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"I'm so sorry, I just couldn't make it." Marie said a few comforting words and we hung up.
My father's funeral had taken place on Islay. I couldn't get away from work to travel back home.
I took a walk down to the sea front. He'd always loved the sea.
I wept then.
A stiff breeze blew from out at sea and the salty spray stung my eyes.
Just like being in the boat with dad...
I wiped my face. He wouldn't have wanted to see me cry...
"Bye dad. Travel safely..."
I remember sitting on her bed, legs crossed, head in my hands, staring up at her as she prepared herself. Freshly showered, she smelled like soap and shampoo before a mix of more exotic smells were added: moisturiser, make up, hairspray, perfume. She sat in a haze of spray that sometimes made it hard to breathe but which I craved. This was my favourite place in the world.
It baffled me how she could apply the foundation so perfectly and line her eyes so expertly whilst carrying on a conversation with me or singing me a song, as if it was the easiest thing in the world to do. It was like magic.
Afterwards, she would fix her hair, change into her clothes, and put on her jewellery and she appeared to me a Goddess that I could never emulate.
How I miss her.
She curled her toes into the sand, which was still warm from the heat of the day; warm wind on her face, sea spray in her hair. The sun was low, skimming the ocean with red, streaking the sky. She zipped her wetsuit and picked up her board, not breaking her stride until the breakers reached her thighs.
She threw herself onto her board and icy fingers of water slid down the neck of her wetsuit. As the waves reared higher she duck-dived beneath them and opened her eyes. Ignoring the salt sting, she squinted into the blur of endless blue. Looking for him. He was here, somewhere in the silent depths. Not in the limp body, pulled from the waves after being dashed on the coral. She remembered him telling her to move with the swell, that she shouldn’t be afraid. It was only now that she could listen.
I can't see the car, only a spray of orange sunset flames. My second-hand flimsy piece of crap is gone, but I’m still here. I’m okay. I don't even feel anything. No pain in my legs, none in the back of my head. Amazing. Crazy-ass sweet-as-can-be lucky. The Honda’s toast and I’m about to get up and walk away. Thank you, Dog. I mean, God.
My iPhone's stuck in repeat mode. Must've managed to tap the screen when I hit the ground. Total nose dive, which makes me laugh, since that's the new Saskwatch album playing. Track Six, "Fall Your Mane." Heard it a thousand times. No, wait. It’s "Mall Your Cane." Or ”Call Your Name?" That's it. Call … Your … Fall … Mane. Head's fine. I'm sure of it.
When the paramedics come, they ask what my mane is.
Head’s fine. I’m sure of it.
That New House smell
Angie Lomax knew her business. She was a real estate star. Even in a bad market, every house she listed sold within days, with multiple bids and enthusiastic buyers.
What was her secret? Pam wanted to know. Recently divorced, Pam decided to sell the house. Her ex-husband, Al, was living in a high-rise apartment downtown, and the house was too big for one person, even with a dog and two cats.
"It's a great location, Angie said. "You just need that new house smell."
This was Angie's secret--a special cleaner she had formulated herself--liquid or spray bottle, it was magic.
It was the smell of fresh-cut grass, summer afternoons, Halloween twilight, Christmas mornings. It was the aroma of beginnings and possibilities.
"I want to stay here, now," Pam said. "It's like a brand new house."
"I know the feeling," Angie said. "It's so exciting just starting out."
The hull has started to leak earlier than I feared. I must be about two miles from shore now, although its hard to tell in the drizzle.
Alcohol is beginning to leave my bloodstream as my liver metabolises and screams for mercy, glad of the fact that it is now 2am on Sunday morning and normality will soon resume.
Greg is still sleeping on the stained wooden floor of the tiny decaying fishing boat. The others must be wondering where we are now, but a dare is a dare and it is his wedding in a few weeks, last few moments of freedom.
The spray from the waves is becoming more persistent as I search for my mobile, I'm sure it was in my breast pocket earlier?
The water is now making my feet wet as I see the distant lights on the coast, fear grabs me....
Hit and Run
There are some things you just don't tell people. Like the reason behind why I don't particularly favour the smell of tarmac. I remember the rain from the night before had dotted the road with mirror-like pools, disturbed only by spatters of light drizzle. As I walked the street, the wind whipping my hair about my shoulders, there was something off about the world around me, like the colour spectrum had been dimmed, or I'd been blanketed by an old grainy film reel.
A car slipped between the law, sliding with an elegant spray of shattered glass and torn up water. I saw her right cheek rip, bleed. Her elbows were at wrong angles. A blue Nissan swerved angrily and I was blasted with a road-borne rage as I stared at her ruined body. Tarmac peppered the back of my nose, acrid and thick. It was all I could smell.
The Common Man
A spray of black slush hits me in the face. He stops his average car, reverses and gets out. He apologises, offers to take me home. I squint through filthy droplets. He is handsome, but common. I check out his dress sense. ‘No thanks,’ I say politely.
Plenty of flowers later and after much persistence, I still have nothing to do with him. He sends me notes which I don’t bother to read. He asks to take me to the local for a pub lunch. Like I said, common. Thankfully, he gives up.
I laugh as I tell my friend Diane about what’s his name. She tells me about the most wonderful man she’s met. We arrange to meet outside Henry’s, the posh wine bar. Diane pulls up in a top of the range car and introduces me to a familiar face. Tom the millionaire.
He wasn’t my type anyway.
She was pleased. The spray rose in an arc and dampened the "Happy Birthday to you..." as it died on the warm evening air. The cloying dessert had stuck to her teeth as she'd watched her mother smile at them all as if she deserved all this. As if she did.
Freya had slipped unnoticed to the harbour edge, where lights bobbed on a few boats leaving for the evening catch, nets untangled and slung across the supports. She'd taken a deep breath, salt and smoke from the restaurant and then jumped straight off the quay into the black water. Her dress ballooned and then rose above her head as she sank. She relished the silence.
"But why?" they'd all demanded later, once she'd swum to a mooring rope and hauled herself up. "I was hot" she'd replied, and took her seat back at the table.
