Twice-yearly magazine of Literature & the Arts
Issue 25 â€“ June 2014
Welcome to our summer issue! This year marks our 10-year anniversary! 10 years of Gold Dust poetry and prose, along with our live events, have kept our small team busy, but we hope youâ€™ve enjoyed the ride as much as we have. Following on from the success of our playwriting and singer/songwriting competitions, Gold Dust is launching a short film competition. Find out how to enter on our website at www.golddustmagazine.co.uk. After two fabulous issues, poetry editor David Turner is focusing on other projects, so Adele C Geraghty has come on board, and we are thrilled to have her. You can find out more at www.goodreads.com/author/show/5183750.Adele_C_Geraghty. In this issue, Magic Christmas Snowballs by Jonathan Doering (p36), was selected for our Best Prose award, while The Heights Promenade by Lorraine C Brooks (p10) was chosen as Best Poem. We also feature an Join us amazing story of determination to bring reading to the Mailing list: next generation in Sri Lanka (p4). www.golddustmagazine.co.uk/MailingList.htm
(GD magazine founder)
Gold Dust team
Cover photograph Eleanor L Bennett
Prose Editor & Cover Designer David Gardiner Poetry Editor Adele C Geraghty Photographer Eleanor L Bennett
Cover design David Gardiner Photographs Eleanor L Bennett (except where indicated) Illustrations Slavko Mali (except where indicated)
Illustrator Slavko Mali Webmaster, DTP & Founder Omma Velada
Circulation Online (www.issuu.com/golddust): ca. 3,000 PDF (www.lulu.com/golddustmagazine): ca. 500
Gold Dust magazine Founded in 2004 Bringing you the best poetry & prose
Editorial by GD founder Omma Velada
Contributors Our writers’ bios in all their glory
The Back Page Gold Dust news
Features & Reviews
Snoopy’s Guide to the Writing Life by Barnaby Conrad & Monte Schulz Reviewed by David Gardiner
Red Plenty by Francis Spufford Reviewed by David Gardiner
Heart Broke by Anna Meryt Reviewed by Adele Geraghty
Sri Lanka’s Barefoot Librarian by David Gardiner
Mother by Slavko Mali (p27)
BEST POEM The Heights Promenade by Lorraine C Brooks (p10)
War Drums by Keith R James
The Turing Test by Philippa East
Replay by Jennifer Foster
The Man From The Realm Of Footy Fan by Andy Oldfield
Lake George by Brennan Burnside
Magic Christmas Snowballs by Jonathan Doering BEST PROSE
Flash fiction (<1,000 words)
Ballerina by Slavko Mali
Mother by Slavko Mali
The Cure by Georgina Corrick
The Fleeting Nature of Fame by Bob Carlton
The Heights Promenade by Lorraine C Brooks BEST POEM
Dirty Doll by Stascia Horton
Silence Paisible de mes désirs by James G Piatt
Basil by Mikayla Davis
The Dress by Bronmin Shumway
On Julia at Panderia by Abigail Wyatt
Elusive Riches by Anthony J Langford
Spinning Wheels by Hannah O’Brien
Fatal by Colin Campbell Robinson
BEST PROSE Magic Christmas Snowballs by Jonathan Doering (p36)
Sri Lanka’s Barefoot Librarian
David Gardiner writes of an astonishing discovery in Sri Lanka Kanthi making steps up to her children’s library
When my partner Jean and I first encountered 54-year-old Kanthi Pathirana, on a minor road outside the town of Ella in the hill country of central Sri Lanka, she was digging steps out of the clay hillside with a metal spade in her bare feet. I asked her if this was a wise thing to do, wouldn’t she injure her feet, and she assured me in almost perfect English that she was used to it and I shouldn’t worry. A conversation ensued in which she explained that she was making the steps so that it would be safer for the children to walk up the slope to her Children’s Library. Was she the librarian, I asked? Yes, she told us, that was indeed who she was. Kanthi invited us up to see her library, which was also her family home, accessed by way of the steep slope where she had been digging out the steps. We
were shocked to find that the ‘library’ consisted of one free-standing bookcase containing a few tatty children’s books of the kind people in England throw out. She assured us that most of the books were out on loan and what we were seeing was just the ones that nobody wanted, but she hoped some day to have a much better collection. In 2010, when Kanthi was 51, she had a serious medical problem and feared that her life was coming to an end. An operation restored her health and saved her life, but after this near-death experience she decided that she must do something worthwhile with her remaining time, and decided that education was where she could make the most useful contribution. In particular she could try to pass on her love of books and reading to the children of the poor, whose homes contained no books or newspapers and whose only contact with the written word was through dry and for-
Feature: Sri Lanka’s Barefoot Librarian mal school textbooks. She began by creating the Sunray Self-Employed Foundation, which brought taxation exemptions and legitimized her activities. Next she made contact with mothers, teaching them the handicraft skills by which she earned her own living, and giving them a measure of economic independence. Gradually she shifted her focus to the children’s lending library, using a combination of donated books and some new purchases made with the proceeds of selling her handicrafts by the roadside. She invited local children to her home, where she read to them and taught them English, and the project slowly and steadily grew, with keen local support but pitiably little hard cash. Kanthi is an atheist, which is unbelievably rare in religion-soaked Sri Lanka, and hopes that the spread of literacy, knowledge of the English language and the love of reading will help to broaden the outlook of children whose only cultural input has been from narrowly religious schools of one denomination or another. Her faith is in science, rationality and personal freedom. The banner of the Sunray Self-Employed Foundation bears a clenched fist to symbolize strength and an open hand to symbolize freedom and self-reliance. Religion, she says, has done nothing but harm in Sri Lanka and most other parts of the world. Kanthi thinks in global terms and looks forward to a world freed from
religious superstition and national jealousies and pettiness. Although superficially she and I might not have a great deal in common, while I spoke to Kanthi I felt myself to be in the presence of a completely kindred soul and could find no detail of disagreement about how we viewed the world. I thought her a superb role model, as a librarian, a lover of the written world, and a human being. I feel privileged to have made her acquaintance. Kanthi is married, although her husband works in a paper-mill in far-off Colombo and can only visit once a month. She has a son Thejan aged 13 and a daughter, Rashmika, whom we met, aged 15. Needless to say Rashmika speaks perfect English and discusses her mother’s activities with enthusiasm and considerable insight. Jean and I made a modest contribution to Kanthi’s work, and if you would like to do the same she would appreciate gifts of children’s books (intended for any age group), money (of course) and publicity for her work. She can be contacted at: Sri Kanthi Pathirana Sunray Children’s Library Passara Road, Ella Sri Lanka 90090
Kanthi and Jean inside the children’s library
by Keith R James I went to the house that night because I was in love with a girl...
here’s a beach town twenty minutes north of San Diego that folks say went to the dogs. The older beach rats draped on barstools at Peabody’s, with leather bag skin and salt-destroyed hair, think it happened over night. Forty years of Beach Boys, then poof, a black sea of bass and rage. The street lights flickered off as the sun came up and Encinitas was a war-torn site riddled with needles and crushed pills. But I heard the war drums. In the foreclosed home off Via Malaga I saw the army approaching. I went to the house that night because I was in love with a girl. Rachel. “I think we should go somewhere.” She took a long drag of Marlboro Red. I looked at the little diamond resting in her small freckled nose. She kept her eyes on me and the smoke inside her. She let time pull the smoke out of her nostrils. It was slow. She made me feel like I was born and raised surrounded by white walls with nothing on them. I said “yes” before she even asked. We waited in a café on E Street until it was dark. No one goes to the house when it’s light out, she said. It didn’t make sense to ask why. I sipped my coffee and she looked out the window. With her face to the side looking out at the passing cars I felt guilty that the world didn’t get to experience this in pictures or magazines. Looking at her felt like stealing. So I stole, and we waited in silence. … It was dark. 6
She said the house was on Malaga but we got off on Manchester, an exit earlier. “I have to pick up some party favors.” She said it as a challenge. “Cool.” I shifted in my seat. … She comes out of the house twenty minutes after we got there. She had me wait in the car. “He doesn’t want to see some guy he doesn’t know,” she said. She gets back in the car. Her eyes look round and wet. I think of a drop of life put on a glass slide before the plastic cover is flattened over it and placed under a microscope. Two years from now I’d know what that look on a young girl’s face meant. Someone in that house told her how she should behave. Someone took her body and shaped it the way they wanted and all she could do was look away and pray that time still went off the clock at the same speed. But then, I thought nothing of it. She turned the key, and the engine agreed. We get on Malaga. Three houses down and she stops the car. As the belts of her engine slow she looks at the black mass cloaking the deep, brooding noise. The sounds from inside hit the walls and make the mass hum a low, shaking note. My mind goes to Everest and the dead bodies used as landmarks to guide the climbers to the top. “There it is.” It offered virtually nothing from the outside. I could make out a balcony on its last legs that would give someone a view of the Pacific Ocean for two seconds before it gave in and sent the person crash-
ing to the ground. This wasn’t something to look at from the outside and understand, though. Everything happened inside. She hands me a pill with a loose inside. Little specks of white hang at the bottom, waiting anxiously. “Swallow it before you get inside.”
Illustration: Slavko Mali
“What does it do?” “They said it makes you feel numb. Should be fun.” She grabs a water bottle of vanilla vodka and slides it in my hand. She kisses me, knowing it’s what I’ve been begging for in silence. It feels good. The fear is gone. I take the pill in my mouth
War Drums by Keith R James and enough vodka to bury it. We walk up the path to the door. I notice handprints of an old family. Maybe the ones that used to own this house. This might have been their dream, I think. The grass went unmowed and all the broken windows were covered with wood. Maybe the dream was too big, or too soon. I look over at her. Her head is down and her fingers are firing off on the screen of the phone. Maybe, I think, people will think she is mine. Her fingers stop. The door opens. I feel the rush of sound like the roar of a feeding pride. Before I have time to settle we are in the front doorway. My eyes are adjust-
sally despised. All the faces have the same jagged grimacing expressions that clash with my constant battle to assume the world is a halfway decent place. Before I can reach a hand out or say something clever, she is gone. I am high and she is gone. So I wander. The living room. A fifteen year old is punching holes in the walls with his tiny hands, punctuating manifestos written in pen and knives where pictures used to hang. I run my hands against the outline of a backwards swastika. The writing is harsh and calls for a revolution, but no method to get us there. I read the walls with a distance of us to the Egyptians. I make guesses on the
ing to blue lights and unknown chemicals in a pill some eighteen year old thought was best for me. I see herds of youth moving quickly, violently. I’m the oldest there by three years and I’m only twenty one. I get the feeling that my presence here is inconsequential but univer-
authors’ intentions. I can feel the white specks turn my blood into sugar. Before I can accept my fear my mental state shifts a thousand times. I stand at the wall and do nothing. “Who are you?” a cracked voice calls. I turn because the ques-
tion only makes sense for me. Everyone around me has a fixed role of not contributing to structure. People are moving with intentions to drown plans and purpose in the bathtub that someone already kicked to pieces. “Rachel’s friend.” I look at him. He is large and draped in a letterman’s jacket. I can see the rusty gears in his head cranking against insurmountable friction to make a thought. I train my eyes on his hand holding a forty, shifting over the base to the neck, not knowing who I am and how running that bottle over my head may be a benefit. But the gears stop. “She’s in the garage. Follow me.” I walk in line with a 6/7 bass coming from a speaker that is nowhere to be seen. The vibrations bore a hole in my gut and rattle me from the inside out. I look into a room along the way and see naked legs wrapped around a torso and two young male hands working their way around some type of smoking pipe. Behind them, more young men dismantling what had to be the previous owner’s crib. They were tearing at the bars. The bars would break and their fingers would get caught on the splinters. The young men would smile and yell at one another, holding up their bleeding limbs. On the ground at the feet of the crib were burnt pictures. I think of my crying father huddled over my baby pictures the night before I graduated high school. I wish I was there to see the chemical compounds that allow for a lasting memory to catch in flames. I go back to the couple, the boy with a naked woman wrapped around him. He chokes and exhales smog that smells like flesh burning. He wheezes and cackles. The naked legs moan. The legs throw their head back and give me a look I didn’t want to see. I walk away, but
War Drums by Keith R James my mind is trained on the sounds. I hear the torch lighter in the boy’s hands. Ffffffffffk…SNAP. I make it to the garage. I see the boy in the letterman’s jacket and he’s visibly wondering how he lost me. The garage looks like it went through a week of being robbed and now the thirty or so people are standing around a collection of stuff no calculating person would ever want to own. There is a mass circled around two boys running each other up with fists. One is a Mexican boy with his shoulder half out of its socket and ribs that look soft and tenderized. The other is a slight blonde boy I remember from high school. Chris something. I was a senior and he was a freshman. During his orientation I was the senior that took his group around to show them the buildings and told them how fun the next four years were going to be. He wanted to make movies from what I remember. Months into his first and my last year I remember a circle just like this gathered around his brother who just got sent off his bike by Randy Williams’ brand new BMW he received as a gift for getting into San Diego State. I watched Chris something hold his dead brother and for a few moments I felt like a liar. I look at their eyes and I know none of this is to pass the time…these boys want to destroy something. The Mexican gets caught with a cowboy’d hook and he is done for. The crowd lets out a deep groan of pleasure as the brown body slaps the floor. Chris something wastes no time straddling the lifeless body to finish what he started. Nobody stops him. The bodies in the circle beg for it to continue. The bodies beg to see something exotic. They want to be at arm’s length of burning villages in Africa and war-torn Iraq. They want what is on the news and forced 8
down their throats. They want to see real blood from real suffering people. I see Rachel slumped down in a beach chair, taking in the spectacle as an afterthought. My pupils work alone in figuring out the light. I trace the origin to a pair of spotlights hooked up to a generator that hums in the corner. I want to be right next to her. Next to her is someone else though, and he’s talking to others, but looking at me. Whether it was age or experience, the man looked to be around thirty. His neck and arms are covered with crude tattoos with as much hate as the walls in this house. He smiles at me. It’s a mixture of gold, rot, and miles down roads I would never walk on. His dried-up eyes search me up and down. “Rachel’s friend,” he chokes out. Rachel doesn’t say no or yes. The iceberg blue rocks in her head don’t move. I nod. He nods. In a very different way. We look at each other in silence, forgetting about the Mexican being beaten behind us. “Let’s go to the bathroom, Rachel’s friend. Rachel will be there, too.” He pulls Rachel out of her seat. Her legs are pale and numb. She’s lifeless. The man sticks his tongue down her throat so far her tiny neck swells up. She doesn’t stop it. My heart is knifed and left bleeding. But I move to the bathroom with the three of them. In the bathroom the man with the gold teeth holds a bag of something up. “Only the best.” The other guy nods and follows the bag dancing between two fingers. Rachel is sitting in the bathtub with her legs open and up. I look, I know I shouldn’t. She’s got no underwear and something looks wrong. She looks at me with the soft wet eyes again. “See something you like?”
