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Last Day of the Season
By sunrise I was down at the docks, certain I’d find answers; you don’t endure a battering for 170 years without some wisdom to impart. To the east, only the cathedral’s side chapels had woken, though I had faith the famous towering trophy awaited. The hope and doubt that churned my empty gut began to lift the closer I got to the Mersey. A match-day wind off the Irish Sea takes more than just your breath. Had the ferries ever looked so red? Of course, I never paced alone; gossiping tourist-fed pigeons were routinely loyal companions - often as far as the Beatles statue. And today, all but Ringo had attracted a Saturday morning seagull. A sign. Exhilaration kicked in; the switch to three up front would win us the title. I knew it. Liver Birds knew it. Nine hours til kickoff but this was a done deal. Surely. As it stands.
a sudden darkness
As it happened, he scarcely noticed it, hadn't realised what was happening, only felt the change once it had passed, and all at once his stomach fell out from under him and he was left dizzy, scared, alone.
A moment earlier, a woman had been speaking but he had not been listening, other things were on his mind.
He had been angry, that morning, but could not remember why.
But he had left her, that morning, and had not said goodbye.
And he had arrived at his workplace, unable to greet his workmates.
And he had sat at his desk, stared blankly at his screen.
And a "friend" had come to check on him, to see if he was okay.
But he had barely noticed her, and then it had happened.
A switch had been flicked and all light had turned to dark.
They had vanished.
He was alone.
Flick of The Switch
'How are you today, Mister,' he greets me in his thick Javanese accent, rolling my back towards him. I breathe in the scents of clove and patience that follow him round. While giving me a wash he's humming the folklore tunes I heard on the radio the day it happened.
On my hired motorcycles I was navigating the mud-filled road. The vast paddy fields on either side, a golden sunset in sight. She'll blow you sky high, sang my Walkman. I was deaf to the roaring sounds that catapulting me off; the truck that had skidded violently then dragged down with it. With a flick of the switch, razed to the ground. I laid between heaven and earth with my helmet to thank for.
In the melody of my carer's footsteps day and night are amassed. My old life, my hiraeth. Until the money that's keeping me alive runs out.
The waves rolled onto the shore, wetting my feet. I could take a step forward. I could do that, though, the moment the sea touched my heart, everything would change. It had been so long since I’d tasted real salt on my tongue, but I could flee the fresh bite of air that dried out my skin and go home.
That was a real possibility for me, but with all the seconds that had ticked by with my feet in the dry sand, would I breathe beneath the water? Could I wear the skin of the selkie and swim or would I sink?
The whisper of water was colder than I remembered. It stole my breath. But even as I contemplated the choice laid out in front of me, the salt dried like crystals on my feet and I felt mortality switch its coat for vastness.
He had come with bagged up plumes of history, roots all flying, steeped and delved.
This wretched city, bare boned wrecked, drawn back into the wilds by rudiment, overgrown its broken homes, the morgue of schools, its public spaces; overgrown bleak skeletons with dust, alluvial of vegetation, saplings, trees all blossoming unashamedly, whilst down on the basement floor she lies looks wondering for the light of dawn.
This child of hope, our destiny, laid aimlessly in motionless oblivion of her creviced cave, stares here, peers upwards for the blue unknowing, sandwiched layer of a million years in palimpsest’s unbroken search for sacred victory. Whilst back above on top the landscape green a plume of dandelion flies off freed, her bloods sucked-up through veins roots floats in timeless liberty.
And so he coloured countries flew, drew history with the wilding crimson on his finger, flicked the switch, dropped the bombs, gave birth to dandelions. He, mere plume himself, this flying charlatan of death and everlasting circles.
Harry ran his small fingers over the long grass, rolling the sound in his mouth. Sw...ish. It was good like sucking a sour gobstopper.
An ant crawled along his hand. It tickled. He examined it. Turning his fist as the creature hurried about it's business. Closing his eyes he blew the insect away.
He knew his business in the field.
Sweaty palms clutched the cool pocket knife. The choice, he'd pick carefully.
Eyeing the pale green willow rods he kicked a possible suspect. It sprung back. Swwwwish. T'wud do. Slicing it's tender bark close to the soggy ground, he nicked his finger. Spitting out a curse he sucked hard at the oozing red mark.
He was in no particular hurry back.
"Cut a switch!" his Father had ordered,
Switch.....Almost sounded like swish, the noise it made through the air.
He'd be nursing red marks tonight.
One Star. Avoid.
Chili Chicken too bland, I reviewed Deccan Spices.
Rude associate didn't make eye contact, I reviewed Staples.
He didn't trim my sideburns, I reviewed Style Salon.
Within minutes of my dental cleaning, I reviewed the dentist, He humiliated me for not flossing every day.
At night, I glanced at the mirror and yelled, What's wrong with people? avoiding myself. When I looked again, I found white teeth; my thick sideburns suited my age; my expression was bland when I made eye contact. How dumb of me! I'm only them and they're only me. Flawed.
I took my eyes off my reflection, switched off the lights, and wondered why Google didn't have a zero star option.
On Orchids and Peacocks
In the millionaire’s garden, where peacocks strolled, you tended orchids and learned to alter your face, to transmute one emotion to its opposite, to switch expressions on and off. You smiled. You frowned. You cast your eyes down. You recall the peacock opening and closing its feathers. A bird who rarely flies ... except from danger. You excuse yourself to the restroom, remove your shoe and retrieve the pill tucked under your toes. Act gracefully, smile (but not too much), embrace and accept condolences ... but he’s on a table, in a box draped with the silk Gucci scarf he gave you last Valentine’s Day. Blue orchids surround a peacock and the word “LOVED” in big orange letters. Peacocks preen, strut, fan their plumage. Is there anything more glorious than an authentic peacock? You demure. Like an orchid, you’ll survive on air, true colors yet to be revealed.
You smile as he lifts the cup to his lips. Coffee, no sugar, dark and bitter. How apt you think. He looks away for a moment and you reach across the table and switch the cups. Coffee, two sugars, dark and sweet sits before him now. He drinks and grimaces and you both laugh though his laughter is a little stilted. Perhaps the jokes are wearing thin. Still he owes you that at least. He owes you so much more. Because it turns out she didn’t actually want him. You though still do. At least for now. At least until the pin pricks stop being fun.
She wasn’t exactly sure when the switch might have occurred. There could have been a snap in the air, a static shift in atmosphere, an almost imperceptible hum. Perhaps the light had wavered, just for a second, not even long enough to blink. There would have been no sound. No snapping of branches, no rustle in the undergrowth. Nothing. Perhaps that’s what she should have noticed. Although that too would have been insignificant. They were masters of travelling unseen, unheard. All she knew was that she must have blinked. She could smell it now: that unmistakable odour of soured milk, and something rotten underneath, not quite whole, not quite human. And where, just an instant before, her rosy cheeked baby had lain, curled a small, gnarled, stick-like creature, older than time itself. Bald, brown, ugly, a smile like razors. The changeling. Her baby, she knew, was beyond her world
Hooking up Granny
The big box filled with movies was silent. She wasn’t able to turn it on with her remote control any longer, ever since her nephew connected it to that new fangled invention.
“Smart” he called it. “Granny, you can turn on your favorite shows just by saying “Soap Opera”.”
She would be able to switch channels by clapping her hands. It worked just fine for a while. However, today she wasn’t able to unlock her front door, turn on her lights or anything else. Nor could she use the darn phone. Damn that boy and his silly notion of “hooking her up”. She sat down in the dark to await his weekly visit.
When he came, he told her she had been hacked. Enough was enough. She hit him on his head with her newspaper and told him to “unhook” her.
You didn’t see me, nobody does, squashed down in yesterdays dirt, sharing space with cigarette ends and discarded filth. I’m not on a par with you so why would you see me? I commune with your ankles.
I’m not always like this, in truth this state is one I’m only starting to accept and understand. I simply sit and watch. I can pick out who I want to be. Pinstripes and business backpack, coffee in hand hurrying by or the Converse wearing teen kicking a stone, hands in pockets, headphones on. I'm lured by a striking green dress with purple coat, but high heels tap this away too.
I turn a small stone disc in my pocket.
Then I see you. Yes you. I thrill. I’m going to swap this place with you. I lean to touch your hand as you pass and turn the stone.
I switch to you.
Give and Take
The spate of thefts was kids larking about. So they thought. Odd things disappeared. Meat from freezers, pillows off beds. Almost a joke. But intruders in the house was anything but funny. People grew suspicious, fitted new locks. The air of doubt expanded, filling every part of the community. And the thefts continued.
But, when they looked closer, it wasn't burglary. They'd find things, long after a cushion or a book had gone. A new mug would appear, or a bar of soap, not their usual brand. More like a switch than a theft. Things got moved between the houses, making people wary and mistrustful. The culprit was never discovered. It was no-one. It was everyone. Looting had not been the purpose, it seemed. The aim was not taking but giving. What they took was unmemorable, trivial - hardly missed in the long-term. What they gave, though, was lasting anxiety.
It could be five, it could be ten, but that light is never coming on
Dusk was coming, although there would be little difference in light, from the bleak March day. She looked at it, placed innocuously by the kitchen door, and felt the darkness envelop the room.