The wind is at my back, as stated in the directions. And I’m almost within the recommended five meters. The colony fidgets en masse as I move closer. They peer down at me; leery of my intentions.
Arm extended. Trigger-finger ready. Hesitantly I take aim. I consider which direction I would run if this plan fails. There are no good options, this has to work.
Ready now. I hold my breath, pressing down the tip, liquid poison blasts from the spray can. As it strikes my target, two wasps fly off in crippled trajectories. The remaining wasps drop to the ground. I continue holding down the trigger, saturating the nest. Now soggy, the nest sags and breaks apart. Baby wasps, no longer encapsulated, fall to the ground squirming.
Blinking back my tears I read the can again, searching for helpful instruction. Innocent babies are dying, how do I handle this?
'Hallo, Othcar. What are you doing under the table?'
It was Mad Dougal, his shock of black and white hair gleaming like a warning beacon through the crowded bar.
'Oh, hello Mah...er, Dougal,' replied Oscar, trying not to wince at Dougal's lisp, 'I was, um, looking for my watch.'
'Oh, I thee it,' sprayed Dougal excitedly, 'it's on your writht.'
'Ah, so it is,' Oscar stammered.
'Thyall we have a drink?' Dougal asked, seemingly oblivious to Oscar's feeble ruse.
'I'm not sure that's a good idea, Dougal. Don't you remember the last time? Marrakech? That camel?'
'Oh, alright Othcar, you know betht,' said Dougal, his mercurial crest visibly falling before Oscar's eyes.
Oscar's resolve wavered dangerously in the face of Dougal's disappointment. Dougal wasn't bad. Neither was he mad. He just wanted to be loved.
Oscar sighed. There could only be one answer.
'Perhaps just a small one, then...'
A polished mind
It's a dull job, spray and polish, spray and polish. The water trickles down the thick leaves and onto the slender stems that seem too fragile to hold up their heavy load. In the bright sunshine the water shines like diamonds. If I could see my reflection in them I expect I would look vague, my mind wandering off on tangents.
Today as the dust and everyday grime is washed away I weave daydreams of spraying away something less tangible but much more weighty, embarrassment and heartache. And I know just what memories I would spray away. All except one. I would keep and treasure the memory of her face when she realised she was watching him with her replacement as just I once watched her.
Once There Was a Garden...
There's a tennis ball graveyard at the bottom of my garden. A final resting place for those annoying bouncy things that appear by your side as if by magic, leave muddy templates on carpets and spray freshly laundered clothes with slobber - all lovingly chewed by the happy Labrador that shares my home.
And that's not all.
The flowerbeds are ravaged, the lawn's been ploughed, and the trunk of the oak tree has been shredded.
My pebble path is bald, the bird feeder's disappeared(?) and the ornamental cherry tree I had for my birthday is now a stick in a broken pot.
In fact, nothing survives those smiley, flabby-jowled jaws for long.
And maybe sometimes, when scooping up his 'gifts', I pause and jealously gaze at the perfect garden beyond the fence, wondering why I tolerate the destruction of my Eden?
But not for long...I have to throw the ball!
The Last Resort
“Hi there, nice to be with you. I’m Otis Cochise, your DJ and Entertainer here at The Last Resort. Now don’t worry everyone, I’ll be keeping my highly polished feet on the ground. Uninhibited dance exhibitions by the guests are positively encouraged, but I’m just going to be playing the music.
You’ll hear the incessant sound of humming birds and bongo drums, small waves lapping the beach and sounds of distant laughter from holiday friends at a twilight, shoreline BBQ. The pale, romantic moon is beautiful at this time of year. Walk down our soft sandy beach just before Happy Hour. Feel the gorgeous spray on your tanned bodies. Hold hands. Cover each other with red hot kisses and er.. oh yes, some local advice. Never shelter from tropical storms under the man-eating Vulturian trees or tickle a person who has diarrhoea.”
The baked Earth cracked under the oppressive heat. The radiant sun beat down relentlessly, not giving an inch of respite. Gaunt trees teetered as every last drop of life got sucked out. An unblemished sky, smiled ominously.
In the village, weary men dug deep into the tightly packed sand for just a hint, just a glimmer of water.
Disheartened, the women gathered in a large circle, to sing ancient songs that would lure the rain God. They prayed for a sign, just a glance of hope.
The children, kicked listlessly at loose pebbles, they had forgotten joy. Like a hungry pack of wolves, they sniped and growled, waiting and baiting. The lone cry of the innocent pup pierced the empty skies.
Oblivious, she, she alone, stood apart, unwavering in her confidence that the first spray, the first shower will come, it will save, it will nourish.
The Turning Tide
I stand with my toes on the edge of the sea wall. It’s dusk, and I am the only person on this coastal path. Closing my eyes, I slowly breathe in and out in time with the waves crashing against the groynes.
This scene in late autumn was always my favourite, helping to answer all my questions over the years: Why did she say that? Why did he leave her? Will I live to see my daughter get married next spring?
I peer over the edge and a fine spray of salt water lands on my face as I watch the menacing swell of the turning tide smash against the brickwork.
“Mum” I hear on the wind, and I turn to see her running towards me.
“I can’t believe you got the all clear! It’s so amazing!”
We embrace and then turn to smile at the sea together.
A Duty Call
As soon as I walk through the door I recognise him.
He’s sitting in a smart red armchair in the corner of the room, head slumped on his chest. It’s a nice place – of course it is, one of the newer homes in town.
Straight away he sees me, I can tell from his rheumy, grey eyes. There’s a wariness there but what else I don’t know.
Then his body jerks and he tries to talk, to call out, but the words spray empty out of his mouth. I look at his hands, bent at strange angles on his lap.
What he did with them – what he denied he did with them, and not just to me. What those hands got away with.
I never believed in fate, but what chance is this? It’s Jenny I came to visit, a duty call, but now I know I’ll return.
Some mornings I sweep dead flies from the windowsill overlooking the gardens. Thick dust returns each time, laying claim to shelved photographs framed shiny and wooden. Other memories lie face down, stacked and ready for dealing at Christmas or birthdays.
A mop bucket full of cooling water.
