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
Online, she scrolled through recent photos, liking each one of “her boys”.
Halloween costumes: a zombie and Spiderman. Over FaceTime last week, she’d suggested something other than a superhero to Ted. “A Halloween costume should be scary” but he didn’t care. Instead, he talked about all the candy he would get. “Candy”. Not sweets.
First day of school: they wore big grins and their own clothes. No school uniform like before. No matching jumpers. No school tie. Beneath their smiles, she could see: they were nervous. Even through a frozen image and across an ocean, she could see still read them. Her boys that weren’t hers.
First night in the new house: the matching PJs she’d given them last Christmas and the blanket from their parents’ bed.
The last night in the old house: on bare floors by a pizza box, old t-shirts, pants and tear stains. Theirs and hers.
The landscape of her life had been completely excavated. She had buried her grandmother, father, young cousin. Now this.
She learned that preparation for death eases the grief. She also learned that when the time comes it still slaps you in the face, cold and bracing.
But eventually work becomes demanding, bills need to be paid, and an image on the television steals a chuckle right out of your throat. Glimpses of respite from grief make you believe those moments will expand and you may be able to experience joy once again.
She turns from the grave and walks away. To her work, her bills, her television.
Day after day, she leaves for work, she pays bills, she searches the television. But no chuckle is stolen. No respite to be had.
Two days ago she stopped going to work.
Yesterday she stopped paying bills.
Today she turned off the television.
"I can rate her number one in her intelligence and her education. She's very smart and takes her work seriously. She doesn't know how to steal, lie, drink or smoke. She is very responsible and always takes the initiative. Creativity is her middle name. But..."
The word "but"peaked my interest. I stood there waiting for her father to continue. He looked me straight in the eyes and said, "But she is zero in the kitchen."
My stomach is how Lexie got to my heart. From then on it became constant meals shared together. Love growing between us.
I got to the house. Food smells perfumed the air making my stomach growl. That's all I needed to get down on one knee and ask for her hand. In reality, not everyone may give the best testimony about you especially if they have an old image of you blinding their sight.
She took a deep breath and used the carvings on the gate to lift herself up on the platform above. She looked below, a colorful mass, an itinerant circus, this is what they had become after the explosion had leveled their city.
“When you take something that’s broken and you piece it together, you can still see the cracks, right? This is me. It’s not that I’m broken, but I’m not unbroken either. Through my cracks, you can see how I repaired myself. And that is what I plan to do for you, I will create a new city in the image of our memories !”
She yelled, while raising her hand, a tiny person above the large edifice, enveloped by the swirling dust. They became quiet.
"We will stop wondering through barren fields of thistles!"
As she lowered her hand, they started tearing apart the gate.
Teeth are for eating, not for biting
I stood motionless as the men in white coats came for me. They entered my cell, one of them with the leather collar, the other with the mirror.
I knew what would happen next. It was pointless resisting.
One of them called my name in a soft tone, as if he was addressing a child, but it sounded creepy.
I let out a shriek as another man grabbed me.
They fixed the collar around my neck and then they dressed me in a clown outfit. I was only three foot tall and it was far too big.
I think that they enjoyed having the power to humiliate me.
When they placed the mirror in front of my face, I saw the image of a terrified monkey.
I opened my mouth, and one of them hit me.
'Listen, Bobo,' he said. 'Teeth are for eating, not for biting.'
Run To Earth
Sometimes in my bedroom, the mirror image flashes up items I’ve forgotten, and I wonder how the reflection found them. Mostly they are silly pretenses from my childhood. The trainers I wore to show off to Keely Judd because she said my tiny shovel feet were ridiculous. My cardboard snow-forest, which still beckons me in, despite the dust. The VR box you startled me with on my 13th birthday. Today you are there, poking around where I asked you not to touch. You bundle up my red puffer jacket from the floor and I expect you to shake it, throw it against the wardrobe. Instead you stroke it like a fox cub, let it settle. You open my diary, thumb to the final brief entry. Your fingers tremble. I can’t fathom your expression. When I tap the icy glass to see if you’re real, my claws are not reflected.
Made in the image
Mam wields the words like a cricket bat. 'Get yer hands off that last bun,' she screeches when we're round at Nan's for tea. 'Made in the image.' She spots me scratching my arse when I'm half-asleep at the bus stop, and clubs me with it again. 'Finger out, you dirty sod. Made in the image!' Last week she caught me with an arm around Jessie from next door, nothing more, and I got a slap along with the sting: 'Hands where I can see 'em, boy. Made in the image!'
Thing is, Jessie said after, what if we actually are? Made in the image, you know? What if the world was brand new, and big Beardy himself held a mirror up and made us? I reckon He'd let me have that bun and the odd scratch. Reckon He'd give me and Jessie a wink, and a shilling for chips.
Sometimes I woke up with ink stains down the side of my left hand. I never knew where they came from, and never spent much time wondering.
In the bathroom I started to scrub the black ink from my skin. The soft thud of something dropping through the letterbox interrupted me. It was far too early for the postman.
There was an envelope sitting on the doormat, plain white with my name printed on the front. No return address.
Inside were several sheets of paper, each page containing more nonsense than the last. There were gibberish words and symbols I’d never seen before.
My hands started to shake. I recognised the messy scrawl. The handwriting was mine.
The ink was still wet in places, in some places smearing the page. I compared them to the marks still staining my hand; they matched, like a mirror image.
My daughter made me a beaded bracelet
It breaks while I'm waiting near the school gates. Dropping to my knees, as if to pray, I scrape my fingertips over the dusty gravel and pick the beads up one by one. Other things I find there; a penny, a curled leaf, a shard of glass and a single clover clinging on by loose, fragile roots.
'Did you hear me?'
I look up at the woman. The sun haloing behind her head makes her the image of something ethereal. She has a son in the year below my daughter but I've forgotten his name. I want to remember, because it's important now, but I can't.
'The shooter is dead,' she says, 'they'll be getting the children out soon.'
Before rising, I notice a gold bead hiding near her feet. I reach for it and close my fist tight around it.
He found himself being lost in his thoughts again.
He was in a search – he was looking for these tiny bits and pieces of memories that were helping him keeping the image of his mother still alive, still colorful: her always sunlight eyes smiling, and big arms softly holding close to her chest, close to her loud heartbeat. She would shower his face with warm kisses, there would be this nice smell of freshly baked cinnamon buns, and peeled oranges in the air every evening when he would come back from school...Ah, there. He remembered.
"You are so talented, Tommy!" she patted his head, hanging his painting on the wall. "Look at you bringing everything to life with all these colors! Promise me you`ll be an artist one day."
And looking at the cold and quiet graveyard, he could only hope, that she would be proud.
He's tall, suited (sans tie) and smells manicured. "A wonderful image", he grandstands to his date, "the photographer has really captured the desperation". He doesn't know I'm behind him in the opening night crowd, nor that the desperation was far from captured.
Under a building storm I stood on the deck of my small sailing boat, watching a leaky vessel go down. More people than seemed possible were tumbling from its rails. I tacked close, hove to and pulled the closest lady on-board, then an elderly man, then three young men and a small girl.
A slow-motion stampede of raggedy swimmers struggled through the water towards us. Stark physics chilled my hot adrenaline. With quick hands I tacked the jib, and as we caught the wind I made eye contact with the woman in the water. But there were already too many.
I outstretched my arm, phone in hand.