She wondered where he was, was it dark, or was he somewhere with light and cold beer? Would he be merrily downing his fifth or tenth pint, or was already leering over a barmaid? Would they be falling for his charms or would they be trying to move away, thinking how fortuitous that they could escape his sour breath?
It was fully dark, and that switch was now barely visible. She looked over again trying to see it through the gloom but there was no point, there never was. She could flick it a million times and it still wouldn’t work, the money for that was most likely, at this point, being pissed up a wall.
The switch cracked as I snapped it on, and so did the bathroom door when I slammed it, trying to escape.
But the yells were loud enough to penetrate the door and fire my eardrums up. "When will you grow up, huh? Look at your sister. She's never been an embarrassment like you!”
Fury storming inside, I smacked my bare thigh. It swelled red-hot straightaway.
The yells kept on coming. I inserted my forefingers in my ears, but the yells still found a way in. I pushed them further and further, regardless of the biting pain it cost, yet fragments of the yells broke through, of which I made out, “God, even an autistic son would’ve been better than you!”
That was it! I removed the fingers and screamed with all the might I had, throwing out the suppressed burning, until there was nothing left.
At last, there was silence.
Closing her eyes, Jenny switched off the lamp and listened to silence; slivers of light flickered through the curtains illuminating the carpet. Slipping out of bed she crossed the room and stood in the light.
A draught through the half-open window cooled her skin; peering out; bent, twisted shadows shimmered across the land. A glint of light near the beach caught her eye. Jenny watched it flicker, iridescent along the sandy bank. Goosebumps prickled across her body as ghostly silhouettes stalked the landscape.
Slipping on her coat, she grabbed a torch and sneaked out. Creeping towards the beach, listening for sounds she wasn’t alone; Jenny heard only a light breeze whispering, gentle waves lapping the shore. Soft raindrops kissed her face as she turned towards home.
A sudden rush of air whooshed past her ear, whipping around, she saw nothing. Spooked, Jenny dropped to her knees and screamed.
Zombied under the influence of an aromatic blend of roasted beans, nostrils flare in bliss. I taste the air humming gray noise roiling from patrons squawking and gawking. The preened and primped seeded in the chaotic coffee community hang out, oblivious to my pensive gaze penetrating their otherness.
Switch places with the foreign lives surrounding me? No. I enjoy just being me.
I've aged into this world. I passed through, ghosting the tentacle grasp of modern angst. I've screamed through childhood, stumbled past adolescence, and stressed during adulthood to mature into the accepting social grace of neglected isolation, realizing that being mortal is the original sin.
Watching the flicker of my transient flesh fade, forced morally to stand and grin, I take my place in queue for a grave adventure as I head to a celestial mansion where I stow my humanity and mix with cosmic dust to litter eternity.
I’m his second wife and could be we are a tiny bit too close genetically. Not unusual in our community. My husband knocks me about a bit, even using a switch on occasion. Families are like that around here. It’s normal, no-one considers it wrong and wives suffer such day-to-day tribulations with resignation. He is rude, stinks, and his love-making is more of a cavalry charge—at work he wears a Customs uniform, for God’s sake. Tonight, though, the old feeling has returned. As he rolls off, farts, and begins to snore, I caress my stomach. This one, I tell myself, is a boy, and he will become famous. Mothers know that sort of thing.
Ding dong the bells are going to chime
The leaves were full of whispers in the dawn light, i switched the light on, and i could see the shape of the trees begining to show as the morning progressed
Today is !!My wedding day!! I am so happy, the birds were serenading, as a gentle breeze wafted in though the slightly open window.
I closed my eyes and let the warmth of the sun soak on my face.
As I entered the church, my white gown had a shimmer like silk, enhanced by the numerous artificial candles around the church.
All heads switched round to look at me, I saw him standing there by the light of the stained glass window, i was overwhelmed, and my heart sored of joy
As the sun was setting behind the church wall, there was a cacophony of deafening sounds of church bells.
We are now MR AND MRS .
I explain how I must switch the light on and off five times before leaving any room. It is very important – no, crucial – I do this. He nods, jotting something on his notepad.
He doesn’t understand; I explain how as a child, I forgot to do this once and the next day my guinea pig was dead. At first, I thought it had disappeared as only my sister’s rabbit, Fluffy, was visible in the cage. But when the rabbit moved, there he was – rigor mortis creating an imprint of Fluffy’s bottom.
He stops writing, looks at me over his half-moon glasses.
In court, my lawyer declares I was insane; that I had no knowledge of what I was doing when I killed my husband; that I was suffering from a mental illness and have done since childhood.
But I know what killed him. I forgot to flip the switch.
Till death do us part
"Nigel, Nigel have you seen it?" calls kate. "Oh Nigel will you get in here and help me look, for god sake will you at least switch on the big light for me".
Nigel rolls his eyes. Here we go again, he thinks to himself. Another night of hob-nobbing with the so-called elite members of society, trying to engage in conversation with half-wits and ignoramuses. And typical Kate, hit the panic button now when she loses one of the 'only pair of ear-rings' that she can wear to impress the snobs. Such a load a shite.
Nigel sighs in despair. "Coming dear", he calls to his newly wedded wife. "You're lucky I love ya", he mutters under his breath.
The van door slams on the last of it, there’s just the keys stuck to my hand. Four years, three months, one week and five days: a pretty poor effort from us both.
We did paper the lounge, and sorted the leak in the bathroom.
You stayed late at work and I didn’t ask.
I’ve got to get the van back, and you’re biting at your hangnails, checking the time.
I don’t recognise that watch.
Still, you make the same old joke about the dodgy wiring in the hall light switch, and it hangs in the air, all awkward.
Then you remind me to give back my key.
I don’t tell you about the confetti still peppering the bottom of the wardrobe. I just I say I hope your girlfriend’s not scared of ghosts.
The Latest Thing
When my son was just a little boy, he liked to visit the ducks in the park and throw bread to them. I can recall him hopping from foot to foot as they raced towards the shred of loaf he had lobbed into the lake.
After that it was Batman, and then Power Rangers and before I knew it he was in big school uniform and closing his eyes against the autumn sunlight as I took a single photograph of his pre-pubescent face. I caught him just before the spots arrived. Then it was Nintendo or whatever the latest thing was.
This evening, his face is turned towards the screen. I ask him to switch off the computer and talk to me about his day. I see only the back of his head and hear nothing by way of a reply.
Nothing has ever excited him like the ducks.
My waking thought, nought point five could be the difference between one and two.
You grunt and fart beside me.
Ok, two and three.
My skull aches with cross-eyed exertion. Without my lenses it’s impossible to get the digits in focus so I squeeze my eyes shut instead.
Please, please, this time, please.
I lay still. Even sitting up can skew the reading.
Please, please, this time, please.
Three beeps then I hold the arbiter at arm’s length, squinting in the too-early brightness.
No. It’s a one. A stupid, useless, worthless one.
Already the tug inside echoes the thermometer’s verdict. I switch it off and shut it in the drawer with the charts and tablets and tests.
You stir and I retreat into your warmth.
“Don’t worry," you say. "There’s still time.”
Your words are all I have to hold as hope recedes another degree.
A Risky Rendezvous
We talked, we argued, we laughed, we cried, we reminisced, we started all that we were not supposed to begin; because once you do that, there is no way to put an end to it.
Daniel didn’t change much. He looked more good looking, more matured. A little bit weight had added to his charm.
He said we should meet again. And why not? Since he was seeing Sera, there was no harm meeting him again. But why on earth did he like that girl? She was a mean, conceited, pretentious fool. He’d find out soon. For a moment, I wished I could switch places with Sara.
I had to get back home, my husband must be waiting; he, to his office. No one waiting for him. So, we said adieu. We said it was fun catching up.
The last thing he said before leaving, “You look prettier.”
Alone with Alba
"Alba?" Thomas squirmed under the sheet and waited for his sister to reply. He whispered for her again.
"I'm sleeping, Tommy," Alba murmered, but she stretched awake. A moment later, she slipped into his bed. "We mustn't wake Gran again," she warned.
Under the sheet tent, Thomas switched on his flashlight and looked at his twin. Her hair stood every-which-way with static but her sorrowful eyes returned his gaze steadily.
"They haven't found them," he said flatly.
"They won't," Alba replied. "It's been too long."
Thomas pointed at the rumpled paper that lay between them. It was a child's idea of a map.
"They went over - here."
"I know." Her small hand reached to console him when a knock at the door startled them both.
"Thomas!" the voice behind the door called. "Do stop talking to yourself, and go to sleep."
Reflexively, Thomas switched off his flashlight.
‘Sir,’ I stammer.
‘Switch!’ he says.
But I don’t. I can’t. I won’t. It comes down hard on my hand. He is giving it all of his energy. I can feel it vibrate with the force. He has drawn blood. I do not care.
He raises the switch. He raises it as high as he can. I look at his eyes. He is staring at his arm like he can’t believe how powerful he is. As if hitting someone can make you strong.
‘Switch!’ he says again.
I tell myself he might be talking to the piece of wood that he is using. I am in pain. He has truly lost it. He brings it down again. Joy mixed with agony on his face.
He starts to cry.
‘Switch’, he says even more softly. He holds out the strip of birch to me.
But I don’t. I can’t. I won’t.
The Hickory Tree
The branches of the Hickory tree reach for the sun; its leaves catch the rain and rustle in warm breezes. It sways in swirling winds, stays rooted through storms.
