Welcome to our latest issue of Ad Hoc Fiction
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When I get there the house feels different, maybe it knows she's gone. The clock on the landing still tick-tocks; it used to soothe me when I was little but now it sounds odd, out of time.
I reach the top of the stairs. "You're late. What a surprise." Gemma, my sister, stands there, arms folded, lips a down-turned line. She looks old.
"Sorry, I ......"
"Oh save it. I'm really not interested."
My feet are stuck to the floor. I look down to check they're still there and haven't sunk into the thick pile carpet. Yes, they're there.
"Do you want to see her then?" I nod and drag myself into mum's room. It's dark and freezing cold in there. I inch my way towards the bay window and pull back the heavy, velvet drapes. I always hated them - they'll be the first to go.
It is late autumn along the tow path of the Regents Canal. Breath curls in vapours on the chill air. Longboats sit in silence, sacks of coal weighing down their roof tops, hatches battened down, waiting for winter. Ivy spreads its fingers up the graffiti-covered brickwork of the bridge. The last morning glory bloom fills a curl of barbed wire with its velvet petals. Blades of golden leaves drift on the black water. Nature, claiming back the things of man. In this pocket of London where the sound doesn’t reach. Where the wind doesn’t moan through the broken fences. Where the pressing noise of traffic doesn’t fall. Where the orange sky reflecting the city lights doesn’t shine. Here where lovers kiss, dogs sniff, old men smoke, and junkies can’t find their veins because of the UV bulbs glowing under the arch. Here we can find peace.
Dear Prozac, Right Now I Love You
Next to me J is talking, talking, and I'm grateful but the seat is hot velvet under my fingers and right now that's all I need. J funnels concern through the soothing filter of the market. I picture its jostle and heave, flinchless baby stares, bright relish against 'seriously considering' lips, rival coffee queues. I smell iron, soap, rum and straw. There for the choosing.
My knives hang high; as far above me as the roof of a cathedral. They will not drop today.
Our bus shudders deliciously. Heat. Velvet. Fingers. Even better on the move. You have carved a space in my head that's mine. For me to decide what's allowed. Today: the seat, the bus, the sun. When we reach the market, I'll let in sweet-eyed dogs, long-time handshakes, unlocked smiles. And even some words:
Thank you. I could do this again. Let’s do this again.
'Touch his fur, it feels like velvet,' my mum said as she held the dead Mole out towards me.
I was eight years-old. I did not want to touch a dead mole.
'Go on, feel the fur it's so Velvety,' she persisted.
I looked at the small mammal lying in her hands with it's stubby nose and extra thumbs.
'I don't want to. It makes me sad,' I whispered.
'Don't be so silly,' my mum said, as she brushed the fur on the creatures back.
'Most people don't get to touch a Mole because they are shy and solitary animals.'
Slowly, I closed my eyes and reached my hand out towards the carcass. For just a second I touched the cold fur, before pulling my hand back.
'Isn't it beautiful?' my mum asked.
'Yes',' I lied.
My mother named me Velvetine Edith Leigh Olgar Under-Richardson.
With that, she ruined my chances of true love.
We met in All Days. We did that awkward two footed dance trying to pass one another and still bumped heads, like it was meant to be.
I dropped my phone trying to take his number. He reached to get it for me and screamed, as if the case had burnt him.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “Velvet. I can’t touch velvet. It’s a phobia of mine.”
“My mum bought me a velvet phone case,” I said. “Because my name is Velvetine.”
He took a plastic bag from his pocket, fished for my phone as if it was excrement and handed it back to me.
“I’m sorry,” he said again, before running the other way down the aisle, the underside of his trainers flashing white like the bobbing of a fleeing rabbit’s tail.
Morning in all its finery; pearly mist wedded to creamy velvet sky; leaves cast like exquisite cake decorations trimmed with silver ice. I pick one up. In my hand it becomes stinking brown sludge. The water, its surface a mesh of coppery-orange ochre, looks path-like and I want to walk upon it, follow it. Then I spot him - crouched and hunched - heron masquerading as duck. Oh, ducks know when something's up and they dance and jitter, squawk and flutter, while the impostor's stealth keeps him a stone and harmless statute. How can such a thing of beauty become such a thing of destruction? I think you know the answer.
I could have sold the ring but instead throw it in, to mingle with all the other glittering gold, to disappear along with the ducks.
Down the Hatch
When they start killing gringos, we race to the docks. Mathilde secures us ship passage while I find a place to hide the head of the boss who hadn’t the tact to negotiate at machete-point. I trade for a small cask to preserve him in. After draining two pints of what is a lovely spiced rum, quite velvet on the tongue, there’s room to lower Tim in by the ponytail.
Mattie is insanely cute, and also a raging alcoholic. Bored by our meager steerage compartment, she quickly dips into my barrel while I’m at the head.
On return, I smack the drink away—“Are you nuts? Tim’s in there!”
She eeps, but unconvinced, peers into the bunghole, and eeps again. But she’s soon recomposed and offering the refilled tin cup. After all, it’s a slow boat back to the states and Tim makes a better cocktail onion than a boss.
This is how it is now.
Stealer of my seconds, thief of time, your determined fingers burrow into my breast. I wake when you wake, atuned to your rhythm. You are my beginning and end. There are mysteries behind your smoke-grey eyes which I can't begin to fathom. You are fragile as an egg, ruthless, tyrannical. I can't remember a time when you weren't; can't picture a future without you. When you yawn I yawn too. When you cry I think my heart might break. I am exhausted by living with such intensity, brittle, as if pieces of me might snap off.
I nuzzle the moleskin velvet of your head, breathe your warm milk-scent and think: so this is love.
The coat hung bunched over the back of the sofa. She pulled it down and snuggled into it. It was pink and it smelt like Mummy. She cried for a bit, but you can't cry forever. Her howls turned to sobs, and then to snuffles.
The coat was itchy. She wriggled and pulled at it, trying to find the smooth inside bit. The collar was brown velvet. She rubbed it on her cheek and stroked it. The thumb on her other hand found its way into her mouth.
