Welcome to our latest issue of Ad Hoc Fiction
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The Goose Is Getting Fat
"I can't go to a job interview with a scorch mark on my shirt," I said.
We looked at it, the exact shape and size of the iron, gently smoking.
"Keep your jacket on, they'll never even notice."
"The jacket from George at Asda?"
"Have you got another jacket?"
"Then yes, the jacket from George at Asda."
"The jacket from George at Asda with the spaghetti stain still down the front?"
We looked at each other and, at exactly the same moment, both burst out laughing.
"It's not funny," she said when she caught her breath. "What are we going to do? We've already got bills up to here and we haven't even started on Christmas yet."
I turned the shirt inside out and pulled it on. Buttoning it wasn't easy. "Does it show?" I said.
She shook her head, slowly, and the laughing felt years ago.
It used to be a haven for the horses when it was storming, a secret clubhouse when the neighbours came over, a storehouse prepared for the long, harsh winter.
Now it was just a charred shell.
He sighed as he looked at it. He had hoped his own kids would have the chance to experience growing up on the farm, playing in the hay, riding bareback on a summer night.
What possessed someone to scorch another’s memories like this?
Sure, they could rebuild, but it would make a serious dent in their lives. He didn’t want to lose his family’s heirloom, but maybe it would be better for all concerned if they sold and moved on.
“We’re not letting them win, Damon.” His wife’s words rang in his ears.
He scuffed his toe in the ashes. She was right.
They rebuilt. And they named their first foal Phoenix.
Sitting curled up with my coffee mug, on a chair in the corner of the workshop, I watch him work. I always like to do this, to feel his protecting presence. He is intent on the work, all focus, making a home for us.
I remember when we first saw this house. It was just a shell then, only the four walls, scorch marks and all, and a roof full of holes. A shell surrounded by a garden of yellow weeds, behind a gate rusting off its hinges. But we looked into each other's eyes, and we knew that this could be our haven.
And now it's nearly ready for us. We've worked hard, the two of us, with tools and wood and paint and plaster. Looking at him work, I feel a quiet pride. I stand up, move to him, and kiss him gently on the cheek.
I step out into the afternoon sun the heat scorches my skin and makes me recoil. It reminds me of being in the desert last summer, when he thought I was enjoying a girl’s holiday by the French coast. I couldn’t have been further away from a giggling care free getaway if I tried.
I didn’t know it then but this would be my last undercover mission. I carried the gun on my shoulder the weight of having it there for an entire week, was starting to cause an indent. I already knew how I would explain it away, heavy beach bag with too much in it. He would believe me, he always did. That’s why I had to stop this double life.
After the bullet exploded from the barrel and flew towards my intended target, all I could think about was him and his blind love for a killer.
Bricks and Mortar
Jacqueline waves to the removal men and closes the door quietly behind her. In the madness of watching her worldly possessions be handled carelessly and stacked into a single van, she has had no time to say goodbye.
In its empty state the house feels unfamiliar. Already it seems as though this chapter in her life has ended, never to be revisited. She creeps from one room to the next, waves of memories coming flooding back. Her and Gordon sitting cross legged on the floor for months while they saved up to buy a sofa, the scorch mark in the carpet that the children had kept a secret.
She knows downsizing was the sensible thing to do. The house deserves to be filled with new life and Jacqueline has grown fond of the couple buying it. She just wasn’t prepared for quite how envious she would feel of them.
Ears thumping I start coughing and swipe across my eyes trying to remove the dust. I open them, but nothing changes except the appearance of a hovering stinging sensation . It is as I could see the pain eminating from my eyes and vibrating throughout my head.
Someone grabs my shirt and slaps me. One of my ears cracks open and I hear my name being yelled, but I cannot seem to muster an answer.
Though being there the whole time, I now notice the smell of scorched flesh lingering around . I want to vomit, but as with speaking it only stays as a thought. I realize that not only am I unable to move my mouth in unision with my thoughts, but also every other part of my body.
I hear crying...
Darkness blacker than before envelops everything. I feel a fleeting thought whispering away the now silent night.
Me and My Master
The sun scorched my open wound, inflicted by a little boy. I kept whining. A man nearby showed mercy; applied some ointment, and fed me with milk. I wagged my tail to thank him.
Sometimes he used me like a deflated football and kicked me hard on my ribs . It hurt me alright, but I’d return to him after a while.
I never knew he was an idiot who never learned my language.
Once he was tipsy. He started poking me with a stick. I was getting annoyed. I cautioned him.
“Look at my ears. They are flattened and pulled back; I am circling round your legs.
Don’t you understand I am going to bite you? Stop your prank. Stop,“ cried I.. …. .
Now he cried.
I ran, then looked back. He was bleeding.
I know I will come back.
Experience is a poor teacher.
Locating A Sense Of Comfort In These Turbulent Times
Dilman never thought his successor would be the guy who wanted to scorch all his accomplishments. True, Dilman noticed the country changed because of him being the president. What was once seen as racist became a mere slogan under his opponent's tactics. Well, it resonated, he won alright.
Nonetheless, Dilman he held his head up high. He was about to meet his elected replacement, the joke of a man named Mr. Wallace and he did not intend to appear defeatist. He was already shocked by Mr. Wallace's lack of preparation for the post, so he was ready for the worst.
