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Turning of the Tide
“Blues legend drowns!” screamed the headline.
It had been confirmed that Wild Willie Boatman’s was the body washed up in the river basin; once such a part of the Mississippi, now claimed by it for good. That night the news was awash with tributes to the hard-living, innovative guitarist, as local figures reminisced about adventures had with Willie, musicians gushed about his influence and a romantic, almost Falstaffian figure emerged from the mud of the delta.
The coroner returned an open verdict. Whether Willie had fallen in, an accident brought on by the bottle, been pushed by one of the many enemies his behaviour had made him, or given up the struggle against his demons, was unclear. He had certainly never been shy of sharing his opinions, nor slow with his fists. It was those who had most wanted rid of him who now, on Willie’s passing, celebrated his life.
The Family Room
The baby lies in a moses basket. A thin yellow blanket lies over her apart from her red scrunched face. The mother stands over her, stares into her own reflection. Still a kid herself. The grandmother and aunt are eating fries less than fifteen feet away. Above the basin, a rota claims this bathroom was inspected by Debbie ten minutes ago.
The baby sleeps.
The mother wants sleep.
Endless smothered pillow resting eternal calm and merciful quiet please.
A small white bin of tablets in her tired hand.
A moment of loneliness.
The mother runs the tap, feeling the water slip through her fingers like the rest of her life. She begins to cry and stops herself almost immediately. She hopes it will be quick.
Outside she can hear her mother laughing.
She picks up her baby for the last time, kisses her and swallows hard.
Sssh she says.
When Evening Falls So Hard
Rain spotted the windscreen. Harry flicked on his wipers. An inky cloud had swollen to the size of the Amazon basin. He glanced in his rear view and could still see patches of blue sky.
The wind accelerated as he drove on to the bridge; he could feel it buffeting the Volvo. The last strains of Holst’s ‘Jupiter’ faded away on the stereo.
Harry didn’t panic. Not at first. His response to the increasingly heavy rain was to pump the wiper speed up to max and switch on his headlights. But the lights seemed pathetic, weak, and the windscreen wasn’t being cleared fast enough.
He couldn’t see – he couldn’t see!
clipped a truck
and before he knew it
he was on his side
and over the side.
His last thought was absurd, recalling the way the waitress that morning had leaned over the table as she wiped it.
They found the engagement ring in the basin pipes. Of course, this was after Earl proposed then opened the box and found it empty.
Ally didn’t wait around while he searched for it. She took one look at the pitiful eyes in Dorcia’s, heard or imagined the snickering and decided to slap Earl and run for the sake of pride.
Dorcia’s called him a week later while alone in his living room in boxers sipping Snapple. He never believed them until he went back to work after overstaying his made up paternity leave.
He called again out of curiosity three cays later to which he was told that the ring wasn’t his. Earl never pressed, Ally never called and he stayed away from Dorcia’s, curried beef and much later on, bathroom basin stalls.
The New Me
I look in the mirror and smile. Quickly, I unscrew the lid of my brand new pot of gel. I have waited so long for this. She will finally notice me. Scooping out a little too much, I rub my fingers together then run them through my hair, teasing each strand to make it stand on end. The years of being mercilessly bullied at school for my pudding basin hair are gone! I am totally cool now.
I look into the mirror again. Oh yes. This is my time.
Well, she noticed me.
‘New haircut?’ she’d said. It had worked.
I didn’t realise she had a boyfriend. Might have to watch my back. Though the new me can handle anything.
Ouch. Maybe this wasn’t the best idea. But what doesn't kill make you stronger, right?
Manchester Gay History Walk Monologue
You’ll know it when you see it.
Top of Canal St, cross over and look for the steps down to the canal.
You won’t be the only one, you might be followed if your luck's in, or out, depending on who she is.
Yes, behind the Crown Courts, of all places, keep an eye out, even in the midst of all that passion. You don’t want to end up there.
Anyway, just another 100m and the towpath opens out underneath a wide bridge into like this underground cavern, a right fairy’s grotto. The place was made for us.
Well, you can guess the rest.
If you reach the basin you’ve gone too far, there’s a different kind of danger there. That’s probably where Deirdre Rachid’s lovely Samir met his death; oh why couldn’t it have been that rat, Ken Barlow, instead?
Someone Stole My Cobwebs While I Was Out.
As soon as the car stops a swarm of flies gather and hover around the windows. I take a breath before opening the door and dash out, my hand flaps to keep the horrid things away from my face and hair.
Inside the house, I unlock every window letting in short wafts of air which cool the thick heat.
After stripping to shorts and camisole I shred lettuce into a colander, rinsing it in the basin before adding chopped tomatoes and sweet pepper. I leave the food on the drainer while I slice meat.
That's when I notice the flies circling my light bulbs, and flying in lines like soldiers on parade, heading towards me. Big ones, small ones, blue, green, black.
Swatting them makes no difference. I suffocate under the bodies diving in my ears and crawling up my nose.
I run to the car for cover.
I try to breathe deeper. He senses my attempt to relax.
His tiny, rubber fingers select from the line of cold, steel instruments. He turns back to me, his head close, angled over my left eye. The nurse moves forward and takes my hand in hers.
‘Well done,’ I hear her say. I haven’t done anything.
I flinch, wresting my head away from his hands. Something hot and wet on my chin. He lifts his upper body, his arms held in the air like a conductor holding back the final note. She mops gently but quickly and then he is above me again, descending towards my face in the final crescendo of pain.
‘All done’ he cries to the sound of surgical percussion - metal hitting the inside of a basin marbled red and white by my blood on coated scalpels, swabs, and scissors.
How they used to make white horses in Wiltshire
Jacob sneezed. Then threw his shovel. It scraped the white surface. He had chalk in his nose, his mouth, his hair.
'I've had a basinful. A bloody basinful!'
'Watch what you say!' Harry looked anxious.
The squire's voice boomed through the megaphone. 'Back to work, Jacob Hams. I'll have no slackers on my land.'
Jacob spat. 'That's for his bloody white horse.'
'He'll hear you,' Harry warned.
'Let him. This en't no work for a man!'
The weasel voice of the squire's foreman. 'How dare you, Hams. I'll have you up before the justices. Five brace of partridges you had only last week.'
'He didn't mean no harm,' Harry ventured.
'I believe he did.'
Jack hitched up his trousers, kicked lumps of chalk into the air, and strode off.
'Where do you think you're going?' demanded the foreman.
'As far as I can. Botany Bay if I has to.'
All that remains...
103 years. I've lived a full life. I've been penniless. I've been opulent. I've watched cities bloom and I've watched cities crumble. I have wept and I have been merry. I have lived in times of peace and I have been well acquainted with dark-times. I have buried a thousand friends and so have died a thousand deaths. I have read 10,000 books and so have lived 10,000 lives. I have felt the agony of a rod on my back and I have felt the succor of a lover's lips upon mine. The solace. The affliction. The affluence. The freedom. The captivity. The Love. The melancholy. The jubilation.
I've been through it all and still found euphoria because you, my pretty rose, where with me but now that you've withered, I lack the will to live and everyday is a torment. All I have left of you dwells in this marble basin.
It was there in the basin, dark brown on white gloss. The shine of the 7am daylight in the curve of the sink’s porcelain was lost under a thousand six millimetre specks of dry hair. Undeniable and unretract-able. And I went again. The blades gave a satisfying crunch you would have guessed was the sound of walking in snow if you couldn’t see it, there, right in front of your eyes. More and more fell, like snowflakes ambitiously trying to cover a still sea. I could cover the whole bowl, one crunch at a time. Longer strands then shorter until there was less to grab, less room to manoeuvre the scissors. I didn’t know I was smiling until I dared to look up and there, in the mirror, I was fresh. Unlike any me I had seen before. Ready to start.