'I sailed beneath the waterfall,' she tells me, 'I remember the roar, the stinging spray, the sheer weight of the water crashing around the boat and never since have I, ever been so close to feeling alive.'
The kettle begins to boil.
'I flew high above the canyon,' she adds in astonishment. 'I walked on air.'
She repeats I did, I did as if I don't believe her. As if somehow this is all make believe.
I pour the tea. Two cups, sugar, stir.
I know this is real. I can feel the stinging spray, the sheer weight of water all around me.
The Impurities of Time (Thames)
She is the city's mistress,
Holding the scum afloat.
The spray is full of all the sins,
The sins that man would simply
Flush away; scared their evil
Would bob upon the waves.
Once she was pure,
Unsullied by the crimes of industry.
Yet now she heaves her aged breast,
Carrying those, who dare delve,
To a land where hope still exists
Days are gone when she still had life.
When a myriad of marine life still danced inside her.
Now she is but death and the plagues of decades,
Many have fallen in her, but none surface.
All is lost beneath the cursed waves.
Yet still she is loved, by all that gaze upon her.
Her river of hope flows over all those willing to submit
To the ancient beaut of her depths.
Still this memory is all but lost,
Lost beneath dirty waters.
Last Thursday there was a revelation, or an epiphany, if you will. It began when walking to purchase cat food when I stumbled upon a local newspaper sign "woman found dead cat believed to have eaten remains". I stood transfixed to the spot looking at that sign thinking of whether my three cats and two rabbits would devour my decaying body if I choked on my weight watchers ready meal. Who would miss me? Would my legacy be nothing but a warning to not eat cheap ready meals or keep cats?
I hurried home sans cat food. It was time for some serious changes. I downloaded every dating app available and uploaded my profile with no mention of pets. No, I told myself, I would no longer be a lonely procurer of stray animals and in this spirit I found my Charlie Red from 1994 and gave myself a spray.
We meet Chris in the Airlie Beach yacht club. He's looking for crew for his catamaran. Rosa can sail and has a degree in marine biology. While I.. well I can pour beer. Chris smiles and says, 'Oh, ok then.' 'I hope we see a whale,' I say once on board.'In this area of the Whitsundays,' Rosa proudly announces, 'whales are rare.''Shame.' I return to my mag, while Rosa assists Chris with the spinnaker. Later I rattle up pasta and crack open some beers. At 5 am I stumble onto deck desperate for a fag and then I hear it. A whoosh of air followed by a forceful spray of water. 'Rosa,' I whisper and peer down into the cabin. She mutters something then sinks back into sleep so I light my cigarette and sit and watch the whale as the peachy pink shades of sunrise morph into morning.
Fair Ground Fishing
As always they loomed on the horizon - factory fishing boats. They had started arriving a few years ago and were now a permanent feature of the skyline.
To me it was an adventure - a spray cooled roller coaster ride over the waves to the banks, followed by a lucky dip - one hook, one line, one fish - tuna, snapper and what the hell is that! Then start again.
For locals, the grim reality was falling catches, small profits - if any. Cash was a necessity. Schools, churches, hospitals all took their cut. Imported goods, once a luxury, now considered essential.
Traditional fishing was on its way out, more modern methods gave diminishing returns. Fishermen, a growing frustration with this precarious living, were abandoning fish altogether and turning to the far more lucrative trade in cocaine.
The Language of Flowers
Waiting for the trumpet note to signal my wedding march I smooth oyster satin with my right hand and in the other grip my delicate spray of tiny white fragrant bells. Lily of the valley, here in Paris a springtime good luck charm. In childhood it grew rampant in our shady garden and knowing my love of Muguet, a vial of its eau de parfum was Jacques' gift when he vowed at last to divorce his wife. My sister. 'The return of happiness' he said. 'I've always loved only you.'
Stepping forward on my father's arm I feel nauseous and faint; I'd not eaten all day until a tasty little morsel had arrived unexpectedly by room service. Suddenly, as my vision blurs, I think I see her face, watching me. I double over and retch violently, only now remembering that my bells have a darker toxic nature. Our Lady's Tears.
Clean As You Go
Jenna opened the cupboard under the sink and looked at the selection of Mr Muscle products, ranging from Oven Cleaner to Shower Shine, and her colour-coded gloves: yellow for the kitchen, pink for the bathroom, blue for the utility room and white (cotton) gloves for dusting. She also had a pair of thick black gloves for scrubbing the floors.
It was six a.m. She pulled her blue gloves on and started scrubbing. It was filthy.
Overhead she could hear Tim in the shower. She would have to clean the bathroom after he’d gone to work.
‘Morning, love,’ he said, walking into the kitchen dressed in a suit. ‘Tea? Toast?’
She shook her head.
‘I’ll just make myself some then.’
‘Could you… not? It’ll just make more mess.’
‘Jen, love, this has got to stop.’
‘There’s nothing wrong with having a clean house.’ And she started spraying again.
Looking For That Feeling
Ed and Laura just escaped a violent protest. The smell of pepper spray was still in the air, yet they did not care for all the chaos. It was like that for entire manifestation – they felt nothing.
They ran towards the caffee they used to frequent, only to see it being completely changed. Laura entered it anyway, Ed followed her. It was no longer the place they used to know, it became a restaurant for the bourgeois businessmen.
Ed left as soon as possible, shaking his head, Laura did the same. They walked towards the park where they spent many afternoons during the college. It was completely different from what they remembered. Still, they kept looking for their favourite bench, hoping it was there. No, it was not. They stopped to look at each other, Laura sighed.
'It's over for us, isn't it?'
Ed did not answer.
(Out of my) Mind Games
Glance right as we enter the darkness. Hear the roar of the train rebound from the convexity of the tunnel walls. Feel a hand upon my shoulder. And turn..
Wait in line at the pharmacist counter. Listlessly read the health warnings displayed at random around the walls. Feel a hand upon my shoulder. And turn..
Climb the wet rocks (cold under my gloveless hand) blinking myopically in the dank mist envelope that enfolds us. Feel a hand gripping my ankle. And look down..