Still, he dreaded what was to be done with everything he did. Mr. Kane's party had the majority in all the legislative bodies, meaning that everything could change. However, he had one ace up his sleeve.
Dilman's proposals were popular, people liked them, so abolishing them would be impossible.
The Wanderer Returns
The ground was soft, his footsteps light and gentle as the falling snow. Darkness hid his form but moonbeams lit the pathway to the ivy-covered door of the little cottage.
Through the open gate he saunters, past the empty dog kennel, around the ornamental fishpond with its torn netting and rusty mermaid fountain. Nothing lived in there anymore.
Closer then, beneath the open window where the silent, smoking candles scorch the frosty air. Jump. Elegant as a ballerina and smooth as a snake, the creature flies and lands. Nothing disturbed, no noise to wake the occupants.
Tip-toe up the stairs and across the landing. Stretching claws scrape the wooden frame of the bed, testing their sharpness.
Tiny faces peak through crisp white sheets, eyes tight shut, whisps of breath scented with hot chocolate.
Mmmmm...cosy. Curling up at their feet. The cat yawns and sleeps.
If he could he would scorch the earth with his anger, whip his despair into a tempest that would lay waste to the world.
His friends look on fearful of the storm. But alongside the fear there is also a pinch of envy. Envy of the woman who is that storm's focus.
To be so loved.
I hear them say what a thing that must be. Why would anyone turn away from it.
But I saw her all but used up by that consuming passion. And I see her now.
Tender feelings and a quiet heart. And a world not laid waste.
Man named Faceless
The man was not called Faceless for no reason. Wearing a broad-rimmed hat in the scorching sun, his eyes were covered by a pair of sunglasses. He wore his scarf up to his nose, as if he had something to hide. Nobody knew where he came from. All they knew was he was new and did not want people probing into his matters. Just last week, Lee-Anne wanted to win a bet with friend by striking up a conversation with him, but he brushed her off. Nobody ever did that to the sexy town beauty. Like a lover spurned, she started spreading malicious rumours about Faceless being a wanted criminal or a psycho or even worse, a lawless man. Faceless steered clear of trouble and paid his groceries with cash, nothing to be suspicious about, just that his cash was stolen from the bank in another town.
I'm used to being different. The odd one out as some call it. When people see me, they don't see me. They see a sideshow, something to mock, something to take their own pain away. We live in such a world where the way we look means everything. The way we act towards others dictates who we are in certain ways, but now it feels like the way we look is meant to define us.
I don't suppose anything is really fair anymore, but for once I want the privilege of walking down the street and no one screaming, 'Scorch!' in my face. It should be my right to have that.
I will always remember the first time better than the last. The tall man with the glasses throwing the steaming acid over my face, and yelling, 'Scorch'.
Never Burn Your Toast
My Dad told me never to burn toast, ever. ‘Gives you cancer,’ he said gravely. He was obsessed with cancer. ‘Always watch the bread,’ he said, his finger wagging in my face.
‘Ketchup gives you cancer, too much of it,’ he said one day as I squirted a dollop onto my plate.
‘Uh-huh, ketchup and scorched toast,’ he said. ‘Bacon too.’
‘You eat bacon,’ I pointed out.
‘Not any more I don’t.’ He plunged a lightly toasted slice of brown into a runny yolk.
‘Do eggs give you cancer?’ I asked.
‘Not yet, but probably will,’ he mumbled as his mouth worked over his forkful.
‘Do you think you’ll get cancer Dad?’ I asked.
‘No, ‘coz I’m careful aren’t I and I’m teaching you to be the same.’
‘Thanks Dad,’ I said.
‘Don’t thank me,’ he said, ‘just never burn your toast.’
After an Argument
My emotions spin round and round like a demented washing machine - a whirlwind of pain, fear and rage. Like a rampant fire, anger burns my fingers and scorches my toes and I'm crying and dying and aching so badly for what seems like forever but is only actually a few hideous minutes.
Then somehow, I drift away from the frenzy, like a zoom lens in reverse, and hunker down by the embers of the fire. I poke it gently with a stick, watching the fading glow of its burnished coals. I still feel its heat, but it's cooler now. Comforting almost.
Yet the pain is there. It will be always there till I make that damn phone call and book in with that therapist. I've heard she's good and I'm willing to try. He is too. At least he will be tomorrow when we make up. And we always do.
Accusation and Affirmation
This table had memories. His old gnarled fingers ran over the smooth wood, cold as ice in the winter morning. The new owners had discarded it for its one imperfection. It pained him. He'd crafted this. He recalled how he and his lover had laid on fine spreads in celebration and simple fare in times of grief. How in evenings they’d drunk mulled wine while their hands stretched out across the wood.
But then he’d burnt it. When drink stole him away from all things good, he’d argued, swung a fist…Thank God he’d hit the lantern instead! But the oil had spread, ignited and left a telling, accusatory scorch. It nagged at him...so he’d left it all behind.
But the table…looked like she'd kept it all these years.
"I'm thinking of keeping it," came the soft voice of the new young wife. "That burn looks like a heart."
When Lucy had her baby she phoned in sick for the day. She could eat less and still make rent.
