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Not Till They're Gone
The girl invaded our home on March 1, 2006. She came armed with bombs that screamed and bullets fashioned from bitter tears. I fought against this unwelcome intrusion with 7 years’ worth of might packed behind fists.
“I never asked for this,” I hissed at my mother.
“You will when you’re grown, Elodie,” she said. I didn’t listen.
She was given a title -- Ellie, after Unhappy Big Sister.
The girl grew up pretty, like her name.
“You look just like your sister,” people said, and she’d grin like a madman.
Then the words began. The ones that attacked the glowing sand dunes of her face and left them dry and weeping. They stuck to her body until there was nothing else to strip away, and when her solitary fast finally ended, our house was home to 3 once more.
That was the day “girl” became “sister.”
An Ass's Bray
"Get that filthy animal off my porch. Fast."
"Jack's not dirty,” I replied. “I gave him a good bath, down at the crick. You always say 'Cleanliness is next to Godliness'. Don't you believe that, Nanny?"
"I believe that only applies to little boys," she said. "Now, take that animal back to his pen. You can give 'im a little extra hay. And some fresh to sleep on, too."
"I just wanted you to have a nice ride tonight. Jack told me he'd go with you."
"Goodness boy, you gotta quit listenin' to that donkey," she exclaimed.
Scents of freshness permeated the air as Nanny and Jack made their journey.
"We smell good," Jack brayed as they approached the Pearly Gates, "They's sure to let us right in."
"Lawd, yes," Nanny responded. "Like a good crick bath and clean, sweet hay."
Rab’s Taxis operates from a shed in a cul-de-sac within a housing estate in Belfast.
When it happened, I was working as the radio operator.
Something hit the roof of the shed, I thought it was going to come right through.
I waited a minute then went outside. On the roof was a bird, on top of a dead pigeon. It was one Rab’s pigeons; I knew by the yellow and red ring on its leg.
The bird on top was beautiful, fearless, with slate black wing feathers and a kind of two-tone breast pattern. It just stood there, chest out, gripping the dead pigeon, head back, staring right back at me with the biggest of black eyes.
Later, I told Rab.
He said it was a peregrine falcon, too fast for his pigeons. It had wiped out half his flock.
I didn't dare tell Rab how beautiful it was.
Offer it Up for Your Sins
As the worryingly flimsy rowboat skimmed Lough Derg's freezing black water, Eileen wondered for the hundredth time since leaving home at dawn - dawn mind you! - what had she been thinking?
Agreeing to come on this damn (oops, one Hail Mary) pilgrimage to Station bloody Island (another Hail Mary) with her three holy biddy sisters.
Condemned to fast, freeze, chant endless tedious rosaries - this would be Saint Patrick's Purgatory alright. Starving with the hunger already, she'd had nothing since midnight and she'd get nothing but dry toast and black tea, once a day, till midnight of the third day! Oh, and that famous Lough Derg broth, hot water with salt and pepper.
"All shoes and socks to be surrendered".
Yes Father, so the needle-sharp rocks can really pierce our souls.
Seventytwo hours of no sleeping. And no talking. Not. One. Word.
That alone would surely get the brother out of purgatory.
The Wages of Sin
Mammy sends you to the pub for Da’s pay packet. Mickey O’Shea is tending bar. He winks and asks what you’re having. Mammy says not to take charity but you say orange soda if one’s going spare. When you ask where’s Da, Mickey starts polishing glasses and says to drink up quick and go home.
You stand and listen by the snug, then push open the door. Da’s got his arm around a girl who’s crying. He moves his arm away when he sees you and says he’s here’s good news, you’ll have a wee brother or sister soon. You put down the soda and pretend you want to hug him. Then you reach into his shirt pocket for the pay packet. Da swears and tries to grab your arm but you run home as fast as you can to ask Mammy when she’s having a baby.
A Lesson Learned
I remember Billy dangling me over this fast-flowing river. Before he could dunk me, Daddy’s signet ring fell from my pocket. Billy grabbed for it and I landed in the mud.
After cleaning it with spit, he sneered at the inscription, and bit on the soft gold. My heart hammered and using my head as a battering ram thudded into his belly. When he doubled over gasping for breath, I pushed him to the ground and his hand whacked a rock. The sound like a shot from Daddy’s rifle. The ring flew from his open fingers, rolled down the embankment and lodged in a bird nest wedged in a crevice.
While Billy nursed his broken wrist, I rescued the ring before finding a sturdy branch. With it, I swung at his head.
But the ring scorched my palm, and I the makeshift club.
I wear the ring to this day.
Gone in a second.
“Go, fast, faster, go on put your foot down!”
My passenger was shouting now, screaming even for more speed.
We careened through the town’s late night streets on screeching tyres, with smoke billowing from the engine making it difficult to see anything much. We must have missed smashing into buildings and people by inches, but I had no idea. I just gripped the wheel and drove on blind terror and instinct; desperate to get away from the wail of sirens which seemed to surround us.
“Go on – faster. Shove into top!”
She yelled as we rounded yet another blind bend at full tilt.
Well those were the last words I heard from her. After that all was silence, as the world hurtled on passed me into oblivion.
And we were off. It was a fast blur of intense motion, everyone scrambling to the top, a frenzy of legs, arms and a head— Wait. A head? Bobby wasn’t going to make it back for dinner.
“Stop!” Ducking down into a ditch, I narrowly missed losing my nose to a bullet, as it whizzed over my head, trimming a few loose ends better than the old town barber ever did.
Back on track, dashing towards the enemy lines. My legs windmilled haphazardly, propelling me to the limits, our targets almost within range. I could even swear I smelled their beer—
“Retreat!” Swiftly, we hightailed it and tumbled down into our trench again, more shoving and pushing than you'll ever see at your local Christmas market.
“What’dya think of that?” George asked disappointedly, desperately gulping for breath.
“Fantastic! We crossed two meters more than last time!” I exclaimed.
I shouldn’t be here under grubby thin sheets, the duvet a polyester, synthetic thing like fibrous cardboard and the duvet cover, old with an eighties pattern of green and red dashes, like a 3 d magic eye game spelling mysterious runes of Norwegian divination. A pillow as thin as a photocopy.
This is the bed they gave me, to protest my innocence from.
Steven and his bloody diets, first it was a paleo then a gluten free and now it was no water no food no nothing. A fast.
Didn't make breakfast, didn't pour coconut milk on his gluten free krispies. Watched as he scraped by, day after day, not caring what happened. He became too weak to get up after a while.
Went to work and left him on the floor, mouth cracked with parchment dry, scarab faced determination.
I didn't kill him, time did.
The way Herbert died seemed right given the fact he moved too fast, i.e. he got hit by a car. Still, I couldn't care less.
All my friends claimed I should let bygones be bygones, because his death didn't change my opinion of Herbert. I hated him and vice versa.
Nonetheless, I recalled receiving a message of his before the accident. Unsurprisingly, I didn't check the note, though I pondered what he could have sent.
Eventually, I decided to visit his grave, since I skipped his funeral. Moreover, I wanted to be with him alone.
One day I entered the cemetery and slowly walked towards his burying place. I stopped, when I reached his last home.
The calm around me offered no reply.
Sitting with Suzy, tears rolling down her face yet all the while certain he would come back to her, I thought of the summer we made that place in the woods are own. Children one moment adults the next, screaming as we dived and splashed in the water, flirting as we lay by the river bank, the fast flowing water like silk against our fingers. And Suzy standing every day on the bank, fishing rod in hand, swearing the flashes of silver that lit up the water were fish. Of course he never came back and the fish were only sunlight glinting on the water.
A common misconception of onlookers in the park around me is that they presume I’m running as fast as I can. They also make the mistake of thinking that I’m running away from something.
The truth? I probably could run a little bit faster than I already do. And unless some Invisible Being is playing an even bigger joke on me, and chasing me around the park whilst I apparently run away from nothing (although, come to think of it, who would that really be entertaining apart from the Invisible Being itself and, perhaps, anyone walking through the park at that time who just so happened to have the ability to view Invisible Beings?), then I’m not running away from anything in particular.