Starry, Starry Night
When he was loud, waving his arms and shouting, the man frightened me. I slipped behind my sister, hid in her skirts. Sometimes she crept up the narrow attic stairs, dragging me behind, my wrist burning at the tightness of her grip. We'd peer round the doorjamb, watch him jabbing paint onto card or canvas so violently it was painful to see. If he glanced up, we'd run quickly down to the kitchen. One day, he bent down, his bristly chin too close and thrust a tiny image, yellow on dark blue, at me. "For you," he said. When he lay dead in a box at the back of the house, Mama lifted me so I could look but I was gazing at the painting against the wall. I knew he was in the starry, starry night one. My own starry painting, I keep safe in my glove drawer.
Amelia breaks through
There was a film of fine dust on the mirrors surface. Amelia gently blew and it floated away, stirred like sand on a Sahara breeze. The woman looking back at her looked old. Tired. Grey hairs traced her forehead, deep lines furrowed her brow. " Who are you" Amelia wondered. The reflection mouthed the words has they left her mouth. Movement over her left shoulder caught Amelia's eye and she turned to see the girl standing there. The light from the window made the girl seem ethereal. "mommy", the girl whispered. "Where have you been mommy?, " Amelia looked at the girl. The girl screamed "MOMMY DON'T GO! Amelia felt a pull on her dress, something was trying to drag her back toward the mirror. Amelia felt as though she had fallen in to a cushion of air as she disappeared into the mirror. Her daughters image faded to black.
Should have been
I’ve got this image of myself.
She’s a morning person
Strange how these things grow over time, without you noticing.
She doesn’t eat meat
I grew up living with my dad, quiet and academic and nervous in social situations. My sister lived with our mum, beautiful, outgoing, like a flame we dusty moths fluttered around. I was the clever one.
Yellow’s her colour
I went to university, got a job and did well at it. My sister did well at her work, too. That was when it started going wrong. If she was clever too, what was left for me.
She was winning netball tournaments, awards at work, a devoted partner, a dog.
She had such potential
Comparing yourself with others is a sure road to misery. Comparing yourself with you, though. Measuring against what you thought you were. Seeing what you’re not. That’s worse.
You can tell a lot about a person by their skin.
I've been watching you: a tall, pale boy, barely legal. You keep walking past, pretending you have somewhere to go, sneaking looks in the window. Just come in, why don't you?
Finally you push the door.
You're first-timer nervous; not sure what you want, maybe something traditional. I settle you with tea and a ring binder of laminated photos. I watch you flick through the images. Finally, you decide.
It's certainly traditional: a rose emblazoned Mother. I'm disappointed. I was hoping you'd choose something with a bit more pizzazz.
You rummage in your rucksack. Second thoughts? It happens.
You're holding a photo of a woman.
She's a work of art. Chrysanthemums flourish over her belly; carp swim sinuously down her legs. She's gorgeous, no inch of skin unadorned.
'Mum died this morning,' you say. 'This tattoo's for her.'
You conjured up an image in your mind when he left. A sinuous, dark eyed temptress, scarlet lips that whisper honeyed words. Smooth skinned and long limbed. A cliche but your pride would not allow anything less. But today you see them together. And she is you. No better, no worse. No sinuous walk, no swaying hips. A face marked with the same first thin beginning of lines. You want to confront them, stand side by side with her and ask him why. But just then he sees you and on his face is an expression you recognise, an expression you saw more and more in the mirror before he left and you understand.
“How much?” Wilma sneered.
“It’s an antique!” Wally beamed.
“Good thing its October. I won’t have to suffer when they cut off the A/C.”
“Who needs A/C cruising on the open road, windows down, Deano on the dial?”
“Let me know when that ‘moon hits your eye,’ ‘cause that’s the only pizza pie I’ll get to see. You spent everything on a junker!”
Wally tilted the sideview mirror, frowning at the sagging chassis of Wilma’s image.
“She’s not junk.”
“So much for my cruise.”
“This baby can cruise.” Wally slipped into the driver’s seat. The engine roared.
“Right into the poor house. Think of the gas! Mother was right about you. So selfish. What did you ever see in that old thing?” she needled over the Bel-Air’s rumble.
Wally adjusted Wilma’s heckling reflection in the rearview. He dropped the transmission into reverse.
“I have no idea.”
He goosed the accelerator.
Oblivion & Permanence
Oblivion lurked within the broken mirror in which she now peered, and though she had not broken it herself, she admired the way her face was contoured and contorted into a myriad of fractured and fragmented shapes. It made her look otherworldly; unique. For, she knew that when she stepped away from the bathroom mirror and back into the party all eyes would be cast upon her, like a lawyer shrouding the accused from the glare of press photographers, for all the wrong reasons. Conversations would no longer bustle, glassware and cutlery would no longer clink and the string quartet would go off sheet, deep in an impromptu diminuendo.
Then, only silence.
She stared a short while longer, hoping she could wear the drama of the cracks permanently, to forever be the black swan that inspired awe, not disgust. Observing her image within the sharpest shard, a thought suddenly blossomed.
My car rear-view mirror sign says ‘objects are closer than they appear.’
My bathroom mirror sign says ‘objects are even uglier than they appear.’
The image taunts and sucks, like my life.
My scalp is a dead sea with islands and archipelagos of failing hair. Head lice body surf on chunks of dandruff. Blackheads cluster on my forehead like lost tribes, and my jowls sag like the Lone Ranger’s saddlebags. My teeth are occasional, lopsided tombstones, and my nose is the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
My bad eye keeps turning to gawk jealously at the good one, which sneers back as if to say ‘what’re you looking at, loser.’
Outside, the neighbour’s dog is waiting to bite me in my gonads again, and birds circle in holding patterns waiting to shit on my head.
Smash the mirror, you say? I would, but they reckon it’ll be seven years of bad luck.
I sat at the oak dining table and shared a polite hello with the other participants.
The bell rang, I stood up and made my way to the kitchen. A booming voice travelled my way “You’re the spitting image of my great aunt when she was in service.” I looked down not wanting to engage. I concentrated on the task in hand, and ladled out the bright green pea soup into the white bowls.
Walking into the dining room, I carefully placed each bowl on the table. I stood back and waited leaning against the oak panelled wall. Harry at the head of the table groaned as he slumped forward. I thought this was very authentic, but a bit premature for the first murder.
There was the usual gasp of horror and chatter of who could have done this. However a silence fell when there was no response from Harry.
When I get up in the morning, I look at you.
Before I go to sleep, I gaze at you.
Reflecting back my image and what you see.
Every day there is a little change. So slight, so sly. A crease here, a mark there.
I smile and you grimace. I raise my left hand, you raise your right.
Where did you get those eyes that stare so blankly with pupils big and black?
Once I was happy to stare at you; now I shun you.
Who are you mirror person? Because you are no longer me.
Petre Adamache tried to break my grasp. “I’ve never had the urge to kill,” he yelled. I needed to make sure he never would.
I threw holy water in his face. His eyes turned black. Then he simply evaporated.
The edges of my mouth curled upward as I entered the rectory and hugged Fr. Williamson. “He’s gone.”
“You did well, my son.”
I noticed an ornate gilded mirror leaning against the wall. It looked just like the one Father said exorcists made in 1813. “It’s not really a mirror,” he had told me. “It’s a portal.”
I walked up to it and stared at my image. “My eyes are turning black.”
Father put a hand on my shoulder. “I’m sorry.”
Hundreds of wispy, bony fingers reached out and pulled me in.
I had never let myself believe I was one of them. Now, they will never let me forget.