Next day she took her baby to work in a shopping bag.
Cleaning dinge hotel rooms, checking on the baby hidden behind a sofa or television, sitting on toilets to nurse whimpers into silence.
The boss pulled her into a bathroom and pushed her face close to the mirror, hauled her chin up, grabbed her hair. Streaks. Lucy’s fault. “Do it right or I’ll fire you out of that two bit dive house of yours.” Like he paid her enough to rent a house.
She rubbed her scalp. It hurt. She looked for her bag. Emptiness. Her baby was gone. A scorch of pain lurched her heart. She convulsed. Every cell trembled.
The Brush Off
As my five year old son watched our labrador in the park - hind legs propped like an aisle, forelegs hoisted around the other dog's thighs - he asked whether Oscar was trying to climb on top of the other dog. I said "no". He asked whether he was trying to push the other dog away. I said "no". It was an irritatingly hot day, and the sun's scorch seemed to meld with my son's questions to form a single, droning force.
"But why does he keep pushing the other dog? Are they fighting?"
"No...they're dancing. Oscar is leading the dance."
"Why don't people dance like that, Mummy? It looks more fun than when grown ups dance."
"Sometimes they do, but not outside...and not with their clothes on."
My son paused in thought. "Can we dance like that when we get home?"
"No, we will never dance like that."
Wishlist for the Future
Here’s my Christmas list:
The James Dashner books (The Maze Runner, The Scorch Trials, etc).
A New 3DS XL
Games for the above
I laugh at his vivid imagination as I wrap the box set of books up with recycled packaging paper. The cheek of it; he hasn’t got a clue about the cost of anything and all he wants to do is stare at a screen all day.
I wonder how he will react to our news. Going off grid has been planned for some time but it will be a total surprise for Jason. Although I doubt he will be happy at first, I am certain he will grow up more confident and balanced away from all those distractions. His imagination will help keep him occupied.
Perhaps we’ll save the news for New Year. Just in case.
The casualties of war
I took a final look at the blackened remains of my house, now no more than a handful of charred timbers. My wife stared vacantly ahead, another empty shell since our sons had been slaughtered by the invaders who had come seeking revenge against those who had stood in their way. We knew not what they said in their foreign tongue, as their burning torches dissolved our homes, nor of the earls whose rebellion had provoked this holocaust. What was clear to us who were left, as we mourned the lives, the homesteads, the food scorched into the earth, was that remaining was not an option. Harried out of our villages, unsure whether to risk heading north towards the violent tribes beyond the wall, or make for the south and throw ourselves at the mercy of our new masters, we began our trek, refugees in our own land.
He fluttered his hand over the candle; waiting to feel the familiar scorch, but it never came. He began to wonder how long he'd been sitting there, idly playing with the flame. It seemed to be teasing him as it danced around in the draft his hand had created. After a while, he looked up at the other people in the room. They all seemed as fazed out as he was; lolling around in corners, hanging off chairs like limp puppets. He was bored. He took the candle and let the red wax drip slowly onto the table in front of him. It looked like blood; slowly pooling and drying up. It made him think of the gun; the family he'd massacred. It felt like a long time ago; hundreds, maybe thousands of years. It was hard to keep track of time when you'd been in limbo for so long.
I noticed you looking at me in the library in 1985.
I bought you a pint of Guinness that Christmas Eve after everyone else had gone home.
I grabbed your hand on that hard January day as you nearly slipped over in the park.
I saw the look of surprise in your eyes when you noticed the blue line.
I witnessed the tears scorch your face when he entered our universe.
I felt your chill on that dark day last year.
I supported you through the treatment the best I could.
I saw you shrink from a strong man to a grey paper skeleton.
I held our son as you slept in the afternoons.
I knew the date you would leave us, it was circled in red.
I don't know what to do now you are in the air.... but thank you.... I wish we could do it all again.
“Scorch, goddamned scorch! “ Larry yelled from his study, so his wife could hear him in the kitchen. Through the noise of pots clanging, Esther yelled back, “Torch, what torch? Larry got up from his easy chair and walked slowly to the kitchen. “Not torch, woman, scorch, they want me to put the word scorch into my manuscript. Here, look. “He showed her the letter from his publishing company. “Your piece must include the word scorch“, it said in the letter. “Well can you put it in“? Esther asked and started vacuuming the kitchen. “Esther I can't hear my own thoughts...Estheeeer! Minutes later when Esther finished vacuuming, she smelled smoke coming up from the basement. Larry! She screamed. Larry stormed out of the basement. “I did it I put the word into the manuscript.” “You did”? She asked confusingly. “I did, I scorched the goddamned thing”.
She remembered the hottest summer of her young life, when the scorched earth cracked like crazy paving.
Mr. Gibson had arrived with his son Billy to help set up the sprinklers, much to her father's disapproval.
In those blazing days, she and Billy had shared picnics and kisses under the trees; the only shady, secret respite. She had let him place his hand on her bare thigh, tuck his fingers under the frayed hem of her denim shorts.
Sinking back into her well-worn armchair, she closed her eyes. If she focussed hard enough, she could picture Billy's brown eyes and tousled black hair.
"I won't ever forget you, Billy Gibson." And she hadn't.