An axe splinters its heart.
Switches are cut and gathered; trimmed with pocket knives by sun-baked hands until they are bare rods. In the same hands they will be forced to rain down on exposed skin until blood is drawn.
A cool wind will soothe fresh wounds; will stir the cotton crops across unending fields, as far as the linear horizon.
But scars will surely appear, and remain.
The Hickory tree will grow anew where its sap bled out, before the men return to cut again. Its leaves will still catch the rain, its branches will always reach for the sun.
Let's switch, you and I. I'll step into your shoes. You into my paws.
Lie down in the fetid, urine-soaked bed. Scratch in vain at the pea-sized tick buried deep in your armpit. Feel the shameful itch of fleas hatching in your excrement-smeared tail, the result of a diet of feed-one-day, forget-the-next. Strain for the dry water bowl at the end of your chain and lick at the oozing sores on your paws. Squint at the sun and count how many times it has arced across the yard since your belly last knew food.
But do not bark - because above all else, you are a good dog.
Then I'll return, my indifferent legs passing you, your loving eyes reflecting unlove.
But still your head will follow me, your tail will twitch, your eager limbs will tremble and your breath will catch in your throat.
Because hope dies last.
The decision ignited in his head like someone had flicked a switch. It came with such bright and obvious clarity that he briefly had to consider why it had never struck him before, why it should ever have been a question at all.Then, as is often the case when a conclusion has finally been attained, time became of the utmost essence. There was not a drop to waste - suddenly everything had to happen as soon as it could. Anticipation and dread, hope and self-reproach, his emotions mixed precarious cocktails of desire and conjecture, urging him forward in his quest. When he arrived at the time and place, agreed before either realised the surprise he had in store, he checked that he had brought the words he needed and then began.‘Will you do me the great honour of becoming my wife?’Her reaction gave everything meaning.
He’d chosen the ring with the engraved hippogriff. Welsh gold. He said he identified with Wales. Fucked over religious.
She thought it was about right, half monster, half animal that gave her a good ride. The ring clicks on the jack handle as he pumps one side of the car off the tarmac.
She can’t hear a word above the traffic. He iterates the letters W.R.E.N.C.H, switches his hand up and down like he’s wanking off. She passades between him and the open boot, like she’s forgotten something, like moving back and forwards was doing something useful.
His bare waistline reveals the welts where she’d dragged every morsel of him into her. ‘Poignant’ was his word of the week. Last week it was ‘ominous’. This puncture was bound to be her fault, poignant. He mouths the word ‘SPARE’. She thinks it looks worn, like it’ll cause slippage.
“Doreen,” I said brandishing the letter, “access which other dates we have available,”
“We could switch from May to September.” She suggested tapping the diary.
That’s always a problem in managing a provincial theatre, there are invariably alterations. We had been due to put on The Witch, a play by Thomas Middleton. Now the company had written to inform me due to another booking they could not make the arranged date.
September was accepted and I knew this play called for special lighting. We were prepared for that and simply changed the main switch. What I did not envisage was having paid for the printed programmes I would get a last minute visit from the casting director.
“Sorry old boy,” he pointed to the cast list, ”we have to replace this witch .with another actress.”
Like I said always alterations, or is it because my provincial theatre is in Ipswich?
Chemistry with Other People
"We can't keep switching partners; it doesn't feel right," a crinkle of concerned squiggled across Jake's eyebrows like someone had drawn it with an etch-a-sketch.
"Well, they seem to have no problem with it," Cory shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly. His eyes were glued to his phone.
Jake peered over Cory's shoulder, towering over him like a skyscraper.
"Who're you texting? Helen?"
Cory slipped his phone into his pocket and stared ahead, "Yup. She says she wants you tomorrow."
Jake shook his head quickly, "No. I'm not doing this anymore. Make sure you tell her that."
Cory sighed, "Bro, it's no big deal. Chill."
Jake planted his feet into the ground and blocked Cory's path; for once, he seized advantage of his size, "I said I'm done. I don't want to be Helen's chemistry partner anymore. She expects me to do everything and she's an airhead. I'm sticking with Erica"
Taking the Blame
It was the quarter that got us in trouble in the first place. It was so shiny, with its small but solid weight, warming in my hand as I held it tightly on the way to church. We were only given money once a year, in a birthday card from a grandmother we didn't remember. We conspired to keep it, instead of putting it in the collection plate.
I took the blame, and the switch, sobbing as quietly as I could, hearing in my head the senseless quip that always came out of Mother's mouth in such circumstances.
"If you don't stop that crying, I'll give you something to cry about."
I glanced in at Tommy as I passed the boy's room on my way to cry in private, and he ran to hug me quickly, pulling away before we were seen, and just like that, my hurts were mended.
Extra Storage Space
After a month in our new home, we had familiarised ourselves with most the quirks - the knocking water pipes and a sticky flush on the downstairs toilet. That just left the hallway switch. It was mounted next to some coat hooks and didn’t control any lights, fans or heaters.
The mystery was solved while I was downstairs doing laundry. Steve flicked the switch by accident as he hung up his coat and a portal opened up about two foot away from the dryer.
We re-read our Home Information Pack but there was no mention of a basement portal.
Steve said, “I checked the meter and it’s not drawing electricity.”
I’ve never regretted marrying a practical man.
Following some discussion about the inherent dangers of parallel universes, we taped the switch down. Well, once we threw out that old mattress the council never collected.
Better Late Than Never
After our big row, my fiancé Kathee and I split. I never intended it to continue thinking I’d give us time to calm down then chat over the problem.
But before I blinked, she became engaged to Braden Talbot and the wedding rehearsal dinner started at 8 pm tonight at the Hotel. I wanted her back but never had the guts to approach her again.
I arrived with my invitation at 6 pm hoping to catch five minutes with her and tell her how I feel.
When I saw name cards at each place setting, I had a brainwave. I switched each one, moving Braden to sit next to his ex, and Kathee beside me.
I said my piece, declared myself in a whisper so others wouldn’t hear.
‘I love you. Let's elope.’
Her silence lasted for so long and my shoulders slumped to my knees.
And we did.
Something’s disturbed me. A whiff of beeswax and lavender water, smells from a bygone age. I pause the cooking and peer through a smudged window pane; old, wobbly glass distorting the picture.
Under the scruffy greengage tree sits Miss Fox, yellow eyes fixed on me. Her paws are pressed together, chest white as crisp linen, sharp muzzle defined by symmetrical, grey stripes from brow to nose. The rest of her is bright russet, just a dab of bleach on the tip of her brush.
I get the message. She wants to chat; compare lives in this dilapidated townhouse, then and now. My messy life would shock her.
‘Hey! I see you!’ I call.
Her pristine tail switches like a feather duster.
I think Miss Fox is saying, ‘You’re in my damn kitchen.’
I grin, shrug and check on the stir-fry. Next time I look she’s waiting at the door.
There is this clicking sound: tick-thunk. Small teeth biting through small nails until they hit small teeth.
“You don’t need to do that, “ I say. “I’m here. You’re safe. It’s OK.”
The next day I am sat – always sat – at work. On good days I have something in my teeth: carrot, apple or crust. I work these things, I give them time.
Today there is something sharp. It bites when I lick. Fuck you, I think and I wrench it with my tongue. Fuck you, it shouts back.
I save the final push for the afternoon. I try it and dig it and get it and there’s a burst of blood and it’s out.
I switch this thing around in my mouth – sharp and long to be stuck. I swing it to my lips and spit. Small, gnawed: the kid’s fingernail.
Seven inches of joy
Sunday afternoon; transistor radio sprung into life, slightly off station it emitted weird sounds that sounded like the next spaceship from Mars landing. Rod twiddled the knob and suddenly pop music lambasted his eardrums, just in time for Pick of the Pops. Sat crossed legged on his bed he waited to hear his favourite song. He’d rushed into town and bought it on Saturday with the remainder of his pocket money. A thin seven inch disc of plastic that offered untold joy and hours of listening if your record player had a repeat facility. Rod’s early model didn’t so he had to lift the arm and carefully place it back down every two minutes and fifty seven seconds. Downstairs his father had reached breaking point, he’d heard it countless times over the weekend.
‘Switch that bloody racket off!’
‘Aww Dad, but it’s number one.’
Threw out the chrysanthemum's today.
The vase had started resembling a dirty fish tank, and the rotting stems looked like poster art for The Shape of Water.
The only odour of these lovely yellow flowers was the putrid perfume of despair.
I touched the switch by the door to turn off the lights as I left, when I saw your note and the the rich maroon bouquet of chrysanthemums.
I knew I'd be late, but I took two and pressed them carefully into the pages of The Princess Bride.
I let myself fall.
For some it had always been there and they’d become so used to it that it no longer registered in their consciousness. I suppose that, as a relative newcomer, I shouldn’t have been surprised by their lack of interest in my own curiosity in it. However many times I asked ‘what it did’ all I ever got back was blank looks. In the end I took matters into my own hands and turned the switch to the off position.
Then I realised what it did. I tried turning it back to on and although the switch moved no one else did. Well, at least I knew now. I was the only human in a world otherwise populated by automata.
The Forbidden Switch
Don't push that switch.
The voice echoed from somewhere.