Why do I do it, you ask?
Just to see the reactions on people’s faces really.
…I need to get another job. Fast.
We were moving too fast and my heart was racing, the adrenaline was pumping, and blindness caused by my panicking brain was setting in. Jumbled flashbacks of my life experiences took over my thoughts as I held on tight, leaning as low as possible, trying to preserve my life.
I'm not sure what spooked Angel, my usually calm 13 year old mare, into bolting through Hawktail Bluff at full speed. Numerous times over a period of 28 years I had ridden the old narrow trails on a few of my favorite horses. Sure, I was familiar with the old folks' tales of the supposed haunted woods but I'd never had a problem. I loved these woods.
We stopped abruptly and I felt soothing warmth envelope me. Angel somehow let me know we would be alright.
I ride the trails on Angel every day now, too fast but without panic or fear...
It felt like love
She stood by the subway entrance, taking jerky puffs on her cigarette. A moment later his tall form appeared in the distance. Her heart seemed to pound faster with his every step.
As she saw his features that became so dear to her in this short period of time, an involuntary smile crept up her face. The thought of him pulling her into his arms made her dizzy with sweet anticipation. She couldn't wait to tell him about the new part she got or that crazy trip to Barcelona she and Daisy made the other week.
"You look divine, babe." he said huskily, a familiar glint in his eyes. She embraced him, eagerly molding her body to his. "I've missed you." she whispered to his neck.
"Me too, babe. Me too." he rocked her back and forth. "We only have about an hour today though. Got a mountain of paperwork."
Take me with you
So? What do you think?, she asks me as if expecting a loud cheer.
I think you're amazing is what I would say if I could. Instead I just point my thumb up. She smiled and turned her gaze to my left wrist, then grabbed my hand, yelped and started moving about quickly.
Shoot, I'll be late!, she said while putting on her boots. She always forgets that I keep my watch half an hour fast.
You won't be late, I signed in our invented language that made her the only person that I had ever connected to. It's only 12:45. Where are you going?
She stood still, looking down.
We're going to the register office today. Just us, and Mary and Jay.
At that very moment, my world crumbled as if it was a fortress of sticks in a storm.
She will never be mine. Never.
Today when the Gods thundered down onto the world, the drops of rain where lighter than usual, and felt as if they were releasing a wave of magnetic energy, and as I dodged the dirty mirrors that riddled the streets, the world began to slow down, and came to a complete stop. I payed no mine and continued to walk, ignoring the mirrors and followed the only other movement. The rain began to pour even harder and that’s when I began to run. No thought, I just ran, and chased the storm. It was pulling me to something greater than this world I hardly existed on. My pants began to cling to my legs, as I continued to run through mirror like puddles, watching as they reflected a perfect image of me as I ran, but I didn’t stop, I couldn’t. I began to run as fast as I could.
The flying edit
Afloat beneath our straps, in an unbelievably fast freefall at last, we all agree, the view of Earth from space is unexpectedly profound: a milky cerulean marble suspended in vast black.
During our long voyage to the Red Planet I enjoy idling away time by doodling snails on the space-shuttle windows. I like how it looks as if giant molluscs are eating away all the parts of our old home that I would rather forget.
All too fast.
Fast is what you said I'd become, if I went to that disco in that red dress on a regular basis. Fast, you mean, like the girls you hang out with behind Mam's back? Fast is how I ran when you cheered me on, that one time. Fast is how you drove, and had the purple bumps to prove it. Fast, you said, if you want to be a desired peach instead of a buxom plum. Fast was how I jumped up and left feeling betrayed. Fast was how I flew when you asked for me at the end, but fast is what I became, when that fast wasn't fast enough and you died, too fast.
Barrel of laughs
Sitting on their usual barstools, Ian and Eoin clinked their glasses of stout together, erupting into a fit of giggles. The regulars sometimes called them the Chuckle Brothers, as their unlikely friendship seemed to mainly revolve around laughter.
“The best medicine,” Ian used to say. Or was that Eoin? To many, the two men were virtually interchangeable. Yet, two generations past, things were very different. Ian’s father, who lived by the bullet, died by one. Eoin’s da, also not a man of peace, was martyred through his fast in prison, a slow, emaciating death and sharp contrast to the swift and bloody end of the man he shot.
Sometimes the laughter stopped, usually when Ian and Eoin started talking about football, or God, and Davey or Pat would step in to keep a lid on the old animosities. A well-timed joke and the smiles crept back to the surface.
Around these parts I am considered a hero. You'd laugh if you caught a glimpse of me but it's true. Elderly ladies point at me in the streets and whisper to each other behind freckled hands covering their mouths. The newsagent thought I must be some kind of superman because in real life I am five feet five, wear glasses and am well into my sixties. I am no-one's idea of a hero. And yet that's what the local Chief Constable called me. He said I singlehandedly separated rival gangs who were on the verge of vitriolic violence prior to the anticipated arrival of the local constabulary. However, there is more to it than meets the eye. The truth is my Nissan Micra was exceeding the speed limit and I went round that tight blind corner far too fast. I've never seen two groups of thugs split up so quickly.
We'd been having FUN
Taped up behind bleachers, I’m tucking a Polaroid into my waistband. God, it was fast. Whoever’s listening? I pray he’s got soft hands.
The butcher’s son’s got mitts like frozen steaks, ugly as chuck and pissed as the bull missing them. Three rounds of dancing, a dozen tenderizers to ruddy sirloin and he lays me out, swinging an imagined cleaver. I feel like his day’s work, groggy as they scrape me off the floor like a fresh beef patty.
God it was so fast. Short shows make for short money, but enough for this month. The bottles get warm as they empty, but at first they all make good ice packs.
God, it was so fast. Her mother didn’t leave the room, just staring as I held her. Couldn’t even say I’d missed her before I fell apart. God, it was so fast, I never saw the headlights.
The enemy approaches
The battle had worn them down. The soldiers that remained in the soggy trench were little more than shells, their emotions long eroded by their constant vigil and the loss of countless friends and allies.
Day and night, bombs and bullets rained down on the tiny patch of land they called home. In reality, it was a small wooden hut with beds for 10 men. Now four of the bunks lay empty. This was no man's home at all.
It was the eerie silence they noticed first. The blasts had been silenced, replaced by a sinister calm. They looked out, their eyes barely breaking the top of the trench. Smoke and fumes reddened their eyes. Then footsteps emerged, walking cautiously towards them. The sound of heavy leather boots squelching in the mud.
"Stand fast, boys," the commander called. "Weapons ready."
They stood together as one. On his whistle, they fired.
It quickly became a battle - Clara's insistence to keep it, and Janie's regret that the house must be left. Recollections spiralled inside its architecture: the broken pane that Janie hid with a floral square of spare cloth; the wooden door that had to be painted red; the balcony where Peter was placed and rocked. Peter and his chair had long gone astray.
Janie thought her mother would forget, but keeping hold of the house was locked fast inside Clara's head; like Janie's memory of her first day at school, the tears, the insistence she must stay, the shortbread bribes, and the walking away.
It was bigger than she remembered; it wouldn't fit into the space prepared for Clara's arrival.
Veined hands gripped each side of the plastic roof, and Clara delivered her milky-eyed frown. As if an act of possession could prevent the world from churning up harm.
Red and White Shards
The white dish shattered on the red tiled floor. Mum hurled words at Dad that I didn’t understand. I yanked Monty’s lead from the peg and shooed him out the door.
We ducked through the hole in the hedge too fast for it to snarl or snatch us tight, but it left its mark on my bare legs and arms. We ran through fields sprung with tired grass. I searched for the old track deep between high hedges - our sacred place. I let Monty off the lead. No blame here deep in the shelter of the dry tree roots out of the wind.
I found the silver pencil that Gran gave me. My thoughts came too fast. It was all my fault. Monty licked my hand. I picked tiny spiteful shards from his thick stripy coat and my life.