The patterns in the basin. That’s what I remember. Big, blue, swirly, some looked like faces. I didn’t like the faces. Probably they were flowers, but I was five. The water splashed and surged into the basin from the jug held by Gran. I knew what came next, and I didn’t like that either. The pungent smell of Lifebuoy soap as Gran worked up a lather on the flannel.
Mum, Dad, why did you leave me to this torture? That’s what I remember thinking.
Firm hand on the back of my head, flannel applied vigorously, soap up the nose, water in the ears. Is it really that dirty behind my ears?
All the time the faces in the pattern, laughing at me. ‘Dirty boy,’ they seemed to say. Then the towel, equally vigorously, and Gran says, ‘There’s my clean boy, now give me a hug.’
I did like that.
‘Jen, come quickly, they’re draining the canal basin.’
My stomach drops, like the small parcel that dropped below the water line two years ago. My brain races, my heart aches, we watch as slowly, so slowly, rubber suited men carefully make their way through mud and silt and supermarket trolleys and rusty scooters and wooden crates. Then I see it. The strap of a pink holdall emerges from the sludge, filthy, dirty, like its contents. I know because I filled the bag. Mementos of what might have been, a life I could have shared. Flung from the mud into a waiting skip, gone forever.
When I entered the kitchen, I saw the basin, which got demolished into pieces. I didn't dream that, this actually occurred.
Nonetheless, I shouldn't have been shocked over the turn of events, the container merely joined the long list of broken items at my home after the party.
Yes, I invited my colleagues to my domicile without anticipating the consequences, but why should I? They seemed like a reasonable bunch.
However, they couldn't handle the alcohol, which resulted in a chaos. To be honest, I shouldn't exclude myself from this crowd, I also couldn't grasp the power of the liquor.
Therefore, the fact I struggled to recall what happened coupled with the devastation of my place shouldn't come as a surprise to me. Still, one thing puzzled me.
Why would anyone want to smash the sink?
Chemo Week 4
Her hands clutch onto the basin in her lap. Burning bile squeezes from her throat and a string of saliva quivers web-like from her chin. A myriad of tubes track the journey of life-giving poison that courses through her veins. Again, her body convulses and corkscrews, repels and expels.
But now a hand on her back rubs and soothes. The hand reminds her that she is still living, still breathing.
A warm cloth wipes her face, smooths back her hair. She's moulting faster than a tabby cat in July and she knows the cloth will now be laced through with her redundant hair. She also knows that these kind hands have just begun the 14th hour of a 10 hour shift and the grumbling belly noise tells its own story of meals missed once, twice.
She reaches for the hand. An answering squeeze.
'Cuppa tea, my lovely?'
Our Own Special Watershed
Fifty years ago today an event changed our lives.
Fourteen thousand years before that Lake Bonneville flooded becoming the first of what eventually became seventeen watersheds flooding into the famous Great Basin. This area covers 200,000 square miles and touches six U.S. States.
As nature lovers and budding ecologists Margaret and I spent our honeymoon in White Pine County in the Ruby Mountain area of Nevada. How we admired the beautiful aspen and whitebark trees. What a thrill to spot marmots, beaver and cute little pikas. Was that a mountain lion we saw lurking one day? Overhead chukkas and their relatives grey partridges called out good luck messages.
Was it something in the water perhaps? About three months after returning home Margaret patted her tummy and informed me we would soon need a Great Bassinet.
Happy fiftieth birthday Stephen, you were and still are our own special watershed.
The Persian Princess
Among all the wives of the Arab Prince only she was able to produce a daughter who would be heir to the throne. The new royal decree was for a princess to ascend the throne someday because the line of princes was damaged by a genetic defect.
Delicately, the Queen slid the infant into the basin of bathwater perfumed with rose oil. She sprinkled water on her as though she were the most precious pearl in the world. The baby gurgled and laughed as she bathed in the clear water. Soon after, her mother drew her out and gave her a breast to feed. Together, mother and child lay in a hammock until the child fell asleep with her lips to the breast. Unbeknown to her stood her other child, a seven-year old boy, watching them through the iron trellis of the garden with his fists curled.
Always Be Careful
Jenny will continue to buy the tablets just in case her psychiatrist is checking up on her. With these newfangled computerised health service systems, she wouldn’t be surprised if doctors were notified when patients collect their medication. But there was no way he could know they were going down the plug hole of the washbasin after she washed her teeth. Drop, drop, drop.
“We must be careful Ziggy,” she said to the cat before she switched off the light. “A...B...C…Always Be Careful.”
She will never throw them in the rubbish bin. On Tuesdays, she sees the collectors scan it before tipping it into the truck with the neighbour’s trash. Who knows what information they are collecting with their hand-held computer transmitting to goodness knows where.
“Everything is linked these days,” she said with a sigh. “Even the supermarket knows how much toothpaste I use.”
Trading Blows With Death
You ever been hit? I mean really hit in the face? I’m a boxer, I don’t fear anyone but I saw the whole gang on 6th ave walking towards me, Fate, Luck, and Death itself. They'd finally come for all the wrongs in my bent soul. I was in for the fight of my life.
I knocked Fate out, luck fled then I was trading blows with Death. Its body made of fiber, coconut husks, like swinging a hammer at a large tire. I could see which way this was headed, a long unstoppable fall off a bicycle. I had time to think.
I wanted to live, slam black coffee, swallow fat peppers, sour beer, live in my body, eat with my mouth. But Death beat me into bone flotsam floating in a basin. My last thoughts were who's the fastest? Strongest? Oldest? Who can hold their breath the longest?
A Testament to Elemental Fortitude
The horsetail and sword fern stretched up the slope in a quilt of sunlight. Bereft, I'd stopped along the trail to take in the stillness of the woods, and looking down, there you were. We shared the bench.
I was struck by your primordial elegance, little land mollusk. So delicate yet determined. Your tentacles were charming, focused and curious - exploring, retracting and redirecting. You left a glistening wake in your travels, and I could see where you'd started and could see what lay ahead of you - the mossy basin of a tree stump at the bench's edge.
Your destination didn't trouble you, for how could you possibly know what truly lay ahead? You were vulnerable and beautiful because it was so.
I sat in quietude. You reminded me not to be afraid. You reminded me how small, and safe, I really was. You reminded me to press on.
Tequila for two
The flaming projectile shot across the heavens. Its tail arching behind like a sliver train of crystals. Mindless and solitary, it drew aim at the liquid. Descending through the layers of atmosphere, the course was calibrated by the speed and angle. Gathering momentum, the sphere fell into the blue basin. A few droplets spilled on the table. My Margarita was cold and salted for a hot afternoon delight.
Like an Endlessly Overflowing Basin
A man suffering what he believes to be hypnopompia has done an internet search of his problem. When he researched the symptoms (which are remarkably similar to hallucinations) he briefly started to think he was actually hallucinating. He typed questions into the specialist app such as: what does it mean when I feel I’m falling but saved by a man with a fence across the top of his head? Another asked, why do I dream that I have woken up only to find that I am still asleep? He became increasingly concerned with what he was reading and quit the app. He looked into the mirror, asking, 'have I got a Dali syndrome?' (No such thing.) At his appointment, he reports all of this and says, 'making sense of the world feels like staring at an endlessly overflowing basin.' The sleep specialist has already fallen asleep
My gag reflex kicks in as I spit out a molar with long twisted roots into the deep metal basin. It makes a sharp sound and rolls lazily down the ewer's incline. I brace myself for a second round, and third.