I looked left and right for the source but no luck. Then I turned to the switch; a red push button switch on the white wall that seems to be forbidden.
What is it for?
The light? - no, there's no lightbulb in here. Maybe the door, I assumed then realized no door to be found in this room.
Panicked, I wandered around a small square room. Nothing in here, except the red switch that like blood dropped in a white sheet.
Don't push that switch.
Is it a warning or deceit?
Slowly, I went on tiptoe to the switch and push it.
"Meow!" I howled painfully then passed out.
The door, well hidden beside the red switch, opened. A guy came in and look at the black cat on the floor.
Ah. Curiosity killed the cat, always.
The Great Screen
Hiro couldn’t stand it anymore. Every day, the same routine of rise, go to work, eat and sleep ate at his core like an insufferable termite. So one day, he lay down and refused to work at all. Though he eventually perished from starvation, news of his acquiescence spread throughout his country. Hiro’s fellow humans began to follow suit across the globe until soon, the entire species rejected the daily grind. Without such toil, the collective energy - generated from human labor that had for eons fueled the great screen obscuring the viewing capacity of even the most powerful telescopes - flashed into nothingness like a colossal off-switch. Suddenly revealed, the entities beyond abandoned their observation of Earth.
Silhouettes on the boundary wall. Cats. Regular visitors since our own had died. Sometimes they came in to doze in our greenhouse. Sometimes to hunt. But mostly to crap. On the lawn. No attempt to cover the mess.
Our old boy must have been spraying his authority, marking his territory, right till the end.
I close the garage door.
The house is in darkness. So what? It’s late. You’ve been away. And that should mean something? You’d think so.
I cross the patio.
There’s enough moonlight to clearly see the lock. I turn the key and step inside. When I switch on the lights, the kitchen glares so much it hurts. Cooker and fridge, ice-bright, kitchen sink like a mirror.
I grab myself a beer, turn off the lights, sniff the piney, sterile hum. Not a whiff of human presence. I stare out at the cats. Maybe that’s the point.
Thoughts in the Night
Towards the unknown, I turn over, and put the pillow below my head. Nothing knowing, nothing said. I wake up suddenly from my slumber, was it real, was it said. Oblivion beckons from my brain, the days courses, can't be said.
I fight the duvet around me, its bumpy and not willing to be shed. If only switching was easy, that may quiet the discourse in my brain. Tears stream down my face, Is this such a disgrace! I scrunch the bedding in the bed and dream of lifes lost conversations that were never said.
There are no answers, just pain, that is the extent of my current domain. Wrestles thoughts continue, as my eyes drill into my stomach. Death is good, death is nice, may be it could be paradise.
Today we buried my Action Man. I dug his grave with dad’s spade. I dressed him in my favourite outfit, the frogman’s suit, with his scabbard strapped to his leg. My little sister bought Sindy to the funeral. Stood her at the graveside, blue-tacked a piece of tissue to her hand and made sobbing noises, like mummy makes. I take her cold hand as we walk back to the house up the three steps to the patio, we stare through the French windows and watch mummy sitting in the dark. My sister again asks why mummy doesn’t switch the lights on. Sitting on our garden bench, she puts Sindy beside us, asks me to tell her a story, it must include mummy, daddy, Action Man and Sindy. As I tell her the tale she stares at the stars, and I never wonder why we are not included in the stories.
I can do this. Wow, this is good.
No more passive aggressive staring at the irritating woman.
The ‘How are we today?’ when she knows I can’t answer.
The ‘Shall we put the telly on?’
Oh how she loves a captive audience. I am sure that is why she got this job. People think she is so selfless, such a caring person. Just because my body is useless doesn’t mean my brain is.
Now I can get my own back. I don’t need her for this.
I love that tech guy and all his paraphernalia. Just tip my head. Tip the switch. Here comes the menu on the screen.
Choose the TV icon.
Great it works.
Now I can watch the footie in peace.
She’ll be back soon to wipe my bum. Maybe I will watch one of the sex programmes on Channel 4. That’ll give her a shock.
“Switch places with me?” I plead with Amy across the aisle.
Danny’s getting on the bus, and the seat next to hers is the only one free. She knows I’ve had a crush on him for forever, so nods at me with a grin.
We slip past each other and I scoot up next to the window, attempting to act nonchalant despite my racing heart when he slides in beside me. I try desperately to think of something cool to say as we drive away.
The truck comes out of nowhere.
Smashes into the side of us in a sickening nightmare of grinding metal and panic.
I tell Amy’s mother what I did. She hugs me close, whispers through tears that it’s not my fault.
But her fingers dig into my skin just a touch too forcefully, and I know deep down inside she wishes we could switch places again.
Collecting The Empties
Steve the milkman sends a postcard to everyone on the cul-de-sac. He’s cycling on the hilly coastline of Puerto Pollensa.
Sylvie and Judy agree over Monday coffee it’s a surprise Steve has a tolerance for downhill speed, he never rushes them, always has time to listen. Sylvie hides Steve’s postcard in the tea-towel drawer, her Ron never liked Steve.
Debs opens the curtains in her teen son’s room quoting from Steve’s postcard, ‘eight years your dad’s worked without a holiday, not many men as loyal.’
Mrs Thompson, braless at her kitchen table at 10am, works on her first online food order. The free range chipolatas are pedigree Hampshire boar but twelve seems excessive unless Steve will be back soon.
Steve switches gear and calculates he needs four sprays of sunscreen per day and it would be wasteful not to stay another week to finish the bottle. Everyone loves a postcard.
The Politics of Tupperware
The office kitchen will always be a place of political climates. From who cooks what in the microwave, to who replenishes the milk. Signs advise us that ‘YOU’ are responsible for keeping the shared area clean. These have been passive aggressively corrected with red marker to advise ‘WE’ are responsible. I empty and switch off the dishwasher, a single circular Tupperware lid still in hand. Opening the cupboard to store it with the other remnants of left behinds, I can't believe what I see. The containers have assembled themselves into two camps; square versus rectangle. There appears to be a heated debate and I make out the discerning squeaks of plastic. A colleague promptly appears behind me and slams the door shut. 'Best not to disturb them, they’re going through a referendum'. He eyes the circle lid in my hands. 'That won’t be welcome, I'd throw it out'. He nods.
I make the switch in bed, in the morning, when the light is still wobbly from sleep. I start with the face, then all along the familiar routes, until you are all exposed: a raw, gentle creature that I caress and coax into a glass jar. Its new glow lights up the features of the man in bed. I lie down beside not-you. I still enjoy the warmth of that flesh, the smell of that body.
Not-you wakes up still kind but begins to roar early. He demands coffee, and why there aren’t any socks, and the razor attacks him because it knows.
I brew the coffee to steal a few quiet minutes.
I watch you struggle for breath as you try to break out. You don’t understand glass. You faint from loneliness.
I hide the jar in my dresser, beside the few trinkets not-you still lets me keep.
This Is Why Grown-ups Buy Torches
I was a child once, pretty good at it too; laughed too loud, wriggled in chairs, lifted my toes when trying on new shoes. My father spent his days amongst wires and dials, had little time for wriggles and laughter and knew he was a size 10 without lifting a single toe.
He gave me a switch for my birthday, 11th or 12th, can’t remember exactly. He told me when it was time to become a man, when I’d grown tired of youth and weary of hope, when my feet were a size 10 and I knew it, I could flick it and turn on the light of adulthood.
The day arrived. The world smelled of wet paint and tasted of salt and I bought new shoes without trying them on. I flicked the switch.
No light came on but, one went out.
The B Is Silent
"Let's try this again Cindy, okay?" She nods at the doctor, who reshuffles the cards.
"Okay what's this word Cindy?" The doctor holds up a picture of a bed.
Cindy focuses on the letters, the words goes through her mind perfectly. Bed, b-e-d.
Cindy had a speech impediment, which made her pronounce her b's as sw, so book would come out as swook. She looked at her stepmother sat beside her, whose face was set in disgust and contempt. But her father is smiling, nodding at her to do it.
"Come on Cindy, you can do it." He encourages softly.
She smiles back, and then looks at the words again. B-e-d, easy peasy.
"Swed." She mumbles, "S-w-ed." She slaps her knee in frustration.
"I told you she is a lost cause." Her stepmother says.
Cindy jumps up onto the table, and begins screaming at her stepmother.
"Switch! Switch, switch, switch!"
The bell rings as she intones the last list of nouns.
“Cat, wrench, magnet, sermon, bridge.”
Already the images are coming to me but I fight the urge to close my eyes. I hold Jacob’s stare across the temple, as we are meant to. I take in his wholeness, to avoid mistakes. He sits on the ground and the ground holds him up.
The bell rings again. I lie back. I let my eyes close and try to stay calm as I hear the switch click.
It is no use. Though I am meant to be imagining, birthing rigid worlds, following the mission, I cannot help but reach out my mind for the sound of her feet.
She sings of our sacred duty, passes with the incense, but instead of creating a new world I am here on the floor, counting her steps as she comes to anoint my brow.
I learned about this place in the eastern universal offices outside WX578.
The notice said the property was badly compromised: Collapsed pointing, dry rot, insect infestations, fire damage, toxic leaching, and a general lack of human care.
But I could see promise. It was a fixer-upper. There were spaces with glorious snow-white walls, carpets of emerald green and ceilings of cyan blue. And a tiny speck of hope.