The gold teeth puts his black eyes inches from my face. “You better not.” The other guy already had the spoon bent and the powder burning. The syrup cools. The gold teeth take a hold of Rachel’s bare feet. He sucks on the toes. “Shit’s nice.” He spreads apart Rachel’s toes. With his free hand he takes the needle tip and pops the webbed skin. He is fixated on his hands milking the needle. The gold teeth licks his bottom lip that is trying not to crack into a smile. I watch the milk come right back into her. The four of us stop and look at each other. The noise through the speaker feels slower. All of us, good and evil, weren’t growing up. We were being fired off into the distance. I look at Rachel. Her head shakes and tears fall. She mumbles…something. I lunge to grab her, but I’m not fast enough. The gold teeth runs a heavy fist across my face. I feel my jaw bone heat from the friction and mold around his fist. Half the world is purple. “Rachel is my girl. You don’t get to grab her…” The bottom of a Vans slip-on brands my mouth. On the rubber waffle of stars and diamonds I smell the burnt-out streets he came from. I fight to stay conscious. Not here. Anywhere but here. I get a good grip on the leg driving a heel into my face. I leverage my foot against the toilet and blast him back into the wall. The other guy doesn’t move, except for slowly raising his hands. Thick tears are rolling down his face and he is rocking to the same slow sound I heard from the speakers. Rachel is motionless. I pull her up. She wraps her own legs around me and buries her face into my neck. I feel a child’s heart slowly beating against mine. It’s getting late and it’s time to go. I fight pass the bodies, the screaming, the confusion. I drag Rachel through halls of drunken
War Drums by Keith R James children spitting out calamities of an unfair world. I step over bodies that might be dying. There are fists and smoke and the walls offer words of encouragement. More. More. More. Give me your loudest scream. Kill your parents. Kill your teachers. Kill the president. I feel the heart beat going slower and slower. I dig my hands down the back of her shirt to give her any warmth I have left. But I feel cold. Past Rachel’s curly brown hair I lock eyes with what I can only describe as an aloof army, a mass of people striving to be individuals but surfacing as a collective mind of bitterness. I feel my brain snarling and going wild with wanting to kill these children for what they did without knowing. No. Her. Just her right now. Let this place burn to the ground with them in it. But not her. I can see the door. I feel Rachel’s hand grab at the wall, and I push it away. When they all wake up in the morning, she won’t be here and they will hate her for it. I reach a welcome mat that ended up indoors. Rachel keeps reaching for things to hold onto. In the midst of this chaos I am shocked I can still be hurt. We’re out of the house, now. I tell Rachel to close her eyes. I tell her to forget about this place and its sounds and its words and everything that it wants her to think and
feel. I am the only one listening. I move forward. Blue electric fires out. There are tires screaming for heads to roll. Like me, this town has had enough of the madness and decided to call it in. But when those tires stop and the cops come out I won’t have a second to spare explaining why I have a dying child in my arms. I’m part of the swarm just by where I stand. The wheels stop. Doors open. Six men in blue busting out of their shirts sprint through the front door, forgetting the two in front of them. Maybe being just outside the house was enough of a difference. I drop Rachel in the car and speed off before I think about our luck too much that we end up getting caught. I turn the radio down and the air off. I want to hear her breath. Please be breathing. It’s soft. At a red light I turn around and watch her small chest pop up and down. I want to tell her to run, far away. Go to a school. Montana. Utah. Go somewhere that isn’t here. Get a sweet boyfriend who loves his family. Hold his hand and promise to never break his heart. Just stay out of this town. My lip trembles and my eyes sting like an open cut. That house had already done its work. She will take it with her and
if she doesn’t she will find it. If I stood at a shore line and begged a hurricane to stay away I’d have the same result. This town is just brick and mortar. It’s the people. We don’t go to a hospital. I can’t say why. I lay her down at Moonlight Beach just on the other side of the 101. The waves fall and sink in a rhythm. She’s curled up in any bit of anything warm I could find. I listen to her breath fighting against poison. Her beautiful body is limp and I go sick with all the opportunities my mind thinks there are present at the moment. Everything I want is lying in front of me and the only pair of eyes open on this beach is mine. I put my hand on her cheek and let my thumb roll over her small nose and the diamond in it. Her hand comes up and softly grabs mine. Her nails are chipped and lime green and I remember that we are young. I drop her hand, and head back to her car. I pop the trunk and sift through piles of her dirty clothes for something. I come back to her with the cleanest pair of underwear I can find. Like a vegetable daughter I lift her legs and slide the small garment up her thighs. Maybe we can forget all of this, I think. I leave her alone and the sun eventually rises. Gold Dust
Photo: Open source
The Heights Promenade This is not one of those Nicey Nicey Water flowing in the background Smooth jazz and watercolors Apple martini and fresh cinnamon candle Stare into your eyes like a puppydog Kind of poems. This is Let’s grab a sack of White Castles And some wine coolers Put on the AC and roll a J Take the damned phone off the hook Or turn off the fucking cell and STOP IM’ING And lay down on that old nasty shag carpet Kind of poems. This is NOT an essay about How lovely your skin is Or how much I like your cooking And wouldn’t it be fine to go to the theater And stroll the Heights Promenade
Kind of poems. This is Fritz the Cat and Putney Swope And Moms Mabley and George Carlin And OMG! and WTF! And damn you have a nice ass Kind of poems. This is not the 4-door sedan Khaki slacks and a jacket Button your collar so you don’t catch a chill And don’t forget to take your medicine on time Kind of poems. This is Top down hair flying in the air Jethro Tull and Cream Beating the toll gate at 80 Fuck the cops they’ll never catch us Thelma and Louise Kind of shit. You with me?
Lorraine C Brooks
Illustration: Slavko Mali
Dirty Doll There was nothing about the doll that the girl liked. She was only good for holding onto. Something other than that, to have in her hands and her mouth and sometimes, the girl would shake her to try to shake the memories out and beat her against everything to beat the feelings out. It was a safe way. The doll was soft and made no noise and did no damage. The doll was silent, like she was. She sucked on the dollâ€™s hands until they were stained, stained and dirty, like her hands. Then she tried to rip her legs apart, until the place between them was torn and ruined. Ruined, like she was.
Photo: Eleanor Bennett
June 2014 www.golddustmagazine.co.uk
The Turing Test by Philippa East First off, it’s not as though I killed anybody...
irst off, it’s not as though I killed anybody. People keep talking like she was an actual person. They seem to forget that, back then, they were all thinking the exact same thing as me – what, risk flunking out ’cos ELSA has some bug in her system? No way. I bet deep down even Tara’s glad I stepped in. The whole thing had gotten completely out of hand. Supposedly there are always give-away signs: ID marks above the ears and a plasticky smell when you get up close. But ELSA had long red hair that hung straight down and I guess she must’ve worn some kind of perfume. Either way, she fooled most people. The guys all thought she was hot before they realised. “Hey, Lance!” I heard Manning yell when she walked past his locker on her first day. “Who’d you rather – Jane Simmons or...?” I swear Manning kept his brain in his jock-strap. Lance whistled. “No offence, Jane,” he added to me. Whatever... Proves my theory – guys will do it with anything, even a robot. I gave him one of my most vicious smiles. When Tara and I got to class, everyone was talking to the new girl and she was asking all these questions about the timetable and stuff. When the lesson started Miss Greening got us to introduce ourselves properly. So then she was like, “Hi! My name’s ELSA and I’m a ninth-generation Anthrobot designed and built by MIT,” and everyone was like, “Wha-at?” Miss Greening looked really 12
smug at that. “I guess that means ELSA’s passed the Turing Test,” she said. Later I asked Warren what she meant. He said it's when you can't tell if you're talking to a human or a computer. I’d call that just plain creepy. Warren walked like a girl and was always playing these retro computer games from the 2060s. He had a thing about me – most guys did – but with Warren it was so obvious. He did this gulping thing with his mouth every time he spoke to me, like a goldfish. A goldfish with buck teeth. Yuck. I’m Jane Simmons, in case you didn’t know. President of the Class of 2098 – you can look it up in the Yearbook. Tara’s Vice President and supposed to be my best friend. She didn’t exactly have my back over this though. “You think we should talk to her or something?” she said as we took our usual table at lunch-break. ELSA was sitting by herself and I could tell Tara’s poor-new-kid radar was on over-drive. “What for? So she can tell you about her latest microchip upgrade?” “Come on, Jane... Don’t you think she looks lonely?” I watched ELSA slowly unwrap a Twinkie. Where would she put it, I wondered? “Come off it. Lonely?” For a straight-A student, Tara could be so dumb. So it was completely her fault the way ELSA latched on, trailing around after us like some lame dog. She had no clue how hopeless Anthrobots were. We used to
have a fifth-generation one at home; my stupid brother tried to make friends with it and exactly the same thing happened. Mom had to get it replaced in the end. They should come with a warning or something. With the guys she was just as bad. Manning kept trying out his gross pick-up lines on her, but she'd just look at him with this polite smile on her silicone face and say, “I'm not sure I understand. You say, play with your joystick?” He and Lance thought that was hilarious at first, but after a while they got pretty pissed. “Frigid bitch,” said Manning eventually. To give her some credit, she made them look like douchebags. Still, I was glad when Lance got bored with her. Meantime, the teachers were falling all over themselves to make her feel welcome. ’Course, it came out later that the school was getting all this extra money under some anthrobot-rights campaign for, like, ‘the humanising effect of a high school education.’ Anyone with half a brain – even half a chip – could see what a dumb idea that was, but Ryder High sure needed the cash so, jeez, the teachers couldn’t get enough of her. Even Warren started to whine about it in our tutorials. Oh, didn't I mention? Warren helped me out every so often. Such a little smart-ass. I’d ask him his views on the homework and we’d have these discussions to figure out my ideas, and then he’d write it up for me. I made it worth his while, allowing him a grope at second-
The Turing Test by Philippa East base now and then, so he was happy to help. At least he was, till ELSA got involved. I was waiting for him in the library, and ELSA had tagged along behind. That was the thing: she was so quiet sometimes, you forgot she was even there. Warren didn't seem to notice her either, I guess because he was flapping so much. “Here you go,” he panted. “Sorry it's late. I had such a lot –” I jerked the papers out of his hand. “I had to ask for an extension! Do you have any idea how humiliating that was?” “I'm sorry, Jane, I...” He pushed his fringe off his glasses. “It won't happen again.” “Yeah, well.” I shoved the pages into my bag without looking at them. He shifted his feet and goldfished a few times. “OK... so d’you have any other assignments?” I handed him my Math paper. He put it in his briefcase. He had just turned to leave when I heard this tiny whirr. ELSA put her Twinkie down on the desk. “Cheating,” she said. She
looked at Warren and she looked at me. “Cheating,” she repeated with this sick little smile. “Shit,” Warren said. He looked like he was about to wet himself. I thought fast. “Look, ELSA. It's not cheating. It's... uh... Peer Tutoring.” ELSA’s head vibrated while she computed. “Peer tutoring: specially-trained student tutors assisting others in their learning.” Whirr. “Cheating: gaining advantage by unfair or deceitful methods.” She gave a small click. I had this nasty feeling she’d seen right through me. I clenched my hands under the desk and waited. “‘Article 41.3 of the Students' Code: Any student who becomes aware of an incident of cheating must inform the Principal...’” “Oh piss off, ELSA.” She blinked and her smile disappeared. “I’m sorry. You are angry with me. But it’s OK, see – I'm going now.” She scooped up her things. I dropped my head into my hands. “Jane, I –” began Warren. “You can beat it too,” I said
Photo: Eleanor Bennett
through my fingers. “If you'd given me the essay on time this never would’ve happened.” I could hear him breathing in short snatches. Eventually I looked up. “OK, Mr Grab-Hands. What do you suggest?” Warren flamed red then took a deep breath. “I have an idea but...” He trailed off. “It's kind of illegal.” OK, maybe I should have left it there. We didn't know she would definitely rat on us, we didn't know if the Principal would believe her. It was her word against ours and maybe we could’ve thought of a way to explain. But I guess I panicked. The idea sounded crazy if not outright impossible, but Warren said he'd seen it done before. His talk of remote profiles and networks and microstores went right over my head, but I got the idea. Hack into ELSA’s virtual brain, isolate and lock the memory file, and it would be like none of it ever happened. Easy. Except, of course, Warren messed up. And that’s when the glitches started. It was just a tiny thing to begin with. We were in Geography, doing the trade routes and what one went over what sea or something, I wasn’t really listening. Anyway, ELSA put up her hand to answer a question and as usual the teacher picked her. “Is it the At-At-Atlantic?” she said. The whole class swivelled round. “Don’t be nervous, honey,” Lance smirked and we all laughed. But ELSA had a puzzled look on her face. She'd never stuttered before. Next day it was worse. She started asking questions that had nothing to do with what we were learning; she’d answer a question when the teacher had already
The Turing Test by Philippa East moved on. It stopped being funny and really started to get to me. The memory file was still in there. With all her circuits misfiring, who knew what she might spew out? The rest of the week was a write-off. The staff were terrified, you could tell: good old Ryder High was turning ELSA into a total imbecile. The teachers went round in circles trying to get her to make sense, never mind the rest of us. We were trying to study but we weren’t learning anything. God, how I bitched. I didn’t care that ELSA heard every word of it. Next Monday, she wasn’t in school. Warren figured she was trying a self-reboot. “Cross your fingers,” he said. And when she came back, she actually seemed OK. She’d lost her stutter and was back buying her Twinkies again. Man, was I glad. Now the teachers would stop flipping out, we could get on with our final tests, and even the dumb-ass campaigners would be happy. Noone would find out about me and Warren, and my record as Class President would stay squeaky clean.
Photo: Eleanor Bennett
All week she went on as normal. She whirred away over Manning’s jokes, blabbered on about her own instruction manual, and plodded around after me and Tara. By Friday I was ready to forget the whole thing. I’d even allowed Tara to make a space for her in the stupid Yearbook. But that morning, in Science, she asked the same question three times in a row. “For fuck’s sake,” muttered Lance. He was about to say something else when this weird beeping noise started up, like in the movies when someone’s flat-lining. ELSA’s face was a real picture then. I never knew latex could be so expressive. All afternoon she just looked vacant. Even more vacant than usual, I mean. Warren was completely freaking out. If anyone tried to debug her, he said, they’d see straight away what we’d done. I turned up the music on my eardecks and pretended I couldn’t hear him. Like as if I knew what to do. All I wanted was for ELSA to get back to normal. In the last lesson of the day, ELSA asked to speak to the class.
