Welcome to our latest issue of Ad Hoc Fiction
Please feel free to vote for as many fictions as you like, but only one vote per piece will count. Come and go as you wish; your current page and preferences are all auto-saved. Ad Hoc Fiction is out every Wednesday and freely accepts submissions.
The highest voted writer wins free entry to Bath Flash Fiction Award.
Issue is loading: Please wait
Chews gum and leaves
I decided to give internet dating a go. After swotting up on the latest jargon; 4 x 2 (4 kids by 2 partners), Netflix and chill (modesty forbids), I swiped away until I’d found a suitable candidate. We met for drinks. I was relieved that he broadly resembled his photograph - this isn’t a given apparently - but I’ve never quite trusted a man who chews gum. “Before we start”, he said, “can you complete this please.” It was a questionnaire. “I find it saves a lot of time in the long run.” It started like a pop interview in Jackie (favourite food, favourite band, favourite TV programme) before taking a rather darker turn (health history, current medications, number of previous sexual partners). I hesitated. He handed me a pencil. I started writing. I returned the sheet to him. He read it, smiled - still chewing - reached for his jacket and left.
The others choose beach. Our leader starts us with forest anyway. We linger on needled pathways, sticky with confession. The others sigh for a restoration of sand to warm their soles. I squeeze tighter, hook a shard of jagged bark under my finger, begin to peel.
"You’re approaching the ocean," intones Claire, perforating imaginary soundscapes with the wet snatch of gum.
When the divers emerged with all their shaking of water and heads my mother was skewering her nails into my hand so hard I expected it to be bleeding. "Not your fault," she whispered later, but wouldn’t let me touch my brother’s precious whale-dinghy.
I cling to the forest’s dark corners. "You’re ready to return to your day," says Claire finally and I relax."Lovely," say the others. "Didn’t want to come back."I taste blood from the splinter I’ve been teasing under my chair seat."Lovely," I say.
There must be hundreds. Maybe even thousands in there. Yellow ones, red ones, blue, green and white ones. Bubble gum heaven. I only have ten tuppennies left though, that's only ten more of those colourful balls I can buy. Mum and dad say it's a waste of money but what do they know.
Tommy said he had one that changed colour as you sucked it and Sam had one that turned his tongue blue! Can you believe that? I want my tongue to go blue, then I can make Georgie scream and chase her round the campsite with it.
Maybe if I put them all in my mouth together I'll make a rainbow tongue. And blow rainbow coloured bubbles. That will be amazing!!
Mmmph... mmmph ... mmmm.
Georgie! Georgie, come here, I want to show you ... blaaahh.
"Eeeeeeeeek! Mummy he's sticking his tongue out at me!"
I'm stuck here on the pavement as if held down by a wodge of spat-up gum on the sole of my shoe. I can’t move. I don’t even try.
Red shines out in the crowd of greys and blacks. Business suits and briefcases. And that sheen of red hair cascading down her back as she crosses the street. Black, grey, black, white, black, white. Red. She’s gone over the zebra, is now doubling back towards me again, but the far side of the road. It is her. I’m sure of it.
She waves, recognising me. I wave back, a grin splits my face, shattering my frozen stance. Someone darts into the road from somewhere behind me, dodges traffic with random luck and the immortality of being in love, and sweeps her into his arms. I melt through the cracks in the paving and disappear like sand passing through time.
An Adhesive Armageddon
Hesitantly I open the gate, my fortune foretold, I know my fate. Gingerly my limb extends. One step is all it will take.
I gulp down the fear, brush away a meandering tear. An in-take of breath. I can waste no more time.
One swift motion, touchdown is complete, sunk into the gum that cements the street. The final stride and all is sealed, both feet wedged above the heel.
Monumentally, I glance up and down the avenue. We're all here, our roots encased but never to grow. Splendid willows we weep, glued to the street. A human forest of woe. Now we wait for or our knees to bow.
Sticks Nobody Wants
It's cold, almost barren, outside of a pub covered in snow.
You stand alone, observing a group of friends mingle in the distance—everyone quivering in their expensive wool pants and overcoats—passing around a couple of cigarettes. Your pack is held snug in your hand. You don't smoke, but you always carry one.
Recollections of some of your high-school classmates flood your head. You remember how they were known for offering gum to their peers, how cool they were, and how often you were excluded.
You wait until someone poses the question. After a while, you pull out a stick anyway. Light it, only for no one to come. No one asks. No one wishes to speak with you.
So you smoke to avoid appearing dumb. You nearly suffer frostbite, yearning to make friends. Just to depressingly recall that nobody wanted your sticks of gum either.
Perils of Paul
Paul popped another stick of chewing gum in his mouth while he sat at his desk waiting for his boss to decide whether to keep him or not. Yes, that was pretty stupid he admitted to himself. He never thought dating the boss's daughter could ever turn out to be anything but a positive thing for him and his career. But that was not the case. He was in line for a promotion to partner at the law firm he had been working at for the last four years. Getting Emily pregnant, apparently, was not the prudent thing to do. And how was he to know she was a virgin? He watched the HR manager coming toward him followed by a security officer and knew he had to dust off his curriculum vitae.
Oh man, she's blown it.
Straight in his face.
An elasticky, plasticky bubble of gum. Translucent pink and as big as a balloon.
Pop! There it goes, all over the lenses, clinging to the rim of his glasses but he so deserves it, doesn't he deserve it? For each low mark and report card, for every sarcastic comment and detention.
A smirk. A snigger. He can barely see her, this rule-breaking rebel in electric blue mascara and purple punch lipstick. Vicious heels. Sixteen with a swagger.
Except, she isn't and it doesn't happen. Of course it doesn't happen. She's shy, awkward, an 'average' student who's back at school merely to return her textbooks while he wishes her well for the future.
‘Ah, thanks Yvonne. And good luck.'
‘Yvette. It's Yvette.’
Five years, still invisible. Her cheeks redden and she can't get away fast enough.
The Wriggley Murders
The hardest case I've ever worked? The case of The Wriggley Murders.
They were ruthless and gruesome killings. Strange. That would be an accurate way to describe them. The crime scenes that is.
One piece of chewing gum in its packet left lonely on the floor. The one thing each scene had in common.
The packets were - peculiar. Not from around the area. Not purchasable on the internet.
The killer knew we'd never find them, making them more and more confident each time.
They nearly got away with it!
Desperately, we tried - day upon day, month upon month. To no avail.
But one day, a co-worker made the mistake of having bad breath, revealing their true identity (and a chewing gum packet, the one found at every crime scene)...
Geoff got into his car and wept.
He'd just left Amy's family.
He’d had been doing his volunteering for some time now, finding it hugely rewarding; a complete contrast from his job as a bouncer in a night club. He couldn't believe he was never going to see his brave little Amy again; she'd gone that night while he was busy ejecting paralytic party-goers off the premises.
He thought of the silly little girls who frequented the club , thinking they were so grown up; looking like tramps, everything hanging out, drinking themselves into oblivion, spitting their gum out on the pavement. He thought of Amy, of her mum, dad and siblings, all in mourning. He thought of his own daughter, suddenly wanting to hold her in his arms and never let her go.
Geoff put the key in the ignition and drove home to his family.