Turning, I throw off the hand that pulls on me and shout triumphantly as the darkness ends and we erupt from the tunnel into daylight.
Turning, I push against my aggressor in the confines of the claustrophobic shop and spray him with medication torn from the shelves.
Looking down, I struggle frantically against the iron grip upon my ankle; struggle and fail; and failing:
"There you go kid". Foreman plonks the thick hood with triple glazed visor over the aprons . I remember thinking, during the intro, how much the kit looked like a prototype deep sea divers suit.
I was not descending : up to spray blast with grit the exposed bars in the concrete . Treatment the only option for repair.
A push on the back had me wobbling to the ladder and knocked out an earpiece of my headphones. I start waving like I'm drowning to get help.
Foreman waves me to go up indicating he will fix it on the scaffold.
Eventually there I give the lance a test blast. Unheard swearing from foreman, haha. He roughly lifts hood so I can sort the earphones. With the hood in place he slips under a lit split and shouts down,
The air circulates .
The highest a deep sea diver has ever been.
There are lots of different types of spray. Water, oil, paint thinner. Blood. It makes no difference to me.
I am in my own world now. The waves of liquids engulf me in a puddle of peace. Living in the world of imaginary entities as these. It has made all the difference in the world
Especially since my family died.
It's only the usual people: Mom, Dad. Granny. Little Nellie. Especially Nellie. She was only three.
I woe that day. The squirt of blood from their veins. The pump of plasma. The spray of the red stuff. Whatever metaphor I use doesn't make a difference.
They're dead. Isn't that what matters?
And the axe in my hand. It was dripping.
I got carted away on January 15th. Schizophrenia, they said.
But the problem is, he's real.
By Jimmy. Big Jim. Looming over me.
Gardening for beginners
George's chubby legs can barely keep up as he follows his mother around the garden. She moves methodically from one potted plant to the next, spraying each one five times.
He reaches up eagerly to grab the bottle and have a turn.
"No sweetie it's dangerous. Go and play on the grass."
The bottle is soon forgotten with the discovery of numerous creatures hidden under a rock. George carefully selects the snails as his prize, the others wriggling too swiftly for capture. He lines them up on the path, avidly watching them race. When George's mother calls him inside he relocates the snails to a terracotta home with superior space.
The following day he is met with a brutal sight. His slimy shelled friends lie rigid and fried. He runs to the comfort of his mother's arms, unaware of her role in the massacre.
We carry this water inside
I cannot see the water, for the tears, that will not fall. So I take my glasses off and look through blurred eyes but still I cannot see how you came to be standing there, on the cliff’s edge, looking down, not here, seeing how playfully the water falls, twists, dives into the valley below to begin, again, as a young stream, with a full life, ahead. If you were here, today, would you be able to see the long, white veil cascading behind her as she falls, twists, dives into the arms of her lover, carving a womb into the bedrock with her love, or would you see only heavy drops, falling, breaking onto cold stone alters, never to see the soft spray making light of rainbows, feel the mist rise, rising, risen in the turgid breasts of women who must carry this ebb and flow, deep inside.
For A While
On evenings when the house was filled with guests, Matilda liked to creep up to her Mother’s room. She’d bury her head among the coats: stroking the mink and ocelot with her fingers, exploring pockets for lipsticks and loose change. Borrowing a pair of Mother’s sling-backs, she’d totter in front of the standing mirror. The mirror where earlier (quiet as a mouse) she’d watched the pencilling of lips and eyebrows, then skipped beneath Mother’s perfume spray, waiting for a cascade of scent to fall upon her own upturned cheeks and cast its spell. She longed for the same fine hands (so practised at wielding a dry martini), the same full-throated laugh (low, from too many cigarettes), the same devastating way of seeming not to care (marriage offers since Father: plenty). Up here, for a while, Matilda could pretend what she liked. For example: that Mother’s laughter was not a lie.
After the Funeral
The clock echoed slowly. The only sound in the silent house. She sat at her Mother’s dresser. A wooden table filled with creams and powders, her potions left covered in dust.
She lifted each one, a catalogue of vanity. A tool kit of hope. Looking in the mirror she saw her for a moment. The ghost of her Mother in her crow’s feet, in her smile lines.
Lost in her reflections she remembered her well. Saw them dancing hand in hand. Twirling through the room, pirouetting off the bed.
She reached for the perfume. That special one. Took off the lid, pressed it down, a spray of nostalgia filled the room. She was back in her arms, back to the best. The best of her Mother, the best of her. Before the fall out, before the disease.
She wiped her eyes, wrapped the bottle and slid it in her bag.
The Things You Do
Baby, you’re toxic… the way you let loose that spray of piss and vinegar all over Jim and Irene, who needed a bit of help with their troubles… like you never had one. How you go around with that thing on your shoulder, you call a chip, but I call a monkey- so fed up on vile it spits in the face of anything worth a damn.
I’m begging you, give up and leave it; stop playing the role of heroine gone wrong and come into the fold. There’s a door open and a window with a light the wayward could get used to; if she just headed home. In fact, I’ll pay for the ticket, one way… only say there’s no going back. I’ve seen you deep in the night with those sorry tears dripping circles on the floor. It’s time to mop up Baby and come clean again.
Boris was dying for it. His furry little legs were tap dancing with impatience.
“Ok boy, I know – the call of nature. Here, let me get my shoes on.”
She opened the door and out Boris ran, full tilt towards the park. But he didn’t get far. After a quick sniff of the first lamppost, he lifted his hind leg and let loose. The warmth created a miniature cloud of steam in the chilly morning air. Instant release. It looked so inviting. She felt her hands going down towards her belt, her zipper and then, dropping her jeans around her ankles, she sent a gushing hot spray of her own onto the stunted tufts of green circling the post, pushing it out hard until she was completely empty. Fervid rivulets hurried down the pavement and soaked her trainers.
Liquid sprayed out of his mouth resulting in a soft mist hitting me in the face, the look I must have pulled made him laugh even more, he put his hand on my shoulder to stop himself from falling over and I tried once more to talk to him.
“It’s true,” I say as he barked into my ear, “mother told me, I know that the others aren’t real but she is.”