The collar was soft and smooth against her face. Safe and warm under Mummy's coat, she knew it was going to be all right. Mummy was going to come back. Tonight, perhaps. Or tomorrow. She held the velvet close.
Quite soon she was asleep.
Velvet is over the top. My dress was too soft, too expensive, too easily rubbed up the wrong way, too often soiled. My skin was never velvet except to the touch of a treacherous lover. My velvet voice lied. Velvet Brown, heroine of book and film, was misnamed. How could velvet hands be powerful enough to control that horse and win the National? My National Velvet rose had blood-red petals and thorns that tore my flesh.
But now my lifeline lays her head on my knee and I catch a whiff of dog. Fondling her ears, I know in the comfort provided by that iconic word… velvet.
I looked at the distance, clutching the velvet I bought. Nothing happened, no one came back for me. Then again, the state I was in occurred thanks to me.
The situation ensued, when I assumed my colleagues at the faculty would've endorsed me for the president of the institution. I didn't campaign that much, though I felt they would've voted for me anyway.
However, I also planned the party before the results of the elections, which made me look like an asshole. Moreover, I told everyone about the fest.
That might have been the reason I ended up being taken from my home with all the stuff I got for the gathering and thrown away into the desert.
Luckily, I notice the velour can keep me warm, the nights there can get rough.
Nonetheless, I still wanted to know, had I prevailed in the poll.
Her skin felt like velvet. Cold. Inhuman.
An uncaring sheet of silk-like water laid over her transparently, as though she were simply dozing in bed.
This part of the river was quiet, even as commuters strode for trains and buses, just a meter away behind the degrading concrete slabs blocking their view from the brutalized waterway - cemented into rigid direction, fringed by weeds and dead factories.
Her body had only been found here because an old car, long forgotten, had settled upon the bottom of the channel. She had come to rest draped over the rusted bonnet in a macabre parody of a motor show model.
Harrison bit his lower lip for a moment, head bowed.
"We found her." he said in a low, toneless voice. "Call it in, Bentley."
The lieutenant turned away as he made the call. Harrison looked around.
Anywhere but at the pale, naked skin.
The wind is a knife to their faces, but Ammi’s palm is sweaty in his. She uses her free hand to swat the branches away, glancing behind them occasionally. But she avoids his eyes.
When the beach is in sight, she slows down.
The moon swathes the sea in a velvet sheen and the sand’s a blank slate. A rickety boat hides in the shadows. Ammi’s grip tightens as she drags him towards the mean-looking man who sits at the helm.
“Give him the pendant once he gets you to the other side. It’s sown into the hem,” she whispers, drawing him into a tight hug. She helps him into the boat and adjusts her dupatta.
The motor roars to life, and he’s pushed into the other passengers—three women and a boy his age.
“Ammi,” he whispers.
She shakes her head and turns away.
He sinks to the floor.
A Curtain Call
Beyond the red velvet curtain, a scenic-draped life moves on. The Phantom of the Opera. Something Rotten. Frozen. They are no match to the real-life drama.
Despite bursting of the sanguine dawn, I feel harrowed by my hubby's quirky way of squeezing his toothpaste, lopsided hanging of the crimson hand towel and leaving a stain of soapiness in the sink.
With a dignified look, I stab the green peas on my plate with a fork. One pea lands in my brewed black coffee, forming a ripple. My hubby pours me another cup. Piping hot. Spills and stains the white table cloth. Armed with verbal ammunition, I'm about to engage in a civilized conversation with him when he prances towards me, kisses me clumsily and leaves for work.
There is something fallacious with this marital plot because it should have been nagging, arguing, apologising, forgiving and then, passionate kissing!
More Than One Way To Cry
I'm haunted by memories of you and those final days and I realise that there's more than one way to cry. Tears, the obvious physical outpouring of grief that dampen the velvet cushion that carries the musty scent of sorrow. It's not the first time I've cried on to it. There's more to it. The way I mentally ache for something I can no longer have, a sadness so real in the present but also retrospectively. Three years, well almost, and counting. Those moments in my life you'll never bear witness too, moments that will always leak sadness because I can't share them with you. Moments that through no fault of their own, are devalued by your absence. Waking after some kaleidoscopic torment that is more nightmare than dream. Waking to the realisation that you're gone, but maintaining the right to grieve and a promise never to forget.
They cleansed everything.
They made the silverware polish and shine, bleached the ceramics and made the bedding all proper.
"You'll probably need to replace the carpentry."
She stared at the floor where old tints stained into the fabric. Her mother’s black velvet painting lay above the mantel. A small girl with tears down her cheeks, looking away.
She'd heard the news this morning from her husband, about the house being up for auction and said nothing.
By noon she was in the driveway making her way to one of the windows.
She took a peep through. No one’s was in.
“Hello, can I help you, Miss?
“Oh, sorry…I…I was just taking a look around”
“Well tours don’t start till 2 pm”
“Oh okay, no problem. I guess I’ll come back later then”
They fixed the crime scene, destroyed the evidence.
…. except for that little tinge in the carpet.
He stood chatting with a man, newly met but now like old friends. They almost always came under his spell. Men and women alike and he loved it. Only children weren’t taken in. As if they could tell it was an act. That he wasn’t genuine. She knew better now too despite that oozing charisma. It had tipped her over the edge back in the day because it certainly wasn’t his looks. She was being harsh. He wasn’t bad looking, but that hard to define..., that always did it, that and the voice. Smooth as velvet and always saying the right words. It was why she stayed, that and the perks.
He shook the hand of the stranger and climbed the stairs to his right. He we go again, she thought, and the word ‘suckers’ crossed her mind as she looked at the crowd.
“My fellow Americans….” he began.
You wait to cross the road and music drifts from the open window of a passing car, a familiar old tune. Suddenly you think of wood smoke and wild garlic, grass lush and soft as velvet, a barbecue on a day of soft sunshine that lingered into a night of stars. And the sound of a guitar played by a boy. His hands curled round the strings take and hold the hearts of every girl there. But he is lost in his music. The music and the memory fades but you walk on, your step a little lighter and the day a little brighter for it.
