his head torch illuminated the box in front of him, his focus momentarily distracted by the minute specks of coal dust dancing in the brightened space, cascading like the mist created by a waterfall. The stifling warmth of the air that surrounded him was in stark contrast to the cool lift shaft above, with its far reaching views of the headstock and spoil tips that climbed towards the tumultuous October sky.
His blackened hand trembled as he placed it on the lever, the yellow paint dirty and chipped by years of use. He pulled down hard. Through the darkness, the deafening roar of the conveyor stopped for the final time.
I Know What I Am Doing
'You'll spoil her. It's a mistake,' they all said as I gave my child the attention I knew she deserved. Instinct meant more to me than advice.
'You'll spoil it. It's a mistake,' they all said as I tended to my prizewinning dish in the community bake-off final. I smiled as I watched the judge place the rosette next to my creation.
'You'll spoil him. It's a mistake,' they all said as I cared for my husband day and night in spite of the years of turmoil leading up to his illness.
'You'll spoil her. It's a mistake,' they all said as Lisa renovated her house to accommodate me in an independent granny flat.
My daughter is a treasure, my recipe book is a bestseller, my husband died happy and I have no regrets. If that's spoiling, my wish for is for more of the same for others.
He was raised a spoilt child. His parents had indulged him dreadfully.
Once he demanded a body. The parents surfed the entire galaxy in search of the best one; but when he was presented with the body it turned out not to be to his liking.
“It´s human!” he complained and, before discarding it, he added: “I want to keep its thoughts”. And so his self was usurped by an impressive number of thoughts and memories and poetry and music and faces and smells and tastes and words utter in anger and sweet nothings whispered to someone – something? – he could not fully appreciate or enjoy or make sense of. He felt uncomfortably dizzy, blue, definitely hollow.
Ever since then his empty self has drifted aimlessly about that sea of foreign thoughts and feelings; an alien self made of lots of other alien-kin-selves in which he is still forever lost.
Stomach cramping, Polly watches graduates swish across the stage. Miles… Mills… Milton… She nudges her mum. “How long until Patterson?”
“Shhh! Don’t spoil your sister’s big day.”
Polly grimaces, willing the cramps to subside. Why does she ruin everything? Her cousins still tease her about having to run out of Aunt Flora’s wedding to find a loo. “You’re too old for this,” Mum said after the service, dragging her aside. “You’re twelve, not a baby. You can wait.”
Polly isn’t sure she can. Graduates keep coming, swooping like a murder of crows. Nagata… Nakata… Ng… Polly rocks back and forth; Mum glares.
When Lisa finally appears, Polly’s in too much pain to care. She moans loudly as an full-body spasm floods the seat of her pants. She stinks. Mum flushes furious red and grabs her arm, yanking her out of the hall. Polly's messed up again.
Improving on Perfection
Blossoming plants, calm oceans, vibrant skies. Mother Nature’s paintbrush gave us everything. We were projected onto a living canvas, complete with companionship, activity, meaning. Everything we have been given from the rainbows to the sea-life is an example of our paradise. It was given to us, we shaped it, we made it our own.
But nothing lasts forever.
It wasn’t long before we discovered the damage that would combat the good, we were given everything in an exchange for a lifetime of happiness, which we ourselves could not stand. Alternatives to combat the perfection that we had been handed. The environment soon spoiled, the rainbows were soon replaced by pools of black oil. The calm oceans turned to tsunamis by our own hands, and the blossoming plants wither, as Mother Nature slowly crumbles with the world we now call paradise.
Spare the Rod
Harry trembles as he waits outside the Headmaster’s office.
‘Remember, don’t pull your hand back. Make sure the cane hits the flat of your hand, not your fingers!’ Caning-veteran Jack says.
Tears well up in Harry’s eyes.
‘Harry, tell me a story.’ Jack says hoping to take Harry’s mind off things.
‘Don’t know any stories.’
‘What did you dream then?’
Harry looks away and thinks. ‘I dreamed of kids who have mountains of sweets and white bread to eat.’
‘They never want for nothing. Warm clothes, lots of toys. Their mums and dads spoil them rotten. And they walk around with flat shiny things that they stare into.’
‘No, they use them to talk to people with their thumbs.’
‘Sounds daft.’ Jack says and put his hands on Harry’s shoulders. 'Now remember what I told you, Harry lad. Don’t pull your hand back.’
The headmaster’s door opens.
A Perfect Day
We had to re-think my daughter’s wedding day. She and Martin wanted June but both the church and Carter’s Limos were fully booked. Was it a blessing in disguise, a good omen perhaps? We discovered if we went for Saturday 19th July the church and Carter’s could oblige plus, best of all, Albany Park Gardens was free for the Reception. What more picturesque setting for the photographs? Of course rain could spoil things but as the Caterers pointed out their Marquee is weather proof and can easily accommodate the 200 guests. Florists were happy to meet our every request. Martin’s Best Man, Jason, offered his band free of charge for the evening dancing. Excitement built to fever pitch. .