Sally loved exercising her jaws. Her friends named her 'Gum Dumb Sally'.
Once, Sally popped three bubble gum balls into her mouth when Mrs Jones was writing on the board. Pop! Pop! Pop! She began savouring her treasures when Mrs Jones swung round.
"Open your mouth!" demanded Mrs Jones, her thick spectacles perching on her witch-like nose.
An obedient girl, Sally did as she was told. Mrs Jones stared in disbelief. Nothing was inside her mouth!
She eyed Sally for the rest of the lesson but Sally did not move her mouth muscles.
After class, her classmates asked her,"How did you do it?"
"Well, I swallowed them!"
"What? You didn't!"
Sally winked and took out a lump of sticky gum from under her tongue.
From then on, her friends did not call her 'Gum Dumb Sally' but 'Gum Smart Sally'.
Mistakes x 3.14159
His daughters are marching in Parliament Square. Their banners say Global Warming’s Not Cool. They’re too young to imagine his motives, all he wants is to give them the world.
In the peace of his studio, the globe maker works to commission, preserving discerning men’s worlds. He inks in their gods and their jackals and paints them their yesterday’s coastlines. Truth, is a prime meridian, to which he gums petal-shaped segments of map. He prides himself on his precision, for mistakes would be multiplied by pi.
His girls put their trust in human instinct, they tell him don’t be afraid. But globe makers know about hemispheres, and he’s wise to the brain’s amygdala,- two almond shaped masses, there just for pleasure and fear.
He writes a secret message; Dear curious daughter’s of daughters, for a time when the world’s turned more than his days; Please keep this precious globe turning.
Nick lived behind a dormant volcano named for Hinerau, goddess of whirlwinds. Ōhinerau last erupted sixty thousand years ago.
I never met anyone as angry as Nick’s mum. She shouted all the time.
We used to escape up Ōhinerau with Nick’s Dad’s beer and cigarettes to a spot with a view over Auckland harbour, just on the lip of her shallow crater. Afterwards, we chewed gum to cover the smoke so we wouldn’t get a hiding.
Nick was a big fibber. He said, he bought marijuana from a dealer with an Uzi; and knew when his parents had sex because his Dad left his teeth in.
False teeth floated in a glass beside the basin whenever I stayed over. But once, the glass was empty.
Nick’s mum made us all blueberry pancakes the next morning.
'I think it's awful.'
Vincent, a Neil Gaiman and Bob Ross crossbreed, held his tongue. 'You don't like it?'
Simmons, pretentious to the last, pushed his glasses up his beak-like nose. 'I've said before that your work has no life, and this pistol is life's antithesis. And why name it Gum?'
The critic was alone at Vincent's exhibition. The five pieces hung silent in Vincent's thoughts. No breath of wind stirred their hair. This particular painting had been a month of work, all dealt a damning blow by someone that didn't paint.
'It's called Gun, sir. The painting is called Gun.'
The wrinkled eyes squinted. 'Ah yes. But I still...'
The gun in Vincent's hand flashed and the critic fell to the cold floor in a scarlet pool. Vincent took out his camera and snapped. 'Thank you for your comments, sir. This one will capture life perfectly.'
At fifteen she chewed gum and played truant for the classroom rebel until the siren song of a guitar player lured her away and music became her language. At university she floated in flowered dresses and quoted existential poetry for a boy who dangled unlit cigarettes between long slender fingers. For a man she sat in stadiums, chanting slogans and drank pints in leather jacket and denim. She is blonde, brunette, short haired and long. And now when she looks in the mirror she feels as if nothing is reflected back to her. With each new affair she seems to become a little less, a wisp of cloud twisting and turning in the breeze until one day she is gone.
Store Cupboard Essentials
Run out of wine? The poster made Sal smirk as she pushed in her token and wrenched free a trolley. Since when had wine become essential like cornflakes or toothpaste? She slung her jute bags in the trolley, unfolded her list and steered towards the veg. No, Sal was not one to be influenced by the wiles of marketeers. Item by needful item she made her way around the supermarket, her Fitbit doubtless recording an identical step count to the previous week. Two kilos of carrots, a bag of onions, an avocado...
Oak-effect flooring in the toiletries aisle momentarily transformed the antibacterial hand wash into a luxury item and Sal, suddenly feeling the need to pamper herself, selected a brand she hadn’t tried before. At the checkout she popped in some sugar-free gum - the handy triple pack meant she'd have one for each handbag.
The Dream Machine
The shiny, red square metal box is perfectly placed at the little peoples eye level.
The wee ones stop and stare through the thick, scratched glass at all of the little baubles inside the dream machine. Bracelets, little cars, bouncy balls and colorful gum balls mixed amidst other various trinkets.
Elfin hands grasp begged for change in sweaty fists.
A coin is entered in to the slot and the silver dial is turned agonizingly slow, while synchronously wishing with eyes and lips pressed shut tight, for that one special item that is now being jumbled back up in a new mixture of luck.
Clacking and bumping sounds are heard as the surprise makes its way into the eagerly awaiting grubby palm.
The Years of Living Vicariously
Lu places her gum behind her ear and kisses me. We embrace. There’s resignation in the act. Relief. Years of tension melting as we tussle in the back row.
I’ve dreamed that one day she’d want me. I’ve waited for a hug for bringing champagne to her dissertation. A kiss for feeding a stray dog for her. Acknowledgement for a picnic in Ville Platte, a perfect day.
I'm no longer dreaming. No longer an old-young man splattered by dreams and drink. Wandering the streets nights. Being invisible.
The snow and wind are terrible now, but we don’t notice the buffeting or the announcements or the scurrying people in the aisles. Everything’s a blur. To me people are just blobs in coats and hats.
We kiss. The 747 goes down fast over the bay, smoke fills the cabin.
I will ask her marry me if we get off this plane alive.
Like A Charm
"So, if you are Anthony's second youngest, doesn't that mean that you are…"
"The seventh son of a seventh son, yes. It has brought me nothing but bad luck."
"But doesn't that make you a wizard or something?"
"Yes, but it doesn't mean that I am a good wizard. When I was fourteen I used a spell to try to make a girl I liked, to want to kiss me. I turned myself into a frog, instead."
"Oh dear. That sounds horrible."
"My teachers gave me some enchanted, fruit-fly flavored chewing gum, to reverse the charm."
"It seems to have worked."
Runyard shrugged. From his mouth, a pink tongue unrolled and snagged a fly and two mosquitoes, before retracting. He suppressed a belch. "Yeah, like a charm."
Spearing the Mint
You can get into a mess mucking around with languages, at least orally. Yeah, we all know how to spell, but get this: my mate from Caracas tells me things are awful back home, and when he says it it sounds “Berry Vad”, although in his mother Spanish he has no problems. My Viennese friends can´t tell the difference between a tee and a dee, a gee and a kay, and a bee and a pee, so you can guess what can happen, and they do that bilingually. Me, it all started with trying to say the word mnemonic, and got me tangled up in my ems and ens. This got so bad that when I asked Mum for a Juicy Fruit, ok a Spearmint, she bundled me off for some gum control. But I saw through all that. Since when does the dentist take your fingerprints?
I sit, fork in hand, the voices I've known since birth droning... droning... droning...