The Smell of Fear
Do I smell? I can’t smell anything much. I feel sheets sandpapering my shoulders and hips. I hear metronomic blips and mechanical whirrs. If I turned, I could probably see my life measured out on electronic displays. I don’t turn. I ponder the mysterious universe, who is feeding the goldfish, is the house insurance due, what happened in the last episode of..? Each thought twisting to the next like an image stopped in a view-master. I still recall the feel of your hand on my back.
I see the mouths of the doctors and nurses, how they tilt their heads to one side, the almost imperceptible shake, their eyes lowered, shoulders rising and falling helplessly. The corner of your lips twitch as you lean over me, planting a kiss on my forehead, for show. When you pushed me downstairs you expected to finish me. Maybe you have.
Forgive Me, Monique
When I heard you were moving back, Monique, my stomach lurched.
You'd wanted to report my 'friends'. I would not permit it.
We'd laughed our way through high school, boy-crazed in our bloodied knickers, despite the blazing battle-axes, the mewling misters.
Weekends were white-sliced at mine, wholemeal at yours.
When school laughed back I crept, you strode, empty-handed, out.
You found Paris enticing, spoke French, could type well enough. I shared your single bed (up six flights!); ate your croissants, sought out artists, tried hard to become.
You paid my fare home.
Remember my bedsit? Torn turquoise curtains, walls weeping water...how I loved that place, with the stuttering junkie, the chain-smoking nun, the bats in the garden at night.
And yeah - the wonderful couple with kids - the image of kindness and cool.
Only you could see though it, Monique.
Rapture of a Middle Aged Man
Man was created in the image of God, so my teacher liked to say. The crusty old bat also said that masturbation and the opposite sex were the Devil’s temptation; I discarded this advice when I hit my adolescent years.
The former, however, stuck with me. If I truly were made in the image of God, then he too must be a “pathetic, weak and useless” middle aged man with a beer gut. It’s time I put this theory to the test.
Naked, the image in the bathroom mirror looks to prove my wife’s characterisation of me correct. I step into the bath, razor blade in hand, the hot water a temporary pain. The blade soothes over both wrists, the blood creates a foamy raspberry-ripple type effect. I close my eyes and instead of rapture there is nothingness. They were all wrong. God is created in the image of man.
Concert at the zoo
I was told I would have to cut my claws if I wanted to play. It was a man, of course, whose own claws were yellow and bitten down. (Who does he call when needs to relieve an itch or puncture flesh?)
Someone has kindly brought me a chair but it is cold outside and there are snowflakes melting on my ears and I do not like wet ears.
A child looks out through a window and watches, the curtain wrapped turban-like round its head. I am suddenly aware of my heavy thighs and my hairy nipples. A hat would have been nice. Oh Sisyphus.
But I will never tire of the image of my glinting nails hooking and uncurling fluttering leaves of silver notes, gorgeous ghostly threads - tie them all up and let them lick the syrup off when I’m done.
I love you because when I see you, my heart stretches to its limit and I almost forget to breath.
They say that’s what lust is.
I love you because your image is a pale white skin and slender nose and perfect brown eyes.
They say that’s what beauty is.
I love you because you are tall as a redwood and I must crane my neck to meet your ocean-blue eyes; those few, happy times you permit me to invade your presence.
That’s why they call you Thor. They say you are the most virile of men.
I love you because when I close my eyes, I see us; naked; huffing and puffing; our lovemaking like a well synchronised opera.
They say that means my happiness lies with you.
I love that with you, I am guaranteed a lifetime of desire.
I love you, married man of my dreams.
I don't need the photo - the image is burned into me. I dream of the moor. Frozen fingers, chattering teeth. Myra brings out wine and we huddle against the car. Ian and Dave dance over rocks. Myra snatches the camera, snaps them. The wind whips up their laughter and the children call from the dark, wet earth. Let me go to my mam. Don't hurt me.
She stands by the tiny white coffin, pays her respects to my Angela. 'Another little flower for God's garden.' She dabs at her mascara. Then she's gone, greedy for her next thrill.
I smash the bottle. Wine soaks into the moor, running through rocks and roots and bones, and the cold, dead flesh.
I wake up drenched, my nose prickling. Bright drops spill on to the pillow. Today the parole campaign begins, but my love for my monster sister will always taste of blood.
His dummy sailed into the belly of the puddle and then split, splat, his stout arch-less feet stomped in the water and he pushed his dummy, nudging the plastic bulb pirate around in circles.
Around in circles.
Dummy ripples shattered her image as she bent over the puddle, hands above her knees; the bony prominence's like elephant hide stained with dishwater.
Housewife’s knees. Brown apple knees. They had their own post-natal depression.
Her hair dangled, she had dyed it herself (childcare was crippling), and it had faded to shipwrecked brown. It did not belong. Tedious as a shingle beach, as pigeons.
Pigeons reminded her of her uncles racing pigeons back home. She used to scrape their shit off the barn.
It is a short time in your life, they said. They said that back then too. But she was already oil to watercolour.
Her husband’s image moved joltingly on a pixelated phone screen, propped against a sugar canister as she poured raisin bran into a bowl.
“No, just raisins!” the three-year-old screamed.
She sighed. “You can’t have just raisins for breakfast.”
Turning back to the screen— “You still there?”
His face was frozen; bursts of static squawked from the speakers. She leaned on the counter, rubbing her temples and willing back tears.
“Are we even still in Afghanistan?” a postal worker had asked her when she shipped neatly wrapped presents weeks ago— a flannel pillowcase and mug adorned with family pictures.
My heart is in Afghanistan, she had wanted to say. But she mumbled, “Yeah, I guess.”
Her phone had gone silent and dark now, and she started picking shriveled raisins, one-by-one, out of the cereal. “Only today,” she told the grinning boy.
And then the ding of a text.
“Merry Christmas babe.”
Strange on a Train
A man in a business suit sits at the far end of the train. Rustles his newspaper when he turns the page. Sighs when someone eyes his briefcase taking up the empty seat.
An elderly woman drops monkey nut shells onto the floor. Kicks them away with her black slippers.
Musicians exchange glances every time someone brushes against their instrument cases.
A teenager cracks open a coke. Fails to gulp before fizz runs down her lap. Another teenager laughs. A woman looks up at the whispering silhouette image – quiet zone – doesn’t say anything.
The lights go out. Cackling laughter fills the carriage. Stops when the lights return.
A woman steps forward, arm cradling her bulbous belly. Someone gets up. She barely nods a thank you.
The seat giver-upper gets off at the next stop and now I don’t know who to save in the event of an attack.
Who took his photo?
His Third Eye is blocked. He’s keeping things to himself. Who took his photo? Who put it on the internet, and why? What name is used under the image: his real name Mr. Theodore John Kaczynski, or the nickname by the government officials? There is a difference, y’know. There is a difference…
Granny Ward's Depictions
Every year we depended on Granny Ward to produce an image of Guy Fawkes for bonfire night. He was always a six feet monster but she was well known for her six inch high statues of moulded rubber with noses made from plasticine and coloured pins for eyes. So life-like and natural, Granny Ward had a sense of humour but her figures showed respect, never made to mock.
At first she featured only family members but gradually village folk started appearing. I remember Bob Gooch from the corner shop, PC Jimmy Green, even The Reverend Watson and many more. She’d sell them at our Christmas Social every year and they became collector items.
One year a new one appeared but totally unrecognisable. He had pursed moist lips with his tongue just protruding.
“Who is it?” I asked.
“That,” said Granny Ward with a smile, “is a spitting image.”