The galactic currency abolition of 2098 led me to switch it for a small property in the Sigma sector.
The only thing left was to work out what to do with its citizens.
Flick the Switch
Flick the switch.
Moonlight creeps between the curtains across the artex and they wake up. The spider above the mantlepiece, long legs stretching up the wall, the fluttering bat, and him, the hooded man. He brandishes his scythe but then the wind rattles the sash windows, cloth billows, and it turns into a fishing rod.
Illusion gone, but you still don’t dare to leave the warmth of the bed and cross the room.
You turn the light back on and stare out from the willow-pattern duvet, head-rush from lavender fabric softener. First night in the single divan at Mum’s for eight years. The swagger of independence tripped by chintz and too-small furniture. Only the wardrobe with its Narnian proportions still impresses. That’s probably where they’re hiding now, laughing. You thought you’d got away, but they knew you’d be back.
Flick the switch. At least you have some friends left.
Emily and Isla entered the room, the same thin smile on their pale faces, piercing green eyes that questioned anyone who came too close. They kept themselves guarded, didn’t like intrusion, especially questions about their parents.
Polly braved the crowds to step forward, meeting their unfriendly eyes.
‘Yes.’ The twin said.
‘How’s your mother Isla?’ Polly said, her eyes flitting between the girls, unsure which one she was addressing.
They enjoyed the confusion, they made the switch earlier to confuse the partygoers, each trading clothes and makeup.
‘Fine.’ The girl replied. That would be the last time she’d answer a question tonight. She drank the liquid she knew she shouldn’t to be drinking, watched the horror on her family’s guests faces as she turned colour, the green oozing from her skin as the monster in her made her appearance. Emily stood watching her sister, a sick smile enjoying the show.
I drove with care on the narrow country roads. Stone walls each side to be avoided and fateful switch-back bends and turns as I climbed ever higher in the hills, to my secret trysting place.
Forcing my car ever forward I turned on the music and the dulcet tones of Cee-Loo Green lulled me into a quiet mood. Life was good.
Moonlight, reflecting on large rock boulders in small fields created a ghostly appearance and a large horse leaning over a gate caused me to startle as the glitter in his eyes, flashing like a warning light.
The tyres dragged on the road surface as I pulled the steering around turn after turn. I was in every sense a, long way from home.
At last, I saw the sign for Brookhaven Village. Easing the car back into second gear, I indicated left and pulled in to the Forest Inn.
The call came in at midnight, Irene recognised the number. Plaza 7520.
She connected the lines at the switch, inhaled sharply and pressed her front teeth gently into her bottom lip (to ensure no noise escaped.)
He spoke softly at first, "Angie please let me see you , I can't handle this on my own!"
The woman didn't speak.
Irene could sense the tension building.
"For gods sake Angie, I did it for us, why won't you see me ?"The desperate aching in his voice surprised Irene, torment and love in equal measure.
The woman spoke, maternal and monotone.
" Try to keep calm Gerry , the court case will be over soon, it'll all be over soon!"
Irene had only worked at the exchange for four weeks, on the night shift. But she had heard enough from those midnight calls to recognise that Gerry and Angie were entangled in something illicit .
I looked at the traffic light, the sign said: 'Don't walk.'
While I could switch my place with a colleague's, I didn't want to do this. Things might have been easier for me, but I decided against that.
To be honest, I had to face Matthew, even though I despised him. He was the reason for the slow death of our department, yet he got no punishment for that.
My coworkers liked him, though, he managed to convince everyone he knew his stuff despite him being a massive bluff.
Then again, I should have forgiven him, so I decided to go to a party instead of my associate, where I would meet Matthew. I stood across the gathering.
I looked at the traffic light, the sign said: 'Walk.'
I didn't move.
Mary used to wish Trevor would have an affair so she would have a real reason to leave him. A reason more socially acceptable than, ‘He asked if we could switch bed sides in 1973 so I could get to the baby quicker at night. He said we’d switch back when she was older, but he never would.’
It sounded trivial when said out loud, but to Mary it symbolised everything that was wrong with their marriage, and she never forgave him for it.
When Trevor finally died, Mary realised that she could never truly reclaim the side of the mattress that was once hers, for it had become Trevor’s. His imprint was indelible, in mind as well as in the deep depression his body had left behind.
There was only one thing Mary could do. She adopted an Alsatian called Reg and let him sleep there instead.
Dead Horses Beaten
My birth father left me a leather switch, the kind used for striking livestock. I think he used it on my grandfather's ranch.
When I'm simmering at him for moving out me and my dad--us alone, without partner or genetic parent--I think it's a horrible heirloom. Is that brick-red discoloration on the leather knots dried blood from a broken animal? What meaning is in the switch?
Other days, I'm angrier with our big city neighbors, those nosy no-goods tsking at Dad when he goes out to date, an ordeal with enough drama on the San Antonio singles scene. Those flaring hot days are when I hold the switch tight in my fist, tensing against the useless judgement of near strangers. I relax as the switch raises over my head, then I take in the snapping force of its fall.
It helps to stop thinking about them.
I pack my beautiful cake into a tin and carefully place that in my bag. No one bakes a better cake than me. Raincoat on, hood up, out I go to do my good deed of the day. Through the rain, dodging the spray from cars, it only takes me a few minutes to reach Daisy's door. Ring the bell. Wait. Knock on the door. Nothing. I begin to think something must be wrong. I switch the bag to my other hand, take my phone from my pocket and text.
-Hi Daisy! Just popped round with one of my specials! xxx smiley face.
A reply pops onto my screen.
-Please go away Polly. Just go away.
So I think sod you, click on a photo and press send. It's one I took of her husband asleep in my bed. The sweet smell of adultery and carrot cake.
A deer crossing
Brian shuffled in the door an IV pole dragged behind. His best friend was lying motionless in a bed. The sound of the respirator filled the room. The beep of the heart monitor was a constant reminder of life.
It was three weeks ago, Jim asked to switch places. Brian was driving, and they slide over each other. The self-driving car was in control.
The 1000-pound deer came out of nowhere. The car flipped three times and landed upside down.
Brian had three surgeries with various pins and braces placed in his body. Jim just laid there. The nurse said that the latest scans showed no brain activity. Jim was dead, but his heart still pumped.
“It is fortunate for you. Jim is an organ donor. We have scheduled you for a kidney transplant tomorrow.” The nurse said matter of fact.
Brian wished that they could switch places.
Upside-down day on the tundra
It was upside-down day on the tundra, and the wolves got to ride in the sledge. They hunched in their pelts, pretending they were fur-coats (fun furs, of course: these wolves knew their Animal Rights) and pretending they had elegant leisurewear beneath, not scrawny wolf bodies.
One wolf barked “Mush!” But the huskies, half-wolf themselves, saw through that, and sat stubbornly in the snow. They never got to switch, never got to circle menacingly under the trees and never got to ride in the sledge either, on Upside-Down Day or any other time. “Pigs in the Middle, that’s us, er Dogs in the Middle”, thought one of the brighter huskies.
Meanwhile, the hunters skulked under the trees, howling, trying to make their eyes glint like angry coals in the gloom, but managing only a constipated squint. Some cursed; others regretted not spending more of their formative years on all fours.
My son believed his sister should keep out of his room. Deterrents progressed from mounted water pistols to jets triggered by a wall switch.
That wall gradually filled with switches to angle his TV, relay messages and operate robotic arms. When he and his inventions moved in with a girlfriend, a single switch remained amid clusters of screw holes.
Peter's practical skills weren't inherited. His father's attempt to fix a ceiling light flung him from his ladder to the bottom of the stairwell.
Our family-sized house lingered unsold until a lovely lady viewed as advance scout for her son whose family was returning from America. She loved the high ceilings and the original fireplaces, yet was impressed by the electric blinds. I anticipated an offer.
In Peter's room, I explained the unfilled holes: 'My son took his gizmos when he left.'
She reached out.
'And what does this switch do?'
Men in Slacks
He was there when I flicked on the light switch. Sitting silently at my kitchen table in a neat black suit. Two-button Nehru. Matching fedora. Very distinctive. I slipped into the chair opposite. He pushed sliding rimless sunglasses back unto his nose. He had no ears.
“We’ve been watching you, Mr. Shapiro,” he smiled, a lipless smile to match the featureless face.
“Oh?” I reach to rub his cuff between two fingers, “First, I gotta ask: where did you get this suit? Italian?”
“You’ve been making certain inquiries...”
“...is that seersucker...?”
“...into things you ought not...”
“I’ve gotta see the inside label. Do you mind...?”
“Ugh. Forget it.”
He frowns and opens the breast and I look in. There’s a flash.
I find myself hours later, sprawled across the linoleum, alone.
And now, I am out looking for answers, every night in the garment district.
The suit is out there.
Is Forever Long Enough?
I awoke disoriented. My eyes were full of sleep. I pushed myself upwards to sitting position and forced my eyelids apart. I could make out two things. My dreamcatcher was missing, and I was not alone. He was leaning over on the edge of the bed with his head in his hands. I felt my heart drop as anxiety filled my body. The whole scene was déjà vu.
I remembered discovering him last night at ‘Jo-Jo’s Bar’. Seven years since I’d seen him. Such a switch, he was strong and healthy now.
