Issue One Autumn 2009
Creativity Photos Art and Words by Cardiff Students
Sam Smith? Litter and Trauma
n one sense, it is the creased pieces of paper currently in your hands, but really it isn’t. This is just a collection of work that shows us but a brief glimpse. A glimpse into the beauty of the mind; the minds of Cardiff University students who have, if just for a moment, escaped from the mundaneness of everyday life and from the stress of their courses to give us something. These captured moments, dreams, thoughts and emotions; real or imagined, are pieces of these artists who have courageously given part of themselves to us. Whether through words, paint, or the lens of a camera, creativity shows us the fragile beauty that permeates the world around us. Their creativity that moves and inspires us to live our lives, to see the world through the eyes of others, and appreciate the sheer beauty of everything we are lucky to still have. We'd like to say a special thanks to all the artists who entered. We were blown away by the quality, variety and volume of entries coming from students of hugely diverse backgrounds. Our only regret is that we couldn't include more of them. This is a glimpse. This is Creativity. If you would like to contact any of the artists about their work, please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor Oliver Franklin Deputy Editor Paul Stollery Sub Editor Natalie Stone
Design Paul Stollery Oliver Franklin Cover Illustrations Emma Pocklington Proof Readers Sarah Powell
Elizabeth Blockley Amelia Forsbrook Joy Harding Jenny Pearce Sarah Coburn Melissa Parry Jamie Thunder Ceri Isfryn Daniella Graham
Red Lights 2
t had been a long evening, and after hours of driving it had finally begun to rain. Eric turned his car into the empty park, its headlights groping for something through the darkness. Rain was beating on the cold windows, which were already blanched with condensation. Through the mist the yellow beams found their purpose. They fastened onto the figure that stood against the skeletal trees, their leaves thrown to the wind. The lights caught her attention and dazzled her, allowing Eric to recognise the beautiful and scared face before she shielded it with her arm.
Drenched, her clothes stuck to her limbs, perfectly moulding around her lithe body like a lover. She was wearing the pink summer dress, clutching her battered straw hat, which was struggling to fly away from her grasp and into the night. She looked out of place, her clothes more fitting for a hot summer day than standing in the dark amongst creaking trees. Without taking his eyes off her, he felt beneath the steering wheel for the headlight controls, dimming them enough for her to recognise the car. He could almost see her sigh as she began to walk towards him. Leaning over to open the passenger door, Eric noticed that she had calmed since earlier. She walked with purpose, but there was a new gentleness about her steps that filled him with relief. She slipped into the seat beside him, bringing a breath of cold air and raindrops with her. He didn’t dare look as she straightened her hat and placed it on her lap. Without speaking, he watched the droplets of rain snake down her legs as she reached forward to adjust the heating. He cleared his throat and gripped the cold leather steering wheel. “You’re wet.” She nodded, refusing to look at him, instead keeping her eyes on the blackness outside. “How long have you been out here?” He turned to face her and was immediately caught by how deathly pale she was. Her chestnut hair stuck in strands across her face and every few seconds rain dripped down her arms, collecting on her already sodden dress. She was tantalisingly close, so close that Eric could feel the cold dampness of her body. Any movement would bring him into contact with her icy skin. “Have you been here long Maria?” He repeated his question, fully aware of the worry in his voice. Her head drooped and she began pulling at the strands of straw around the edges of her hat. Was it rain on her face or tears? He could not tell. “No, not long.” Her whisper made him unsure whether he had imagined it. Despite her sadness, he could not bring himself to touch her; he could barely summon the courage to speak, but knew that he had to keep her focused, keep her here. “Are you okay?” He immediately felt foolish. Her stunt tonight had proved that she wasn’t ‘okay,’ but he hated the unnatural silence between them. “Yeah, it’s nothing. I’m okay.” In that moment she looked so fragile and vulnerable, pushing her dripping hair out of her eyes. The desire to comfort her became overwhelming; he moved towards her, feeling her cold skin prickle beneath his hand. Testing her reaction, he reached his arms out to pull her towards him. He could feel her crumple into him, and knew that she needed this as much as he did. Amongst the muffled tears against his chest, he heard her speak. “Eric,” She whispered, “Don’t ever leave me again.”
Sam Smith Dreamt Of By The Sea
I need to sweat it out of my system, this gasoline anger that fuels meaty pistons, hammering the floor. Aching to devour distance. Her voice clings to my fibres: ‘just a friend,’ she had claimed but when her housemate said; ‘She's at the library’, then stumbled over ‘...studying’ It hit me. And I could not bear to share the room with myself. So, strangling feet with laces, I ran. Every footstep strips more of me away and leaves wet specks on the October pavement. Cars and faces become smudges. My eyes as cloudy as the breath in front of me, the acid ache building in my heart is distracted by the fatigue of my legs. Eventually I find my place of forgiveness: the lake, whose surface reflects a Turner sunset. Pastel colours of pink and orange, dotted with white Swans and clouds. Explosions of leaves as I drift through the autumn battlefield. A breeze ambushes me, climbs through my ears and nose and mouth and down my throat, into my heart where it meets black poison. I stop running.
