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Olin beamed with enthusiasm. He hadn't pawned a queen in who knows how long. His gambits had been slumping, but this was a colossal turn of events.
Vishy furrowed his brows and slunk into a deep state of consternation, such a cavernous state-- a new appellation.
Olin was practically licking his chops, dying to throw his queen into battle. He hadn't realized that he had forgotten to tap his clock. His time was ticking. Vishy soon realized his opponent had goofed, but didn't say anything. He played it off, buried his head in his meaty palms, hoping not to burst into laughter.
Olin rose from his seat. His arched torso better resembled a jockey, breaking from the gate than a chess wonk. When his flag fell, and Vishy pumped a victory fist, Olin's jaw dropped. Such a fool he thought to himself. Foiled by a lousy tap.
Nine Perfect Months
I’ve lost all concept of time. Darkness has arrived in more ways than one. Moonlight shines on her lovely face. Cheeks so chubby they could burst. Eyes covered by delicate lids and faint lashes. Tiny cupid lips never to kiss. Skin ever so pale. My heart aches as I hold onto a hand that will never reach for mine. Not a scratch, not a bruise, not one mark. Nine perfect months followed by eight pounds of pure beauty. Silent. Lifeless. I don’t understand. I’ll never understand.
I hold her tight against my chest and imagine she is about to feed for the first time. I can’t let go. I want this moment to last forever. ‘Just a little longer. Please,’ I beg. I wrap her snugly in the white shawl I bought during my fourth month.
The shawl becomes damp with tears as I kiss her for the last time.
I wake early the room is still dark, the morning breeze sweeps across my cheek and I can feel the heat of him behind me. I breath him in enjoying the rare silence of the morning. I nestle in to him deeper, with these movements he pulls me tighter in his sleep wrapping his arms around me protectively like its instinct. For these brief moments in the morning I can pretend I deserve his affection and love, I almost forget the monster I really am. Eventually I am going to have to burst his bubble, but for now I just want to enjoy this guilt free. I know one day I will have to stand by and watch as I shatter his picture-perfect image of me and our life together. All I will be able to do is look on as it twists and turns into pain across his face.
I rang you from my new cordless house phone,but you didn't answer. Turn it up, you said, as I need my tv on 90. Don't leave the front door open like you did in the sixties, you said, and take your gold jewellery off the window ledge where the curtains too short. I mentioned my cramps and you said I needed a bowel movement. Then I phoned your mobile with twelve digits and some woman said it was incorrect, so I bit my lip and tasted metal. I remembered 999, because your father would be embarrassed to have a flashing blue light outside at four in the morning, if he was still here. They didn't waste time opening me up, saying, I was lucky it was only appendix at my age. They also told me you'd rang, and had burst into tears over my pink stretch marked, belly buttonless stomach.
Dear past me:You must know that your heart will burst. Or at least you'll feel like it. Your eyes will freeze to take in the scenery because you'll want to remember where you were when it happened. I can't send the chronomessage to an exact date, but I know they'll arrive. It might be today, in two weeks or ten years from now. And you'll embrace them at first. You'll marvel at their technology and their groundbreaking ideas on urbanism and society. You'll love them. Their calm and collected demeanor will soothe you, and you'll ask them for advice on everything. But please don't believe them. They conceal their hate and that makes them more dangerous. Devise a good strategy and strike. Rise against the enemy. End them before they end your planet. Don't make the same mistake twice. Don't let me exist.
Sincerely,Your future enslaved self
The Morning After The Night Before
The tacky carpeted floor is awash with underwear; shirts, jeans, condoms stretched and full, decaying remains of late-night takeaways. The crumpled bed is evident with bodies, the legs contoured by the sheets. The sound of heavy breathing wakes Declan, he glances to his left and sees that his date has stayed. The glorious sun shines through the window and showers the sleeping face, injecting it with heat. The mouth limp and open breathing out a stale stink of alcohol and cigarettes. A white crust of air-dried dribble leaves a stain.An angry pulsating blemish; pores erupting with pustule caps of heated skin, sebaceous oil slick across the forehead. Teenage remnants of hormones array, a pretty face about to wake. Declan turns his head to the right clutching the top of the duvet, without a word he listens. The date gathered his belongings before he burst out through the bedroom door.
A crash, a bang, and a burst of song trickled through the open window where Sadie lay. The Friday night revelers tumbled out of the nearby bar and made tenuous efforts at walking home, or perhaps to the nearest burger shack to fill their bellies. She could hear the merriment in their voices, the slurred edges of half-familiar songs, turned like curdled milk into drunken warbles. Their catcalls and hijinx rattled her consciousness and she flung the pillow violently to cover her ears.
So young, at just twenty-three, but she had cast off her coat of irresponsibility, or rather it had been taken off her, and now it didn't fit comfortably anymore. Her youth had passed her by on a bus and had waved cheerily as it sped into the distance, a mere whisper of recollection left in its wake.
The baby cried, a single tear ran down her face.
Wheels of Fortune
A bundle of person huddled in the shallow doorway, hedged by meagre possessions.
A burst of braying, glass-clinking, beer-laden fuggy air; two twenty-somethings lurch out of the pub and into the cold night. A hopeful peek from the cocoon of swaddling. A swathe of yellow light illuminates the protruding tattered sleeping bag before the closing door pitches the street into murk again. They swerve towards his scrappy den; he draws up his knees and puts his hand out to grasp the box of his life, hopeful turned to wary.
Bag of clothes kicked along the pavement; box seized, contents hurled. One each side, tugging for destroyer’s privilege. The cardboard gives on one man’s side. The other unbalanced, pirouettes, clutching the prize to his chest, the scraps spinning out, the man spinning into the road as a shiny black 4 x 4 roars around the corner.
Mourne Le Blanc
It was dawn. The crumbled lane, covered with a thick canopy was dingy as I made my way up the steep hill, emerging into the burst of dazzling sunlight in the clearing, revealing the spectacular view of the bay below.
A solitary building - an ugly, concrete, windowless, low slung hut - was the reason for the clearing. Built by the army - now long gone - to monitor passing traffic. The shed - still army owned - the land had reverted to the village.
My brief: to camouflage this monstrosity, creating a park and viewing point for the area. For this I had painted a mural. Today was my final task.There was a pair of corrugated doors roughly covering a wooden
entrance. I lost the fight to have them removed, now intended to disguise them with painting of foliage.
The opening ceremony, next day, all eyes were on the painting - none on the bay.
‘Doctor, she just won’t eat.’
Doctor Jones bent to examine the baby in her mother’s lap. He frowned, looked at the worried parent, back at the baby, then back to her mum.
‘Mrs Howard,’ he said. ‘This isn’t a baby. It’s a balloon wrapped in a shawl.’
‘But doctor, it is, this is my baby!’
Doctor Jones looked again at the balloon. Its face seemed to have been drawn on in marker pen. He grabbed his scissors. POP. It burst. ‘See? A balloon.’
‘Mrs Howard, that was not funny. I have real patients to see, who need help.’
‘My baaaaaby!’ screamed Mrs Howard.
‘Now,’ said Doctor Jones. Mrs Howard was inhaling large, panicked breaths. ‘I must insist that-‘
Mrs Howard exploded. Plastic flew across the room.
Doctor Jones removed a piece of balloon from his lap.
Mrs Howard’s clothes lay in a pile on the floor.
Those threads of broken capillaries branched around his nose . So very different up close.
At a distance he looked a jolly fellow . At a distance he was easily heard over chatter: a boom of anecdote and welcomes.
At a distance he was bearable. Those at a distance loved his colour and were drawn to his amiable open arms. Those at a distance didn't smell the drink on him.
When there was no distance . The ruddy nose sat between eyes like an albino rats . His pinked by burst blood vessels. When there was no distance open arms became a swung fist. When there was no distance all you heard was how bad a wife, how bad a son , how bad that last drink would be.
A Preparation For An Apology
The burst of the saxophone is getting louder as I am drinking at my favourite bar. I'm not alone in it, jazz nights are always full, but my date is still not here, although I'm aware it's all my fault.
The fact that I am calling this a date is too much, we're just colleagues and we had an agreement never to be anything more. There was a major argument between us recently, because I got too close yet again, which makes this night a reconciliation.
