Welcome to our latest issue of Ad Hoc Fiction
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Song for the leaving
The crook of your neck became an unfamiliar place and that was the day I realised. You'd cradled me there for years, nose buried in that soft-sweet warmth that meant home, meant safety, meant a hundred other things. But then, then.
I hadn't meant to leave for long enough that home stopped being home. I hadn't meant to become used to alone.
Four days since the blackout. Nothing requiring electricity works. Nothing with a computer chip. The smoldering sky is snowing ashes. It’s unnaturally cold. Below zero.
Yesterday, a wild-eyed man trudging to Amarillo cut through the farm. He said LA, New York, and DC were hit. “Rest of the cities are in chaos. Rioting. Pillaging. Stores are empty. Even TVs were taken. Why the hell would you steal a TV now?”
We shook our heads, filled his canteen, gave him a jar of peaches, biscuits cooked on the wood stove. We’d have offered more but suddenly everything seems crucial to our survival.
Soon as he left, we herded the livestock into the barn, then began moving all our food, blankets, and valuables into the storm cellar. Travis brought all the rifles and ammo. I brought grandma’s cradle.
In his eyes I could read his fear.
Can he still see my hope?
My doll like Grandmother died fourteen years before I was born, leaving my Mamma just before her fifth birthday. When I read 'the little match girl' at seven, I cried for my Mamma's loss, as I couldn't imagine life without her. When I was new, and stingy winds blew, the window would close. When a curious cat jumped on my hood and watched me just lying there in the inky dark through laser torch eyes, it was distracted away. When I grizzled for attention, a lullaby played. If hungry, I'd reach out with a soft chubby hand, to feel a smooth warm bottle of milk, while Mamma slept on. A lace trimmed blanket I'd kicked off would gently cover me by morning. Age one, I moved out of the cradle, but always knew it was my Grandmother who had watched over me, when Mamma was still learning how.
Britain was the cradle of the new drug revolution in the 2020's. Euphoria, which delivered on the promise of it's name. Its popularity quickly spread from the using community to the mainstream. It was cheap, legal, with no reported side effects and crucially, taxable. It annihilated the illegal drug industry and the crime associated with it. Britain enjoyed a period of proud prosperity as they exported Euphoria across the globe.
The first signs of the misery to follow Euphoria were in the 2050's. A new illness was discovered among early users and in relatively little time reached epidemic proportions. The Government issued health warnings and attempted to place blame on the drug companies whilst sitting on their tainted gold reserves.
In the future Britain would be referred to as the cradle of SBD (Slow Brain Death) its biggest export and downfall.
The screams make it difficult for Celeste to sleep.
The screams are violent sounds, the cries of someone without words. They come from an open window across the street. The little girl’s family wants her to cry it out, to learn to soothe herself.
Her anguish reminds Celeste of how her own family--husband, children--expects the same of her, and sometimes she wants to run across the street, snatch the little girl from her cradle, and flee. She would whisper to her: Your pain is real, I won’t deny it, and I will always comfort you.
Other times she thinks that at any moment her own mouth will open and her throat will gurgle like a filling pipe and the screams inside will spurt forth and blow her husband and her children into dust.
Keep it in, she tells herself.
Let it out, she tells the little girl.
The Cradle of Civilisation
I wondered which could have been the cradle of civilisation – whose civilisation? human, animal or insect?
Civilisation necessarily involves a community, governed by an unwritten law which protects individual member’s rights to live a happy life.
Take for instance the ants. The worker ants never question why they should work for the benefit of the queen ant. These do not even have sex-life.
Take the case of the lions. They live as a family; but the lioness alone is the bread-winner. The maned manly lion is a lazy chauvinist.
Even little honey-birds live as a family. Yesterday I saw green grass blades below a shrub. Swift came two birds. They started weaving the grass in to a nest. Creation is at work. The eggs are hatched; when one goes to fetch grubs the other guards.
Now I knew humans are certainly not the cradle of civilization.
Secrets Cradled within Four Walls
As a Chinese saying went "Every household has a difficult prayer to chant", I wondered what secrets were cradled within the four walls of your home.
I stepped into your house strewn with empty beer bottles, half-eaten instant noodles and sweat-tinged laundry. In my heart, I knew that you could not provide me the stability of a husband I needed.
With tears in my eyes, I bade you farewell and was determined never to turn back until you threatened to die before my eyes. Alarm bells rang. I pretended to take you back, hoping you would change your mind about dying. No, you did not. Instead, you attempted to hold me tighter, so tight that I could not breathe. This time, it was my turn to want to die. I decided, enough was enough. I packed up and left for another town. Your secrets were driving me crazy.
On a crowded tram
On a crowded tram, a young girl sits, her arms wrapped around a careworn satchel brimming with schoolbooks. The tawny hide is faded and scarred, the edges frayed, and the bronze of the buckles is worn to the colour of tin. Perhaps it once belonged to her grandmother.
Cradled in her own world, she’s mouthing the words of a newly learnt song or rhyme, her head tick-tocking gently from side to side. She stops, and her brow becomes taught with query. Then she appears to remember what she mislaid, and begins all over again.
At the next stop she burrows; winding her way to the exit like it’s a game she loves to play every day.
I make a wish that she doesn’t grow up too quickly, but in all honesty, I don’t think the world is listening anymore.