It's cold. My breath steams in the air but I sweat in the candlelight as I count the teeth in the bile. Seven. More coming now and I begin to wretch, bent at my waist and crying out at the pain. I clutch myself, feeling the scallop of my protruding ribs against my fingertips. The wind is howling through the cabin's shrunken slats and I can hear the frozen snow pelting the roof and the door.
I rise and steady myself, taking in deep breaths. Fighting the rise of vomit in my throat. Clutching my clothes around me I step outside. I must. It's time to eat again.
How to survive Christmas with the help of Delia Smith
Start a month in advance. Take your largest bowl; weigh out fruit and spices, sugar and breadcrumbs.
Email your children. Are they coming this year? No pressure, but it would be lovely to see them.
Invite your ex and his new partner, because you are the bigger person.
Stir three times from east to west.
You're not sure why, but it must be important.
Pack the mixture into a pudding basin, cover with greaseproof paper tied with string.
Discover tying string without another person's finger is impossible. Use elastic band instead. Delia will never know.
Store pudding somewhere cool.
Reply to emails. Of course children must go to Borneo/Madagascar/Vanuatu; once in a lifetime opportunity. Invite lonely neighbour. Order small, absurdly expensive turkey.
Christmas Day, 2.30pm:
Top your steamed pudding with a holly sprig and douse in flaming brandy. Enjoy your guests' applause!
Resolve to be anywhere but here next year.
You turn the tap on full and watch the water gush into the basin. As the swirls and eddies settle you place a tentative finger on the surface. The cold is like electricity, a shock that runs through your hand, exhilarating, tingling. You think about plunging into it. Shocking away the sluggishness you are feeling, the weight of the decision tugging at you until every limb feels heavy and the ground pulls at your feet with every step. Then you hear his key turn in the lock. You look over to where your suitcase sits ready and that same electricity runs through your body and suddenly you don’t need any help. You turn to face him.
A Load of Flannel
The once white bathroom basin is cracked and covered with pubes and yellowing dried soap scum.
Its shoulders are dappled with wrung out toothpaste tubes and strands of floss.
This is his bathroom.
He likes to have stand-up washes at the sink, leaving hair and dirt and water on the floor tiles.
I've stopped cleaning in here.
He hasn't noticed.
Mum and Dad had an avocado-coloured basin. Mum cleaned it every day. The only thing resting on its shoulders was a bar of pink Camay soap. No dental floss, just a tube of Steradent tablets.
Dad had a bath once a week. He sang Tom Jones songs with a Soap-on-a-Rope round his neck. Talc peppered the bathmat and the smell of Brut oozed out onto the landing.
The bathroom basin in my new house is a perfect circle.
Not a slither of soap in sight.
He unscrewed the filter bolt on his motorcycle and watched as the oil flowed thick from the engine into the basin below. ‘Liquid gold’ the media had dubbed it, and, have speculation believe, the motive for war. Catching his warped reflection in the black viscous mirror, memories too flowed.
He remembers the blistering sun on his tanned leather skin, the taste of dust in his mouth as the parched road buckled under the weight of the armoured vehicle. He remembers waving to playing children moments before the savage explosion trembled through his bones. He remembers the bloodied corpse of his friend slumped over him, the ensuing fire fight. He remembers…
‘Honey’ a hand touches his shoulder ‘why do you do this to yourself’?
He says nothing and hauls himself back into his wheelchair, leaving the oil to drip until nothing more remains.
A moment by the sea
—I dare not love you too much, says Patrick to Annabel.
—I've a temper. I may hurt you.
—I haven't seen it. Annabel strokes his bare arm, searching his face. —Tell me.
—After my father's funeral, I lost it.
—I threw a shoe at a picture. It fell into the basin. Shattered glass and porcelain everywhere. He turns to the ocean, seeking refuge in the blue expanse. —Coats covered my bed. The visitors were laughing downstairs.
She sees his knuckles white against the grey balustrade.
—How dared they laugh when Dad was dead?
—You were a teenager.
—My bed was covered with coats. I hid on the floor behind. The carpet smelt of sweaty shoes. It isn't safe for me to love like that.
—So you do love me?
Taking a last look at the horizon he walks away along the front; out of her life
Her knock was timid. When we shook hands, she was clammy and limp. I delivered my by-now well rehearsed spiel anyway. She nodded. A lot. When I mentioned Sofa Loren, she chuckled nervously. I couldn't tell whether she was amused or just being polite.
It didn't matter. No use being anyone but myself. It's me she'd need to live with.
"So here in the kitchen we have my beloved Elizabeth McOven and Stove'n Colbert." She did it again. The nervous chuckle.
She pointed out that the sink was circular as though I hadn't noticed. "Cool, huh. Yeah, no name for it yet." I laughed at myself.
"But this is Fridget Bardot. She's super chilled."
After the tour, she told me about herself. All pretty benign, which was ok, I guess. But then, as she was heading out the door, she turned and cemented the deal. "Have you considered Basin Jateman?"
A happy day, exploring the silty banks of the Connecticut River with a dozen geology students, climbing over fallen cottonwoods and staining my jeans to examine the black sediments of the accretionary bend. The Indian Summer meant it was too hot for socks, still the water was too cold for a plunge. My mother had raised me on tales of this basin, how 50,000 years ago the glaciers towered miles high, how they had digested the hills. How 15,000 years ago Lake Hitchcock had drowned the 150-mile valley as the ice retreated, fish swimming 500 metres above our heads. We had dug clay from ancient streambanks, attempted basic pots that collapsed when we broke for lunch. Now I had my own handlens to enlarge the glacial till and knew the clay deposits were from millennia of quiet lake winters and I desperately wanted to share this circular day with her.
I couldn’t face school lunch on Tuesday – corned beef fritters, which smelled as nasty as they looked, and arriving home home hungry, I called out to my mother.
“Mum, I’m home, what’s for dinner?”
“Scrottyberry Pie”, said Mum, ‘I found this new recipe.’
Lying next to a basin containing a heap of unidentifiable meat, the page was headed “Couilles de Porc”.
“But Mum, you don’t speak French!” I cried.
“Ah,” said Mum, “your tutor called by to find out why you’re always late with your homework, and she translated it for me.”
I read it. “So what are scrottyberries?” I asked, ‘there’s no fruit mentioned here, only pork.”
“Oh, that’s just what I call them”, said Mum, “I believe they’re a delicacy in France.”
“Yes, but what are they?” I demanded.
“Pigs’ testicles”, said Mum.
I wrote an extra line at the bottom of the recipe.
“Jetez-le par la fenêtre.”
There is that Biology but what if, before a child can know it, the World is feeding her through the eyes and ears, laying concrete fibres in the brain, telling her neurones how to behave, unmindful that her womb will grow into a basin that drains life away in redcurrant clumps, lets hope burrow into its lining, sit there a while and then, wash away in its own blood, leaving her sad, angry, bitter at that same World because it did not give her a chance to not want it, or even imagine that she could be happy without?