Disappearing into quieter depths I seek respite from their torrent, straining to appear minimally attentive and cognizant. I note her watchful disapproval.
Between two lumpy spoonfuls of mashed potato she looks my way, setting off a rush of painful cortisol. I flush, her eternal surveillance a chronic concern. I’m the gum that sits undigested in the pit of her stomach. The hair stuck in the back of her throat. Her biggest mistake.
I’m propelled back to childhood when I sat here a daily captive, willing myself to melt away, rocking, wishing, hyperfocusing on inanimate objects as a means to vacate the space... myself... life...
The droning turns shrill; tsunamis rush my ears at 120 beats per second joining the cortisol pulses and the heat from the chandelier overhead threatens to incinerate me. Perhaps a welcome escape.
The cruelty of assigned seating cornered me against a wing. At her boarding, I feigned a nod of greeting, but acted astonished by the majesty not yet below while ignoring her struggle to store her luggage. She ultimately managed as I marveled at the baggage handlers' utter ennui beneath us and how the window's reflection divided the task and tedium between us in Row 23.
She took her seat with a smile and I attempted to reciprocate, lifting at least my ears. To my relief, she declined the unintended invitation to talk. Instead, she wordlessly proffered a piece of gum. I meant to dismiss the stick, but the sincerity in her eyes stalled my cynicism. Though I was heading in search of warmth, I knew no climate would match the kindness expressed in her almandine irises, so I cherished our conjoining by the margins of our armrests in Row 23.
Fairies in Kew Gardens
If I told you there were Fairies living in Kew Gardens, would you believe me? I’m guessing you wouldn’t. Fairies are woodland creatures, right? Playing and toying with the fortunes of other magical creatures like precious gems. They don’t exist, right?
They do exist. They exist in my head. That is what is important.
Fairies are my source of happiness. Of make-believe. My insistence and belief that they are real is what centres me. Grounds me. I stick to this belief like gum to a pavement. It’s firm, immovable, consistent.
Don’t laugh at me because I believe something that you don’t. You, after all, fight for things I don’t believe in. Do I ever laugh at you? No.
We are all unique to humanity and so are our imaginations. Our imaginations are beautiful, impish, unpredictable creatures. Capable of conjuring up anything, anything remotely magical. A bit like fairies. Right?
How to gift wrap with one pair of hands
You always used to do this. Nice and neat with a ribbon and tag, matching of course but, here I am. Paper sticking to the gum on my fingers, edges jagged from using the nail scissors. I don’t know where you kept the big ones.
The sticky tape burps as I pull and I cut it with my teeth, it hangs from my hands, twisting, trying to eat itself, cling on to something of its own. Well, it’s wrapped. A little lumpy at the corners. I’ve kept the receipt though, in the box next to the fruit bowl. I hope I got the right one, you know how it is.
Couldn’t manage a bow, need someone to hold down the ribbon, keep things steady. I write the tag but, there’s too much room with only one name at the bottom and my hand is shaking. The ink runs.
"By gum" said Mr Roland as he looked at his pocket watch. "He's late again. Has anyone seen Smythe today?"
"No sir" the class replied in unison. Blasted boy, ruins everything he was thinking, when the door flew open.
"Morning sir, sorry but you will never believe what happened."
"Aliens, Marauding Milkmen, The ladies Hockey team spotted you, kidnapped you and ravished you for your good looks?" said Roland.
"Well I met a lady."
"Wooh" said the class.
"An old lady who offered me a magic pill. Take this and you'll never worry about being fat again sir" said Smythe.
"Silence, You impudent boy, get out. Leave that thing on my desk." said Roland.
When the class was over it was just Roland and the pill. Maybe its my lucky day he thought as he swallowed the pill.
He never again worried about being fat, or anything else, ever.
The Unspoken Rules of Homelessness
"'Ere mate, got a fag?"
I look up and see auld Davey starin' at me. He grins, showin' his raw gums and yellow teeth. Where he still has teeth.
"Nah pal, sorry" I say and watch him shrug and hobble away. He'll be goin' tae his own patch. Unspoken rule of homelessness no. 1: Dinnae steal someone else's turf and always stay in yer own corner.
My arse is killin' me. I wiggle aboot to stop the numbness spreadin'. The newspaper underneath me is all wrinkled and dirty, but yeh can still make oot the swanky new hotel on the front. Looks posh. Looks nice.
Unspoken rule of homelessness no.2: Dream of the future. Gives yeh somethin' tae live for.
But it's hard like. Hard tae imagine a comfy bed and hot food and just a plain auld roof o'er yer heid.
I close my eyes and imagine anyway.
Clinging Onto Dad
You feel constantly nauseous. Control has been taken. Life has been messed with. This man, who may or may not have changed your nappies (but who cares?), now sometimes smells of piss and has lost his dentures. As he gums his sandwiches into submission your eyes wander the room. Heartbreak is living here like a tenant from hell that no one wants to deal with. Ashen, bereft faces are looking at the people they once made love to, or once suckled at the breast of, and they’re trying to process this new ‘normal’ that is anything but. When pudding comes, he returns briefly. He likes this, he remembers it. As he tastes the first spoonful he pulls his frail hand into a fist (Yes! Lovely!)and, by instinct, some cells at the core of you want to grab his finger with your own fist, cling tight and never let go.
The High Dive
The flag at the top of the ladder seems so small,as he climbs. His feet curl round each rung as if clinging to it.
“Don’t look down.”.
On the platform, he stands for a few moments to regain his balance..The little pool is a faint dark shape below. There goes the flame, rippling across the surface. Now it burns bright as a cauldron.
For a millisecond he is free. All anxiety lifted from his brain and weight from his body. Just that instant of joy, then a terrible urgency galvanises him; he turns a somersault and lands on his back in the shallow water.
The crowd roar and he swims to the rim. Standing at the poolside swathed in his sequinned robe he waves triumphantly to the crowd. The tight smile shows his gums and masks the grimace underneath. Just the eyes betray the terror within.
« So you stood and watched her drown, » C.I.D says.
After hours of interrogation, Sherlock gets personal. He’s after someone to blame, any irregularity to close the case. Look at him: scruffy, unshaven, chewing gum to hide the Grant’s. Mr Judge and Jury. There’s a hush as the air conditioning switches off.
«Nothing I could do.»
Her car spun off the road, sank in the river like concrete. I was behind. Pure chance. I demand a glass of water. Scruffy signals to whoever’s behind the one-way mirror.
«Must have been a pretty site.»
What’s he getting at? It was a peep show?
«There she is surrounded by water. Wet dress clinging to her breasts. Nipples stiff in expectation. Looking up at you, begging for it.»
My seat careers backwards. I eye-ball the fuzz. The glass with water flies off the table.
«I can’t…..…..goddam…..….swim…..…you idiot.»
She was going to die the moment I heard her name, whispered like a secret to the man on the front desk who had asked. I suppose she didn't want someone like me to hear it.
I was a cleaner for the hotel back then, looking for any way to make money. I'd heard her name before, somewhere, and that meant she had a value.
I put some feelers out, into that dark world known as the internet, and soon enough I got a response. A word from someone who was willing to make it well worth my trouble to see that her room was empty of her before it needed to be.