When we split, he was entering a rehab' centre in the country and I was starting a new job in the city. We had cried our final farewell, knowing to survive, this was crucial.
He turned putting his finger to my lips: “Don’t speak Hannah,” he said, “I know we parted forever, but forever is gone.”
One Look Changed Everything
One day she looked at me. She looked at me with a horrifying amount of fear in her eyes and I was heartbroken. She was scared of me, the only person I could still retain a shred of affection for was scared of me.
I struggled to ascertain which element of the look in her eyes pierced my soul the most; the fact she now feared me, the fact that I’d become a person she warranted fearing or the fact that her eyes were still the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my life. The simple switch between love and fear was the most agonising thing I ever had the misfortune of bearing witness to.
All I yearned for in my life was for her to return to trusting me, one stupid mistake changed everything forever. I can never take back my mistakes, neither can she her fear.
Press Button Now
“…and as this is the first Capital Sentence since the Death Penalty was reintroduced two years ago, you have been selected to witness and participate in this historic occasion. Turner’s guilt was established beyond doubt, as was the heinousness of his crime, so feel no guilt at performing your duty. When we proceed to the Ops Centre, you will be assigned a seat. You will witness Turner being conducted to the chamber and prepared for the Chair. The countdown will be displayed and you will be instructed to press your button. The computer will switch a relay at random so that only one button will activate the current. Reassure yourself of this uncertainty. Now, let us proceed…”
I sit at my desk, finger poised, a hooded and bound killer facing me, a cold red button before me.
The clock counts down to zero.
The command illuminates.
“Press Button Now...”
“What Roberto didn’t tell you is that he managed to switch the DNA samples. He wanted to hide the truth from you.”
“The truth that I am, in fact…your father!”
The credits rolled and the theme tune started, the jaunty music reverberating around the apartment.
Joe looked at the man sitting in the easy chair, facing the television. The seated figure, overweight and dressed in food-stained clothing, had clearly expired. The eyes had rolled up into the sockets, the skin had a cold, pale aspect to it and frothy blood leaked from between the lips. Beside the chair was a small table, laden with pizza slices, crisps and beer cans.
Joe sighed - an ignominious end to a wasted life. He took one last look at that familiar face before turning away, an inescapable summoning calling him to the next stage of his existence.
Broken skies, broken minds
To those sane few who wonder how the sky broke and how they came in.
I did this.
They promised me wealth and they promised me love.
If I promised to do whatever they asked.
They delivered money and then, a family.
Years passed, I thought they had forgotten.
They gave me a simple instruction that I couldn’t question.
I left my family with a promise.
I never questioned. Even as I flicked the switch, I never questioned.
The sound the sky made as it shattered made me question.
Now my wealth is worthless
And my love,
Point of Irritation
‘So much for Spring’ thought Maggie watching the snow swirl outside her window.
Falling steadily since she arose at daybreak it now covered everything with a thick luxurious carpet. Beautiful to behold but she didn’t relish driving in these conditions, snow cascading in front of inadequate wipers onto roads with no edges. White on white always disorientated her, gave her a sense of floating upwards.
‘No hillwalking now’ she sighed.
Resigned to a change of plan she settled down with the crossword.
‘Point of irritation’ she mused aloud as her husband commentated on the traffic slithering on the hill outside.
‘They’ll never get up there in this’
‘Mmmmm…. yes dear’ she absentmindedly responded whilst trying to focus on the clue.
‘Switch’ he exclaimed.
‘What? I’m trying to concentrate’.
‘Crossword answer - S.W. followed by ‘itch’!’
Harrumphing with annoyance she filled it in muttering ‘I know another point of irritation this morning’.
Gemma had raced off with my riding crop, again. It was her trick to snatch it from my hand as she galloped by, a beaming smile on her face. This time, I didn’t chase her. Not directly. I stopped and snatched a thin length of hazel from the edge of the copse and crossed over the brow of the hill, instead of following the well-worn, hoof scuffed track ahead. I would cut her off by the upper meadow, but it would be tight, so I spurred my mount on with a few flicks of the hazel switch and skittered down the far side just in time to meet her face to face. ‘You win,’ she laughed. ‘You’re a bigger cheat than me!’ Then we swapped horses for the race back to the farm.
The pain from the slugs wasn’t as great as I’d imagined. Those that hit the body armour, just felt like thuds. The stray shot that winged me, was like a burn, sharp but bearable.
Although I was ok, I followed the protocol and fell down to make the bad guys think they’d succeeded and flee the scene. The Feds would pick them up later. They’d go back home thinking that they’d taken out the POTUS. Maybe they’d have a party or switch on the news to relive what they thought they’d done. However, they hadn’t counted on the switch of cars and somebody with an uncanny resemblance to the main man.
As I lay there, on the sidewalk, I could look forward to the best of hospital care, a big fat compensation cheque, and the undying gratitude of my country.
Black cats are considered lucky in China, apparently. And turtles can breathe through their backsides. This I read on Google when searching for 'Anosmia' - quickly spelt out in full by my GP instead of writing it down like I asked. A-N-O-S-M-I-A. I put it in my phone. It means a complete or partial loss of smell. Great. Life is miserable enough when everything I eat has the sedimentary consistency of chalk in my mouth. Nothing said about the lemon size polyps clogging up my nasal passage, just a scribbled prescription for my inflamed sinuses. So when I flicked the switch in the hallway, gas had been whispering for hours until detonated with devastating consequences. A row of neighbours houses had to be demolished before they fell down. I was one of three air-lifted to hospital amid screaming sirens and flashing lights. Too early to speculate on cause, they said.
Laetitia's fifth birthday party took place at her grandmother's mansion - a pink and silver extravaganza of food, games and presents inside with a dark winter's evening pressing against the windows.
During a game of Pass the Parcel the lights flickered and died. All the little girls screamed and in the confusion that ensued nobody noticed the switch being made. When order was restored there was stunned silence before a rapid scramble to call the police.
The sound of a car engine cut across the grandmother's frantic cries. In Laetitia's chair was a blue eyed doll holding a ransom note.
Scarab's hands trembled as he resewed the seam of the stolen wallet. It was heavier now, with the explosive chip in its lining. Not too noticeable, he hoped, and exited the public toilet without washing his hands.
The red light over the door switched to green, and Renato emerged with the interviewer. They shook hands, and Renato strode toward the elevator. "Wait!" Scarab shouted after him, waving the wallet. "Did you lose this?"
"No..." Renato patted his back pocket and frowned. "Maybe!" He accepted the wallet and opened it to see his ID mugshot. "Where was it?" "Toilet," yelled Scarab over his shoulder as he pushed the heavy exit door. It slammed behind him. A muffled rumble followed before he reached his car, and the pavement shook slightly.
One less lying politician. True leaders were those born to lead, Scarab reminded himself, and set the autodrive for the palace.
Sarah was known for her efficiency in how she ran the office admin. No fuss, no drama; strict rules around deadlines and submission dates. Sarah’s rules. Some colleagues feared her, but I took more notice of her sweet smile and those wide, almond shaped, green eyes. I still made sure my paperwork was up to date though.
Socially? It was like flicking a switch. At a works night out, people saw her other side as she let down her beautiful blonde hair. Dancing up a storm and the star of the karaoke. Like two different people.
Professionally? I admired and respected her. Personally? I came to love and adore her. I got the last dance at that work’s do. That was twelve years ago, and we’ve been a couple ever since.
She’s never changed. Runs the household the way she ran the office.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Temptation is my sole purpose in life, or rather I should say: your life. There is usually a point reached in life when you desire fervently to sell all that you have to obtain your heart's desire. On such occasions, it is my job to be there on hand to negotiate a deal with you. When I appear, like flicking on a light switch, you usually recognise me because you've been familiar with my voice all your life, and you treat me like a long-lost relative whose face you seem to have forgotten. But that feeling passes quickly because you know deep down that I've always been there. Watching over you. Waiting for this moment. So you accept your fate, because who can resist what they desire most? And then, with one flourish of a pen, the blood still wet, you will fall. Just like the countless billions before you.
Things that go Hump in the Night
The ghosts are still going strong. They've been at it for hours now. Days. An endless chorus of moans following Flora around the flat as they switch positions again. And again.
Ooooooooohhhh, yes, yes, Samantha. Right there. Yes.
It's like the soundtrack to some tacky porno film. At least, Flora imagines that's what porn sounds like. The Adult Channel was Robert's thing, not hers. And Samantha (a.k.a. Ex-Best Friend, a.k.a. Bitch Face) - it turns out she was Robert's thing too.
Ooooooooohh, yes Robert. Harder. Harder.
"Shut up!" Flora stands in the bloodstained bedroom doorway, screaming at the pair of them. "Shut up, or I'll shoot you all over again."
Paragraphs Two and Three of Page Twenty-One from the Handbook
Of course, in addition to the temperament of the mother, that of the siring father is crucial.
Meanwhile, colourings and markings of the parents – whilst important – are secondary considerations compared with the purity of their respective bloodlines. It is not uncommon for falsehoods to be unearthed only once questions of medical backgrounds arise. We reiterate: research, research, research! (See Chapter 3: Putting Backgrounds in the Foreground and Chapter 7: Splicing Through Gene Technologies). In the interests of those who carry out The Practice in line with due process, if it is not possible to obtain a background check into either line – maternal (less likely) or paternal (more likely) – we strongly dissuade Prospective Switchers from The Practice of Switching Children.