The truth is I should stop doing doing that, we have a great friendship, but I keep regretting it is just that. I want to put that selfishness away, it is hard to do that, when we always see each other.
I receive a message on my phone, it looks like I will be friendless for a while.
The waiter pours me another Scotch.
The kitchen counter-top was a clinical sparkling white, the silverfish a deviant black. Sitting there, antennas wispy, she felt her stomach churn when she saw it. Why did this marker of filth, living breathing destroyer of calm, suddenly appear only to sit still? Long after she had torn a piece of paper towel, burst the villain, and disposed of it without a single prayer, her mind wandered back to it. Her lips formed curse words that were muttered under her breath. Rage moved her back to the kitchen. Jars, containers, pots, and pans were rehoused as she searched for more. Evil creatures don’t work alone, bad luck never did come in ones. Later her boyfriend found her sitting still on the kitchen floor. Wooden spoon in one hand and knife in the other, there was a tiny speck of blood by her side. From insect or human no one knew.
Dew lies greasy over every surface, coloured party streamers smeared across the pavement are slick with it. The brutal glare of LED abruptly ends to reveal a wan light. What was, hours before noise and revels, filled with hope and desperation, desire and fear is now damp and crawling. Jittery. Like the gulls squabbling over a burst bag of chips, oozing ketchup like congealing blood.
The night is over, this place is used and done. Yet by the time the sun shows over the car park the streets will be wiped clean and full again by a new desire, a new excess. Scampering masses like vermin swarming through the doors, barely noticing the discreet vomit in the doorway.
She catches my eye - lifting my backpack from the overhead locker. Mine. It’s down the cabin cos no room over my seat, 27F. She must be around 21. Do I shout? Nah. Loads of packs all the same. Honest mistake. I’ll grab hers and swap them in passports.
To be honest, she’s cute.
No backpack over 21. Or anywhere. Know what? She’s nicked it.
She’s in the electronic queue.
“Scuse me – sorry – just coming – my, er –“ I’m pushing through. “Sorry – that’s my – yep – scuse – sorry – Hey!” Bit too loud. People turn. “Er, think that’s mine.”
Burst of laughter from Weird Fish Aardvark fleece top geezer in front.
We look at the backpack.
“Oh, right. Just for the weekend me.” She twitches the grab-bag over her shoulder. “And you? What was I thinking?”
That is one cheeky grin. Fairy Tale elfin ears.
“Wanna share a taxi?” she asks.
He had no cause to believe she was unhappy, although no one had asked her for her consent. Of course, he was much older, and it was his second marriage. And for months thereafter, there was a wariness in her eyes that never really went away.
The same months saw him fill out like a sleek cat, his moods stabilising under her quiet ministrations. Her refusal to speak more than needed rankled, but soon caused him to bask in the silence of her servility. He felt sated enough with life to burst impromptu into song.
Then he came home to her singing as she picked over the rice.
The sudden cessation of her trilling, coupled with the return of her wariness, tinged with fear, was enough to negate any notion that her momentary display of happiness had anything to do with him.
That was the day he bought the knife.
In bed you lie awake, coughing, your rib muscles moaning, weeping like the rest of your body. Burst illusions, images of the future – what you wished your life with him could be. The illness has deprived you of sleep, of all dreams.
“They feed on brain waves,” the healer said. “The waves you produce when you have insomnia. They feast on them.”
Your days are pale, tedious, a used scarf without odor. You can't create or dance, everything's devoid of meaning.
People around you seem happy, pleased to see you become more like them.
Would he be?
At night you find his picture, hold it close to your chest, then put it away to cough, spit in the bowl by your bed. Then you think of it. In water you don't have to use your lungs.
Morning. The water cools your toes, the wind in your face.
And you're together.
He used to lie awake and watch her sleeping. The tension would fade from her soft lips as slumber enveloped her, and his own anxieties would unravel in parallel, in the watery arms of darkness. In her absence he only saw her eyes. He mapped out their flecks and ripples, blue and grey, a vast ocean.
She was his wilderness.
He saw them at the station. When they kissed in the frosty sunlight, she reached up and held his face in her graceful hands.
It’s hard to swallow, like a stone, a stone the size of his fist. Massive in a dry throat which threatens to burst, involuntary contractions of membrane coming rhythmically, trying to force the cold rock down - and upon failing that, upward and out in quiet retches, slow theatrical bows, dip, dip. His blood runs cold, malign.
An ocean flattened, a millpond, steely grey, petrified. Silence.
This window, this damned window! My sole connection to the world. One could have romantic notions about observing the changing seasons, but really it’s just a brown, dripping, descent into Autumn; humid, smeared and languid torment, hour after bloody hour.
Last week a dead rabbit floated past. Its ears dragged down in the water, damp fur spiked around the whitened balloon of a stomach, stretched painfully to its limits. The creature lingered by my window for days, drifting in one direction through the morning, then the other by afternoon. More gruesome each day, I watched and waited with anticipation for the stomach to burst, for an explosion of gases. By Wednesday I was certain the expanding contents couldn’t be contained much longer. This morning the rabbit didn’t bob past, or in the afternoon. There was no explosion, just an undignified fading away.
The trees continue to drip slowly towards winter.
Tom hadn’t slept in four days. The relentless rat-a-tat-tat of next-door’s workmen and the nighttime bangings and battlings of the couple upstairs had left him delirious. Each sound an aural assault echoing inside his mind. His skin a thin casing surrounded by noise, containing noise, channeling it, focusing it.
This was supposed to be his time off to recuperate, let his fractured ankle heal and relax in his flat with all those box sets. Netflix and…
A sudden noise explosion next to his head. The walking wounded careened backwards. His good ankle twisted over unnaturally and in manoeuvring to the right he screamed in primal agony at the double searing pain of sprain and break. His crutches slipped. He was falling. Falling. Fallen. His skull bounced off the walnut hardwood floor, his last vision the invading power-drill as it burst through the wall. Then darkness.
There was no reason why we shoved cigarette buds down the sink hole instead of tossing them in the trash. We wanted to get even with the owner for denying us access to the WIFI, while making us work longer hours. We laughed at how awesome it would be if the pipes clogged up and stinky waste burst all over the coffee shop floor. Concocting doom united us and the thought of Linda Lu – our hateful manageress- skating through loads of anal waste induced us to endless laughter. Even the non-smoking waiters cooperated. Soon old dishcloths and cotton wool (don’t ask me from where) were flushed down the toilets. Weeks passed. Linda found herself a better job, which made us loathe her even more, and when we least expected the plumbing burst. Horrific chaos ensued. Someone met Linda and told her about it, she apparently laughed herself to tears.
She longed for spring, for the fruit of nature to bear forth once more, for this plaster cast to be taken off her leg, for her thin, weak limb to be strong again.
Spring, it will be better by spring. But it was November, and she had to get through till half of March. But it was mild, fair play, and the garden looked fairly green, and there was still a marigold or two dotted about. But nothing new. No buds peeping through the ground, no promise of colour just waiting to burst forth.
For now she was watching everything die away.
But a glimpse of pink caught her eye, half hidden in the honeysuckle. She hobbled over, crutches sinking in the mud towards a tenacious small rose, planted years before.
It had finally flowered. Determined little thing. She hobbled back to the patio. Me and you both, she thought.
Fairy and Fox
Salty water swirled around the bottom of the box.The box was only a little taller than the fairy, with strange black markings along the side; it must've come from the sea. Her delicate fingers touched the top, feeling a slight vibration from inside.Before she could do anything else, the lid burst open.Reeling back from the shock, she took in several shaky breaths and steadied her wings before approaching the box again.Inside was a tiny, white... fox cub. It's eyes were dark and shiny, blinking in the sudden light with red markings around it. A red oval rested on it's forehead, and though the shadows made it difficult to see the little creature appeared to have more than one tail.They gazed at each other, it's dark eyes fixed on her blue ones.Her hand stretched out to rest on it's head.The cub yipped.She smiled.
If I can't see it, it's not happening.If I can't hear it, it's not being said. If I don't speak it, then I can deny it.
The violence was there, visible in the harsh grip, a push here , a shove there, it was always simmering below the surface. Layla wasn't blind, she could see it but chose to look the other way.