So, that night, once the deed was done, I washed my hands and sat back in her armchair. I peeled a stick of gum from her packet, and popped it into my mouth.
To beat one’s gums
I’m tired of my friend Harin, beating his gums about a new poem he wrote last night.
I am a gifted collar to an untapped genius.
As I didn’t want to get into the dislike of a nascent poet, I agreed to meet him as usual at the beach.
“She had the soul of a gipsy,
The heart of a hippie
The spirit of a fairy………
I pretend to listen to his rant, lying on the beach witnessing the glowing collision of the sky and ocean as the sun descended further down the seam of the sea. Bathing in the glory of a few bright streaks remained to signal heaven’s passing.
He sat beside me, with his notebook in his hands reading aloud his poems.
The sun cast down its bright rays succumbing to his irrational, silly heart.
On Being Just Another Number
Today I am a statistic. As of 9.36am, my body is no longer my own.
Over the coming days and weeks I will have monitors attached to my arms and chest, my head will be poked and prodded, swabs will be taken from the gum area beneath my upper lip. I will swallow tablets, while liquids with incomprehensible names are pumped through my bloodstream.
I will grow weak and my resilience will fall away. Nausea will overwhelm me much of the time and I’ll lose my hair. A sea of new faces will float before me, but my ailing memory will prevent me from putting a name to most of them.
All this is to be expected, the consultant told me at my appointment this morning. It’s par for the course, now that I’m one of the 9,000 people a year to be diagnosed with this particular form of cancer.
The Scent of Memories
The tree is tall and strong, dominating the ash and rowan nearby. I listen to the wind soughing through its elongated silvery green leaves. On hot days, always too few, its faint aroma helps my memory reach back six decades when I walked to school reciting the names: mallee; blue; stringybark; red bloodwood; shining; snow. One step for each gum I could remember until I ran out of names. Every evening my father taught me a new one so I could walk one named step further.
Arriving in cold, grey England I continued reciting the names to keep my native land alive. My classmates jeered but I didn’t care. They’d never known the sunny climate, the scent of eucalypts, the screech of galahs. We planted the first tree, a snow gum, to keep those memories alive and I’ve planted one for each of the five homes I’ve lived in since.
As long as it is free
Stella was my forever cash-strapped colleague; real or imagined I still don’t know. She was always making an excuse for free lunches or getting free rides. The first one to wish anyone on the team for their birthdays or work anniversaries, just so that she would be invited for a piece of cake.
She was of a nice temperament and was reasonably acceptable as a team worker too. Only thing one dreaded as she gave “that” look was “What will she ask for now”?
She would ask for help on projects to making life-changing decisions, as long as she got it for free.
The day of her farewell came. We had all pooled in and given her a basket full of goodies. Bye byes done, she couldn’t resist asking one last time; “Do you have gum”?
They used to put gum in her hair. It started in the fourth grade, when Linsey Popper spit it at her moments before the class picture was snapped. In the fifth grade a wad appeared as the band began its opening number, and a child in the front row loudly yelled “she’s got gum in her hair!”
It only got worse in sixth, where spitballs and ABC gum coated her head so often the others started calling her ‘Sticky.’
“The poor girl,” some adults said sadly. And, “children can be cruel,” and “someone should step in.” And they did try. But by the seventh grade gum decorated her locker, her coat, her books.
In the eight grade she shaved her head, and whispers of ‘bald creep’ floated in her wake.
In the ninth grade the other students found her final note behind the gym. It was sealed with gum.
"One date, and nothing more", I recalled what I said as I sat facing him, suddenly noticing he had more gum than teeth and I laughed at the thought mumbling a prayer of "God forgive me". I scanned the room wondering why the light had to be so dim, I would have preferred it if it was much brighter, the music was subtle, what a cliche, I couldn't wait for the night to end and looking at other couples, I knew I wasn't the only one. The lady in the table a few feet to our right looked as disinterested as I was as she busied herself with her phone, with the couple in front of us the man bit his nails and I imagined slapping his hand of his mouth, the evening couldn't have been more perfect.
The battered cardboard served him for warmth at night against the elements. During the day it became a plea for his survival. Scribbled words read, “PLEASE HELP! WILL WORK FOR FOOD.”
Only 21, some would stare at him in disgust. He was use to the assumption of others that lived in a world he could only dream of. No one saw the mental scars inflicted upon his body from the home he ran away from. It gave him the strength to stand at the corner, sign held high in a desperate attempt to turn his life around.
Looking at his worn shoes, the soles held together by chewed up gum; a stranger’s kind voice spoke. “I’ll see ya at my farm with some new shoes.” He scribbled his address down and gave the young man money.
Running to the store to buy new shoes, Billy felt a glimmer of hope.
Bertie’s Sweet Emporium
“Ah, Bertie’s!” exclaimed Jack, clutching the faded black and white photo. “That place was pure magic. Tiny little shop, it was. But it was stacked high with everything you can think of! Bonbons. Chocolates. Every flavour of chewing gum.”
He laughed. For a moment, his face looked decades younger than his eighty years.
”Might pop down there tomorrow. Can you take me?”
Alice forced a smile. She wiped her eye with the back of her hand, trying to make it look like the casual rubbing of an itch.
”Of course. I would love to go.”
She didn’t mind that he didn’t remember that Bertie’s closed thirty years ago after its owner died, and it was sweet he remembered everything it sold. It just seemed cruel he didn’t also remember he had a daughter.
”Remind me how I know you again, love? You look familiar!”
Oak, holly, cherry and sycamore- but no rubber
The trees were slashed with little cups to catch the gum. As Daphne was driven through the plantation , isolated saw mills flashed past. She was determined to take a piece of wood home to her brother, whose retirement had been transformed when he became a talented wood-turner. Her house boasts bud vases, nesting boxes,bowls and platters, candlesticks and model lighthouses. A string of graded beads lifts her neckline.
The log she was given sweated through layers of newspaper. Consternation at customs.
Two years later she is presented with two little boxes and an egg cup. One box goes to her travelling companion, the other to their guide. But the egg cup, with walls as thin as a snail's shell, brings her lost brother to the breakfast table every morning.
Early sunshine squeezes through the slatted blinds and patterns our duvet with the look of prison bars. Soon Lucas will wake, extend a tentacle-like arm and crush me in his embrace. If I squirm away, he spares my body and injects my mind: I’ve let myself go; I’m fat, unattractive. My parents never loved me. All this I know, because Lucas tells me. A hundred times each day.
Friends envy our perfect coupledom. They see a man, whose eye never wanders, glued to my side, refilling my glass before it’s empty. In his private view, I’m a lump of chewing gum trodden beneath his boot.
But I see the truth. He’s the limpet; I’m the rock. Lucas draws oxygen from my attachment. Now it’s waning, low tide will bring drought. If he clings on, he’ll suffocate. All this I know, because my parents do love me. They made me strong.
History Repeating Itself
The first album is quickly despatched – wedding photos, self-conscious honeymoon snaps. Without compunction, I chuck the lot. The next is more challenging: me pregnant, me glowing in sweaty exhaustion with our firstborn, us doting on tiny red-faced Alice.