The price of loss
By the tenth message, I knew she wasn’t going to respond. At 11.05pm she opened it, and, I assumed read it. Like the others before, my message was a plea; why?
Why won’t you talk to me?
My eyes closed to catch the tears, but they rolled down my cheeks too fast. Inside, my stomach felt like it was filling with cement and I swallowed hard, trying to keep an airway clear. I thought to myself this is what it must feel like to drown. I knew I jeopardised a lot telling you I thought you were an alcoholic. I realised you’d be hurt, in denial. I just didn’t realise I risked us. As if you had some switch to flick to un/family me, you carved me from your life, cutting me deeply in the process. I had to accept I wouldn’t write the eleventh message.
A tall well-dressed young man stood at the front door. He was about 19, short blond hair and gleaming teeth. He flashed his ID. "How much are you paying for your energy, sir?" I made evasive noises and started to close the door. My wife appeared behind me before he disappeared.
"Eco-friendly" he threw out, "green energy". We both hesitated. Phrases leached of meaning through overuse, and yet....
He turned out to be Dutch. Despite his almost perfect delivery, he spoke so fast I could barely keep up. 5 minutes later we had switched to "a new breed of energy supplier" and were looking forward to telling our eco-conscious daughter.
"Guess what, Jess? We've gone green."
"Which supplier?" she asked. "Not Green Light?". I swallowed. "Please don't tell me you gave them your bank details?"
“Run, you bastard!”
And he does run, blood drooling. The crowd has chased him for three blocks. Rocks were flung, bottles smashed. One seems to have a cricket bat.
“We’ll teach you to cuckold us. You won’t be pretty when we are done.”
Don’t you mean you’ll teach me not to cuckold you? he thinks. It isn’t my looks that draw your wives. Your stupidity repels them. His legs burn. He pushes them harder.
The brick street is suddenly paved. He feels an ounce of hope. This is the switch, edge of their neighborhood, an ethnic divide.
He slows, stops, hands on knees.
“Bastard.” Blood flecks his forearm. “Bastard?” He gathers himself. “Have you no forgiveness in your souls? No love?”
A rock skips past. Another whizzes his ear.
“Run, bastard,” he wheezes. “Is this what you will tell the children nine months from now?”
All aboard the yellow bus
The Number Five is blue. Always blue. To go home I get the blue bus with Number Five on it. Otherwise I get lost.
Blue. And Five. That's how I know. That's how I'm safe.
Sue wrote Blue Number Five on a piece of paper and slipped it in with my bus pass. So I won't get lost.
A yellow bus pulls up at my stop. The number of it is Five. That's not right. Is it my bus or isn't it? What do I do?
I put one foot on the step. The driver winks at me. He says 'All aboard that's coming aboard!'
I don't know what to do.
'You're yellow,' I say.
'They switched buses. Mine broke down.'
I put my foot back on the pavement.
'Come on, love. You know me, yeah?'
And I do know him. So I get on the bus.
The Heist Gone Awry
It should've been easy.
Months of planning to ensure our success.
We understood the risks involved, but like so many thieves, we never questioned that we may get caught.
It had to be at night when it would go unnoticed.
We carefully snuck in the shadows of his room. The moonlight was the only witness to our deceit. We inched near his bed and saw the priceless relic tightly enveloped in his grasp while he slept.
No words between us. He was a light sleeper, but our eyes told of what needed to be done. Slowly, I uncurled his fingers and made the switch before he awoke.
Sneaking from his room, we both took a deep breath. The prized object in our hands!
“Do you think he’ll know the difference?” I whispered.
“Nah.” My husband shook his head.
“Mama, where's Mr. Bear? This isn't Mr. Bear!”
The Perfect Wife
I'd fallen for the ol' bait and switch.
She was the perfect woman, right up to the wedding night... whereupon she immediately turned into the wife from hell.
My attorney told me I was screwed. No prenup, and from all outward appearances she was still the perfect wife.
I hung on, hoping things would change, but no luck.
Finally, desperation drove me to madness. In the back of a local militia magazine I found an ad for a "helper".
The arrangements were handled over burner phones. When the night arrived, I arranged to be miles away with lots of witnesses.
I went home later, expecting to find my wife in a pool of blood. Instead, I found a man holding a gun pointed in my direction.
He looked at me, grinned sheepishly, and said "You can't expect me to kill my own sister, now, can you? Besides, she pays better."
Up and at it!
A chirpy voice jolted Byron out of a freaky, but enjoyable, sexual dream. As digital radio waves forced him awake, he cried, then faced the nightmare of ridicule and sexual frustration that is his life.
“Fuck that fucking alarm.”
Byron leaned out of bed, and through gummy eyes tried to switch channels on the radio alarm, just as an awful polyphonic version of the nutcracker suite drilled into his mind. Confused by the noise, he frantically pressed all the buttons on his phone.
A dangerous silence allowed his sub-conscience to revisit the best moments of his dream, until inane music deprived him of that one last snooze.Re-entering the waking state, the pins and needles Byron experienced in his left hand wandered off to a quieter place within his body, and he thought to himself.
Oh, bother, I did it again.
Mariusz sat down at the oak table in the kitchen. Katie had already poured the wine & set various food items at their place sittings & waffled incessantly about one thing or another, volleying topics around at 100mph. She seemed nervous he observed. Stretching out his legs under the table awaiting to be fed like a fat cuckoo Mariusz looked at the 2 glasses of wine & decided to switch them. Her's was rather more full than his, he took a sly gulp & set it down, now they both had now the same amount. Katie set down their main course plates glugging the majority of her glass of wine before sitting. In no time at all she floundered, falling from chair & convulsing horribly on the tiled floor like a newly caught fish. Trying to poison his wine, they'd only been married 3 weeks. The woman was beyond reproach. Money could make one do terrible things.
Cuckoo in the Nest
A tiny figure, still and quiet, sleeps beside its mother. Replete, warm and restful after a traumatic entry into the world. But when the tiny bundle fails to wake to feed, a heinous crime is discovered: a doll, like a swaddled cuckoo, has invaded the nest; its rightful nestling snatched away in the dead of night.
No-one notices the switch, until the alarm is raised. Then, a young mother’s frantic sobs echo into the night; a female officer reassures; a bereft father’s frustration turns to anger and an empty cot is quietly wheeled from the sorrowful scene.The demented mother of a stillborn son left the hospital that night, cradling her substitute baby in her arms.
By Midday the baby is returned to its mother. Acutely aware of the torment of separation, she strives to forgive. The women talk quietly as the childless mother gently cradles the baby once more.
Why not switch today?
The Department of Welfare Offspring Switch Service makes the process of renewing your dependants both simple and stress-free.
Furthermore, the Offspring Switch Guarantee means that the government’s state-of-the-art reassignment facility will not only take care of underperforming children, but also their personal possessions and existing subscriptions to extra-curricular activities.
We care, so you don’t have to!
_ I have two children of average intelligence - may I swap for a single, higher-performing model?
Yes, although exchange rates are dynamic and past performance is no guide to the future.
_My child is pursuing a costly and academically worthless degree - is he covered by the scheme?
Regrettably, the scheme only covers under-18s.
_I’ve always wanted a child that can play the piano, can this be arranged?
Certainly - our catalogues are full of once-loved, now-regretted middle class stock.
NOTE: Your lifestyle is at risk if you do not keep up repayments.
Tossing and Turning Things Over
Lying in bed, unable to switch off, Lucy conjured up diamonds and flung them in to the sky. She imagined herself floating above the world, plucking dreams from lucky dreamers and using them to build a palace in star-shaped holes. There she would lie down and sleep and all the cares of the day would melt away; her body would reform, rejuvenate and heal itself. But the mind, that clattering ram of worry, would not be quietened, so she tossed and turned until exhausted.
Her pillow, soaked with exertion, lay limp and uncomfortable beneath her. She threw it across the room. Glistening in stuffy, humid air, droplets of perspiration and tears looked like precious stones in the moonlit night.
Lucy conjured up diamonds.
Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.
Tiptoe down the street, staring at your leather shoes with the silver buckle. Ignore them pinching your toes; last thing Mum needs is to take you shopping. Last time she saw the doctor, he said the lumps had shrunk. Good girl.
Step on a line, break your father’s spine.
Write, ‘I will listen in lessons,’ 100 times. Dad waits outside, fingers drumming the wheel. Finally, Miss lets you go. Dad sighs as you scramble into the car. Bad girl.
Step on a hole, break your mother’s sugar bowl.
The dish shatters on the tiles. Mum declines quickly. You fail to glue the pieces back together. Useless girl.
Step on a nail, you’ll put your dad in jail.
Chew your nails to blood. Flick the light switch seven times. That was her lucky number. Dad evil-eyes you over his whiskey tumbler. Crazy girl.
Lucy took a deep breath and entered the jewellers. Karen was already inside.
‘I’d like to sell this ring,’ Lucy placed the sparkling diamond on the counter.
The jeweller raised a questioning eyebrow, and then examined the high quality ring.
‘He didn’t want it back,’ Lucy said, quietly stifling a sob.
The jeweller nodded, he’d experienced this sort of situation before, and felt sympathy for the sad, attractive young woman, standing in front of his counter.