He stopped laughing and looked me dead in the eye, “bro she was just having a bit of fun, there is no such thing as the Toe Stealer.”
“But she was in my room last night, she sat at the end of my bed and told me that she had come back for my other foot!”
“Dude no fictitious woman stole your foot, I was there when you were born. I know it’s hard this is what’s real.”
The Unknown Warrriors
As difficult as my frontline service was, nothing prepared me for the emotions I would experience in November 1920. The pace, chaos and sense of purpose had given me the strength to carry on, even as the losses mounted, but now, standing in a small chapel near Arras on a cold, grey November evening, six plain coffins draped in the Union Flag stood before me. Six sets of unidentified - and unidentifiable - remains of men who'd never returned to their families. I needed to pick just one, but to choose one was to deny others so - quickly - I laid my hand on one of the coffins. And off it went, with great ceremony to Westminster Abbey to be buried amongst kings. Royal brides for centuries to come might place their bridal spray upon it. The other five shrank back into anonymity, joining multiple fallen comrades in obscurity. My tears fell without relief.
Spray and Hammer
Duff was a tough old cat, even when a kitten. She always admired him for that. For decades, he had chased away bad boyfriends (except the one she had married), comforted her in moments of loss. Until he became old and had started spraying to mark his displeasure, usually on her grandmother’s afghan.
Which is fine, she can handle it, but then comes the day she’s installing new wood floors, getting ready to sell because her husband decided (shortly after the pregnancy test) that he’s moving to Nashville to pursue his music. She’s hammering a stubborn board; Duff walks right up and sprays her, covering her in sick urine. Without thinking, she swings the hammer, the young Duff having been fast enough to dodge, but this is old Duff. He screeches and scratches her and the next time she brings the hammer down she gets a face full of blood.
His eyes are familiar in my mind. I’ve lost all but this blanket. For that moment I am overjoyed. No longer am I a child unable to recognise my world, and his touch reminds me that I am still here. But as my words start to form to express my gratitude, my voice box muddles it up. I’ve muddled it up again. I always muddle up somehow. Noises spray from my lips, none of which resemble words. I am trapped in a mind too old for my mouth. The faces of people I should know are blurred – in vision and in memory. Memories all muddled up make up my mind. I am a child once more, but I have so much left to say.
His eyes reach out to love me - I'll continue to cling on to my blanket.
We sat next to each other and watched the undulating waves of the sea. The sun had pretty much sank below the horizon now; what little that was left above was covered by cloud. The gentle spray of the breaking waves sprinkled against my face in the breeze.
It was nearly time. We'd been waiting so long for this that even last week I could hardly believe it was going to happen. Tomorrow we were to be wed and I would no longer be Ms Mustang.
I turned my face to look in to his eyes but saw no light in them except that reflected from the dying sun. His face was chilled but I stroke it none-the-less and held his cold hand one last time.
Wanting one final embrace, I entered the sea and let its cold, tight grip hold on to my heart.
The Near Thing
We jostled playfully near the edge of the duck pond, and then, in a spray of brown water, I somehow fell in. Soaked and covered in pond slime, I began to wail: at first from the cold and shock, then in terror. My sister burst into tears. Our mother’s temper was vicious.
A passer-by, moved by the intensity of our panic, was an angel of mercy. She walked us home with her – we didn’t think to fear her – where she washed, dried and ironed my dirty clothes, by hand. Meanwhile we warmed ourselves by the fire and ate toasted teacakes. Hours later, our kindly conspirator sent us on our way, with fervent wishes that the pond incident would go undetected.
It was a near thing.
Next washday, as Mother ironed my blouse, she frowned. Raised the collar and peered at it closely. “I don’t remember scorching that,” she said, puzzled.
From the patio door he looked out on the back garden, a foreign land in the darkness. He watched the silhouettes on the boundary wall, cats from next door, troublesome since their own had died, wandering in at leisure and crapping on the garden lawn. He supposed that in life, their own cat had marked the garden boundaries with its spray, a chemical KEEP OUT sign.
He closed the door and saw his troubled reflection. Behind him, the kitchen gleamed like a show-house, lacking those lived-in touches, the satellite dust of salt and pepper where the condiments stood, residual crumbs on the bread-board, the single red-stained Friday night wine glass that would usually greet his late-night return from two weeks on the rig. And the kitchen smells, the person smells, her’s and whoever’s, all obliterated by pine.
A corridor of blue sky stretches between the tower blocks and rooftops. I'm in a side ward, and have been told I haven't much longer to live.
I remember similar scenarios when, as a boy, we visited aged relatives who were in hospital. Looking around the wards I wondered what it must be like to be old and bed ridden. Now, after a lifetime, I'm in the same boat.
I tap the iPad for Sounds of the Sea. I've always loved the sea, and had planned to live by it. But it never happened, I'm still hundreds of miles inland !
I listen to the sound of the waves breaking on rocks, and imagine the spray falling on me like fine rain, as I walk along a sea front. The distant cry of gulls completes the image.
I hope to go peacefully without too much fuss.
The Ochre Hotel of Stockholm
Spray us yellow. It will stand out from the red hotels claiming Gamla Stan. We were only the second boarding house to hang a vacancy sign, the first kaput before the war. A canal filled with lily pads and Storkyrkan, the brick Church built in the Dark Ages, flanks us. Tourists use Monk’s Bridge to reach the Church, which now has a freeway below it.
Past residents? Victims of the plague, a garrison of soldiers, and a bald hooker with a gold-studded tongue. There was also that defrocked priest chanting psalms during Holy Week. I am pleased those gay men still rent our garret, going on eleven years.
We will smell defeat if rival hotels copy. Imagine an Old Town flooding hues of piss? Nobody will know where to go. Tourists lost. We might consider pink. Nobody dares. But guests would remember pink, even the Americans. Being remembered is everything.
I don't know why I do it, if I'm honest. Which I rarely am.
I want to leave my mark on the world in a way that doesn't have to be looked at through bullet-proof glass in a stuffy gallery populated by art snobs and students alike. I don't want anyone to try and understand anything about me through my work.