Mr Cubit shuffled to one side and waved her up to the blackscreen. As she stood there at the front I had that creepy feeling again. It was true: looking at her like that, you just couldn’t tell. She opened her mouth. “My systems are malfunctioning,” she droned. “Under principle 128.4 of my operational policy, I have been recalled. I am to be deconstructed and terminated. This is the most cost-effective solution.” Warren caught my eye. I drew my pen across my neck with a grin of relief. ELSA stared out at us without blinking. In her monotone voice she continued: “However, under Article 2.29 of the Humanoid Rights Act 2089, I can petition for my hard-drive to be de-fragmented, screened and reset. This would restore me to optimal performance, allowing me to live and re-join your school.” Lance rolled his eyes and pretended to yawn. I could hear Tara beside me sniffing up a tear. I dug her in the ribs, hard. “I must choose the petitioners myself. I therefore ask you as my fellow classmates to support my appeal.” Mr Cubit unfolded his arms and turned to us with a broad grin. “Well,” he said. “Whadday’all think?” There was a silence. Nobody moved. ELSA looked pretty lame up there and for this weird moment I felt kind of sorry for her. I mean, it was kinda sad that no-one liked her. After all, she hadn’t done anything wrong, not when you really thought about it. And I guess if it were me up there, malfunctioning and everything, I’d want a second chance. But – whatever. As Senior Class President, I raised my hand. “Yes, Jane?” said Mr Cubit. “Go ahead...”
REVIEW Snoopy’s Guide to the by Barnaby Conrad & Monte Schulz Writing Life
Writer’s Digest Books, 2002 Hardback £11.90
Reviewed by David Gardiner
he ideal present for a writer friend, to be kept (I would suggest) in the smallest room in the house. Forget Stephen King's over-rated For Writers and Nigel Watts' Writing a Novel in the Teach Yourself series, this is the definitive self-help coffee table book for struggling writers –
the one that really gets to the nub of things. The tenor of the book may be judged from the cartoon strip in which Snoopy, Charlie Brown's beagle with literary aspirations, explains to the person who wrote his latest rejection slip that there has been a misunderstanding, and
'what I really wanted was for you to publish my story and send me fifty thousand dollars'. Snoopy has been kind enough to allow some of his fellow writers who are further along the path to career success than himself to contribute brief essays of advice to aspiring authors to accompany this collection of writing-themed Schulz cartoons. These guests include Ray Bradbury, William F. Buckley Jr. and Elmore Leonard, and their contributions, though light-hearted, offer genuine insights into the way editors select material for publication and the common mistakes of new writers hoping to get a manuscript accepted. The book hovers on the brink of seriousness, which allows the contributors to be a little outrageous and, in the process, highly entertaining. But the comments of these distinguished guests also have about them the ring of truth. Snoopy may be the extreme example of the naïve, ever-hopeful would-be writer with an invincible faith in his outstanding qualities that the literary world has thus far failed to recognize, and an unshakeable belief that wealth, fame and fortune are just a few more typewritten sheets away, but those of us who write are either very fortunate or perhaps merely self-delusional if we can recognise in his attitudes and beliefs nothing whatsoever of our own.
Silence paisible de mes dĂŠsirs Blue-green waves burst, With fervent abandon Over mossy rocks, The turbulence of the Sea, tosses white spume High into the air, and the Perpetual drops of brine Upon my face, heighten My rootless senses: The unyielding current of The everlasting ocean, silences Strident screams of longings Forever fleeing into scorching Sand as the scents of the past Roam stridently in the crevices, Of my soul: As the tide wanes, the spirals Of inexhaustible hours of Unending motion merge into Briny dreams, and then vanish Into the unending voices of, my Silent desires.
James G Piatt Photo: Eleanor Bennett
Basil Heâ€™s old, white hair, typical bald spot in the center of his head. The wrinkles on his hand quake as the fault-lines on his fingers grip the marker and spew forth his name. Basil. Itâ€™s written, bigger than the rest, confidence blasted in the bold black letters, bruises on the white board.
he is left handed. His hand floats above the board, like the reflection of cumulus clouds on a quiet river, where the true passion runs beneath.
He has an orderly mind, you can tell by his preference for even numbers. Even lines. Even squares of plaid on his sweater vest, and
Photo: Eleanor Bennett
by Jennifer Foster
Five years after they’d parted, she met Bob by accident on a train...
s she turned to stare at Bob, the world swayed, and before her eyes came her time on the island, compacted into a moment as the sand came up to meet her, and support her in a moment of black respite. She remembered the strength of youth in her petite frame as she leaned over the ferry rail, eager to see jellyfish, and the way the wind raced in from the ocean to play with her hair, tossing long black locks like naughty snakes towards her companions. Behind her, she could hear their voices, fizzing with relief and irresponsibility like so many bottles of bubbly with the corks drawn, because the final exams were over. Two days before, someone in the kippered and heaving union bar had uttered the words, ‘camping trip’. A lot of people said they would Photo: Eleanor Bennett
come who hadn’t, but in the end a party was collected, five chicks and five guys. In the industrial Manchester dawn they had piled some luggage and themselves into an old Ford Escort and a Triumph Herald which smelt of illegal intoxications, and set off. By the time they’d reached Hadrian’s Wall, both the cars smelt only and forever of sweat and processed beans. They came bounding over to look at the jellyfish, the guys with their shirts off, sweaty underarm, adding feral spice to fresh ocean air. Presently it mixed with the island smell, sheep and heather and seabirds and then eau de harbour, fish entrails and diesel dregs. They disembarked, and the girls had asked with the charm of the busty where they could camp. They’d tramped, singing, over the spine of the island, ankles prickled by heather and gorse, then slithered
and slid over the sand hills. They’d pitched on the beach side of the dunes, facing westwards, facing the cool ocean and the infinite stars. As night fell, they sat around the salty crackle of a driftwood fire, making supper toast from stale Mother’s Pride held on sticks, whilst they discussed Life. ‘We missed the Summer of Love...’ There was a collective sigh. They’d already discovered that Pat was a bit of a bore on this subject, but his comments had a sting, because they all knew what he really meant. Through their schooldays, they’d watched older siblings revel in the buzz and fizz that was the sixties, dressing in psychedelic fashions to twist and shout to pop music that was as defiant as it was original. And as a bonus, change jobs as easily as they changed their socks. But by the time Sandy and the rest of the group had grown up, it was the seventies, stale and flat and discontented, and if a job came your way, by Gaw you hung on to it. Lucy said wistfully, ‘Yeah...it would have been great...exploring yourself, your creativity...’ Bob had added, ‘Building a new world...’ Dave said, firelight flicking over his narrowed eyes and full lips, ‘Making love when you felt like it, real free love, not being frustrated by stone age rules.’ ‘You can’t actually call the Judeo-Christian tradition stone age, Dave -’, began Bob. Pat interrupted quickly. ‘Whatever! We don’t live in the
Replay by Jennifer Foster Age of Repression, that’s the point. Sex is a natural thing to do, it’s unfair that all those Mary Whitehouse spinsters should expect the rest of us to be as twisted and bitter as they are.’ ‘Actually, Mary Whitehouse has three children –’, ‘Shut up, Bob, this isn’t the union debating society! Everyone knows what I mean.’ The moon sparkled on the water, the terns plunged after fish, the waves crept up the land, like fingers caressing a lover. They knew what he meant. ‘We could take turns, different girls and guys every night...’ ‘That’s all very well,’ Annis said, ‘But we can’t afford to get pregnant...’ ‘We’ve got enough French letters between us, haven’t we, lads? Let’s toss to get started.’ So they had, and again the next night: the thrill of it had been just the best high ever. Days had been spent beachcombing for driftwood, shopping, cooking, washing up, and when the chores were done, walking on the beach looking for otter prints and seals, or planning and playing jokes. Pat had been particularly inventive, but they’d all joined in. A trip wire with tin cans around one tent, so that when one of the inhabitants got up for a wee in the night, everyone knew and greeted them with a chorus of derision. Or the raw egg in the bottom of a mug of tea, ‘apple pie’ sleeping bags, lots of daft things, all great fun. And then the time had run out, and reality hit them like a tsunami. They had had to go back to university to get their final results, which would determine their employment chances. A toxic mixture of anxiety and post-holiday blues had made them snappish by the time they reached the border, and they were not speaking by the time they reached the dreary, rain-swept
Manchester streets. They’d leapt from the cars, grabbed their packs, and walked away. She didn’t even know what results the others had got. Hers were adequate, and she was able to take up the job conditionally offered to her in the spring. Her job in an IT department, an offer which had felt so much like a feminist triumph, had quickly turned sour. The office dynamic was male dominated, the older men happy to mentor the lads, but wary of their wives’ reaction to a pretty girl. If you were very obviously brilliant, or laddish in your attitudes...but she was neither. Lacking opportunities or training, she spent her days grinding through the boring, dead-end coding and maintenance that no one else wanted. She’d survived the drear of it by looking forward to bedtime. Every night, she would snuggle down and replay a carefree island day, fishing, paddling and playing jokes, and finishing with the naughty thrill of a different man. Then, five years after they’d parted, she met Bob by accident on a train. Unlike herself, Bob exuded confidence. He’d ‘got religion’, and had just been ordained priest in the Church of England. As he talked, she realised that religion wasn’t just for fanatics and old people. It might even be for her. He was more than willing to spend time tutoring her, encouraging and supporting her conversion, and somewhere in the process love had grown between them. For a quarter of a century, the rewards of life as a clergy wife outweighed the drawbacks, and in those years the island had become a memory of which she – and Bob, probably, for they neither of them ever spoke of it – were ashamed. And then life changed. Bob had been promoted away from parish work, so that she lost her role. At first, this had seemed to be a gain, because their elderly par-
ents needed help. The old folk went down like a series of skittles: his mother, then her father, his father and finally her own mother, the longest to suffer and the last to die. The deterioration in their parents took the remnants of her own youth with it: she went grey, her legs became a tracery of green-black veins, her face lined like a pane of cracked glass. By the end, she was reduced to hoping that each illness would be the last, and provide release from a task that was beyond her strength. She couldn’t ask for Bob’s support. This is not a good time to be a senior Anglican cleric, as the serpent of schism slithers through cloister and synod. The struggle slowly drained Bob’s enthusiasm, his sense of purpose and his confidence: he was exhausted most of the time, and she couldn’t add to his burden. One night, after a hideous day with her mother, frightened and confused in a hospital that resembled a giant machine, the island rose in her memory, sweet, irresponsible... carefree. Once, after a really bad day, wouldn’t hurt, would it? The phone call had come out of the blue, four weeks after her mother’s funeral. ‘Sandy...bet you don’t remember me?’ ‘Um...’ ‘Pat...from the island...’ ‘Pat! Um...wow, no, it’s been so long.’ ‘We should have kept in touch, y’know? What are you doing these days? I was made redundant a couple of years back...’ He wittered away for a few minutes, relating news of his career, and of the others. ‘So, how are you?’ She talked for a few minutes, almost gabbling in the release of talking to someone who didn’t want something from her. Presently he said, ‘Anyway, the thing is, we’re
Replay by Jennifer Foster having a reunion in June.’ Voice flattening, she said, ‘Bob is busy in June.’ ‘But maybe you could get away for a day or two...we’re planning to camp in the same place, do the same things...well, most of them. Of course, people are married now...’ To go back to the island...oh yes, yes. She didn’t mention it to Bob: the dates clashed with a conference and retreat which he had to attend. He asked if she would be alright in his absence. ‘Um...yes...I...’ But she had already lost his attention. So that settled it, he didn’t deserve to know. Sandy had felt her heart soaring, felt that she was entering another, sweeter world, as her nostrils filled once again with the island smell. In the harbour, which now smelt only of seaweed, she shouldered her pack, and set out over the spine of the island. The heather and gorse prickled her ankles, the sea sparkled in the sunlight, and the wild ocean wind smelt of freedom. She began to hum Abba: ‘Waterloo, suddenly facing my Waterloo – ’. They’d sung that before, and here
Photo: Eleanor Bennett
were the dunes, a bit of slithering was required, and - a toilet block? She paused, disconcerted by the intrusion. Then she saw, on the edge of the dunes, a circle of tents around a fire place piled with driftwood. That would be them! She hurried forwards and stopped, embarrassed, stuttering excuses. This was another party, a party of grey, wrinkled, balding, paunchy people, rising from camp stools with arthritic clicks and groans. ‘Sandy...I hardly recognised you, not with your hair...like that. How are you, how was the journey?’ She felt weak, and stumbled. They hobbled to her rescue. ‘Here, sit down on this log. You’ve carried too much on your back, I expect. We got any tea brewed?’ Tea...tea, like a WI meeting! She drank it, feeling lost and alone and somehow bereaved, whilst they took her bag off her and put it into a tent. Then, as clouds began to roll in from the west, as in a dream darkening towards nightmare, she mechanically performed the chores they asked of her, ate the stew and bread they gave her. They talked, grumbling about work
and relationships, but she barely heard. ‘Bedtime, I guess.’ The little concrete toilet block was surprisingly well equipped: the shower cubicle was cruelly possessed of a mirror. Stretch marks, a spare tyre...she hastened to cover her old age with pyjamas. Completely exhausted, she went to the tent, dragged on her sleeping bag and began to doze. There was the scratch of the zip and she dreamt that Pat had come; slim and lithe and smelling of anti-dandruff shampoo and athlete’s foot cream. What?! That wasn’t right...her eyes slammed open, her heart began to pound unpleasantly. Memory was one thing, adultery another. She had grasped her courage, prepared to repel borders, when his elderly voice said, ‘Um...look, I...well, do you mind if we don’t? Bit tired...’ She managed to agree that she was tired too. Eventually she stopped shaking, and drifted off for a few minutes, and awoke in the belief that there was a pig rootling under the ground sheet. Expecting to find Pat woken by the intrusion, she realised he was asleep, and the source of the noise. Good grief! It was like a buzz saw that had hit a metal bolt. There was no sleeping with it, but just as she was about to wiggle out of the sleeping bag rain spattered on the tent. Then it occurred to her that when he woke up, he might not be tired...she didn’t really think he was a rapist, but with Pat...one could never be quite sure about Pat. She slid out and dressed in the damp dawn, pussyfooting around his snoring form. She would leave as soon as possible. Her announcement at breakfast was greeted with urgent entreaties to wait until the afternoon ferry, to have a farewell lunch with them. They had been just about to serve it, when Bob walked into the camp. It felt as though her
Replay by Jennifer Foster inside had dropped in a lift, and her consciousness followed on down the chasm: the sand came up to meet her, and supported her in her moment of black respite. ‘Sandy! Sandy! Are you alright?’ Why do people shake the fainted? ‘Sorry...just...feeling a bit...woozy...’ Somebody gave her water, and after a moment her body seemed to steady and it became possible to sit up, and know that her marriage was over. No, that would be...at least freedom. But Bob would never agree to a divorce, no matter what. It was intolerable, she’d be tied to him, cold and sulking, for the rest of her life. And what’s more, he wasn’t squeaky clean himself! She staggered to her feet, breathing fire. ‘What the Hell are you doing here? You’re supposed to be at that conference! I was part of this island thing too, so why didn’t you mention to me you were coming?! Only you don’t think about me, except to check on me like I was another thing on your to-do list!’ ‘I thought you’d gone to Wales, to visit your cousin!’ ‘I can’t imagine why!’ ‘You said...how many times have you done this? Been with some lover?’ ‘Every night for months! It’s the only way I could stay sane...’ ‘Every...’ There was a moment of disbelief, and then he understood that just as a man can, with imagination, be an adulterer in his wife’s bosom, so can a wife in her husband’s bed. And she saw that he had understood it, and that his understanding came from experience! ‘You do it too! How often do you think about the others when you make love to me?’ ‘All the time!’ ‘Adulterer!’