My stomach is a liquid that trickles throughout my body. My knees are gelatinous, a wobbling cartoon pudding. My voice doesn't work, sentences tangled in my head, a giant knot of hair growing tendrils in my brain. Worms in my fingers that wriggle and twitch. My tapping feet itch to run.
My mouth is a secondary school classroom with no air conditioning in the height of summer. My eyes are swollen and unmoving, two corpses just escaping the tops of my shoes. My lungs are numb in a rigid pattern of breathing in and in and in and in, a machine malfunctioning, charcoal smoke choking me.
And everyone can see. They can read the panic on my body as though I am top image in a google search for someone who is failing. Their eyes seek me out, and I know they find everything they see repulsive.
Professor Cox proceeded further into the chamber, passing plunging tunnels which led to lower galleries where a distant river rumbled.
Along a passage cluttered with fallen rocks, he slid down a clay slope into a cathedral-like space whose floor gave way to a wide pit.
High on the far wall was a crouching figure drawn in heavy black outline, with human legs and body but with paws instead of hands. He could detect only a faded black smudge where the head should be.
Desperate to get a closer view, he scrambled up a side passage overlooking the chamber. From there, he could make out the head, full face, with owl-like eyes and the ears and antlers of a stag.
Suddenly the eyes blinked, as simultaneously his torch slipped from his grasp, plummeting to the floor of the pit. It was the last image that Professor Cox was ever to see.
Billy couldn't sleep. He was tired and it was late and the light was low, its glow settling in the room like fog. But, Billy couldn't sleep.
A moth threw shadows against the wall. Images danced, faded, grew. tiny wings clattered drum beats on the window and with each rattle the shadow morphed.
Billy channeled his inner Stephen King, turning the black shapes into clowns, spiders, rabid dogs in his mind. He frowned. Pushed the shapes together into a tunnel, slipped out of bed, one foot in front of the other, towards the darkness in the wall.
Tony isn't at his usual stall today. His kidneys, apparently. Doesn't look too good. The boy's hair is deep red and swept up into a messy ponytail. I reckon he must be Tony's son. Spitting image. Drumming on the carrots with a pen, he nods energetically to the music in his ears. I hand over the pumpkin and a fiver.'Cas. What a voice'Who on Earth is he talking about?'She's dead fit. Got eyes a bit like yours. That will be a quid. Here you go. Cheers' Later, as I am hacking through the gnarled layers, I think about him again. I must be old enough to be his mother. The sink is tinged with unexpected pink and I am aware of an angry pain. As I carefully rinse my hands I glimpse up at my face in the mirror. Both of my mouths break into a smile.
Moving On Up.
"Not really part of the image, is it Bazza?"
Jingo paced around the car as if it was going to lurch forward and try to bite him.
Bazza shrugged, his padded shoulders flared up and momentarily hugged his ears.
"Yeah, well, it's time for a change."
"Change?" Jingo stopped kicking at a tire doubtfully and looked up warily.
"Celia's gonna have a baby." Bazza looked Jingo in the eye "We're not kids any more Jingo."
"What about Saturday nights? The rides? The Gang?"
"The Gang? How many of us are left? And look at this suit. It's not new anymore, is it?"
"It's The Look, Baz!"
A resigned shrug was his reply.
"Your bike. What about that Bazza?"
His friend stepped towards him. "Jingo mate, it's Barry. We're in our thirties for christ's sake. The Teds are over. I'm sorry."
"But, your bike..."
"Hundred and fifty quid?"
Leo wakes to his own face in a wedding photo by the bed. The wife in the image is unfamiliar, but it matches the face of a woman running across the room towards him now. The running-wife's face is slapped with a consternation that Leo's remembered-wife never has. Come to think about it, nor has he ever seen such a look on his secretary, 'golf coach' or dentist. Lying in bed - suddenly uncomfortable - Leo considers changing spots.
Victoria Park, Tuesday Afternoon, 2:34pm
All she was left with was the image of her son hurtling down the slide. It had been raining so he was wearing red waterproof trousers over the top of the denim dungarees she’d chosen from Next last Christmas. He insisted on going to the park, despite the rain. He must have been bored of Lego and endless episodes of Bob the Builder. She was bored of that stuff too, she was sick of it all – the endless hours, the inane discussions about food, playdates and stretch marks; while Mike jetted off to New York and Paris.
His tiny hands flew up as he raced down the soaked slide; and she tried not to hear him call, Mummy, when he realised she was gone.
Coo Coo Cola
The rainbow passed between mountain peaks and splashed upon the shore. The colors subsided, revealing the image of Mother Ayahuasca pacing the beach in Victorian dress, oversized parasol over her shoulder. The wind ruffled but didn’t loosen her wide-brimmed hat, her long blonde hair, large pink ears and slender tail.
She was a mouse.
(Gadget Hackwrench to be exact.)
Mother/Gadget closed and jammed the giant cocktail umbrella into the sand and in two quick strides was kneeling, caressing my head in her hands.
“It’s Okay, Dave. It’s over now.” She brushes sweaty hair from my forehead. Taking away the tears, incelibacy and self-abuse along with it.
“I think,” I stammer, “I did it all for you.”
“I know. I was watching.”
“I never hurt no one but myself.”
She stands. I take an outstretched paw and we run down the beach to where a bleach-bottle zeppelin awaits us.
‘Cheese,’ the photographer demanded.
The wedding party were unnaturally miserable, it was like photographing a funeral. It didn’t help being a shotgun wedding, there was a chance the reception might be in the delivery suite at the maternity hospital. The bridegroom looked especially downbeat, how could one night of passion turn into a lifetime of misery. The best man, the bride’s brother tracked him down in Brighton after Rosita spilled the beans on the guilty party. Luigi, her father wasn’t having his grandchild born out of wedlock.
The photographer struggled to round up all the guests for one final shot. He checked the image on his camera; he no longer cared if they didn’t smile. Their wedding album would soon be consigned to the top shelf of the wardrobe. He left them his card, the christening might be a happier event.
curiosity killed the
The face in the mirror tilted her head to the left. Which was to be expected, since her opposing image had tilted her head to the right. Right, left, up, up, down, down, around, around, twirl, sashay, and crack, crumple to the floor. The face watches her image grimace and tenderly touch her left (right) ankle feeling for a tear. Bound by laws she did not create, the face touches her right (left) ankle, head up, refracting light, searching for feeling in her image's downward-tilted head. The face wishes to know feeling but reflection dictates that she see, not understand. The torn ligament of light tying the face to her image tears as she looks down, up, left, right, crack, through the fissure in the mirror as she reaches for the ankle of her captor.
Me and the Marlboro Man
I shimmy across the mattress to spoon, drawing heat off his steaming flesh. A blend of hygiene products conjures up an unshakable image. Leather + Pine + Zesty Mint = Marlboro Man.
Don't ask me how those old magazine ads have survived in my memory or why I picture a famous smoker with minty crisp breath. All I know is that right now, Parker from the mail room is a rugged cowboy with legs wrapped tightly around his body by yours truly.
Sure, he likes to shower alone. After wild but meaningful sex. Who can fault him for keeping up appearances on the first date? My make-up is still freshly applied with the help of a few, well timed visits to the washroom.
"Dariah...I think we should keep this between us."
"Yes, office politics can be so exhausting."
I smile at the thought of our secret romance: me and the Marlboro Man.
On the second day of house-clearing, I found your compact mirror. Cracked matte black with brassy 'gold' trim; covered in dusty make-up fingerprints. I held it in the centre of my palm, feeling it fit mine like yours.