Rocking the Soul Away
Shadow's heart skipped a beat, then stopped to a stuttering, "Ah ... ah ... ah ... Ohm." The crowd lapped up the husky acoustics from his shaky throat, cheering the unusual lyric effect. A warble became a wobble and a topple into the waiting horde. His body was groped and pawed as it swirled around a fleshy basin of tangled limbs. Shadow's shade whispered a cryptic tune, a final farewell as it fled an ashen corpse left to stiffen and decay; the soul to fade away. The rocker's carcass was hoisted back to a final resting place amid fans roaring his name. Face up, eyes vacant, the mob expectant; time etched a shallow coffin into the wooden stage cradling his mute remains. Shouts of, "Encore. Encore. Play some more," blitzed through the congregation as lights dimmed above and below, dowsing the glow, killing the buzz, ending the show.
“Good God! What happened in here?!” I dropped the bag of groceries in surprise. There go the eggs.
“Mom, I’m sorry! Don’t be mad! I wanted to make dinner as a surprise…” tears were welling in her eyes. She’s enough of a teenager to want to be independent, but not enough of one not to want my approval, and need my rescuing periodically.
I took a deep breath and tried to block out the multi-toned brown coating on the stove. “The important thing is you’re alright honey. We can clean this up together.” I looked to the sink where all clean up starts and ends, and stared slack-jawed. Then down at the floor to where the entirety of the household towel collection was soaked from the still overflowing basin.
Another deep breath.
“First thing first, let’s turn off the tap.”
A Tale of Space Entailing A Tail
Torn between the greater good of peace, at last, between peoples of differing cultural mores and traditions on the one hand and his selfish concerns about posing as the chained primate in Grigori’s elaborately feigned appearance of insanity as his ticket home, Astronaut Simpson agreed to play Jocko the surly monkey, fruitlessly fishing for a banana in the now opaque water of the basin doubling as his drinking pond in the upcoming television transmission back to Star City, Russia from the confines of an admittedly long past prime Mir, hoping earnestly that when his time came to return his prehensile tail would fit into his spacesuit. The chance for humiliation of the Americanski proved irresistible to the Kremlin, and their rescue was imminent. Sadly, it proved too late: Jocko had drowned. "If only he knew was chimp, no tail" mused the Russian rescuer.
Two people standing in front of each other. One sighing loudly.
"Why did you leave?"
"The children deserved better."
"I gave them everything! I gave you everything!"
"Didn't notice that, though. It's better this way."
"No, please, please come back. I love the children. Please!"
"There's a crack in the basin in the bathroom. Do you know how bad it is for children to grow up in an unstable environment?"
"I can fix it! I can fix everything, just give me a second chance. I'll buy you a whole new house, but please come back."
"I can't. They need someone who looks after themselves and their house. You can't give that to them."
"You ruined my life because of a crack in a basin."
"No. I did it because I wanted to. Don't ask me to come back. I won't."
Two people, standing in front of each other.
Every morning Mary sees the basin; nestled in a corner, just beyond the foot of her single bed, and it’s a reminder of all that she’s lost.
Once Mary had been a wife. Henry was a kind man, gentle, and hard-working. But he was killed in the war to end all wars. Shrapnel to the leg which became infected.
Once Mary had been a mother. Henry, named after his father, was like his father in many ways, despite his absence. Mary begged him not to fight in the next war, saying she’d hide him if she had to. But he wanted to. ‘For Alice and the baby,’ he’d said. ‘And for you, Mum.’
Mary gave the double room to Alice and the baby, a girl called Sylvie, and Mary moved back into the single room, her childhood room. She’d come full circle, but not in a good way.
The Kitchen Sink
Sweating, dragging the old Belfast kitchen sink on the trolley, I need to do this, I’ll make it as it was before. I can feel the hot stares of neighbours as I go past. I manage the steep steps to my mother’s garden and tip it onto the unkempt grass.
The chipped ceramic rim is cool to the touch in the summer heat. Ghosts of times past sit with me they understand, we remember how the sink sat deep in the earth against the low red brick wall of my gran’s garden. This is where the rhubarb grew the pinkest of rhubarb sticks, the oval rusty basin gathered the rain water “keeps the rhubarb pink” said my gran. My gran’s hands weathered as the crinkly green leaves of the rhubarb. I can still smell the hot sweet rhubarb tart.
I stand up and walk away the ghosts follow.
All he remembers now is that he found himself wandering in the scrubs; aimlessly as if under a spell of black magic.
It was white and blurry and there was the sound of dryness between his legs and under his feet. Was he sun-stricken? He found himself, as if by instinct, following the breeze-driven leaves; patternless, when at some point, he raised his head and saw a bunch of scattered roofless huts. He approached towards what it seemed like a forsaken village. He went into the nearest hut. There were a few scattered items of a bygone household that he couldn’t remember distinctly. But there was a basin in the corner; white and new, yet tapless! Then it struck him deep in the gut how thirsty he was and that there was no tap, nothing that water could spring from.
Don't Sit Down Next To Me Again
Flashing my phone, the ticket hovers, fruit of a day's labor. The black and white mosaic tile paves my way. Queuing for LifeWtr I smell skunk and hope it won’t perfume my hair. I won’t have time to wash it before my shift starts.
Tunneling into the sparse crowd I grab a seat with a view of The Empire State. It’s a scene from a rom-com; we just need Meg Ryan or Tom Hanks and a soundtrack by ‘James’. That’s why I’m here, to see them. Mum loved their song ‘Sit Down’ insisting we played it at her funeral.
The singer appears, bald as a basin, wobbling like a mirage. Eventually they play ‘Laid’ but I don’t stand yet. I hold my anticipation on my lap, an excited toddler trying to escape. Then they’re gone. As I leave I think I hear Mum whisper in my ear, “Arrogant twats”.
Don't Forget the Sugar Daddy
How did she know? He must, too: though nothing’s been said. I thought I’d kept it so secret. A sort of harmless fun, though I knew, deep down, there could be repercussions.
I met him at art class. His interest obviously more in my body than the dumpy model’s. We chatted. We stopped going to art class. I never knew a man of his years could be so sensuous, so caring, his generosity unbounding. He had a void to fill in retirement. I sought relief from housewife boredom. Much as I loved my family to bits. We just clicked.
They were talking about friendships, as I flipped over spattering bacon. She spoke words I could hardly believe. Glancing over my shoulder, he was dropping his coffee mug into the kitchen basin. She had her cereal bowl still on the table, spooning sugar. Relief. “Don’t forget the sugar, Daddy”.
I cast you off the side of the boat, listened to the splash and gurgle of cool dark water pulling you down. I dreamed of you but never thought we’d meet again. The lake was deep, teeming with life and destined to stay that way forever.
Sailing. To watch the Perseids. Salt splashed words tumbled and turned into gripped wrists and rough tight fingertips crushing my throat. The tackle box found my palm and my swing found you, splitting flesh and bone.
I never imagined Dad would die, his land snatched away to become glass houses on stilts with verandas and hot tubs. Alone, I watched as the yacht basin was drained. Nets, bottles, and your broken grey form resting on its gravel bed. My dream of you.
Cooking the Plot
1. Take a wooden spoon and a large basin. Preferably metal. So as not to get too hot.
2. Add one narrator. Male. Call him X.
3. Set him down in a split country after the war. Germany. East. “Anti-fascist”.
4. Add an amoral and experimental Czech woman. Call her Magda. No, she is not Hungarian. Mix till fluffy.
5. Now add Dieter S. The S. tells you that he is a Stasi agent. He has a wife. Hildegard. They have a daughter who has a daughter. He spies on X and Magda.
6. Mix well and suddenly bring down the Wall and the Eastern Bloc.
7. Everyone lives happily ever after. Not.
8. Dieter dies and Hildegard joins the Grannies Against the Right. “Anti-fascist”.
9. Their granddaughter goes on a working holiday to Australia.
10. If you stir enough things can go round and round all by themselves in a metal basin.
If I could speak their language
'This here is bear country,' says the guide, handing each of us a can of pepper spray, 'be sure to stick to the trail and stay together.'
