Biannual Magazine of Literature & the Arts Issue 16 - December 2009
Welcome! Welcome to Issue 16 of Gold Dust magazine! As
squeezed in all the best new writing we
6 short stories, 5 flash fiction pieces and 8 poems. Our Cover Story features an interview with Tom Saunders (p6), who, can find, with
following on from his two critically acclaimed short-story collections, has just published his first novel. A review of his book, the intriguingly named Inappropriate Happiness, is on p4. We also have a review of the controversial book by
(p48), relating to a childâ€™s experiences of the second world war as well as the war in the child's own family life. Omma Velada (Founder)
Gold Dust www.golddustmagazine.co.uk firstname.lastname@example.org
Prose Editor & Cover Designer David Gardiner Poetry Editor Claire Tyne Webmaster, DTP & Founder Omma Velada Illustration Owen Pomery
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Artwork Cover photographs Stills from the Solid Gold launch party Cover design David Gardiner
Contents Short stories
Boopopper’s Last Bop by MJ Nicholls Satire
Immersion Therapy by James Rawbone Science Fiction
Sat-Nav Sally by Ruthie Lockyer Crime
Jubilee by Ruth H Russell Memoir
George by Jennifer Marshall Drama BEST PROSE
Just Saying by Rick Ewing Drama
Dear Attractive Woman by Brian Phillip Whalen Comedy Romance
The Future is Complicated by John M Shade Comedy SciFi
Joe and Me by Jason Vandaele Romance
Innocence by Linda Deex Romance
Hairy Men by Isobel Galt Satire
Boopopper’s Last Bop by MJ Nicholls (p10)
Inappropriate Happiness by Tom Saunders Reviewed by David Gardiner
Rachel Sarai's Vineyard by Deborah Rey Reviewed by David Gardiner
Apolloâ€™s Trick, and Treat Patricia J. Esposito BEST POEM
Where Echoes Lie Elizabeth Jardine Godwin
Connected Anna Meryt
Source of delight RG Gregory
Someone Else Khamir Purohit
Interview: Tom Saunders Author Interviewed by David Gardiner
Peace I Desire and Time Without Clamour Martin Ramos
Famous for Fifteen Chapters How non-celebrity memoirs became a publishing phenomenon by Ruth H Russell
Where Weâ€™re Going Holly Day
South of Nowhere Tim L West
George by Jennifer Marshall (p36)
Inappropriate Happiness by Tom Saunders (Reuben Books, 2009) £7.49 ISBN: 978-0956282811
he book is ostensibly Edward’s account of his own life up to a particular moment. He tells us where he is sitting as he writes, the author is ever present, and we are left to make up our own minds regarding his reliability as narrator. Edward is an anti-hero, a person who has learned to expect failure, a bitter disappointment to his late father who still dominates his thoughts and provides the key to his character. Edward exudes ineffectuality, his life seems to have been a long catalogue of defeats and embarrassments, his friendships few, his love-life up to now entirely inside his head, his chief entertainment second-rate TV shows, which wash over him as he sits alone in his room and philosophises. Edward’s primary mission is to complete his father’s plans for the semi-derelict watermill that he has inherited and in which he is now living, even though he has little idea what these
plans were. The story is set in motion by the arrival of two penniless young artists, an attractive woman named Belle and her uncouth male partner Kitto, who bullies Edward into allowing them to take up residence in an outhouse in the grounds of the mill. Predictably, Edward’s tendency to idolise and idealise attractive women and fantasise about forming relationships with them surfaces again. His past has included obsessive infatuation and discreet stalking. Belle the artist is now the one in his sights, and we can see that the situation has the potential for sudden violence and high tragedy. As the story progresses an atmosphere of unease and foreboding develops, with the possibility of murder explicitly raised. I was reminded of the atmosphere of Emlyn Williams’ Night Must Fall, where we are almost certain that something terrible is going to happen, but uncertain as to what and when. Almost any of the three central characters might have wielded the murder weapon, but it is not in the style of Tom Saunders to pander to the expectations of his readers. The novel, like most of Tom’s short stories, is above all a character study, most obviously of Edward, the reclusive introvert who narrates the tale, but also of everyone who puts in an appearance. The author is brave in taking as his central character someone for whom we feel little sympathy, although we can clearly see the roots of all his shortcomings, and experience at times acute discomfort in recognising similar tendencies in ourselves. The most attractive character, I thought, was Belle: basically good-
Review: Inappropriate Happiness by Tom Saunders natured, fun-loving, ever willing to prop up the ego of the men in her life, under-valuing her own talent, cheerfully tolerant of the weaknesses of those around her. Not a ‘strong woman’ in today’s terms, perhaps, but irresistibly likeable as a character and definitely true to her era – the novel seems to be set some decades in the past: a time when people still smoked in bars, drove Rover cars and believed in ‘free love’. Regarding the quality of the writing, it’s difficult to assess it without sounding sycophantic. There are jaw-dropping moments when we realise that a passage isn’t just good, it’s the best of its kind we have ever read. An example would be the simple and condensed account of Edward’s one-time obsession with Suzy, his former work colleague in the local bookshop. I don’t think there has ever been a sharper, more succinct or more poignant account of a one-sided love affair. Another example would be Edward’s typically half-baked pieces of homespun philosophy that can suddenly express a profound in-
sight: ‘…you must look obliquely if you wish to understand… each story requires the reader to find the truth amongst its lies, no matter how transparent they might seem at first glance…Stories. You cannot live outside them. Beginnings, middles and ends.’ Tom Saunders is without doubt a very gifted writer, unable to put a foot wrong in the art and craft of creating great prose. If I were required to find something to criticise in his work I think it would be a slight tendency towards tameness in terms of plot, where we may feel that there has been a big build-up to a conclusion that doesn’t quite match it in grandeur. I suppose as readers we long for elevation above the mundane, when the truth about the human condition is that life is constructed almost entirely out of the perfectly banal and ordinary. The real job of the artist perhaps is to reveal the poignant and heroic in that.