I work alone and I work anonymously, with the thrill of adrenaline biting in the back of my throat and my whole body buzzing with electricity.
I snap the cap off the spray can, shaking it with trembling fingers and letting it hiss and spit like a snake writhing in my grip. The battered bricks come back to life, the bright orange shining even in the dead of night.
A stunning phoenix now rises from a bonfire on the side of the hospital.
New life from the flames.
He was the first man to see this place. The sea held no colour, whilst several wild currents of wind whipped around him and tormented the water.
The foreign sky was not a comforting sight. An amber wash of dust faintly hid the setting of the sun. Through the visor, the weak light was diverted into his eyes. He would like to have moved in this time, to shout and scream for relief but words and actions failed him.
He stood rigidly, squeezing his fingers into a tight fist. He spoke once, for the last time, with no one to hear.
Bowed onto the floor, the human, like his ancestors before, looked up into the sky. As a star faded in the distance, he was alone. No one would come for him.
The ocean did not spray his face, but it glistened all the same.
Even after thirty years married Amy and I are not always on the same wavelength.
Last Monday Amy said she needed some Flower Pots. As I was about to enter the Florist she grabbed my arm and dragged me into the Hardware Shop where she bought three Flour Pots.
Two days later she wanted Polish.
“Furniture, floor, silver, or shoe?” I asked about to enter the Hardware shop.
“Nail.” She smiled pulling me towards the Pharmacy.
Saturday she had to get a spray. Naturally I headed for the Pharmacy but not knowing if she meant, hair, deodorant or even nasal.
“Of flowers,” she explained propelling me towards the Florist.
This week it was my turn. I told her I must buy a box
She frowned, “Tool from the Hardware Shop or Window from the Florist?”
I tugged her towards the Pharmacy, “Of tissues Amy.”
The cool, sea air danced playfully through Tilly's hair as she made her was closer towards the sea shore. Loosely around her neck sat a camera, eager to for fill it's purpose as Tilly eyed the limestone cliffs before her.
Despite it being a bright day elsewhere, the clouds above her engulfed the coast in a white cloak causing the speed of the wind to slowly increase.
As the waves crashed against the rocky shore, a fine salt spray clung to Tilly's skin sending shivers down her spine. Her fingers grasped her camera tightly as knelt down at the foot of the cliffs, aiming upwards to capture the essence of the British coast. "Hold still," She murmured, as a seagull landed gracefully on a rock beside her before snapping the shot.
'Just point and spray! You've come all this way, bought the can, bought the dark outfit and hoodie. You're already scowling. Come on, vandalise, deface, commit a violation of his property'.
There's a little cartoon devil hopping madly and shouting synonyms on my left shoulder. On my right shoulder is not an angel but a timid little librarian whispering in my ear. 'You'll be caught. It'll be awkward. The perfect grammar will be a dead giveaway in a situation like this'.
She's right, of course, but his uncouth behaviour cannot go unpunished, but I hate to be rude but I need to rebel, but I it's all too stressful, but I'd hate to waste the paint, but maybe I'm going too far.
There's just one thing for it.
Big Smiley Face!
A Sailor's Song
Moonlight bounces off torrid waves, white capped with fury, drowning a small engine, sputtering through the vast ocean.
There were three, and then two, swept off a slick deck, gasping for mercy. Shouts shrieked through deafening winds assaulting watery tombs buried under a spray of tears from lost souls drinking their regrets.
Jacob continues, alone, searching throughout his ghostly domain, circling the last splash of his son, a boy of fifteen years, stubborn as the sea, wanting a fisherman’s life, but only finding Poseidon’s sirens singing his final song.
Gray mist shrouds Jacob’s shoulders trapping him between Heaven and Hell. No rest will come, no peace, icy depths preserving his soul sitting in judgment; a mother mouthing, “Bring our boy home,” hanging as an accusation. Beyond a watery grave, past the veil of time, Jacob persists as an echo upon unforgiving waters, a testament for his unfathomable loss.
“This is her spray,” I say, handing over the bronze canister.
Sitting under her dressing table in my nightie, she was a queen. The blue glass twinkling in her ears. Her eyes closed as the mist settled on her crown of curls.
Later, at parents’ evening, I would feel a spike of teenage shame at her freshly pressed scarf and put-on accent. Most of all, her stiff shampoo-and-set, specially done that afternoon. I’d stare at my shoes to avoid the pity in my teachers’ eyes
At the end, her skin was soft as velvet but the rollers still as tight as her pursed lips. “These young girls, they don’t know how to use pins any more.”
And now, the undertaker’s shirt is starched but his eyes are kind. I can smell Brylcreem and Old Spice.
“Don’t worry,” he says, “I’ll return it straight away.”
Brenda gazes, open mouthed, at the sight below in the harbour; a flotilla of luxury yachts has arrived overnight. They are moored, daisy-chain style, along the waterfront.
Andreas is not with her, she can only assume he was called out to help, as he often does with customs and immigration formalities.
She eats the still-warm chocolate croissant Andreas has thoughtfully left for her, sinks her teeth into the ripe peach beside it, letting the sweet juices trickle down her chin, savours the thick black coffee, showers, pulls on her white shorts and turquoise t-shirt, and heads down to the harbour.
The yachts are huge; floating mansions dancing gently side by side. Brenda stops before the largest: The Spray, Halifax Nova Scotia. There on the forward deck sipping cocktails at eight in the morning with a slim brunette is Jed. And Andreas. Laughing.
Last year the card had said 'To My Darling Wife' and he'd given her a small spray of red roses. He had sensed her disappointment but he didn't care.
This year she was determined. They stood together in the jewellers like a happy couple.
The assistant produced an array of rings, each cushioned on a black velvet pillow, snug in its imitation leather box. The diamonds glittered and beckoned, far more than they would in ordinary daylight. The shop must have special lighting. He felt sick at how much this was going to cost.
His wife bent closer. "I like this one," she said. "It's an eternity ring, isn't it?"
"Too expensive, I'm afraid," he said. "How about this?"
"It's only a half-eternity ring," pouted his wife.