Lost in France
An ink black night descended and rain lashed the windows of the car as she drove along the country lanes in deepest rural France. It was hard to see the road and her eyes played tricks on her as the glistening tarmac and reflections sought to confuse her.
She was lost for a moment, unsure if she had gone too far and silently regretting having accepted the invitation. At last the chateau came into view and she gratefully stopped the engine. Her host greeted her warmly at the door condemning the dreadful weather and taking her already sodden coat as he passed her a glass of golden Armagnac saying "to warm you up my dear, nothing beats the iron fist in a velvet glove at times like this!"
Self-Made Mermaid by Nails Inc.
Try not to remember the spa with its ocean blue cushions, velvet pile towels, sounds and scents of a faked tropical paradise. Try not to recall the beauty technicians in impeccable white. All you used to do was relax and stretch out your hands.
These days you are just an ordinary woman armed with nail polish remover from the Poundshop and ratty cotton wool you found in the first aid box. Soon you’ll have cotton soaked with sparkling mermaid blue – the unlikely colour you chose for your last spa manicure. Now you are struggling not to smear blue tint over cuticles and finger skin, and are stressing about spilling acetone. Tiny slices of mermaid remain. You push and poke cotton buds down the sides of your nails, under the tips. Your nails look pale and sickly like something born too soon. You scissor them as short as you dare.
The Velvet Suit
The cool breeze impregnating the window curtain for sometime, was delivered into Sera's dishevelled hair. She came to the window to peep out at the maple tree all draped in perfect red. The word “perfect” plundered her tranquillity reminding her of John and their last scary-argument that severed their connection. The purple sky in the west added to the sullenness.
As she gazed, she observed the ashen tree trunk yielding to a woodpecker's rapid tapping. It was unusual and absurd, but fearing the perfection of the maple might be at stake terrified Sera. Drenched in sweat she rushed to a closet, and rummaged through her dresses to drag out a red velvet suit—her first gift from John. It was wonderfully perfect like the maple tree minutes before. She wrapped the dress around the tress' trunk as a cushioned shield...wishing she could arm herself as easily.
The letter lay on the hall floor, amid stray leaves.Turned up edges of the beech hedging lay about.
Somehow, it annoyed Tessa that the Hoover refused to pick up those leaves. For now, she choose to ignore nature's unwanted debris and stooped to lift the envelope and discuss the contents. Swishing the velvet curtain aside, she tore open the buff coloured envelope.
Reading quickly,her face screwed up into a grimace. She slapped the letter at her forehead and groaned. An anguished sound emitting from her throat.
A mistake it read. She was not part of the winners list after all.
Tessa turned on her heel and strode into the kitchen. She poked the letter into the woodburning stove and watched as it caught fire.This seemed to pacify her and reaching over she pressed down the switch on the electric kettle. Time for tea.
The smooth fountain swirled downwards like shimmering brown velvet. Abby stared as if mesmerized, unable to take her eyes off the neverending cascade. The smell of chocolate was overwhelming, and she wondered when the formalities would end and they'd be able to taste the goodies offered. This was a chocolate exhibition after all. When at last they were given the go-ahead, she headed straight to the chocolate fountain. Picking up a marshmallow, she held it under the dripping chocolate, giving it a good coating before placing it in her mouth. Delicious! she said to herself while looking around guiltily. "Oh, there you are, Abby," a voice beside her said. "I thought I'd find you here." "Linda, um ... I was just admiring the chocolate fountain," Abby explained, licking her lips to dispel any evidence. "Don't forget, we have our weigh-in tomorrow!" Linda reminded her while leading her gently away from temptation.
Teenage dreams and autumn years
The warmth of his hand rested on her knee. They met last week, tranquil thoughts flowed; maturity with a hint of passion. She thought about the last time a man had been so close. Max’s mood could be icy even in the bedroom. Mediterranean sun beat down on a sandy beach; Jean Pierre showed his affection. Earlier adolescent adventures behind the art room; schoolgirl skirts as short as she dared, a brush of the breast and a frisson of fingers.
Winter’s chill on a cold park bench; leaves hurried along on the wind. She shuffled closer, her blue velvet skirt kissed his corduroy trousers; his arm snaked around her. Warm sensations ignited emotion laid dormant for decades. His lips grazed her cheek; her hand discovered his knee. They looked into each other’s eyes; years of longing rolled away. Pulses raced, hearts beat in time.
My parents bought a midnight blue velvet jacket for me to wear at my brother's bar mitzvah and I insisted on wearing it, every day, for several weeks after. I looked like I should have been pulling rabbits out of hats.
The skinheads who chased my brother and me along the local parade when we were allowed to go alone, for sweets - me lagging behind, I had asthma and littler legs - I couldn't magic away. I'm sure they could've caught us if they'd wanted but the fun was in the chasing, in yelling "Jewboys!" and scaring us silly. One of them did lob a missile of phlegm onto the back of the jacket before they pretended to give up. You could always see where it had landed.
You don't see many velvet jackets these days, I think, as a total stranger on the street spits in my adult face.
Don't Look Back
This isn’t the first time I’ve stood in a ditch, stick in hand, poking a dead body. But it’s never been a human one before.
“How did he get there?” my sister whispers, unable to suppress a hint of excitement.
“Haven’t the foggiest” I reply truthfully, as I liberate him of his velvet jacket and slip it on over my tattered hoody.
We go back to walking in silence, each step taking us further from home. Steady rain sets in.
“Poor fella’s gonna get soaked” my sister bemoans.
I turn to her, a glint in my eye. “He needs a good wash.”
She frowns, but doesn’t say anything. We keep moving, leaving behind our home, our past, our pain. Crimson specks drip off my new jacket and stain the route along which we’ll never return.
The Second Thing Maria Never Stole
was a gel pen, salvaged from the stuffy closet of moth-eaten clothes and cleaned-out tupperwares that constituted the lost-and-found of Franklin Elementary School. She was looking for a lunchbox she would never find out was stolen by Olive, a girl in Mrs. Roberts' class who always wore a fuzzy blue jacket to school even when it was ninety-eight degrees outside. Maria bumped into a hanging coat, a dull, faded green, nothing like Olive's, and the pen fell out. It was old, so it was more reddish than purple, reminding Maria of a velvet cake her mother made once. After her brother ate it her mother called her a liar and a thief and slapped her. Maria held the pen up. She almost took it for a moment, it seemed to be promising her something as it glittered in the low light, but she put it back in the pocket instead.