But the rains had come; torrents of sweet summer rain, ruining their plans. Mr. Gibson and Billy never returned to the farm, once the cracks in the earth were repaired.
I should have known better. I was practically middle-aged, plenty of life experience to learn from. Yet here I was; vomiting into a cardboard bowl instead of scorching myself on a Turkish beach.
I'd always been this glamorous, my friends would tell you that. They'd probably also tell you about the time that I got so drunk I crawled into a thorn bush to pet a stray cat. Reckless may as well be my middle name.
The nurses had tutted at me, guessing immediately that I wasn't a local.
If the vomiting and the pillar box red hue of my skin weren't big enough clues, the bulbous blisters that had become to form all over my body were very telling.
In hindsight, the body oil hadn't been the smartest idea. I'd only wanted a nice tan to brag about... I hadn't wanted second-degree burns.
The Dinosaurs Body Bag
The sun failed to rise one morning. It was disturbing, but it wasn't the fear that got to us; it was the silence. The fact that after everything else died, and we had somehow managed to survive, there was nothing around except us.
Technically the sun was still there, but the clouds that settled over us like a blanket were not for safety. They were actually a body bag, waiting to zip us up and say goodbye.
The first thing we had done when they arrived was tell them stories, our histories and our language. Slowly they'd come to understand us and our habits. The first people we sent were historians. We wanted them to understand us and how we lived.
They left quickly, not long after one particular meeting, and clouds rose up from the ground behind them. But they left behind a note, "Scorch the Earth".
The fire had been raging for a long time. The main exit was ablaze and the closest one, which wasn't practical for an evacuation, was blocked by an object they couldn't recognise. The workers were succumbing to panic, and their superiors were not hiding it very well themselves. They knew that the others were up there, reduced to ashes. No amount of bravery could save them. Thus died an empire that had lasted countless generations. The queen was dead.
Don came back from his memories, the captain's voice blasting on comms. He was reluctant to do it, but he told himself that people looked a little bit like bugs from the plane's cockpit. Yes! That's it, scorch them like that ant colony in the backyard when you were ten. He dropped the payload. Mission accomplished, enemy neutralised. Down there, an entire city drowned in flames.
Rare and Very Aggressive
2 AM: Your innards violently protest the cure. Sweat, clutch toilet. Psychic humiliation but huge physical relief.
Then: Very close to making partner. Devoted doctor boyfriend talking marriage. Weekends running marathons and cycling centuries together.
Now: Boyfriend "uncomfortable" with your illness. Leave of absence from the firm. Bald. Dependence on friends and colleagues to take you to chemo, drop off seltzer and crackers. Their sympathetic looks are kind but make you feel pathetic.
Inflammatory Breast Cancer: "Rare and Very Aggressive, " WebMD says.
Treatment: Hack, scorch, and poison. Your once sturdy hard frame now withering and singed. Robust C boobs razed, replaced by a cavity of scars. Vestiges of your crusade to survive. You once gloried in the power of this body. Now you barely have strength to get back into bed.
Prognosis: 20-30% alive at five years.
4 AM: Repeat.
The sun scorched the land below, the animals looked at the dancing man from the shade and thought that it was the strangest thing they had ever seen. The rabbits hiding in the bush next to the man paid him no attention however, their minds were focused on more important things.
The fox who was the smartest amongst the viewers remembered the second man and braved the heat to seek out the guy who reeked of blood, the summer had been a succession of failures for the fox and whilst she hated asking for help from humans she need food.
The second man watched as the first wriggled and jiggled as his feet nearly, but not quite, found the burning ground, he saw the fox creep over to him like she had done a few times before and as it sat next to him he smiled broadly and said, “soon.”
The wind cuts across the common, gusting dark leaves, bringing the bite of the steppes, an east wind to push against the poet’s inspiration which came from the west.
Around the common, Eton beaks in white bow ties and black gowns flap like magpies. I search for the scorched hole where, ten generations back, Shelley split an oak with gunpowder, an assault on the nature he loved.
An hour before, an archivist passed me pages containing his wild hand, released when he left this place to mark the world.
While here, he left his mark too, not just upon the oaks of this common. The archivist told me how Shelley electrified door knobs, sending a static jolt through his friends. He blew open doors once guarded here.
In my pocket, I have his poems. I stand here, face to the wind, feeling the static jolt of those poems still.
Her skin, stretched over her tiny bones like clingfilm, was covered in scars and scabs that looked like scorch marks. They were rubbed raw by the bandages meant to protect. And although they did protect, stopping infection and holding her butterfly-tender skin together, they tore at her cells like velcro. Ripping. Pulling the little girl apart one layer of skin at a time.
Her mother was the one who had to change them, every day plastering on a smile and unwinding her little girl from her dressings. Smoothing on balm. Singing away the tears.
She too cried afterwards, but the nurses couldn't do it. They were rushed off their feet. So she got to play the bad guy. Got to hurt her princess every single day.
There was no consolation.
It was hard, the doctors chided instead, being a princess, when the world is a pea.
Strike While the Iron's Hot
It was a mistake!
She hadn't meant to scorch his new Marks and Spencer polycotton shirt.