The Untrodden Path is Untrodden for a Reason
He always went against the grain. Ate spaghetti with a spoon. Listened to bluegrass during workouts. If it was sunny he stayed indoors.‘The park is just a big room with nothing to do there,’ he said, ‘the beach is the same but with sand.’When he cut himself, he pulled slowly at the plaster, not fast. Watching the skin stretch like rubber as it peeled. He smiled in short bursts when the little hairs popped from his skin, drawing breath over his clenched teeth like spikes.
Fish and Chips
Fast Food Friday. I join the queue with Ma, let the smell of fried fish and anticipation fill my nostrils.
Diets consume me now. Paleo, Atkins. I've tried the lot.
A single constant runs through them all, like the Kyrie eleison or words in a stick of rock. Tomorrow lays heavy in the dent of my mattress. I cover the mirror and hope.
My therapist talks about filling a gap.
I shrug. Her room, white and minimalist, reminds me of a Terence Conran plate I once had. In a different world, it waits in silence, desperate for a line of sugar-dusted raspberries or a drizzle of something dark and balsamic.
Later, in the stark light of an open fridge door, more comes back to me. The smell of wet salt and vinegar, fingers sliding over the imprint of yesterday's news. Nine dead. Friday night on the Shankill Road.
Arms outstretched with the occasional movement, up and down. A flap of the wings.
An aeroplane sound effect and the occasional blast from a coconut launcher or a banana shooter. Guns are not talked about. Not at his age.
'Am I fast Daddy?' All glee and wide-eyed enthusiasm.
'I've never seen anyone run so fast.'
And off he goes again, this time swooping, an eagle in circles.
Then he remembers that speed is his aim, not grace and his legs power up and down again. His arms outstretched once more, head bent and brow furrowed in concentration.
Onwards, to the ball, trying to beat the dog. Genuine disappointment when he loses but an unshakeable belief that one day he'll win.
'Are you fast Daddy?'
'No.' I feel joy in watching.
I hope he flies one day.
Sunshine, winding roads, sticky tarmac.
Effortlessly steering two hundred kilos of steel, alloy and chrome with just the gentle sway of my ample, childbearing hips.
Riding fast, speed etching a grin on my face.
This is not one of those days.
Rain then sleet then hail. White marbles on the carriageway.
Visor fogged, sight reduced to tiny lenses, distorting the tail-lights of lorries.
Temperature plummeted, the engine dies. No hard shoulder, just a metre of safety between the behemoths dragging the weather behind them and the insignificant silhouette of a woman and a bike.
The beautiful, sleek, queen of the road transformed. Seventy horses reduced to the muscle power of a single, frightened, middle-aged fraud. Wings clipped. Trudging, heaving, across hail battered grass.
Sunshine returns and she roars into life, innocent, fickle. Restored to beauty and speed as if nothing has happened.
He's left me here in the hotel, knowing I can't holiday alone, can't bear life without him, so I'm dropping anchor today in the ocean. Last memories: sand cracking underfoot, a sugar crust; the tide grabbing back shreds of seaweed in exchange for unwanted gifts: beak-torn crab-shells, driftwood shards, plastic bags a dolphin could choke on. I'm not far out when panic stabs me. Here I'm just meat. I wanted to be sure of drowning. The shore can't come fast enough. A waiter helps me to my room. The hotel doctor takes over: a sleeping-pill. In my dreams, I become the predator.
Trapped in Regret
You gently comb a lock of sun-bleached hair away from my forehead with your fingers. After placing your thumb and index finger briefly at the rise of my breast, you shake your head and fasten the top button of my blouse for dignity. A waft of Davidoff briefly eclipses the cloying aroma of lilies as you bend to kiss my vermillion lips. And a single tear forms a miniscule crater on the powder of my cold dead cheek.
Falling Too Fast
I fall fast, faster than I would've thought possible. A fraction of a second. A pause in conversation as you wait for me to answer -- and suddenly my world is upside down and backwards, revolving around a new star. Maybe it's something in your eyes; electric blue, eager, excited. Maybe it's the way you run your fingers through your flawless hair or the way you smile at me. Whatever it is, you feel it too.
Too fast, we move, our lips fit together and your tongue brushes mine. Too fast, my heart beats against your chest as you slip your arm around my waist. For one beautiful moment all is right and good. Too fast, the kiss ends as we realize what we've done.
Time screeches to a halt. Slowly, we release each-other. Slowly, you say goodbye, and return home, to your wife.
A stoic heart
My pulse was racing, everything was dark. My eyes open, but blackness consumed my very being. My wrists singed by the rope. I tugged but I couldn’t free myself. My captives restraints held me fast. The floor cold. Hard. Mumbled voices were in the room, but too quiet for me to distinguish any words. Footsteps tramped towards me, the floorboards creaked as they approached. Then a hand gripped my shoulder and whispered into my hooded ear.
’You better start grovelling, you know what will happen.’
I knew the voice, I hadn’t heard it in some time though. Then a cane hit me, not hard, but enough to make me sit up and take notice. There is a thin line between pleasure and pain. As my naked body felt the chill of the air, I could feel that line blur as my mistress continued the onslaught.
A rose for my love
His ice blue eyes seemed to have dulled to a murky grey over the years. The fire that used to ignite within them no longer sparked when he saw the bright pink blossom on a tree, or a child picking daisies. He could no longer recall the way she said his name, daintily rolling it on her tongue as though it was the sweetest of delicacies. The wrinkles on his face were now etched deeply into his skin, unable to be reversed. “Life goes too fast” he murmured, forcing his aching knees to bend beneath him and sinking to the ground. A single rose fell from his grasp onto the soft mound of earth.
'Here we go - putting on the waterworks. Typical of you that is. Trying to break me with your fake tears. Well it won’t work, not on me.'
She doesn't wait for whatever he's going to say next. She turns fast, dashes up the stairs to get to a place where she can be sure her tears are real. Behind the bolted bathroom door, she sits on the toilet seat, weeping in silence, so the sobs won’t leak through the floor and become his. A lazy house fly dithers too close to her salty face, hungry for the nutrients she can give, unaware that she's another living thing. She fans it away, gets up, listens to the angry clatter below as he packs his bag. 'You're so cruel,' she whispers to her reflection, wondering where she went wrong, feeling the thump of the front door, as he leaves for school.
Requiem for a Housewife
I was told it will be fast-acting and painless. Just a drop on the tongue is all I'll need. Yet, here I am . . . lying here . . . waiting. I dressed special for this occasion. Black negligee. The sexy one Henry gave me on our first wedding anniversary. When we were happy. Even had my hair all done up the way Henry used to like it many years ago. Now he barely gives me the time of day. I lift my head off the pillow to check the time. Twenty minutes have passed. He'll be home within the hour. He'll see what I'm doing, shake his head, and think she can't even get that right. I reach over, grab the container, and take in another drop. I'll show him.
Over that spring, things became faster. We strode out one morning, fresh as ever, talking of the retreating winter. There was new blossom, the grass on the Common was greener, softer even. Then the rains came, stirring dull roots with new life. We went south to find seasons which were not so cruel, warmer, more forgiving. We travelled in a fast car, old though it was, it drove us from memory, into distraction. We covered vast miles, stopping only to sip coffee and talk of nothing, innocent in our blindness. We arrived with messages of kindness – how lucky we were as the sun rose high over a serene sea. Back at home, things were apparently drying out, quickening to death, the hottest summer on record for years. Here, nothing changed, not even our thoughts. And, looking towards the horizon, we could not guess where some distant yacht was going.
He had had to think fast. Hastily packing his suitcase, he jammed it with essentials: clothing, toiletries, laptop.
He had met Selena on Instagram. Her photographs created a mosaic of her life – giving the impression what she had to offer him was so much more than what he had. When she had given him the ultimatum, he had barely had time to think about the consequences before he was leaving the life he had known and loved; the life he had been content with before her.
The sun warmed his hand through the aeroplane window. Its heat caressed him, reassured him about his journey. With great effort, the aeroplane lifted itself from the runway, carrying him to her.