‘Jezebel!’ The relief was astonishing, and she saw to her joy that it was mutual. The tide of rage was carrying her - carrying them along, not out to sea but up the beach to safety. OK, so it was a stoney beach... ‘Oh, like you were taking part in my life the last few years! Our parents were dying, though I’m not sure you noticed! You rushed away from Mum’s funeral to some bloody meeting with some other nit-picking, detail obsessed excuse for a priest! Your bloody, bloody damnable church politics have...have eaten you up, fed on you like a vampire until you’re not the man I married, you’re not a priest any more, you’re a schemer and a manoeuvrer and a plotter!’ ‘You’ve thought of nothing but your parents or the children for years! I’m just the breadwinner, just a source of a house and an income and status to you! If I couldn’t resist the temptation to come here, relive a bit of my irresponsible youth, it’s not surprising!’ ‘Oh yes? And who were you looking forwards to sleeping with?’ A slight sound made them both turn. Pat and Dave were hanging onto each other, giggling. Bob said incredulously, ‘Did you...do this on purpose?’ ‘I bet Pat he couldn’t do it...get the bishop and his missus here. He said you’d be too tight-arsed to come now.’ Pat chuckled. ‘And when I’d talked to the pair of you, I upped the stakes, and bet that you wouldn’t tell each other.’ He crowed. ‘Your faces...when you saw each other...priceless, it was. I tell you, the memory will keep me warm at nights.’ Bob said, sounding slightly stunned, ‘You did this for a bet! Do you...do you have any understanding of what you’ve done...might have done to us?’
‘It was always good baiting you, Bob, you take yourself so seriously. Lighten up!’ ‘Sandy, get your things.’ ‘Yes, Bob.’ Dave hooted with laughter. Pat said, oozing false concern, ‘Ow...afraid to annoy the bishop, Sandy? Does he refuse to bless your soup if you don’t do as you’re told?’ Sandy stepped forwards but Bob caught her arm. ‘No, his kind will do anything to get attention. They can’t get it by achievement so they make trouble. Fetch your things, if we run we can catch the afternoon ferry.’ They leant panting over the rail, watching the harbour swing around them. When they had breath to speak Bob said, ‘Sandy, I’m sorry.’ ‘So am I. I should have said...’ ‘I should have been around to listen. Look...let’s have a holiday, talk about the future when we’re not so tired.’ ‘Yes.’ They left harbour, the sea caught and tossed the boat, and she grabbed at the rail. ‘Sandy...who did you spend last night with?’ ‘Pat...’ He stiffened, and she preened in his jealousy. ‘That spiteful old wreck! I hope you enjoyed it!’ ‘He snores like a warthog with sinus trouble.’ ‘The miserable – he snores? Do you mean...?’ She grinned, basking in his possessiveness. ‘You wicked woman! Just you wait till I get you in bed!’ She patted her windswept grey hair with one hand. Bob held the other, whilst the island fell away behind them.
by Slavko Mali He came to the park every day...
e came to the park every day, riding his weird old metallic-blue coloured bicycle. Each day he would secure it to the same thick tree trunk with a chain and padlock and sit motionless on a bench next to it. It seemed odd that he needed to chain-up the bicycle. He had a beard, fairly long hair, a hooked nose and was a little cross-eyed. Sitting motionless on the bench, it was impossible to say what he was looking at. Only when some pretty girl passed by could I sense, but not see, some inner change in him. A kind of disturbance, as though he were secretly and carefully keeping track of her movement. He used to sit like that for a long, long time, then rise up to unlock his faithful bike. Mounting it and very slowly, gently turning the pedals, he would disappear into the twilight town. Nobody else gave him any attention or cared why he sat there or where he came from each day. I don’t believe that anybody else ever noticed him. But I was curious. I lived in a house above the park and was able to watch him every day. His seeming detachment intrigued me. That absurd sitting that made sense only to him. The most interesting thing was that nobody knew him and he communicated with no one. One evening I followed him. I watched him carefully unlock his bike and hang the padlock and chain around the saddle, then 22
slowly departing, pushing the bike through the park. He walked like a person with nowhere in particular to go, nobody and nothing waiting for him anywhere. I walked slowly behind him down main street, all the way to the end of town. When eventually he came to a cottage with one latticed window he leaned a bike on it. Surprisingly, he didn’t chain it this time. He opened a door and turned on the dim yellow interior light. A profusion of bushes, ivy and climbing roses embraced the tiny cottage with its single room and bed. There was also an old wooden chair, ocher plush padded, dirty and worn out, and in the middle of the room an old green-gold coloured Singer sewing. I watched him sit on the chair at the machine and open its drawer, the one intended for various threads, measuring tape, buttons, zippers… But in this drawer there was only one unusual rectangular box, blue-black and intricately carved. My unknown friend placed it on a stand by the machine and cuddled it with his right hand. Then he gently opened the top coverlid with his thumbs. A little ballerinadoll in a blue tulle dress appeared out of it and started to dance. From the depths of the box came the sound of a mechanical cylinder playing a waltz. Sparkling mirrors inlaid into the cover lid gave multiple reflections of the ballerina. For a long time he stared motionlessly, as though hypnotised by the balle-
rina’s dancing form, then he gently closed a box. The music stopped and an unpleasant sillence ensued. Suddenly alert to his surroundings, he turned his head to the window where I was watching and I quickly ran away into the dark. As I ran, panting, stumbling over fresh greenswards, an unclear picture of the face I had glimpsed formed in my mind: it wasn’t him! The next day, I followed him again. But an opaque green curtain had been hung on the window. I could only hear the sounds from the music box, and when it stopped I quickly hurried home, feeling uneasy and upset. The man didn’t come to the park anymore. Although I observed for a few days, no one ever sat in his place again. No one ever leaned anything against his tree. Days went by, and the picture of the weird man slowly faded from my mind. Then, one evening much later, I did notice someone sitting on his bench next to the tree. It was a girl in a ballerina’s blue dress. She turned her head towards my window, stood up and walked slowly away. I ran down to follow her but she was disappearing towards Main Street with unreal speed. Running ever faster to catch her up, I saw a crowd of people gathered by the roadside. There was a bearded man lying on a road, his hands grasping the handlebars of a metallic-blue bicycle. A puddle of blood was spreading from his head, in which I saw a
Ballerina by Slavko Mali padlock on a metal chain. I ran back to the bench. On its corner there was closed music box, obviously deliberately left there.
I sat down on the bench and took it up. I gently opened the coverlid with my thumbs. A metallic waltz music started. In the deeps of
the coverlid mirrors I saw only my own broken face. The ballerina was gone.
Illustration: Slavko Mali
The Man From The Realm Of Footy Fan
by Andy Oldfield
If anyone cared to look from the outside, her life was richer than a C-list celebrity’s...
f anyone cared to look from the outside, her life was richer than a C-list celebrity’s and fuller than an optimist’s glass. At work she was flying high and power-suited in the world of stakeholders and business partners. She made time for designer shopping trips, detoxed at the most exclusive spas and retoxed on wild alcoholic nights out at the most exclusive clubs. If anyone cared to look inside though, they would have seen the loneliness festering in the heart of her largely meaningless existence – a dead foetus stinking within the confines of a pristine shell. Every day the people with whom she worked and socialised orbited her, occasionally collided with her and ultimately left her drifting outside their universes. Especially those with whom she had slept in misguided attempts to find intimacy with a man. The romantic and sexual connections in her world proved as superficial as the accord in a coalition government, as tenuous as the terms and conditions of an insurance policy and as vacuous as day-time television. She knew nothing of other worlds, and yet there are times when the veils between the worlds grow thin and new possibilities present themselves. He came from such a world – one that lay beyond the sight of woman for most of the time. But, as surely as there are times when day turns to night and back to day again, there are times, every two years or so, when the world of football insinuates itself into many unlikely worlds in a nationalistic frenzy 24
of European or World Championships. So it happened that one fateful day at noon she was fixing plastic England flags to her car when he came into her life. He strutted down the street in a whirlwind of testosterone and pheromones. Across his chest he wore three lions, heraldry and heroism silk printed on a nylon replica shirt. His jeans were a tight testament to his virility. Overcome by the power of the vision, she faced him, lowered her head slightly and raised her eyes to make contact in what her flirting coach assured her was the most sure-fire way to ignite a man’s passion. He didn’t seem to see her, so in desperation she spoke as if they were equals: “Hi, what do you think our chances are?” He gave her a brief, puzzled look, not slowing his pace at all as he walked past her and down the street before disappearing into the sports bar with two pints for the price of one, free barbecue and live match coverage on widescreen television. The next day came, and at noon, she found herself waiting outside her car. Once more he strutted down the street. This time she was ready. This time he would notice her. This time she would try the dumb but cute bimbo approach. “Excuse me,” she sighed, trying hard to channel the breathy voice of Marilyn Monroe. “But, can you explain the offside rule for me?” He looked at her for a little longer than the previous day, his pace slowed and he almost stopped, but then he smiled, walked past her and down the
street before disappearing into the sports bar with two pints for the price of one, free barbecue and live match coverage on widescreen television. On the third day, with the sun directly overhead, she was confident and well rehearsed. She ran her fingers over the red cross of St George on the plastic flag and removed it from her car as he came down the street. Her night with the life coaching manual had been rewarding. She braced herself for a new approach: not quite talking to an equal, not quite flirty. She turned on the hot tap of intriguingly enticing, and blended if with a cool stream of enchantingly enigmatic. “It’s a long way from jumpers for goal posts and rush goalies,” she said, holding out the plastic flag. It was as if he had really seen her for the first time. His pupils dilated, his cheek bones rose into a smile, the unshaven stubble on his face glinted in the sun. “It is that, darling,” he said. “The boys are playing this afternoon. Why don’t you come and watch them with me. I’ll buy you a pint and fetch you a burger.” Arm in arm, they walked down the street before disappearing into the sports bar with two pints for the price of one, free barbecue and live match coverage on widescreen television. She found this new world strange and strangely enticing. Glasses of drinks and bottles on tables without a coaster to be seen. Lager, pork scratchings and empty crisp packets flowed over table top and floor alike. No one cared. No one produced a cloth and multi-sur-
The Man From The Realm Of Footy Fan by Andy Oldfield face cleaner. Above the fireplace hung the widescreen TV where pundits and seers practised divination, emphasised the importance of wingbacks working the wide channels in a diamond formation, and made oracular statements in words of few syllables. In front of the TV thronged the men in replica shirts especially designed to show off the paunches of those who had put in the necessary work. Sometimes, the crowd were raucous and anarchic, at other times regimented and synchronised in hypnotic trance. And as the match progressed, she became one with the man and his kind. She noticed that he had his hand inside the back pocket of her jeans and she felt proud to have him cup her buttock as Walcott played Rooney onside for the equaliser. When England exited the competition on penalties, the crowd rushed to the bar leaving her with him. He clutched her to him, gen-
erously sharing his warmth and body odour. “We were so close,” he said, tears forming at the corner of his eyes. “So very close,” she echoed, and noticed that now he had a hand inside each of the back pockets of her jeans. It made her feel desirable and wanted. It made her feel as though she belonged. She kissed him gently. He kissed her back, less gently. “You and me babes,” he said. “Whatchya reckon?” “It sounds… heavenly,” she said. “Right you are then,” he said. “I’ll move me stuff in this evening and we’ll see how it goes. Mind, though, you diss me three times babes and I’m straight outta there. And you’ll be on your Sweeney.” And so it happened that he moved into her flat and her life was filled with Kung Fu DVDs, subscriptions to sports channels, season tickets, playlists of heavy metal and prog rock, collections of foot-
ball programmes and memorabilia. The toilet seat was left up, cans of lager and kebab wrappers appeared in unexpected places. Socks and pants of great manliness lay upon the stairs, the sofa and assorted kitchen work surfaces. Life became exotic and beyond her ken, but seeing how happy and contented it made him it made her happy too. Then there was the porn that he failed to hide and that filled him with lust. To her joy she found it also fuelled her lust. Strong was the beating heart of English manhood in all its fleshy glory. Her heart matched his and frequent was the sex. So fulfilled was she, that she even cancelled her subscription to Cosmo, which become increasingly irrelevant as her intimacy with him deepened. Such was the completeness of their intimacy that she even felt a flicker of affectionate pride at his unapologetic flatulence.