The morning began bright and cheerful, not a cloud in sight. Everything set up for a perfect day. And it would have been if Martin had turned up at the Church
It Has To Be Cashmere
In a hotel room in Manchester, Daniel is buttoning his cashmere blazer. He wears chinos, loafers and a casual, button down white shirt. He smiles, looking at his reflection because he remembers something the Duke of ***** once said to a friend of his, something his friend had told him later.
‘When possible, wear cashmere. There’s no reason to buy cheap.’
Daniel smiles at the memory of this and tucks the cards taken from the side into his wallet. He checks the mirror. Of course it has to be cashmere, anything else would spoil the effect.
The lift drops through the floors into another spacious, polished foyer and there’s a hint of citrus as the doors ease back. He sees the staff, attentive and waiting to serve.
As he leaves, their eyes remain fixed on the cut of him.
Have that on me.
I shouldn’t blame myself.
I didn’t choose you for my Dad. That just happened. You told me I was the one decent thing in your life and you weren’t kidding. Now I know what you were like and I don’t want to be your little girl any more.
Standing by the grave, I watch them lower the big box into the ground. This is goodbye. Did you know I changed my name? No more Mary Buckmaster. Now it’s Steph.
Stephanie Bourne. The nice girl everyone likes and nobody knows. No-one is ever going to get close after what you did.
Suddenly I feel strong. I take a handful of loose spoil and drop it carelessly on the coffin lid. A handful of dirt. That’s all you are now.
In There Somewhere
"Close the fridge door," she said, moving past him. He didn't budge an inch.
"I'm waiting for something."
"Wait for it with the door closed. You can't keep doing that," she said, moving past him again. Back and forth was common in the kitchen. In one form or another.
"It's important that the door is open," he insisted, resolutely staring into the fridge. This part was actually integral, he just didn't feel like explaining why.
"The food'll spoil," she pointed out. He hissed before replying. Like an offended cat.
"Blast your food! I'm on the fast-track for enlightenment here! I can practically taste it!"
He realised he'd gone too far. Tentatively peeking over his shoulder he caught the full force of her disapproving glare.
Meekly, wordlessly, he shut the fridge door.
She licked the creamy drips from the ice cream cone her proffered her, painted fingers lightly resting on his hand. As she licked she looked up into his eyes and he met her gaze. An uncertain smile spread across his quivering lips. Beads of sweat emerged upon his furrowed brow. His hand trembled beneath her feather-light touch. And she understood that it had been her doing.
It was the first time she had used her powers knowingly. An end to innocence. Shocked, she reeled back violently and the cone fell from his grasp into the dirty sand.
“I’m sorry Grandad, I didn’t mean to spoil things!” she lied.
Down Home Diner – reviewed 12 May
The food was home style cuisine but there wasn’t much selection. I was offered pasta or a sandwich. To be fair, the pasta was tasty. Pudding was (supermarket) ice-cream with no choice of flavour. The experience was a bit spoiled by the untidy surroundings - dirty dishes on the sideboard and a stained tablecloth. Waitress seemed a bit off.
Thank you for your feedback. We value your opinion and are pleased you enjoyed the meal and that we could accommodate you despite no advance booking. We have spoken to the waitress who says that if anything is spoiled, it’s you. The dirty dishes and stained tablecloth were your breakfast leavings, which she asked you to sort out at the time. This is not how she raised you. You can do the dishes. P.S. You didn’t leave a tip. Love Mum
The Day You Finally Meet the Mistress
I have seen his ecstasy, felt his tears on my wrists, learned to grow out the promise that this is just a two year fling.
I've mastered these things and so there is now a need to repress face beauty, to spoil it with smile lines and fresh wrinkles in my forehead, to burn out my youth, maturity, that makes me understand why her early morning calls hold me down more than the guilt of this pregnancy.
Nevertheless, his response is to kneel before me to beg, a victim, saying, “I love you... remember that.” Every time he leaves me.
But today I turn away to catch myself in the vanity’s mirror. The kinky coils escaping from my neat bun ring around my eyes to show a creeping madness; then I finally say to the woman with cool dark skin, “If you love me, you will leave her.”
These are the things that people said to me at her funeral. These are the things that I wanted to say, but didn't.
I’m so sorry. For what?
How are you coping? I’m not.
It’s so sad. You have no idea.
If you need anything, just ask. I won’t.
She was a wonderful woman. Past tense.
She used to spoil you rotten. Past tense.
She was so proud of you. Stop using the past tense.
She loved you so, so much. Please stop reminding me that she’s gone.
The way to whinge
A spoiled brat I was as a child I had a way to whinge.
A way to thrash my legs against the hardwood and pierce ears with a cry that sounded so beastly that the neighborhood cats would gather by the window screeching in my direction, begging for a fight.