Mum had simply ripped Dad out after he’d left for ‘a new job.’ She’d peeled each photograph off, while I watched uncomprehendingly. I’d spotted me with my parents and surreptitiously slipped the snap down my sock, then witnessed Dad erased from our lives.
I retrieved it nightly from under my mattress and told Dad about my day, peeling off persistent bits of Cow Gum till I rolled a comforting little ball. I lost it eventually but still have that photo.
I glance at Alice and leave the room. Hopefully she’ll filch a favourite picture, hold onto the loving memories as I did, understanding nothing of the fury and pain of her mother.
Decry from Afar
The place was the Colleges of Dreams; the hour, Nightfall. The alley went through some of the more lurid parts of the unconscious, but I was drawn to the things I might encounter. Sphinx or sex goddess, reflections of psyches I barely understood at the time.
On this occasion, though, there was only a man chewing gum, so obnoxiously that it was a distraction to the gun he produced from his coat. I wasn’t able to deduce the symbolism of the firearm, so I stopped. When he continued to unbutton his coat I assumed I had been caught in a power fantasy and he would demand I fellate him. Instead a child emerged from the folds. He put the pistol to the back of the child’s head and said, “Take him with you or I kill him here.”
There is still a part of me that lives in that alley.
I look in the mirror and let my hair fall. I cover one eye, cup my palm over its orbit, test myself. One eye’s enough to see, but two would be much better. I don’t employ a scarf, barrette, comb, elastic or leather band to tame my unruly waves; no chapel cap’s required. it’s not my way to read the smallest line.
Beyond the crumbling convent, beyond those who see what is not there, I embrace the dark. Behind the curtain of my veil, I admit impure thoughts and actions: I covet and steal trinkets - a tube of lipstick, a Mars bar, a pack of gum, a rhinestone ring, a crucifix! Within your confessional, on cushioned kneeler, I confess.
I desire absolution and come away wanting more. God does not demand abstinence but forgiveness. It’s in the fine print. I’ve returned and know your love for sinners.
A Slight Accident
The child's terrified screaming snatches her from slumber. Disorientated, she stumbles into the dining room, nearly treading on the tiny headless body lying just inside the door.
She gazes at it in horror: the Minton shepherdess figurine had been a present from her late husband and she loves it dearly. But she suspends her mourning at the sight of the tear-stained face of her grandson.
“I'm sorry, Nan. I just wanted to look at it, but it broke,” he says. “I tried to mend it, but ...” His voice trails off into sobs again as he holds out his right hand to her, his thumb and forefinger superglued firmly together.
“Don't worry, we'll soon have him sorted out,” says the ER nurse, smiling reassuringly at her. “It happens a lot.”
“Not in my day,” she sighs, as her memory conjures the smell of cow gum.
In school that day Mrs Arnold ran a slide show.. I was day dreaming about my plan when suddenly I caught the first part of a word and saw the picture of a gum tree.
.I’d had my own ‘gum’ tree since I was six or seven in the shape of a Copper Beech opposite Wrenton Hall. Every year I stuck a piece of gum at head height until In four years my marker was at the very top giving the perfect view of an amazing object sitting on a chair in the Hall’s ground floor study. Could I risk breaking in just to touch it, feel it, hold it?
But was that part word a warning telling me not to? I abandoned my plan.
Decades later I know Mrs. Arnold’s full word was Eucalyptus but I still think of her whenever I see or hear a Ukulele.
Old houses bring surprises on first sight - especially the garden. A rose arbor, a silver birch copse, a scribble bark gum - the loveliest Eucalypt.
We signed up happily, immediately and expectantly. The seasons brought joys - lemons for ices, apples for pies, plums for cobblers and grapes for attempts at wine.
My finger traces the loops and line writings on my tree. She tells her stories. Magpie carols, the family doings of tiny wrens, old Kookaburra’s latest news, and jokes. She explains the feel of her new growth, the joy of providing loving shelter to visitors. She bears graffiti from possums’ claws, but revels in their cuddles. Bliss is night with the masked owl’s whispers.
Evening mealtime, no-one is happy waiting when hungry. Monday morning, I sleep in as wont, and later, greet the day.
I did not know our love was through, until I saw - he’d felled my tree.
The Postage Stamp
Beryl enjoys watching healthy living videos on YouTube and regularly likes tweets by the weight management coach from the local group she attends every Thursday in the old church hall.
Beryl has been counting calories.
400 for breakfast, Stacia says you don’t need to eat like a king.
400 for lunch; lettuce, apple and broccoli salad leaves plenty of room for crisps, Stacia says texture is important.
400 for supper.
Sitting at her small desk one evening she is at a crossroads, her subscription for her weight management class is due, the postal form has already been filled in her neatest writing. The only stamp she can find is an old one, Queens head, red, gum backed. She will have to lick it and yet she knows the gum is ten calories.
Beryl has been counting calories and if she licks the stamp she’s over budget.
Our carnival’s haunted house was guarded by double doors. When each car was spat from the darkness back into the day, the doors swung open, briefly flooding everything with light. I heard from my peers that the doors were covered in decades’ worth of defiantly discarded chewing gum, visible for just a moment at the end of the ride.
I heard countless descriptions of the haunted house: grotesque mannequins, gory sound effects, checkered rooms filled with flashing lights. These images danced through my head each summer in the moments it took me to decide whether I wanted to go in. They danced still as I waited outside for my friends.
Years later, I finally mustered the courage to go inside, only to find that the ride had been remodeled. The gum graveyard was nowhere in sight, and my companions, much younger than I, hadn’t even thought to look for it.
There is gum on this wall.
It isn't new. It's been here for months, maybe years. There's lots of it, too. Old, dry, greying. There's too much to count, and no piece looks the same. Which is good, for me. For the game I play. One small piece to my left looks pinched about two thirds of the way down, squishing each side out into fans. I take out my marker and add lines from the edges towards the pinch: now there's a shell where the gum used to be. To my right there are two pieces together that look almost like they were put there on purpose. I smile and draw a hat on top, add a pointed nose and three buttons. It isn't Christmas but the snowman looks up at me anyway. I take the gum from my mouth, add it to the bottom, and leave him there for someone else to find.
“No gum in the school! ” they said . So I hid it. In the neck of my white polo neck jumper. To keep it for later. But it melted and my long, blonde hair was chopped short that evening.
My mum was VERY disappointed and there was no gum until "YOU’RE AT LEAST 25!”
But you can’t keep a chewer down (so said a girl called Violet) and the pavement was littered. So it was down there I went to peel off the flat, grey pieces that were rolled and rammed into my mouth for that pink forbidden candy hit.
My sister caught me once, mid peel:
“Are you going to eat that?” she said as she cycled past on her red bunny tricycle.
“That is puke.”
And off she rode, clattering down the pavement on her stabilisers, oblivious as my hubba bubba bubble burst.
Of Gum and Other Maladies
At the clinic, she noticed her right shoe seemed to stick. A smothering of Kleenex tussled with frantically stubborn greenish gum.
When her first client of the day entered only a few specks of sickly green remained on the sole. A dab of oil, talc and a toothpick would take care of the rest later.
"... I was telling you last time that the depression's like a mass of dark grey clouds that draws closer and closer..."
"...I thought I was better but the anxiety is back and its really bad..."