Profanity dripped from every word uttered, every grunt and every snort shouted it, yet Layla heard only what she wanted to. She believed that was just his way.Denial, was always on her lips, denial of abuse,denial of love, denial of happiness, denial of beauty. She believed she had it all, just our perceptions were different than hers.
If she didn't admit it, she could deny it.
She had made peace with what was dealt to her, so then who were we to burst her bubble?
She was named for the irrepressible, bubbly laughter that announced her presence--and caught his attention the first time.
Her laughter died down, choked by toxic bubbles of fear, as he stalked her over the next eight months.
On the ninth month, she lay writhing on the road, clawing at her face as the skin bubbled and blistered, barely hearing his words, "If I can't have you..."
Reconstructive surgery healed her face, but couldn't calm the boiling bubbles of rage when she heard he wouldn't be arrested because he was a minister's son.
Her bubble of safety burst when her parents accepted the marriage proposal from his family.
The next morning she lay in her coffin, an impenetrable bubble, beyond anyone's reach.
Tales in the Ashes
The ships hummed past, encircling him, trapping him.
He had played in this forest as a child. He knew the gravel path, the wispy tress, the stone gate. This was his home. It was one hell of a small advantage, but it was something the others hadn’t had.
He veered to his left, barely missing another craft whizzing by. Just a few more yards.
The ancient gate came into view and he smiled. Because the invasion hadn’t been the surprise those monsters thought. For centuries, men and women had looked into the fire and seen the horrors to come, and they had been preparing. He had seen them too: the tales in the ashes of his home. A laser burst shook the ground, but it was too late. He was only feet from the gate, and they were about to learn what mankind had in store for them.
As a frizzy, red-haired, bespectacled, buck-toothed and slightly overweight child, I yearned to perform. I remember, 13 years old dancing/bounding on the front row of The Sands Theatre belting ‘Do You Wanna Dance?’. I was openly crying as I looked out into the audience thinking that it was the happiest day of my life.
My daughter didn’t take after me, lucky thing. Smart, striking (I’m not biased, honest) and assertive, she was perfect for most roles thrown at her, which she always took with enthusiasm at her local amateur dramatics club.
When I was handed the poster, Auditions – Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, I fretted. My mother always told me the REAL world of performing is ‘daunting, dangerous and full of disappointment’. So I hesitated.
The role of Jemima is no mean feat. I’m sitting in the stalls of The London Palladium nervous as hell BUT...I could burst with pride.
They burst through the door as I pricked my arm with the needle.
The one in front said nothing, just showed his badge.
The other like a big bear pinned my arms back and put on the cuffs.
Into the din they pushed and pulled me, weaving through the jungle of spaced out disco freaks.
Cool air struck my face as we broke onto the street.
A door of an unmarked wagon opened and they shoved me in, pushing my face against the glass.
I looked out the window and saw a girl in the queue staring at me, her jaw dropping as it dawned on her. "Oh my god," she mouthed.
The wagon sped off through the streets.
I sat back watching passing streaks of neon.
We came to a stop.
As they dragged me out cameras flashed.
A voice said "Do you have anything to say minister?"
Surge and Swell
I was lagging, and I knew it. Fatigue had welled up inside me from a deep, hidden portion of my body that I hadn't known about. This portion apparently held an almost infinite amount of treacle - figurative treacle, the treacle of drowsiness - which had now filled me from head to tow. Sluggish could be the word.
Coffee would save me. It was the only option available. It was sitting on the desk mere inches from my hand. Dark. Potent. Inviting. The bitter scent of it seared my nostrils. It smelt like hope.
Fumbling for the cup my fingers pawed limply at it. The heat within gave me strength. With a burst and a snarl I lunged, grasping it. Engorged with triumph I poured the very last dregs of my energy into raising it to my lips.
It burnt on the way down, but lit a fire that sustained.
Like any successful assassin, he would never have noticed anyone. Everything about him was an average one: the all-round hairdresser, the clean but cheap clothes and his face expression, which was neither particularly intelligent nor stupid.
The train was so crowded that most people inevitably touched. But only the unknown had a dangerous cargo on board.
He bore the bomb in his head.
He would have her burst into his parents' house in about ten minutes.
Or maybe he would just keep that?
If he gave up his dangerous knowledge, he would tear his whole family into the abyss.
If he was silent, this decision would tear him inwardly.
He bit his lower lip until he tasted blood and turned his wedding ring back and forth.
It would be so easy to commit the greatest mistake of his life that would lead him to paradise.
Toby clutched his party bag in both hands. He could feel his older brothers jealous eyes boring into him as they walked either side of their mother.
"Are you going to share with Henry?" his mother asked in a way that gave him no choice in the matter.
He obediently divided the sweets, watching as Henry crammed them into his mouth in one. He split the cake into two, deliberately keeping the icing covered part for himself. Henry's eyes gave a flash of comprehension though he said nothing.
All that was left were a balloon and a whistle. Toby considered them carefully before passing the balloon to his brother.
"Don't let it fly away," he warned.
Seconds later a loud bang reached Toby's ears.
"You didn't say I couldn't burst it," Henry smirked.
The World is a Canvas
Have you ever stopped and just looked at the sky? You should. You might just see what I see. Beauty. Not false beauty, not anything artificial created in a studio on some canvas. True beauty.
I looked at the sky, it is an art form all of its own. There was a rainbow that day. It burst with colour, they merged into one, and yet they were each so bold. The clouds made no attempt to conceal it, they let it shine, as Mother Nature intended. The complex mixture of sunshine and showers applauded it with the whistling of the wind only cheering on the vibrant arch at the centre of the blue canvas that is our sky.
Did you ever stop to look at the sky? You should've. You could've seen what I saw. But it''s too late now we must stay below the surface.
We Are Not Without Fractures
You’re both catching the same night bus so you leave together and walk drunkenly down the road towards the stop, laughing at something you won’t remember in the morning. When you get there, you lean against it with your body facing his and he makes shadow puppets under the streetlights that come alive on the pavement. You remember being shown how to make antlers by your father as a child, a memory that, like him, has remained buried until now, and the innocence and grief of it washes over you in the half-dark. You reach out and grab his hands because you want to indulge this burst of nostalgia while it’s here – in tangible form – but as you touch, something changes. You look at each other for a little too long and feel your sadness move through your fingers into him, and he lets go then reaches for a cigarette.
It looked like the seam had burst...
It looked like the seam had burst, but on closer inspection, the fibres of the plaid looking fabric that was in fact felt, had strained and separated, just at the top of the small neat slit at the back of Moira’s highly tailored pencil skirt. The size twelve had not been unrealistically optimistic at the time, but wearing the skirt to play the organ in Church, which involved mounting and dismounting the high oak bench and stretching her legs across the keyboard of foot pedals, clearly had. Moira sighed, her needle and thread poised in hand, realising that that the repair was beyond her. She opened the lowest section of her wooden sewing box and retrieved a crochet pink corsage, purchased a few years earlier from the summer fair. She slipped the brooch pin through the fabric, and the resplendent petals swamped the damage. All was well.
The children burst in through the front door, the poor dog who has been waiting patiently behind it to greet them, goes flying - just like it did
yesterday. And the day before.
Two pairs of feet go clattering up just vacuumed stairs to their respective rooms to get changed,
leaving me to pick up a trail of coats, book bags and shoes all left abandoned on the hall floor and
"Muuummmm I'm hungry!" yells one small person from the top of the house.
"Muuuummm I'm more hungry!" yells the other small person making his way down to the living room via a pillow on the stairs. Bump. Bump. Bump. Ouch!
A trail of feathers replace the mess I just picked up.
After tea, homework and before bedtime, the three of us sit together on the sofa. I read them a funny story and they laugh.
I wouldn't change anything.
A Burst Of Stars
A short burst of stars was all it took to get my attention; and, it would seem, end the world. A firework in the sky, initially it had seemed to be nothing of real import; I charted it as usual and moved the telescope to another sector. Eyes turned upwards, I barely noticed when my wife started complaining of a headache; I noticed when she collapsed, when A&E was closed, when I drove past empty cars and dying people in the street. I noticed when it was bright as high summer, even though it was midnight. I noticed when my temples began to tighten; whatever I had seen in the sky, now it is the sky; this starburst printed behind my eyelids. The light is so bright now; perhaps no one will ever read this note, maybe there is no one left. I’m sorry; I wish I had looked closer.