Find out more Inappropriate Happiness is now available to buy from Amazon and other online bookstores. Tom Saunders began writing in his mid-thirties while taking a degree in English Literature. Later, he went on to do the MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. Many of his stories have been published in magazines and on the Internet. In 1995 he was an award winner in the Ian St James international short story competition. Three of his stories have featured in the anthology series Voices From the Web. Brother, What Strange Place is This?, an anthology of his short stories, was published in 2004. This was followed by another collection entitled Roof Whirl Away in 2008. This is Tom's first novel. Inappropriate Happiness (Reuben Books, 2009) ISBN: 978-0956282811 Roof Whirl Away (Petton Books, 2008) ISBN: 978-0952281351 Brother, What Strange Place is This? (UKA Press, 2004) ISBN: 978-1904781141
Interview: Tom Saunders David Gardiner interviews the short-story author turned novelist on the release of Inappropriate Happiness. I first came across your work on the UKAuthors.com website about five or six years ago. You were one of the most highly respected writers on the site and your debut short story collection Brother, What Strange Place is This? was one of the first books published by the newly-formed UKA Press in 2004, to what can only be described as rave reviews. Despite the reviews I got the impression that you were disappointed with the actual sales figures. Why do you think sales did not match up to expectations? I did get some good reviews on the Net and very grateful I was for them, too, but there seemed to be very little promotion in the real world for any of the first batch of UKA books. I was told that review copies had been sent out to a wide range of magazines and newspapers, but I never got any reviews. Given this, I wasn’t particularly disappointed by the sales figures – the public can’t buy what they don’t know about. It sold more than any of my other books. I didn’t earn a penny from it, however. I’ve now reprinted it under the Reuben Books banner. Your second collection, Roof Whirl Away, was published by another small press publisher called Petton Books in 2008. Were you happier with the promotion and sales figures that this one achieved? My wife is the publisher of Petton Books. We didn’t do any promotion worthy of the name so, yes, this being the case we were pleasantly surprised we sold as many as we did. 6
Your first novel, Inappropriate Happiness, was published this year by yet another small press company called Reuben Books. Have you found, as I have, that novels are a lot easier to promote and market than short story collections? Reuben Books is my own imprint. Again (I’m not being much help here, am I?!), I haven’t done any promotion, it’s not something I feel comfortable with. In the modern age this is without doubt a problem. Do you consider yourself primarily a short story writer or a novelist? How do you perceive the differences between these two forms? I think of myself as a short story writer. I think the main difference between the two forms is that novels centre around narrative and character and short stories centre around resonant moments. Big things can be left unsaid and unresolved in a short story. Dramas have to be played out to their end in a novel. Your short stories, while all very different to one another, seem to me to have two consistent features: fresh and arresting images
Interview: Tom Saunders which you manage to introduce without becoming an intrusive author, and a refusal to pander to reader expectation of high drama endings, going instead for the low-key, poignant, even melancholy endings which seem to me to typify much better the way things work out in real life. For example, the middle-aged engineer who helped found the company has been sacked and is clearing his desk at dead of night in the deserted factory. If we are avid short story readers we expect him to burn down the building, commit suicide, or steal some document with which to blackmail the Managing Director. But no, he simply clears his desk and returns home sadly to get on with his life. Is this a deliberate aim when you write, or just an unconscious result of the way you see the world? Well, that story begins with the engineer waking up in a panic and running away and then the story flashes back to why he’s doing this. I think moments of high drama are difficult to do in the short story. Short stories need a subtle touch, a story can go dead and formulaic if big emotions and events aren’t handled carefully. I didn’t want the engineer to run away at the end of the story because I wanted to leave the reader with a question rather than a dramatic event, a falling cadence rather than a rising one. Good short stories are rarely tied up neatly at the end. The reader should be left with some space to ponder. As you say, more as we are in life. Novels have a strong narrative arc that leads the reader to expect a more resolved conclusion. There is only one possible category into which your fiction could be placed, and that is ‘literary fiction’, because character, atmosphere and underlying philosophy seem to be so much more important than plot in your work. Do you begin with a character or a mood, or what is the normal starting point for one of your stories? Issue 16
Stories come to me in all sorts of ways. With first person stories it’s usually, but not always, the voice. I start writing and the narrative voice feels authentic and comfortable and the story starts to evolve from the first sentence and take shape. Often stories will come to me while I’m out walking and daydreaming. The things I’ve been reading or watching or have been told jumble together and juxtapose themselves in an interesting and tangential way and a story starts to form around the point of conflict. My story The Seal Man came from a phrase I had in my head when I woke up one morning: “They burnt the
Seal Man on the beach . . .” Never had anything like that happen to me again. Sometimes a story will suddenly arrive in my head. I’ve no idea how this happens. It’s not something I want analyse too much. You quote Ian Hocking’s description of yourself on the back cover of Inappropriate Happiness: ‘One is tempted to view Saunders as a musician first and a writer second because his stories ring like fine crystal’. Is this how
Interview: Tom Saunders you see yourself: musician first, writer second, and what difference do you think this makes to the way you write? I’m a writer first now, but I love to play and listen to music. Can’t imagine my life without it. I’m not sure how being a musician effects my writing. I was a musician before I began writing, so I’ve no way of judging. I like sentences to have a good sound, whether it be hard or beautiful, to have a good rhythm, so that might be an influence. To what extent would you say that your stories are autobiographical? Do you draw on people you have met and events in your own life or do you aim at ‘blue sky thinking’? I don’t use events from my life. My life isn’t interesting enough for one thing. I also wouldn’t use the people I know or their stories. I don’t think that would be fair on them. Of course, my experience, both emotional and of the world, is everywhere in my stories, but that’s a different thing.
or her interest to the next stage? I’m not really in a position to give advice. Don’t do what I do, probably. Get out there and sell yourself and your work in any way you can. That’s the modern world.
What advice would you give to someone who loves writing and would like to take his
In his own words... I'm British (father Welsh, mother English). I'm 62 years old. I was raised on London's not-sowild western edge and I now live in the country with my wife Jean, who is an environmental activist and is also secretary of the Richard Jefferies Society. In my time I've been an engineering draughtsman, a school caretaker, a musician, a seller of guitars and records and a technician with a company importing Japanese instruments into the UK. I began writing in my mid-thirties while taking an English degree as a mature student (I left school at sixteen) at Kingston Polytechnic. Later, I went on to do an MA in creative writing at the University of East Anglia. My tutors there were novelists Sir Malcolm Bradbury and the wonderful Angela Carter, both now sadly deceased. Fellow students in my year were novelists Anne Enright and Louise Doughty. Irish poet Paul Muldoon was writer in residence at the time.