She was distracted by the television - that was the reason for her error. She always watched it whilst ironing his shirts - all ten of them.
For twenty years her Sunday mornings followed the same routine: a breakfast of orange juice and porridge followed by the dreaded ironing.
The television provided a welcome distraction from the tedium of the task. Unfortunately, that morning, it had held her concentration for a little too long and the material permanently displayed the imprint.
Of course, he complained . . . he always complained!
She doesn't iron anymore. The manslaughter charge put an end to that.
Recipe for One
She liked the exactness and simplicity of baking. Recipes whittled away the superfluous. There was conspicuous intention behind each direction. In time, she began to see the events in her life as a series of baking instructions: some delectable, others unpalatable, most inevitable.
First, take generous handful of unassuming marketing manager.
Stir in heaping spoonful of compatibility.
Add a dash of security and a pinch of childish wonder.
Let sit for 7 to 8 years or until normalcy is routine. Next, mix in a dash of despondency and a pinch of skepticism.
Season with a light dusting of passive-aggressiveness.
Be careful it doesn’t get too firm or undermine your accomplishments.
** If done correctly true consistency of character will be evident to the touch.
On the side, whisk in an impetus for existential change, aspiration and desire.
Set oven to 450 and scorch to a crisp.Serves 1
What is he up too
I watched him leave lesson and head for the forest that lines the edge of the premises, curious as to what he was up too, I raise my hand and plead for a toilet pass.
I check no one is in the hallway before disappearing outside, into the cover of the tree's shadows. Confusion ripples over me as my eyes scan the surrounding area, it's empty and not even the birds sing out in the silence. I tread lightly and monitor my breathing to keep it quiet as I make my way into the trees, my hands reaching out to gingerly touch each tree. I'm stopped in my tracks as I notice half a cigarette on the floor of the forest, he doesn't smoke? Unable to leave it littering the floor, I bend to pick it up, not taking enough care as the end scorches the tips of my fingers.
I’ve been sleepwalking again. At least, I hope that’s what it is. Every night I wake on the same bench, rooted to the spot. It’s been happening for a while now. I can’t remember when it began, and I certainly can’t fathom why, but here I am, shivering in the city’s green oasis.
The great city is transmuted at night, turned to stone. There’s not a soul around. Pre-dawn, it slumbers around me, its rumbling rhythm lulled to a gentle sigh. I strain my ears, but sound is blanketed by the velvet night.
The bench is cool to the touch, filmy dew clinging to its crevices. I run my eyes over its aged plaque, the script long weathered away. I wonder if anyone remembers whose bench this is. I can’t be sure. Time unspools slowly here, hastening only when the red dawn scorches the horizon and the war cry rises.
There was no excuse. He had only the one thing to do but he let his mind wander. The smell of overcooked linen nudged him out of his daydream. The brown mark marred the snowy expanse. She would not forgive him this time.
An hour later, Kaitlin opened the front door. She sniffed appreciatively. The smell of freshly baked cakes made her mouth water. Perhaps he wasn't so hopeless after all. In the kitchen she spied the neat pile of ironed clothes, and the cakes cooling on the rack. But he was nowhere to be seen.
She found him in the bedroom, putting the finishing touches to a cluster of flowers he had embroidered on her best white shirt. Every one of the daisies had a dark scorched centre.
"I always hated that shirt anyway. Now you've made it beautiful." She gave him a hug.
"Indeed, my lady."
"Indeed, my lady."
"I don't even know what the word means."
"Nor do I, my lady."
"Why didn't you ask?"
"Why should I, my lady?"
"How is it spelled?"
"S-C-O-R-C-H. Scorch, my lady."
"What a horrible word."
"Indeed, my lady."
"What are you waiting for? Find a dictionary!"
"Books? We burned all the books, my lady."
"Why on earth did you do that?"
"Because you said it, my lady."
"Am I the only one with a brain!"
"Yes, you are, my lady."
"I beg your pardon?"
"All our brains were taken, my lady."
"Because you said it, my lady."
"How stupid isn't that."
"Very stupid indeed, my lady."
"However! Did he say anything more?"
"Only SCORCH HER, my lady."
"And what are you going to do with that?"
"Scorch you, my lady."
"What is that smell?"
"Bye, my lady."
From the scorch marks on his face and clothes it was obvious that he had been through a trauma. No-one knew exactly what. His hands were involved in a task but his eyes, confused, saw nothing. They asked him where he was from, what he was doing there, but he gave no answer. As far as he was concerned they were not there.
John - for that was his name - was somewhere flying above the Atlantic. After a rather unsatisfying meal which he had managed quite successfully, was onto the final course. The cheese opened alright, but it was a small packet of marmalade that was proving difficult. There had been some announcements but he hadn't taken a lot of notice, although he had been aware that other passengers were not too happy.
Then everything went pear shaped. Who? Why? Where? What?
If he could just open this marmalade ....................
Hidden in the Fold
Maria presses Jed’s white shirts; complex dancing dress shirts with frills down the fronts.
She hears him in her head: “I’m sorry, signormy, Maria, darling.
Maria bangs the iron down on the shirt, like she’s battering Jed’s chest. As the tears fall she releases her grip on the iron. “Why am I doing this? Why am I laundering his clothes for his packing? Am I really such an idiot?” she asks herself.