Seventh Summer Running.
They pulled the Massive Bat from the pond with a winch. Huddled locals stood, billowing plumes, exhaling a mixture fear and relief in the still of the bleak winter's day. The local police unit stood like useless stewards gawping at the black vinyl wings as they slowly inched, winch by winch onto the shore.
A burst of flash photography sent soldiers scurrying to disperse the unwanted attention and McGovern broke from his mournful silence to speak.
"It's over, right? This abomination is over?"
Gabrielle didn't respond, transfixed upon the salvage of the bat, the fire engine struggling against its dead weight in the icy water.
"Look, Doctor. I need to know. I have everyone breathing down my back."
She turned, her name badge glinting with the cascading blue of the emergency lighting.
"Inspector. This is just the beginning. You are assuming this bat was a lone wolf. It is not."
He knew it was all over for him as soon as the door burst open, ricocheting into the wall behind with such violence that it slammed closed again with a bang that shook the entire room. He was barely conscious of the whimper that escaped his lips - all he could hear was the sound of his own blood as it pounded in his ears along with the beating of his frantic heart. Cold sweat coated his skin, he was shivering violently, eyes wide and wild as he looked around...
Sure enough, there she was - closer now than she had ever been. She had come for him, as he had known all along that she would.
'I'm sorry,' he gasped out, his throat beginning to close even as he struggled to get the words out. 'I never meant to kill you. It was an accident! Please...'
But it was too late.
In between the sunflowers lay a baby, no more than three months old. It did not cry, and when the witch discovered it, laying still and staring up at the blue sky, fists clenched, she knew it was too pure for her rotten self. Yet, she knew the sun would set soon, and the coyotes would come, or the land would claim the child as her own, and so, wrapping her hands in linen, she carried the baby to her hut.
She burst through the front door just as the sun set, bringing the child into the kitchen and swaddling before setting it in the basket on her table. She’d never had something of her own, the witch thought, and perhaps this child could be hers. She took the baby’s fist in her own, laid sage by the infant’s head, and named her, a whisper of a sound.
Gardening Skills? Or the Lack of?
A friend gave me a lantana plant with tiny flowers of orange, yellow, red and pink. I fell in love with the radiant-coloured flowers and swore to myself that I would not let the flowers die.
Little did I expect that when I brought it home, the leaves of the plant shrivelled from the direct sunlight in my balcony. Despite my frequent watering, flowers started turning brown and wilted. My heart sank under the weight of it all.
Just when I think there was no hope for my gardening skills, what looked like a disarray of dried leaves burst into sprays of bright yellow and orange flowers.
Finally, my drought as a gardener was over.
Bombs don't go bang.
Bombs don’t go bang, they go crump.
I heard that from a lady who used to live in Belfast. I am happy to take her word for it.
I scan the street, wondering what it must be like to anticipate disaster or violence. I am relieved that I don’t have to.
“Come on, Annie! Come to Mummy!”
I turn to look.
Annie is carrying a balloon twice the size of her curly golden head. Every step is a triumph over gravity. Walking is a newly learned skill and I hold my breath. She is running now, joyous, holding her balloon like a permanently deployed airbag.
I anticipate disaster.
Annie will trip.
She will land on the balloon.
It will burst.
There will be tears.
There will be a hug.
I learn that I don’t like anticipating disaster.
I learn another thing.
Balloons don’t go crump, they go bang.
The warm musk of cigarette smoke gutters lazily in the air. Yan opens her mouth, and the tang of nicotine clings to her tongue. She wrinkles her nose.
The wind pricks at her skin. The motorcycle is moving in dangerously quick bursts of speed, but she only feels weightless. She can smell her uncle's cheap, citrusy cologne behind her, his thick fingers wrapped around the motorcycle handles.
There is a muffled silence clamped upon this particular memory. Yan imagines that her uncle asked her a question.
She imagines that she opens her mouth to respond.
Her relatives tell her that she used to speak zhi jiang hua as fluently as any native, and still, she can't imagine what happens after that.
“Ready … set … CHEW!”
Teeth ripped into tubes of meat. Minimally-masticated bits jumped down gullets fast enough to tempt a call to Dr. Heimlich. The capacity crowd belched out encouragement and bounced inflatable hot dogs.
A white chunk, with a string of orange goo trailing behind, burst from one contestant’s mouth into the front row of spectators. Gagging and retching spread to four other contestants, who emptied their mouths into the crowd to turn the wholesome contest into a gross-out version of a Gallagher show.
“These aren’t hot dogs,” a contestant screamed. “These are cheesy squiddogs. The most vile concoction since s’mores cereal.”
At the end of the contestants’ table, a penguin shovelled squiddogs into its pumping beak. Orange run-off dripped down its feathers. “What’s everyone complaining about?” it said in mid-chew, as flecks of rubbery squid pelted the crowd. “These things are delicious.”
Twice a week for eight years he climbed the retractable ladder into the loft and knelt before the deity.
Eight years worth of offerings were carefully placed, pinned or hung around the corner rafters, where the idol sat patiently in the darkness.
For what would be the penultimate time he ascended the ladder, lit the candles, and after praying anointed the now bloated, ball-like entity with warm oils. The protruding veins began to fluoresce a pale green and occasional movement could be glimpsed beneath the thin membrane of the creature's skin.
The following week, while kneeling in prayer, the sack burst open and a hundred hungry creatures scurried over to the loyal worshiper, devoured him in minutes - and he welcomed the release.
My Olympic dreams
This was, by some distance, the furthest I had run. I used the rhythmic thud of my feet onto the track to focus my mind. Mental strength was the key to getting through this, rather than physical fitness.
“Any moron can run a long way if their mind is tough.” The words of Mr McPherson, sadist, bully, PE teacher, echoed around my head. I tried to concentrate on catching the white vest in front, my nearest rival as we turned into the home straight. An inferno roared through my thighs, melting them to jelly. I stumbled, then, with a steely determination I hoped would make McPherson proud, ordered myself to regain composure.
“Left, right!” I all but marched myself over the finish line, gasping air into my burning lungs, ready to burst. Last place over 1500 metres, I never ran such a long way again after that sports day.
Apart from your charming hair and ebony skin, one other thing that attracted me to you was your English, which defied the Queen's. 'Driver! Driver! A tyre has busted,' you shouted, staring at me like I were the driver or some Messiah. The motor swerved and our bodies collided. Like you wanted your prowess confirmed, ' a tyre has busted!' This yell was harsher. The word you meant, I had heard iridescent pronunciations of it: bested, beasted and busted, like yours. So my surprise was aborted.
I searched through your eyes, hunting fright, but fire-flies burst light of love. When the bus managed to stop, you smiled like it was honey I offloaded into your heart as I whispered, 'b-u-r-s-t, burst, not bu-s-t.' Always remember to swallow your heavy -ed at the end of the word.' Abruptly, your face clouded and rage burst.
Box Ticking Exercise
Russell glanced at his watch. He was pleased to see that he was a full twenty minutes early for the café meeting, giving him a decided advantage and the chance to assess the lie of the land before she arrived. He took out his laptop and ran over his list of essential criteria and specifications one more time, and tapped the business card holder in his breast pocket. With time to spare, he sat back to sip his tea.
Ten minutes later, she burst into the room like a bulldog released from a leash, surveying the assembled patrons with wide-eyed excitement. Her cheeks were reddened, and large sweat patches were visible at her chest and underarm areas. He recognised her instantly from her online photograph. Noting that she had failed on point eight of his essentials list, he slipped unnoticed from his chair and left by the back exit.
Lunch time on the cook line, galley slaves slaving away at breakneck pace- it’s a rush and everybody wants it post-haste; from 12:00 to 15:00 no truce: tossed Cesar… and green sides; fried bits of splattering cheese and marinara sauce; chips curly and straight; croquettes crispy oozing hot: or back they come, by way of insulant waiters, nervously taking the piss.