Eyes closed, he thought of his wife and newborn son he was leaving behind. Like the sun that was fading through the window, they disappeared from his mind, sinking below the horizon.
Yes or No?
It had all happened so fast.
The proposal, the ring, the venue, the date.
Choice of dress, bridesmaids, flowers, cake.
Guest list prepared, invitations sent and replies received.
The gift list offered, choice of kitchenware or honeymoon treats.
The foreign trip decided on, a place in the sun.
Vintage car booked for the big day.
All the while, niggling doubts growing.
Was this the one she wanted to spend the rest of her life with?
She stands at the church door, her father by her side.
She glimpses the man of her dreams.
Can she do this today?
Quick Brown Fox
Fast fɑːst/: moving or capable of moving at high speed.
Quick and fast are almost, but not quite, the same thing.
Quick kwɪk/: (1) moving fast or doing something in a short time (2) the soft tender flesh beneath the growing part of a fingernail or toenail (3) those who are living.
Fury ˈfjʊəri/: when your wife finds a scarf in the pocket of your winter coat, holds it to her nose and inhales the scent of a foreign she-fox (Christian Dior’s Poison, no less).
Poison ˈpɔɪz(ə)n/: a substance that is capable of causing the illness or death of a living organism (e.g. he-fox) when introduced or absorbed.
Regret rɪˈɡrɛt: when you realise that time cannot be reversed, no matter how hard you pray.
Quick brown fox: your wife, whispering the last words you’ll ever hear:
I am quick. I am living. I am the tender flesh beneath your nails.
The Last Word
Today they were driving to London and at this rate would not reach there until Easter still six weeks away when Malcolm suddenly said, I’m going too fast. She burst out laughing. What was it they called him? Dally Mally Good grief, Malcolm hardly even blinked quickly. Apparently he’d once finished third in a sprint race, behind two snails. Doris joked how in the army they’d had a different command for him, instead of quick march, leisurely stroll. But he was a lovely husband even if dawdle was his middle name. Hurry was not in his vocabulary you only had to look at his shoe repair business. Not ‘While U Wait’ more like ‘they’ll be ready a week on Thursday if you’re lucky’.
But today, unhurried, he had the last word.
“I’m giving up meat for Lent Doris,” he drawled braking slowly, “like I said, I’m going to fast.”
I was running late, as usual, and I finished the last bite of my sandwich while on foot. Stopping for a moment in the hallway, I brushed a piece of lettuce off my coat and tucked in my tie.
I walked through the door. All eyes were on me, waiting.
I listened to his heart. It was silent.
“Time of death: eight-oh-six.”
They exhaled collectively.
Their father had been getting colder for twenty minutes, but they just needed me to say those words. To make it real, so they could breathe again.
It didn’t matter that my watch was two minutes fast, or that I was twenty minutes late. His time had come, and now they knew for sure.
All Transferes Clear
I was on a train when I awoke. Or rather that was where my dream state had led me: another night without the toll to pay insomnias journeys; spinning three a.m. and nothing to hold fast to but torturous banalities that weave in and out; mazes of infinite measure.
I used that time to recall my transit… much as it was. Nothing’s cheap in my frolics; a dining car without a kitchen and the outrage as I was forced to tip some ticket man at forty-one percent.
The décor was smug but inviting so we snuggled near a stove, which gave us such a fog when the engine clacked up to full speed.
Lying on the sofa in dim light, I run though the whole thing again. There’s a paramour in those wayward dreams: smashing bone china to make a paste… constructing letters spelling the future of my tremulous passage.
Talk About Tragic
Carlie and I are off to see a marriage counsellor at eight o’clock on Valentine’s Day evening, with our three-month-old son. It is a new low for me. Something almost too tragic even to be an Eastenders plot. But it is all too real.
Sion wakes up and instantly starts crying.
“He needs feeding” Carlie says.
I look up the high street for somewhere that’s still open. The garish blue, red and yellow fast food chain lights catch my eye.
She stares at me with a look of pure amazement and utter disgust.
“If you're seriously suggesting I breastfeed my son in Burger King before we do this, I'll just leave you now and we can save £50”.
It’s a fair comment, I suppose.
A Sweet Full of Bitterness
He woke me up to tell me that he didn't love me anymore. Then he dressed and left for work, like it was any normal day.
I lay in bed contemplating the splintered shards of my cup, the coffee stain down the wall.
I made dinner that evening, like it was any normal day. He didn't mention the damage.
I stirred the sauce and smiled as I crushed pills with a spoon. In my pocket lay a bottle labelled "Fast Acting".
A soft summer wind swirled between the buildings. The tape gently swayed as we were waved past it.
He moved without hesitation. I choked on the breeze. "I wonder how long it took."
His hand already working the zipper, he paused and peeked inside, unperturbed. His verdict was swift, unswerving. "It'd've been instantaneous -- no suffering." Nothing was further from the truth.
The zipper continued on its track.
Tattered threads of clouds crawled over the skyline. "That's not what I meant." She shred them as she went.
Done zipping, he followed my eyes aloft. Unspoiled city shadows climbed onto his shoulders. His head remained unharmed. "I imagine it's fast, falling that far."
We steadied her on the gurney.
"That's not it, either." The wheels metronomically clicked across the sidewalk, square by uniform square. "I wonder how long she fought with these thoughts."
The wind cradled us as we went in silence.
Why is loving so hard? I wish I knew how to unlove someone. I wish I knew how to forget about that one person that makes your heart beat fast. I wish I knew how to stop hoping for that one person's affection.
But here I am. Head over heels for someone who doesn't love me, doesn't even know me. Someone who doesn't care.
Here I am, wishing to have never seen this person. To never have learned his name. To never have loved him.
It was that time of day again. When the sun collided with the horizon and set the world aflame. The clouds burned bright fiery orange and red, then smouldered and died losing their battle with the encroaching night.
We had been here before, seen this same sky over and over again and yet it still amazed me. But this time something was off, her smile had come unhinged. Inside her breasts the rot spread fast ,the roots tangling themselves around her lymph nodes and crushing them, spreading into her lungs and bones.
She would be dead in 3 months.
But you'd always have this sky. The embers of your last summer burning in the clouds.
A Pirate's Life No More
“I don’t want to do this pirate thing no more. Now that I found me Sweetie, I don’t want to die sword fightin’ and plunderin’ ships,” Jamieson said.
“What will we do? Where will we go?” Sweetie queried.
“I don’t know, but let’s show our heels. Maybe we’ll open a distillery on the Ivory Coast. We’d see all our rum-seeking hearties on their pit stops from sea. Or maybe we can set up a spice shop on the islands. Or a restaurant with a bar for all our thunderin’ fellows.”
“What about our friends and family?”
“Family can visit; our hearties’ll be savvy. We put in our time. We plucked our share of crows and caught Tartars. This lifestyle has taken its toll on me. We have to do somethin’ differ’nt. We have to try.”
“How will we make it?
“Just take me hand and hold fast, Sweetie, hold fast . . .”
She found it at a garden centre, tucked away behind some other plants. She wasn't sure what sort of plant it was, but seeing it seemingly abandoned at the back, withering away, she couldn't help but rescue the poor thing.
It ended up being a bargain since it had no barcode, and because it looked so close to death. She brought it home and tended to it daily.
She was surprised how fast it grew and improved with only a little bit of TLC, and had to be planted outside after a week due to its size.
One morning she went out to discover it had bloomed, producing a dazzling array of colourful flowers that seemed to shimmer under the early morning sunlight.
Delighted, she walked over to have a smell of its bouquet, before promptly collapsing to the ground, convulsing, thanks to the plant's toxic pollen.