The monster arrived in a fleece blanket smelling of vomit and human waste. Contained in the back bedroom, it howled through the night.
The humans attended it regularly, bringing tributes of milk. Waiting outside the closed bedroom door, I imagined the intruder stretching on my sunlit strip of carpet, warming its hairless folds.
Today, the door is ajar. My ears swivel as I approach the cradle. I leap onto the dresser and peer inside. Blue eyes lock onto me. Pink paws grasp the air.
It is warm like a human. Perhaps it can be appeased. Paws tucked, I settle onto the red crinkly part with the hole where the noise comes out. The creature fidgets and mews, so I purr until it quietens and the up and down motion of the torso ceases. I close my eyes in slow satisfaction. I have tamed the monster. The humans will be pleased.
He thinks he has his secrets. But I have always known every one. Every name and face. The sound of their voices, the perfume they wear. I though am so much better at keeping secrets and in all these years he has never known that just as they take a piece of him from me so I take something of theirs. A trifle, a scrap that I keep hidden away. I never look at them. To have them, to cradle the thought of them in my mind is enough.
This time though it is more serious. I feel a worrying distance growing day by day between us. This time a keepsake will not be enough. I turn this thought over in my mind as I turn the knife in my hand, blinking as it glints in the light.
Gwen wakes to the sound of screaming. Her chest hurts; an invisible mouth pulls at her and her body produces milk in response. She pulls her shirt up to be ready, aching for her daughter's need.
She stumbles through the hall, the soft yellow light of the lamp guiding her. Her body yearns, now, and she runs the last few feet to the cradle.
Her husband catches her as she screams and falls backwards.
He soothes her with practised words. Leads her back to bed.
Gwen wakes properly, then, and remembers all over again. Sleep is a welcome oblivion.
Gwen wakes to the sound of screaming. Her breasts ache. She's heavy, as she runs through to the nursery. Her husband catches her, again, again
'Shhhhh,' he strokes her round belly. 'Remember? It's going to be all right this time. You'll see.'
She sleeps; he prays, over and over.
The little birds sported pale pink undershirts. Their brown feathers made them look as if they wore suits with tails. There appeared to be lots of them and too many for me to count. They seemed to do some sort of dance.
I couldn’t hear them but I wanted to know what they were saying. I wanted to understand. Their beaks opened and shut showing huge yellow smiles. They looked soft and young. I wanted to cradle them in my hands but my fingers had frozen into knots. I remembered the moment I held my firstborn in my arms. My heart opened.
I put my hand onto the glass and they vanished.
The Sunday Call
I’ll tell her today, I say to myself as I lift the phone. We run through the usual topics: the kids, her work, the weather. They’re off to the beach later, she says. Her voice is lively, less distant. Today I’m the distracted one.
Four years since I saw her. Two since I stopped asking her to come. Too painful hearing her excuses. Why don’t you come here instead, she’d say.
So we’re at stalemate. I know that if I tell her, if I repeat what the doctor said to me, it would change everything. Then she would come.
‘Mum,’ she says. ‘Are you listening?’
‘Yes,’ I lie.
‘Are you okay? You sound tired.’
I pause, my mouth dry.
‘I’m fine, dear. I just need to get to bed.’
We say our goodbyes, and I place the receiver gently in its cradle.
Next week, I tell myself.
Post Natal Blues
I stare into the empty cradle at the back of the cornflower blue room. The creases from the iron are still visible on the snow-white sheet. A pair of tiny leggings hangs over the edge of the wooden rail. My fingers knead the soft cotton, and I close my eyes, imagining a chubby thigh. Mobile aeroplanes drift gently from an imperceptible movement of air, and I turn to check whether the window has been left ajar. Then I put my hands over my ears, yearning to hear the tears that will never be cried.
She sat in the living room, looking still. Suddenly, she stood up and went to the other floor.
Her footsteps resounded around the entire house as she walked towards the higher level. When she reached the entrance, she entered the hallway, which contained another gate at its end.
One could wonder whilst seeing her what happened to her, because she approached the edge of the corridor slowly. It seemed something bothered her about the place.
I heard her pacing and I quickly ran to her. By the time I got to her, she stood near the passage, crying.
'I can't open it.' she said.
'You don't have to.'
'You will, eventually.'
I hugged her and she retreated back to her parlour.Once she left, I gazed at the door, knowing what was behind it.
It was a cradle, never finished.
Smooth ebony skin
Oiled and radiant
Draped in liquid red
Breasts free and full
Heavy with the milk of the Universe
I am broken
I lay my head on her breast
Slick with sweat
Scented with musk
She cradles me in her arms
I accepted the loss of my cauliflower-sized tonsils with stoic resignation. I didn’t need them particularly anyway. I didn’t expect the loss of my cosseted position too.
“I’ve got something to tell you,” my mother said. I knew what was coming. I’d heard them talking. Please not that, I’d thought. Uncle Greville is creepy and has warts. Don’t let him live with us. He can find his own place.
A little pink button-nosed face peeped out from a layer of wrapping, blinking in the glare of the summer sun. High maintenance. Incontinent. Needy. My father took a souvenir photo.
“Whisby. That’s a nice name,” my mother said as she laid him in his cradle. Unfortunately for baby Whisby he was later named Montague.
So. After seventy-eight months, there I was. A long-standing comma in my mother’s reproductive dialogue, rather than the final full stop. After all I’d done for her.