Mother Claire Finnegan
ou forget that everyone is I. Before you were I, I was I, long before you. I had an inner world that is as complete and incomplete as yours, having not simply existed to bring you into the world, but with a life of my own. I have thoughts, fat days, history, hang-ups, exes, dreams, mood-swings... but you know about those, right? I'm just letting you know; to me, me is me, and not just ‘mum’, ‘mummy’, ‘mother’. To me, I'm Lauren, and you came from me; a lump once, now a lady. Yes, everyone is I. But to a mother, those dividing lines of ‘I’ become more blurred. There is another – perhaps several others – to whom the I extends and takes a new form. Not merely as an extension of myself: but a whole new being, with which I want to be one, unified, whole, to smile its smiles and bawl its tears. I don't mean only that short jolly stint while I lost my shape for you, when we were physically joined, you in my centre. No, I hoped unity would go beyond that, spill out into our everyday chats and glances as I dreamed up picnics, castles, song-times, seaside trips with straw hats and donkey rides. You beaming up at me, me smiling gently down at you. Big dreams I had for you: small, homely maybe, but big in that they were far-fetched, perfect, hopeless. Oh, we saw the sea, the castle, the donkeys You loved me once. I was your world, your shining - heck, we even went to Rome together beacon and your angel. It was I. I that was the first to but its never like you think it should be, show you daisies, sunshine, birdies and sweets. You is it? White always needs to be a shade rewarded me with tantrums, tears, public hair pullwhiter for perfection, and if it's too ing, and other such delights. But I did not mind, for white, it hurts. Our shadows – shadthen was when we interacted, we spoke, although ows of misunderstanding, hurt, anger still you had no words but the adoring, slowly form- spoiled the view, warped it into ing “Dada”: the favourite, the special. You still felt something it wasn’t. The sea seemed your need of me then, in those wordless days when too big, ominously, drowningly vast. we truly spoke. But there were the colder, darker The castle spoke too much of power, years; years when you weren't just separate from me, mistrust, darkness, pressure. The but alien, other, a captive in a land where I didn't donkeys were mere beasts, beaten speak the language. Those loud silent years, flinging down by mankind into the slavery of shadows and lines over our fragile faces, years when carrying their weight. We couldn't I didn't know you, couldn't reach you... didn't love see for fear and hatred. Those were you? No, I never stopped doing that, but you couldn't the angry non-rose-tinted spectareceive it, wrapped up in a ragged comfort blanket of cles with which you grew up ever insecurities. I wondered if you wanted me out: out of since your toddling years. The day your presence; out of your head; out of your life. I felt the grinning doctors sliced that like a nought with which you were always cross. Did connecting cord, could it ever be you still feel in need of me then? You seemed to have the same again? Now we were your own ways of finding ‘Love’: the alcohol, the oneseparate, could we still be one?
Lauren Housego 'Persistence of Longing
night-stands, the flitting and sliding in and out of friendship groups. I remember you came home once, pissed out of your mind with wine (it was cider in my day), carrot-studded vomit splashed over your blouse, peeling some unworthy boy off your chest. I carried you into the bath like a baby and hosed you down like an animal, not understanding why you'd do that to yourself. I was a teenager once: alone with too many thoughts to express, just wanting to forget it all, but never this, never such abjection. “You make me feel like shit,” you said once, spitting the words out of your pretty, pouty lips – so much like your grandma's. “You treat me like it, too” I nearly said, but didn't. Sometimes I think it's all we've got: to fight our corner; to lick our wounds; to hold on to the hurts as if we wouldn't know who we were without them. But we stand still, observing, waiting; you – strong, womanly, but oddly weak. And me? I'm not sure what to do. Should I hug you, kiss you, tell you I love you? You'd only laugh. But now you slink in to where
I'm sitting - doing, making, thinking, busy, busy, busy - and you put your arms round my neck like a lounging cat in the pretense of familiarity. This is how you want things to be, isn't it? Relaxed, close, natural: the way they haven't been for a long time. And I? Well, what can I say? I don't have keep an eye to make sure you'll stay close anymore. You're choosing me. Perhaps if I hadn't clung, you would have held me much sooner. The pretense melts and we're one again – other, different, but whole. Me and you, you and I: facing forwards out into the big wide world. Not the world of fairytale castles and beaming curlycupid children, but the real world, where you might forget my birthday and I may forget to give hugs. A bruise goes through many colours before it heals. We’ve started something, picked up what we'd left for dead, and we're here now, here, in today. For the first time since you were small, I see love in your eyes.