The Wake up Call
Alexander began to think fast, to do or not to do it. He came out of the darkness. Leaning towards the tree, he looked at the sky. It was a full moon, enchanting with its soothing light. "Is life so beautiful?", he asked himself. Finally, he decided on the spur of the moment, "I will live. I will live like the earth, who by kindness feels every pain to the core yet never reacts". He was reminiscing about his dream. What if she was still waiting for him. What if she also adored him just like he had always been dreaming. That they would walk down the aisle holding hands together. The butterflies would fly around them hiding them from this cruel world and they would be taking their vows to be together forever. They would become a single soul. They would curve their dreams together. A wonderful life indeed.
A stray cat used to wander into the house occasionally and we fed him tuna. Tortoiseshell, white chest, green eyes, big pupils. No collar, no nametag: we dubbed him Tristan. Sometimes Tristan would stay the night, curled up on the floorvent, sleeping, his tail flicking like a drunk metronome. Lilly even ventured after one visit to say that he loved us.
Our dubbing and his love did no good because eventually we found him frozen to death one winter morning under the elm tree in our backyard, hair bristled and stiff, body shrunken slightly. I imagined he had spent the entire night pawing at the door fast and frantically as the temperature dropped from thirty to twenty to ten to oblivion. Wandered around for a few minutes in a daze, stopped under the tree and quietly laid down.
I dreamt about snow for a straight week of nights afterward.
Even before I could turn my head, the bullet train had dashed off like a ghost. Too fast to lock its memory except for a trail of light. Using a walking stick, I walked along a restaurant with a large hamburger design on its glass window until I came to a halt at a junction. The early morning commuters were walking in all directions. I stared at feet adorned in black boots, sassy sneakers and open-toe heels. A yellow cab honked at me and vanished from sight.
At a pier at dusk, my eyes trailed a flower crab seeking a route to find its way back to shallow sea. Whenever I found life moving fast, I looked for solace in nature.
My Beauty Was Gone
I heard a big splash. Running as fast as I could I jumped right in. He was tugging and pulling. I screamed loudly while swimming toward him. I began to threaten all sorts in the hope that he might loosen his grip and let go. As I got close he took off but my beauty was gone. My body shook all over not with the cold but with temper and shock.I swam further down the river and there I saw another little beauty dangling. I quickly put my two hands around it removed the hook and put it onto the river bank. Unfortunately this little trout was my brothers. The mongrel of an otter had taken mine. I put lovely pink maggots on the hooks again and hoped next time I would beat the otter to the catch.
A Modern Gothic
I always lose my heart too fast, give it away too easily. Don’t make things so obvious, my old dad used to warn. And whenever the feelings stir, I resolve that this time I’ll keep myself in check.
In personal development class, we learn the key to a happy life is balance – work, family, friends, hobbies. Then you won’t have that emptiness crying for redemption.
On the dating site, I believe I’m stronger now. There’s plenty going on in my world. I can take or leave whoever comes along. Then he messages. Has the look I go for, and the chat. I play it cool, don’t agree to meet straightaway. Yet he’s got me hooked. By the time we do meet, I know he’s the answer.
We see each other twice; I spend a year mourning broken dreams.
What is this fragility I can’t shake? Where does it stem from?
What made me look? His threats of jumping in front of a bus? His friend's threats? Teens are so full of hate for themselves. Sweet boys one day, angry the next. Maybe it was their plan to go to the terribly-named hangout, the-end-of-the-world... The woods, that cliff, perfect for booze and drugs and god-knows-what. I looked. In the pocket of his knapsack... nine pills. Why did I look? Thank god I looked. No clue what they are, so I pocket them, fast. He flies through the kitchen, grabs the knapsack, and legs it out the backdoor. He's only 14. How did we get here? Where is my sweet young fellow? He'll get a surprise when he finds the pills gone. What are the pills? Google, good old google, has the answers. Morphine. Nine morphine pills, for two suicidal boys. He's 14. How did this happen. Thank god it didn't happen.... today.
That's for Susan
He hit him fast. That low punch behind the kidney. I knew if he thought he was losing he would hit that punch. Push him on the ropes. Get him behind the ref. Then let go with that dirty punch. Why Terry, why?
What did I know? I loved them both. Couldn’t stand to see them fighting, Terry and Stan. My lover, and my brother. I always thought their fists were an act of love. Knew they wouldn’t really hurt each other. Mostly they didn’t. Well, only sometimes.
Why did he hit him like that? What was he losing? What did he know?
Stan coughed, lost his gumshield. I could feel my brother’s pain. Terry too. He hurt. Sweat on his face, under the lights. He’d landed the punch. Hit him again. Knock him down, this time.
‘You bastard. That’s for Susan.’
Jimmy had run down to the harbour that morning, as fast as he could, to join his uncle for a day's sea fishing. After the first hour of nausea and his first catch– a wriggling tentacled octopus – he found the day exciting.
Returning to shore, he was so anxious to tell his parents how much fish they had caught, he literally jumped out of the boat, painter in hand, which he tied fast to the mooring ring.
After sitting with all that fish, though, and despite the good sized sea bass he was taking home for the weekend, he fancied a good plate of ham, egg and chips. That's when he remembered it was Friday. Good Friday. And slowed his pace. In his family it was a fast day; and abstinence, too. It would be his least favourite meal for tea. Watery poached Pollock and soggy mashed potatoes.
Garlands of Thyme
So far, the disease had cropped up in five different towns, and if the reports were to be believed, Tamwick would be next. A group of townspeople appointed themselves Doctors, and marched around the town, anointing doorways with sprigs of thyme in an attempt to drive away the disease. The mayor tried to ask the group to stop, but it fell on deaf ears, as more and more townspeople joined the Doctors. Soon, the Doctors outnumbered the patients, and the town was fast overrun with people wearing black cloaks. The woman who owns the fabric shop could be seen dying fat rolls of fabric black, sweat stuck to her brow. The strange smell of dye permeated the streets, causing panic that it was the first symptom of the disease, but the Doctors reassured the townspeople. Now they stalk the streets, garlanding houses with bunches of herbs and empty promises.
He is hunched in his usual corner of the pub, eking out the russet-brown pint in front of him. His hand shakes each time he lifts the glass to his lips. Leathery, age-spotted hands with tendons like old whipcords and callouses on the palm like glass paper. Hands which had soothed many a restless colt, held back the coiled power of a thousand impetuous thoroughbreds. Hands which had guided with the rein, encouraged with the whip.
He could have been a champion, but they were never quite fast enough.
The TV is bright with the silks of the last race. Jewel colours, emerald, amethyst, jade flashing and flaring in the sun. He thinks he recognises some of the patterns. He doesn’t recognise any of the riders.
He tips the last of the beer from the gently-trembling glass into his mouth and shuffles out, just another old man leaving a pub.
There are many reasons to fast. Religion even gave it a name, lent. Health-obsessed fanatics set lofty goals like “a cleanse”. I was the unfortunate recipient of its benefits when every year at the same time I would fall ill and could not hold anything down. Each year became worse than the preceding one until one year the illness lasted forty days and rendered me unconscious. It was only then that my husband dared put me in the hospital and saved my life.
We moved away after that and never had occasion to fall ill again until my beloved passed away in his sleep. It won’t be long now. We will meet again in wedded bliss because I hear him calling me with love. It’s been forty-three days and I know there is no one left to put me in the hospital again.
The Horrors of Autumn
A movement caught my eye while I drove home; there on the dash was my nightmare, a spider. My bladder clenched in fear. An incident in my childhood caused me to be scared, no beyond that, petrified of spiders. I could see its eyes. Its fangs gnashed at me, maybe that was panic induced. I had to get out of there, fast. I stopped the car, jumped out and was on the other side of the road in seconds.
Calming down, I realised that I would have to get back in the car. Climbing in gingerly, I look towards the dash, it wasn’t there! Where had it gone? I would have to drive home and hope it didn’t reappear. The remainder of my journey was quite a nervous affair. I never managed to find that damned monster; maybe it is still there, lurking until the next time.