A clatter from his left distracted him for a moment, and he looked to where Karen had dropped something on the floor.
The switch happened like lightening and by the time the jeweller turned his attention back to Lucy an identical, but worthless, replica ring was on the counter.
The jeweller handed Lucy an envelope containing a large number of notes.
Thanking him Lucy left the shop, and grinning walked briskly away with Karen.
We're in bed with his bicycle, him and me. He says his bed's a kingsize so I guess it
must be a king like Henry the Eighth as it takes up the whole room. When night
falls, he hoists the bike into the middle and I clamber across. They settle in quickly,
but I just lie there trying to avoid his juddering kicks. The bike's carbon handlebars
jab me in the belly so I switch positions. I roll onto my back and stare up at the
moon. Before long, rain is hammering on the skylight, yet his bike remains there,
proud and calm, its glossy frame smooth and immaculate as a show horse.
Surprising how many there were. An array of colours and logos secreting an even wider array of misinformation. His heart still beat a little faster when these moments presented themselves. Today was no different except for the sadness. He’d got too close. He had to end it. Walk away with no coming back. He picked up the navy blue one. Switching identities was chicken-feed. Twenty-five years of ‘no emotional ties’ ingrained in his psyche was harder to reconcile.
Alice waited in the queue, her lips pursed.
'Next.' called the advisor.
'I'd like a refund.' said Alice, her brow furrowed.
'No problem madam, and may I ask why?'
'This was not what I expected.' she said.
The advisor scanned the barcode and sighed. 'I'm afraid the 30 day refund deadline has expired.'
Alice shouted obscenities at the advisor informing him where to stick each one of those 30 days.
'I could, however, offer you a switch, free of charge of course.' the advisor smiled, he was used to rude customers but this one was one of the worst.
'Fine, but do it quickly.' she muttered.
The advisor scanned the barcode again and pressed a big red button.
'This is so much better my dear esteemed sir. I shall be eternally grateful.' Alice gave him a radiant smile. 'That other personality was utter rubbish.'
An electric embrace
As he took her into the unexpected embrace, her cheek brushed against his and it was warm and soft like velvet in the afternoon sunshine.
He was much younger and reminded her of a big, muscular dog, a Labrador maybe, playful and endearing and always happy to see her.
He had large, chocolate eyes too which were deep and bright such that when she tuned into his gaze, she felt like she was tumbling happily into an electric netherworld.
His voice was deep and accented and his English a little broken but he was full of life and dreams and flicked a switch in her.
Tattoos were normally such a turn-off for Elena but his seemed part of him. They added to the air of gentle masculinity, virility he exuded through every pore.
But Elena was old and to think about him in this way was unnatural or was it?
I hadn't expected to be sent back down the tunnel, but obviously things had changed politically. The government had been to-ing and fro-ing for months now and it was obvious that some change was anticipated.
It had been many years since I had last descended, when the threat of the Cold War had passed and we had been tasked with removing the old WW2 equipment; tins of corned beef, condensed milk and rough military style blankets from rusty old iron bunks. We had disabled, though not dismantled, the electrical instrumentation, air purification system and telephone switch.
Who could have imagined that thirty years later the country would be under attack again? Not a foreign enemy this time, but rather a domestic insurgency.
As I began my ascent the ambiguity of the situation hit me; that despite my input, I would not be among those invited underground, should hostilities commence.
If only they’d each been content with their lot.
If only he hadn’t told her in the first place.
If only she hadn’t bothered to listen.
If only he hadn’t offered her a drink.
If only she’d said, ‘No thanks.’
If only he hadn’t made the suggestion to switch.
If only she hadn’t agreed.
If only the weather had been fine.
If only she’d had her brakes checked.
If only he hadn’t been on the phone.
If only it was still Wednesday.
Would you rather eat or have a cuddle…?
She entered the room silently and switched on the TV; a low, disembodied voice started to speak.
“When we are born, the first one of our senses available to us is the sense of touch. Even before we open our eyes, we can already feel a physical contact. Experiencing touch plays a vital role in our physical and psychological health throughout the rest of our lives.”
She looked down at the notes she had written yesterday and then at the figure in the bed in the corner. The sheets made a rustling sound as he sat up and smiled at her.
“You OK?” he enquired.
“Yea.” she responded indifferently.
He looked up at the screen on the wall.
“You still watching that junk?” Then, not waiting for her to respond, he added, “I’m hungry. Let’s go get some food?”
“OK.” she replied. “You go ahead; I’ll catch up with you.”
Switch it for Anything Else
Fred pulled at the zip but it was stuck fast. “Damned thing!”
“Do you need any help in there, sir?” the female shop assistant asked.
“Er, no, I’m fine, thank you,” Fred whimpered.
“If you need me, please shout.”
Shouting was the last thing he felt like doing. He looked in the mirror and his heart sank.
He knew how much this outfit meant. If only he could get out of the thing, switch it for anything else.
He tried again at the zip but the end flew off and hit the mirror.
“No!” he wailed as he realised he’d have to spend the rest of the day in this red and black basque.
He pulled off the tag so the assistant could scan it at the till, then as he put his business suit back on over it, he vowed never to shop for underwear for his wife again.
It'd been coming for years. Once, he'd put our holiday money on an outsider at Aintree. He didn't smoke or drink, would never raise a hand to me, or anyone else. But, when it came to the gee-gees (his stupid word) he was addicted, and a liar. His road to hell had been paved with one biggish win; £5,000, at the age of twenty. He must have chucked away ten times that, in the years since.
The re-po guys are coming tomorrow and, at last, I'm going. My plane ticket is booked for tonight. I'm heading for a new life as an English language teacher in Argentina. As far away from him and this humiliation as possible. He would be the last to go. I kiss his wet cheek,
'Don't forget, switch off the lights.'
My mobile rang after check-in. Our neighbour had found him, hanging in the darkness. Lights out.
His impatient weight switches from right Oxford to left as his eyes burn through me. Busying myself, I try to ignore his gaze lingering too long and burrowing into the back of my head. But when it wanders lower, I wish he'd go back and dig a little deeper, discover I'm not as oblivious and vulnerable as he desires.
I ache to throw his order on his tailored persona, but my training reflexively takes over. I hand him his tray and smile through the franchise motto wishing him well and that he patronize us again in our minimum wage exhibit.
”How was the week long meditation and yoga retreat? Was it everything you’d hoped it would be?”
”No description could ever do it justice! The intensity of the focus required, and the resulting relaxation, both surpassed, by far, anything I’d ever experienced before. I feel I’ve switched to an entirely new path, and taken the first steps on a long, amazing, rewarding journey. Now I’ve got the tools I need for all that lies ahead. I can’t possibly thank you enough. Your suggestion that I attend the retreat, and your generosity in paying for my registration, was the best gift you could have ever given me. Thank you!”
”You’re welcome. You know that I would do anything for you. What’s next?”
”I’ve got to simplify, to eliminate all the unnecessary clutter from my life. I’ll be moving out tomorrow.”
With thanks to all the writers who have made this issue possible.A.M. Lynn, AJ Fenton, Andrea Harman, Ashley, Bill Cox, Camilla Dietrich, Carl Palmer, Carol Leggatt, Cathy Cade, Ceinwen E Cariad Haydon, Charlie Hill, Christine Bigley, Christine Collinson, Christine Nedahl, Claudie Whitaker, Colin Alcock, Deanna Salser, Denise Chick, Don Fisher, Donna Frances Thomson, Doris Winn, Dylan J Burge, Edel Williams, EJ Stan, Elaine Mead, Ellen Kirkman, Emma De Vito, Farah Tiwana, Frank Trautman, Franklin E. E. Kelly, Gemma Callaghan, Hannah Whiteoak, Heather Nicholls, Henry Barnes, Ian Rushton, If Onyia, Isabel Flynn, Ivor Kite, Jacques Groen, Jane Cottle, Jemma Morriss, Jen Hall, Jennifer Moore, Jenny Woodhouse, Jessica Andreatta, Jody Kish, John Cooper, John Harkin, Joyce Ann Wheatley, Julie Bull, Justin Rulton, Kelly Bowyer, Leah Prior, Les Pedrick, Linda Dewhurst, Lisette wilkins, Louise, Louise Mangos, Lynda Kirby, M Murniati, M.K. Stewart, Maggie Rogers, Mahesh Nair, Malcolm Richardson, Mandy Thorley, Margaret Dickson, Margaret Gibbons, Marissa Hoffmann, Marlene Pitcher, Mary Thompson, Marzia Rahman, Michael Rumsey, Michelle Shore, Mitja Lovše, Moray McGowan, Morgen Bailey, Neill Johnstone, Nic Hale, Pat Mudge, Pongwut Ruji, Rebecca Field, Richard Kemp, RJD, Roger Marchant, Roppotucha Greenberg, Rory Dwane, Rowan, Ruth Sweeney, S. M. Clements, S.B. Borgersen, S.F. Katz, Sally Davies, Shirley Elizabeth, Simon Whild, Stan Sweeney, Stephen V. Ramey, Stephen Wright, Steve Recchia, Steven John, Steven O. Young Jr., Sue Johnson, Sue Johnston, Tashnim Rashid Tawsif, ThatCharlotte, Thomas Malloch, Vicky Price
17th April 2019