The Harshness of Dreams
The phone was no longer in its cradle. It lay on the floor beside her, the dial tone ringing out throughout the quiet house. The person at the other end had hung up long ago. Rita didn't feel like moving. Slumped against the wall, she had been staring at the wall in front of her for several hours now. She wanted to cry and couldn't understand why there were no tears. Instead, she felt numb; there was a deep hollow in the pit of her stomach. That phone call had felt like the end of the world.
I need to cry, she thought. I owe it to you to cry. She squeezed her eyes tightly shut and opened them after a few seconds. Nothing.
As the light faded, Rita drifted off to sleep. Her dreams were full of images of her mother; she could hear her voice. Finally, she wept.
What I want
My baby lay content, eyes filled to the brim like a sea swirled with every shade of blue. A hint of a smile tugged at your lips. I begged you to love me. My hands stretched out eagerly yet cautiously to you: the thing I have wanted most in this world. I pulled you out your cradle gently, your warmth seeping through my fingertips, comforting my hollow heart. I lent down to whisper to you, to smell the sweet scent of your perfect skin. I blinked slowly, And then… I glanced down to see my arms empty of you, and instead cradling a pillow heavy with worthless feathers. I screamed in pain and threw it with all my power: thick with frustration and anger. It hit the wall exploding with a hundred pearl white doves. And there I saw, my baby lying limp, broken from the fall.
It was a daft thing to do in the first place, just because she had enough for the tickets. It was easy to get employment, he said, loads of jobs doing bar work or maybe even teaching. It wasn’t that he was dishonest. She didn’t think he knew what dishonest meant. Maybe that was the problem. The first room they took smelled like someone had died in it. And when they were moved the new one had rising damp and mould. But it wasn’t only the places, it was the way they told them they could make money. Maybe it’s not dishonest. He was willing to cradle strangers like that but she knew what it meant. She had to tell him finally: an hour down the coast she could waitress and flip burgers. She was going solo, she said. So cold, she thought, afterwards, somehow dishonest.
You might have sat in your old wooden chair, tipped your head forward to let me reach the fine white frizz at the base of your neck. The scissors might have snipped crisp and slick above the rigid arc of your starched collar. My right forefinger might have brushed your skin as I tried to keep a porous lock from itching inside. I might have been shocked at how warm and soft your skin felt - not the cold hard granite I’d always imagined.
I might have tried to remember the last time we touched.
I might have wished, beyond all other wishing, to have touched my father more than once in my life, and I might have held a flimsy wisp of your hair in the cradle of my left hand, might have wrapped it in fine white tissue paper and kept it until Wednesday, until after you were gone.
The Aldeburgh Artists
They tried to put it right, you know, those artists from The Borough. Thanks to them, our voices will be heard.
Yes, the sound is so distinctive: the huge seagulls with their cackling laments and the waves washing the hard, stony beach. But, if you listen very carefully, you'll hear us with our near-silent screams, our terror and our helplessness; our realisation of what Mister Grimes was taking from us.
Maybe he didn't mean to lose us on those dark, lashing, fishing nights. Perhaps he thought, because we so poor, that we didn't matter. But we were precious, we were loved; women grieved and men raged, and our school mistress wept for the loss of her clever lads.
Of course, the sea bed is our cradle now. But, that music, that poetry, which can be heard on the giant seashell shore, well, that's the proof. That's our legacy.
A boy and a fish
Fingers suddenly piercing cold water with youthful interest and exuberance . Left hand marrying right beneath the surface. Forming a makeshift cradle of liquid in which the fish, a minnow, finds itself elevated without warning into another world. Tiny frightened eyes blinking upwards at unfamiliar shapes through the unfiltered sunlight.
Curiosity peering downward examining the mysterious creature for hints as to the nature of life. The creature, in turn, gasping for that life as the fluid it breathes slips through careless fingers and lands in tiny teardrops on the dirt below. Fragile glistening scales exposed to the universe and reflecting the desperate message that life is fleeting and delicate.
But curiosity too, is fleeting and fades, like all things, with time.
Intertwined fingers separating and opening a gate into the void.
And from the cradle the fall begins.
The smitten fools all peer into the cradle. Mouths gawking.
“Isn’t he cute?”
“Awww… he’s so tiny.”
“Look at his little hands.”
My wife is exhausted but overcome with motherly contentment. She doesn’t know.
How could she? If she knew what this child really was, then she’d know who I am. And that would be impossible.
We create life to carry on. Our genes. Our memories. The only immortality that we get. I am no exception but I need a human. I was put on this earth to burn it down. Populated by pathetic souls who all deserve to die. And now my power is fading so it must be passed to the child who will continue my work. Each generation makes my kind more powerful and he will certainly wreak far more destruction than I ever could.
We are demons. It is our nature.
I knew I shouldn't have had that last coffee.. and still wide awake at this hour.
I may as well give that book a go, the one Lisa gave me, she said she couldn't get into it.
So I look at the front cover, the back cover and read the prefix...what's not to like!
Apparently, set in the 50's, she has loved and lost, had a child in her teens, was ostracised by the village, couldn't get a job...get a job..a job..a jo...
Sleeping, as I cradle the book, I awake with a jolt. I throw the book on the floor, it reminds me of a life I escaped from and the lost sleep of that time.