The grill-man, ginger hair- on fire, shouting expletive laden orders, and woe to him that makes his burgers wait- tickets piling up, not just surly anymore; he’s looking to lash out at any easy prey; eyes of shooting flames burning holes through whosoever’s not in motion: special requests get you a death threat- he’s raging to the tipping point.
Ke-bang-clang… the thermometer goes burst and rain pours cats and dogs from the grill hood… sudden peace and sizzling silence; a hundred meter drop from Pandemonium to… oh, sweet respite.
About Last Night
He sat, upright at the kitchen table, wearing the plaid shirt I bought him for Christmas.
“I didn’t mean it.”
Six balloons wobbled on the table in front of him. He held another one between his hands, his lips on the spout. It was green, the size of an orange.
“It’s been a long week.”
His cheeks puffed out.
“And you know how work has been lately.”
“Plus I had the rest of that wine.”
He still wouldn’t look at me. The balloon squeaked slightly between his palms.
“It’s almost three. I’ve got to pick Thomas up.”
The green faded as it expanded.
“The other kids will be here at four.”
It was now the same colour as the vein that stood out on the side of his neck.
“I honestly didn’t mean it.”
He sighed, so hard that I thought the balloon would burst.
A Homeless Night
Glinting on a puddle the moon guides me through another lonely night, its warmth comforts me ending my evening of misery always running away from me by the end of the night. Stars prance around the sky like gazelles, laying here solitary on the street nothing can sooth my pain.
You all know we are there, I am that shadow behind you that you, trained to ignore us you are but still you want to believe that we are fine at night when you don't have to look at us.
Day and night merge together as an intimate couple do, when you see each hour tick by you can't appreciate the primal segregation of the moon and sun. A wall blocks your vision bricks tarnish reality, creating a void for your dreams to burst. You would think the day sleeps but I know the sun just puts on a cloak.
The Dissatisfied Guest
Right on her due date, their robust daughter bursts through with a vengeance. "Record speed for a first delivery," the nurse tells them.
Her perfect little body and dainty cry enthrall them. She doesn't latch well, but no worries, the team advises. Two days later, they are discharged with many congratulations and no instructions. Being a parent is intuitive after all.
Once home, Baby becomes a screaming, inconsolable tyrant. The mother, biologically assigned to feeding responsibilities, feels helpless to satisfy her.
At 3am on her third night home, Baby turns into an alien. "Please, please take something," the mother pleads. Exhausted, the mother contorts shriekingly full, dripping breasts every which way, shoving each into Baby's mouth. Still Baby doesn't latch and wails on. What is wrong with this infant?
Later that morning, the mother hears Baby's cries differently: "You are unfit to be my mother. Go away!"
The snow is fresh, as powdery as icing sugar. I can feel the pull of it, aching to be ploughed by our skis. Jan goes first and quickly disappears over the brow and beyond my eye-line. Fixing my goggles I glance behind to the rest of the group. The sky is wide and blue above them, not a sliver of cloud, as they give me the thumbs up.
Within seconds something feels wrong. The skis slip away too fast, as if my feet are running away. The world moves underneath me and I tumble backwards, but I don’t stop. I’m still falling forwards. To stay alive I must stay on top of the snow, but there’s no point in fighting gravity. The wave drowns me as easily as pebbles on a beach. A starburst of light. The sky bleaches to white before the ice box seals shut.
The Final Firework
It had burst out of her mouth. Rocketed more like. The hate and anger that had fuelled its trajectory had an almost nuclear force. She was surprised it wasn’t followed by a mushroom cloud.It was never meant to be like this, they had meant to follow a path that wasn’t littered with arguments and recriminations. Flowers and rainbows were meant to pop up, a physical manifestation of the feelings they had for each other.Until they weren’t there anymore. They had faded gradually, making way for a darker cloudier road. She had tried to negotiate it with care, plant new flowers and weed the thorns but it was an uphill struggle.Finally there were no flowers, no light, no love. As she had screamed at him he didn’t even look surprised, there was merely impassive nonchalance. Her final firework had departed and the sky turned back to grey.
I stuff my hair, like robbed sweets, down the neck of my clothes. Its roses remind. Now they mightn't smell it, nor see me trying too hard.
If I closed my eyes I'd have dreamed our pilgrim walk; passed alien grass and damp flustered seagulls. Dark waters biting close around feet, without the shoes I'd left with his sons and mother on the sunnier part of his beach.
"I'm taking her out to see the tower. We'll be back,"
His son firing warning eyes at him.
With a wave of his silent hand I'm summoned, and from then on try to keep up. The sky turns with us, and a burst of sleety rain chases the others home.
His big coat on my back. I fail in the wind. Him finally reaching for me. Hauling me, body and all, up to his curved black den, shook in sudden storms.
I remember the flicker of excitement I'd felt when I first glimpsed the flower buds in our garden. From then on I'd watched the flowers unfurl their colours each day only to wither and die. Giving their lives to something greater.
Eagerly I watched as small spheres of joy grew in their place, swelling each day with sour-sweet juices beneath the skin. When the first kisses of yellow appeared on the surface my impatience won and I knew instant regret; the tart unripe juices and seeds exploded in my mouth.
"Serves you right" my husband snickered as I coughed and spluttered in the sink. I gurgled back my retort.
Now finally, after weeks of watching, the fruit had ballooned and blushed red under the sun. They were ready. I popped the first cherry tomato into my mouth and savoured the burst of flavour as I bit down. They were perfect.
The dust and the pounding
Everything pounds here.
The dust-covered earth beats as if we dance on the taut skin of a drum, rhythmically beaten by expert hands. A haze of dust rises from our stomping feet.
The pounding is amoral. But it consumes until we are left wild things, creatures of animalistic instinct.
Multicoloured, unnatural lights stab our eyes. We let them slide closed, feeling the music shaking the air in our lungs.
A shout, incoherent and slurred breaks into the stratosphere.
Like a bubble, the pounding, the illusion is burst.
The man has a crack den of a body. In his skeletal hand is a shiv and he staggers as he lunges at the woman who is pushing through the crowd.
The pounding of the music, the dancing has stopped.
We all stare, transfixed by the stillness before us.
The woman is crumpled on the parched earth, her blood mingling with the dust.
Awakening With A Fright, In The Dark of the Night
When filled with water, dried paint can stretch like a balloon.
Over Alfred's bed.
His neighbour upstairs had started to fill the tub and forgotten.
At eleven pm.
On a Thursday.
Alfred had settled down, the stress of an oncoming Friday driving his eyes to close.
At eleven thirty.
And the integrity of dried paint balloon is based on the quality of the paint, and the pressure of the water.
By his head.
As it burst.
Round and Round
Three years, two days, four hours and thirty-seven minutes is how long Melanie has been missing. I don’t know how it happened. She was there, right there, walking next to me, until she wasn’t. Just like that. I pushed the panic down until it sat like a heavy lump in my stomach and ran through the assault of lights and noises saying, shouting, screaming her name.
That day the police looked for hours, until stars burst into the darkening sky in lazy clusters, and for days and weeks after until the whispers of stopping became too loud to ignore.
My body fends for itself these days: breathing, eating and sleeping when necessary. And when the well is replenished, my eyes cry some more.
Every year I come back to the funfair, circling the collage of happy faces for traces of her.
Amongst the Grass
Where is she? He rolls the berry in his mouth its flesh ready to burst as he thinks of her. They have met here every day this summer, in this field on the edge of the river. He can picture clearly the slow swing of her dark hair around their faces as she leans forward to kiss him.
For weeks he has lane awake at night, the heat of the summer damp upon his skin. He has wondered if this is love and repeated the words in his head. Practicing how he will deliver them. Every morning his courage has failed him.
He has hoped that the painful thud of his heart against hers will let her know. Sometimes she has smiled at him knowingly and he wonders.
But now his belly is in knots. She is an hour late. Where the hell is she?
A Labour of Love
I knew what was in store for me. I knew it as soon as my mother and I had stepped off the plane in Southern Italy. I also knew what was in store for me after the trip. A diet.
But still, I was glad to be there. Grandma is the dearest old thing, and I love her to bits. Whenever I prevent her from filling my plate, she becomes concerned, as if I was underfed. Despite the fact that I am no longer a little girl.
"Mangia!" she would say, puzzled. How could she not tell that I was about to burst at the seams? I loosened the top button of my jeans, hoping no one at the table would notice. Relief.