Dear Attractive Woman Brian Phillip Whalen One way to get her attention... Brian Phillip Whalen This Party, On or Near the Couch 616 Billy Sunday Rd, Apt 209 Ames, IA 50014 (540) 333-4611
June 30, 2009
Dear Attractive Woman, Please consider my date “Dinner at Café Shi, Followed by a Chocolate Milk” for acceptance in your Monday evening. I am currently a student in the MFA program in Creative Dating at Iowa State University, where I am working on my next relationship, entitled Casual, with Potential for Long-Term Commitment. I live with my dog Webster. My previous dates have been accepted by the following women: -- Gretchen Foulk, “High School Prom,” Binghamton, NY 1998 -- Kristen Czernicki, “One Night Stand,” Geneva, NY 2001 -- Kate Yenik, “Ice Cream Sundae,” Buffalo, NY 2003 -- Cathe Corbett, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” Chicago, IL 2005 -- Meagan Smith, “Coffee and a Scone,” Harrisonburg, VA 2007 I have also produced the following come-on lines: -- “Is there a goldfish up my nose?” -- “I stole this muffin.” -- “I don’t have foreskin, but I do have Tourette Syndrome.” -- “You look sleepy.” This date is a multiple submission. I will withdraw competing offers upon first acceptance, so please RSVP by way of thumbs up or thumbs down, or by text message. Thank you. Sincerely, Brian Phillip Whalen *For reviews and further information, please contact my dating agent: Luke Bergeron Host of This Party 616 Billy Sunday Rd, Apt 209 Ames, IA 50014 (515) 707-1642
Boopopper’s Last Bop MJ Nicholls The vultures gather for Boopopper’s last will and testament... sense of rectangular reticence, foaming up through the wooden slats of the bar, arose in a dense fug and swooned through the room. Trembling on the pale ruins of the stage, former scat singing legend Shaun ‘Boopopper’ Bratwurst reached for the microphone propped up on the stand and coughed into a universe of feedback. The band flexed their fingers to limber up. The audience, a violent effusion of indifferent clerical workers and failed musicians, scrutinised the haggard lump of a man before them, wheezing into the boozy mulch of the night. “Right,” he began, lacquered and laboured, “hit it, you slack-tongued muddafuckers!” The band looked at him with a deep-seated loathing. Since his rise to stardom, he had treated them as secondrate backing men, failing to illuminate his talent properly and drinking too much during shows. Throughout his career, Shaun often consumed four whiskies in between songs and
took copious amounts of heroin after performances. His love affair with Mama Cass Elliot ended after his penchant for ham sandwiches culminated in a certain incident where he forced her to eat four in one go. He had careened through life like a bipolar bulldozer, smashing through all he encountered and making no apologies for it. Tonight he would play the final set of his life. The thumping freeform jazz pulsated behind him. He could feel the music scorching up the hem of his shirt and blazing through his body, rising to his tongue and pushing the scat from his guts. “Sh-sh-sh-sh-sh-shoobafuckin’-do!” he began, firing a ribbon of spit into the crowd. The band no longer cared about his health. He launched into an expletive-ridden set, spitting out his stream-ofconsciousness epitaph as his heart approached surrender. “Ma-ma-ma-ma ex-wife is dead! I smashed in her fat old head! I don’t know ma kids… that’s the way it is. Shoop-adoop-a-doo-bop! I said… I
hate-hate-hate the world, I hate this stage, I hate you fat muddas and niggas! Shoo-doowop-wop-woo!” This spasmodic tirade continued for up to an hour. The band ground to a halt through exhaustion as the audience sat agape with their beers clutched between their legs, stunned at the sight of a man driving himself to oblivion. In the crowd sat Dennis Cervelat, solicitor and opportunist, conscious that once Shaun passed on his will would need to be taken care of and there was cash to be milked from the debacle. Shaun teeter-tottered around the microphone after uttering the statement ‘I woowoop pee-pee nah help me help me doop-a-poop poop’ and urinated down his trousers. He then looked to the drummer, mouthed that he had slept with his wife four times and was the real father of his children, then collapsed into the kit, deader than a scat convention. In the fall, a cymbal flew from its stand and sliced into the throat of the drummer, causing a slit that was rather
Boopopper’s Last Bop by MJ Nicholls unpleasant for his windpipes. The guitarist rested his hand on the amp and received an electric shock, frazzling him to his quick end. All eyes turned to the bassist. People expected him to be the next to die. He knew this. Dennis was orgasmic in the audience, hoping to bag the set. In the terror of the moment, the bassist ran towards the door and banged his head against the exit sign. He was knocked unconscious, and a rather disappointed audience hoped that the sign would fall on his head and fry his brains out. Instead, a waitress tripped on his supine body and pierced through his neck with her highheeled shoe. This killed him a lot. A sense of relief drifted through the room. A sense of justice seemed to wash clean the awfulness of the set they had witnessed. Dennis rose to his feet and declared: “I am their official representative. No one touch the corpses without my permission! I am handling their affairs and those who attempt to intervene might face criminal prosecution!”
Bratwurst-Chorizo, former stepdaughter of Shaun Bratwurst. Also present in the room were his illegitimate children, Helena Bratwurst and Shauna Bratwurst, who was also his niece through some inbreeding confusion. There were only five seats, meaning Shauna had to stand. She was the most incensed of the Bratwurst clan, for reasons which will be disclosed later. “Right Bratwursts,” began Dennis with a snide smirk, “time to commence proceedings. Now, having studied the career of Shaun on Wikipedia and the All Music Guide, I think I have drafted up a fair will for all those remaining relatives. Let me begin with the closest kin.” Leticia Bratwurst-Snarler was a former star of B-movies who had fallen into soft-core
pornographic thrillers and lowrent horror pictures such as Denizens of Seduction and Curse of the Prostitute Vampire Killer. Her face had undergone recent reconstruction akin to taking an axe to someone’s teeth to perform a minor realignment. She adjusted her purple-flecked blouse and pursed the drooping cherry lipgloss back onto her mouth by sewing her cheeks back together. As a person, she was regrettable. “I expect a big cut o’ that money, you hear? That dumbass charlatan screwed me outta thousands of pounds when he was still alive, man. Damn fat bastard shoulda croaked it sooner,” she said. “Yes. Quite. Well, looking over his career, it seems you were responsible for his popularity during his ‘Scatological’
In the opulent backroom office of Dennis F.D. Cervelat sat Leticia Bratwurst-Snarler, former wife of Shaun Bratwurst, Allan Bratwurst, former son of Shaun Bratwurst, and Leanne
Boopopper’s Last Bop by MJ Nicholls
and bright, often laid-back to the point of spiritual calmness. “Allan…?” “Yes, Mr. Cervelat?” “You get $500,000.” “OK, cool.” “What? This little germ gets more than I do? What the fuck, man! This is way off base,