Thumbing it open with a click, the mirror was as thickly make-up smeared as I knew it would be. Reflecting me back in hazy softness like you liked it. I can see you wiping a red-nailed finger in foundation and rubbing that mirror into a clouded, tolerable image. Glasses off, you would grimace into that foggy reflection, mascara wand gripped like a weapon.
Someone else made you up for today. You lying in that box was all hard corners and lines. As my glasses clouded with tears, I chose not to wipe them away but let them blur, smear, soften; wanting to dull the sharp edges of this loss.
I try to get through the day. Every day.
In the music I hear, the scents I smell. I see you. Your image everywhere I go.
A piece of you always. I look out the window.
The leaves are turning. Autumn falling. I stand, walk to nowhere.
Hold myself, a stitch pinching.
Listen to the photocopier whir. The machines churning.
I stop, try to shake this. Try to shake you.
The paper jams.
A bird cries.
Outside the leaves fall.
I don't remember a time the image didn't haunt. Stark, black limbs motionless against the sky.
In the night, startled by my dream, you'd whisper, 'Hush, darling girl, it's only the guardian of the forest. Strongest tree there.'
I try to remember your words. It's my way of holding on to my sanity believing you became one with it the day you chose death.
The image of me throwing up became something of a cliche by then, but I fulfilled these expectations yet again.
While I could've avoided this, I prefer the taste of the liquor way more than my health. Luckily, the latter proved to be quite resilient to my self destruction.
Nonetheless, I felt I should've stopped doing that, because I reached another end of the line, though this time I really meant what I said.
I collected myself, looked around and saw that the party at my favourite restaurant continued to rage. I checked for my friend, he stood alone with a glass of brandy near the counter.
'I'm going home.'
'Would you like to have another drink, before you go?'
I didn't decline.
The uniformed officer
'It looks like him from the back,' said Laura, 'but from the front? I'm not so sure,' and ran her fingers through her hair again. 'I couldn't see properly.' Her mum stroked her sweat damp hand.
'It's a misunderstanding, we should stop now,' Mum said, 'I should never have called, he died long, long ago after all.'
The officers looked at each other, and scratched their heads. The detective found another image and passed it across. An old monochrome photo showing an unsmiling young man holding a shotgun and standing in a cottage doorway.
'Mum, it's this cottage.' Laura stood up but her mother pulled her gently down onto the settee beside her and held her tight. The uniformed officer smiled and looked past the pair on the settee and pointed while the women studied the photo.
'Is that him?' he said. 'In the doorway behind you? With the gun?'
The Ties That Bind
He died when I was ten. Most nights, as I was falling asleep, I conjured his image in my head and he followed me into my dreams.
Day-time hours were busy. As the eldest of four I had plenty of responsibilities. Mum depended upon me to help with with the little ones. Plus, I studied hard; I was determined to have more choices than she'd had. I had my eyes on a career, independence.
On the day I sat my last A Level exam, I partied until dawn. My life was now on the starting blocks. I forgot to think about him as I collapsed into bed, still in my jeans and makeup. Next morning, Mum brought me a cuppa.
'I've a surprise for you,' she said.
Through my pounding headache, I heard her say,
'A new Labrador pup, to replace your old friend.'
I knew I'd never escape now.
I watched from the window as she hung whites monotonously. Several sheets, stained, and a small blanket. In the day’s grey light, she looked as pale as the linens. Portentous clouds hung heavy, but she pulled another dolly peg from her apron nonetheless. I felt a strange affinity towards her. She was the spitting image of my mother at my age, though she had passed nine years now. Thunder rumbled and I backed away from the glass.
A wind rolled in. It never felt warm anymore, and the sodden fabric weighed heavy like heartache. Eyes on me, from the window above. For a second I thought I recognised her. She was strangely familiar, but distantly so. Like a dream I hadn’t had yet. Lightning cracked the sky and when I looked again, she was gone. It was going to rain but I carried on hanging out the baby’s things regardless.
You switch on the enlarger. The image appears in negative on the paper. Dark faces. Blond hair, starkly Aryan. You count the seconds, slide it into the developer, rock the dish. Your family takes shape, children, grandchildren, all reassuringly, safely British. You rinse, fix and dry the print.
In the empty dish memories form, swirl, shift, coalesce. Summer 1936. A sandy beach on the Ostsee. A picnic. Mama, Oma, you and the twins. Papi isn't in the picture. He's squinting into the viewfinder and twisting the lens on his Leica.
It was the last day of the holiday. Next day you went home. The day after that they came for him.
I was ready to reveal my creation to the world. It would be a best seller; make me rich.
With a metallic body it stood ten feet tall. I'd made it in the image of a Doberman
and programmed it to guard my property. My dog worked non-stop, 24 hours each day, and ran on solar power and rechargeable batteries.
No need to buy expensive dog food, take it on walks, clean up messes. And an extra bonus - it would never incur exorbitant vet bills.
One night, in mid-October, a spacecraft with strange lights, zoomed across our skies erratically, causing electrical disturbances.
I did not know my dog had escaped till I saw the news headlines:
Rogue Robotic Dog Causes Chaos in the City.
Before long, reporters hammered on my door. Cameras flashed in my face.
"What robotic dog?" I said, denying all knowledge of it.
A slip of torn paper appeared under the door. She could see the words without bending - Still Waiting. Then an image. A sad face. She went back to bed, pulled the duvet over her head, covering her head, covering the blue-black blotches, covering her thoughts.
He was back in the evening. A door slammed and she woke with a start, her stomach tight with hunger.
I’m sorry. Her words died so she tried again, louder. I’m sorry. He opened the door then, scooped her in his arms. The protector.
Later they ate at the table. Everything fridge-cold, hard. She shovelled the food like a greedy child, until she saw his eyes darken. Slowed then, smiled at him, but it was too late. Always too late.
Now, For a Limited Time!
Catalogs became a novelty after the solicitors moved from Ellen’s mailbox to her inbox.
Whenever she found one folded around her bills, she carried it on a stroll down memory lane, where the air always smelled like fireplace smoke and the weather never made her knees ache.
Ellen thumbed through waxy images until she reached the desserts: gourmet apples in a graveyard, bat cookies in a cave, candy corn pie in a pumpkin patch, and so on.
She placed her order.
A week later, a basket of costumed cake pops arrived at her front door.
She sampled one before the kids came home. That sugary bite transported her from her entryway to a country porch overlooking a trail of fiery maple trees. As she breathed the smells of straw and apple cider, nostalgia folded around her like a woolen blanket.
Nothing compared to the catalog season.
A Flicker of Hope
A picture is worth more than a thousand words, provided it’s not blurred...
3 hours passed, and the mystery is yet to be solved. The blurred image of a man and a dog stared at me from the laptop screen. Background of the image looks hazy and indistinct, however the green and yellow patches make me think it’s taken in a park. I don’t recognise the man, but the Labrador Retriever standing next to him sparked a sudden interest in me. The cursor moved towards the dog and the picture is zoomed in until the dog's collar is clearly visible.
Chrome plated. No, not this one.
With a sigh of despair, I lifted the right paw and touched the rough edges of the collar around my neck. The screen turned over to the next image and a flicker of hope rose in me, all over again...
Beware Social Media
The train nudged from its tracks without losing momentum. The engine twisted 90 degrees, dragging carriages until they slid sideways. Windows shattered, rough gravel pulverised and ripped through toughened glass like bullets. It was beautiful day, strange to be so tragically newsworthy.