But as I observed her, amused, I knew. I knew those extra kilos were worth the pleasant memories I would take back with me.
Happy New Year?
New Years Eve, I've never liked it, too much forced fun.
I'd rather be at home watching Jools with a bottle of sherry.
I mean look at her, that's her third glass of wine in half an hour, absolutely bladdered, poor Jim will have to carry her home soon if he can manage the bulk.
Thirty minutes to go and then I'm off. What is there to celebrate anyway? Brexit, a Russian puppet in The White House and terrorists round every corner.
Oh christ, not charades! I need to escape and join the smokers outside, might even take it up again next year. I've put on two stone since quitting last year, belly is fit to burst, I'll go and blag one off Simon.
There's that chest pain again, must get that looked at in the New Year, oh no, too late...
It was my first booking and I was dying on my feet. At first the audience sat staring stony-faced. Then they started to chat among themselves and one or two even got up and wandered off. I was giving them all my best material but getting nowhere. I started the one about the talking dog, waving my arms about, trying for some reaction, when suddenly I tripped. I wobbled furiously, tipped forward, twirled and landed on my back.
A huge gale of laughter burst from the audience.
I struggled to my feet. Well, I had their attention.
'So my dog said to me...'
This time I did it on purpose, catching one foot on the other, going into a forward roll and ending up spreadeagled once more.
Again, uproarious giggles.
Oh well, at least I now knew what it took to amuse a group of four year olds.
No Man's Body
I buried my face in the mud as bullets whizzed past, ripping into the body next to me.
"Baker! Get down!"
A flare was shot in the air, sending No Man's Land into a bloody haze. They could see him standing there. I wanted to pull him back down, yet I daren't move.
Another flare illuminated his waxy face. He'd been jittery for a few days now. But he was young, that was normal.
"Get down Baker!"
I'd heard stories of this happening, men who wanted to welcome Death's embrace at any cost. Men who couldn't take it anymore.
He was going on leave soon, he'd written to his Mother earlier to tell her. He was too far gone though. The flare's reflection was the only light in his eyes.
An order. A burst of gunfire. A body. That's all we were in the end.
Change of heart
When Lucy was about to swallow a bunch of sleeping pills to kill herself, a man weakly knocked on the door and appealed to save him.
She turned the lights on and opened the door for her last act of kindness. A half-dead man, 25, burst in, shivering and covered in snow.
She gave him her dead mother's clothes to wear and bed to sleep. She had nothing else to offer.
Next morning, he saw her swallowing something and choking with it.
He held her upside down and tapped her back. The pills fell out.
His glace fell on the prescription for sleeping pills over the table.
"I am sad and miserable. Why did you save me?"
"Because you saved me while the blizzard killed my family."
"Why choose death if you can live."
"Maybe." She wanly pulled her lips apart and exposed her yellow teeth.
A Part Of You Will Always Remain
The balloon burst with a loud pop. Don dropped to the floor, he couldn't help himself. He lay prone as the children's laughter and adult conversation stopped and all eyes in the room turned to him. There was a moment of awful silence, during which he could hear his heart hammering away in his chest. Mary moved towards him and kneeled down, the concern plain on her face. She took his clammy hand in hers.
"Don, baby, are you alright?"
Don couldn't speak, his mouth was too dry, but he nodded reassuringly at her. He got back to his feet and gradually the noise level returned to normal as conversations and party games resumed.
Mary led him out into the garden and as he breathed in the fresh air his anxiety slowly faded. Don knew though, that while he had left the war, the war would never leave him.
Inside a small warm fleshy place I cuddle up and begin to work. I struggle inside my own space; whipping my body around I hear a sound outside the room. I stop. I pause no longer than five seconds but it feels like forever.
I hear Voices. A man shouts, I think someone falls. A boy screams.
My God, may be they need my help. I throw a full force of energy at the white wall, it shifts and I tumble backward and land near a black window. The pane is smoky but it seems translucent. I burst through the blackness and recoil when I feel the heat. I was outside.
The man is still screaming but I hear the boy whisper, "look, mom. It's a little butterfly. Can I keep him please?" He comes closer to me, "you'll help protect us."
I am captured again.
I enter and she is there, stood with her back to the window. On the table, a vase of white-flowered narcissi hang limp, drunk on apprehension. A winter sun bursts through opaque panes, but is unable to fracture the arctic aura.
As it ever has, my heart offers a chink of hope when I look at her – in her pensive half-smile perhaps, in the glint of silver in her eyes.
‘Don’t be beguiled by witchcraft,’ someone says – someone who knows me better than I know myself, someone I’ve neglected all-too-readily and never understood why.
But right now I’m listening. I feel the key grinding the lock of my heart shut.
She mouths affections miserly, too frugal to be of worth. I’m way past believing.
There is doubt in her voice.
‘She’s slipping,’ that someone says.
She looks battle-weary, weaker than the last time, old and frail. Defeated… for now.
Elm Road was the Nile. Its pavements were river banks, and on its flood plain were houses numbered twelve to twenty-two.
‘The water board are on the way. They said the main’s burst.’
Edna had the only telephone in the street, and she was sitting on the wall next to Grandma watching our river-road. Edna was the first to notice Grandpa’s Hillman Minx struggling towards us.
‘That your Frank?’ she said, standing. ‘Fancy him driving up here in this.’
‘He’ll be alright,’ Grandma replied, ‘it’s a piddle of water.’
Edna’s eyebrows disappeared into her hairline.
‘It’s six inches, Joyce.’
And then the churn of water under the wheels stopped. The engine died. The car wasn’t moving. Grandma marched into the water, cheeks burning like embers, brandishing her small fist.
‘Need me to call the lifeboat?’ Edna shouted, laughing. I splashed after Grandma, and I was laughing, too.
The monster burst into life. It was unstoppable. It obliterated everything in its path. Armies folded and retreated. Even the mighty White Army had no defense against the monster. It was immune to every weapon imaginable. The monster wasn't taking any prisoners. Everything in its path was facing a certain death. There was nothing left to do but die. The Higher Being decided to intervene. It unleashed the Force upon the monster. It was the last line of defense, since the Force favored no one. It attacked the monster and the White Army at the same time. It was now just a matter of who will have more strength to survive the attack of the Force. The White Army was decimated, but it endured. This time the monster didn't survive the attack of the Force. It was pure luck. This time the patient survived...
I don’t know anymore. I just don’t know. I didn’t want to fall in love with you; it was wrong, so wrong. You were my friend, but I did, I couldn’t outrun the fact that you were so amazing, so perfect. Your eyes read a thousand different messages and your beautiful smile that created a spark of danger, excitement and adventure. It hit me then the burst of love. The stars, they were as beautiful as the day my dreams were crushed. It was time to let go, it’s not okay, it never will be okay. But I will always love you, and you can carry on without me because you have her, I want you, I always will, but it won’t hurt me now, because, well because I realised I am the dreamer, this is my dream and I’m not going to wake up.
A Cyan Sky
A cyan sky bursts into the room and Worrell extends her sleek body to rest her paws on the peeling window frame. Trapped on the wrong side of the glass, she miaows as she spots a triangle of beak peeping over the gutter. The blackbird swoops down to the bird table in your garden and repeats the journey twice.
You loop your finger through your necklace, your heart aching. The silver butterfly represents freedom, but stuck inside a gloomy London flat, where is hers?
Through the window you see the road; a deathtrap of bikes, scooters and speeding four-wheel-drives. And there's a cat ripper nearby who hacks off cat heads in macabre, Isis-inspired crimes.
A cluster of ladybirds skitters as you bang your fist against the window.
'I'm so sorry, Worrell,' you say as you bury your face in her soft fur and she whimpers as it absorbs your tears.
From Way Up High
It looks a lot different from up here. When I was on earth I'd gaze at the stars and marvel at how far away they seemed. How seeing so many stars on a crisp autumn evening would make me feel so small and insignificant. For some that might be a depressing thought but I find it to be quite grounding.Now from where I sit beyond the clouds I get to watch the stars burst forth, explode, implode or fizzle out, showering "outer space" with cosmic dust and streaming lights, like an intergalactic fireworks show. It helps ease the pain and sadness when I look over or down (I have no sense of direction out here), earth looks so far away. From my position I find it hard to spot the sun, the Earth's sun I mean, all of these stars look the same.