The group is mostly made up of German tourists. Occasionally they smile at me and I think if I could speak their language I would tell them about the little girl once found in these woods, sleeping softly in the den of a Grizzly. I would tell them how, even now, she still yearns for the warmth of heavy fur.
As we hike further into the forest I linger and stray from the path when no one is looking.
I find her in a clearing where the rain has collected in a shallow basin amongst the rocks. I watch her sniff the air and dip her head to drink.
I should make some noise, let her know I'm here.
He turned the tap on the filthy, metal basin.
A tiny splutter of water came out, but nothing more. He grasped either side of the basin and sighed, gazing into the cracked and stained mirror. He looked right into his sunken, grey eyes - at the purpling bruise high on his cheekbone, serving as a reminder of the person he had become. The man standing before him looked nothing like the man he used to be.
Once, he was a respectable, honest worker. Working an office job, clocking in from 9 to 5, on the dot. Now he was a criminal. A prisoner. A man worthy only of a number, not a name. He wondered how much more his reflection would come to change and shift, until he may not even recognise the man looking back at him.
The Shape of Time
The wrinkles and folds spider-web across the leather of her face like the aerial pictures of parched deserts. But unlike the dry mud of the desert, water will change nothing. Time has already worked its magic, carving creases the way it builds canyons and gorges and basins, tirelessly folding the present into the past like she used to fold her family's laundry, fresh from the press of her iron.
These folds won't wear away. They have been worn in, not out. Earned. Seasoned. In my memory, at eight years of age, sitting long and close to Grandma's hospital bed, staring across the smooth white sheets at the sunken hollows of her cheeks, I imagined myself a tiny, tiny traveler venturing across the wasteland of the bed, finding refuge in the still living history of her papery skin. There I might find the small red cinnamon candies she hid for me.
Haircut in the kitchen, summer 1974
“Do they actually use a basin?”
“What do you mean?” Cutting my hair made Mum grumpy, but she couldn’t afford to take me to the hairdressers. “Close your eyes, I’ll do your fringe.”
I closed them. The negative of her green polyester shirt danced against the inside of my eyelids.
“What about the taps?”
“Ha! Not that sort of basin. Shush now, or I’ll go wonky.”
I inhaled, then clamped my lips tightly.
“And don’t bloody hold your breath either.”
I exhaled slowly.
“A pudding basin. Like I use at Christmas,” she murmured as she bent towards me.
I felt her warmth, smelled the tang of her sweat. The cold points of the kitchen scissors slowly griped left to right, skimming my brow.
“OK, you can open them again.”
She stood in front of me, tired eyes narrowed at the line she’d just cut.
“It’ll have to do,” she said.
Some Kind of Murder
She spread a clean towel on the recently washed counter, the combined aromas of fresh air and detergent wafting into her nose, reminding her of her mother. Mom had taken in laundry when she and her brother were little, to try and make ends meet after their father went to get groceries and never came back.
She set the baby bath and the washcloth on the towel, and proceeded to fill the basin with lukewarm water. Tears rolled down her face as she chose the sharpest knife in the drawer and placed it on the towel next to the tub. Mom wouldn't have given in but she was in no way like her mother. Turning to the bloody mess in the sink, she addressed him aloud, as if he were still alive.
"You shouldn't have done it, Sam." She said. "Crowing too early and waking the baby just won't do."
Place of Safety
I am building a house in my head.
My house has strong foundations, sunk deep in the earth. The walls are solid stone, well-mortared and built to last. No kitchen. No bathtub, no toilet, no basin. I have no need of them, not anymore.
I have stout locks for the door. Shutters on the windows. The rooms are unfurnished, filled only with the memories I choose to keep. I will wander among them, my feet making no sound on the solid wood floors, ignoring the door that leads to a cellar filled with abandoned dreams.
No house of straw or sticks for me. Slates on the roof, each one tight against its neighbour. And no chimney. The big bad wolf will not find his way in here from the world outside. No harm will come to me.
I am building a house in my head.
The woman on television is talking about soap.
She is wearing an aphid-green cardigan and smiling with slightly yellowed teeth and talking about soap. She thinks her soap is great. I know because she is grinning at me while she washes her her hands in a metal basin, from which they emerge looking soapy. That would be the soap.
She walks over to a table and the camera follows her. She is still showing me her slightly yellowed teeth.
If I was on television I would close my mouth.
She displays her long soapy fingers to the screen, and her slightly yellowed fingernails. They are nice fingernails, though, do not misunderstand me. Fingernails can be yellow and pretty. These fingernails are very pretty. I think she is showing them to us so we can see the effect of her soap. I don't know why she is so keen on it.
He dreamt he was the front seat passenger in a police vehicle. The officer driving veered too close to the river’s edge at the quayside. The car dropped over the edge, but he managed to get the door on his side open as the vehicle plunged into the deep, murky basin. Shocked and soaked, but rescued, he stood at the quayside shining a giant flashlight onto the water, while police divers searched for his lost colleague.
He phoned Jenny; she was good at dreams.
‘Who was the driver?’ She asked.
‘Faceless, nameless. I have no clue.’
‘Then it’s about you.’
‘But, what does it all mean?’ He pleaded with her.
‘Typically, you’re lost or looking for something you’ve lost but it could be deeper than that. Do you want to come over for a hug? We can explore it more.’
‘I’ll be round in 15 minutes.’
That was some nightmare.
Remember that they only took you because of who you are. You must now use what you were taught…
Observe. Accept. Exist.
One room (cold). One bed (damp). One window (barred).
One table (uneven). One chair (broken). One basin (broken).
One sheet (dirty). One blanket (mouldy). No pillow (???).
One shelf (loose). One wall cupboard (also loose).
One knife (blunted). One spoon (with bent handle).
No way of knowing why you are here.
No way of knowing how long you are here for.
No means of communicating with the outside.
No others to talk to.
Rest as best you can now.
Eat what you can of the meal left on the table.
Try to clear your mind of emotions and feelings.
Block out what you have heard and seen.
Keep repeating your ‘story’.
And finally, for your longer term survival, don’t think about what happens next.
Nan scanned the hotel mirror and declared herself reunion ready.
Platinum ‘do? Check.
Botoxed lips? Check.
Supersized boobs? Check.
Killer, low-cut dress to display new boobs? Check.
‘Will Jeff be there, now that he’s finally divorced Beth?’
Across town, Jeff took stock.
Italian suit? Gold Rolex? Top drawer toupee? Diamond ear stud?
Check, check, check, and check.
‘Will Nan be there, now that I’m finally rid of Beth?’
The ballroom was packed. Chatter, cocktails, laughter, music. ‘Basin Street Blues’ had folks on their feet, out on the dance floor.
Jeff and Nan nearly collided as they cruised the room. Each slowed, smiled, and moved on.
Nan thought, ‘Jeff used to be so sweet and innocent.’
Jeff thought, ‘What happened to the girl next door?’
I did not like the lie of the land
There was no real reason to be standing there and I said this to her. She did not listen and continued to stand there even though I continued to emphasise just how precarious a spot it was. She had always been the same though and I should not have been surprised at how hard it was to get through to her. I hated to say it but she was as stupid as they come. She probably got that from her father. I once found him passed out blind drunk in the garden, face down in an old basin they had been using for God only knows what. He had never been able to control himself and she showed no inclination to either.