Inside, living and dead bounced off walls, floor and ceiling, gravity drawing them into a concertina crush caused by massive deceleration. The deafening alarm reverberating the carriages was heard by fewer people as each second passed, breathing stopped, brain cells expired. Chairs became missiles, ripping from their bolts, slamming into people obstructing them.
The detestable man sat on his fold-away chair, drinking hot sweet tea while marvelling his abhorrent creation that cost a single dynamite stick. Hundreds would die, or at least he hoped as he photographed the scene, checked the image for clarity before streaming onto his ‘live news’ social media account. Hearts and thumbs followed aplenty.
The Wrong Field
Darren woke to endless message alerts. That was odd at any time, but a Sunday morning... there must be something wrong. He lay there momentarily, searching in vain for memories of the previous evening. They faded out into a blur of beers with the boys. No dinner, he chided himself, you never learn. His phone went off once more. Darren rolled over and discovered that he had taken someone to bed. Ronald McDonald to be precise. He was laying amongst fries and a half-eaten Big Mac. He swore as he knocked it all to the floor and picked up his phone. Twenty three messages, all from Skye. She was dumping him. Shit. Why? Check your Facebook, asshole, she replied. Skye had a pretty sister called Iona. It would appear that Darren had mixed his fields, and posted a number of statuses around 2 that morning. Iona. Iona photos. Images, Iona Burrows.
Phone without camera
The beautiful girl raises her arms and says, "Take me on your shoulders." The girl and her father sing until they reach school, walking in a poor village, on a long road.
The beautiful girl asks her father, "Why is your phone without a camera?"
New morning, a man holds his daughter on his shoulders.
The beautiful girl asks her father, "when will we take a selfie together?"
Another day, the father is waiting for his daughter.
"The school year is over," the sad girl tells her father.
The painter who paints every day next to the waterwheel is waiting for them with a gift.
The happy girl says, "Dad, you and I!. It's a beautiful image. Look, you carry me on your shoulders on the way to school!"
Her New Room
There, where the mirror had hung, was nothing. Wall. Grey-blue paint for a grey-blue family. Her dresser was gone too, of course. It now sat in the extra room in her parents’ new house, the mirror leaning face-in against its side.
She tried to take a mental picture but found that it hurt. “Don’t worry, honey,” she felt the room say. “I’ll be alright. This… is us now.”
“I’m coming back for you,” she said, quite nearly out loud. “I’ll buy you back when I’m older, when I have some money.”
“I know, sweetheart.”
She turned and passed the husband on her way out. He was bent over a box, his short-sleeve button-down coming untucked from grey sweatpants. She didn’t say goodbye or thank them for letting her come; she just walked.
The car, parked in front of the across-the-street neighbor’s house, would be the image she remembered from today.
A sword crafted from cardboard in hand Tyler ran across the street, the pavement a sea dividing the homeland of his front lawn from the foreign soil that he now invaded. Raucously swinging his weapon and threatening his imaginary enemies, Tyler was at play, but also forging the image of himself that would carry him later through life – that of a man who has left his country to forge his way in the world amongst strangers and foreigners, plundering the local economy for gain and exploiting the indigenous workers.
If he had known this, perhaps his neighbor wouldn’t have braked so forcefully to avoid Tyler in the road.
What Can We Do
I burst into my son's bedroom. He turns, looks at me, shocked, pen in hand, blank piece of paper, consternation written across his face.
I want to shout at him, concerned that he will end up penniless and broke. Washed up by his vanity against the shores of reality. That he doesn't have the skill to be good at it, let alone succeed in it; in an endeavour where your best is not always good enough. Where marketing and networking are the real skills, and so many struggle before giving up.
“I want to be a writer”, he said.
I banish the image of failure from my mind, and hope that one day he will collect his prize.
“Cup of tea?”, I ask.
For now, that is the best I can do for him.
N took a photo.
He checked it. Smoothed his hair, changed his top then took another ten.
He moved a bowl of yellow blooms into shot and snapped again. Zoomed in on the image, admired his hairline, the curve of his chin, the symmetry of his eyebrows. He gazed a while on his piercing blue eyes before adding a filter.
Then softened the focus.
Adjusted the brightness.
Cropped out half the flowers whilst contemplating a caption. The caption was reworded several times. Lunchtime came and passed. He didn’t think to stop, to ask E if she wanted anything to eat.
Satisfied at last he posted the selfie.
His phone chirped with Likes and Comments. He read each one as it came through. Noted who’d liked it and how quickly they’d responded. He didn’t reply to any of the comments though. He didn’t want to seem like he was that bothered.
This Is the Image
The rubber band in my purse has been there for six years and this weekend I’ll need it. I can feel it. Oh say, does anyone have a rubber band? I’m afraid I can’t solve this problem without one. I’ll come to the rescue, dumping my purse with the broken zipper and torn liner, sifting through the ketchup packets, spearmint gum, tampons, hot sauce, metal cutlery, fidget spinners, chapstick, lint-covered mints, ear plugs, and stabbing my finger with a sharpened pencil, assuring them that it’s here somewhere — has been for six years. The room will grow awkward, quiet, as still as an image. I’ll find that golden earring with the butterfly backing that I’ve been missing for months. Just yesterday, I tossed its partner into the trash when I could have used it, the rubber band and some of these other items to MacGyver a hasty escape.
An Innocent at Heart
I have this image in my head; my son on a mortuary slab. His hands are in the cadaver position, palms up, so that you can see the SS Bolt and the swastika tattoos on the insides of his forearms.
I told him about this, once. He said, 'Wishful thinking, Ma.'
I thought about that. If that's the image I carry when he's alive, what image would I carry if he were dead?
I had to think back to when he was four years old before I could find a memory that I could cherish; him sitting on the carpet, cross-legged and open-mouthed in front of the TV, 'John Craven's Newsround.' The scene is of famine in the Horn of Africa, a cornu scooped of its copia by rival warlords. And when he speaks, he reveals his innocence.
'Mum, see when you starve, why does your skin turn black?'
I’m trying to decide how I feel about the fact that the image on your profile must be at least ten years old (does it make you vain? sentimental? neither?) when you look up at me and smile and I remember that you suggested lunch, not dinner, for our first meeting, making me hopeful that I’m not just going to be another notch on your bedpost. I smile back.
Images in the mirror may be more distorted than they appear
Carl promises he won’t hurt me while he has his hand down my knickers. I pretend he’s talking about my feelings. Over his shoulder I can see an image of myself in a full-length mirror, one that hopes beyond all hope that this will be the last time I have to put myself through this to get what I want: commitment. But as he coos in my ear about all the things he’d like to do to me, my mirror-self shakes her head. Not this time then, but maybe next. All I have at this point is hope, and hurt feelings.
The Light Within
The multi-colored lights were swirling round in her head. Now and then she caught glimpses of her loved ones: They were on a carousel, spinning faster and faster out of control until they disappeared.
Then the image changed: She was standing at the top of a mountain. A strange light shone from an old-fashioned lamp. But the oil was running out and the flame was flickering. For some reason, she felt that the light should not be extinguished.
"Don't let the flame die," she whispered over and over. Then someone who looked familiar took a can of kerosene and filled the lamp. The flame was now strong.
She felt someone nudging her shoulder and finally managed to open her eyes. Nigel was standing there.
"Wake up, Julie," he said, looking relieved. "It's all right - the operation was successful. You're going to be just fine now."
She always remained another, living a life in disguise; so no one could know the real her.
Publically she put on the ‘face’; smiled, laughed, even cried when it was required. All those images flawlessly set.