Why would you want to "get into" that...Lisa was right.
Here We Are
Make it homey. We want nothing. Glad you're back. Dislike that photo. Want you smiling. Painted your room. Here's your father. Here we are. Windows shut. Like the cat? Lovely boy. Take his pulse. Don’t let him out. Don’t feed him treats. He’s far too plump. We try to breathe. We watch the news. We block it out. We have bad dreams. We think too much. We know we're sad. Our friends are dying. We rough it here. We like the quiet. We've kept your cradle. There it is. Remember that color? Miss those times. We want what’s best. We’ve kept your journals. I've boxed them up. We’ve never snooped. Because they’re yours. We’re tired now. We like your aura. We think you're incredible. You seem quiet. We bet you're hungry. We’re quite alone. We're fine this way. You worry too much. We wish we knew. We worry so much.
The boy was creating an nest on the strongest branch near the top of the tree.
“Richard! Come in now. Supper’s ready,” called mum, from the kitchen door.
Richard froze. He didn’t want to give up this vantage place just yet. The views into the neighbours’ gardens was fantastic. He could be a superhero, and dive down to protect the neighbourhood.
“Oh come on baby, your tea’s getting cold.” She goes in, slamming the door.
A slight breeze picks up, rocking the platform, and Richard enjoys this feeling. He sits down tying himself into the framework and settles to enjoy the peace and the view.
The breeze strengthens to a wind, becoming exhilarating; Richard feels he is flying. The bough whips and bends. He unstraps to climb to safety, but falls, crashing to the ground. The cradle, now freed from Richard’s weight and bindings, follows the lad to its destruction.
Lost and Found
"She's been attacked."
Betty skittered across the forest floor in search of happy flavours and vibrant trails. A dappled warmth radiated encouragement, daring her to venture further into the dark undergrowth. The thorny bushes and busy shrubs enveloped her and within seconds she'd lost sight of Jo, again. They'd soon be reunited, it always worked out so.
The cover of the forest now far behind, she tumbled towards a vast open field, her vulnerability growing. Curiosity had until now been a reliable friend and Betty was undaunted, ill-prepared.
A giant frame towered over her at once, grappling for her neck as she was dragged, without warning, into his excited, open jaws. She dangled, shaken.
"He's never done that before," apologised the owner, flustered blood leaking from his wounded hand.
"I'll make sure to muzzle him in future."
Jo cradled her silent pup, rocking her gently to ease the shocking pain.
Melissa met him when he was in his first job. She liked the cut of Demetri’s jib and made a point of sitting next to him in the firm’s café/restaurant. He was a handsome Greek lad but she soon realised that he was, underneath, very shy and needed someone with experience to get him off the ground. She made sure they were soon flying and happy.
Her Dad was one of the top brass in the company and she always turned to him when she was in trouble like when her husband left her with two children before she was twenty-five, but Demetri did not introduce Melissa to his parents, until his father discovered months later, that her children were about their son’s age.
‘She’s fifty, but looks half that,’ said his father
‘She is,’ Demetri retorted, ‘only forty-three.’
‘Still a cradle snatcher,’ said his father, grinning and envious.
“Due to a momentary dislocation in the space/time continuum, we request that all passengers return to their life-pods until further notice. Thank you.”
I ignored the announcement just like I ignored most onboard notices floating around the Nibiru. Space is too vast for me to worry about the absurd whirligig of time. Those of us born to the cosmos rarely care about anything to do with flux; we’re immune to it.
When terrestrial humans go into viable stasis, the casino empties, the bars lock down and the ship becomes automated. That’s when cradle wobble is constant and I’m everywhere I don’t want to be all at once. I roil about in perception and bob through the universe. There are no mysteries or conundrums; call it infinite ennui if you like- we’re really just going nowhere fast.
I cry as nebulae hum and dead suns whistle.
Wish I had a dog.
Dan and I grew up together in Kent. Nice bloke but tended to get things in reverse. That English expression meaning from birth to death for example but there were others.
As a school Long Jumper he leapt before he looked at the distance covered. One day I told him my daughter Penelope was undecided what to do upon leaving school. Here’s a thought for your Penny’s consideration he suggested, work for me.. He supplied Magicians with various paraphernalia, a business he called, A Trade Of The Tricks.
Never one to put the cart before the horse but he was a bit of a windbag and delighted in making a short story long.
Last week, now wiser and older, he said he was retiring to Greece. Why Greece I asked.
“Obvious my friend,” he replied, “I was born in Gravesend, I shall finish my days in the cradle of democracy.”
A game of your life
You take a thread and draw it through
To let it be
You tie a knot
Your hands close
As if in prayer
And then they draw apart
But not too far
Restrained within the reaches
Of the thread
Your hands approach
The thread falls slack
Its hold to ease
And with your index fingers
Make a bridge
But there are spaces to be filled
And so you dip again
Your longest fingers
Pulling at a grid
Whose play of slack
‘Til all that’s left
Is one tight knot.
Unpick the knot
And start again
Before the thread
Can fray beyond
Cut the knot
Or make a ball of it all
And laugh out loud.
It´s just the cat´s
Of your life.
Sometimes when she is asleep, her head cradled in the crook of my shoulder, breathing deepening, I think about how easy it would be to strangle her. She would be dead before she even knew what was happening.