Below the level of the stream that clickered through the garden, a grotto had been cut into the ground. On its floor was a stone basin, shoe-box size. Above the basin, hung onto the rear wall, a sculpted lion’s face, bone coloured, lichened as a gravestone. From behind the lion’s mouth, a pipe had been plumbed back to the stream.
The flow into the basin was clear and cold as a winter’s icicle. We bought the house thanks to the simple joy of that natural spring. We fetched glasses and drank as though the finest champagne. Long before we moved away, the pipe had clogged and the basin grown a moss fur coat.
On our final day I put my lips to the lions mouth and kissed back the love. After the sludge, pure water sputtered into the basin, whilst we stood and pondered our reasons for leaving.
The Blessington Basin was the only nature that Dearblha got around these parts. She wasn’t sure if it counted, as it had been built by men, but then how many things exist that are truly pristine and untouched? With the tenements looming like drunks in a doorway she was glad of the colourful flowers and the feathers like confetti in the water. It reminded her of a day where her cheeks were roses, her lips a daffodil's flute and attention was her reward.
Donal had still loved her then – or loved the expectation of her. That expectation had fallen through repeatedly with blood in the night, the morning, the afternoon. Once, the failure had been of her own volition, as she travelled to Liverpool with a case of comfy underwear and Panadol.
Out of a tartan biscuit tin, she dropped the latest ashes into the pond to join their siblings.
Just one crazy night
Camille hurried home past the smoldering remains of Notre Dame in the early hours. The blazing row with Jean Pierre her only thought. The woody smell of charcoal embers floated down the Seine and invaded the streets. Laurent meant nothing to her, she’d known him since University; just one crazy night, good friends that’s all. Along Rue Basin, her nostrils full of fumes and her heart full of regret. She dragged herself up two flights of wooden stairs, tears flooded down her cheeks. Threw herself onto her unmade bed and sobbed herself to sleep. An hour or so later the sun erupted through her dirt-smeared window. She blinked, confused by the light, eyes stung, body ached, brain scrambled. Her eyes focused on the window, smoke still rose across the river; her mobile rang ‘Jean Pierre’ skipped across the screen.
There were two of them when she walked in.
Teachers never went in those toilets normally. The doors to each stall, like using a hand towel to get changed on the beach. And they stank. But it was before school and she had no choice.
It was awkward to position herself in the cubicle and balance on the Lilliputian throne. Looking down and touching in disbelief; knowing immediately what it meant. From that point, the experience becomes a before and after.
The after is a memory of senses with no accompanying thought.
Her dress had a blue bird print. The toilet paper in her underwear was balled up like a mistake. Her face was wet before she doused it with water. Her abdomen clenched like a fist.
In the basin where yesterday there would have been paint flecks and PVA, there was blood.
She left, almost certain she was alone.
1 COR 13
“Do you trust me?”
She erased all the negative thoughts in her head and looked at the man she loves: he was very excited, eager. She took a deep breath and finally nodded.
His lips touched hers.
He explored her infinite river of beauty and never missed an inch of her exposed skin. Every single stroke of his hand leaves her gasping for air. Her hand landed on his chest and began to fall in excruciating slow designs as she started drowning in the depth of the basin of pleasure. He was frantic.
They were together for two years. He was her dream, her companion, the only love in her life.
“Isn’t he worth it?” she thought.
She was whining with pleasure as he drove into her.
And they reached heaven.
Or was it not?
She, then, looked into the depth of his enticing, constellation-blue eyes.
It was not love.
That One Friend
When you've had a friend for long enough, you anticipate their complaints fairly well.
Sonia, the one currently sullying the basin in my sink with agitated cigarette ash, is the cheating-boyfriend friend. Sometimes, she's the boyfriend-battering-me friend. Once or twice, she's been the boyfriend-arrested friend. That never lasts long. I don't know what a man has to do to be charged around here. You're thinking Sonia is actually the chose-another-bad-boyfriend friend, but no. It's all the same guy.
"...so, a year it's been going on, really. They're down as in a relationship now, and all his bitch sisters have liked it. But am I allowed to leave? Am I hell. Nine years he's stolen from me, and he wants me to be his bit on the side!"
"I'd kill him."
"I thought you'd say that. Thank God for you. He's in the boot."
Cantering into the yard with a shiny sweating back, the horse came back alone. A broken bridle strap dragged along the ground, muddy and damaged.
Matt Dillon ruefully noted that it was a job he had meant to attend to. Mabel, his wife ran up to the horse and with calloused hands she searched the flanks of the animal for bumps and bruises. Soothing the horse with low murmurs and questions of
"where was Jessie? ".
She had ridden out of the yard in the morning and it was almost mid-day.
Soon after, Jessie appeared over the high bank, carrying her hard hat. A look of thunder on her face told a story. Mabel delayed going to her, tears and tantrums would kick off.
Fetching a basin, Mabel proceeded to rinse down the exhausted horse.
Matt stepped froward and wrapped his arms around his daughter.
"All is well" he said. Tenderly.
His Next Brush Stroke
After the gunfire it’s the silence that is the most striking. My adrenalin levels must be really high, everything is in slow motion. The basin is falling, I seem to have dropped it, it moves slowly spraying the soapy water in an even cascade, the shiny bubbles each reflecting the sunlight from the broken window.
I smile, I’m in an oil painting, a Vermeer, the Milkmaid, pouring water. Suddenly I am no longer in jeans and t-shirt but in sumptuous yellow and blue silks, lace and damask. My pearl earrings glow luminously against my flawless skin. Johannes is here scrutinising me planning his next brush stroke. My eyes are beautiful and my lips luscious and softly opened.
I am falling, following the basin, down, down. down. to. the. fl. oo. r…
On the cut
It was almost daylight; there was no sun. Nor would there be this day. The rain-filled clouds had started to meander gently from purple towards grey.
Silent. Muggy. Oppressive.
The heavy, once brightly-painted working boats rolled side to side gently in the water. The canal basin, in distant times bustling with activity and bursting with the coarse shouts of the men, the hum of their gossiping wives and the laughter of all the children, lay smothered within Nature’s grasp.
A small bicycle, pink basket attached to the handlebars, lay on the towpath. The wheels had not moved for some time.
A rock, crimson stain, shiny and reflecting in the new light, lay near the bicycle.
A dark shadow watched from the undergrowth as the dawning day found a colour match rising from the depths of the dark and dank canal.
A telephone rang somewhere not too far away.
No-one noticed at first: there was just the odd appearance of bogland, sweaty with rain-sopped mud, in the lowlands during the dry summer months. A few eyebrows raised. Next, the hills started to droop, their undulating folds of earth sagging and spilling over one another. Questioning began to form. But it was when the mountain began to cave in, forming a sorrowful basin in its peak, that people began to panic.
Experts were called in. Scientists and environmentalists approached for explanations, advice. All were baffled. Until the psychiatrist spoke up and proclaimed that it was perfectly obvious. Years of neglect and abuse had taken their toll. Earth was suffering from a deep depression.
And some dismissed the idea as nonsense. And some laughed at such a ridiculous notion. But some listened and cared and spent time to coax each blade of grass back to health, one at a time.
Stories to make your hair... part 10
They call the boat Hebe (as in heebeegeebee). She’s actually called Florence III according to her peeling paint.
She’s a canal boat. The gals have rented her for a week away. And they so need to get away. They’ve loaded her with a case of wine and a bumper box of chocolates along with other essentials and are determined to forget everything. Except each other.