The Man From The Realm Of Footy Fan by Andy Oldfield For a year and a day they were contented and excited by each other and the different worlds from which they sprang. And then one spring day, as daffodils greeted the returning sun while she soaked his vests in bleach, she remembered her former life with a moment of fondness. She sighed and walked through into the living room where he was watching motorcycle racing on the television with the surround sound turned up high. She mimed for him to kill the volume. Although he looked puzzled, he did as she bid. “You know,” she said. “I’ve been thinking. Can you maybe help around the house – perhaps do the washing or ironing sometimes?” His face paled, as though someone had accused him of never buying a round. “Babes,” he said. “I’m deeply disrespected – that’s once.” Crestfallen at wounding him so, she returned to her domestic duties. Bliss resumed and a girl child was duly born. Christmas loomed and she revelled in buying gifts for him and their daughter. Then it was time to open the presents. She thanked him for the Ann Summers lingerie he bought for her and the pink football he bought for their daughter, then she settled down to watch him open his present. She felt such love and joy as he eagerly ripped the decorative paper from her gift to him. He pulled out the bottle of Eau de Toilette spray, turned pallid and frowned. “Dior Homme! Babes, that stuff’s for benders. I like Davidoff’s The Game much better. How could you disrespect me so… That’s twice.” Life was slow to return to normal, but at length it did and she was overjoyed to bear him a son. As soon after the birth as she was able to resume shopping, she decided to buy him some lager to 26
show her love for him. But when she got home and unpacked, he went as pasty-faced as a man who has lost a winning lottery ticket. “Babes,” he said, examining the lager. “This is only 4.5% ABV. You know I only drink the good stuff at 5.2% – or 5% with a whisky chaser. “I’m sorry, but that’s the third and final time you have disrespected me. You know the score – I’m outta your life.” She begged and pleaded, she used entire packets of tissues on her tears and offered to do things to him that would necessitate the use of yet more packets of tissues. However, he would not relent. “I must go back whence I came,” he said. “And you must live with the consequences.” He was true to his word and a transit van with two men arrived within the hour. Inside another hour he had packed all his other-worldly goods, leaving her flat bereft of martial arts videos, cable subscriptions, football memorabilia, upraised toilet seats, booze cans, fast food wrappers and well-worn manly underwear. She watched the van drive down the street and turn left at the sports bar that had promised two pints for the price of one, free barbecue and live match coverage on widescreen television. Once he had turned that corner she never saw him again. Years passed in her world and she tried to lose herself in it: climbing the corporate ladder so high that breathing became difficult, buying such obscure designer goods that no one had ever even heard of them, battering her brain with drink, seeking repentance in the spa. It did her no good. It served only to remind her of the insane nature of existence in this pitiful world. But at least she had her children. Every two years, when the veil
between the worlds grew dim with World and European Championships, she put the England flags on her car, hoping for another encounter with that unearthly man. “Maybe life will be a game of two halves,” she said. But the cliché did nothing to ease her pain. Still, the years passed. Her children grew older. Some say that they met their dad every now and then in pizza parlours and burger joints and at ‘kids-for-a-quid’ matches. Others say that he spirited them away at weekends and in school holidays and transported them to football coaching programmes. At length, the kids left childhood behind and their mother felt an atavistic pride when their love of football led to them both becoming centre forwards. It was the most precious thing in the world for her, the only remaining magic of their mysterious father. The brother-sister footballers became enigmatic and newsworthy legends in the papers and across the sports channels when they both scored winning goals for the men’s and women’s England teams in European and World championships. Every time their mother saw those goals replayed, it was a dagger in her heart until, one day, she suffered a stroke at half-time in an FA Cup final where her son had put his side ahead with a first-half hattrick. The ambulance men made their way through the stand to her, but in her delirium, she thought they were the transit van men who took her man so long ago. She smiled as she thought she saw him strutting through the mist behind them, coming back to her after all this time. “Life’s a game of two halves after all,” she whispered as her final breaths counted down. “And the result will come in extra time.”
by Slavko Mali
It was a wrinkled day in the hospital yard...
t was a wrinkled day in the hospital yard of Padinska Skela, like a bloody piece of butcher’s paper. The sun was overheating the day, which had neither begining nor end. There was only the middle, lonesome in its despair. Milovan was rummaging through the trash can. The activity was calming him down and giving his psychiatrists a break from their duty of simulating empathy. This was why they kept this metal cleaner of his excessive thoughts conveniently close to the pavilion entrance. Bending over the trash can womb, he groped with his hands this treasury of surprises for a long time, delirious and persistent, like one whose profession was the discovery of secrets. All of a sudden, his face lit up. He felt something under his hand that woke up vestiges of long-faded memories. It was battered hair spray can, used-up and thrown away a long time ago. A strange inexplicable beauty suddenly shone from his ugly, neglected face, triggered by some kind of mental transformation. Holding the spray-pray can, he
lifted his hand high, as though afraid that someone would snatch it from his grasp. On the asphalt path, eroded by the decades of tears that had fallen on it, one of the patients was tirelessly jumping over an invisible rope, moving back and forth with each stride. Milovan didn’t even notice him. Smiling, he approached the glass entrance door of the building. From a back pocket he produced a fine-toothed black plastic comb and started combing his hair up with his left hand. In his right hand he held the spray bottle, fixedly pressing the top with his thumb. Carefully, he aimed the empty can’s nonexistent jet at all the parts of his imaginary hairstyle. He spent a long time attending in this way to his long-neglected hair, clearly well pleased with his work, until he had expended all of the can’s imaginary contents. This done, his posture changed, and no longer hunched-over he stepped into the pavilion with a delicate feminine gait. He paraded down the hall, proudly flaunting his new look and sounding every step as loudly as he could. Distraught heads appeared
Illustration: Slavko Mali
from some of the doors, while powerful sedatives kept others oblivious. Yet more were simply absent from their sickly unpainted rooms. Milovan turned left and opened a toilet door. On the wall in front of him hung a big cracked mirror. He stood facing it, while the faint summer breeze quietly closed the door behind him. What he saw in the mirror was a frightened weteyed boy, curled up into an addlebrained ball filled with fear. Milovan’s face changed once again. It became cold and severe. ’Milovan, where is your father?’ he shouted in a strong accusing voice. ’He’s in a bar, isn’t he? Where else would that depresive idiot be? And who’s going to feed, dress and educate you? ME! Do you think it’s easy for me? Every night is another swine!’ ’One wants to take me from behind, another from above, and another to suck me! And all that I have to suffer because of you! And that drunken moron, who’s about to come and demand to guttle… why were you born at all, you little bastard?!’ Flustered and shaking, he waved angrily with his fist to the boy in the mirror before he landed a savage blow and broke the glass to smithereens. Crushed, he fell to his knees and started to cry, deeply and desperately. Blood and tears were mixing, dropping on lots of little mirrors, from which numberless frightened little boys fixed him with their stares.
Gold Dust Issue 25
It’s a black and white slip of a thing. I sit on the floor in my closet, draw my knees up to my chin, look for it among a dozen or so other dresses. Finding it, I pull slowly at its hem, as you once did. It falls in a fog, otherwise weather-less. Back and forth, I rock on my heels, eyeing its little heap, and think of the time I took my manuscript into the bath. My fingers smudged the type, and then 72 poems bowed their heads, closed their lids, were baptised, Mormon-style. I took a deep breath and buried myself face up in the words and the water. The carpet comes into focus. I’ve been here for how long, now? It’s drab, but like ordinary stuff, comforting. The stains are not quite rubbed out. But what are borrowed books? What are wishbones at Thanksgiving? What are phone calls for no reason? I’m unbuttoning. My night-shirt slides off, mindless. I pull the dress down over my head. I try to—Get up!—but can’t find a reason, not in a line or seam you haven’t touched. Your fingers smudge my type. Your words hit my water. The alarm clock sounds like you unbuckling.
James G Piatt
Photo: Eleanor Bennett
On Julia at Pandateria At first she sullen, like a spoiled child; and then – well – I want to say scornful; I expected thanks but she soon made it clear there was no such warmth in her heart. On the contrary, it seemed she resented my presence and thought, privately – though she drew back from saying so – that my coming at all was in very bad taste since the whole situation was my fault. Perhaps that’s it; perhaps, she blames me for the anguish and undoing of a lifetime; for marrying her father, which, of course, I did, willingly; and, afterwards, for losing him – though that, as you must know, was never of my choosing and I leave you to guess whose work it was. That I wept for the man I will not deny; but more bitter were my tears for the infant. I knew at her birth she was lost to me; she was but one more tiny province he would rule. He was a good man, I suppose, and a tender enough father; his one weakness was he didn’t know his frailties: a man, a woman, one lacking in scruples, could lead him like a heifer by the nose. He was impulsive, too, and, if his blood was up, he was apt to indulge himself too – freely. Yes, she got from him, her appetites, her vices: the gods, I hope, have given me more strength.
Now her passion has carried her here, to a place where even Jove might not find her, her whole domain no bigger than the couch on which, so they say, her fate was sealed. Oh, yes, I’ve heard the tales – how should I have missed them? and, no doubt, there is some truth in the telling; but look at her husband, look at him, I say: is he not a man of proper virtue? How may one as wicked as he be the injured party here?
A mother’s fondness you might argue – and you might be right at that – but this much is beyond disputation: there is nothing so easy as to bring down a woman by making her out a raddled whore. if there were lovers, what of it? Her husband scorned her bed and she was not a woman to be slighted. The tragedy was that, whether wife or mistress, she neither knew, or learned to love herself.
Photo: Eleanor Bennett
by Georgina Corrick
I have been a full-time mess for literally longer than I can remember...
have been a full-time mess for literally longer than I can remember. Nothing has ever helped me or rescued me. I have tried everything I could think of. He helped me more than he thinks he did. What would I have done without him? The only way out, my only way out, was through him. Without him, I would have still been stuck in that place. He was my saviour. Now, you’ve probably been wondering who he is, how he rescued me, and from what. Well, I had a problem – and thanks to him, I’m not afraid to admit it anymore. I’d always refused to see psychologists. They weren’t going to help me. They were useless. A waste of space. I didn’t need them. Although he thought I did… Who’s laughing now? It’s around now, dear reader, that I expect you’ll be wanting some form of description. Well, he was the love of my life. The apple of my eye. The man of my dreams. Whatever other cheesy lines you can come up with, he was that. But, he wasn’t tall, dark and handsome, nothing like society’s “perfect man”. He was average height, medium build. Nothing astounding that would have caught your eye. He was never going to be a model. There was something different about him though. Something that intrigued me. And I think it was his willingness to find out, his need to help. That was what ultimately saved me from myself. Anyway, back to the problem. And him. At first he was just a friend. That’s what they all say, 30
right? Turns out we were a lot more than that. Always had been. He asked me out. And that’s where it started. It got better when we got engaged. And then it got worse… “What’s your problem?” he said to me, the very first time that he met me. “There’s clearly something wrong with you. You may as well just tell me now.” We were on a plane at the time, a crowded plane. He was the
Photo: Eleanor Bennett
awkward and annoying stranger sitting next to me, the kind that I love to hate and usually ignore as best as I can. This time, I’d talked. “What do you mean? There’s nothing wrong with me! Why would you say that?” Of course I hadn’t wanted to cause a scene, but people had started to look up from their books, wake up from their happy dreams, nudge their spouses, kids, even the fellow strangers sitting next to them. We were starting to
The Cure by Georgina Corrick gather an audience. I wasn’t impressed. “There is. I can tell. I’m no psychological counsellor, but I think you need to see one.” Yes, he had been the cause of the problem. Or maybe he wasn’t. Maybe the problem had always been there and I’d never noticed. After all, if it had always been there I wouldn’t have known any different, would I? A few years later, we were on that same plane – or a similar one. That’s when he proposed to me. And everything went downhill from there. Obviously I said yes. I loved him. I think that’s what had caused me to do what I did slightly further down
the line. I had to do something. Well, I suppose I could have just continued as I was, as we were. He had been helping me. But ultimately, doing what I did helped me far more. “Go and see a psychologist. Please.” He was crying. I hated it, but liked it a little at the same time, which was weird. “Why? I don’t need to! They’ll turn me into a zombie! I don’t believe them. Everything they tell you is a lie. They’ll destroy my mind. They’ll try to take away everything that makes me who I am! You’re the one who told me the joke about the psychiatrists having a cure-rate only slightly better than the coroners!” The truth is, I didn’t want to be-
lieve them. I didn’t want to believe him. That’s why I did it. It was the only way to get him to stop talking. I didn’t mean for it to end how it did. So, you see, everything’s better now. I’d always said that I didn’t need to go to a psychiatrist, and now I don’t. I’m better now. I’ll admit that I had a problem, but it had become his problem too. He’d been through it all with me. Every single step of the way he had been there to help me. To save me. Maybe what I did was selfish. I didn’t do it out of spite, I didn’t mean anything by it either. I’d simply done it to end his suffering. And to save myself. He’d always promised me that everything was going to be fine in the end. He said that if everything wasn’t fine, then it wasn’t the end. Well, everything is fine now. So I guess that really was the end. So it turns out he wasn’t the problem. He was the cure. You know, I’ve learnt more from this than any psychiatrist, lecturer or doctor could ever have taught me. Gentle reader, you have been kind to me. Knowing that you're there has been so valuable to me. You have helped me through this in the most selfless of ways. I would love it if we could do this more often. I feel that it would be of great benefit to both of us. Well, to me anyway. Maybe we’ll meet somewhere else next time. Maybe in the park when you’re walking the dog, the bus when you’re on your way to town, the kitchen when you’re cooking dinner for your family or the car when you’re on your way to work. Whenever you’re next free, and willing to chat. That’d be good. Maybe you can help me with my next problem. You might even be the cure…
by Brennan Burnside
Water was how Amanda cleansed herself of men and disease...