Forbidden Fruit Sophie Dutton he ate lemons. And not just those little slices that came in drinks. Big whole lemons, peel and all. I would watch her as she stretched up on tiptoes in the summer-soft grass to pluck one of the shining golden fruit from the tree in her garden. That tree was intoxicating. I could almost feel it pulsing with its sharp lemony blood, very much alive. I would lie on my stomach, propped up on my elbows, while she sat cross-legged before me and sank her small straight teeth into the yellow skin. Bees would swim lazily through the heat as if through syrup, and white butterflies would kiss the mouths of daisies as the sun blazed fiercely, relentlessly above us. "I love you,” I would always say at times like these, and she would roll her eyes at me.
On the day she tried to kill me, we were sprawled in the grass watching a small brown bird soar right into the white hot mouth of the sun like Icarus. She rolled the lemon languidly between her palms, her third that afternoon, and stretched one of her long, smooth, honey legs over my bare chest so that her gleaming calf swept over my heart. The brown bird in the sky suddenly plunged towards the unforgiving earth and I lost sight of it. She had started on the lemon, the clear, luminous juice dribbling over her lips and fingers. I watched as she chased the droplets with the tip of her kitten tongue. “I love you,” I told her again. She sighed, irritated. “No you don’t,” she said, delicately tearing off a strip of lemon peel with her teeth. “You only think you love me because you can’t have me.” I wanted her so much my whole body ached with the force of it. Every cell of my being writhed with the agony. “I do love you,” I persisted, unabashed. “I’ll love you ‘til I die.” She made a quiet noise of scorn like a drop of acid, as she sucked deliberately at the exposed, juicy lemon flesh.” There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you,” I said, stung. She tossed her vanilla fringe contemptuously. "I could be one of your lemons. You love those so goddamn much.” The heat was making me breathless. “Yeah, I’d let you peel my skin off with your teeth, nibble at my flesh. Hell, you could squeeze me dry and make lemonade, that sound any good?” In a blink she was astride me, her body a warm strip of caramel melting over mine, her mouth a blade’s width away from where the blood surged in my neck. My heart throbbed drunkenly in my chest. “But you still can’t have me,” she said softly. “Can you?” Beads of sweat prickled around my face and neck. I was dizzy with desire, with the heat. Her eyes, electric blue, sparked dangerously, her lips, pink from kissing bitter lemons, forbidden fruit. I almost yelped with desperation. “I don’t care, I love you, I love you, I’d die for you.” Then her mouth was on mine, her lips, her tongue. She tasted like lemons. It didn’t take long. Raw, bloody blisters exploded over my poor vulnerable tongue, the soft cave of my mouth scorching, dissolving. My throat twisted like a Chinese burn inside my chest, choking the sweet air from my shuddering lungs. Pure torture. Pure bliss. As the bitter acid seethed through my rigid body and forced out my last gasp, she slid away from me. “How sweet,” she sighed with a faint smile. The last thing I remember was her picking up her half-eaten lemon from the grass and sauntering away, lethally beautiful to the end. That was some time ago now. The doctors say if I taste another lemon it could kill me. I’m seeing this other girl now. She’s nice, in a plain way. She smells faintly of digestive biscuits. When we sit on her hard metal garden furniture and sip tea through clenched lips, I daydream about lolling in the summer-soft grass, and lemon-flavoured kisses.
S. Manley Hadley
he problem with first novels,” Jack said, as he took the fifth drag of his last cigarette, “is that authors usually want you to know that it’s their first novel.” He paused, slowly surveying every face around the table.
He spent longer on the girls, and the least amount of time on me. “Because,” he continued, returning to his recent habit of only smoking in the middle of sentences when he had a rapt audience, “it’s a safety net.” Smoke still curled around his short tongue. “A literary prophylactic. If the reader knows, knows, knows, that what they are reading is the first work that person, that,’ he took the penultimate drag from the cigarette and exhaled through the next word, his right hand drawing circles in the air with the lighted tip, “…artist... has created in that style, they’re much more likely to be forgiving.” He smiled, pausing for a moment, and stared straight into the blue eyes of the girl sat directly opposite him. He idly played with the molars in the top left corner of his mouth with his tongue and raised the cigarette to his mouth for the last time. He inhaled, enjoying himself. It was at this exact moment (nine-thirty-seven-and-sixteenseconds) that I stood up and pulled a Colt Python .357 Magnum revolver from my waistband and shot Jack five times in the chest. He was the first man I had ever loved. And that was why he had to go.
Schwarzkopf No. 43
Cuban Prostitutes S. Manley Hadley uban prostitutes fuck you hard, but Cuban prostitutes do not fuck you fast. There is a commonly held conception that whores – I’m not talking escorts or call girls here, I’m talking street-walkers, hookers, whores – it is a commonly held belief which is most of the time correct – that cheap whores want you to come as quickly as possible. Because with a cheap whore you are paying for the come – you are paying them to bring it out of you, whereas with an escort or a call girl you’re paying, by the hour, for a woman’s company – with your choice of pastime. My mother’s fag brother told me when I was fifteen that the way no one outside of the family knew he was a fag was because every Friday night he would take a beautiful escort out to a well known, centre city restaurant and make eyes at her over a long meal. Then he’d send her to her home and pick up a teenager in denim and leather to take to his. He paid for their time, and what he did with it was exert masculinity. He just chose to use something very different to release that masculinity into.