"I can't stop myself. I know its illogical, but I can't stop the thoughts, and when they start up I can't calm down..."
Behind her placid face and reassuring voice, uncertainties slowly - steadily - smoothly swam into consciousness.
If only human miseries were exorcised as easily as the gum shrouded in Kleenex in her bin.
She had one of those horse-like smiles. You know. All top gum and big teeth; yellow-brown stained from forty smokes a day. Her raucous laugh was a deep bellied witch’s cackle ending in a fit of curdled-phlegm coughing that rattled her chest like thimbles on an old washboard. If she came up close, you’d better duck away fast, or be unpleasantly sprayed. And the jokes? So obscene, the diatribe of filth, stomach churning – but she held you spellbound. Pale blue eyes peered from beneath impossibly lush false eyelashes, set in a pancake of over-rouged slap, as she strode her manly gait between tables and out on to the dance floor. A bottle blonde poured into a sequined dress so tight it thrust her boobs right into your face. And beware the man who heckled. It would be him, not his dinner, that was roasted.
A Common Misconception
At the AA meeting, she sat twiddling her hair. This was her first time and she was nervous. As was customary she was first to introduce herself and speak. The chairman nodded in encouragement.
“It started with a little pack.” she said. The faces around her nodded in empathy.
“A four pack?” A man to the right of her asked.
“No”, she answered, “there was at least twelve in it.”
A mutter of incomprehension fluttered around the room.
“Cider?” someone suggested.
“No, wine.” The room fell silent. “Well now I’m eating about two large packs a day. I feel sick all the time and I want to stop; that’s why I’m here. I can’t imagine all the wine I must be consuming. I really think I’m addicted.”
A wash of understanding passed over the chairman’s face. “Are you talking about wine gums?” He offered, and everyone started to smile.
You Were a Chief Gumster
To be a gumster you needed to dissolve a fruit gum in your mouth as slowly as possible. No sucking. No chewing. For an eight year old that was a challenge.
The one who lasted the longest became a Chief Gumster.
You’ve not seen a packet of fruit gums for sixty-five years. How they remind you of the old country, just looking at the wrapper brings back memories of the village, of the murder on the playing fields, of Unchained Melody playing over and over in your head.
You open the end of the roll. Hoping the first fruit gum is green, your favourite. It is. You are immediately taken back to childhood with that first taste.
You’ve no idea how you made one last so long as a child, for in five minutes you’ve chewed your way through the lot.
But the memories linger on.
"You don't mind, do you?' Judy said.
Two goldfish mouthed at me from their globular prison. I pushed the fish aside ready for my other daughter, Caroline to collect. Helping one another sticks families together I thought, forgetting that bubble gum can surprise you.
By breakfast the next day the fish had turned silver, and I was out of pocket by £2.
Caroline returned them two weeks later. She asked if they looked the same colour. The children had fed them tomato soup; she said offering me a sugar-free strip.
Over coffee, we contemplated Judy's kids' eyesight.
A Green and Pleasant Land
Flying high over fields defined by a spidery network of stone walls. Sheep grazing safely, untroubled by the drone. Lambs skip, oblivious to their fate, just happy to be alive, for now. A red van moves cautiously along a country lane; a postman, perhaps with messages from the ends of the Earth. Ee bah gum, this is the Yorkshire we love.
Norman emerged from the dentist's, his mouth still numb, and called in at the newsagent's. "Six second-class postage stamps, please," he said -- or attempted to say.
Norman noticed with some embarrassment that strands of saliva, of varying lengths and thicknesses, dribbled from his deadened lips onto the counter.
Next, he ventured into the electrical supplies store. Flicking his torpid tongue first across his frozen upper gum and then back along the equally-benumbed lower one, he managed to utter: "A 5ft fluorescent light fitting, please."
Norman arrived home to find that the new tube didn't fit so he returned to the shop and with difficulty said: "May I swap this 5ft fluorescent fitting for a four-footer."
He noted that his speech was slowly getting back to normal. So before he went home with the 4ft fluorescent fitting, Norman strode purposefully into the newsagent's and triumphantly purchased his six second-class stamps.
She didn’t see the chewing gum in the carpet until he was running out the door, late for school. “As soon as you get home, you clean it. You hear, Billy!” But he’d already hurdled the front gate and was halfway down the block, outrunning his mother’s voice. She made a mental note not to clean it, to teach him a lesson he seemed adamant not to learn.
Twice she nearly stood in it. The third time she was in the middle of getting a washing basket to place over the gum when she heard the knock at the door.
Three years later, John William is learning to crawl. His mother stops him, turns him round, moves the lounge across – to protect the spot in the carpet.
Roger stared at the white piece of paper. His homework was to write as many references relating to the word Gum that he could think of. There was a large bar of Toberone waiting on Mr Nichols desk for the winner.
He began to chew the end of his pencil. Even though he was in year five, he’d still not got his pen licence. Eventually he started scribbling. Gum tree. Chewing gum, and then he remembered the letter on the front of the fridge that was partially hidden by the large spider magnet. Underneath the word GUM, were words he didn’t really understand, but he copied them anyway.
Genitourinary Medicine. Clinic appointment; Tuesday 12th November at 1.30. Please bring fresh urine sample.
Despite writing in pencil, he just knew his teacher would be impressed.
She stands beneath a lamp post on the seafront. Her bleach blonde hair glows; a beacon in the dark. He zooms past, his Vespa roars; her outfit shouts like an advertising hoarding. One look is enough, he turns at the roundabout. She sees him slow, pulling up at the kerb.
She looks the other way, chewing frantically.
‘I said, alright darling?’
She eyes him up and down, his parka flaps open.
‘Wanna ride along the prom?’
Her weight shifts from one leg to the other. He eyes her up, her slender legs, the shortness of her miniskirt; her white stilettos.
She rolls her eyes to the night sky.
‘Nah, gimme a man on a motorbike.’
‘Bitch,’ he yells; revs the throttle, releases the clutch. She spits out her gum, it sticks to his helmet, he accelerates away.
'You're a gum, what are you?'
'And what is a gum?'
'A backwards mug'
'That's right, a backwards mug, that is what you are.'
The floor sticky with the lack of cleaning, the wall held me up. My face cold against the wall as I listened to the footsteps behind. Keeping schtum. Waiting for him to calm down. I counted spiders on the floor, three of them.
Swigging the beer down from the bottle he smashed his hand on the wall above my head. It was ok, that was ok.
'A backwards mug' he started laughing.
A good sign. He'll let me turn around in a minute. Let me make dinner for us both. If I'm lucky, it'll be ok and he'll have a little nip, to set him off to sleep. And I will get through the night.
earthquakes leave growing houses without roofs
It was the biggest earthquake imaginable.
Our roof melted away like a burnt out candle, the flame snuffed out. A stroke of bad luck. We live where earthquakes are rare.
The foundations stayed intact, so not all the walls fell. They were there, behind all of us, doing extra mothering without their roof. But it’s hard on their own.
Rebuilding our house is slow, and the weather is unpredictable. Two years on, there are unexplained tremors, and all progress goes. The roof is still off. We try to keep it stuck: from gum to cement, nothing. Still, we persevere.