tie-boy!” Leticia struck up, her stress lines slipping on to her nose. “Please, Ms. BratwurstSnarler! This is as fair as I can make it. Allan has suffered severe distresses and tortures being the son of a self-loathing junkie and narcissistic alco-
phase… his 1984 tour and LP, I mean. The experimental record dealing with ordure and micturition in quite explicit detail, well… had you not been on the cover semi-naked straddling a cow, I don’t imagine the LP would have been quite as popular.” “I ain’t no slut, man. I done my time as his damned wench. I deserve a cut of that money, tie-boy!” “Uh-huh. You are getting $4,000.” “Is that all? He must have five times as much as that! Come on, man. I deserve at least HALF of that bastard’s fortune!” “There was no fortune, Ms. Bratwurst-Snarler. Shaun spent most of his earnings on the usual rock star extravagances: swimming pools full of women, houses full of booze, jets filled with cocaine, and so on. He lost about three million per annum and was surviving solely through his legion of brainless admirers. Everyone loves a nihilistic hellraiser!” There was further argument. Leticia was adamant that she should receive triple her amount, but was silenced when Dennis threatened to reveal to the press she had given Fuzzle Hardwhip the clap. Allan Bratwurst was a sullen child, aged fourteen and addicted to the poems of Stevie Smith. He abhorred his father and mother but was diligent
Boopopper’s Last Bop by MJ Nicholls holic. Considering what he has been through, I think this is only fair!” She was silenced once more with a threat about the time she shared a bowl of soup with Randall Roots and gave him herpes. Leanne BratwurstChorizo was the eldest child, aged nineteen and living with a bohemian painter in Alaska. She often talked about learning to drive or how to work a microwave. She was raised for the most part at an orphanage where Shaun had dropped her until her sixteenth birthday. “Leanne… you get $40.” “Really? That it?” “Sorry… you moved into his estate and more or less did whatever you wanted to for three years. You really had nothing to do with her family. This is the best I can offer you.” “Whatever. I’ll take it.” The illegitimate children had been sitting and standing at the back patiently. Helena Bratwurst was given compensation of about $300,000 for her amp that Shaun had lost during his 1988 European tour. It was with some trepidation he turned to the one-eyed, onenostrilled, one-lipped problem of Shauna Bratwurst. She had been Shaun’s secret lover from the age of seventeen, despite being his niece, and had taken forty-five beatings from him, seven with an electric toaster, four with an electric blanket, Issue 16
ten with an electric razor and one with an electric hairdryer. The rest were performed with solar-powered or wind-assisted devices. During these tempestuous years, she bore him four babies, three Siamese twins and a strange homunculus creature akin to a wombat. She was also a regrettable human being. Often during their lovemaking sessions she would think of high-scoring Scrabble words and not concentrate on achieving penetration. She once lined her vaginal wall with Marmite, knowing his penis was ultrasensitive to all forms of spreadable appetisers. Her skin was sallow and yeasty. It was often rumoured that she was a cake in disguise. She had also attempted to seduce her oldest brother, her favourite pastime being breaking the barriers of acceptable behaviour and wallowing in a plateau of filth. “You get nothing Shauna,” Derek said, coughing awkwardly. “Is it because I chopped off his left ball?” she asked. “Umm… not really. Although that was one of the factors I took into account making the decision.” “OK. Has it anything to do with the time I made him drink his own love juice?” “Listen… you’re quite a repulsive person. You are what we call in the civilised world a
‘sideshow freak’ or a ‘diseaseridden harlot.’ We would all be better off without having you around, breeding with family members and poisoning the gene pool with your mouldy eggs. You get nothing because you are a repugnant malodorous disgraceful smelly feckless horrific slimy nobody.” “Right. Fair enough.” *** Shaun’s one request was that his funeral be performed in a scat style. As they lowered the coffin into the ground, the priest recited: Hey-hey-hey-hey I said ashes… ashes! Man-man-man-man-manman I said ASHES! Shoop-woop-a-woop-awoop-de-de-de-de-a-loop-deewoop-a-doop-de-woop! In-sure in-sure in-sure insure hope I ain’t insured! I said in-sure in-sure insure and certain hope! Skibba-dibba flippawoopa dooba-drabba doo! Ska-na-na-na-e-de-sla-de-arde-frup-de-pah! Resurrection! Reeeeesurrection! Resi-resi-resi-resiresi-resi-resi-resurrection! Take me take me, sloopa-doop-a-doop! Into eternal life! ETERNAL LIFE! The mourners stifled their laughter.
The Future is Complicated John M Shade The delicate operation of communicating with a machine... ello there and welcome to the Ark! You’re almost done now. We just need you to answer a few last questions before entry. We’ll start with some basic ones first, then work our way from there. If you have any trouble, don’t be afraid to ask for help through our BRAND NEW interactive help desk!
Generating Questions... 1) Are you seated, alone, in one of our testing rooms? >Yeah, all white. Hurts my eyes. AUTOMATED RESPONSE: To answer affirmative, type YES, for negative, type NO. Hold 9 for help. >YES 2) There is a mirror in front of you. Are you considered tall for your species? >YES 3) How many fingers do you have? Are you sure? >TEN; YES 4) The lights will be switched 14
off momentarily. Can you see in the dark? >NO 5) Did your skin glow? >YES AUTOMATED RESPONSE: Lying will not be tolerated. Conduct warning = 1 >NO 6) Do you communicate in a way other than vocally? >NO 7) Do you reproduce asexually? If so, are you incubating, nursing, or nesting? >NO, stop asking stupid questions. AUTOMATED RESPONSE: YES or NO, please. >NO;NO;NO;NO;NO 8) Do you eat your young? >Oh, what the hell, I’m human, godamnit. Conduct warning = 2 AUTOMATED RESPONSE: Return to the test seating area please. Your conduct is in jeopardy of voiding your progress thus far. >Jesus. NO, I don’t eat my young.
9) Are you here with a mate? >YES 10) Is she considered attractive to your species? >YES AUTOMATED RESPONSE: Lying will not be tolerated. >I’m not lying. AUTOMATED RESPONSE: Lying will not be tolerated. AUTOMATED RESPONSE: Please do not hit the kiosk. Hold 9 if you require assistance. >I AM HOLDING 9 Conduct warning = 3 11) Will she attempt to devour you at any point while onboard? >NO 12) Up to how long will she take to digest you? >SHE’S HUMAN, I’M HUMAN! 13) Do you consider yourself a friendly organism? >YES AUTOMATED RESPONSE: Lying will not be tolerated. 14) Do you have two faces?
The Future is Complicated by John M Shade >NO 15) Do you have a tiny brain? >NO! 16) Do you attack your prey only from behind? >NO, look-17) Are you cold-blooded? >NO, stop it. 18) Do you have fangs? Are they poisonous? >NO! NO! NO! 19) Where are your fangs located? >I DON’T HAVE ANY GODAMN FANGS. Congratulations! Your questionnaire has been reviewed by one of our expert placement examiners here on the Ark, and we are happy to see another exciting addition to our reptilian deck. You’ll be in the best of hands with caring professionals alongside members of your own kind!