Now, cheap whores are not selling you their time, they are selling you your pleasure. My first night in Havana I wandered into Chinatown – West of the tourist spots, full of the beautiful black Hispanics I had gone to the country for – and fucked a pregnant drunk in an alley behind a restaurant. We were next to over-flowing bins of industry waste, and though there was not a Chinaman in sight, there were so many Chinese restaurants that I was shin deep in unwanted egg fried rice as I swopped a little crisis for twenty Cuban Convertible Pesos. Which converts, incidentally, to about eight pounds. Because across the board Cuban whores – and my last was an overweight black woman on the harbour walls of Habana Vieja, who demanded I fuck her the moment I tried to slip a finger inside – seemed to be trying to take as much pleasure from the sex as I was. They weren’t ever rushing me – almost frustratingly sometimes – and they weren’t ever goading me to come. One of my many encounters handed me back a note after I’d paid claiming that she’d charged me too much. It was only a peso and I think it was mainly a gesture, but it still felt good and got me hard enough to fuck her a second time. The whores want you to have a good time, but they want to make sure that they do as well. It really felt like some of these women weren’t just fucking tourists for the money, but also for the dick. And though they all had imperfect English and my Spanish was dire, I could communicate perfectly with every last one of them, because I almost always had what they wanted – money and a hard-on – and they were almost always willing to give me their minds and their cunts for ten minutes in exchange.
lie next to him in the darkness. It’s some point past two, I can tell by the steady entourage of taxis dropping the heated bodies of drunks onto their cold doorsteps. A faint orange glow disturbs the corner of my eye; the superfluous light on the extension cord by my bedside table. I turn away from it, towards the curve of Andrew’s back. Even in the dimness of this hour I can make it out. The consistent markers of his vertebrae catch the phantom illumination of twilight. A cluster of scars clutters his left shoulder, the remnants of an often-repeated anecdote. In our second year at university I had pushed him playfully into a hedge. I had not realised it was brambles. I finger the sheets, soft from expensive washing powder. Ylang-ylang or something equally exotic to smother the must of old bed linen. He had presented them to me earlier, a boyish grin on his face. “Our old duvet colour, see?” He beamed. “We still have them? Surely I threw them out years ago.” The faded floral print was somehow distasteful to me. “Oh no, I shoved them in the attic. Thought it’d be nice, like old times. Shall I put them on the bed?” It wasn’t really a question. He slipped past me to the bed and furnished it with the cheap relic of our past. “Just like my old bed, see?” He bounced lightly on the cotton roses. An old woman’s bed set, donated by his aunt in his first term of university. He never thought to buy another. They became the in-joke of our halls. I lived in the flat above but was tempted downstairs for the grand tour. “They look like they come from a care home! Did someone die in them?” “Probably,” he laughed, perched awkwardly in the doorway. “My aunt did get them from a charity shop.” “And you put them on your bed?! Do you have a nurse’s alarm somewhere?” I bounced on the single bed and laughed. I was twenty and found dated duvet covers hilarious.
A month later he lay back on the pillows and called to me softly. “I think I need a nurse, I’m lovesick.” I snorted at the line but kissed him anyway. As we feel asleep afterwards I swear I could smell old-make up and stale gin on the pillowcase. I sigh under the weight of these sheets. His body disturbs me even if it is motionless. It’s been that way for the past few years. Five, five years since I stopped loving him. Such a long time since the morning I woke up, turned smiling to his sleeping face and felt… nothing. I don’t hate him. I wish I could. Hate is easier, it’s tangible. That morning the lump of adoration cleared from my throat and I saw him for what he was. Not a romantic hero or the compelling love interest in my biopic. Suddenly he was just a lad from Newport who though the sun shone out of my arse. Each day that I grew colder and his smile more manic, I strengthened my resolve to stay. It is much easier to drift into dull resignation then risk the turmoil of admitting you don’t care. I tricked myself into thinking I would wake up and love him again. He’s a good man. So when I fell pregnant and he told me that we weren’t ready I went solemnly to the clinic and came home to a Marks and Spencer’s meal for two with another part of me hardened against him. This afternoon when I looked into his desperate eyes pleading from our nostalgic bed, I glimpsed at my indifference and felt the dormant bile in my stomach stir. I sat down and let him make love to me. I reacted instinctively as he dropped feathery kisses onto my numb breasts and lapped at my cunt that I willed to be wet for him. I pulled him into me to try and feel some part of him. He thrust tenderly for a few moments and then paused, holding his chest. “It’s ok, just a flutter. I’ll rest like the doctor said.” As he lay down and steadied his breathing for sleep I felt a twinge of fear. An echo of the shallow-breath panic that surged through me in the consultant’s office. “An irregular heart beat,” a calm middle aged face has told us, “nothing much. But if it gets any worse we will have to consider a pace-maker.” “Is... is it… life threatening?” I had stammered, while Andrew sat pale-faced and placid beside me. “Only if it intensifies. Just remember to take it easy. If you feel unwell, rest. And if you don’t recover quickly call an ambulance. Come back in six months and we’ll reassess the situation.” He was quiet on the way home. He didn’t smile or stare at me in fervent adoration. He just looked out the window and softly held my hand as it rested on the gear stick. “It’ll be fine love,” I soothed, squeezing it back. I should leave soon, I should go now. I rest my fingers on the nape of his neck where his hair curls. “Andrew.” I slip slowly out of bed and reach for my phone. “Ambulance, please. It’s my husband, he’s not breathing. 25 Northcotte Road, thank you.” I hang up before the voice on the other end can reply and turn towards him, hovering above the turned down duvet. My shoulders cool in a draft from the window on Andrew’s side of the bed as the blue lights collect outside.