She dreams of white horses
Hooves pound across the beach then hit the splash and swill of surf, go fast and deep until there are only waves and the memory of sand. She is riding bareback, breathless from the daring of it, feeling harsh contours of bone, ridge of spine. In the sea no saddle makes sense, leather does not do well with water or salt, stirrups would rust. The bounce of trot, the rock of canter flatten into rhythmical swimming stroke. Her unbridled horse chooses how fast, controls which direction. All she can do is hold on, accept whatever this is. A sea horse? A metaphor? She imagines waves of REM sleep while she is buffeted between floating fronds of bladderwrack and mats of seagrass. The sky and sea swirl blue-grey. And she, life’s passenger, clinging on to coarse white mane, longs to wake from night mare.
My boots were too damaged to go on. In a small shoe repair shop, I sat in my socks, watching out of the window, hoping no enemy patrol would control the shops and houses. I felt pathetic with only a hand grenade concealed in my pocket.
I watched the clock, calculating the hours until nightfall. It was too dangerous to spend another night in the village. I would rejoin the base in the forest where I could pick up my gun and wear my uniform again.
The cobbler worked fast, rhythmically tapping. Then he stopped. Our eyes met, both suddenly alert. Raised voices. A raid close by.
He hid his wedding ring and threw me my boots. He beckoned for me to follow him to a small passage at the back of the shop.
In the narrow muddy street, I ran for cover. Rubble piles, doorways, corner to corner. Free.
Everyone wondered where Matthew's ideas came from. He always answered as if he didn't know himself, and there was some truth in that answer. The part he always omitted was something he didn't think anyone would believe. He never understood it well enough to explain it in detail.
Matthew only knew they came at night like spiders through the window climbing up to whisper in his ear. He would sit down at midnight, every night, and write the words as they came to him. The quicker the words came, the faster he would write, and every night the words would halt at 1:00am.
What Matthew didn't know was his ideas originated in his blood. He didn't know it takes one minute for blood to fully circulate throughout the body. He never knew that in his right femoral bone marrow, a new white blood cell was created every day, at 11:59pm.
A less than fortunate encounter
He liked his women how he liked his horses - Fast. Tonight I was Red Rum.
We knocked and shouldered our way up his staircase vowing to never call each other again and caressing each other with the promise of no emotional attachment. The infamous one night stand, a hit and run, a sexit and exit. I wasn’t sure if the thrill rippling through me was my excitement at engaging in kind of reckless abandon I was sure was reserved for post-watershed TV programmes or the fact my underwear now lay at the bottom of the stairs where they were sure to stay.
It was going to plan but I wasn’t the only racehorse in this particular yard. Let’s just say he reached the finish line much earlier than I did but this time no one was cheering. My first and my last one night stand.
Heart Break, Fool's Game
I'm working up a sweat, heavy panting.
I look at my car keys. Then the pistol, sat there on the mantelpiece.
Diverting my eyes from either of these things I look at the photo of him. 'Together Forever,' its says around the diamanté frame. I pick it up and throw it to the floor.
Heart palpitating. I can't catch my breath. It's all happening too fast. Faster than I thought. I look to the pistol and the car keys.
My eyes blur. My heart beats faster. Too fast. Then darkness.
Sticks and Stones
Mookie took a deep breath when they put the noose around his neck. Nerves made his stomach rumble incessantly, as voices behind him took bets on whether his bowels would expel once they made him suffer. His involuntary fast during the past week would hopefully spare him the embarrassment.
No one touched him, but the flash mob circling who took it as their civic duty to restore patriotism with relics from the past encroached his personal space. Kneeling in their ridicule on one knee ignited their fury enough to escalate the threat. A year ago he was their token hero; now, they wanted to make him an example for the others who dared challenged their ideological principles.
Maintaining composure until the official whistle broke his concentration left a smile on his face. Finally, the first quarter got underway without a fight. The scouts watching him would absolutely love such sportsmanship.
Bob was known for his cold heart. To maintain the temperature he occasionally kept it in the office refrigerator, sealed in a container, his name written on the lid to deter others from opening it.
But this wasn’t enough to stop Johnny from accounts sneaking a peak. He’d missed breakfast and couldn’t be bothered to walk down to the deli. Even the thought of his usual panini couldn’t persuade him to dodge the rain.
After checking no one was around, Johnny rummaged inside the refrigerator, stomach rumbling. Discovering what looked like a juicy piece of meat, he decided to shave off a slice, not expecting the blood-curdling scream as the knife went in.
Dropping everything as fast as his shaking hands allowed, he stumbled around the corner to find Bob slumped against the doorframe clutching his chest, a red blotch spreading across his shirt.
Ms H Takes Laurels
On Monday, Ms H overtook a younger woman on the walk uphill to the office. She therefore expected a satisfactory day.
On Tuesday, hearing footsteps behind, and despite striding fast as she could, Ms H was passed by the girl, who persisted in staying ahead. Ms H considered the girl’s long, tanned, unfair advantages and prepared herself for an unacceptable day.
On Wednesday, Ms H wore her gym kit. She and the girl were neck and neck at the bus stop, but Mrs H took the racing line, forced her opponent into the shrubbery, and enjoyed an above average day.
On Thursday, the girl made a run for it. Ms H gave chase and downed her. Bystanders broke up the tussle with no winner. Ms H’s day was middling at best.
On Friday, Ms H sped past the girl, whose limp was surely affected. Fridays were Ms H’s favourite.
The Pink Carousel
Claire had to be first. If she wasn't, she sulked. Worst of all, she was never happy when another child won something. "Be kind," her grandmother said. "If you are mean the fairy-folk may pay you back." Claire stomped upstairs to her room. She didn't believe in fairy-folk. The next day, the fair arrived. Claire pushed her way to the front of the queue for the carousel. The stall-holder gave her an angry look from eyes too green to be human. "Have a nice ride," he said. Claire was the only person on the ride. She felt uneasy. She tried to get off, but found she was stuck fast. The music grew wilder as the pink carousel span faster. Claire felt sick. "I promise I'll never be mean again," she shouted, feeling thankful when the chaotic ride stopped.
The night was dark with just a little moonlight filtering through the branches of the large plantation pines. We had walked a distance from the dance, enjoying the cool evening air and quietness away from the crowd. Taking a shortcut through the park, suddenly I was tripped and pinned down by his strong arms and the protruding tree roots either side of my legs. His eyes were fixed large black pupils, those of an incensed beast. I tried pleading with him, then kicking and fighting, to no avail. I screamed as loud as I ever had, my voice disappearing into a polar-like vortex. There is no-one to hear me. I know his mind is stuck fast on one thing.
The pine needles soft beneath my back cradle me and provide my escape. I withdraw from his reality and enter an alternative world of my own making.
Thirty-one: Get Up and Run
The relationship developed quickly – in fact, rather too fast for comfort. In two days the man with the nice smile and well-written profile had gone from asking after my wellbeing and enquiring about my hobbies to telling me that when we are too old to want sex, we can play bingo.
Excuse me, but where in our brief correspondence did I suggest that I was interested in bingo? Or sex, for that matter.
The next email expressed surprise at my lack of reply. The language resembled that of a Russian spambot translated by Google and it was liberally sprinkled with the terms of endearment beloved of fake Nigerian princes anxious to share their wealth.
It would be rude not to respond, so I did: I spent a day registering my erstwhile suitor's email address with dozens of online bingo sites and Viagra suppliers. He'll be spoilt for choice.
The black snakes had all been burnt off Sir John's land. He rode to the river and found her sitting on a rock. She held her chest above the bulging stomach, extended by his growing child. He saw her pain - this was new to him. He wanted to tell her he was beginning to understand, he willed her to look up and see it in his face. She did not turn towards him.
The light faded, the air chilled. He dismounted, stared into the fast-flowing waters and watched a long black writhing creature flow out of his mouth, twisting its body, weaving through the faces that had appeared, faces of women he had known. The creature flicked them away.
Rain fell heavily, washing away the images. Sir John walked to the rock, lifted Helen onto his horse. Together they crossed the bridge to the new land.
They approached the house, moving as a pack. I opened the curtain as far as I dared to peek out; through the window, in my half-asleep confusion it seemed they were wearing the most bizarre masks and outfits.