Then I start thinking about how I would get rid of the body, how I would have to be careful not to leave traces of her DNA in the boot of my car. I think about the places I know where a body could be placed, and not be discovered by a dog-walker. I think about the phone call I would have to make, reporting her missing, and whether I could keep up the pretence.
I think about all this and wonder if I must be emotionally damaged in some way. Then I think I should probably not watch so many true crime documentaries before bed, and I go to sleep instead.
Cradle, A Reminder
Her fingers delicately ran over the rustic edges of the cradle, her ears ringing with laughter that she so desperately wanted to hear. Maya grabbed a stuffed teddy bear with trembling hands from the cradle, letting out a cry as she fell on her knees in the nursery. Her watery eyes danced around the sky-blue room filled with various toys.
“Why?” She questioned nothing in particular, hugging the stuffed animal to her chest as she cried.
The dream that was a part of Maya’s life, was now shattered. A dream that was once sweeter than the taste of nectar, was now more bitter than expired chocolate. She was left to pick up the shards of glasses left behind, and hold the memories as close to her possible, before they vanished.
She had nothing left, except for a cradle. To her it was a simple reminder of everything she had lost.
The Weightless River
In November, 1941, we flew bombing sorties over the Libyan port of Ibharigid.
On the way home, we would steer the Lancaster into a meandering cradle of warm, humid air that crossed the desert. The insistent breeze tugged free any damaged bodywork, as if cleaning an open wound. Beneath the blurred drone of our propellers, the rising perfume from the murmuring sage crops, surrounding the grey, rosewater oases, lulled us into a reflective silence.
The Berber call it Teleme Feleg; the Desert River. Where it descends to earth and moistens the sands, it leaves behind a winding trail of flowering plants.
When our radioman, Rochard, was dying, he said:
"Okay boys, this'll do. Drop me off here."
We put him out through the bomb doors. The gentle wind turned him about, so he was standing upright, holding him aloft in the darkening sky behind us, as we fled from the east.
‘Cradle, nappies, talcum, powder, a bed……’
‘And makin’ babies.’
‘What will you need?’
‘Um. A telly for me footy, some beers and some fags….’
‘We’ll ‘ave to start savin’. How much do you get a week?’
‘Half a crown, if I do me jobs. An you?’
‘One and six, when me mum’s got it spare.’
‘It might take some time then.’
‘Can I kiss you?’
‘No! You can’t kiss me until after the wedding. It’s against the law.’
‘Oh right. Do you know how to make babies?’
‘Oh yeah, it’s easy, me mum told me. Do you know how?’
‘No. I asked me dad once but he said to shut up or he’d give me a thick ear.’ Will we need anything else?’
‘No, that’ll do for a start.’ Me tea's ready. I’ll see you at school tomorrow.’
'Bye. I love you.'
When the Earth’s electromagnetic field changed, they were stuck. Everyone looking at a screen could no longer take their eyes off it. Ever. People died in the panic — cars crashed, some had heart attacks and some babies would go from cradle to grave, staring at the same device.
Those unfortunate people glued to bigger screens had to lug around entire computer systems mounted on wheels. The folks in the cinema at the time of the ‘freeze’ were stuck together forever. The cinema went out of business.
Peripheral vision went first, then motor skills ebbed away and their bodies became clumsy and oafish. Soon they needed help with even the smallest of tasks.
Like zombies, they peered through windows into their virtual worlds. For some, it came quickly, and with others it took years, but they all eventually discovered no one was looking back.
Life would never be quite as sweet as it was on this day with the crumbs of wedding cake still soft on her lips and tasting of butter and vanilla as he kissed her and the gold on her finger wrapped around his neck making it safe and whole.
And days passed in gentle abandon, soothed by hot, salty waves that swept in the heat and the sweat of the day, and the night.
And when she was rested, cooling her skin on the light wispy breeze that fluttered near an open window and played with the shining blonde hairs that danced on her strong, plump arms, she felt soft wings catching the life and holding tight, tight, lest it be swept away, she placed her hands on the swell of her belly and laced her fingers like a lattice cradle and sang the first lullaby of Mother in love.
The cruise ship materialized in what had once been THE solar system, near its third planet, and the recorded voice of a tour guide gave a quick explanation.
"We are now at what had once been the cradle of Life and Humanity. The playground of our ancestors, and their deathbed.
Ruthless exploitation of their resources, selfishness and aggression had turned the once colourful and energetic habitat into this dark, lifeless wasteland. Not so different from our home planets, right?"
The crowd, which had assembled on the observation deck, strained their eyes to spot the dark, light absorbing globe amid the darkness of space, nodded, and hurried back to one of the ship's casinos, not to miss dinner and evening entertainment.
On A Lithium kiss
He walked to the door, his wife following behind him. He turned and they kissed. He knew it would be the last one they would have. He looked back at her again while walking to the car. She smiled and waved looking pretty, framed in the doorway in her bright apron. She was emotionally uninvolved.
At the lab he entered the standing cradle. The metal tube was a close fit. Just tall enough. He was scrunched in until his naked body became nearly cylindrical. The technicians stood ready and when the room was cleared, the machinery began running until the tube was no longer in this galaxy.
Fred the Head
Fred never looked authentic.
When the last clump of mousey frizz fell out, Lorraine celebrated by choosing a blonde, glossy bob.
I said it made her look like a WAG and she said ‘Perfect!’ and called it Fred.