Jonny Falkus On Reflection
Aleen Varghese 18
The Girl in Red
he trod in gum this morning. It stuck to the ground as she walked, slowing her down, but she was in too much of a hurry to stop and remove it. Fast feet slapped on the pavement, damp with early morning rain. Everyone seemed to be wearing black, with grey faces to suit the sky. They moved as one great sluggish mass, making the reluctant migration to cramped offices, high-rise blocks of concrete and steel.
Her journey was to one of these offices, though she was only a secretary. Like those grey-faced beings that moved alongside her, it was not where she wanted to be, but still they moved: fast, with purpose, not daring to be late. The sun had barely touched the clouds when she descended the stairs to the underground. Once, when she had been more aware of things, she had counted the number of steps. Forty-nine. She took no notice of what passed around her, just as she had ignored the chewing gum stuck to the sole of her shoe. Ticket in hand, she stood on the platform, her toes just pressing at the yellow line as she waited for the train. She stared at the tunnel wall that curved over in front of her. Splattered with streaks of silver, red, blue, black, all swirling into an image or a word she was too dumb with monotony to understand. Down the platform the other grey-faced commuters had lined up like the dead, not hearing, not seeing, not thinking; all were under a spell that held them to the dreariness of life. It would take more than the ordinary to free them now. Perhaps that is why the mind plays tricks, a sign to those caught in the spell. She was staring at the graffitied walls of the underground; at the unconventional art, the sprayed symbols, the hieroglyphics of some other existence. They drifted through her mind, as subtly annoying as the gum stuck to the sole of her shoe. She saw no more beyond the vandalism. And then she blinked. A child stood on the tracks. Dressed in a red coat and patent black shoes. Wisps of dark hair escaped from under her red hat and the child’s hazel eyes stared deep into her own. As she watched, the girl’s mouth began to open and close, speaking words that never sounded, but one shape she recognised. Her name. Sally. Sally tried to step forward and call back to the child, but the echoing rumble of the train muted her words as it tore onto the platform. It thrust itself between Sally and the girl in red. If she had been real, she would have been dead, and Sally would have been screaming. Instead, she stayed glued to the platform, her toes still pressing at the yellow line. When she blinked again the train had gone. There was no sign of the little girl. She had missed her train but as she looked back to the spot where the girl had been stood she saw something she had missed before. In amongst the splattered colours a symbol leapt out at her: a number seven. A circle. The number seven circled, defined in thick black spray, as if to make a point. Sally shut her eyes: the image of the encircled seven burnt into her mind. Something within her grasped at hidden memories and she fought against it, but the image was too powerful. There was something about the number seven: a mystical number, laced with magic, linked with luck. Seven days in a week, seven deadly sins, seven seas, seven years bad luck. Seven times seven is forty-nine: the number of stairs Sally was climbing now as she ran from the station. She was meant to be heading for work but now she found herself trying to get away, possessed by fear, a sudden urge to run. She had no idea where she was heading, or why she was still running. She thought about the girl in red, about what she was trying to say, and then she saw the symbol again, circled, defined, enclosed. One person’s act of spontaneity on the wall of the underground had freed her, but it had trapped itself in her mind, circling her. She ran faster. The circle, she thought, the symbol of eternity: never ending, never changing, monotonous. When she was seven Sally wore a coat. It was a dark burgundy red and she had to get her mother to do up the black buttons on the front because they were too big to fit through the buttonholes without the help of an adult. She liked to wear her patent black shoes, but she only got to on special occasions. Her socks reached up to her knees but they always fell down because her legs were too skinny and she always insisted on adjusting the little red hat after her mother had secured it over her dark hair. Sally was always proud of her father because he had his own office and he caught the train to work every morning; her mother was very proud of him too. He worked so hard that he never took a day off sick. When Sally turned seven, he said he would take her to see his office. That was why Sally got to wear her patent black shoes that day. But she never saw her father’s office. She never wore her shoes again, except to the funeral. The people told her how much she looked like her father. She was only seven.