She pours herself a tumbler of brandy. As she downs it in one, she smells a tell tale smell. “Dear God, will he ever forgive me?” she says, lifting the iron from the smouldering shirt.
Right across the front is a large scorch. Maria has left her mark. She feels she has branded Jed as hers.
She folds the shirt, as she learned in the convent when she was young. Folds, for Jed to discover. Much later.
The smell of scorched earth reached me before I'd opened the car door. I stood on the turf, cropped short by the wild ponies, and watched the ashy smoke drifting across the treetops. At a distance were the diggers that had chewed up the bushes and dumped them into piles ready for burning. The public information signs used emotive terms - 'bully plants', 'invasive'.
And I remembered past times at this spot, picnicking with my parents. How we had to guard our food from persistent ponies, and how we laughed when one sneaked a sandwich from Mum's plate.
And I remembered springtime with rhododendrons in bloom. The vibrant purple and delicate tissue-paper petals.
And I remembered how Dad dug one up, when no-one was looking, and took it home to plant in the garden. But our soil was thin and dry. The leaves yellowed and the plant pined for its home.
What They Don't Teach You At Business School
The fire took hold and swept through the building with a speed and ferocity I found it hard to take in. The heat was so intense it wasn't until I moved as far back as the road that I felt safe.
The paint on the exterior began to scorch and blister. I remembered that week last summer when we'd painted the building, the laughs we'd had. I stood there, transfixed, watching the business I'd built up from nothing engulfed by an inferno. This was my life's work going up in smoke.
The spell was broken by the sound of sirens in the distance, fire engines racing towards the conflagration. I turned away and strode briskly back to my car. I started her up and drove swiftly away, the empty petrol cans rattling in the boot. I had work to do. After all, that insurance claim wouldn't file itself.
She couldn’t remember the last time they’d used her actual name. She made a point of using theirs. You’d think she was insulting them.
Her brother Damien was Ramen, or Ram (skinny as a noodle, get it?). Florence (so lovely) was Non from Nonsense (she tended to gabble).
Her mother insisted on Linnet (more ‘eloquent’ than Shirley, and she would not be defined solely by her procreative role.)
Her dad sloped off last year. Her mother broke crockery for a week, then seemed jubilant.
‘Hey, Scorch. Some guy for you. Get your skates on.’
She blazed into the hall, grabbed her coat, kicked her snickering brother in the shin and pulled Albie down the steps.
‘Scorch?’ he said, eyeing her. ‘Hot stuff.’
‘Sorcha to you. And frigid as hell if you ever call me that again.’
Albie took her in his arms.
‘Sorcha,’ he whispered and she glowed.
A Pressing Problem
The school prize giving evening, with a hall full of staff and parents she’d want to look her best.
How had I been so careless? I was away only seconds. I must have left the hot iron just touching the sleeve of her best blouse. The scorch mark stared up mockingly.
I phoned Preston’s and they had them in stock. No time for me to get over there but what about Ted? But, my husband was at a meeting outside his secretary said and his mobile was here on his desk.
“Hi Mum” Michelle arrived home with a smile.
I’d have to tell her but sixteen year-olds do not allow a ‘word in edgeways’.
“Do me a favour please? Last night I tried to iron my blouse, scorched it. Got a new one from Preston’s, bit creased, can you give it a quick pressing if it’s not a problem?”
Nobody’s here for everlasting fame or glory; it’s a quick grab before another bust on this slow boat to an inevitable death by numbers. I spy a scorch mark in the form of an arrowhead pointing to the nape of Mr. Peterson Stone, he of the six figure salary, accentuating the grey stubble creeping up to the hair line. Isn’t there some universal rule that states: never turn your back to the audience during a presentation? Maybe he got too close to the gates of Hell. “Profit”, he says “and at all cost”, and we bow low.
It’s the same complaint all over the kingdom, and in the tower, where mundanity rules: time is money, but money can’t buy you time or a decently laundered shirt, it seems; we’re all powdered and coifed, but still undone. We pretend to be gods, but if the gods can’t escape mundanity, who can?
"Will you embrace this crumbling empire!?", he shouted. Ash whispered, "even you can see this is madness". Smiling sadly she reprimanded him, "don't talk of madness, you'll lose your mind". "Lana, we can still get out of this!". "You've done all you could, but I have to accept my role". Grabbing him by the arm she dragged him to the entrance. "Go! They're begginning to suspect". He tried to wriggle from her firm grasp. "Oh Ash, what do you think will happen when they find the scorch in your past?", she inquired. "I'll be careful". "Ash! They told me to look after you and I can't do that if you're dead". "Lana, I'm sorry, but I can't let you rule, not yet". Pulling a ragged piece of cloth from his pocket, he forced it upon her blood red lips. "I'm sorry", he said, while stroking her limp hand.
A Duty to Chickens
The chickens would not tend themselves. Her husband had insisted on them, moving her and the boys out of the city and into the country so they could have chickens, proselytizing the benefits of fresh eggs and meat. He knew how to prepare these thanks to his grandmother from the old country.