This is where I live now.
Ash covered the valley after the inferno ripped through, and from my viewpoint on the peak I saw the Grayling thundering towards me, a single figure, a messenger from the Caustic Sea.
Whether the Grayling was male or female I couldn’t tell; each identity posed its own threat. So I knelt down on the burning cinders, my knees enflamed, took out a Perasiascope and focused the viewfinder on the stricken sea.
The thunder came closer and closer, a deafening clatter of iron and fire that burst through my eardrums like a riptide. I realised – too late – that the Grayling was female from the clanking of her outer defences, and leapt from the peak. Shrieking across the burning plain like a half-shadow I knew I had two choices; to run or be Aggregated. There would be no way back to the Land of Yellow Suns.
The Comfort of Dreams
The alarm burst into her dreams, and her misery returned. She contemplated the pills, then the phone. Silence. She’d promised herself she would, if he hadn’t called by midnight. She sipped the water, easing three tablets down her throat, then three more. She looked at the phone, forcing a third batch down with a gulp. Then another. She stared at the photo of the two of them in the Tuileries. Another mouthful. Not too quickly; she didn’t want to be sick. She remembered that day, feeding pigeons, laughing, planning the future. She recalled their first house. They’d slept on the floor until they could afford a bed; abandoned half-naked walls to make love among the strips of wallpaper. She wondered why things had changed. How they had become such strangers. She wallowed in her memories until sleep overwhelmed her. She was oblivious to the ringing of the phone.
The girl walked forward the dark tunnel she was in slowly coming to an end, she could see the light, the sun rays shining down onto the road ahead. The light providing a slight burst of happiness for her. But as she got closer the light got darker and the tunnel became longer, and as she picked up the pace, determined to reach it, she couldn’t because as she ran the light dimmed causing a tears to fall down her face. As she ran and ran but never reaching the light, never reaching her goal. She stopped falling onto the ground, looking to the light, only to find it had disappeared. The light that kept her going destroyed, her reason for trying no longer there. The only thing keeping her from giving up. Gone.
There was a smear of blood on the tomato, spoiling the ripe, juicy perfection of the pile, which lay in a white dish on the sunlit windowsill.
How annoying, but whoever knew that blood could spurt quite so far. She licked her finger thoughtfully, and leaned across the sink to remove the offending stain.
“Clean, clean that’s all you’re good for you lazy cow...”
She tilted her head to one side, almost hearing, but not quite. Outside, a mower hummed in the distance, and children screamed with a burst of hysterical laughter.
The ringing brought her sharply back.
For a moment she stared at the dish of tomatoes, before reaching carefully for the phone.
“Mrs Amos? It’s Camden Hospital. Your husband's out of danger – still unconscious though.”
Leaving the keys next to the phone, she walked quickly out of the front door.
There was a bus stop outside her house.
The Mystery Staircase
I only went there once after it happened.
I knew they would come after me if they found out.
I just had to see it for myself.
I managed to climb the 6 foot fence they had put up without being seen.
There was a thick fog that night but there can be no mistake as to what they did to him.
Everything had been burned to the ground and yet the staircase remained untouched.
I started thinking about what he must have gone through up there. A creeping anxiety arose in me.
Why did he respond the way he did? I knew he was innocent and could have proved it.
The burst water mains pipe meant the fire service couldn’t put the fire out and yet the staircase up to his room remained. When I got closer I froze, as I realised the staircase was made from wood.
At the time this was as rash a theft I had ever undertaken. With a grunt and a burst of energy I made my break fast.. Had I been apprehended my bacon would have been cooked but I acknowledged that even if I got away with it I could be in for the chop. .Luck sizzled out My prey let out a crisp squeal causing me to become ham fisted. I dropped it. A case of out the frying pan I thought as, like a brisk trotter, it beat a retreat. My loud cry crackled and sliced through the street attracting two policemen ending in a joint arrest.. What a silly sausage, I had handed it to them on a plate. Fearing a roasting I was sandwiched, grilled and egged on to make this confession which you could say was drummed out of me.
Tom Tom The Pipers Son..
The tape was rescued from the back of the cupboard, unwatched for years.
We're on a beach, Dad frantically glancing heavenwards; a race against time before the deluge arrives. He's completing the job one-handed, the upturned bucket almost tipping as the small spade digs and deftly deposits sand. I'm making Dad's job harder by clinging to his other hand, my attention directed not towards the row of sandcastles, but to my dad's beaming face. Pure, unbridled joy bursts from underneath his thick, brown mop of hair.
Even thirty years later I'm transfixed by the sight of him rejoicing in that moment. I recall his soft laughter- his face only inches from mine- a detail inaudible to the camera's audio mic.
The sound of his voice is a tiny fragment for my memory to treasure as its own; a moment of love unclaimed by film.
James burst out of the kitchen, panic written all over his young face. "Something is wrong with mom." he said. "What do you mean? " I asked, confused.
" I can't explain it. " He said, still out of breath. "What do you mean, you can't..." My voice trailed off. I never got to finish my sentence. Just then, we heard gun shots from outside our house.
We both rushed through the front door, expecting the worst. Our sick thoughts, had sadly, become reality.
There in the middle of the road, lay a woman's body. It was surrounded by a pool of blood. She wore a yellow jacket. The exact same one, our mother was wearing this morning before she left for work.
My mind started to conjure up the worst possible thought. Could it be?
Maria burst into tears. Not for the first time today. Her Jed had gone. Last month. The Englishman of her dreams. Flown away with the yellow haired Brenda. Back to the life he said was so grey. Away from the sparkling blues and whites of this island of love. Her home that she took for granted. Until Jed pointed out, “this is paradise Girlie, no-one would ever want to leave this.”
So Why? she asks herself. Why has he gone with that woman? Why did he not stay here with me in paradise? Is it me?
The letter waits for her on her kitchen table. Placed there with some reservation by her grandmother who had never approved of the paunchy Englishman who drank much beer and didn't speak Greek.
But she loved her granddaughter and for that reason she hoped the letter would provide all the answers.
A Mother's Warning
The first time I killed anything, I was nine.
It was a grey squirrel, shot with my brother Pete’s air rifle. When I had fired, I dropped the gun and ran towards the fluffy bundle.
‘A very deep sleep,’ Pete said.
I punched him on the arm and burst into tears. The squirrels were ring-barking the native beech forest on our farm, slowly killing the trees. Despite this, I swore it was the last time I would hold a gun.
It’s not all Pete said that day. He told me he’d never seen anyone fire so accurately. I shot the little fellow right between the eyes. A mercy killing, he said.
I’m standing in front of Whittlesey’s in Peterborough, remembering Pete’s words.
You should know our family now has far more than trees on our mind, especially if you ever lay your hands on baby Emily like that again.
In geography, we learn that shallow earthquakes at subduction zones generate tsunamis. We pass around volcanic rocks. The obsidian is glassy and black, the pumice frothy-grey. I slip the obsidian into my pocket.
At home, my parents are fighting again, their thunder-voices shaking the house. I've entered the subduction zone, am being crushed under its massive weight. If I don't act soon, I'll burst.
The obsidian slides down the back of my gullet, so large it feels as though it's bumping down the inside of my spine. I chase it down with gallons of water, until a river runs through me – freezing, compacting, glacial.
I curl into a ball, my hands cupped around my belly, and murmur to my stone baby. Deep within the subduction zone, I feel the tremors above.
A tsunami is coming. My bones have turned to stone.
Clarissa was born with only one ear. In her 12 years on planet Earth she had gotten used to it and the 'baggage,' as her mother called it, that came with her ear situation. She could not wear her hair behind her ears. She was unable to wear glasses. She was not able to use both her earphones. To her they were buy one get one free. Clarissa however was only interested in what she could do. Clarissa could hear things that other people couldn't begin to conceive existed. Not that she would ever tell anyone, it was her world. Clarissa could hear the sun's rays burst across the garden. Took comfort in listening to the cat's dreams chasing around his mind as he slept on her lap. And, on this beautiful summer morning, took acute notice of the pulsing heartbeat belonging to a man creeping towards the front door.