>I’M NOT A REPTILE! AUTOMATED RESPONSE: Please wait... Two reptilian consorts will be there shortly to escort you to your new home here on the Ark. Your feeding schedule will be given to you along with a complimentary goodie bag from the consorts, and they all speak in a language you understand. Every amenity has been hand-adjusted for your personal comfort. >Okay; wait, wait, wait. I’m sorry. Look— AUTOMATED RESPONSE: Lying will not be tolerated. > Let’s just start over. Where’s the reset button? AUTOMATED RESPONSE: Please step away from the kiosk area. It will close in a moment. >They’re going to eat me down there, you friggin’ idiot machine! Tell them I’m human! AUTOMATED RESPONSE: Lying will not be tolerated. >TELL THEM I’M HUMAN! AUTOMATED RESPONSE: Lying will not be tolerated.
AUTOMATED RESPONSE: Please remove all appendages from the kiosk area now. Closing... >Yo;u hah ive toooooooewa liistennnn >SHOMEEONE HJEELLQPP!!1! > > > > AUTOMATED RESPONSE: From all of us here on the Ark boarding station, we wish you a happy and safe journey. Sit back, relax, and leave your worries behind. Tell us how we’re doing! Our NEW AND IMPROVED comment cards are located throughout your deck and staging area. You could win a year’s supply of locusts, just by filling one out!* *Terms and conditions may apply
Immersion Therapy James Rawbone We all find our own way of confronting our worst fears... he car hit the ramp with a thump, the world below disappeared and for one, two, seconds he was really, truly flying. A snapshot of serenity; the blue sky, almost turquoise with a few strands of wispy clouds. A tranquillity close to transcendence, and then the roar of the thrashing engine splintered that peace and the spinning wheels came to earth on the reinforced concrete with a sickening crash. His head smashed against the roof of the car, dark, oblique shapes shimmered in his vision and his jaws smashed together, teeth biting deep into his rubber mouth guard. A taste of rich copper was swimming in his mouth, and three-inch nails were being driven into his skull with a claw hammer. Confront fear. Brian slammed on the brake and yanked the wheel around, his greasy hands slimy on the plastic. The hatchback spun around, tyres screeching on the concrete and the stench of burning rubber came acrid through the open windows. The world spun, crazy kaleido-
scopic panorama of skyscrapers, tinted glass and steel. On a clear day like today, when the smog was thin and the sun bright, you could see right across Manhattan to New Jersey. Especially from eightyseven stories up. For all intents and purposes Brian was right on top of the world. And it was a hell of a long way down. Defy fear. He had been frightened of heights since forever. His first memory of fear was from a family holiday in Italy. They had been standing on an aqueduct, he and his younger brother. His father, a burly man who had made his fortune in the steel business, and was as tough and unyielding as the lengths of metal that he sold, was taking a picture. Then he lowered the camera and frowned. “You need to move back. I can’t get the top of the hills in unless you move back.” A ten year old Brian had looked over his shoulder nervously. The edge seemed close enough as it was and he could see the valley stretching out below, the hard dry earth dot-
ted with rocks and the occasional fig trees. Nonetheless he took a step back. “Again.” The edge was about three foot away now, thick weeds crowding its crumbling bricks. He looked appealingly towards his father but he just motioned them backwards with his slab of red meat hand. His brother had stepped back again, so that he had let go of Brian’s hand and Brian had stood alone. “Come on.” His father’s voice was sharp with irritation... Brain’s feet were encased in lead diver’s boots, his tongue was thick and dry. His heart thumped irregularly in a hollow chest cage and he knew, with a crimson shame,
Immersion Therapy by James Rawbone that he was about to cry. Then panic cramped his stomach into iron hard knots and Brian vomited yellow bile all over his white trainers. His father had just looked at him in baffled embarrassment. And then, as the tears began to roll gently down Brian’s cheeks and plop into the dry white dust, he lowered the camera and walked away. The back end of the car was sliding away. Brian felt the ABS judder as it sought to keep control and the horizon spun slowly around, perfect eggshell blue, and Brian knew that the rear wheels would slide off the roof of the skyscraper, and the car would tilt backwards, the front wheels still fighting for traction until the moment equilibrium was lost and the car would flip over backwards and he would somersault to an explosive death as two tons of metal and petrol hit a crowded street at, what? There was an equation for working the speed
out but it was a long time since Brian had done physics at school. Then the world stopped spinning, the throbbing fear that had paralysed his brain eased away and he heard his own thumping pulse, felt the sweat sticky on his skin. For a few moments he sat there, his hands still on the steering wheel, staring straight ahead of him, his right foot still ramming the brake all the way to the floor. Slowly, carefully, he exhaled the air that he had been subconsciously holding in his lungs for the past few minutes. His hammering pulse slowed and he felt the endorphins flood through him, better than the best dope, better than sex by a long way, the ultimate high. To feel like this, to be so acutely alive, this was what it was all about. To fully appreciate life it was sometimes necessary to dally with death. He pulled up the handbrake and looked out of the driver’s window. He could make out the office workers sitting in their glass-lined cages across the street twenty stories up. With a sense of delicious anticipation, a sense of fulfilment, he opened the driver’s door, and leant forward to look directly down. The car had stopped almost exactly parallel to the rooftop with three inches between the rims of the nearside wheels and the very edge of
the roof. He could see the road crammed with yellow taxis and those long, bendy buses they were introducing everywhere, people hustling and bustling along the tree-lined walkways, always in a hurry in New York. And he looked down, feeling like a god on Mount Olympus at the human ants scurrying about below, so blissfully ignorant of the fate they had been so narrowly spared and he smiled. She wasn’t smiling when he got back to the ramp that led down to the lower levels of the multi-storey car park. She was looking at him, but not with the usual doe-eyed gaze of adoration that they usually had. It took him a moment to place the emotion as scorn. But she spoke calmly and quietly. “Your mouth is bleeding.” For a moment he gaped at her. Then he reached up and pulled his mouth guard out and it was clotted with thick, syrupy blood. “Oh.” And with that she just walked off. Just after she had looked at him with the same kind of contempt his father had looked at him with twenty-six years ago. He called her later that evening. That again was something new. Usually they called him. And she didn’t answer. That was utterly unprecedented and that made him 17
Immersion Therapy by James Rawbone angry, because somehow he knew that she wasn’t in the bath, or the network was down, or she was asleep, or the phone was in her handbag and she couldn’t hear it or any of the multitude of possible reasons why she didn’t answer. At five that morning, after a night spent alternately restlessly turning amongst crumpled sheets and lying on his back and staring wide-eyed at the ceiling, Brian perched on the edge of his empty, king-size bed with the strange sensation that he was utterly alone; that the world had gone nuts and he was the only sane one left. After a while he stood up and crossed to the huge windows where he could see across half of New York. He subconsciously counted his car parks; nine great concrete monoliths that every day were filled with the cars of the commuters that travelled in to take their daily positions in the glittering glass temples of Mammon. He was rich; more than rich enough to buy anything he wanted and still have change left over. He had learnt not to fear danger, risk or even failure. All he needed to fear was fear itself. He was terribly afraid of fear. Three days after she had stalked off the rooftop she called him. “I think we need to talk.”