For J.W. Thomas Tyrell Would you be shocked how swiftly I forget The beauty of your voice, and of your face? Your hair, your walk, your scent, your easy grace? It may be but a moment since we've met Since I have schooled my artist's eye to set Your image in my muddled mind someplace But you have something I can never trace That slips from me, like water through a net. This must be true, since every time we meet Some trait of yours entrances me anew Your voice - was it always so soft and sweet? Your eyes always that vibrant shade of blue? My dear, your loveliness is so complete It seems increased each time I look at you.
E.J.B You are my left, my eternal right, My noon and my silent midnight. You are every hello and every whispered goodbye, The saddest song of every bird that flies. You are the smoke I can taste on my tongue, The passionate youth that keeps me young. You are the ghostly hair that tickles my nose, The terrifying river that runs and overflows. You bring light to the dark streets in my mind, You are the heart That beats In time With mine.
Roadside Alone David Spittle The jukebox jugular is split to bleed, Strains of a sadness that the lonely lap up. The coffee turned cold, and with bitter disdain Reminds your lips youâ€™re alive. Roadside neon and the insomniac stare The seated dead at the window; we could be anywhere. Remind me why Iâ€™m here? Or more importantly, Why I am not someplace else. This diner, this grime This impersonal stench of sterilising fluids; the lost Battle of sprays and the sleepless scent of exhaustion. This is not a place, it is a denial-a refuge from where we have fled. Have I entered that weary American image of the troubled? The sanctuary of eccentrics, cradling stories in the steam of A chipped mug?
Paintbox Sara Magness
like to paint. Iâ€™m tempted to call it a passion, but that wouldnâ€™t be quite right. Passion brings to mind fire: hues of silky crimsons and blacks burning fiercely on the page. But painting for me is a serene thing. When I load my brush with wet colour everything drifts away, seeping outwards like pigment on damp paper. It leaves me blank. Crisp. White. The current of my life no longer pushes and pulls against my shrunken frame. No longer does it matter which courses I have chosen, which rocks I have crashed down upon. I am rendered new, present, and everlasting. For the sky, a soft wash of cerulean blue. Those days as a young girl gazing up at the dizzying blue dome seem as a pinprick in the distance now. The blue was a hand, cupped to shield me from the harsh black beyond, offering a tender tissue layer of innocence. My toes would curl in the fresh, cold grass, and the chirruping of crickets was enough to assure me I was not alone. In those vivid days I could simply lay: without thought; without turmoil; only with azure awe swelling promisingly inside. A bold line for the horizon in sap green. They passed so close I could smell the starch in their uniforms, and we would gaze after them and giggle when one sent a brazen wink our way. Those tall, broad-shouldered men seemed plucked from the giddiest part of our hearts and made alive, their strength and courage sprinkled with white smiles and rowdy drinking games. They were our hope and our naivety. It took a while for our hearts to sink into the proper place. These men were not giddy, and none stayed young for long. When they returned-those that did-they came with haunted eyes and ethereal looks. We could not pretend to understand. The wall between our worlds, although fragile, was so present, like a mist dividing the living from the dead. Often they cast scornful glances and we could not blame. Their uniforms seemed darker beneath their grey faces: a duller green, like moss beneath a cold rock. The undulating ribbon of a far off river, picked out in fluid ultramarine. A cocktail dress of midnight blue, a string of pearls glowing eerily in the candlelight; my first taste of glamour was a succulent one. The night seemed
defined by light; it gleamed on champagne glasses, cast soft pools of glow around tables, lilted in streams of rich wine gurgling from bottles. I stood nonchalantly making conversation-my pale shoulders bare-and watched the eyes of a young man linger on my collarbone. It was not happiness, that feeling of sophistication, but I was not to know. The band struck up another dance and I sipped demurely at my champagne: wanted, powerful. A sprinkling of poppies, wet drops of a crimson hue. Fervent looks, breathless whispers, stolen moments, deep kisses, secret touches, heady rushes. I thought I had found the answer to it all. Those frantic, thoughtless moments of bliss were new. Adult. There was no great realisation, no horizon suddenly stretching out before me. There was only a quiet recognition, as though I had known the true nature of the world all along. It felt deliciously gritty-so melodramatic-to walk along his pavement in the early hours of the morning with only a pair of sunglasses to hide scandal from the world. The pale moon washed the colour out of everything and left behind a multitude of greys, penetrated only by a traffic light's circle of red. It glowed in the dark like a cigarette end. The boughs of a tree stretch up to the sky, coated with fine strokes of
Jonny Falkus Cardiff Castle
viridian green. We strolled through the forest hand-in-hand; the rich smell of earth rising to meet us, soft words and laughter mingling with the breeze. When I met him it was different – not so breathtaking – and I wondered if there should be butterflies. Those doubts crowded in when we were apart, but together there was room for nothing but the present – laughter and shining looks, comfort in the feel of his solidness beside me. There were no long moments of tension, no clandestine looks of burning desire, and in confusion I found that this was good. Better. When sheets of rain streamed down he covered me in his jacket and my mind stalled, confused by normality. He turned and brushed the rain from my cheek. The ceaseless hush of water on leaves imprinted itself like a pulse. A distant line of hills, shadowed in burnt sienna. Embers crackled and spat in the fireplace. The shopping bags sat stoutly on the kitchen table, ignoring the wheezing rattle of the front door in the buffeting wind. The plastic handles had run red grooves into my palms; I traced a finger over them,