ater was how Amanda cleansed herself of men and disease. It had to be steaming hot. Transform the tub into a boiling cauldron. She needed to breathe it in. Stick a towel under the door to fog the mirror up because she didn’t want to look at herself. That was the first part. She used to bring books in to wait while the tub filled, but it became intolerable. Any book she read made her mad. Not the content. Not even the shrill ring rising in volume like the alarm clock beside her bed, getting louder and louder. Not even the internal voice that spoke every word she read with an irritating whine. It was like a shock. Like something shot into her and, suddenly, the book was across the bathroom. Who threw the book? Her own muscles tied her down. She didn’t do something because it was wild and cathartic. The MS made her body tight. That was why. The headaches, too. She tensed up when they came. Sometimes her body froze itself at the joints. She stayed in bed for hours unable to move. Not paralysis. A malaise of the muscles? But why did she throw the book? I never threw any books. That was the reason she didn’t bring books in anymore. It was just one more thing she didn’t know. Don’t blame everything on MS, she thought over and over. Repeated it to herself like she was in therapy. The school therapist’s voice spoke those words long ago, Thursdays from 2:30 to 3 pm in a 32
small office next to the nurse’s room: “Repeat after me: I am strong. I am happy. I am beautiful.” But why did she say “happy”. Who was happy? Ernie had raped her again. She usually saw it coming. Like a storm. When she was a kid, she stood in her driveway, even on a clear day, and felt the thunderclouds on her shoulders. She could see it coming just like that. When he was drunk and out of work, it was easier. He was so depressed that he drank until he passed out. He just wanted to sleep. But when he had a job, she guessed he felt power. Like he’d overcome something. Like he’d beaten back all the imaginary “niggers” that he always railed about “stealing his job”, even though it was his own recklessness and childish arrogance that did it. He had a picture of Reagan somewhere in the house. It was yellowed. Bought it a long time ago. It was autographed, but she was sure that they sent them out in bulk. Ernie said his name like a magic spell. Usually before he passed out. “Reagan” and then something something something. Slobber. Slobber. Blackout. Reagan would make it better, but Reagan was dead. Sometimes she didn’t think he knew. Low self-esteem, she read, it was what made men do it. Low self-esteem and that meant the power was stripped from them. They had to get it back. Her stepfather must’ve been the same way. But she was too young to understand that. Seven
or eight when he first did it. A thundercloud, too. But she hadn’t been able to smell him yet. That took years. He was just a horror show, busting into the room, and then – all she saw was pain in her stomach. No images. Pain like songs that she remembered from high school. Some good time hiding in the dark. Some lucky alley. A string of notes that soaked into her shoulders and made her feel transcendent, that popped up and took her back to the feeling of time when she first heard it. Or when she first remembered. Like a cadence. Pain like cadence, whenever Ernie caught her off-guard. Pain like that whenever the MS acted up. Not bad acted up, but it fucked with her muscles and her balance and her thinking. No health care so she sat with it and hoped it would go away. Usually it did. She guessed it backed off when you were young. But when she got out of her twenties, she was sure that it would come back with a vengeance. A thunderstorm that held off for too long. It would come in and rail her wherever she was at. Something terrifying was on the horizon that jerked her eyes over her shoulder from time to time. Is it here yet? she thought. “No,” she said to herself softly so no one might hear. “No, you’re only twenty-five.” But waiting was the worst. Ernie still thought he was twenty-five. Still thought Reagan was alive. With Ernie, it was the pain but different. Her father was a sudden storm, but Ernie was an enduring fatigue. How many times? Just
Lake George by Brennan Burnside nine times that she’d kept track of, but keeping a tab of those things was worthless. They all compounded in her brain. They had hooks and they sunk into her limbs and yanked her down to the ground. That along with the tightness. Saying, “I’m miserable” was almost laughable because it was much more than that. Long past the physical pain. More like a spiritual ache, like God flicking her on the bridge of the nose. She couldn’t be angry. She could only just get ahead of it if she saw it coming. Stayed out late at Dunkin Donuts past her shift, drinking coffee and checking her watch. Gazing at Fox News. Meditating. Gaggle of voices from the TV like a fire crackling in a warm room. It must be atmospheric, like with her father. It was intuitive. Didn’t animals read the weather in their bones and skip town before the hurricane came? Intuitive. Maybe, she thought, her mother had been intuitive. Maybe she’d inherited a genre of men from her: nasty, depressed, low-self-esteem asshole men. By one in the morning she felt that he’d at last fallen into a violent sleep. Even motionless, he was
savage. She was sure he was punching her in his dreams. But dead to the world by now. “Bye Fox News,” she said as she stood up and someone behind the counter laughed at something. She was exhausted from work. Wanted to go so bad. Just after she threw away her coffee cup, she felt a tug in her gut that she should probably stay. But she was so tired and she ignored it. She came home and he caught her with a clumsy backhand. It only took three more before she just gave up. I lost tonight, she thought. The water had to be barely tolerable and there had to be enough so that it covered her whole body. When she was in high school, she pinched her nostrils and put her head under, lying there with her eyes closed. The water erased every year and she was pre-birth Amanda. She was looking down on the world, shaking her head sympathetically. The stink of men had been with her since she was a child, but she closed her eyes and time disappeared. Men lived in time, but she got outside of it and was free. Above the earth, in heaven, she had smiled and
What a mess, she’d sighed. thought, and I don’t think they’ll ever figure it out. She pulled the plug, kept her head underwater and listened to her heart echo inside a metal barrel, deep in the ocean. When her muscles clenched up, she poured Epsom salt in the water before she got in. The water erased the stink of disease, of neural degeneration. Her toe flicked the stopper when the water started cooling. She kept her eyes closed until the tub was completely empty. Empty of all except her. Curled into a tangle of limbs. Clean. Pure. It loosened her. Every time he caught her, she stiffened up so much that she couldn’t move. She knew she should move, should get away from the bed, should get away from him, should jump in the car and leave. She had friends. But her shoulders and knees and back froze. Trapped. It scared her. I don’t know if it’s the disease, she thought, or… she didn’t even want to think of the word. The water loosened her. She shut off the faucet. The entire bathroom was opaque. The water took over. Her body transported itself. The white tile walls
Lake George by Brennan Burnside and floor vanished. She was sitting near the edge of a lake. Lake George, way upstate. Early morning. Far away from Hudson. Destroyed by a fire bomb. Yes. A zombie attack. Yes. Ernie was at the house when it happened. YES. They ripped his intestines out and ate them in front of him. YESYES. He died in terror. YESYESYES. Life ended in a horror show. But she was at Lake George that whole time. Vacation. No radio, TV or Internet. Better than heaven. Early morning. She slid into the water. It was at least six inches above her head. She sighed. It was coming off. Lake George. Early morning. What time? 5 am. Barely light. She went out naked. No one there. When she stepped in, the water held her feet and then her hand and her body. There’s a Bible story about Jesus holding children, she thought, and there was a church that I’d gone to where Jesus was like your lover and they sang songs with a guitar and the singer cried. The water held her hand like a lover. Jesus was only a picture of a man. He was a man, she thought, like I’m a woman. But the water had no dick or pussy. Just water. It only wanted to forget you. She may have slept a little bit because her eyes jerked open. Thankfully, her fingers were still pinching her nostrils. The water was warm, but cooling. She smiled. Clean. Pure. She sat up. But her body didn’t move. She sat up again. Her body laid there. Why does my body lie here after I’ve sat up? How is it possible?, she thought. Sit up, she thought, and put your head above the water. It refused to do it or couldn’t do it. She tried again. Her head and back ached tremendously. Her shoulders and 34
knees had the familiar freeze to them. The pain was wrenching the fingers pinching her nose loose. They’re going to let go, she thought, so I have to move my head to the side. But her head didn’t move. Her fingers released. She watched them fall like keys, floating to the bottom of the lake, landing on her stomach and rolling off to rest by the side of her body. She panicked. Her limbs not only didn’t move, but seemed to have angrily refused any sort of movement. They can move, she thought, but they’re refusing me and they know what this means. She screamed, but her mouth didn’t open and no sound came out. She passed gas and the bubbles exploded on the water’s surface soundlessly. But I can’t move, she thought. Her body was living outside of her. Only Ernie was in the bedroom, unconscious. No one else. She was alone. Why can’t I move? Am I keeping myself here? Did I tell my body to do this somehow? Is that possible? To keep a secret from yourself? Is that it? Am I killing myself? But I didn’t want to die… She was holding her breath now, but soon her body would breathe in a flood of water. I don’t kill myself, she thought, I’m not the kind of person who needs to do that. But the longer things went on, the more she thought that she might be. Why hadn’t momma said anything?, she thought, why hadn’t she done anything? COWARD. No. Because he’d done it to her, too. And she’d thought that that was how women were to be treated. I never had a little girl. Thank God I never had a little girl.
THANK GOD I NEVER HAD A CHILD. Her eyes blinked and her body tensed. No, she thought, I’m not that kind of person. She waited for her body to sit up, to agree to all the demands she’d made of it, but it didn’t move. I should close my eyes, she thought. But her body didn’t move. The steam was gone. She could see the bathroom clearly. The water was still warm. Still holding her the way it first had when she slid into it… Lake George. Her shoulders locked up. She fell like a leaf. Her shoulders and knees, locked, frozen. She suddenly ceased to be a part of them. Numb. Detached. Even though she had no air left, she sighed. I want nothing more than to be clean. I’ve never been allowed to be clean. And she was. Her limbs distended, moved farther and farther away until her body became a clot of bubbles swallowing themselves. She was water. The smooth surface resting in the tub. Nothing else in the world can be this still, she thought. Pre-birth Amanda. Not even heaven. Heaven had swallowed itself. Firebombing. Zombies. Meteorites. This wasn’t heaven anyway, it was better… She was Lake George, the light bruising the audience of trees and houses still asleep. But she was always awake, always watching to see how they changed. The fog cleared, the sun poured itself out. As if someone had slit it open and spilled its light across the reflected sky. Dripped it into a body of water. Rays falling soundlessly to bottom. Bright star staring at the black nothing sky. She thought, the world has to look at me now if it wants to see.
Elusive Riches They sit side by side Feet in a pool Beer on the concrete Reflecting As one does in that situation On a variety of subjects From camping To women To their younger selves And perhaps to the understanding That time is fixed Nothing could change what had transpired The days scattered Years taken out like the tide Sacrificed almost Shed for those experiences And those people Not all of whom Were worth it And perhaps now is no different Giving away time Like water seeping through a cupped hand To others also unworthy While the sun pushes on Unrelenting Strong for now But not always consistent.
They had almost reached A moment of true realization A deeper understanding Only brought about through the other An electric ying yang type of conduction Correlating to the order of physics Yet so very personal So very surprising So welcomed. Then time interfered As they both had prior commitments And their head spaces were promptly filled With â€˜things to doâ€™. As they exchanged The ritual of goodbye Their near achievement Forgotten As such thoughts can be dangerous And are only released When conventions And societal codes Are set aside. And time pressed on.
Anthony J Langford
Photo: Eleanor Bennett
Magic Christmas Snowballs
SHORT STORY BEST PROSE
by Jonathan Doering
I picked up the cold gold package... and things started to go hazy...
picked up the cold gold package from the supermarket refrigerator and things started to go hazy. “Gran’s favourite butter,” I murmured. It was December, two days before Gran’s funeral, and I felt a weight like a stranger’s hand on my chest. “Morning, love,” croaked the cheery check-out woman. “Eh? Oh, morning.” “You alright, love? Don’t look woken up yet.” I paid quickly, fumbling with the coins, and stepped outside to where the sky was an electric blue, the sun a blazing lamp. The phone booth on my street corner was empty. I stepped inside. “Hi. It’s me.” “Hello, you. How’s it going?” “Oh, alright. I’m out shopping to get some fresh air.” “And think about me?” “I’m thinking about you all of the time. How are things going?” “Oh, fine. Lectures are as dull as ever. When am I going to see you again?” “The funeral’s on Saturday. I’ll be back on Monday.” “Good. I want to see you again, Nick.”
for next term. And waiting to see Danni again. My mother came in and sat at the breakfast bar, pulling the plate of food towards her, “Thanks, love. Talk to anyone when you were out?” I took a breath. “No, dead quiet.” “Mm.” The kettle clicked off and I filled the tea pot, stirring and squeezing the bags. My mother had started to eat. “Lovely, corned beef. Your Gran made good corned beef sarnies, d’you remember?” Her tone was flat. “Yes, I do.” She smiled and bit again. I poured the tea. “Make sure it’s good and strong, love.” I had switched the radio on for the lunchtime news, but as soon as the pips sounded she said, “Please turn that off, Nick. Let’s have some peace, eh?” “Okay,” I snapped it off and sipped my own tea, irritation at my mother and guilt at myself blending in an exquisite throb in my chest. I took a mouthful of sandwich, hardly tasting it at all.