He didn’t like the sound of that from the off. No good conversation had ever followed that phrase. Translated from the female vocabulary it meant, I need to tell you why I’m pissed off with you before I explode. “Go on, then,” he said, with a dull sense of resignation.
“You could have killed someone.” She sounded like she was talking to some kind of retard, stressing each syllable separately and distinctly. “Well, I could have killed myself,” he retorted, quickly, defiantly. “Well, yes. Of course.” She sounded relieved, as if maybe Source: stock.xchng
“Saturday. You acting like a complete dick. What the hell was that all about?” Brian wasn’t quite sure what to say. His Saturday morning workout on the roof of the cordoned-off multi-storey car park, the first that he’d bought seven years previously and which had become the bedrock for his fortune usually spoke for itself; it didn’t need explaining. Courage was there to be respected, not to be questioned. It was his version of a morning at the gym; courage, like all the virtues, was like a muscle; it needed to be exercised regularly in order to remain strong. “What do you mean?” was all he could say in the end.
she had finally got through to him. “It was such a stupid thing to do.” She sounded pissed off, confused, angry even. “So stupidly dangerous.” “That’s the point of it,” he replied, allowing just a hint of exasperation to seep into his carefully patient tone. “It’s pushing yourself, facing your fears, defying them. It’s living life to the full, it’s, well, it’s living on the edge. How do you know who you are if all the while you’ve lived squarely within your comfort zone? How do you know what you’re capable of?” There was a silence. She’s got it, Brian thought, she’s understood. Then she spoke and his hope collapsed. “Risks are not there to be
Immersion Therapy by James Rawbone taken for the sake of it. Danger is not there to taunt. You brave danger because you have to, because if you don’t something worse will happen. You especially don’t do it if there’s a chance you’re going to kill yourself, or even worse, someone else. To risk someone else’s life for your own macho thrill, I mean,” she hesitated, frustrated. She sounded as though she had followed the thread of his logic and had merely come to a great ball of irrationality that she had given up trying to untangle. “I mean, that’s the most selfish thing I’ve ever heard of.” “That’s because you don’t understand. That’s because you’re not me; that’s because you don’t suffer like I do. This is something I have to do, to deal with the–” the word fear made him hesitate, “situation I’m in. I’ve had a thing about heights since I was ten years old; that’s almost thirty years ago now and this is the way I deal with it. Is that so wrong?” And silence again descended, like a thick fog that cut them off from each other and when they spoke again it was as if the fog had somehow distorted their speech so neither could guess at the other’s meaning. “But why? It’s just so–” she grasped for words to describe what she felt and found none. Brian cut in. “I know that if I don’t cure Issue 16
this phobia, beat it, then one day I’ll just jump off the balcony of my house, four floors up. Every time I’m more than twenty feet off the ground I feel like just walking until my feet find fresh air.” “Well, sell the house and buy a bungalow.” “It’s not bloody funny. This is a serious condition I have.” “Yeah, I know. It’s called vertigo.” “Does it matter what it’s called?” “Yes, it does. Because then you can go and see a doctor and tell them that you have vertigo and they can help you. I mean that they could recommend therapy. A psychotherapist or something.” Brian spoke slowly and distinctly. “I’m doing my own therapy.” “Oh, Jesus.” She sounded really angry now. “You know you’re mad, don’t you..? Completely insane. And worse than that, you’re the most selfish person I’ve ever met.” There was a slam and then Brian was listening to the crackle of an empty line. “Do you know,” Brian said after a moment’s thought, “I suppose you’re right. I had never thought of it like that before.” And then he carefully replaced his receiver. He didn’t call her after that. And she didn’t call him either. For
the rest of the week he carried around a niggling, nagging sense of irritation, but come Saturday morning the dawn was crisp and clear and he sought the razor sharp fear that cut through the million little trivia that seemed to compose life nowadays. He felt alive again as he sniffed the soft, warm scent of a summer morning. This high up you couldn’t hear the street traffic and the silence was complete. His head was foggy. He hadn’t been able to think clearly for a few days; it had been a bad week. He had personally lost over a million in the past three days as the stock market had fluttered on the edge of a precipice, threatening to leap lemming-like into financial freefall. Brian knew that no-one could have avoided the recession that had started to bite and everyone was doing badly, but hell, it still stung. For a while everything had seemed so simple, so clear. But now there was doubt, and doubt sowed confusion and from that confusion fear was reaped and there was nothing worse than fear. And the only way to defeat fear was to confront it, defy it. Brian aimed the car at the edge of the roof and slammed his foot on the accelerator. Six seconds and 1,200 feet later he landed.
Gold Dust 19
Apolloâ€™s Trick, and Treat BEST POEM Apollo, what made you cast down your lyre? Was it the sun at low slant this autumn day, the air spiced with maple smoke and apple? What made your summer tune fade, wafting like the curled leaves to your sound feet? Was it the pumpkinsâ€™ flickering faces, the windy rush of ghosts and witches, Dionysian pleasures to tempt the Rational, the Perfect, the planed Symmetrical You to step down from ivory heaven to us? How did it feel to slip into that human hide, that slim-fitted sheath of copper silk, to rest your mind under his fringe of night? What did you see through those panting eyes, that you costumed yourself with glasses?
Did you think to disguise your beauty in his? When his mineral color stings with fruitful desire, and his unshaven face tells of charcoal slumber? He could never coarsen heaven's complexion. It only made me want to taste you more. What a costume you made of him, perfect Apollo. But your trick pulled no cloak around you, and reason shies in the moon-made shadows. I hear your lyre, and it strums a volcanic song. How long will you sing to it? I yearn to ask you, and when do I get first bite of your treat? Patricia J. Esposito
iIllustration: Owen Pomery
Where Echoes Lie From skin to vellum to canvas, memory, parcelled as ribs of light, travels to where the blood spiders and blue veins lace alchemies of colour to find their flight through chits of living bone. Like cryptochrome that tells the leaves when to fall this pigment works best in the blue pellucidity of light: where it stalks the borders of our eyes and past to measure brightness balance rhythms become the very stuff that dreams are made on. All the while a compass to find a lost catechism, pull us south to where the wheat grows green, sheave up famished fragments of desire
that reach back into ourselves and gives air to the spaces in between, just as willows tilt to unfold themselves against a slate grey sky. Pneumatised, the folds of touch will uncoil plots and comb the tangle of the world by slipping finger and wetted thumb: lapidescent, somnolent and quick: palm to palm for wrapping corpses scrubbing floors resolving the agony of lost touch by the slow unwrapping of love before a litmus moon marks a quick forsaking and we fall, are folded up and put away. Elizabeth Jardine Godwin
Joe and Me
A tricky first date... had not known Joe long, and this was our first evening spent together minus the mutual friends that had brought us together in a badly staged blind date kind of scenario, about two months before. I was, perhaps understandably, a little nervous because I couldn’t rely on my other friends to generate conversation topics. “Hey, what are you thinking about RIGHT NOW?!” I asked Joe, a tall man of about three feet, but then he was sitting down. You could tell that he was at least double that in height, I mean if he were standing up, because there was as much visible below his waist as there was above. And that’s quite rare, I think, to have perfect equality. It’s not something you see everyday, a man whose toes are the same length away from his waist as his head is, quite rare indeed. Actually, I think you could say it’s seldom seen. I like that word, seldom. If I had to pick my favourite word in the whole English language, it would definitely be seldom, but unfortunately, I seldom get to use it.