glanced at the clock. Four minutes. I curled my legs beneath me. Contentment was a glow that lit my cheeks from the inside. My head dropped to rest on the worn cushion. He would be back soon. My lips curved into a smile. Horribly, blissfully unaware. The calm plain of a mustard field, a buttery spread of yellow ochre. The yellow of overcooked eggs. Soap. Scrabble tiles. A nurse passes in her dainty cardigan and nods at me, approving the picture. What will become of it, I wonder, when they no longer need to use those nods and encouraging smiles? Perhaps it will be tossed amongst the leftover food to grow damp, the canvas warping as the pigment fades. Perhaps it will burn. I blink at the landscape for a long while and then reach out a hand to quietly shut the paint box, sealing my little tubes of colour inside. The gold fastenings click. I will bury it, some day soon when they’re not taking notice. It can breathe in the soft earth beneath the blue sky, under the steady stamp of feet, below the stars. Perhaps, from time to time, it will hear the ceaseless hush of rain on leaves, and something will remain.
Five Isobel Long
Five. The number of times she saw me naked. She saw me naked. Fleshy flesh on show. To think I let her clammy hands touch me. Clammy. One too many times they touched me. One less time and I would miss her less.
Four. The hour on the clock when I first saw her. She was pale, sweaty. Why always clammy? Pallid. Yet she smiled. She looked at me with those brown eyes. They told me she wanted me. But not enough.
Three. Her shoe size. They were tiny, apparently. So they said, as she lay there, sweaty. Tiny feet for a tiny woman. 5 foot 1. Beautiful woman. He said she was beautiful, too. He misses her too, I think.
Two. The number of times she told me she loved me. She loves me. I could never say it back. I wish I could have said it back. Then sheâ€™d know. Maybe then, maybe She would have held on to me. She wouldnâ€™t have disappeared.
One. The number of cuts it took to separate us. The number of times he squeezed her hand. The number of children she had. The number of doctors that tried to save her. The number of times she gave birth to me. The number of hours it took her to die.
Natalia Popova 28
Walk The Line Natalie Stone sat on the cool white seat. A branch clawed at the stark black window. The white of everything induced me into a dreamlike state. My thoughts were vague, wafting like ghosts of ideas: fearful, fleeting, not quite comprehensible. The electric buzz of light pressed in all around. I fumbled with the packet, my eyes running over words too large for me. I read a sentence six times and absorbed nothing. I tugged at the cardboard folds, fingered the object that was familiar and yet so unfamiliar. Before it had been distanced by a television screen, with a laughable presenter I could readily mock. Now it felt smooth and solid in my hand. It was so real. Too real. I focused on the sharp immediacy of the instruction leaflet in my hands, the feel of the paper on my fingertips. The tap dripped three times. The words 'a five second stream' jumped out at me in inky bold. Five seconds! Five solid whole seconds. Just last week I'd spent fifteen minutes hopping outside this very bathroom. Yet now, when the path of my entire life seemed to rest on it, there was nothing. Not even one drop. Classic.
I grappled for the plastic bottle. It was half full, or then again maybe half empty, I wouldn't be able to tell you just yet. I crushed the bottle into the miniature sink and filled it until it erupted all over my dressing gown. The robe was blue, with miniature white unicorns frolicking all over. I gulped as if I hadn't drunk in a week. I drank and drank. It was having no effect. I was getting nowhere. I plunged back into the dark quiet of the hall, creeping past sleeping rooms. I padded downstairs and into the sitting room. The door creaked. Tom's whole body tensed. I let the silence trickle on a little, then flicked the light on. He had two Maltesers for eyes and a tidal wave of black hair. I sank into the sofa next to him. “Jess?” It was tentative, almost too soft to hear. His breathing was ragged like a broken metronome. It put me on edge. “Jess?” I wanted him to feel the suspense. Feel it exactly like I was feeling it. “I need to drink more water first.” “Oh.” I found myself longing for him to smile, anything to stop my thoughts from spiralling further into the extreme. “It says a five second stream. I mean, come on! I can't produce that kind of thing on demand. I'm not a machine.” I groped blindly for any kind of humour. He just nodded blankly. “TV?” “Why not.” I took another swig. “What do you wanna watch?” His voice shook a little. “Anything with waterfalls is fine.” I glanced over, hopeful. I just wanted the sparkle in his eyes back. He flicked a few channels. “Ooh, The Hoobs will do.” “The Hoobs? Wow what time is it?” “Early.” It was always that victory programme at sleepovers, after we had stayed up all night in hysterical giggling fits. We watched The Hoobs at half five in the morning in a surreal haze, with eyes too tired for the chaotic bounding of rainbow puppets. “Groove was always my favourite” “Obviously; he's the best by a mile.” I was thankful for any form of inane discussion. “I used to have a friend who looked exactly like him.” I watched the lime-green furry puppet dance across the screen. I glanced at Tom, eyebrows raised. “Well, you know. Pretty much.” I laughed. Was I allowed to laugh? I wondered vaguely whether that was in the instruction leaflet. I poured a little more water down my throat. I watched the colourful blur of the screen as if from a great distance. I was somewhere else entirely. I wished he would put his arm around me or something. Anything. Then again I wished he wouldn't. I wished he would somehow understand that. “Thanks. You know, for-” I started. “It's fine. Tesco's was quite busy actually.” “Huh.”