A fight they got, I'd open the window and pull their tails so hard that they'd jump so high they almost flew.
Then I would go into the kitchen and help myself to the pudding cooling on the windowsill. I had to otherwise the cats would come. Mother would punish me and I'd go to my room and did I tell you I had a way to whinge.
Every night the cats came back trying to wind their spindly tales around my neck.
A Brief Moment of Grief
It happens while she is cutting out the image of a reindeer to make homemade gift labels. The dam that has been holding back her hidden grief for a year finally breaks.
She remembers opening the card back then, the movement of the knife under the envelope flap in one swift sigh. The phone ringing. Wondering how she would get through Christmas.
The pinking shears crunch through tiny crystals of transparent glitter. Although she keeps most of the antlers, she can’t avoid spoiling the background images, hacking off snow-laden pine branches, cleaving a winter moon.
She takes one last glance at the greeting inside, and her tears smudge his signature, before she cuts the back off the card and slips it on top of the pile.
They will be used later for her shopping lists.
Footsteps sounded from down the hall opposite the door. Salvation, or doom? They grew nearer until they came to an abrupt halt. I saw the shadow creep under the door and its handle creaked down. A click of the loose mechanism startled me into a run for the other side of the lounge. What help would that do?
A man lurked through the slight gap. He invaded my sanctuary. His smile buried wrinkled eyes under flaps of spoiled skin. It was warm. Sincerity washed over my mind. I hesitated in a freeze. He lifted his open hand.
"I'm jus' 'ere ta fix ya," he uttered with a hint of amusement. If shivers could run up my spine, they would have. He turned his head to it. I panicked. His feet stepped closer. I felt my life threatened. His hand rest on my heart. He fiddled.
"There ya go." He smiled.
Outgoings 17th May 2017
1 Medium Litter Tray, blue
1 Value Scoop, purple
25 Value Litter Tray bags, medium
6 x 100g Turkey Pate
6L Cat Litter, non-clumping
2 x Large high-backed Litter Tray, black
3 x Textured Mat, grey, rectangular
3 x 25 Extra Strong Litter bags, XL
Antibacterial Floor Wipes
2 x 500g Chicken Breasts
10 x 100ml Purely Holistic Calm Stomach Cat Milk
10L Cat Litter, clumping, odour-free
1 x Scented Candle, Lilac
8-pack Extra Absorbent Kitchen Towel
4 x 2XL Dome Cat Litter Tray
65L Value Litter, odour-free
4 x Large Waterproof Mat, black
4 x 500ml Stain Remover Spray
4 x 500ml Carpet and Soft Furnishings Spray
2 x 18 Scouring Pads
2 x Air Freshener, Peach and Waterlily
8 x Air Freshener, Peach and Waterlily
3 x 1 hour professional cleaning services
Removal of spoiled divan
Emergency recarpet: 4 bed detached bungalow
In search of the perfect kiss
She was spoiled, got it right first time, the out-of-body bodily experience, the blackout, the oh-my-god. Rumours at school about her first kiss: a masterpiece.
And since she has endured the bristly, the choke of tongue, the dull, the nose prod, the completely ineffectual. She has had the tender, the frightening, the nip of teeth and that yes-no of uncertainty.
Never again perfect softness, the gentle pure sex of it, that dizzying vertigo dance through the cosmos with mouth-to-mouth astronauts sharing air.
But pucker up. One day she’ll find the lips, the action. One day as surely as rockets fly.
With thanks to all the writers who have made this issue possible.Alva Holland, Anike Kirsten, Ann Hutchings, Anne Summerfield, Anne-Marie Chaplin Latter, Bibi Pun, Bill Cox, C W Field, Carol Leggatt, Chandra Snicker, Chris Kent, Christina Taylor, Christine Nedahl, Christopher M Drew, Claire T Allen, Crilly O'Neil, D. Milne, Damhnait Monaghan, Daniel Snicker, Danny Beusch, Deirdre Ann Weber, Drew-Kiercey, Emily Kelly, Emma Moyle, Esyllt Sears, Faiza Bokhari, Hannah Whiteoak, Jane Carrick, Jennifer Moore, John Burns, Judy Mitchell, JY Saville, Kelsey Josephson, Kirsty Holmes, Laura Besley, Laurence Edmondson, Lemmy Cash, Liz Wride, Louise Mangos, Lynne Gardiner, María Noel Legaspi, Mary Davies, Michael Rumsey, Mitja Lovše, Molia Dumbleton, Morgan Gregory, Munira, Paul Warnes, Philip Charter, Rae Kennedy, Robin Rich, Ros Nazilli, S.B. Borgersen, Sahas Mehra, Sam, Sam Rollings, Sankar Chatterjee, steven moss, Susan Carey, Sylvia Petter, Tracy Fells, Van Demal
24th May 2017