We had such a lot of fun that day, taking photos on her iPhone and doing face-juggler ‘til we thought we would die laughing.
And when it got too hot and itchy, Fred was relegated to the bedside table and got blamed for everything.
Lorraine threatened to make a last request, to have Fred on her coffin and Right Said Fred playing at her funeral, but even I wasn’t mad enough for that.
And on good days, when I open the curtains, I say, ‘Mornin’ Fred! What we doin’ today Fred?’
But on lonely nights, when the bed seems too big, I cradle Fred in my arms and cry myself to sleep.
So this is the end
So this is the end.
You start with what you remember. The never-quite-sure-what's-going-through-her-head laugh; the crisscrossing wrinkles; the feet, swollen and scabby with age, squeezed into heels too pink, too high for all but your crazily rebellious teenager; the lavender-infused hugs; the Coronation Street mind fog; the steak and kidney pies on Sunday afternoons; the 'by gum, you're a bonny lass,' - her final voicemail played over and over. Over and over.
Your memories morph into a black and white collage of time snaking back to an era before you existed. A mirage of other people's memories, preserved now in photographs of unsmiling, bonnet-clad ladies and grumpy gents with bushy beards smiling vacantly into a future that now stares curiously back at them.
You flick backwards to a lace-lined cradle. Black, white, simple. (Things were then). It contains a baby. Her. Your grandmother.
So that was the beginning.
King Cobra In A Fuzzy Suit
I hear he’s predictable like a despot. I’m early for my appointment. Muzak is playing,“The cradle of the civil war, shining like a national guitar”, great song.
His secretary signals me in. I need to negotiate convincingly, seize the advantage and keep it. The only four-term Mayor of the Big Apple enters. I open my mouth but I’m too late.
“I want my Thanksgiving Parade Santa to be the best that's ever been.” “I insist on being well ahead of those cartoon dirigibles.” “Don’t want people lookin’ up and missing me.” “I have my staff wrapping hundreds of little presents to throw at the little people.” “You know, like Mardi Gras in that God forsaken place.” “Hope you’ve got all that son.” “You run into a problem, fix it!” I shot back as convincingly as I could. “Yes sir, you can count on me.” You had to be there
Yoga for Survivors
Listen to your breathing. As if we will ever do anything else again.
Find your still point, focus as you balance. The aid workers are too busy and the guards don't like us staring, so I look for the evac poster instead. Someone farts a death smell; no one laughs.
Stretch and breathe; if thoughts come into your mind, let them go. The fist of the flood smashed through everything from cradle to gravy boat, bridge to station. We're salvage now. We do yoga while we wait for food, try not to ask questions.
Relax and be calm. We were arguing about supplies. Your hand was in my hand, and then it wasn't. Lean forward. I was in the water and it was in me. I held on. I did. Visualise your happy place: next door's Welsh dresser, bumping serenely against dark topped shapes in the current. Exhale. Let go.
The brick is not the home.
It had been four consecutive sunny days. It is cloudy today. During summer, Monday mornings are the saddest days of the week. I woke up hours before the alarm clock rang. My suitcase was already done days before. The taxi was due to arrive at 7 AM. I made my bed, picked up my luggage, locked the door as I had not slept there almost every day for the last twenty-two years. Leaving the cradle was never so easy. My soul had left that place years ago. It was about time for my body to follow it. The way out is not at the door, not the brick is the home. Not in the dark is the fear. The path is not what it says the map, just as not every confession is a poem. To love does not depend on the word love.
In Fifth Grade
Mrs. Symes was always telling Daniel not to rock backward in his chair. It's not a cradle. You'll fall and split your head open.
Daniel fell and split his head open.
Kids close saw the blood on the floor and they told everyone else, but Daniel jumped to his feet like it didn't hurt one bit, smiling.
Mrs. Symes held brown paper towel soaked in cold water against the crack, and called Mr. Milton to clean up the floor blood and watch us kids while she took Daniel to the nurse.
Two weeks. Daniel did it again.
He popped up from underneath monkey bars at the recess bell. Emily showed me wet blood on the bar. Six stitches.
No more, Mrs. Symes. Promise. Dad said my head is like a shaken can of soda, if I crack it again, pssshhh, his fingers exploded, no more brains.
Yes, I thought.
'Come on silly. I'll watch out for you.'
The younger lad followed his brother. He watched through hooded eyes as the others kicked a ball. They ran after it, stopping it short of rolling into the fast river.
A sudden yell as one boy slipped down the sloping bank. Floundering he tried to claw at the wet earth. Laughter and shouts stopped abruptly as he slithered further and further. His friends were turned to stone.
The younger lad came to life, racing toward the danger. Without hesitating, he dropped onto the mud, stretching out his hands. The boy grasped them as the others sprang to action, pulling the rescuer by his legs, hauling both onto safe land.
The saviour moved away, head dropped. He crouched, taking string from his pocket and rocked back and forth, his finger movements rapid, intent on the intricacies of Cat's Cradle.
Denise replaced the phone on its cradle 'genius' she said to herself he could have the number but he could never text her when he realised she wasn't coming he couldn't contact her there and when the time came she was sitting in the window of a boutique coffee shop she watched him sitting all alone writing down each movement and expression because don't we all want to witness the precise unfolding of a date that doesn't work out, a date where everything is perfectly planned except there's only one of you.