Emperor Chi was once believed to be the wealthiest man alive. He was respected because he had risen from the ranks of the skinny Dinajpurian laborers. Now, he travelled by palki, a box carried by eight pole bearers. No frivolous luxury, for Chi’s outrageous wealth, was reflected by his eminent belly. On his rounds he handed out advice and alms unsparingly. He was loved by all.
One day someone remarked that the Dinajpurians were very lucky that their respected emperor spent so much time in their humble village. Another speculated on how big the empire actually was, for no one ever set foot outside their own village. They decided to ask the Emperor these questions during his next round.
On that day, Emperor Chi seemed richer than ever. Inevitably the front bearers collapsed. On hitting the ground the Emperor burst open instantly and spilled smooth pebbles over the dirt road.
The Predator Erect
Baron Crumpet loved eggs. He´d get them from big Mac Donald´s farm, and liked them whiter than white. “Some brown ones creepin’ in, Big Mac. Reckon ya need a bit a action in the henhouse, ” he said.
Big Mac scratched his head. Client´s King. A Baron anyway.
“What you need,” said the Baron, “is a brand new rooster.”
Big Mac wondered where he was going to get a new rooster in time for the spring chickens.
“A huge one. Yep, saw one in China.”
“It´s not just about size,” Big Mac said.
“Yeah, well. Lemme do a deal. It´ll take just a phone call.”
Big Mac passed him the phone.
“Moshi Moshi,” the Baron said. “Can you do me a copy? Yeah. Big. Gold.” He put the phone down. “Done Deal.”
“What´ll we call him?” Big Mac said.
The Baron laughed and then burst out: “The Predator Erect!”
The Sac That Was Our Living Room Ceiling
The flat upstairs. It's their escaped water, low slung in the sac that was our living room ceiling. Icy cold drops sweat along the pregnant plaster, grow plump, fall down - we had to move the couch. The floorboards are dotted with filling bowls. Some day (or night) soon, the whole lot's going to finally burst. My family nag me to call the landlord but I hate confrontation. I say I'll call him tomorrow, after the weekend, after Christmas. I know they're losing respect for me over this. I hate that I'm supposed to be the one to deal with problems. This isn't our country. I don't like to make waves. Meanwhile, the sagging over our heads undulates and sways with its own incomprehensible tides.
A child full of Autumn sun, unaware of the gathering storm, made them with giggle tinged breath and a swiftly dipped stick.
Gliding magical mirrored globes.
Floated towards a fuscous sky.
They rose. Drifted.
Reflected a delicate violet wing over a chalk hill. The remains of an impromptu picnic scattered over a blanket.
A hand held, just a little too long, over that tartan check. They saw the glance. The colouring of her cheek that he slid his against. To whisper in her ear. They were there to witness the beginning of something then but kept their secrets safe as with a quick liquid burst they were gone.
"Essie!" Mum had cried. "Don't you be summoning no more magic!" Banished to her bedroom, the little girl leafed her way through grandpa's special book. The one he’d snuck to her in the hallway as he left after lunch. Essie traced her fingers over the letters that seemed to rise from the paper, hot and sharp against her skin. By the dim glow of her My Little Pony lamp she whispered the words. The light skipped and danced and she smiled as she heard a faint whinny. She read the words louder and louder until her voice echoed from every corner of the room. It spilled into a ball of shaped noise that burst into bright colours. There was a haze of something like smoke and then a soft neigh. The pony stepped to Essie and nuzzled at her hand as she wondered how she’d magic it away.
Love Tastes like a Toasted Sandwich
“Make your own,” she said.
“Fine,” he rose up from the sofa.
The gas stove hob clicked on to the changed TV-channel ambiance. Shards of chocolate bar dropped into a melting bowl atop potted boiling water. Bread removed from packaging and placed into toaster. The molten chocolate stirred. The toaster popped. Butter was soaked up by an edible sponge. Automated laughter had burst in the background. Cacao creaminess dripped upon a golden glaze. The stubbornness of a peanut-butter lid held steadfast in its unjarred position.
“Why do you have to be so difficult?” his conversation with an inanimate object.
The jar remained silent. He smothered it with a dishcloth and the jar finally exhaled. A nutty dollop smoothed into a bitten slice. Pressed sandwich in hand, his feet returned to the sofa.
He offered her a bite.
“I love you,” her mumbled mouthful.
He kissed her crumbed lips.
There is a species of cicada, Magicicada, which bursts from the ground when the temperature reaches sixty four degrees Fahrenheit, in a cycle that repeats every seventeen years. Their infrequence makes it impossible for predators to depend on their existence, and they swarm unchecked in their millions. They breed freely, their unique calls ensuring they find the right mate. Finally they deposit their eggs deep in the soil to begin the cycle again. Biblical plague or evolutionary genius? Is the seventeen years fixed forever or will our actions change this behaviour; will climate change disrupt this sensitive ecosystem? Or is there nothing that we can do to change the pattern? Will the seventeen year cycle survive the human race? Seventeen is a prime number.
The Things You Will Never Know About Your Lover
When your lover walks away to the queue at the airport after you’ve drawn a long hair from his shirt and this is not the time to cry has been whispered against your damp neck, a Ute Lemper song comes in a burst into your head. Little Water Song. You watch the assembly of his face, the stones are piling on your chest. Cairns and shrines should be made of your dry ribs. What do you know right now, and then before, about this man whose back you have inhaled as though you had given birth to him? Would you even recognise the face he wears over that border, in the worn car and kitchen, in the sedate bedroom with its cries? Would you even recognise the notes in that voice?
He waves and your guesses are so childish.
He sobbed, his little body heaving with each emotional fracture. He sat, arms wrapped around his knees, eyes pooling as they stared out the night window, his small shadow blanketing the floorboards.
'But I had named it,' he said, the words spilling out between his tears. 'It was there every night before I slept. Why did it have to burst now?'
Not wanting to tell him that the life of a star was just like our own - liable to be snuffed out without warning, I said,
'They burst and spill out millions of new stars. One of them will find you.'
'I want to be an astronaut, to fly up there and get close to the stars.'
'Go for it, I said, my tears welling in already drowned sockets.
'When I burst, will all my new stars have cancer too?'
'No, my precious. Your stars will live forever.'
With thanks to all the writers who have made this issue possible.A.M. Ruiz, Aideen O'Sullivan, Alva Holland, Andy Wright, Angela McCann, Beth Stacey, Bethany Gallett, Bill Cox, Bonnie Scott, Caleb Echterling, Catherine McNamara, Christine Penhall, Claire Smith, Clara Mok, Daisy White, Dan March, Dave Murray, David Cook, Debra Fertig, Dimple Shah, Drew-Kiercey, E.C. Andrew, Eileen Merriman, Em, Emma Dykes, Emma Kay, Erica Pownall, Faiza Bokhari, Geoffrey Raven, George Gibbens, Geraldine Terry, Grace Ward, James P M Philips, Jane Carrick, Javier Gomez, John Dapolito, John Gorman, John Vulkan, Jon Jones, Joy Stephenson, Julie Honeybourne-Price, Katharine Seifalian, Kieron Circuit, Kimo Morrison, Kirsty Holmes, Laura Besley, Leah Reynolds, Lee Hamblin, Leslie Roberts, Lisa Williams, Louise Mangos, Madeleine Ritzker, Maris Thompson, Mark Ralph-Bowman, Martha J. Whatley, Martha Mazda, Martin Buckell, Mary Davies., Mary Thompson, Michael Croban, Michael Rumsey, Michelle Matheson, Mike O'Reilly, Mitja Lovše, Murari Adhikari, Neil James, Nick Black, Nick Markham, Nicky Blue, Oladimeji Damilola, Oliver O'Driscoll, Paul Alex Gray, Prince Cavallo, Rebecca Field, Robin Rich, Ruth Timmins, S.B. Borgersen, Sam Parker, Samantha Brooke, Sarah Feng, Sarah Jane Patella, Sesame, Simon Gadd, Smita Jain, Solitaire Ntsumpa, Subhankar Biswas, Susan James, Susan Robinson, Sylvia Petter, Thom Connors, Tracy Fells, Victoria Brock, Will Montgomery
11th January 2017