Hebe’s tied up at the Coventry Canal basin mooring by 11 pm. No-one else is there. The moon shines down in all its glory on the flat black waters of the canal.
Josie has brought along a giant bottle of bleach. “Time to really wash those guys out of our hair,” she says.
And so they do. Every hair on their bodies is bleached by dawn.
“We need never go back,” says Sandy.
“Did you ever intend to?” say the others in unison.
It was a cold English winter night. Marian Brown bathed Ben, five and Bob, two, put them to bed and left with her husband John to see a play.
Sometime later, Ben had a bad dream and sat up.
Seeing no one around, he woke up Bob.
‘Let’s play’, he told Bob. Bob was overjoyed.
For a while, both played. Then Ben got an idea.
‘Bob, ‘I’ll give you a bath?’
Bob clapped delightedly.
Ben carried Bob to the bathroom –like Mum did. He wobbled under his brother’s weight.
He turned on the hot water tap and filled the basin with water- like Mum did.
Soon the basin was overflowing.
Ben lowered his little brother into it. Scalding hot water submerged Bob.
Bob screamed and screamed and screamed………………………….
‘Shh. Quiet’ chided his big brother.
Bob became still.
Ben shut the bathroom door, climbed into his bed and slept off.
The 'f' word
They're not fracking here, not if I can fracking help it. Get the joke? The 'f' word? Well, maybe it's not so funny but, then, I'm not funny any more and what they want to do to our village isn't funny really. It's pretty serious but you've got to lighten up sometimes, haven't you?
I'm getting too old and tired for this nonsense but I've never been able to walk away, never. I hate these moneyed bastards, they're like a red rag to a bull to me. Though I'm no bull any more, I can't even remember what it felt like being a bull, ha ha. Anyway, I live here because I want to, we all want to. Because it's a peaceful space in a hidden corner of an insane world in a remote green basin that nobody cared about until they discovered that it's got effing oil in it.
The Clachan at Loch Éireann
Standing on the shore of the loch, they kneel down to the surface of the water and give thanks. Brow almost skimming the ripple of the light, fresh tide, the water breeze brushes their face.
Eyes open, they gaze at the stony bed beneath, not quite the water basin, but close enough. Reaching behind them for the capsule, it is held aloft over the glistening wash. In consecration, they ease it open and allow the contents to fall on the wave.
Eyes closed, they murmur an elegy so close to the surface that their breath indents the loch water until it kisses their nose– eyes open. A gift. A gift from the swell.
They stand and walk away. Rumour has it fairies are close by.
Lord Have Mercy
Everyday, I sway above the waters of the Basin. Searching. Searching for the evil witches who took my love away. Took my life away. One day I will find them and when I do, Lord have mercy on them.
I no longer exist, but I still feel the pain, the crack on my head, hysterical laughter coming from behind me. Glass shattered, splintered. My love, screaming out my name as he's pushed into the icy waters of the basin. The cruel laughter of the two witches as they run off into darkness.
What had been a magical, romantic proposal under the moonlight, became bitterly twisted. Clouds covered the moon. All that was left that night was the drowned, frozen body of my beloved.
I struck my heart with the broken bottle and slid into the deep, deadly Basin to be with my love.
Murderous witches of the Basin. Watch me.
Peter Thrift still held the hammer as he looked down at the body. The architect of his torment lay lifeless at his feet, crimson spreading across the cracked linoleum.
For years he’d envied the other teenagers walking out of the local hairdressers with the latest cuts, while he pulled down the bobble hat he wore, whatever the weather. In summer it itched like mad.
He’d grown to hate the first Saturday in the month and the summons to the kitchen table. There would stand his Father, scissors in one hand, pudding basin in the other. However hard he tried not to, he’d flinch at his Father’s clumsy efforts to wield the too-blunt scissors as they tugged at his hair beneath the basin. And always the cheesy grin and the quip:
“Thrift by name, thrift by nature.”
Until the last time; the once too often.
Quality of Life
“This is how we do a bed bath” the senior explained. I was shown a basic task of the ward nurse. How to keep my patient warm and covered, respecting privacy, whilst dividing the body into sections to wash and dry.
However, later, I learned an important lesson from Molly, a wizened elderly lady who rarely spoke and was now bedridden. When I finished washing her, Molly pointed for the basin of soapy water to go on her lap. She lowered her hands in, massaging her fingers. Swirling her hands around, making ripples and waves that I desperately tried to keep from a tidal overflow.
Molly whispered: “Oh bliss. Thank you for giving me the freedom of doing something for myself.”
I felt water drops hit my face from her deft flick. My eyes opened wide to see the mischief in hers and the wrinkles of mirth around her mouth.
How not to express yourself when you're fifteen, sixteen or seventeen
1. Express yourself. You’re a young adult.
2. Experiment. Drink. Out late. Whatever.
3. Yell. You're unsupervised.
4. Make friends you don't know last names of.
5. Elope with someone you think is twenty, but is actually thirty.
6. Feel free, like a fledgling with new wings.
7. Realize, right after feeling freedom, you're pregnant. The man, out to buy milk one morning, plain disappears.
8. Borrow a neat sum from Mum who thinks you enrolled for a nursing course.
9. Rent a cheap apartment. Enroll for a course just to stay busy.
10. Order a labor and delivery basin set with all the basic supplies for a vaginal delivery on your own.
11. Bleed horrifically, think you might die, the stillborn by your side.
12. Open your eyes plain grateful to be alive two days later.
13. Forget freedom.
14. Curse the expression---'Express yourself '.
15. Go home.
The Dark Side
Induced sleep ends within landing distance of Proxima Centauri. The year, 2150. Being in space is not unusual but this is a solo flight. I’m heading for base camp, tingling at the prospect of learning from humans who made this journey years ago. My craft sounds the alert for me to guide her through swirling dust belts. Just as I take charge the ship is buffeted from side to side. I’m losing control. I’m hurtling into the unknown. Blackness! I’ve no idea how long I’ve been unconscious. I’m on my side, still harnessed. Struggling to unclip, I roll out of my seat. Through the murky, upside window, I see I’m in the asteroid basin. The camp must be close, then. I shoulder my pack, making for the exit. My heart leaps into my mouth as I see the figures. If this is Earth’s base then my human compatriots have metamorphosed.
No Eye for Beauty but a Nose for Smells
I stopped painting and decided to become a cook when a critic wrote, 'Dirk Mullion has no eye for beauty. His pictures look like pulped roast dinners'.
After a week of a year-long cookery course, the tutor threw away the sprouts I had burned and said, 'Please reconsider your career choice.'
'But I love the aroma of food,' I said.
'A nose for smells is not enough to turn you into a cook.'
I left the course and bought a basin with a sealed lid. I planned to detect exotic-smelling plants and place samples in the basin for parfumiers.
At the local park, I struggled to smell anything pleasant. A stray dog was having better luck. It was sniffing excitedly at patches of grass and shrubs.
'I'll take you in,' I suggested. 'Together we'll discover new scents.'
The dog nuzzled me.
If nothing else, I thought, I've found a friend.
They sit behind the sofa, calling to you.
Yoohoo, we’re here. Mum’s voice shrill, all pinching your cheeks and bags of acid drops you find in your jeans pockets after you’ve washed them.
A troposphere of guilt engulfs the sofa. It sends you fumbling for your inhaler. You regret not putting them straight in the attic, or just getting on with the darn job.
Honey don’t do that. Smile. Dad never lost his Californian drawl, or his propensity to record every single moment of your childhood.
You give up watching the TV, sit at the kitchen table hunched over your laptop, living on cup-a-soup and cereal from the box, ticking the days away. Shutting your ears to their calling.