He left. She clicked the small metal button on her stopwatch. Forty nine minutes, eighteen seconds, door to door. About average. She opened her laptop and made the entry in excel. She displayed the updated bar chart. She checked the new mean. She loved statistics.
Breakfast In Bed
I examine my navel.
A sunken haven, a fluff lined cradle for the crumbs of my toast. There is no sign of a swelling; no burgeoning incubation. No, definitely no sign of becoming a host.
The fluff lies redundantly like the collection of fluffy animals behind the wooden bars of the empty crib. The fluffy inmates stare barrenly back at me as they serve their none-life sentences. The light glints upon their dead eyes as if burning with blame; blaming me for my genetic fault, burning me because there is only one beat behind my ribs.
I dip my toasty soldier into the bright yolk of sustenance and daydream of what could have been; and then I read the rest of the pile of my 45th Birthday cards and cry like the baby I long to cradle.
The look on her face, the excitement in her eyes, those eyes sparkling with trepidation and wanton pleasure, the softest lick of her lips with her extremely pink tongue her whiter than white teeth it made me fall in love again.
She was there standing waiting for me, I wanted to just run and give her a cuddle it seems as if that is what she waiting for or it could have been the bright orange ball I had in my hand, so I threw it and she bounded off and brought the ball back.
I remember that time when Margot brought Ginger home she was so small. I was amazed that she lasted the night. Her brothers and sisters did not make it, neither did her mum but look at Ginger now I love her and our bond will be solid from the cradle to the grave.
My breath popped out of my mouth as I ambled to the supermarket. Trying to think of something to cook, I noticed the display in the charity shop had been changed and behind the middle window, standing quite alone, was a pine cradle.
The bell rang as I pushed open the door. An old woman looked up from her paper and smiled.
Clearly it had been handmade and was absolutely beautiful. It would be perfect.
‘Are you sure you’re alright to carry that?’
‘It’ll be fine,’ I said, handing my money over.
Over dinner (salmon and new potatoes) I told Robert about my bargain buy. He reached for my hand and stroked my knuckles. ‘Joyce, love,’ he said, ‘not another one? The loft is already full of them.’
Is it worth your life?
Shaila liked the new maid from local community. Else it was impossible to get the rebellious locals to work for their own unscrupulous conquerors. Capturing nations was pride for Shyla's clan, by tact or by force. Their fortresses were unconquerable, those doors once activated trapped the assailant who would never make it to witness another sunrise! Maids never had a name, just " Slave". This slave never once flinched and this made Shaila promote her to be baby Anne's maid. The decision was proved fatal when on a fine morning the maid disappeared with Anne and her cradle. Anne was found lying safe under the staircase of the main courtyard and the cradle and maid were forgotten.
This story would be just another tale if it was not for maps of the fortress that were safely sleeping in the cradle. Smuggled by their revolutionary leader in disguise, the so called "Slave"!
Once, when I was a kid, I ran out onto the frozen lake near my house and fell through one of the ice fishing holes. Nearly drowned.
I don’t know why I keep thinking of it.
My wife and I are getting rid of a lot of stuff, trying to get ready to move. We’ve got old records, a complete dining set, an unused cradle, even a vintage gramophone, all pitched out in the front yard ready for sale. We’re headed back to the city, I got a job waiting for me there. To be honest, things are kind of testy between us lately. She’ll go into the bedroom and watch TV or she’ll be in the kitchen doing dishes. And I’ll talk, and it’s like banging on a cellar door, opening it and finding the steps go down for miles. Nothing but pitch black.
Battle not with Monsters...
I stood over the infant, watching him sleeping restlessly in his cradle. A frown flashed across his face and I wondered what fevered dreams disturbed that small mind.
I knew I had only a short window of opportunity before Klara, the boy’s mother, returned from outside the house. Looking at the sleeping child, however, I knew that I’d already lost my nerve. I had been so full of righteous fury and moralistic bluster. I think the professor had seen through me and decided to indulge me, secure in the knowledge that my courage would ultimately fail.
The front door opened, the rusting hinges squealing in complaint. I sighed, taking one last look at the child before setting the co-ordinates for home. As the wormhole appeared young Adolf opened his blue eyes momentarily before falling back asleep, the horror of his future still only a faint shadow in the distance.
Cradle to Grave
Feeling as blue as lapis lazuli I entered an amonymous office
'Births, Marriages & Deaths' - you know the rest
I was a half hour early early so I picked up my book of prose
'Eternity's Sunrise' :don't know Blake? Find the time!
There are three degrees of seperation then, and not six as I'd heard
Buddha says: 'you think you have time' so sublime
I was sensitive and perturbed, they had to establish the facts
"You need one copy or more?" I nearly hit the floor
A persons life on a sheet of A4 : from the cradle to grave
Went to my car, thought I was fine, but "no!" 'Fixed Penalty Fine'!
Kicking the Cat
Cat's in the cot again, Sis! I pick up my sister's fleabag and kick him across the floor. He yowls then leaps straight back into the cradle and pummels baby's blanket. 'Cats and babies are not a good mix, Sis. Shall I take him back with me? You've got enough on your hands.' I picture the cat sinking to the riverbed in a weighted sack.
My sister comes into the nursery, lowers her head and cries. I put my arms around her. 'It's just the baby blues. You must pull yourself up by the jock straps. Be grateful for what you have!'