So far away from everyone else, though, hidden away in those smokey and forested mountains, he ceased blending his whiskey with soda, and by the fourteenth month was often too inebriated to escort the boys to school. Which left her in the long shadows of autumn to dream of other men and wonder what might have been. She would, occasionally, even pick up a glass to drink a bit of whiskey, imagining the farm as nothing but scorched earth. But those thoughts gave way to chores.
After all, the chickens would not tend themselves.
Flesh seared like barbecued steak. Grill marks scorched her palm. A fall, just a fall. She stood as he finished his beer, suds gathered like sea foam on the stubble of his top lip. With her good hand she pulled the cling film from the cupboard. His glazed eyes followed each move as she wrapped the thin plastic around and around. Biting her lip, she fought back the tears. Just a fall. She was clumsy. Unbalanced. He lifted the neck of the bottle. Closed his eyes and swallowed hard. He was done with this one. The crash of the glass jolted her. Shards scattered on the floor. He reached to the fridge took out another. Popped the lid and drank once more.
The afternoon sprawled like a lazy dog in the little town. The door stood wide on the stripped bedclothes and discarded towels of her room. Sweat trickled down my back as I raced from the sun-scorched piazzas to the shade of whitewashed alleys. She was not there.
Had I imagined her loping tall and bronzed into the taverna yesterday and swinging a denim leg over the chair beside me? The sinking sun glinted on the tiny fair hairs on her arms and I thought of peaches. We shared laughter and the aniseed tang of ouzo.
Perhaps it was a dream. But I searched on. At the harbour-side, the taverna keeper gave me that man-to-man understanding look, and silently passed over a scrap of paper
Some moments are so perfect they deserve to be protected from life’s corrosion.
All my love
The ferry hooted as the mooring ropes fell away.
So much blood.
The pain has subsided now, all I feel is numbness. Slowly spreading about my person is both physical and mental apathy.
Except at that point… the place where… the knife…
Right there, the cold is so intense that it burns. Shivers cause the droplets of sweat to tremble faster down my body, and I feel an icy scorch mark on the skin beneath that hilt.
It won’t last much longer now, already my heartbeat is slowing down. My breathing is shallow. I wonder, if the cold continues… will I see my breath? Dragons Breath; that’s what it’s called. How strange it seems to name a sign of cold after a beast of fire, yet here it’s apt.
I feel like Dragons Breath.
I don’t want it to end here, I want to cling on… to keep going…
But I have to get rid of the corpse soon.
A Closer Look
Paul knew he no longer wanted this, but his hatred for her hadn’t grown overnight. He wished his hatred for her was enough to scorch her.
His wife, was very deceptive and calculating; how he was unaware of this for so long disgusted him.
Amara had everyone fooled, even his mother – who was known for her good judgment of character.
“I trust you know better than to step out of line today” Amara said addressing Paul but smiling at her reflection whilst applying her make up in the mirror. Annoyed, Paul clenched his teeth and refrained from responding. “After everything I’ve gone through, I won’t let you ruin this for me” she continued trying not to laugh, “I mean you can try, but we both know it will only look bad on you”.
At that, Paul grabbed his suit jacket and left their bedroom abruptly, chased by Amara’s uncontrollable laughter.
You rise before the alarm, because you don’t appreciate anyone or thing, not even a digital clock, telling you what to do. Frosted webs decorate the bushes as if Christmas has come early. The car holds one mirror you’ve forgotten, behind the visor. From there she watches through scorching angry eyes, her voice inside your head. On repeat. Like when you almost lost it with that guy at the chippie last night, who tried to cheat you out of your change and you wanted to twist the cigarette butt, still smouldering, into the back of his hand. Twist it until he said sorry. Sorry for being such a disappointment.
You walked away from the bloke in the chippie, didn’t make a fuss. Like Dad. Despite your best efforts the turning is inevitable. Most women become their mothers, but you were always your father’s daughter. She hates you for that.
I'm a wisp. Pale and weak. A fragile timid thing. Harmless in my isolation, I rise unnoticed, the power propagating in my core. My base is firmly grounded - germinating, metastasizing under the fresh dry forest carpet. I am spreading my wings without flying.
I'm a plume. Faint crackling disturbs the air and the heightened senses of the burrowed animals who sound the alarm by alighting, scurrying, climbing.
Squirrels ascend the tall oaks. Pine martins scuttle. Birds spray. Foxes burrow deeper searching for safety - solace for their kits.
I'm a funnel. Stronger, nourished by the food in my belly. The oaks cannot escape. Previously tall, strong, invincible, they are putty in my searing fingers - their static nature ensuring their demise.
I'm a raging inferno. I scorch and burn. Nothing escapes my wrath.
Rain. My evil nemesis. Begone! My day has come. You will not quench me.
I am FIRE.
A Nan's Best Friend
'Don't stand so close,' says the brother. 'It's still hot.'
'I want to see. I've never seen a dead body. It smells like when Nan got too close to the candle.'
The boy can see blisters, seared and blackened like the crackling on Nan's roast. He can hear the fizzing, wet bubble-breaking hissing, escaping like shadows slipping between pickle jars. He can taste the soot.
The young girl can't tear her eyes away from the teeth between baked lips. The charred features are unrecognisable; glowing embers; a pixilated halo.
'Someone must have loved it once,' says the girl. 'Did they hate it?'