The night before the funeral you pull the box out, puffing on your inhaler against the fug of remorse.
You open their wedding album.
Dad’s pudding-basin haircut still cracks you up.
Coming back for revenge
The woman in the mirror above the washing basin looks unfamiliar.
Sagging skin, tired eyes. Not the sprightly young beauty she used to be.
She looks at herself for a long time, lifting her forehead with the flat of her hand, pulling the bags under her eyes towards her temples with the tip of her fingers.
She pats some cream onto her neck. Pulls her forehead up again.
Eventually, she notices the edge of the silhouette in the corner of the mirror and recognises him.
Air stops reaching her lungs and the cry out of her mouth is silent.
They're gonna drain the lake. They say they need the water for the city. I'm not sure how I feel about that. That's what the letter says, just with bigger words like 'intake' and 'demarcation' and some other bullshit thrown in.
The lake always looks the same and most of the time the flies are here for company as well. The young folk on the jet skis wave sometimes but I don't acknowledge them.
Most mornings, even in the winter, the fishermen are out there, some nearer than others, their camouflage tents pitched up before dawn. They never wave.
That'll all change once the water goes and they start finding things. Some strange goings on happened up here over the years. I suppose when it's just me and the basin left here they'll find out more.
They're gonna drain the lake. They say they need the water for the city.
A claret smear across slick flesh. It was a summer of overheating human bodies, meaning I woke disturbed.
HAVE I BEEN NIPPED OR CUT, WHO WOULD DO SUCH A THING IN MY SLUMBER?! I said to no one. I thought to rinse myself under a cascade of cold water at the basin, but this only multiplied the effect.
Could it have been Lucy or Darren, getting their sweet revenge? Or, could it be Victor and his unbearably modest sense of humour?
My sheets were damp from my restless sleep and I let the blood soak. Oh, I breathed, my days are over, what a mess I’ve made of them, ready for the end. I let out a disappointed huff as I brought my hand to my face for a dramatic Mount Vesuvius death throe posture, and realised the flow was a trickle from my nose.
Oh how disappointing, I sniffed.
Mum would have called it squalid. The basin by the bed was cracked, the wall above it stippled with mold. The window had been painted shut, so I went out onto the roof to smoke. Mum wouldn’t have approved of the graffiti on the side of the building opposite—two female figures merged in a colourful kiss—but then she didn’t approve of me either. I flicked ash over the rusted railing and thought about the bags covering every inch of stained carpet in my new home. I could put up bookshelves to house the books I’d grabbed from my childhood bedroom during the few minutes I had to pack. Or I could leave them in their hold-alls, ready to move on as soon as something better came up. I watched the sun set above the dangerous, dirty, delicious city. I had never felt so free.
Linda Mason, 87'
The sirens of my alarm drills through my ear drums rushing me to my feet. I stumble through my room as sleep departs my state of mind, I fall into loose clothes to comfort my delicate body.
A lonely breakfast as my elder brother has already left his half-filled cup of coffee for work. The rough surface of toast grazes the roof of my mouth leaving the residue of salt on open wound. Orange juice stings the raw flesh, but soothes my anxiety for now.
As I wait for the school bus each vehicle that emerges raises my heart rate. The kids on the bus pluck at my insecurities as part of their diet.
The day seems lost until I get to my locker, my feelings come to a stand-still when Linda Mason consumes the nectar from the water fountain.
I envy the basin for her company
Taken From My Memoirs That I Never Got to Write
There’s a ridge of mountains in the Rockies forming a giant granite loop along the otherwise linear Continental Divide. The Great Wyoming Basin is a vast empty plain, stretching from the Tetons in the north to the crimson gash of the Flaming Gorge in the south.
Moulting dwarf antelope roam the desiccated landscape, hanks of grey wool hanging from their skinny bodies like the detritus of a zombie apocalypse. Tumbleweed bounces across their path, not that they’re heading anywhere particular.
In the heat of high summer, moisture on the land rises to meet a band of high-altitude cool air. On certain sultry days, the combination forms a super cell. Tornadoes, hurricane-strength winds, torrential rain and flash floods threaten. If you are exposed in your steel-toed hiking boots, you’ll be wanting to seek cover.
And you certainly don’t want to be there when the lightning begins to strike.
A Place in His History
Amy stripped out every last sign of him. She loved him so much and even his forgotten sock in the dirty-washing basket undid her. She'd no time to grieve, she had to erase him from her flat, her car, her existence. That was the only way she'd stand a chance of riding out the storm and making it through to the next phase of her empty life. No-one must know about them, or how it all ended.
The newspapers conjectured: how could a wealthy businessman with a perfect life (a beautiful wife and three wonderful daughters), simply disappear? Amy knew better. Plus she hated being invisible as far as the media was concerned. But, she'd always promised him she'd never break cover, in any circumstances, for his family's sake.
It was a final stray, auburn hair in the handbasin that did it. Bugger promises, she phoned 999 and confessed to murder.
It’s a Relative Thing
”What are you doing?”
”I was working a crossword puzzle, until I needed a five letter word for veracity. Now I’m online searching for the meaning of truth. Only I’m more confused than when I started.”
”In many ways, the concept of truth is just that: a concept. Conjectures, beliefs, and emotions may come into play. It may sometimes be impossible to know what’s really true, and what’s not. There may be no appropriate measure or scale for some situations. Many things we can never know for certain.”
”You’re pondering some deep stuff.”
”Deeper than an ocean basin. And I’ve realized that one of the only things that I absolutely know to be true is that I love you.”
”Then this is a good time to tell you that Mother will be coming for the weekend.”
With thanks to all the writers who have made this issue possible.Abdul-Ahad Patel, Adele Evershed, Alexander Hiller, Alistair Duff, Andrew Edgeworth, Anne Howkins, Annemarie Allan, B F Jones, Carol Leggatt, Catherine Keyes, Cathy De'Freitas, Ceinwen E Cariad Haydon, Christine Nedahl, Christine Rountree, Claire T Allen, Colin Alcock, Deanna Salser, Desna Mackenzie, E.C. Andrew, Edmarie Joy Panganiban, Elizabeth Taeed, Ellen Kirkman, Elspeth Wilson, Eszter Coombs, Gail Everett, Glenn Mori, Hannah Whiteoak, Henry Bladon, irene Joseph, Isabel Flynn, Izadora Santori, Jamie Grecco, Jenny Woodhouse, Jo Derrick, Joel Caldicott, John Cooper, John Harkin, Jonny Keyworth, Joseph Baron-Pravda, Joyce Bingham, Judy Mitchell, K. J. Watson, Kendra O'Neill, Khouloud Azzouz, Kiira Rhosair, Kristina Jackets, Laura Besley, Les Pedrick, Louise Mangos, Lynda Kirby, M. Lennon, Malcolm Richardson, Mandira Pattnaik, Margaret G. Kiernan, Marlene Pitcher, Melissa Kay, Mia Ackroyd, Michael Rumsey, Mitja Lovše, Natalie Hodgkin, Nic Vine, Nick Tiplady, Paul Bradley-Cong, Paul Jenkins, Peter J Fullagar, RJD, Roger Haydon, Ruth Skrine, S.B. Borgersen, Sam Howroyd, Sam Payne, Sara Macleod, Sarah Davy, Shalom Aranas, Shammah Hove, Sophia Felsinger, Steve Recchia, Steven John, Sue Johnston, Sue Partridge, Sylvia Petter, Tom Stewart, Viney Kirpal
17th July 2019