He looked at her, trying to remember why he'd once found her so attractive.
"It's still a bloody long time," he said.
‘Don’t spray too much, a hint is all you need.’
He was new to this. He didn’t belong in Jason’s body, he’d known that for some time. Whenever he saw women he felt electricity; their swaying hips, designer handbags, ruby lips, high heels, exposed necklines and upper-chests, golden necklaces hanging within them like lost treasure.
He wasn’t Jason, but Lisa.
Lisa dressed the part but took advice on perfume from her mother who loved her all the same. She taught her how to adapt to the mechanics of an "outfit" that had been given to her by mistake; she was a woman on the inside but someone had messed up the order with a man’s body instead. Mum was there for her and understood.
Understanding was the key, she realized. She hoped the rest of the world was as nice as her mother.
Once he was a solid and substantial component of the Cliff.
For ages he had stood firm and fought tides, weather and time itself. He had no identity. He was the Cliff.
Proudly he faced the world and he would not be beaten.
But time began to get the upper hand and his grip began to loosen. He felt the inevitable slide downwards.
His passion faltered and died. His fall was complete.
The Cliff that had been his whole existence now looked down on him with pure disdain.
He lay there soaked by the spray and waited to be washed away.
No future. He was scree.
During the post-mortem I was fascinated by the victim's large ears. Two Special Branch detectives attending the procedure barely blinked as the man was systematically taken apart.
'What happened to him?' I had asked the ambulance men on scene at 2.17 am, just before they left for the hospital.
' Dunno mate, but he was dead when we got here.'
It was a wet night, and the spray from passing cars soaked me as I scanned the scene for any evidence.
A broken neck, they said in A&E. I found no ID, just cash, cigarettes and a lighter......and a Russian watch.
Years later, I watched a BBC documentary describing changes in Communist Russia. Featured was a ten-minute story on the explosion at Chernobyl and the resulting panic, described by a Russian I recognised...
Sally & Steve
Tonight was the most important night of the month for Sally - date night. Her and her husband Steve had implemented this rule a little over a year ago to keep their marriage fresh and exciting. However, lately Steve had seemed to lose interest.
Sally was not going to let this ruin her evening. She loved surprises Steve planned. He always put in so much effort, that’s why she couldn’t understand Steve’s disinterest of late.
She carried on getting ready and as she was told to ‘dress up’ Sally got her expensive perfume out and gave herself a little spray.
“I’m sure you look beautiful, but it’s wasted on me - I’m not interested anymore Sally, I’ve left. Go out and stun somebody in your finest get-up. S x”
As Sally slumped onto the couch, note in hand and crying profusely her world crumbled. What had gone so wrong?
In Her Name
The giant rock's jagged outline cast its guilty shadow across the honey-coloured sand.
'You won't win,' Faith screamed at the rock while hurling a small stone in its direction. She missed.
She aimed another pebble. It skimmed the side of the rock, burying itself in the sand below. How hard can it be to hit the damn thing? Faith grabbed a larger stone and lunged it at the rock. It collided and shattered into small pieces.
Faith burst into tears, her salty drops mingling with the misty sea spray.
'It's a pretty routine mission, don't worry honey,' her Mom had said as she left the house in the dark, yanking on her wetsuit, harness and dive boots.
She never returned.
The rock stood defiant as the angry teenager turned away, swiping her tears. The Coastguard Rescue Team training course's first session was this evening. She wasn't going to be late.
Alice walked along the headland, watching the waves crash upon the rocks, sending salty spray high into the air. So many memories stirred around her on the breeze. She thought they would have left her alone by now, but they kept swirling on, through the ages. A young couple approached, laughing and smiling at one-another, their hands entwined. They walked straight through Alice, unflinching. She felt the echo of tears fall down her imperceptible face, and she longed for the oblivion she had tried to find hundreds of years ago, on the rocks below.
The Ghost Target
He had the target in sight, his line was perfect. He ignored the bead of sweat traversing it's way down his cheek to the corner of his mouth. He ignored the salty taste attempting to invade his lips. He didn't take the shot.
Why? It was the opportune moment. He had a clear shot with no risk to bystanders. Yet he didn't take it. Years in the military had meant that he had witnessed atrocities. He had partook in death and held the blown off limbs of his comrades whilst being hit with their arterial spray.
Nevertheless, the thing that haunted him was what Mr. Pinson had inflicted on him for a year every Tuesday after PE. Here he was with the opportunity to make sure no other little boy would suffer like he had and he couldn't go through with it. Next time, he thought, next time he's dead.
She castrated him after he'd arrived from sub-Saharan East Africa. His eyes were fierce, ready to defend his territory, his cubs. He fought her for months, almost deafening her with his roar and throwing himself against the cage.
A girl with blonde pigtails and a pop-eyed expression had her chubby fingers wrapped around the bars, blue candy floss stained her tongue. The lion's breath, a hot odourless fug, stuck the baby hairs to her forehead.
An old wooden stool, legs first, staved off the lion's apathetic advances. He almost rolled his eyes, sighing as he roared into the tamer's face, spittle stringing from his teeth and spraying her rouged cheeks.
As she took her bow, the lion padded over to the child. Pushing his head against the bars, he licked the little girl's fingers. A collective parental gasp washed through the crowd, but she giggled and scratched his enormous chin.
The spray of water from the hose my mother aimed at me made me scream, scrambling to my feet in shock as the iciness dropped on my sweltering skin.
It was summertime, and she was laughing. It wasn't often that she laughed but when she did, the sun would dim in comparison to the light on her face radiating from her smile.
I put the photo my brother captured of this down, swallowing thickly and turning to the police, who stare at me expectantly, pity in their eyes.
"She was too depressed to leave the house," I say shakily, leaning against the cabinet in case my weak legs give way. "But she walked to the bridge?"
"She did," an officer replies sorrowfully. I despise his pity. "I'm very sorry."
I look back to the photo that captured the day when she forgot she was depressed. The one day of happiness.
The delicate on the deep
I can’t see the land anymore. It panics me and my paddleboard suddenly feels inadequate against the might of the ocean now that I can’t see the way back. Celia doesn’t mind. She keeps paddling on, a few strokes ahead of me, remarkably composed on the choppy water.