It was the voices that had woken me from my late-afternoon nap. Getting around isn’t as easy as it used to be, especially for someone of my age, and a few days at my sister’s had done for me.
Then came a knock at the door, as fast and loud as my pounding heart. I thought it best to answer - they’d probably only find some other way in if I didn’t.
I edged it open, leaning shakily from behind to look through the gap.
It was then I remembered the date.
‘Happy Hallowe’en,’ a small girl in a vampire costume shouted excitedly, holding out her bucket and beaming at me.
A quiet night in the singles bar, mostly couples. Steve stared into his lukewarm lager.
‘Watchya mate, didn’t expect you here tonight.’
He acknowledged his friend Eric.
‘Where’s Mel? Thought you’d be getting it on; Valentines night, I mean.
Steve contemplated his drink and nodded.
‘Husband’s taken her to a posh restaurant.’
Eric shook his head. ‘You said she was leaving him.’
‘No, she’s having you on mate.’
‘Don’t think so.’
‘She’s pulling your plonker mate, I tell you.’
He looked up and made eye contact.
‘Older women mate, all the same. She’s running fast and loose with you.’
Eric sighed and rolled his eyes. Steve emptied his drink; the glass impacted the beer mat with a thud. His eyes moistened, he turned away. Eric surveyed the clientele.
‘See those two,’ he motioned with his head. ‘Watchya say we chat ’em up mate?’
‘Slow down, you’re going too fast,’ Adam chewed a fingernail.
Ben stared forwards, his jaw set and pressed down even harder.
‘I’m sorry all right? I shouldn’t have said what I did.’
Turning his head, Ben glared.
‘Look, I didn’t mean to upset you. Slow down, will you.’
The car took a steep bend and the back end slewed. Ben skillfully brought the vehicle back under control.
‘Ben, it’s my car. If you wreck it, I’ll kill you.’ Adam’s voice rose in panic.
Rounding another sharp bend, the car shot sideways, clanged against a stationary vehicle, spun 90 degrees and stopped.
‘Ben, you stupid idiot. Oh no.’
A swaggering, self-important authoritative figure approached. He looked down at them, a cocky grin on his face. ‘Well now, what have we here?’ Speeding, reckless driving and damage to a parked vehicle. Boy, are you guys in trouble.’
“Is this your first tour?”
Heena, holding on tight as the boat sped fast upriver, nodded in acknowledgement.
“Try not to let it get to you,” Sergei continued. “The poverty, that is. Life in these Third World countries is a lot different to back home.”
Heena didn’t reply. She watched the banks of the river passing by. Detritus was everywhere on the shore, piled up high. People clambered over it, looking for something they could sell or eat, something to sustain them through another day.
One little girl, perhaps five or six years old, caught her attention. Perched atop a pile of assorted plastic, the child stood and watched as the boat sped by. Heena wondered what the child made of the UN Relief Agency workers.
She watched the young girl disappear into the distance. The boat travelled onwards, the waters of the river Thames lapping at its sides.
Always Some Kind of Metaphor
The dove and the crow flew together, though it was not an arrangement to be admired. The crow was clinging on with its razor sharp talons, while the dove called out in screaming alarm, panic stretching its eyes. But the contrast, that was the real shock; snow and charcoal, innocence and sin, salt and pepper. It was mesmerising to watch nature at its cruellest as the crow refused to be shaken off, holding on fast. Beauty, somehow, existed intrinsically within the attack. It was-
"Come on now," she said laughingly, following my gaze to the tumbling birds and no doubt reading my mind, "White and black, goodness and evil? Don't you think it's a little cliché?"
She flung an arm around my waist like it was nothing, though the feeling of it meant everything to me.
Play Dead, Like Rex.
From the moment he entered the room his life, as he knew it, was over. There was no going back. Not now.
He surveyed the room, saw the mass of blood, the bodies, the man with the gun. It took just a few seconds for his mind to compute the whole thing. But when it did, he froze. Natural reaction. Fear.
The man with the gun hadn’t seen him. He was facing towards the wall wiping the blood from his glasses with a piece of kitchen towel. Jim silently dropped to his knees and lay flat on the floor. He tried not to breath. The blood from the person next to him was fast running into his face and scalp. He tried to pretend it was just strawberry jam. He closed his eyes and waited. He needed to play dead. Like his old dog Rex.
Cherry on the Top
They say little thing can make a big impact. Like dobs of sour cream on jacket potatoes, solving the crossword in less than half an hour and just the right amount of tonic in your G&T.
It was the cherry on the top when her grandson told her that he would catch the fast train from Waterloo to visit, instead of the regular 9.43.
She forgot about the constipation, her rheumatics and the dizzy spells when she got out of bed.
Of All the Excuses
Tommy was sat staring out the window. His pudgy fingers were worrying away at nylon trousers, one size too small and frayed thin where his hand fidgeted. He hadn’t picked up a pencil all day.
The email had been sent this morning. Miss Henshall was in a state of shock herself; she could barely begin to understand how Tommy must be feeling, so she hadn't dared disturb his reverie.
When the bell rang, the boys and girls clambered to grab their belongings and scampered out of the door where anxious parents hovered.
Bad news spread fast.
Tommy moved slowly, mechanically, as he approached Miss Henshall's desk, clearly expecting to be reprimanded for his lack of work. She searched for an appropriate remark.
"Everything okay, Tommy?" She enquired too sternly, immediately squirming in shame.
"I'm j...just not a v..very fast learner", he stammered, before sloping off towards an empty playground.
About 20 fruit flies were stuck fast to the yellow card that hung in the bay window.
Elaine scrutinised the dark rolled up bodies, "Where are they even coming from?"
She gingerly tapped at the trap with the folded letter she was holding. It was the one with the hospital logo stamped across the top.
Gerald was watching over the top of his newspaper, "Must be eggs in the soil of those hyacinths we brought in last week."
Shuffling towards the kitchen, Elaine refolded the letter, crushing it into her palm.
“You didn’t take the recycling out did you?”
Gerald set down the unread paper, “No - what are you looking for?”
“I read on the internet you can make traps using plastic bottles.”
With three days to go until her results, Elaine set herself to the task at hand.
Once on a market stall.
Way back when I went bare-legged to school, even in winter, because, you know, keeping up with keeping in, we’d spend lunch times in the city, eating in the street and tossing fag ends at the pigeons. Amid the stink of spices and scratch of cassette recordings of the gigs on Saturday nights, the brother of a boy I knew from school worked on the veg stall and I’d queue patiently for an apple and his glance and a touch as he took my 10p.
But things change too fast round here and when I go back, the old stalls are torn down and it’s all new built and things that didn’t used to matter – gluten-free baking, halal butcher, vinyl rebranded to vintage. For old times, I buy an apple. I hand my money across avocados and ginger and he looks at me and some things are still the same.
One too many
I should not have gone for that drink after work.
My colleague insisted having just been promoted, yearned to celebrate.
One turned to many. Getting into my vehicle was a blunder.
My reactions to slow as I viewed them arise in the distance.
Their faces one of fright as I swerved, narrowing avoiding the people in my path.
An image that will be burned into my mind, forever haunting me of what could have been.
For now, however, I must sit awaiting the tow truck, my veer too much.
Finding myself stuck fast in a ditch.
Piano Exam Etudes
She tries to play it fast. It is supposed to go the speed of The Andrews Sisters singing about a bugle boy.
She turns off the YouTube link. Disheartened. Disillusioned. Surely this is a bluesy, swing piece of music. Rattling through it like she’s in the 400 metres at The Commonwealth Games isn’t going to win her prizes if she falls at the first hurdle. Is it?
“It’s too late to choose another,” says her piano teacher. Gently. “You’ve worked too long on this one.”
The music book arrives in today’s mail. ‘Alternatives to the Etudes’ on the shiny blue cover.
There are three weeks to go before the exam. Her mouth waters as she sees the theme to Love Story is an alternative to her too fast and furious boogie.