People supposed she must have a dazzling life, but then they were unaware of the well-crafted veil. It never slipped not for a minute. Behind it she knew she was safe; nothing could pierce that shield.
So there she remained an icon to others’ fantasies. Possessed by all, owned by none, to the end she was simply a mirror; reflecting a perfectly imagined portrait of someone else.
“Look, I like you, but I may not always feel this way. Sometimes I will disagree with you but other times you will thrill me beyond words. I accept you for who you are. I know you have doubts, but it is true. Do you hear me? I like you! You look at me with such disbelief, why? Why do you ﬁnd it hard to accept these truths. Why?”
Still no reply. Reaching to touch the rounded cheek, her eyes stared into mine. Finally, a glimmer of hope. “I really do like you, you know.”
Smiling, I looked at a face staring back at me and saw the smile returned. It had been a long time since I have seen that smile. I said good-bye to the image in the mirror, knowing that the face staring back at me had the best friend in the world…Me!
Rain water puddle
By the time those few years of intensive treatment for the Big C concluded, she had lost all her hair and there were no traces of her former beauty. Her doe eyes, her lustrous hair, her glowing skin, were all a thing of the past now.
She had no idea how she looked now. There were no mirrors accessible to her.
She would not go out as the fear of infections and her low immunity were a risk none could take.
One rainy afternoon, she was watching the pitter patter and expressed the desire to go out. Her brother agreed to indulge her and held her hand and led her to the patio. She gently put her foot forward in one of those tiny puddles. Her reflection, the image that she saw shocked her. What the mirrors had thus far had not shared, the rain water puddles did.
We are on a beach in Lanzarote, this time, last year. It's an image that burns on my retina as I close my eyes. Her straw hair sweeps over her shades. We are happy. It's the happiest we've ever been. We were so in love.
Our break was coloured with the tastes of volcanic potatoes, roja roja and seafood paella. The wine was superb as we looked out over the Ocean. I thought time had stood still and this would be forever.
I should have told her. I should have told her my secret then. It would have been such a relief. A huge weight off my shoulders. But she was in love with who she thought I was. And I felt secure and empowered. In not wanting to lose her, I lost her. I should have told her. I should have said, 'I love you.'
The Junk Shop of our Mind
When we need our memories, they can be elusive, tantalising, indistinct. On the tip of the tongue, a faded scent, interference on a phone line
Other memories are indelible, unchanged. Hiding in the convoluted pathways of our mind to emerge unbidden, unwanted, triggered by a familiar voice, an evocative smell, or a fleeting image. To haunt us, to make us cry, disturb our sleep.
But, when memories leave us, who are we? Do we mourn for all of them, which do we leave behind willingly?
Stolen memories can disappear like a trail of breadcrumbs. A single, crystal clear memory becomes eroded at the edges, infiltrated by different memories, stitching themselves together.
A memory blurring with time, leaking its sharp images into the bottom of a forgotten trunk in the junk shop of our mind.
He looked at his reflection, his image becoming diffused as the wind skimmed across the water, causing ripples.
Standing there, he dwelt on what he had done to keep his promise, to end her suffering before the condition progressed beyond the limits of her endurance. He’d booked their favourite lakeside hotel and bought a bottle of her preferred gin.
They’d spent the previous evening talking about the old times, when they were younger and before the illness had taken hold. They both knew that this was but the preamble, her speech becoming more slurred as the alcohol took hold. He waited until she was drowsy, laying her gently on the bed and, when he was certain she was sleeping, covering her face with the pillow until her sluggish struggles ceased.
He turned back to the hotel to report the end of her life and open a new chapter in his.
Love or money?
It’s the first time she’s brought him home. I’ve been sent up to wash my hands. Again. And nowhere near a mealtime. I look out the upstairs window. This huge white van pulls up. Parks right across our drive. Dad will be furious, when he gets home.
Out he gets. Selfish driver. Can’t be him. Spiky hair is the only thing that’s not round. Puffy face, button bursting belly, tattooed arms, thick as tree trunks. Skin so tight it looks polished. Not the image I had in mind. from big sis’s description. ‘He’s so strong, so manly, so caring: a real businessman, too. Logistics,’ she says. ‘And such a gentleman.’
This one’s far from suave, though. A real pork pie and bacon butty man. But she opens her door, gets down and he plants a kiss on her. Then I notice all his solid gold trimmings. Not love. Money
He was walking by an art gallery when a small painting in the window caught his eye.
A young lady in lavender silk posed under a wisteria bower. She seemed to look straight into his eyes, and he returned her gaze. She was exquisite. Her graceful stance as she leaned against the lattice stirred his soul. He had fallen in love with her image and wanted to meet her in person.
Inside, at the counter, he paid more than he ever thought he would and asked if the model was known. To his anguish, he was told the artist had no model, but a dream.
He hung her next to his bed where the light shone on her and she came alive. His beautiful creature smiled for him, danced for him and lay with him. He spent his life adoring another man’s reverie until she faded and disappeared forever.
I See You
I pretty much knew as soon as he saw me naked it would be over. You can't airbrush a live woman. It's two a.m. and I'm spooning his fuzzy back, drifting into a contented sleep, scent of Yankee candle (fresh linen) mingling with the mushrooms in clarified butter scent of the bed, when he clears his throat and makes an excuse to leave: early start, slight headache requiring fresh air, another fog wrapping itself round the city.
As soon as I hear the front door click to I jump up to change the sheets, silly habit of mine, blow out the puddled candle, wrap in tissues his two condoms, squeezed-out sausage skins, pee on them, flush twice.
I don't switch on the bathroom light, can feel my way in the shower, but my image in the full-length mirror, tear-blurred, silhouetted against pink lamplight, still manages to mock me.
Aston was soaked in perspiration from his transpiring limbs, now had miraculously metamorphosed tinier than a mouse; merely five inches from the ground—a horrible image that made him shudder.“Aston, get up, before you get late for interview”, his mother yelled the warning. “Mommmmmm, save me. Let me out”, came the inaudible scream.“Are you up?” she asked, and kept pounding on the door.Aston, naked like a new born, rushed to the door and crept out through the sliced gap between the floor and door into sitting, crowded with inquisitive family members.“He's the laziest.”“He won't crack the interview, I fear.”“Has he hanged himself, the useless moron?” his father whimpered.Aston stood awed, his words dried in his throat; he felt really dwarfed. The gigantic steps of the colossus figures posed a threat. He could be trampled. ...A loud knock. Aston jerked awake from his nightmare.
'It's definitely him,' said Frank to his wife as they stared at the image of their recently deceased tabby cat, scorched into the back garden lawn by the rhododendrons.
'It certainly shares a likeness,' Hilda replied, 'right down to the tip of his tail.'
Over the coming weeks, they would re-enact the scene many times as further depictions of their historical pets appeared without warning.
After the fifth such episode, Frank found himself pacing the kitchen, visibly agitated by the sight of the scorched lawn beyond the French doors.
'I think we should probably report it...you know, to the authorities,' he said in a voice of concern.
'Drink your tea, love,' Hilda replied, checking the cupboards in preparation for her weekly shop.
'But it's criminal damage!'
'Oh, I don't know...I quite like it,' she said, adding blowtorch gas cylinder to the bottom of her shopping list.
Ron and Carrie held hands while sitting across the desk from the attorney. They were married last year. Carrie was pregnant with a baby girl. Everyone remarked how perfect they were for one another. They even looked alike. The brown eyes, strong jaw, and when they smiled, they were an image of each other.