She’s the only person I know who could convince me to come out this far. I find myself saying that a lot about her: ‘she’s the only person I know…’
She’s also the only person I know who types on a laptop using just her thumbs. She says she learnt to text first and prefers to do it that way.
The wind picks up, lifting drops from the surface and tickling us with the spray. It drives ripples like dominoes across the water. I follow them until they leave my eye line and it’s quiet again.
Learning to Trust Yourself
I walked into the kitchen and my mother stopped peeling potatoes and sniffed the air, like a dog catching a scent. ‘What’s that you’re wearing?’ she said, her nose screwed up. ‘You smell like a tart.’
My eyes smarted. ‘It’s Yves St Laurent. It’s very expensive.’
She went back to the potatoes. ‘Well, it smells cheap,’ she muttered.
I huffed out, past my dad who was reading the paper.
‘You smell nice, hon, have fun,’ he said to me.
‘Honestly!’ I shouted and I deliciously slammed the front door behind me.
I threw the perfume away, chucked it into the bin in the bathroom, the whole full bottle. That would show her.
And then one morning I saw her at her dressing table, spraying herself with my perfume.
‘What?’ she said, turning to me.
‘Nothing mum,’ I said, ‘nothing at all.’
She watched the customer spray perfume onto her wrist and tried not to daydream. It was not easy. The smell of corn fields and wild poppies set off a flash of memories. Before she knew it she was fifteen years old, lying in the rich summer sun feeling the tickle of seeds on her bare arms.
'I'm not sure it's for me. Do you have anything more exotic?'
She gazed at the woman, feeling as though she had been transported into a foreign body. How had she ended up here? Where was the girl in the cornfield, breathless with the luxury of summer?
Summer after summer had slipped away.
'This one might suit you better.'
The woman sprayed orchid and honeysuckle into the air and the cornfield faded away until there was nothing left of it... well, almost nothing.
Nine in the evening, and the sun starts to dip below the rooftops, the dust and heat of the day, turning the sky a ruby red. September, though it feels like high summer. There's the same lazy slowness in the air. It has her reaching for the cool of a water glass which she holds to her temple.
From the end of the street she hears laughter, the neighbourhood kids outside still. They jump through a spray of water from a garden hose and she watches the tiny figures silhouetted against the evening sky.
'Like Indonesian shadow puppets,' she thinks.
The memory scented with the sweet scent of jasmine and childhood. So long ago.
But it's ephemeral, elusive, and she cannot hold on to it . Though for a second she saw him again - her father. Behind the screen, manipulating the puppets as she whooped with glee.
A Dangerous Sea of Stars
Marta’s head rolled against the gunwale, her brow grazing the metal base of a stanchion. Seawater trickled out of her ear, and the full roar of the ocean punched her senses, bringing her round. Blinking hard against the sting of salt spray, she wiped her eyes and focused sideways on the oily swell rolling sickeningly towards her.
Lying on her side, she gathered her thoughts in the confusing cacophony. They must have run a reef. She sat up and stared at the cockpit where the unsecured wheel spun wildly. Where was Miguel?
Her gaze swung to starboard and she focused on the tiny point of a black hole. Her senses concentrated on its perfect tight sphere, a place where all light was compressed, but which might soon explode with a searing force that would destroy their universe.
A gun barrel.
They had been rammed by pirates.
For months she hunted for the source of the smell, took to stripping the bed daily, bought new bedding, then a new bed.
She crawled along the carpet, feeling and sniffing for stain and stench, but found only nail-clippings and a penny.
She steam-cleaned the carpet, swapped curtains for blinds, sprayed perfume on every fabric.
She laid laminate flooring, painted the walls and varnished the furniture.
She cut her hair, scrubbed her skin raw, applied lotion after lotion, layer by layer.
Sinking into her latest duvet, she took a deep breath and wept.
His scent still there, forever hanging in the air and in her heart and strongest in the bedroom.
An Untimely Misstep
A single spray of cologne puffed out from the bottle and dissolved into the air. He ducked into the small and fading cloud catching most of the scent on his shirt. He looked up at the mirror and locked eyes with himself, smirking before breaking off and leaving. Outside his apartment was bitterly cold and littered with the still corpses of the sleepy and homeless. They begged at his ankles and reached out to the ends of his tailored suit, getting immediately shaken off in a strut. Head held high and lips puckered he stepped on ahead leaving a woeful greyness in his track. Formations of ice and stone up and along were made into clumps beside the road. But with an untimely misstep our dear rich friend fell flat and sprawled for all to see as the briefcase blew open and his papers flew far.
With thanks to all the writers who have made this issue possible.A. Evans, Aidan LeGros, Alva Holland, Andy Brown, Anne-Marie Hoeve, Becky Spence, Bill Wobblesword, Caitlin Thomas-Aubin, Carol Leggatt, cat pritchard, Chad Trosclair, Christina Dalcher, Claire Smith, Dani Mahony, David Cairnie, Deborah Lee Singer, Eliza Chapman, Elizabeth Graham, Emilia, Emily Devane, Emma Kirkby, Gerry Emm., Ian Boyd, J Latter, James B. Revell, Janey Cour, Jennifer Harvey, Jill Robinson, John Dapolito, John Doobla, John Lary, Julie Honeybourne-Price, Karen Jones, Kate Dowling, Kirby Wright, L Greig, Laura Besley, Leah Reynolds, Lisbet Sherlock, Louise Mangos, Lucas Abbott, Mark Warren, Martha Mazda, Mary Thompson, Matthew McLean, Michael Rumsey, Mike O'Reilly, Mitja Lovše, MrQuipty, Rebecca Emin, RJD, Robert Dudley, Rose Stevens, Rowena Fishwick, ruthie banister, S.B. Borgersen, Sara Dore, Sharna Young, Smita jain, Sophie Curtis, Sophie Gregory, Steve Lodge, Steve M, Sue Norton, Thomas Malloch, V.C. Sharma, Victoria Fielding, Voima Oy
21st September 2016