Your Dirty Red Carpet Affair
Celebrities, dinner, hushed talk of all the nominees. I drank your share of the wine, but that's not what embarrassed you.
I knew it then and I know it now.
You lie for a living and lied about being a poor liar. You had me going for awhile. Yes, you did. But I saw through it that night.
You set up your boundaries and built your facade.
It's fine. I'll forgive you one day. But I'll never forget it, and neither will you. I'll make certain, wait and see.
There will be red carpet, awards and fanfare, glitz, glamor and gold, but there will never be any of your filthy velvet rope.
Just wait and see.
“Velvet picked it out.” Steve swirls coffee and whiskey in a Santa mug.
“Who?” I ask.
“The salesgirl at the store. What a little knock-out.” He winks.
In a silver box is a velvet turtleneck sweater. Soft, comfortable, easy. The way the neighbours think we live.
But touch the sweater and feel what it’s really like: suffocating, staticky, synthetic, full of threads that’ll snag and start him unravelling.
It’s purple, moody. A bruise on Monday morning from a backhand Saturday night. I remind him I wear bright colours.
“What? Purple is royalty! Don’t I treat you like a queen?” he burps.
The tag says small. He’s confident the sweater will fit—the salesgirl, perhaps. Grimacing at my back fat and tummy roll, he concedes it doesn’t.
“Get Velvet to help you with a bra. Ask her what she wears.”
The Last Visit
You wore black shoes with silver buckles and I had on a dark green velvet dress. We sat with him in the fluorescent glow of the hallway; the book balanced on my knees.
Anytime his attention drifted, you would say, Sumner, this is your grand-daughter. She is reading to you. The next time a nurse passed by, he would beam and say, this is my grand-daughter, she is reading to me.
What good press, how like a prize I felt! Announced and cherished for all to see! By the time we left, I was lit up brighter than the ceiling.
Back inside the car, it was small and dim. When you didn't turn the key, I dimmed a bit as well. Your hands stayed still on the steering wheel; mine nervously petted my lap. Little fingers marveling at how soft it felt going down, how rough it was going up.
Freak, Not Unique
Every night, for several months, Beatrice’s facial pores pocked open and shafts of hair bristled through. Every morning she plucked.
‘Who the hell has whiskers?’ she moaned.
‘You’ve always yearned for individuality,’ said her sister, Penny, popping gum but wide-eyed all the same.
‘Unique, not freak,’ snipped Beatrice.
Despite the pain and shame and sobs, the follicle-zapping sessions worked. The whiskers vanished.
A week later, Beatrice woke and rubbed her eyes. She froze. Patches of fur covered her face. Her ear tips were curled and tufty. She stroked them. Soft-napped and sleek. Like velvet.
‘You’ve turned rabbity,’ said Penny.
‘I hate rabbits,’ wailed Beatrice.
Her ears unfurled into a V-sign.
‘Get plastic surgery,’ said Penny.
Beatrice nodded. ‘You’re right. It’s cosmetic. An unfortunate veneer. Superficial and solvable.’
Then her nose twitched.
"What's the difference between velvet and velour" Nigel inquired.
"Lots, velour is less shiny, knitted. Velvet is woven so velour is stretchy, thinner not as deep and luxurious" Tara responded.
"So it's a fake" Nigel blurted.
"No, it's velour, perhaps an imitation, not fake" Tara explained
"What about velveteen, is that fake as well" Nigel exclaimed.
"Fake is when something pretends to be what it is not, velvet, velour, velveteen are not pretending to be something they are not. That is why they have different names and different prices" Tara knowingly responded.
"So velvet is top of the line, could someone really tell the difference" Nigel questioned.
"Someone who knew what to look for could, velvet is most expensive velveteen is the least for a reason" Tara answered.
"Okay I order the curtains in velveteen" Nigel said leaving, the store door slamming behind him.
"Fake" Tara muttered under her breath.
The Other Gown
She gracefully sat down, crossed the legs and pressed gently on her velvet gown to smoothen the wrinkles. Her phone was held high, her neck tilted to face the camera, her lips pushed out in a practiced pout and she clicked. Then she eagerly opened the photo editing app in the phone, mentally thanking her friend for teaching her how to use it. As she was about to make the final retouching, she saw the door knob turning gently. She quickly dropped the phone on the bed, uncrossed the legs and sat straight. A smile formed on her lips, to welcome whoever comes through the door.
“Mrs. Thomas. Time to change into the gown.”
Her gaze landed on the neatly folded loose piece of clothing in the nurse’ hands, and her smile slowly transformed into a frown.
Most people complain about shrinking hours of daylight, but commuting at sunrise was a gift. This morning was a particularly spectacular display. She breathed in the beauty as she walked to the bus stop, ignoring the chill that penetrated her layers of sensible office attire. Her eyes fixed on the iridescent clouds, a crushed velvet of pink and orange, suspended in perfectly smooth blue. Massive, intense, glorious. She felt her gratitude for this morning fill her body. She let her worries feel small and insignifica - Her thoughts cut out as her heel skidded half an inch. Behind her, the yellow insides of a fresh turd were spread out on the pavement, a trap that had been laid for her and that she was now multiplying with every step for unsuspecting schoolchildren.
It was not cosmic peace that she would carry with her for the rest of the day.
My sister and I always said mum was fabric mad because of her expressions being woven into her every day speech.
Her favourite song was Blue Velvet perhaps because we always had velvet curtains and cushions in the lounge but she was forever telling us to ‘cotton on’, don’t ‘wash your dirty linen’ and never ‘pull the wool’ and so on. Mrs Dean at number 7 was well known as an incessant talker. Mum called her gabardine. At general election times mum insisted she should go out to canvass. Ask her where she’d like to go for summer holidays and she’d say Jersey.
One day we witnessed an arrest at a department store. Apparently a woman had pinched a coat. The police were called.