We would do anything to have a roof, like other houses, having protection, insulation. I loved its funny old fashioned beams, but the memory grows hazy, and soon it’ll fade. Already has for my siblings.
Now, nothing fazes us. If our house falls, we won’t be surprised.
Bad weather is normal.
A Sticky Situation.
Tom, ensconced in his cell, contemplated the past five years. He had to admit that things could have been a lot worse. True, he had lost his freedom but, sometimes freedom was overrated. He had gained a roof over his head, food in his belly and more importantly an education.
He had no intention of ever finding himself in this position again however, and had spent the last six months setting up his new life on the outside. He wasn't going back, had already arranged to move to a completely different area.
There was no way that he would return to the place where someone might recall his ignominy. He could still picture the day that he had realised, here in the prison library, why the cashier had started laughing that day and hadn't taken his "I have a gum " note seriously. Now he was a qualified accountant.
Of Ants and Men
It was soft, sweet and smelly, everything a Queen could want. I worked for hours pulling and stretching it while the soldiers pretended they hadn't seen me. And them drones are just a waste of space, cuddling up to the Queen all the time.
The hard part was pulling it through the colony, with all those tunnels, twists and turns, but I made it.
'Here you are your majesty,' I said trying to kneel on all six legs while hanging on to the end of it.
She looked at me incredulously, as I tried my best to hand it to her. Then she smelt it and her feelers quivered, then she gripped it in her pincers and I let go, and then twang and whoosh she was gone down the tunnel's twists and turns.
All I heard her say was, 'it's gum, it's guuuuuum.'
I'm Awake Now
I'm awake now. It's been a long, cold night - floating around in a wet, stream of consciousness. In my dreams, I look for someone to devour.
It's not easy being me. Hiding beneath armoured skin. Though on the inside, chewy, like marshmallow that, melts between the teeth...drips from the gum...drips from the lips. Anyway, back to my dreams...
I swim off to find her. She's teasing me, leading me along murky streets. But I will wait. 'Cause I'm patient like that.
I'm awake now. My eyes peer above the waters. She's there. Softly chewing her forb as she strokes her long, lean leg. I move closer. (Smh) Too innocent to sense me. Halt! Her ears prick, breath stops. She...knows. It doesn't matter. One sudden surge - crack! It's done. That leg is mine; and so is she. Cantankerously screaming she's dragged underneath to a new world. Gator world.
On the Road
A handful of verdigrised coppers sits in the passenger drink holder of the central console with a single earring and your electronic gym wristband. A lipstick-rimmed Starbucks cup is wedged into yours – I guess Maybelline summer plum. The tangled lead of your ear buds is stuck between the seats. Boston is playing on the Bluetooth connection to your iPhone. A well-thumbed Jack Kerouac novel lies on the back seat. There is dog hair everywhere, even on the fluffy wine gum stuck to the rubber mat under your brake pedal. The faint smell of falafels is neutralized by your peppermint toothpaste breath when you laugh.
Your embarrassment is eclipsed by your curiosity. I know this, because you have stopped to give me a ride, and you are both excited and frightened about what you know is coming.
Shiny Little World
Maddie held up a dime and Robby a nickel. The lady behind the cash register kept the dime and gave the nickel to Maddie. They both received large gumballs, green for him and blue for her. Maddie said hers looked like a shiny little world. Then she popped it into her mouth. But Robby could care less; he cried hysterically, accusing his cousin of stealing his nickel.
Back in the car, Maddie explained to Aunty how the lady made change. "What're you saying? Get rid of that wad," Aunty said. After slowly spitting the gum into Aunty's hand, Maddie tried to speak again. But Robby screamed louder. Aunty shouted, "Give me his nickel. You should be ashamed."
At home, Father said, "It's better you learn now. The Auntys and Robbys get their way. Nothing we can do."
"Till everyone else on this world doesn't let them," Maddie said.
In Search of an Escape
I knew I was being followed when I slipped from the house that morning. I turned a corner and caught a whiff of her perfume. What could she want? I dared not contemplate the answer, not with memories of what we'd done so fresh in my mind.
I tried to lose her in the market, the sea of bodies making me claustrophobic. The crowd thinned, revealing brick walls. Damn, an alley. Maybe I can double back...
But I was out of luck; she was there already, blocking my exit. She's harder to get rid of than gum on my sole. "What do you want?"
"You were in a rush this morning, forgot your keys." They glinted in her hand. "Good job I slipped a tracker in your pocket, might've lost you otherwise."
Dread settled in my stomach as I realised this was a mistake I'd never leave behind.
What about this boy? He sits by the canal, swinging his bare feet just above the water. He has no fishing rod, no basket to carry. Has he no occupation other than chewing gum? He dodges out of the way of the barges as the pass, but the canal is not busy, so mostly he just sits and watches.
Look at me. Starched and pressed, leather shoes shining. I haul this heavy bag down the road so I can sit all day in my school room prison. Perhaps this boy could teach me? Not Geometry, not Latin grammar, but do I really need Latin grammar?
He could teach me to walk barefoot on the grass, how to creep along the hedgerow, how to avoid those who would tell me how to live, how how to be still when everyone else is dashing about, I should like to learn that.
On the day Layla woke up with chewing gum in her hair, she decided to change three things in her life. As she cut the sticky mess from her dark curls, she was determined to tell her son Jack he'd spent three months playing computer games. He was nineteen - time he got a job.
Secondly, she was no longer going to be an unpaid babysitter for her daughter Juliet while she went to have her nails done or shopped for clothes she couldn't afford.
Finally, as she wouldn't need to spend her hard-earned money on chewing gum or stress-relief tablets, Layla would eat blueberry muffins for breakfast and join the art class run by her handsome, single neighbour. He'd often hinted she'd be very welcome.
Broken people huddled in doorways. Doleful-eyed dogs, better fed.
'Spare a quid, missus?'
'Spare a fag, mister?'
A thousand voices.
Dirty, irregular shapes, spat out.
Society replicated in pieces of gum.
Stuck on you
I remember walking along the sandy shores with the air brushing through my hair and my heart thudding as you look deep within my alluring soul I see you for the first time looking at me with international blue boy eyes that smile through life. The gum that lay on the floor mushed into the sand I attach myself to it and it sticks to me it's his gum it belongs to him his grin boyish smile catches mine “looks like I'm stuck on you forever”. I smile forever is beautiful.
The Smells that Linger
During the afternoon we stopped at an attractive looking cafe. A pot of tea for two, a range of sandwiches and, while my friend picked a luscious looking cream cake topped with a cherry, I chose a bakewell tart as they’d always been a favourite of mine. When the cakes arrived the smell of almonds brought back memories of primary school and the small pots of thick white gum that came with a small spatula which teachers handed out when it was time to glue things together. I mentioned this to my friend who blithely ignored my reminiscence and continued to happily devour her cake. After refilling my cup and hers I happily followed suit .
She looked through me with indifference. I must have barely registered to her.
She turned her head away again, looked at her phone and then up the street towards her friends, chewing her gum sullenly and ignoring almost everything around her.
I had seen her stand there at the bus stop many times before and had become fascinated by her – not obsessed you understand, no nothing weird like that; I was just curious. I had so many questions I could have asked. Did she live around here? What did she do? Was she happy in her life?