Back at home, I clicked the kettle on and unwrapped pre-made corned beef sandwiches, pouring crisps out beside them on the plate. My father wouldn’t arrive from Kent until the weekend, so it had been agreed that I would come home from university early and keep my mother company whilst reading up
Lunch over, I stood at the sink, washing the plates, watching the clothes on the washing line jumping like tethered ghosts. The phone rang. My mother laid down her tea towel. “I’ll get it.” I continued to wash, half listening to my mother’s conversation with her older sister. “Hello Anne,
how are you, lovie? Oh no… Right.” Her face became lined with concern. “Oh God. Right, Anne.” I felt a fresh charge in the air. Something needed to be done – and that surely must be better than this gloom. “Now look, Anne, don’t get upset love. We’ll go and have a look and let you know.” I was drying my hands as my mother hung up. “What’s wrong?” “Vandals have attacked Swinton Cemetery.” She slowly shook her head, reaching for the car keys. “We need to have a look. Are you coming?” We passed a newsagent on the road, a few more houses, and then ranks of ploughed, petrified fields lying solid under glittering frost, waiting for the spring thaw. The traffic was light. My mother drove fast, as if we might catch the vandals before they escaped. My memory’s shutter jumps momentarily, so quickly it seems not to have happened. I am standing on the bright green grass of the cemetery for the first time. I am five years old. Dew is wetting my ankles over the tops of my trainers. I am wearing shorts. It’s summer. Mummy is kneeling beside me, cutting the bottoms off flowers before dropping them into a tin pot. Gran is wiping a smooth black block of stone in front of me. I look again at what is written on the black stone:
Magic Christmas Snowballs by Jonathan Doering Wilfred Walton Dolby Dearly loved grandfather, father and husband 1920 - 1974 R.I.P. What does ‘R.I.P.’ mean? Was Granddad ripped? Who did it? I look past the gold letters on the stone and into its surface. I see me, my mother, some clouds in another world. It is grey and black. The other me has totally black eyes. He stares hard. I think he’s going to come out of the stone. The reflection of Mummy turns and talks to me and I jump. “Have you said a prayer for your Grandad, Nicholas?” “No, Mummy.” “Well, close your eyes now and say one, eh?” Dear Father God, please keep Granddad safe and happy. “Have you said a little prayer, Nick?” “Yes, Mummy.” “Nicho– what’s that?!” I hear the curl of anger in her tongue and feel a rush of heat in my face. She is pointing at a chip of green stone in my hand. Green is my favourite colour. “It looked nice, Mummy.” “That’s off somebody’s grave. Put it BACK NOW.” I run to the desecrated grave, drop the offending item and return, my chest aching with anxiety. “Don’t you ever do that again!” “Sorry Mummy.” My Gran is resting from wiping summer dust from the top of the stone, puffing quietly, watching us. “Alright, Cyn, he knows he shouldn’t have done it.” My mother stares at me through pink-rimmed eyes like the ones I get after visiting the swimming pool. I look down at my trainers. Later, in Gran’s back room, I am handed a piece of sweet currant slice and a cup of cold, creamy
milk. The first Christmas that I remember properly begins with cold darkness and lazy flakes of snow, then soft yellow light from Gran’s standard lamp as we come through her door. She appears in a pinafore from the kitchen to hold my face and kiss me on each cheek: “Happy Christmas, little man!” “Happy Christmas, Granny!” “Do you know what we have a lot of at Christmas, Nicholas?” I smile hopefully. “Presents?” “Yes – and snowballs.” She winks over my shoulder at my parents and takes me by the hand to the kitchen. Laid out on the work top are a tall glass and three bottles: diamond-bright lemonade, acid-green lime cordial and a bright butter-yellow liquid. Granny then mixes me my very first snowball. And just when my eyes are ready to come out of their sockets, she
drops a blob of vanilla ice cream into the drink, turning it into a foaming potion. “Magic snowballs, Granny!” “They are magic, me duck!” “…and some thugs’ve had a go at Weaste cemetery too, and your great grandmother’s buried up there, isn’t she? Nicholas?” “Sorry. Yes.” “Come on, absent minded professor!” I laughed, blushing, “Sorry.” I was thinking of the day before I had come home for the funeral. I lay quietly, warm on the side hugged by Danni, as the birds welcomed the day and the window washed itself from navy blue to turquoise. She woke up and we kissed and then I said that I needed to go home. “The funeral’s on Saturday. But can I call you?” “Yes, of course.” She smiled. Later I dressed and caught
Magic Christmas Snowballs by Jonathan Doering Photo: stock.xchng
the bus back to my flat, watching people make their way through the city to their jobs, thinking of the tiny beauty spot at the corner of Danni’s mouth. Then thinking ahead to the silent faces in Gran’s back room, the black suits, the closed curtains. My mother sighed. “Nick, what is it? You’re off in a world of your own.” “Nothing. Sorry. Just thinking about the funeral.” One day Gran is cleaning her
house, as carefully as ever, when she begins to sweat. She manages to finish vacuuming and make a cup of sweet tea. The sweating continues but when Gran tries to wipe it off, her hand comes away dry. The sweating turns into rushing pins and needles. She telephones for an ambulance and lies down. They find her lying on her bed twenty minutes later, staring at the ceiling, withstanding the first of the
strokes that will kill her. “I didn’t know what else to do, Cyn,” she says later, propped up in the hospital bed that she will die in. “Just needed a rest.” My mother rubs her hand gently, “That was the best thing to do, darling.” We parked by the cemetery, its railings the same arsenic green I remembered. My mother touched her chin. “God, what’ll it be like?” “I don’t know, but we can’t change what’s been done.” A Crimestoppers poster was tied to the gate, appealing for information. As we stepped inside the damage became obvious. Stones had been uprooted, pushed, kicked. Fireworks had been lit and thrown, their charred tubes lying here and there like spent cartridge shells. An angel had been test flown off her plinth, her cheek ploughing into the grass, one wing snapped off. An urn dedicated to a World War Two soldier lay half-shattered in grenade fragments. We moved down the avenue, turned right onto the next path, then left down the row containing my grandparents’ grave. Neither of us said a word until we were standing directly in front of it. The same obsidian block stared back at us, immutable and eternal. My mother sighed. “They’re alright, then.” “Yes, they are.” We stood for a moment, looking at the stone. “Have you said a prayer, love?” I bit my teeth together. “Yes.” We turned to go. Off to our right, a tall grey-haired man was smoking and walking an unleashed greyhound that wandered this way and that. He came level with us, nodding. “Afternoon. Terrible, isn’t
Magic Christmas Snowballs by Jonathan Doering it?” “It’s disgusting,” my mother said through a sigh. In the background I heard a rushing sound like a small jet of water or gas. “Local kids did it.” He shook his head. “Sad, really. Still, they’ll get theirs, eh?” At that moment I saw that his dog was urinating over a toppled grave stone. His grin intensified and he took a pull on his cigarette. I coughed, “Excuse me, your dog’s going to the toilet.” “Yes,” he addressed my mother. “Don’t you worry, love, they’ll get theirs.” Something shifted in my head and I felt as if I was in a dream. “Would you mind stopping your dog from doing that? That’s someone’s grave.” He seemed to see me properly for the first time. Pulling his lips back over his teeth he said, “I beg your pardon? I can’t very well pick up his urine, can I?”
“He shouldn’t be doing that in the first place, should he?” My mother took a step towards me. “Nicholas.” “Look, son, I’m on my lunch break, the dog needs exercising and there isn’t a park handy. Okay?” “Look, dad, there are plenty of lamp posts. You don’t have to let him do that when it’s already been damaged.” My voice sounded reedy, even to me. “Nicholas, let it go!” He stood for a moment, cigarette in hand, the other raised in a half fist. Then the mood broke; he flicked the cigarette to where it fell at my feet. Turning, he whistled to his dog and called over his shoulder. “So long, tosser.” “At least I don’t let my dog piss on peoples’ graves.” He looked over his shoulder but kept walking. There was a deep beat in my chest, then a rush of cool air as I breathed again. “What did you think you were
Illustration: Slavko Mali
doing?” My mother slammed the handbrake down and yanked the steering wheel. “That man could come back and do anything.” “Would that be alright as long it didn’t happen to Gran’s grave?” Through gritted teeth she said, “Nicholas, sometimes…” “Sometimes we need to speak up.” “He could do anything.” “He could anyway.” There was a pause as we drove. “Anyway, I’m sure he didn’t see which grave we were looking at.” “You’d better be hoping that!” “Mum – what he was doing wasn’t on – you know, like kids taking ornamental stones off graves?” “What are you talking about?” My mother’s voice took on an affected haughtiness and her hands squeaked as they moved over the steering wheel. Then she spoke through tears. “My mother’s grave.” “My Grandmother’s grave.” My mother’s shoulders sagged a little. Through the window I watched the dried blood-red terraces and said, “I’ve met someone. Just before I came home.” My mother’s mouth opened and closed drily. “Is she nice?” I saw Danni’s face, tasted her lips, felt her arms around me. “Yes, she’s really nice.” “Good. I’m glad.” The weight in my chest lifted slightly. Mum cleared her throat. “You know, your Grandmother would’ve given that man a flea in his ear.” I smiled. “Yes, she would.” There was still a little light at the edge of the early evening sky. We drove towards it.
Gold Dust Issue 25
by Francis Spufford Faber & Faber, 2011 Paperback £6.99 Reviewed by David Gardiner
t’s not always remembered in the West that what developed into the brutal Stalinist regime of the 1930s and 40s and later produced the grim isolationist phase of Soviet politics, characterised by secrecy, propaganda and internal oppression, was founded on an idealistic dream: material plenty for all through collectivisation of industry and agriculture aided by scientific progress. A society of equals, where people would neither fear nor envy their neighbours, lacking nothing, with generous leisure time to devote to the arts and cultivation of the mind. Such would be the fruits of an economy in the control of the enlightened Marxists, who understood the historical inevitability of the arrival of the next stage of human social evolution, pure communism. There would be a brief transitional stage when the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ would be necessary, followed by the withering away of the (now redundant) state and the emergence of a Utopian paradise of indefinite duration. This would be, at last, the end of pre-history. Marx and his followers, as is well known, laid enormous stress on economic relationships as the defining factor of social relationships and ultimately of the nature of society itself, and it isn’t difficult to argue this case. An economy, of whatever shade, has to ensure that goods are produced, for example that potatoes are planted and harvested in the right quantities, and also that things are distributed to where they are needed – that the potatoes are bagged-up, put in lorries or trains and eventually transported in appropriate quantities to people’s kitchens. This is a huge task of regulation, involving detailed information flow in many directions. Money, one of mankind’s most ancient inventions, regulates this kind of process fairly well. Market forces (a term familiar to all) determine the tonnage of potatoes that needs to be grown and the manner of its distribution. The system is essentially self-regulating. But
it has been recognised since Biblical times that money as a tool for regulating an economy has one massive drawback: the tokens that it employs tend to become more and more concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. Once you accumulate a modest surplus of these tokens you can lend them out and collect interest. Your pile of tokens grows. Since you now have more tokens than other people you are in a stronger bargaining position than they are. You can employ others to work for you and hence accumulate tokens on your behalf. You can purchase the farms where the potatoes are grown and limit everyone else’s share of potatoes while maximising your own share and that of your cronies. As Gerrard Winstanley and others pointed out in the 17th century, the existence of money, tokens that represent the goods and services that everybody needs, creates all kinds of inequalities and instances of exploitation. It’s almost impossible to stop it from doing so. A further function of money, which also tends to get out of hand, is its potential to motivate action, to get people working and contributing to society. This aspect is prone to fetishisation: accumulation of money can easily become an end in itself, forming the basis of a person's notion of self-worth and functioning as an addictive drug, as in the bankers' insatiable thirst for ever more outlandish bonuses. In a society without money the motivation to contribute would have to come from elsewhere, work itself would have to be perceived as a congenial and satisfying social activity, neither unfair nor oppressive in its demands, leaving plenty of time for the other things we have mentioned. Such was the Marxist conception of the pure communist society whose emergence would mark the end of pre-history. Enter the information scientists like Stafford Beer in America and Kantorovich in Russia, who came along with the simple proposition that instead of tokens handed from one person to another the entire production and distribution activities of a society could be regulated by a computer network programmed to create material abundance and maintain genuine equality. This is the starting point for Spufford's Red
Review: Red Plenty by Francis Spufford Plenty. This stunningly original book, which the author and most reviewers insist is a novel, (though it almost needs a new category to contain it) examines what was going on in the Soviet Union in the heady years of the late 1950s and early 1960s, when for one brief moment in history, with Stalin’s excesses airbrushed out of the public consciousness, it looked as if the dream of material abundance might actually be starting to come true. But of course we know now that it was the dream itself rather than the state that ‘withered away’ under the brash and arrogant leadership of Nikita Khrushchev, followed by the incompetent and doctrinaire 18-year reign of Leonid Brezhnev, which brought the Soviet economy and the Soviet Union itself to its knees by the beginning of the 1980s. What the novel gives us is a lucid, witty and comprehensive insider account of why and how all this happened. Fundamentally, this is a work of history and economic science, but couldn’t resemble less the kind of dull academic treatise that this description suggests. It’s written as a series of vignettes or short stories illustrating ideas, attitudes and events that add up to a clear and fascinating inside perspective on what the Soviet fairytale was and the ‘inevitability’ of its going wrong and ultimately falling apart. In his introductions to the various sections and chapters Spufford speaks directly to his audience, and explains the points he is about to illustrate, and these essays, which are perceptive, beautifully written and highly entertaining constitute a further delight of the book and should not be skipped or rushed through. We are hearing the voice of a scientist and engineer, and his incidental accounts of how early pentodevalve computers worked, or of the progression of cancer of the lung in one of his characters are in themselves outstanding expositions of scientific ideas. Looking at the book as a literary work, Spufford uses certain characters more than once and returns to specific storylines to let us see their outcomes. The attempts of factory managers to upgrade a giant machines by staging an ‘accident’ in which it is destroyed is thwarted because, in this Alice-in-Wonderland version of an economy, the upgraded version is cheaper than the one they have destroyed, which messes up the ‘profit’ achieved by the factory producing it, so they must make do with the more expensive and less efficient direct replacement. These topsy-turvy unintended consequences of central planning are what the computer scientists long to iron-out by the application of their art, but the bureaucratic edifice and its doctrinaire high priests will have none of it. Spufford does not try to show us the suffering of Issue 25
June 2014 www.golddustmagazine.co.uk
the ordinary Soviet citizens, leaving that to the likes of Pasternak and Solzhenitsyn, but concentrates instead on those in a position to influence the state’s economic activity, and their bewildered and usually ignored scientific advisors, who fail to understand that they are dealing with a pseudo-religion whose faithful can not be swayed by rational argument. Nevertheless he creates some memorable and appealing characters. The ‘fixer’ Chekuskin, a Soviet version of Harry Lime, is one of my favourites, as well as the IT (or as it was then called, ‘cybernetics’) expert Vitalevich who finds it incomprehensible that the Soviet leadership, whose goal is the creation of a ‘planned economy’, will not accept his clearly viable engineering solutions to what they are setting out to achieve. The attitude of the Soviet leadership seems to Vitalevicht and his scientific colleagues as irrational as someone trying to find their way through a forest refusing to make use of a compass. The unasked question is surely, can people in privileged positions of leadership really be sincere in their avowed intent to create a society of equals? What Spufford shows is that the Soviet experiment, founded on a pseudo-science that claimed to be able to predict the inevitable future evolution of human society, was doomed to failure from the outset because of its inability to take account of the workings of the real world and the discoveries of genuine science. Wherever reality and ideology clashed, ideology always had to take precedence. Each new High Priest of the Soviet religion, be he a barely literate former miner or an ex-military commander, on his ascent to the throne of General Secretary, became an instant economic expert and was granted the infallibility of a Roman Catholic pope and allowed to impose his own concept of the path to Utopia on the economy of an empire greater in extent than most continents. There was no corrective mechanism, no role for criticism or reasoned debate, and so, quite quickly, the whole Soviet monster staggered to a halt and died. The decline and fall of the Soviet empire is presented as a truly Shakespearean tragedy, entirely avoidable, entirely attributable to human pig-headedness, inflexibility and stupidity. To quote the film director Kevin Brownlow in a recent lecture on the life and writings of Gerrard Winstanley, ‘the saddest epitaph we can offer to the ideas that make up true communism is that they have never been tried.’ An online seminar on the book ran on the Crooked Timber.org website between May 29th and June 14th 2012, and a PDF version of the excellent articles it generated can be downloaded free at: http://crookedtimber.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/RedPlenty.pdf
Gold Dust 41
Spinning Wheels Tried to say things sooner but he was afraid they'd be cut out of paper and strewn across the room like a template. So instead he spoke in string. Kept all of the knots in his pockets; locked notches onto them like keyrings and gripped the end in his fist. He's been thinking about it recently. Been scratching heads all over the web. Been searching through boxes to fill lips that were always bitten into the shape of an apology. I've been standing looking into the sink thinking about turning the heating on and how heavy his pockets must be.