“The guy at the checkout was obviously judging me.” I shot him a sideways glance. “I'm sorry.” “It's fine.” I wished he would stop telling me it was fine. “How much was it?” “Oh. I don”t remember.” He wouldn't catch my eye. “No tell me. How much?” “I don't know.” “Tell me! Where's the receipt?” My hand snatched the plastic bag first and rescued the small slip of paper. “You got gum as well? And a Kit Kat? And some shower gel!?” He didn”t say anything. “Eleven pounds forty-nine!?” He pinched it back. “Yeah, well.” “That's outrageous!” “Well there were cheaper ones, but-” “You should have gone Tesco Value. Although mind you, it would probably be about as useful as a magic eight ball.” I remembered shaking my sister's purple magic eight ball with eight-year-old hands, squealing with excitement. The anticipation had been almost too much for us, watching the liquid slowly clear and reveal our answers. That toy was soon cast aside when “Ask again later” started to feature a little too regularly. Suddenly I didn't want to think about toys anymore. “Eleven forty-nine! I mean, really. You could raise a child for less than that!” “Jess-” He was as white as Talcum powder. “What?” I took a few more generous gulps of water. “It's funny, I never really formed a proper opinion on abortion. Well, it's not funny really is it?” “Jess.” He sounded terrified. “I thought of some pretty good names too” “Names!?” I didn't mean to scare him; I was scaring myself. “You got any good ones?” “Jess.” His voice was desperate. “Go on.” “I don”t really think-” “Come on.” He was silent for a minute. “Balthazar” he said with defiance. I was speechless. "Balthazar!?" I looked at him, breaking into laughter. “Might as well call it Bulbosaur.” The corners of his mouth twitched. Finally I'd made him smile. It was all I wanted. “Right.” The Hoobs was coming to an end. “I need to go pretty bad.” I'm not sure how I got to the bathroom. All of a sudden my world was beginning to fly out of control. It was closing in, and at the same time widening. The bathroom was cold after the warmth of the living room. My hands were shaking. I gave the stick a lot more than five seconds just to be sure, and bundled it clumsily in a wad of tissue. I could hear nothing but my heartbeat, now a ticking clock. Two minutes. Two answers. A million feelings. Light was glimmering through the window. Clutching the offending object I rushed back downstairs. Tom looked up at me. “Two minutes,” I croaked. I fixed my eyes on the GMTV clock. I didn't say anything else. The silence was full enough already. I kept thinking over and over; this isn't happening to me, it can't be. My hand jittered. He reached over and held it still. I heard birds tweeting outside. I glanced at him and then at the clock. One minute. Silence overtook. I had no will to stop it. I watched the weather presenter's lips move but had no idea what he was saying. Something about fog, lots of fog. Thirty seconds. He wore a ghastly bright pink tie and a baby blue shirt. Ten seconds. I was looking into the face of this presenter as my life started to crumble into blacks and whites. Three seconds. I looked at Tom. There he was, not one drop of colour left in his face. His eyes were vivid against the pale ghost of his face. Two seconds. I heard his breathing and mine, out of sync. One second. I shut my eyes. Line or cross. Minus or Plus. Simple or Complicated. I unwrapped the tissue parcel and opened my eyes. I was walking a fault line between two completely different endings to my story. I waited for the answer to swim into focus. One simple blue line, that's all it was. Not pregnant. I could finally think that word now that it was paired with a 'Not'. Not pregnant. My whole body relaxed. I felt drained. Tom was grinning widely. "Well," I said, laughing breathlessly. “What a way to spend a morning.” I leant back into the sofa. "What a great way to spend a morning. Same time tomorrow?" "Love to." "It's a date." Sunlight streamed through the curtains. He leant over and kissed me. I looked at him. "Balthazar?" “What?” “I mean, really. Thank goodness it’s negative.”
Chaitanya Marpakwa 31