But then I could never have approached her to ask anything. She didn’t even know I existed – well no-one knew really, everyone was just oblivious of me; I was simply another being safely to be ignored on this self-absorbed planet.
I applaud your talent and skill, sir, but dang, that's a lot of work! Tiny, too. Cardboard, you say, held together with cow gum? Can it moo? Roar even! It reminds me... flying over London, a de Havilland Dragon Rapide; the moment of falling, before the ground... a girl, high on the Allendale road, long legs, freckles, the intense fragrance of the burnet roses that flower in the dunes at Embleton...
They wheeled me out earlier this morning and a hare with a cigarette in its mouth ran past me, I'm sure it did. Can you model that? Can you? I'm too heavy-handed. That's what she always said. Too heavy-handed, John.
A brilliant morning
Suburban yards soak in morning dew. Scattered choirs of gum-popping children are walking to school, waking up the world. Lazy cars are gliding to work and morning coffee. In the distance, a hill shaped like a crocodile stands guard. Rising above, a brilliant cloud. In the shape of a mushroom.
The Ailment Quarter-hour
‘Root resorption,’ she says and puts her head to one side, like a puppy that doesn’t understand. My dentist has mellowed in middle-age; she watches Outlander because she loves the Scottish landscape. Her hairstyle is reminiscent of Princess Anne with a bouffant at the front, held in place with blonde clips. I don’t tell her that I hate Outlander, think it’s a load of old guff.
My gum health is good though, because I use plastic toothpicks now that don’t splinter. At home an internet search tells me my body is betraying me again. Root resorption is an auto-immune response; the dental root is absorbed into the body and, oh joy, your tooth eventually falls out. I just finished a novel about getting older. The characters have an hour to discuss their ailments each day. I don’t need an hour, not yet at least. Fifteen minutes will do.
These Are My Streets
I know every crack in the tarmac, every black gum stain, every jutting root that threatens to trip me during my morning run. So when the trees start moving, I notice.
At first it's subtle. My watch measures the distance between two sycamores as 250m instead of 300m. I assume it's a GPS error.
Then the oak to the left of the park entrance shifts to the right. The concrete where it stood is smooth. Around the base of the tree, it's rumpled, as though the tree has been pushing up through it for centuries.
The trees shift between my evening walk and morning run. I go to the park at night, hoping to see them move. The park closes at dusk, but I climb a tree and hide. I sit alone in the branches and wait.
As I hurtle to the ground, I realize I didn't think this through.
An Occupational Hazard
Her eighteenth birthday. She left that morning brightly, wearing her new Dolce & Gabbana jeans that I’d scraped together the last of the money for. Why £250 for ripped trousers, I don’t understand. But I’m only a Dad.
Somewhere it had all gone terribly wrong. I cooked her favourite Lasagne, then watched her push it around her plate. My questions about her day and evening plans were met with monosyllable answers.
She’s all I have since her Mum died and I love her to bits. But even my patience has its limits. I snapped:
“What is the matter with you? It’s your birthday, you’re meant to be happy.”
She looked at me sadly, then stood up slowly and turned round. On her the seat of her treasured jeans was the tell-tale grey mark, the remnants of the piece of gum some miscreant had left on a tube seat.
All was explained.
A Lucky Escape
I was well-briefed for the interview, and I'd also spent a lot of money on looking good. My suit, shoes, briefcase, they all screamed professional. My gleaming haircut announced me as a sexy, well groomed woman.
The critical day arrived. Coming up from the 'Metro', I realised I was far too early. I lingered, window-shopping, ever Ms Cool. As I turned to walk on, my left foot stuck to the pavement. I tugged it free, the sole of my 'Jimmy Choo' was marred by a gob of gum. In the process of attempting to scrape it off, I chipped my nail polish and smeared oily muck on my beige jacket. I gave up and went home.
This morning, the newsreader announced that Celeste McMartin, local solicitor, had been killed in a train crash. She'd been travelling to her first conference in her new job. Celeste, my rival for the post.
I don't see her enter the train but I see her when she sits down opposite me. She locks her eyes on mine and I feel my cheeks begin to burn. I sink my head a little lower, lift my book a little higher and attempt to disappear. The rest of her expression gives nothing away. My eyes meet hers once more. That same stare in return. Instinct. She knows. But how? There's nothing to know. I pack my book away. Stand and move towards the door, preparing to exit. Smoothly she does the same, an invisible thread between us prompting her movements. She stands behind me. Too close. My heart beats faster. I exit onto the platform. She keeps pace. Annoyance suddenly surfaces. I turn to confront her. Face to face. She stands so close I can smell her bubblegum breath. She blows a single, perfect gum bubble.
Sauce for the Goose
Chad knew kerosene contracts the skin and hides the crease of a wedding ring. Some was always in the briefcase for overnighters.
Marge pushed the bedclothes off and elbowed Chad. The kids were bloody feral. She dumped the Wheaties and milk on the table and loaded the toaster.
Chad, showered and groomed, sat at the table skimming the paper. The three kids in vulgar cacophony slurped and crunched while Marge sat silently screaming in frustration.
Backing down the drive with the kids in the car he called out,
'You pick them up. I'll be late tonight.'
It was a rapid transformation; morning matron to cougar chic, sweet gum to freshen the breath. She arrived at the hostel to be greeted by Pedro.
She looked at her naked finger and smiled. Warm salivary gum causes depressed skin to rise.
With thanks to all the writers who have made this issue possible.Aditi Goswami, Alexander Black, Andrea Power, Angela P Googh, Becca Tulley, bernard lord, C. S. Begu, Carol Leggatt, Catherine Edmunds, Ceinwen E Cariad Haydon, Charlotte O'Farrell, Christine Bigley, Christine Nedahl, Claire Joicey, Clara Mok, Colin Alcock, D Halloran, D.Thurman, Dan Crawley, David Silver, Davina Jackson, Debbi Voisey, Delvon T. Mattingly, Doris Winn, Edward Mortenson, Elaine Mead, Elaine Sheridan, Ellen Kirkman, Emily Hague, Emmanuel Lore, Farah Tiwana, Frank Trautman, Gabriela Iacovano, Gill Kirkland, Hannah Whiteoak, Helen Matthews, Hilary Ayshford, If Onyia, Isabel Flynn, J.R. Bournville, Jan Brown, Jay Bee, Jeanette Everson, Jemma Morriss, Jessica Andreatta, Jody Kish, John Cooper, Joyce Wheatley, Kieran Judge, L Dawkins, Leanne Drain, Leonard Goggin, Les Pedrick, Linda Grierson-Irish, Lindsay Bamfield, Liz Quigley, Louise Mangos, Malcolm Richardson, Marissa Hoffmann, Mark Warren, Matthew C. McLean, Mercy Godwin, Michael Rumsey, Nancy Zielinski, Paul Purnell, Peter J. Corbally, Poppy Hawkins, Richard Kemp, Ruth Skrine, S.B. Borgersen, Sally Cotton, Sarah Edghill, Steven O. Young Jr., Stuart Atkinson, Sue Johnson, Susan Carey, Sylvia Petter, Tiffany Bray, Tina Edwards, Umrah, Valerie Fish, Vicky Price
19th September 2018