She sits at the piano: ‘Where Do I Begin,’ ripples with ease from her arthritic fingers.
Listen to your Mother.
Go slow, she says. Slow down! Halt! Cease! Hold your horses!
But words will not slow me. For I am a super hero! Quick as a flash, I soar past almost anything-or anyone- that looms before me."Those soles will burst into flames."
Not mine, for I will outrun the fire! The scorch will never burn me. I'm invincible.
I packed away those dozens of torn shoes, a shadow of thin rubber, once served me so kindly. Put up with so much.
I boxed up the life I outran and wish I hadn't lived so damn fast.
A Good Question
How fast does hair grow? I wondered.
I put down Daddy’s electric razor and shook fine wisps of brown hair from my pretty yellow dress.
I looked in the mirror at my sun-freckled face and the two pink strips above my eyes.
“Emily?” Mummy’s voice floated up from the hallway, “the limousine's here! You bridesmaids need to get in first.”
She stood on the overhead bridge. The cars were all going so fast it was numbing. She wondered what it would be like to jump.
She might feel calm at last or she might regret it instantly. Then the pain of the impact; a hard fall, searing glass, bouncing from bonnet to ground. Would it be over then? Or might things only be worse. A life in a wheelchair, with even less options than now.
What about the drivers? Unwilling strangers drawn in to this: a family singing together on what had been a fun day out, a girl having nightmares for the rest of her life - who might never be able to watch cars go by without thinking of the thud, the screech.
And what if she did not have the strength to walk to the other side of the bridge, to go down the steps, and carry on.
I bit hard on my knuckles. Hell's bells what was I thinking?
Others screeched with excitement while beads of sweat broke surface on my already jet-sprayed forehead. I implored the bile to stay in my throat and not erupt over everyone in its path.
'You've got to try it, babe. You don't know what you're missing'.
Rage and fear battled for supremacy.
I screamed as the dinghy lifted into the air, landing with force I swear rattled my brain.
The supposed love of my life gave me a thumbs up over his shoulder. I just knew he'd have a huge grin on his face!
Murder was in my heart as the vessel lifted once again. But the fast water was finished and we floated calmly to the bank.
'Never…and I mean NEVER ask me to do anything like that again.'
He held out his arms. I crumpled into them.
I had time to pull my hand away, but I didn’t. In a dream, on occasion, I find myself falling but only because I am compelled to jump. It was like that. The downswing of the knife was aimed straight for my finger and I didn’t stop it. My skin was split. My flesh, severed. Somewhere in the pile of already diced onions was the pad of my pointing finger, but I could not discern flesh from onion in the pooling fast in the blood.
It was fast – instant. There wasn’t time for her to look me in the eye. There wasn’t time for her to ask me why. One minute she was there and then, in the next instant, she was gone: an empty shell. I turned the bottle slowly over in my fingers, trying not to look into her face.
It wasn’t as if I’d had any sort of choice – she was always ordering me around and telling me what to do. She was old, anyway. Something would have taken her before long – disease, maybe, or even suicide – she had never been particularly happy.
I’d done her a favour, really; I’d ended her suffering. Yes, it’s much better now, I thought to myself as I picked up the phone.
“Hello,” I said into the receiver. “Hello, there’s been some sort of an accident. Please come quickly.”
The Reluctant Racer
'How fast can he gallop?' The jockey asked. 'Fast enough to win the Molotov Cup?'
I gave champion jockey, Duggie Lawson, a leg up. The dark soil of the gallops ribboned towards a red sliver of rising sun. Turbospeed stood as still as Red Rum's statue at Aintree.
'Has he got any juice in him at all?' The jockey asked as he tried to urge his mount forward.
'It takes him a while.' I said, hoping that there would be a sign of life soon.
A pheasant flew up from the hedge and Turbospeed took off like a bullet, his long grey years flattened against his neck. Turbo was around the track in under three minutes, breaking his own best speed record.
'Fantastic,' I stroked his warm neck, running to keep up. 'As soon as we get back to the stables, I'll enter him in the Molotov Donkey Derby.'
Spring in Stalingrad
If you come, you will die, it's so simple, things are not complicated, when you just swim among the warm currents of a wasted time, when I saw you here then, shadows of firs shimmered on the oilcloth, there is nothing more to add, things are finished already, now go, fast.
Think fast. Think fast.
The world keeps spinning. You stand still.
Heart beating so hard it's in your throat.
It's not life and death, it's just life. When did the two get so mixed up? Mashed up.
You can't tell the difference any more.
You need to slow down. Slow down.
That's what they say.
Take your time, you'll get there. Empathy smiles.
No. Sympathy smiles.
Everyone's forgotten what the difference is.
They don't know what it's like.
Take a deep breath the doctor says. Take two more.
It makes a world of difference.
But the world keeps spinning.
You look down at your hands and they're shaking.
Thoughts racing. Speeding up.
Out of Touch
Rory and I were in the same class, he joined half way through the summer term. At weekends, we took to going for long walks in the lanes around our village. My young hand felt the pressure of his, and my entire body switched on. I became aware of my thighs as they brushed lightly together, I felt full in my lower abdomen, between my legs. My armpits moistened as did other unmentionable places.
His touch electrified me. He only kissed me once, behind the bike sheds in the school playground, but it did involve our tongues. Next day he avoided me, I was shattered. After classes, my best friend warned me that he'd told the other lads I was fast, a slut. His words stung and shamed me.
Decades later, in therapy, I understood why I was incapable of orgasms, except in the solitary privacy of my single bed.
His accent was a twist, unexpected for his face and contorting of his tongue. The verbs curled like hair, crisp out of irons, the consonants lingered long. Her brain could not compute the sounds emanating from his seductive mouth and so, she silenced him.
They had just about got used to it all when he bought a ticket to seven time zones worth of ‘space’. There was the phone but it fell apart fast. She needed the mismatch of face and vernacular to feel like an obstacle had been overcome.
With thanks to all the writers who have made this issue possible.Alice Lavren, Ann Sullivan, Anne Summerfield, Annie Rose, Ashley Stassen, Ben Sears, Benjamin Olsen, Bill Cox, C. Billingsley Adams, Carol Leggatt, Ceinwen E Cariad Haydon, Christine Nedahl, Colin Alcock, CR Smith, Crystal McNeil, Cynthiya, Damhnait Monaghan, Debbie Enever, E.C. Andrew, Ebba Aquila, Eileen Merriman, Elaine Mead, Ellen Kirkman, Emily Weatherburn, Emma De Vito, Ergene Kim, Gillian M Seed, Harry Covert, Hilary Ayshford, Holly Betsworth, Holly Hale, Holly Kilmister, Ian Marshall, irene Joseph, Isabel Flynn, Jan Kaneen, Jan McCarthy, Jay Bee, Jeanette Everson, Jenny Gaitskell, Joe Lawrence, John Cooper, John Dapolito, John Kilmurray, John Murphy, Justin Rulton, K Rhosair, Kathryn Evans, Lara Sams, Lesley Anne Truchet, Louise Mangos, Lynda Kirby, Malcolm Richardson, Mandy Thorley, Marcus Vance, Marissa Hoffmann, Mary Clark, Mary Davies, Michael Carter, Michael Pickard, Michael Rumsey, Michele Bartlett, Mitja Lovše, Monica Ann Weir, Morgan Cologgi, Nancy Zielinski, Natasha Barclay, Nicole Powers, Orb, Peter Jordan, Pola Mazur, Rachel Sambrooks, Reid W. Pickett, Richard Kemp, Ross Fraser-Smith, Rozanna Alfred, Ruth Kurowski, Ryan Yarber, S.B. Borgersen, Sally Cotton, Sally Davies, Samuel Yaw, Sara Kenny, Sarah Hill Wheeler, Sergio Cuffles, Shirley Golden, Sophie Watson, Steven O. Young Jr., Stuart Atkinson, Sue Johnson, Sue Partridge, Susan Carey, Suzanne Baldwin, Tia Ja'nae, Trasie Sands, Virginia Muze
18th April 2018