“Look at that,” mum laughed, “the coat is fur but the collar's ‘felt.’
What could be more cliche - impregnated as the result of a one-night stand with an infamous womanizer! And what cruel timing. June had already lost a husband with her failed attempts at conceiving. At 39, this might very well be her one chance at motherhood. But what would be his reaction? Would there be a demand she terminate the pregnancy? Preparing herself for a fight to the death, she wondered about her safety and that of the life developing within her. Over 700 miles between them, John awoke startled. Whew! It had been seven years - his son Velvet's age - since he'd last seen Aunt Trudy in his dreams. But this time instead of blue, she was cradling a brilliant pink baby blanket. So John knew he would soon have a daughter. He couldn't wait to call June. Unless she already had a preference, he'd love to name the baby Angelica - Angelica Joy.
The Velvet Decades
A velvet bunny, propped in my crib beside me, clutched in my infant hands. Though the bunny seemed to be a misshapen, grey blob in my young eyes, I liked to touch it, to put it between my gums while my mother laughed.
A velvet ribbon, tied in my silken hair, matching my dress. I would skip beside my mother, feeling as pretty as a daisy, though the ribbon would tumble and be wound in my hands by the end of the day.
A velvet choker, black as my clothes, dimly smelling of smoke. My friends would watch me in a grey haze as I danced to the music blearily spilling from the speakers, my mind a world away from the mother who worried for me.
A velvet dress. Wrapped around my mother in her casket. Blue as the song. A woman I thought I was too good for, gone.
King in Velvet
It was the Velvet Elvis that set me at ease. When I first met Mrs. Beeks, I found her unsettling, all jangling gold jewelry and a cloud of perfume, her too white teeth set against yellowing skin. But I needed a place to board and, with the local foliage changing, I was running out of options.
Then I saw the Velvet Elvis hanging in the hallway – it reminded me of my mother and her harmless fascination with the King. So I signed the registry in the vestibule and was barely put off by Beeks’ cackle.
Even with the early Autumn nightfalls, sometimes the house feels like someone has draped the windows, plunging the house into an interminable dark. It’s disorienting and I’m unable to locate the exit or my room. I only feel the eyes of the King following me as I pass under the portrait time and time again.
Do vegans wear pearls?
Social media influencer Veronica Moore (24) was cancelled today after sharing a photograph in which she could be seen wearing a pearl necklace. Moore’s claim that oysters lack sentience had fuelled the mounting outcry.
During a tearful three-hour livestream Moore offered her fans a heartfelt apology, insisting she is still learning and growing as a human being, and promised to do better in the future. Moore had hoped to move on from the incident but an eJudge poll voted overwhelmingly that the apology did not go far enough. Subsequently, any attempt to reference Moore in name, image or audio will be blocked effective from midnight tonight. Moore intends to fight the decision.
In other news, personality Harlan Keys has announced a three-month apology tour following a now-deleted video in which he is alleged to have worn a pair of velvet shoes.
The Ivy House
The jangle of the bell echoed eerily inside the dark house. I thumped angrily on the front door, wondering why nobody was here to meet me. It lurched open with a sound like a banshee's wail, catapulting me into a pool of light in the hallway.
I looked up at the ceiling far above the curve of the wooden staircase. Slates were missing from the roof. The laser beam of the full moon glared in.
The air crackled with centuries-old tension. The scent of lavender and the feel of white velvet gloves against my throat carried a tidal wave of bad memories. As I hesitated like a moth unable to escape the candle flame, I heard slow footsteps coming down the empty staircase.
A Promenade Through Time
"Oh look! It's a cormorant...or a shag." Dave's binoculars are trained on a sleek black seabird on the horizon. "No, I think it's a cormorant, judging by the size." It's been like this all week. Suzie wonders if the man can ever finally decide. She tries to think herself lucky that at least he's agreed to be seen with her in public. "Or maybe an unusually big shag..."
"For goodness sake Dave, can't you make up your mind!" He looks at her bemused. "'An egret or a heron...a scoter or a velvet scoter...a cormorant or a shag.' The constant indecision! Well, I know how they feel. Dave, you make me feel like a...like a shag."
An elderly woman pushes her husband passed in a wheelchair, his eyes softly focussed on a distant lighthouse.
"I remember when you used to talk dirty, Gladys," he reminisces fondly.
Flickering shadows. Fading white to black. Sterile room. Beep beep – dominant sound masking shallow breathing. For how long? Seems an eternity but can’t be sure. Flash of colour. Gone in an instant. Another. Longer this time. Flickering eyelids. Hand on hand pressure. Hazy view. Beep, beep – annoying sound filling head. Why? Need to shake off muddled thoughts. ‘He needs to rest now.’ A brief kiss from lips like velvet. Memory brings a smile.
After his maiden speech they said he had a velvet voice like an old-time matinee idol. Naturally, he had praised his predecessor to the skies and eulogized his constituency. That sort of thing went down well in the local party and in the whips' office. After all, he was in the Commons to toe the party line, to walk through the governments lobby, and occasionally to make the odd sycophantic proposal during questions. After all, he was there to do the party's bidding, not to change the world. And to serve his time, take his salary, accrue his pension and retire with a knighthood for services rendered in twenty-five years' time. But he couldn't get the trade minister out of his mind. Her long red hair and sprayed-on suits drove him wild. Until one day during trade questions he stood up and proposed. Their eyes met. Her red lips parted.
Lorenzo felt as if he would never leave this cell. The guards call him a permanent resident. This prisoner is the personal project of the Doge.
“You have been in here so long that your wife no longer visits.” A guard chided the prisoner. “What did you do to anger our lord Medici? He has left orders to feed you. What a waste.”
“I was trying to flee the city of Venice. My entire guild are captives held against our will.” Lorenzo took a bite of the cheese. “I make velvet. This fabric is so precious that the Doge would rather I languish in this cell. I have a secret, a new way to cut the pile of the fabric. I will die before My secret is shared with anyone.”
“I am sure that your wish can be granted.” The guard smiled.
Velvet Trousers: A Ghost Story
I was about to undress for bed when a ghost appeared and pointed at my velvet trousers.