'Kill if you must, but never hate.
Man is but grass and hate is blight.
The sun will scorch you soon or late.'
'Whose dog is it?' she asks.
The brother is relieved she does not recognise it.
He would do anything to keep the truth from her.
Ribbons & Shells
The scorch of beach-sand overtakes thought. You crouch cautiously.
Roaring waves become the undertow to Gorecki’s #3 drifting in from your earphones—melancholy song breaking on the shores of cursed souls. Misery’s grown into an aching, phantom limb. There’s a jagged seashell clenched in each palm, cutting. One for you; one for her.
Is there a chance for change? Happiness? A choice? Epiphany unfolds, its ribbon of possibility gliding in with the music, wrapping its silken sheen around your heart. The glass needn’t always be half-empty… It could be full.
Your thighs burn. Brushing off sand with the backs of your hands, you enter the sea. It pulls insistently—but you resist. Kneeling, you release the shells to their source. Then you stand and stretch, arms opening wide, reaching to catch the ribbon sailing up over the dunes, high into a cloudless, blazing sky.
Yes, you say. Yes!
I can choose.
My Scorched Soul
Deep velvety eyes that glow A glance you gave, a look that froze It kicks a sparkle, lits a fire And forever I am lost Consuming every piece of me, you keep staring curiously Wondering, wandering, fantasizing what this might be Those relentless eyes of yours Looking right through my façade, rupturing my walls Ripping down the curtains to caress my naked, devoided heart
My mind, straining to resist you But drowning in your words My heart and soul, yearing for more A raging fire burning You - suddenly the name on my lips Burnt in my soul is your name A true remedy for a wry and worn-out heart - And a death sentence to a marriage The mind still trapped in that eonic second When our hearts gave in to unavoidable traction Leaving me nothing but Woeful memories Unbearable loneliness Echoing in eternity throughout My Scorched Soul
Bound in Smoke
Blackened branches, white with ash at the ends, dumped on the patio when we were done prodding.
Embers gagging on the lack of oxygen after hours of burning in our makeshift back garden barbecue: an oversized tin can so charred we could only remember it was once for olives.
Flaky ash lying on the window sill and the seats we had made on stacked breeze blocks and an empty blue plastic milk bottle crate. Debris so integral to our garden life we'd forgotten any urge we had, on moving in, to buy real outdoor furniture.
Leaning in against the back door in the light from the kitchen, my spiral bound notepad, biro tucked through the wire.
“Alright?” His eyes were blazing clear.
The things we had written. Words and thoughts scorched and bound in the smoke.
“Yeah.” We meant it, no need to say more.
Every time I visit mum, I cook her something fresh. She only has electric. She likes chicken stir fries, with red peppers, just a hint of garlic and ginger. I think she welcomes the change from 'ping' meals.
As I place the frying pan on the largest ring, I can't avoid looking, as if it were a blemish on her face. Is it really there or is my memory casting the faintest shadow?
When I was fifteen I was putting up a white plastic rail for her tea towels, drilling into the plasterboard. Then I shook violently, and I was leaning forward from the tiled floor. On the wall, above the hole, was a flamed scorch mark.
The electrician came and replaced the cable, showed me the bullet sized fuse I had blown, and I painted roughly over the mark.
I turn on the cooker, and my brain tingles.
It started with whining. Endless complaints of a wasted life. Opportunities never taken. Regretting what I could have been. We made a choice. But I had to ask whether I was coerced.
I tried other things. I let the dirty laundry pile into a foul-smelling mountain. I ran my fingers through the thick dust to show the contrast. Otherwise the layers of our dead skin lay unseen in union on the smooth surfaces. The bitter irony. I left scum in the bath, grease in the sink, bird shit on the windows. Then a scorch mark on your favourite shirt.
I resorted to fish bones in the Thai curry, gristle in your bacon sandwich, bleach in your coffee cup.
This morning you are still here, and still tolerating me.
And I realise I’m the one who is not quite perfect.
With thanks to all the writers who have made this issue possible.Alexina Dalgetty, Ali McGrane, Alva Holland, Angela McCann, Becky Spence, Bill Cox, C Anderson, Carol Leggatt, Christian McCulloch, Christina Persico, Christine Collinson, Claire Smith, Claire T Allen, Clara Mok, Dave Murray, Debb Bouch, Debra Fertig, Dr M.D. Jayabalan, E.C. Andrew, Eleanor Shoesmith, Eline Kristiansen, Eliza Chapman, Esmeralda, Evangeline Payne, Georgina Hull, Grace Ward, Ian Horsewood, Jade Hamill, Javier Gomez, Jennifer Qvick, John Dapolito, John Hogan, Joosep Kivastik, Joy Stephenson, kerry rawlinson, Kitty Charles, Louise Mangos, Martha Mazda, Mary Thompson, Matthew McLean, Michael Croban, Michael Rumsey, Mike O'Reilly, Mitja Lovše, Neil MacDonald, Nick Black, Palmela Onyebuchi, Peter Cannon, Rebecca Emin, Robert Dudley, Ruth Banister, S.B. Borgersen, Sian Brighal, Sophie Crocker, Sophie Watson, Thom Connors, Tracy Fells
7th December 2016