Photo: Eleanor Bennett
by Anna Meryt Tambourine Press, 2013 Paperback ÂŁ5.50 Reviewed by Adele Geraghty
ho is there who hasn't at some time heard words to the effect, 'There are no guide books for relationships'? Well, one may now exist in 'Heart Broke' by Anna Meryt. Stop right there, if you're imagining another insipid volume of gut wrenching love poems. Rather, imagine a strong woman who is undefeated by loss, a survivor...(cue Gloria Gaynor). Seriously though, it is what it claims to be, which is twenty years worth of poems gleaned from the pain and loss of doomed relationships and gathered in one volume, specifically for those who are suffering this same loss. According to the author, 'Perhaps by reading these poems you'll know you are not alone. Talk to someone else and you'll find they too have experienced loss and sadness'. Good advice and easily overlooked when wallowing in despair. So here we have a 'girlfriend book', something to turn to when there is no shoulder to cry on; to inspire hope through experience and identification. But all the poems in Meryt's collection aren't emotional dam busters. Some are provocatively simple vignettes, minute and mundane slices of life, all which simply go on no matter how much one may suffer. And therein lies the reality and precisely what a fellow relationship soldier, battle scarred and weary, needs to read! Some of the poems titles are a dead give-away,
Find out more... Anna maintains a blog at:
to the strength of character it takes to wear a broken heart on one's sleeve. Meryt does her motivation proud with titles like 'Hurling Bricks', 'Staying Alive', 'A Shell Explodes' and 'Give Me A Break', redefining formidable retaliation through specific word grouping. Her titles scream of subliminal messaging, packing a punch. The fine line between coming to terms and throwing in the towel is tantalizing, repetitively daring to scratch a raw wound ; Red Kimono I wore my red kimono while I scrubbed the sink and as I poured the bleach I thought of you. I wore my red kimono while I scrubbed the hob with 'Spotless' household cleaner and wanted you. I wore my red kimono while I mopped the kitchen floor with hot soapy water and cried for you. I wore my red kimono as I wiped every surface with a clean blue J-cloth and wept for you. I wore my red kimono while I made a cup of tea looked at my clean kitchen and thought 'fuck you!'. This is a surprising little volume, which impacts more as it is reread and especially, when the dreaded occasion calls for it.
Gold Dust Issue 25
The Fleeting Nature of Fame
by Bob Carlton
No one believes me when I tell them I am famous...
o one believes me when I tell them I am famous. It's not just about the free drinks, or lack thereof. Sometimes you just want somebody to say, “Yeah, I remember you, you were that kid in that movie.” And the fact is, I was. I am. So how is it that no one recognizes me? It's not as if Rear Window is exactly obscure. It just came on TV again last night. It's a certifiable goddamn classic, and no one remembers I was in it. Like last night, at the bar. I knew it was coming on, so I told Eddie the bartender to switch over to it. Not like anyone was watching that stupid hockey game anyway. Really, who the hell in this country watches hockey? Sometimes I hate the patronizing way Eddie humors me, the condescending bastard, but I figured, what the
hell, there's a dozen people in here, so there's free drink potential, and this one old gal at the bar might just be drunk enough to go for a guy like me. And once she recognizes me, well, I'm in like Flynn as we used to say back in the day. So Eddie switches over, just in time too. “There!” I yell at him, making sure everyone hears me, but playing like it's just me and him talking. “Right there!” “What the hell are you talking about?” Eddie says, playing along, acting like he's never heard my spiel before. He's good, Eddie is. If I didn't know better, he might be convincing enough to make me think he's never heard the story before, or forgotten all about it since the last time I told it to him. “Are you blind?” I say. “I'm
right there, see? There...and there...and there.” “What?” Eddie says, looking confused as all hell. “Are you talking about the little kid in the background?” “Yes!” I shout. “Thank you! That's me – I'm the little kid playing hopscotch.” And there I am, eight years old and in a Hitchcock classic, hopping and skipping back and forth past the camera as it looks down an alley between the apartment buildings. It's a little moment, but it's mine. I look around the bar, at all these people who have never even had that much. I check the reaction I got from the drunk broad at the bar, but she was fishing a smoke out of her purse and missed the whole thing.
Fatal Bright day, ochre on cobalt, in streets I’ve walked many times before. Planes drown out uncertain messages and cast shimmering shadows. We have to get out of this place, someone sings. Cicadas answer with their one scraping note. Everything is inconsistent. I drink a coffee to stir my blood, do something about torpor but only the beach appeals and Shelley – the Pursuit. Even the Neapolitan waitress, normally as chirpy as a bluebird flying home, frowns as she aimlessly says, beautiful day. Perhaps she doesn’t want to work, longs for escape. But then her name is called and she responds like a painted tin soldier on parade. We’re all marching towards the ides. We’ll all be betrayed given time, and in our eyes, surprise at who wields the final knife.
Colin Campbell Robinson
Photo: Eleanor Bennett
Contributors Every issue, we receive around 200 short story and poetry submissions from all around the world.
Prose Keith R James Keith R James is a recent graduate of Idaho State University, and aspiring MFA student for fiction. He is a sucker for any story that begins just after midnight. He spends his time drinking gas station coffee and walking his dog. Slavko Mali Slavko Mali moved from the life of a physical worker to designer and journalist. He is devoted to drawing and painting, comics, cartoons, graphic design, illustration, mail art, and writing short stories and poems. He lives in Nish (Serbia) as a freelance artist and a tenant. Since a car ran over his dog he has begun to wander looking for the killer, but he understands that the murderers are all around us. He does not like art, but it's his destiny. He likes to listen to the radio. Philippa East Philippa East is a writer by night and a psychologist by day. She has worked in mental health for over a decade, and her experiences here tend to leak into her creative work. In the last few years, she has begun to write seriously, and currently enjoys honing her skills with the short story format. When not writing or working, Philippa is usually found in the swimming pool or with her nose in a book. Philippa was runner up in the 2012 Fylde Brighter Writers’ short story competition, and is also soon to be published in Scribble magazine. Jenny Foster Jenny Foster started life as a zoologist, became a computer programmer, and is now a Wiltshire housewife, the mother of three grown up children, and main carer to some stick insects. She took up writing six years ago, as therapy during a rough patch. It worked, but the writing bug bit deep. She has had around 20 short stories published, won the NAWG ‘short story with set phrase competition’ in 2012, a Scribble quarterly competition, and had pieces published in Mslexia and Gold Dust. Her longest work, however, was a 400 hundred page thesis on spiders’ legs. This was awarded a doctorate by the only living person who understood it, and since then she has led a normal life. Andy Oldfield Andy Oldfield spent far too many years in London and Plymouth working as a writer and sub-editor on the sports desks of The Independent and Western Morning News. At the same time he spent far too little time on his fiction and comic strips, which nevertheless have been published on both sides of the Atlantic in places such as Interzone, HMS Beagle, The Damage, Thaumatrope and Scheherazade. Following a 12-year stint in Cornwall as a hypnotherapist, he now lives on the edge of the Peak District, occasionally updating his website www.andyoldfield.co.uk and wishing his surfboards got more use. Jonathan Doering Jonathan Doering was born in 1975 in Stockport, Cheshire, and was raised there, in Scotland and on Merseyside. He has studied at universities in Norwich, Dublin, Sheffield and Greenwich. His
work has appeared in First Time, Vital Signs, Bacchus, Bucket of Tongues, Concrete, Cascando, Sheaf, Icarus, LitSpeak, Backdrop, Poetry Manchester, Silver Carrier, Circus, StoryZone, The Contemporary Review, AltHist and The Guardian. He has previously worked as a telephone rep, petrol station attendant, equal opportunities researcher, engineer’s assistant, postman, dyslexia support officer, biscuit factory worker and English teacher in Tokyo, Paris and Oxford. He now lives in West Yorkshire with his wife and son, where he teaches English. Brennan Burnside Brennan Burnside has worked at the post office for twenty years. He coaches high school women’s softball part time. Bob Carlton Bob Carlton (www.bobcarlton3.weebly.com) lives and works in Garland, Texas. Georgina Corrick Georgina Corrick is 17 years old and currently living in Herefordshire. It is a severely rural area, which lacks people, fun and life: she can’t wait to move on to university and to see some more of the world. At the moment she is a student at Hereford Sixth Form College, studying Psychology, Sociology, English Language and Economics and the dream is to become a Criminal Psychologist or a teacher. She has not been previously published.
Poems Lorraine C Brooks Lorraine C Brooks is a native of New York, where she resides and, where she holds a BA in Communication Arts and a Masters in Public Health. She is a founding member of Red Round Group, a collaborative of poets and artists producing documentary and art films and videos. Her current film in progress is Passion – Inside the Hearts of Women. Lorraine is a performance poet whose work has appeared in the UK anthology And Again Last Night, by Indigo Dreams Publishing. She is resident poet of the radio show Divabetics-Diva Talk Radio, producing and performing poetry of interest to diabetics. Her NY appearances include Inspiration121 Poets at State University of NY, Micky Mo’s, Ellis Bar and New Poets Reading at City University of NY. Lorraine is the author of Riding the Wave, a poetry collection (BTS Books, 2010). Stascia Horton Stascia Horton lives in Brooklyn, New York and is an artist and emerging poet and author. Her illustrations have appeared in Skywriting in the Minor Key: Women, Words, Wings (BTS Books, 2010) (NB: see Adele Geraghty bio). She is an outspoken proponent of women's rights. Her current work in progress is entitled She Speaks, a collection of personal memoirs of abuse survivors. Anthony J Langford Anthony J Langford lives in Sydney, writes novels, stories, poetry and creates video poems. He is a 2014 Pushcart Prize Nominee. Some of his recent publications include Vayavya, The Literary Yard & The Blue Magazine. He works in television and has made short films, some screening internationally. A novella, Bottomless
Contributors River (2012) and a poetry collection, Caged without Walls (2013) are out through Ginninderra Press. Much of his work may be seen at www.anthonyjlangford.com. Hannah O’Brien Hannah O’Brien is from Cardiff, but currently based in Sheffield. She studied English Literature at The University of Sheffield and currently works as an E-Learning Intern for The Tinder Foundation, who work to reduce social exclusion by providing basic digital skills to those without them. Dr James G Piatt Dr James G Piatt is the author of the poetry collections The Silent Pond and Ancient Rhythms (Broken Publications 2012, 2013). His third collection, will be released this year. He has had over 450 poems published, and his poem The Night Frog was recently nominated for best of web 2013. He was the featured poet in Word Catalyst Magazine in 2009, and Contemporary American Voices in 2010. Long Story Short selected his poems for the poem of the month in 2011 and 2012; Phati’tude Literary Magazine in their spring 2011 issue featured an interview with him. His books can be found on Amazon. Mikayla Davis Mikayla Davis is an undergraduate student from Spokane, Washington. She received a Bachelor’s Degree in English from Eastern Washington University then afterwards returned to school to gather a couple of two-year degrees in Business Technology from Spokane Falls Community College. She is the social media manager for The Wire Harp and has poems published in The Wire Harp and Northwest Boulevard, both of which are school publications. Recently she began to submit her work to less local publications. Bronmin Shumway Bronmin Shumway is a poet and writer living in Austin, Texas. In 2012 she founded the content marketing firm Shumway inc. Her literary work has appeared in After Hours, The Aurora Review, VOX, Illya’s Honey, LanguageandCulture.net, and various other publications. She has won several literary awards, including The Austin Poetry Society Award, judged by Naomi Shihab Nye. She now serves as president of the Austin Poetry Society, one of Austin’s most distinguished and longstanding non-profit literary organizations. She enjoys spending time with her husband and daughter and playing the bass guitar.
Features & Reviews David Gardiner Ageing hippy, former teacher, later many things, including mental health care worker, living in London with partner Jean; adopted daughter Cherelle has recently moved to Australia and married her Kiwi boyfriend. Four published works, SIRAT (science fiction novel), The Rainbow Man and Other Stories (short story collection), The Other End of the Rainbow (short story collection) and Engineering Paradise (novel) as well as many anthology entries and competition successes. Interested in science, philosophy, psychology, scuba diving, travel, wildlife, cooking, IT, alternative lifestyles and communal living. Large, rambling home page at www.davidgardiner.net. Adele Geraghty Adele is a native New Yorker who claims dual citizenship, having been naturalised in the UK in 2012. Beside a lifetime dedication to the written word, she is also an illustrator and graphic designer. She is the recipient of the US National Women's History Award for Poetry and Essay and author of Skywriting in the Minor Key: Women, Words, Wings, a poetry collection. Adele is a member of the New York ensemble The Arts Soire, a collective of presentational artists of varying genre, The Patched Fools Ballads, presentational poets based in Newcastle and the writing site UKAuthors.com. She is Co-Founder, Publisher and Editor of BTS Books (Between These Shores), which specialises, but is not limited to, promoting emerging women writers. Her work has been published in numerous anthologies, including Not A Muse: The Inner Lives of Women (Haven Press) and Cradle Songs (Quill & Parchment Press). Her work may also be found in journals and magazines such as Sein und Werden, Long Poem Magazine and The Dawntreader. Her current work in progress is Searching for Jennie Harbour, a biography of the enigmatic Deco era Illustrator. www.facebook.com/BTSBOOKS
Colin Campbell Robinson Colin Campbell Robinson is an Australian writer currently living and working in the Celtic extremity of Kernow (Cornwall). He has had numerous pieces published in a wide variety of journals both in the UK and in Australia. Abigail Wyatt Abigail Wyatt writes poetry and short fiction. She was a Pushcart nominee in 2013 and won the Lisa Thomas Poetry Prize in 2012. Born in Aveley in Essex, she has lived most of her adult life in Cornwall. Abigail’s poetry and short fiction have appeared in more than seventy magazines, journals and anthologies, both in the UK and throughout the world. Her most recent prose publication is Old Soldiers, Old Bones and Other Stories , a collection of short fiction. She enjoys performing her work at venues throughout Cornwall and, in 2013, was co-organiser of the first ever Marazion Ickle Fest. She is the co-editor of two Murder of Krows anthologies and co-editor of the online poetry magazine Poetry24. http://poetry-24.blogspot.co.uk/2014_03_01_archive.html Photo: stock.xchng
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Film competition: Gold Dust Screens We are looking for short films, any subject or form, maximum length 15 minutes, with a ÂŁ100 prize for what we judge to be the best entry. The competition will be judged at a showing of the finalist entries at a London venue in November of this year. Finalist entrants will be allowed to give a brief introduction to their film and, whether it is successful or not, will receive feedback from our judge, Accademy Award winner Kevin Brownlow (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kevin_Brownlow). Entries should be submitted in standard DVD format (one per disc) and should be posted to arrive at the following address not later than 30 September 2014: David Gardiner 55 Elmsdale Road, Walthamstow London E17 6PN
Gold Dust anthologies Gold Dust has published 2 poetry anthologies and 1 prose anthology:
To submit to Gold Dust magazine Our (short) submission guidelines can be found at: www.golddustmagazine.co.uk/Writers
Published on May 8, 2014
In this issue we have a feature on an usual library for children in Sri Lanka, plus reviews of 'Snoopy's Guide to the Writing Life', 'Red Pl...