‘Those are mine, Arnold.’
‘But I bought them today at a charity shop,’ I replied.
‘Tough,’ the ghost said. Gripping me from behind, he propelled me to the town’s cemetery.
‘Dig,’ he ordered, handing me a spade and indicating a fresh grave.
I dug and uncovered a coffin.
‘Open it,’ the ghost demanded, thrusting a crowbar at me.
I did as requested and revealed the ghost’s human, trouserless form.
‘Take the trousers off and put them on my deceased body,’ the ghost said.
I completed the task and reburied the corpse. The ghost sighed and disappeared.
Bare-legged, I returned home. The following morning, I went to the charity shop. The assistant recognised me.
‘How are those velvet trousers?’ he asked.
‘Back where they belong,’ I replied. ‘What other ones do you have?’
An Unbearable Lightness
Just before the Velvet Revolution, Magda came over the “border of friendship” as the borders to the other Eastern Bloc countries were called.
We were having a beer in Dresden´s oldest Gasthaus when she said: “I haven´t got much time. Stuff´s happening back home.”
“What do you mean?”
“I want to do a Jiři.”
“My boyfriend.” She sucked slowly on her finger.
“You want to make love to me?”
“I just want to fuck you,” she said, grinning, and took my hand. She squeezed it, and then looked serious again, sad almost. “Jiři's a passionate guy. I love him. But he fucks around like nobody´s business. Not his fault. Girls throw themselves at him. It´s the politics. He wants to change the world. Lives danger. I want to know what it´s like. Just the body without the heart. That´s all. Wanna play?”
Will they miss me?
‘What time is it?’ My voice quivered.
‘It’s a quarter to midnight.’ His voice was deep, velvety and mellow.
‘I should go back; they will miss me, won’t they?’ A question, a plea, it hung in the air between us.
He did not answer; he was simply the conduit, the maker of change.
‘How long before it is too late?’
‘We can stay in this time, quarter to midnight for as long as you wish, I am in no hurry.’
I need to think, weigh up my options. My mind was fuddled; confusion was the only thing my synapses were firing. I had been so sure before this very moment, before this time to choose.
‘Can I have a further day? Say goodbye to everyone.’
‘No, your final decision must be made now at this point, your soul as payment as agreed.’
‘Yes,’ I whispered,’ yes.’
Ornately carved, thick with dust, the mahogany mirror was stuck in the back of a boot sale seller’s black pick-up. Found in her old witch of a grandmother’s attic, she said. Going to the tip, unless I made an offer. I offered five. She said ten. I said done. Then I saw the woodworm: maybe I had been. Still, it was a good prop for my photo business.
Polished up well, the silvering still pure, I set it up in my windowless studio, against a black velvet backcloth. I added candlesticks, a brass bound book and an old school bell, then fetched my old black cat to sit in for a test shot. But the cat immediately screeched and ran off. Taking the shot anyway. I checked the image on my laptop. Staring back from the mirror, an old hag of a woman and her black cat.
He had always loved the tactile: the crispness of fresh sheets on clean skin; fingertips pushed into the springy fibres of velvet; the surface of well-sanded wood. That was probably why he hung around this ancient place. There were so many textures to jog his memory – reminders of the old days. Sometimes he covered every room, searching all the gaps and the empty cupboards but novelty was a thing of the past. Every particle of the space was infinitely familiar now.
From the very top window, he saw them arrive. It was a young mother with two lively children – a boy and a girl both still young – less than 10 years old, he thought. He stopped halfway down the stairs, when they burst in through the front door. But of course, they couldn’t see him. Later, perhaps the children would find his headstone when they explored the grounds.
She loved the feel of the coat against her skin. Its lining all warm and velvety to the touch.
She looked at her reflection in the mirror – she was undoubtedly beautiful and yet the mark still faintly showed over her left eye where he had hit her all those months ago. She never spoke to him again after that. Ignored his pleas, the flowers and jewellery and as soon as she could, had moved here for her own sanity – away from the old haunts, away from the old crowd, away from him.
She looked at herself again – the coat was expensive but thinking about it, it represented her old, crueller life, so with some regret she threw it onto the pile of clothes to be discarded.
She’d made a new life now. Something that was truly hers and nothing or no one was going to take it away from her.
Dreams which never were
The moons and stars and hopes on the cot mobile are still. And again, I rub the velvet ear between my thumb and forefinger, rhythmically wearing down its softness. I find the pad of my thumb fits snugly into the nook, as if made for each other.
The pinched face looks up at me with glassy eyes, his patchwork body a shadow on my lap. I rock and hum a lullaby I didn’t realise I knew. The fluffy cloud curtains remain closed to the world.
A sleepy bunny print on his left leg dozes away the endless days of long nights. Chubby aeroplanes zoom over his shoulder, away to nowhere. His round tummy lies against the flatness of mine.
This keepsake stitched together with never worn clothes and imagined dreams; his overstuffed weight is at once a comfort and a reminder of that which never was and can never be.
A Sticky situation
"Oh my!" My aunt exclaimed as she walked into the kitchen. "What's all this mess for then?"
"Well," I said while cleaning my hands with a cloth, "I'm actually baking. You know, for a special someone's birthday."
"This looks more like a crime scene to me." She glanced down at the kitchen counter with a disapproving look at the red mess I had made.
"It's red velvet. What else would you expect?" She was starting to get on my nerves. It's not my fault I'm bad at baking.
"I'm sure your uncle will love it." She started for the door, "As long as it tastes good."
"Hey!" I yelled while flicking some red velvet cake batter at her. " Of course it's going to taste good!"
She glanced back at me, smiled and left, softly chuckling at my antics.
All I Asp
I roll myself up in the carpet, gyrating hips propelling me round and round; the carpet spiralling and wrapping me in a velvet cocoon. I am preparing to send myself to you, like Cleopatra did for Julius Caesar.
Smuggled into your room, you will not be able to resist my charms when suddenly I appear: a coiled snake unleashed. I will slide over to your bed and slither round your limbs as you sleep. Aroused, you will rouse and looking deep into my eyes, become at once, hypnotised.