And what does that say about who I am? I’m a person whose favourite word is one that people use to describe something that almost never happens, do I like that? I dunno, really. Is that me, someone who likes things that rarely happen? Well, I guess not, because then my favourite word would have to be ‘rare’. All I know is I like the word seldom. That’s all. “Hey, Joe, what are you thinking about?” I had to ask again. “I was thinking what song I’d like to be played at my funeral”. Joe replied boastfully. “Geez, why did you have to tell me that? Way to bring down the feeling, Joe.” I replied in jest. “Well,” Joe snapped back, “you asked, so I told.” “Yeah, but you could’ve lied. Why didn’t you just make up something? I seldom bring down the atmosphere like that.” I once again employed humour in my response, because I’d heard that that was a good ice breaker, and the atmosphere was pretty cold right about now. “So, umm” I stuttered, “have you had a nice
day?” Joe seemed to ponder before making his new revelation. “Seldom...I like that word. Well, don’t you wanna know which song I’d have?” I pondered for a second, “Hey, what’s your favourite word?” I could tell that he wasn’t really paying attention to me; either that or he needs to be asked everything twice before he will give an answer. “Hey, you, have you got a favourite word?” “I like words that get straight to the point, like ‘slab’”. Joe explained, and then, with far too much enthusiasm, “SLAB, no messing around.” “Well, what about ‘precise’? That’s straight to the point, or better still ‘exactly’? You don’t get more straight to the point than that!” “Nah” Joe dismissed, “I like ‘slab’. Easy and simple”. And that was that. The conversation ended. The revelation that a word as mundane as ‘slab’ was Joe’s favourite word in the entire English language was not something of which I cared to
Joe and Me by Jason Vandaele find any more information about. I couldn’t have done if I’d wanted to. And besides, I only asked because I wanted to tell him my word, but he didn’t return the question. I think all questions should be reciprocal. I mean, if I inquire about your health, you answer and then return the question. Likewise, if I ask about your favourite word then, after you answer, you should ask about mine. Reciprocal questions, they’re just common sense, really. It had never felt this difficult before, in the company of our collective friends. Joe had always seemed so intelligent, so articulate, so cool, but now I was finding out that he’s obsessed with funeral songs and short words. During the next two hours of television watching, I asked a total of seven questions, well fourteen really, because I had to ask each one twice, and received a total of zero in return. It was a disaster. We’d had a complete nonversation. Thankfully, ten o’clock rolled around and that felt like a good time to end the evening with Joe.
I asked, “Why did Joe behave so strangely when he was alone with me?” “Well, thing about Joe is, just before you met him, like a month before, he’d broken up with his previous girlfriend.” “Right” I said, trying to figure out what the one had to do with the other. “Why did they split?” “Well, he began to get really annoyed by her constant questions, so I hope you didn’t ask him a lot of questions or anything.” “Oh, well, yeah I did, and I was getting annoyed ‘cause he wasn’t returning my questions. Why didn’t you tell me?” I pleaded in a slightly raised voice. “Well, I tried to last week. Don’t you remember? You asked me what Joe was like and I was trying to tell you but
I got back home at twenty past ten, and at about twenty-eight minutes past I got a phone call from a friend asking how the evening had gone. I told her that it hadn’t really worked out, and that Joe seemed a little different to usual.
you kept on talking over me, and asking more and more questions, so I wanted to teach you a lesson. I thought that if you’d spend time alone with Joe, then you’d finally realise that you ask too many questions. You needed to learn to listen to other people.” “So you knew all along. You knew that we wouldn’t get on? You planned this to happen?” “Yeah, I did, and I’m glad that it hasn’t worked out, because I like Joe.” “You like Joe?” “Yeah, and now he’s realised that you’re just like his ex, so he won’t want to be with you, and because you’ve now learned your lesson, it’s a winwin situation for me tonight. I’ve stopped all your questions and opened the door for Joe and me.” Gold Dust
A special trip... was in good time, thanks to my Sat-Nav system. Normally, I would have been much later, going down small country roads and – most possibly – getting lost with no street names to help me. No, the Sat-Nav had saved valuable time, and I could accommodate more customers. Also, stressful driving was over: I didn’t have to worry about the route, or trying to read maps while steering. And I no longer succumbed to “road rage”. That’s why Jean had bought me “Sexy Sally” – as I affectionately called it – for my birthday. On the few occasions we had traveled together since this event some weeks ago, Jean was relieved I didn’t need directions. Lately, she became anxious each time she climbed into the car. She dreaded my outbursts if we got lost. Surely I wasn’t that bad? A typical banter would go something like: “For Heaven’s sake woman, look at the damn map!” “I am looking at the ‘damn map’, and it says turn left.” “But we’re going south, you’ve got the map upside
down, so it’s a right turn, you mouse-brain!” Why was it so difficult? Are all women hopeless at mapreading? Is this another of their peculiarities? I really hate getting lost: driving for miles before finding a gate to turn around in is infuriating, wasting time and petrol. Of course, I always blamed Jean’s map-reading. Admittedly, it wasn’t always her fault. So I was delighted when she gave me this surprisingly thoughtful gift, which would benefit both of us. Probably save a future divorce, even. I attached the holder to the windscreen, plugged the cord in the cigarette lighter and started the engine to charge the battery. I tapped the Sat-Nav screen. Hey Presto! All at once the device had found where I was, with the aid of three, four, five satellites! Amazing! Present position would be “Home”: I tapped the little house icon. Then I input “HQ”, my Head Office in Hereford. It asked if I wanted the fastest or shortest route, worked through a few hundred roads, then presented me with a map showing the
route. Clever stuff! My father would have loved this gadget when he was a salesman in the Company; some customers lived out in the wilds. Then I tried the various voices. I didn’t bother with the men, but had a choice of women. I chose the sexysounding Sally. Anyway, it was Jean’s second name. I could pretend she was now an ace navigator, even if she wasn’t there. It was brilliant! How did I ever manage before? I did, but at a slower pace. Even over the past few weeks, my returns had escalated – an unexpected but pleasant advantage. Today I was particularly relieved that just tapping “Home” on the screen would direct me there. I’d been to visit a new customer who lived in a remote part of mid-Wales. Sexy Sally had taken me straight there. I say ‘straight’, but I drove along the curviest and most obscure roads ever laid, which had unpronounceable names, mostly without any vowels at all. Heaven knows where I’d been, but I trusted Sally to get me home early evening. That
Sat-Nav Sally by Ruthie Lockyer
o’ Clock News, never mind an early evening. The rain was stronger now and the trees bent with the wind. Thank goodness for cars with efficient heaters. “In 300 yards, turn right,” said Sally. Did her voice sound harsher than usual? Good, I’m reaching the end of this road, maybe now I’ll emerge on to an A-road.