Each of them received a certified letter from the lawyer’s office a week ago. The attorney cleared his throat, “I’m sorry to have to deliver this news. Your mothers used the same clinic for their insemination. The problem only came to the court’s attention a few months ago.” He fiddled with a pen on his desk, “You share the same DNA with one donor. You are half-siblings. It was a mix-up at the clinic.”
Silence. Ron and Carrie’s future crumbled. What did this mean for their child?
I was fuzzy drunk when I got home and switched on the tv. I poured a last glass of wine, grabbed a bag of crisps and fell onto the sofa. Licking salt from my lips, I flicked channels. Chat shows, re-runs, old films.
The black and white image held me. A panorama of a beach, a headland, the sea. A perfect day. Strings playing, and the camera tracks to a young couple, walking on the sand. No words needed, just the look their eyes.
I necked the wine, changed the channel. I’d gone out with friends to get drunk and forget about you. I flicked back to the chat show. The bright colours, the lip-filled celebrities, the forced audience laughter.
‘Ha ha ha,’ I imitated, ‘ha ha ha.’
“What we need is a gimmick,” said Jo.
Amelia shrugged, “Gimmick, schimmick, do what you like, we are sunk…”
Their bistro, Jam, was struggling.
The new place, Toast, across town, had folks flocking to see the new attraction. They had monkey automatons swinging through plastic overhead vines. Peanuts on the menu. These made punters thirsty. Toast sold thirst-quenching beer hand over fist.
The next morning, Jo said, “Look.”
Amelia followed his finger. She saw what he saw: the maple tree out front was in full autumn glory. the colours of hope, golds and scarlets. But more. The tree was the shape of a giant parrot.
They didn’t need to post the image on social media, drone cameras had already captured it.
Amelia mixed Blood Orange Bellinis and Amaretto Peach Martinis for the crowds jamming into Jam.
She told Jo to order white rum and curaçao for next month.
In the spring sunshine two little boys race up the hill with their puppy, eager for treats from the old men sitting on the bench.
With the hot summer sun shining down the young man takes the panting old dog slowly to the bench for a titbit, a final time before he leaves for his new life.
He had held the image of the bench and the old men throughout his marriage, children and career away from home. As the autumnal leaves fall, he is his parent’s carer and walks their old mutt up the hill for its reward.
Sitting on the bench in the winter chill, he is the old man with his friend, they are overjoyed as the children bring a bouncing puppy to the bench. Dipping into his pocket he pulls out a biscuit, which the dog snaffles with relish.
Mum brushed my hair every day, yanking out the knots. She pulled it into two tight plaits and applied hairspray to the ends so I wouldn’t chew on them. Image matters, she said.
The day the boys dragged me into the bushes, she scolded me for tearing my tights. They were expensive ones from M&S. As I tried to hold back ugly sobs, she sighed and picked leaves from my hair.
In the bathroom, I let out my plaits. Hair piled onto my shoulders, all seductive waves and bounce. I pulled a strand taut, looked myself in the eye, and cut.
When William Anders Discovered the Earth
On its fourth orbit the lunar module rolls nose-down. He barely has time to describe the dark impact crater before he sees it: a shimmering blue-green sphere. It is so pretty, floating in time and space. Just the size of a bauble, like those on the Christmas tree back home. He imagines his children sat cross-legged tomorrow, opening their presents. He can almost smell the scent of the pine needles, hear the rip of paper, see their smiling faces.
He prays for a safe return and sets to work. Black and white film is swapped for colour, the telephoto lens adjusted. The shutter clicks twice, their rigid plan soon forgotten. He is an artist now.
They will use his grey pockmarked photographs to plan the moon landing. Next year, men will walk on its surface. But it is this image, this Earthrise, that will be his legacy.
In an era where image is the focus of society, I stay hidden. My face is my identity, my face isn’t for your entertainment and amusement. My face is I and I stay masked.
I know what you’re thinking; you’re thinking I’m a risk to society. Breathing under my surgical face mask as an exchange student. Hiding under my balaclava from the dangers of council estates. Protected under my niqab from the bigots that judge without learning about devotion.
You won’t exploit me for the greed of your eyes. Don’t fear the unknown, embrace the chance to learn. I may seem foreign to your norm, but the simple fact that I am not like you enables this society to be wide and vast in diversity.
‘Be diverse, be open.’
What the heck...?
An arrogance rasps my door. A man, long coated; broad brimmed hat shadowing his face, closes the space between us. “How long is a piece of string,” he spits. I blink confusedly. The presence of two policemen behind him makes me take him seriously. “Don’t know,” I blurt. “Find out now!” He thrusts me a box, shuts the door.
I put the box on the living room table. It contains a bloodstained image of a decapitated head, and a bunch of strings; a piece of paper numbered one to sixteen. I measure. There are only fifteen strings, ranging from two inches to nine feet. I fret about the sixteenth entry, and buy the only available reel from the corner shop; twenty-five feet, write it in. Another knock.
He’s back. Takes the box, snorts distrust. One policeman steps forward, hold a gun to his head, goes “bang” and swoons. Door closes.
And Her Perspective
“Isn’t that sweet! Eighteen photos on your wall of your daughter, her family, and their cat, one every year. Such a lovely tradition!”
”She’s very thoughtful.”
”They’re always on the sofa in the same order, with the cat on her lap. That cat must be getting old.”
”It’s a charming image. If you look very closely, you can see they’re actually on about their fifth cat now. I’m supposed to think it’s the same one, that it’s getting old, and that they’re terribly attached to him.”
”Do you visit them often?”
”Never. But my daughter understands, because of my severe allergy to cats.”
”You’re not allergic to cats.”
”Don’t tell my daughter.”
With thanks to all the writers who have made this issue possible.Abdul-Ahad Patel, Aditi Goswami, Adrian Graham, Alison Ogilvie-Holme, Alistair Duff, Amanda Lomas, Andrew Tate, Athina Antoniou, Avijit Roy, Becky Spence, C.Tapper, Carina Barnett, Carol Leggatt, Cathy De'Freitas, Ceinwen E Cariad Haydon, Charles Kyd, Christine Nedahl, Colin Alcock, David Plummer, Debbie Enever, Di McKee, Duncan Hedges, Ellen Harrison, Emma Wilson, F, Fatima Okhuosami, Fern Bryant, Hannah Whiteoak, Hilary Taylor, If Onyia, Isabel Flynn, Izadora Santori, J.K Hannon, J.S. Myth, Jacques Groen, Jake Kendall, James Gallahan, Jan McCarthy, Jane Earle, JEFF Taylor, Jenny Woodhouse, Jessica Andreatta, John Cooper, john Lowbridge, Joyce Bingham, Karen Phillips, Katie Piper, Kristina Jackets, Kyra Dusk, Laatinah, Laura Besley, Les Pedrick, Linda Grierson-Irish, Lisa Williams, Madison Clark, Malcolm Richardson, Mark Anthony Smith, Marlene H Pitcher, Mary Francis, Mary Prior, Matthew C. McLean, Melanie Dixon, Melinda Taliancich Falgoust, Melissa Elborn, Michael Rumsey, Mitja Lovše, Mohamed Mahmoud Ismail, Paula Puolakka, Philip Owen Weller, Philip Sobell, Raya Machaca, RJ King, Robin Tones, Roger Haydon, Rosanna Wood, Roshna Rusiniya, Ruth Moore, S.B. Borgersen, Sally Piper, Sam Payne, Sarah Benson, Sophie, Steve Recchia, Thomas Malloch, Timothy Newnes, Tina deBellegarde, Trasie Sands, Victoria Clarke
23rd Oct 2019