I will be your poison love. You will not escape me. Even if I feel your body tense as you realise what is happening, it will be too late. You will love me in your final moments as I lean in close and pucker up for a viper’s bite.
Heaven and Hell
Wanting to have one last look of my childhood home before it went up for sale, I walked up the stairs and took a left, past the bathroom on the right and your empty bedroom on the left, and reached my bedroom, the sanctuary of our childhood where as toddlers we had giggled playing with matching velvet bow-tied rabbits and turned my bed sheets into forts, an escape that our stepfather Ben always invaded by yanking you away to beat you with a homemade leather belt, telling us to shut up and stop crying or else he’d beat us both, until one day after one blow too many your gentle soul departed us for good, the one blow I always dream of taking your place, in the room that was both heaven and hell.
The many faces of Mr Marmalade
‘Marmalade’, of whom I heard much and often, was – I supposed from his name – originally a ginger-tom.
No-one knew for how long a cat blessed with the name might have stalked the basement-flat overlooking Clapham Common; it was a matter on which I sometimes speculated, and – as my grasp of arithmetic grew – eventually discounted as improbable the longevity of the same incarnation of ‘Marmalade’ extending to his being 30 years old. Particularly as he would have had to have survived more than one unfortunate encounter with a fast-moving omnibus.
More likely, the role of Marmalade, cosseted and best-beloved companion, had been filled by a succession of felines, all of whom, for reasons of sentiment or convenience, answered to this title, even if tortoiseshell, white, or – in the case of the most recent incumbent – velvet-black save for a white patch on the tip of his tail.
Nonetheless, he too was ‘Marmalade’.
Anthony then cornered me with this big smile on his face and two glasses of Black Velvet.
I said, “the answer is ‘no’.”
Ignoring this, he handed me one of the glasses, and then raised his in the general direction of the top table, where his parents and sister - my wife of six hours - were sitting. “To you and Ruth.”
“Please, mate,” he said, suddenly sad - or seeming. “I’m desperate.”
“It’s my fucking wedding day!” I hissed.
“I brought you a Black Velvet!”
“Which I fucking paid for!”
What a fucking idiot he was. Still, he was my fucking idiot now wasn’t he?
For better or worse.
I downed my drink.
“Do not tell Ruth.”
He swallowed and had this light in his eye - of triumph. “You’re a star, Matt.”
“No, no,” I countered, looking over to Ruth. “To my great annoyance, I’m family.”
These things We don't know will change when We delve Love (Voice Message)
You made the world bellow “The New Couple" when eyes caught us on the altar. Honeymoon makes your hands clasp mine, wines, and rose flowers sprawl fragrances in the air...your thumb flick off champagne's bottle covers which spill out foams and you watch it drip on the ground. These saccharine words didn't itch your ears at that time: “Happy Married Life, The Best Couple". This should live as long as your breath. You remembered the velvet you tied around my eyes when we played games. It seems the puzzled meanings have been unraveled. Blind love. You know we were inebriated in love...love was blind...anyway, this is my message to you: I am leaving, I am out of your life.
Boblet was my rabbit. Her long ears were lined with brown velvet. Early on, I took her to bed, every night. She looked after me, helped me to sleep, even after it happened. I'd stare into her black glass eyes and stroke her ears, seconds before my eyelids closed.
After arriving back from Australia, I went to live with Great-aunt Anna. She brushed my hair a hundred times each day, but never kissed me. When Anna died, I transferred to Uncle Keith's. He had three daughters. They were older than me, so I hid Boblet in a gym-bag and put her up my bedroom's disused chimney.
My first baby arrived this year. I took her to see Uncle Bob. I asked to use the loo, crept into my old room and found Boblet waiting, undisturbed after all these years. Boblet is my daughter's daemon now, in case I die young.
My kid sister loves Mac and Cheese, so much so that on one family camping trip she made Mac and Velveta Cheese because mom didn’t bring Kraft’s.
We sat down on logs to eat dinner in the pouring rain. Sis dug into her heaping plate of Mac and Velveta while the rest of us gingerly shoved our pitiful amounts around. She ate most, saying she was “Stuffed.” The rest of us ate at most two bites.
She stared at our plates. “You guys are slugs who don’t appreciate the finer food of life.”
Mom said, “It’s the rain.”
Dad said, “Sorry, kid the stuff is gooey.”
Sis jumped up and stomped splashing us with mud. “It’s velvety not gooey.”
I laughed. Goo hung from her rain coat like poorly placed tinsel on a tree. None of us could tell her it also clung to her chin.
She slogged away pouting.
He wore a pink velvet suit for the wedding. She was attired in black leather. He adorned his pony tail with jasmine and small crystal dragonfly beads. She sported dog chains and studs.
“You could have had my wedding dress,” her grandmother bemoaned, “you’d have looked so pretty.”
“You could, at least have borrowed my kilt,” his grandfather said, “shown off your strong calves.”
But the wedding was jolly in spite of confusions. Many had flowers in their hair. Many got high on the atmosphere.
Years later, I saw them in Mothercare. Her baby bump on full display. Choosing pink dresses for a newborn. Two toddlers in tow, dressed in traditional Startrite shoes and pale blue romper suits.
I said nothing, but smiled and thought how happy they were making their grandparents.
My name is Jeannie Gray.
I am still watching him. I watch him now as he zig-zags his way home from The Brown Bear on Bridge Street.
He talks to me sometimes when he thinks he’s alone. He tells me about his day, his ailments, his wins on the horses. He speaks to me about a hundred different things – just like always in a voice of velvet.
When he talks to only me, I come as close as I dare and listen, eyes fixed on his gnarly face. I sit beside him and long to place my hand against his knurled cheek or take his large hands with their bent fingers in mine. But I don’t. I have learned my lesson.
I’ve learned to be close without touching him. The pain of being repulsed by him, even as he desired my presence, was too much to bear.
Under the Table
"Oh no! I wanted velvet - this is felt!"
"What's the difference?" Kev watched his wife as she took a break from refurbishing the dining room table to unwrap the brown paper bag he'd brought back from the haberdashery.