She yanks down the circus animals mobile and with a preternatural strength wraps the cat's cradle of strings around my neck. 'I'll give you baby blues, you sadistic bastard! '
The last thing I see is green, venomous eyes as the cat latches her claws onto my face.
Someone's hand is replacing the telephone in its cradle. Someone's legs are turning her away from the hall table.
Someone's feet are shuffling her to the next room, empty, silent but for the buzzing of the muted TV set, silenced for the phone.
Someone's voice is screaming, rattling her brain. A stranger's blood is curdling in her veins. Someone's skin is erupting into ugly red welts and plump tumbling tears are drenching someone's chalky cheeks.
Watching, hoping, pushing, pulling, tearing, ripping, crashing, destroying. If she turns back time by two minutes, it hasn't happened, the phone hasn't rung, she's still watching TV, the glass of wine is disappearing, sleep is approaching, someone isn't needed. She'll hear his key in the door, now, soon, shortly... never again.
No! Someone go away. She is fighting someone, losing, drowning. Someone, help her.
I am someone.
I am her.
I am alone.
She was born in Winter, when the nights were long and naked tree branches reached out for her through the frost-painted window. She lay in her cradle, quiet, calm. ‘A dream baby’ her mother whispered. Her father said nothing.
She became a woman in Spring, when tulips filled their back-garden with blooms of colour, yellow, orange, red. Red, like the stain on her underwear, red, like her cheeks when she asked her widowed father what was happening.
She married in Summer, as temperatures soared, bees buzzed and sweat glistened on her new husband’s face. Her mother-in-law, picking imaginary fluff off the wedding dress, wore Chanel and imitation happiness. Her father old grief and a blank expression.
She died in Autumn, rushing from work as her children, waiting at school, crunched brown and yellow leaves underfoot and kicked conkers. ‘She’s always working’; impatient, angry.
‘Careless driver kills Mum’ the headlines said.
A cradle (handmade)
The earth is still warm to the touch, though the sun has long since slunk behind the garden wall. I sink my nails into the soil, testing the resistance, then press the pads of my fingers harder still, leaving crepuscular indents behind. I brush the crumbs of earth from my palms and pick up the box. It feels smaller somehow, in the half-light, a wraith of truth. I clutch it to my chest, the corners pinching against my cold skin. I place the box back by my side, then start to dig in earnest, the soil cascading from the trowel, the soil clagging and clinging the deeper I dig. Clouded breath bursts from my cracked lips as I expend more and more energy, digging deeper and deeper until I have fashioned you a new cradle, swapped light for dark and wood for earth.
I rocked the cradle gently. She slept soundly, not moving a muscle. I didn't want to disturb her; not after what had happened yesterday.
She gave my husband and I a fright. With her constant crying and her sudden bleeding nose. We rushed her to the doctor but, he couldn't find any logical explanation.
My mind started to wander. Had the reciting of that spell had anything to do with this? Mother did tell me to never say those words.
No. No ways. I'm a grown woman. Why should I believe in any spells, or cursed objects. That kind of stuff, only happens in the movies.
Yet, as she lay there, her nose started to bleed. She began jerking almost uncontrollably. I tried to call for my husband, but nothing came out.
No one could hear my plea for help.
I was all alone.
Just me and the baby.
“Play with me. Someone. Please,” says Belinda. She has fuchsia pink string tied in a circle, stretched across both hands, her thumbs sticking up.
No-one knows what she is talking about. What does she mean ‘play’? It doesn’t look familiar, like a card game or dominoes. Does she want us to somehow skip in miniature?
We all shake our heads as if she’s bonkers and begin to leave the residents’ lounge. We watch through the door.
Just Sheila remains. In her wheelchair by the window. She looks across at Belinda, smiles and says, “I’ll play cat’s cradle with you.”
Belinda scoots over and the two white-haired ladies begin looping the string between finger and thumb, at one stage using the pinky, over and up. Passing the criss-crossed creation on to each other. As if passing a secret.
Lost in their own worlds of childhood.
With thanks to all the writers who have made this issue possible.Alva Holland, Bill Cox, Brutus Richmond, Bryan Thomas, Carol Leggatt, Charles Wood, Cheryl Nicol, Christine Nedahl, Claire Allinson, Clara Mok, Cristina Bresser, Dave Murray, Dean Hodsfry, Ellen Baker, Emma J Myatt, Fiza H., Gem Rascop, Hannah Whiteoak, Heather, Ivy Brooke, Jack Fisher, Jan Kaneen, Jay Bee, Jeremiah Telzrow, John Dapolito, John Murphy, Klaus Kluge, Laura Besley, Lee Hamblin, Lesley Dargie, Linda Woodhams, Lisa Zang, Louise Mangos, M.D. Jayabalan, Maggie Shelton, Mark Sadler, Mary Davies, Mary Thompson, Michael Rumsey, Mitja Lovše, Morna Clements, Paul M Clark, peter lillywhite, Philip Charter, Rahman the Writer, ray trzaska, Rebecca Field, River A Stillwood, Robert Buckalew, Robina Beattie, Ronald Guell, Rosanna Wood, S.B. Borgersen, Simon Gadd, Sophie Watson, Sowmya Ramkumar, Susan Carey, Suzi C, Sylvia Petter, Verity Dorsett, William Bain
11th October 2017