"What's the difference!?" Helen mocked, "It's GREEN felt, Kevin! How can you compare that to BLACK velvet?"
"It's only going under the table love - it's purely functional. They said it's the best thing to use."
"Oh great. So, when someone drops a fork at dinner and has to crawl under, they're going to see that we've cheaped-out. Why don't we just buy a snooker table and eat off that!?" Helen, now red-faced and holding back tears, threw the bag to the floor.
"Honestly Kevin, what's the point in varnishing the perfect surface if everything underneath is just wretched!?"
Kevin locked eyes with her for a second.
"Okay love, I'll go back."
This Is Why We're Not Together
'Look at the images and tell me the first thing that comes into your mind.'
Elbows on my knees, head in my hands, a glance at the clock, and I nod my consent.
'Melting chocolates. Fingers entwined.' Papers rustle as she puts one down, shows me another, puts it down. 'Kisses on the beach that taste of salt and wine, drowning in the silk sheets, tangled limbs, velvet caresses, cold feet.'
I shrug. 'Someone always runs. This time it was me. He'd gotten too close, I needed to be far.'
'To protect myself from the imminent disillusion.'
Wind bites at my face as I step outside. One with the crowd, only now I can admit it – I lie. I lie to myself and to everyone else, including my therapist. Because this time he had been all of those wonderful things and I became the disillusion.
More Than She Could Chew
Maureen was impressed. Her new Beau, clearly a man of means, had brought her to one of London’s poshest Indian restaurants. The crisp white tablecloths were immaculate, the wall coverings not flock, but velvet velour and she couldn’t stop herself stroking them.
Knowing that she’d never eaten Indian before, he’d chosen carefully for Maureen, eschewing all of the most spicy dishes. All was going beautifully until, with his attention distracted as he paid the bill, Maureen helped herself to one of the raw green chillies left on their table as an optional accompaniment. They were so small and innocuous looking.
Suddenly her mouth was on fire and she could barely breath. Sweating profusely now, between gasps, she downed a whole water jug without lessening the heat she was feeling. Maureen spent a night of anticipated passion curled up in bed clutching her raging stomach. It was a hard-learned lesson.
Lying on the kitchen table, he placed the mask over his mouth and nose.
'Count backwards from ten,' I instructed.
By seven he was out. With the scalpel I scored a line down the center of his sculpted chest. The buzzing of the saw was louder than I expected. Finally, I found his heart, plucked it out and placed it, still beating, in a velvet-lined box.
Whenever I felt lonely, I'd open the box, stroke a finger across the heart's spongy surface, and watch it quiver with love. It was a comfort on the nights he worked late.
Later, I lost the key. Between evening classes and my crafting business, I didn't have time to look for it. On the mantlepiece, the box gathered dust.
One day, I came home early and caught him holding it to his ear, a wistful expression on his face.
At the altar
Ella walks slowly, smoothing the velvet dress with the flat of her hand, taking comfort in the rich fabric against her palm. Here we go. Here we go. Do you take this man? In sickness and in health? Till death do you part? The questions ring distortedly through her ears. She whispers yes. Yes. In her head, she screams no, no, as she screamed that night.Yes. What choice does she have? Her hand travels to her navel, staying there for a moment before handing it out, before the small gold band strangles her finger.When her new husband kisses her triumphantly, she knows her life is over.
She entered in her green crushed velvet dress, an imitation of the women at court, with dragon flies picked out in faux mother of pearl.
Her feet had been bound to keep them small like the high class ladies.
There were no blemishes on her clear pale face, not white, as she was destined for the European men who evidently found such make up off putting. They liked to see how young she was.
A smart man with a dark coat and whiskers was waiting in the room. Knowing what to do, she removed his outmost clothing.
"I don't normally do this but I have been away from my wife so long" he said.
Smiling innocently and without comprehension she continued as the madam had told her. Revealing herself and crouching over she waited for him to begin.
It hurt more than she had been told it would.
The Velvet Ghost
I have been six years without sight. Someone has let their self into my home. My nose and ears compensate my eyes. I hear the dog dish being stumbled over. No doubt there's biscuits all over the kitchen floor. I reach for my guide stick.
'Who's there?' My chest is tight and I feel my breath evading me as I try to swallow. Will I be beaten in my own home? Will they take what little is left? I am alone since Margaret passed on.
The intruder is passing my side-board. I can hear the dried petals crunch underfoot. The plants need a good watering. I start to ease myself from my chair to confront the unseen shade that challenges me.
A cold, velvet touch caresses my cheek. My brow furrows as I become weightless. I recognise her. It's a woman's touch. Her hand is cold but familiar.
With thanks to all the writers who have made this issue possible.Amanda Garnham, Amanda Lomas, Amy B. Moreno, Andrew Tate, Anne Summerfield, Athina Antoniou, Avijit Roy, B F Jones, Carol Leggatt, Cathy De'Freitas, Ceinwen E Cariad Haydon, Christine Nedahl, Colin Alcock, Daniel Clark, Duncan Hedges, Ellen Kirkman, Frank Trautman, Gemma Rainne, Grace Williams, Hannah Whiteoak, Jen Neller, Jenny Woodhouse, John Cooper, John Ogunlade, Joyce Bingham, JP Sanders, Juliet Bowler, Justin Magro, K E Olukoya, K. J. Watson, Karen Walker, Kate Bea, Katheryne McMullen, Kay Sandry, Kent Swarts, Kirsty Clark, Les Pedrick, Linda Grierson-Irish, Louise Mangos, Maira Bakenova, Malcolm Richardson, Margaret Kiernan, Mark Anthony Smith, Mark DeSade, Mark Mcalinden, Marlene H Pitcher, Martina Kontos, Matthew C. McLean, Michael John Simms, Michael Rumsey, Mitja Lovše, Nick Black, Philip Sobell, Robin Tones, Roshna Rusiniya, Rozanna Alfred, Ruth Skrine, S.B. Borgersen, Sara Mobarak, Sara Partington, Sharna Young, Sharon Boyle, Shelley Syposz, Simcha, Soundarya Rajagopal, Sue Johnson, Sylvia Petter, T. Luxton
4th Dec 2019