At a crossroads I was instructed to “Give Way” and turn right. As I was doing so, Sally chimed in again: “Turn Right!” ‘Keep your hair on, Sally,’ I thought, ‘My! She’s getting bossy.’ This road was only slightly wider than the one I had come down, and certainly no more user-friendly. Wide hedges on each side blocked any chance
would be good on this cold, wintry night. “Thank you, Mr. Croom,” said my customer as he saw me to the door. “I’ll expect you again in three months’.” “Good. Any trouble, give me a call – here’s my card.” I pulled my coat around me as I walked to my car in the late afternoon breeze. The sun was just dropping below the tree-line and evenings were setting in fast. I slung my briefcase on the passenger seat and fell into mine behind the wheel. After pencilling in the next meeting with Mr. Billy Williams, I tapped “Home” on Sexy Sally and swung out of his farmyard. “Turn left,” instructed Sally. ‘Okay, I know that much,’ I thought. It was just beginning to spit with rain, I was glad to be leaving before the ground turned to mud. A black cloud appeared in front of me as I turned into the lane. I hoped I would be out of Wales before this turned nasty, but I’d better step on it. On the radio the late Gene Pitney was singing: A Town without Pity. “At the end of the road, turn right,” Sally said again. The screen showed that the ‘end of the road’ was still 1.3 miles away. Probably 1.3 miles of this single track, though I didn’t remember it was as far. Five minutes later, I still had 0.9 miles to go. At this rate I wouldn’t be home for the Ten
Sat-Nav Sally by Ruthie Lockyer were so many of these I hardly made the speedometer reach
brain as I pictured Janet Leigh driving through similar weather.
bearings from such a position. The wind was obviously stronger now, leaves and twigs were cartwheeling across the road. I wanted to get free from the trees, which appeared to be bending more than was healthy. As I continued, the trees overhead got thicker until they completely obliterated the sky. The road here was quite dry due to this Cathedral-like ceiling and I could put my foot down, though braking heavily approaching bends. There
35mph. Thankfully, with Sally I had a good idea of what to expect as the road ahead twisted and turned on the screen. I switched off the radio, now playing The Long and Winding Road, apt but annoying rather than enjoyable. Then all of a sudden I was out of this ‘forest’ and in a valley. The rain had worsened and was lashing at the windscreen. The theme music to Alfred Hitchcock’s film “ Psycho ran through my
I didn’t recognize this place at all. This was not the way I had come! Night was falling fast now. I put on my headlights, more to let other road-users know I was here rather than to help me see any better. I hoped other drivers coming towards me might do the same. I pulled over to change Sally’s preferences to dim the screen: I tapped “Night Vision”. The colours changed from bright yellows, browns and greens to dark and pale
of an overview of the countryside, even if I could get my
Sat-Nav Sally by Ruthie Lockyer blues. Less hard on the eyes. Looking around me, I couldn’t see any signs of habitation, not even sheep. “Continue ahead!” ordered Sexy Sally. What? I was stationary! This was weird! There was nowhere else to go but ahead, so I set off again. Why did I call her ‘Sexy Sally’? She sounded more like a matron. Concentrating on the watery road ahead, I jumped when suddenly Sally said, “In 200 yards, TURN LEFT.” I’m sure she shouted this last instruction. Where was she taking me? I seemed to be going further into Wales, not across the border into Herefordshire. I reached the T-junction. “TURN LEFT!” Sally definitely shouted. I swear I heard a faint laugh too. I turned left, the right turn would have taken me to a dead end in 50 yards. I was now on a tarmacked road. A stream crossed the road ahead and was flowing fast – if the rain continued, this would be an impassable river. I changed into second gear and crossed steadily, sending water cascading as if on a log flume. Now I was going uphill on the other side of the valley. This couldn’t be right! The tiny compass on Sally’s screen showed northeast. Shouldn’t I be going south-west? I thought of Jean at home preparing a meal and I longed to be changed into a Issue 16
tracksuit, having a post-meal beer by the fire. Yes, that was odd this morning: I couldn’t find Sexy Sally. I was pretty irritated with Jean when I found it in the kitchen. I know I didn’t put it there. Just plain odd! There was no reason for her to mess with it. I continued up the hill, passing large oaks and sycamore silhouettes swaying in the wind. This was the lee side of the mountain. I dreaded to think what the weather would be like on the other side. But there was no turning back now. “KEEP GOING.” Who said that? Can’t be Sally. That isn’t one of Sally’s programmed phrases…she only tells me when to turn off or what to do at roundabouts. But there’s no one else here...and no sign of life outside. And there’s that laugh again, clearer this time. Strangely it sounded a bit like Jean’s voice. My heart was beating fast. Along with the splashing of water beneath my wheels I could now hear the rhythmic squishing of blood going through my ears. Rivers of mud were flowing on each side of the road. I drove along the central highest point. There were no other vehicles as there were no lights anywhere. The rain was intense. I changed the windscreen wipers to double speed.
Bang! Bang! they went, hitting the sides of the windscreen in time with my heartbeat. “KEEP GOING!” said Sally needlessly, but Hell, she did sound frighteningly like Jean. The view ahead was black except for the road lit by my headlamps. Useful to have Sally’s screen to show me what was further ahead. I glanced at Sally. That was funny. The only thing on the screen was the blue road. And it was going straight ahead into blackness…in 30 yards. Before I knew what was happening, the car tipped forward. Instinctively I gripped the steering wheel. I slammed on the brake, but it was useless. I caught my breath and looked down into blackness. My ribs hit the steering wheel. I toppled upside down and round again. A sharp point of my briefcase hit my brow. I gripped the seat belt as I spun round and round. I fell against the wheel. Then I was hanging from the roof. Then I was thrown back into the seat and round again. My weight changed every part-second. JEAN, HELP ME! Sally had deserted me. I wish Jean had been here with a map. Suddenly I saw the ground rushing towards me. The last thing I heard was Sally, or was it Jean? “HA! HA! YOU HAVE REACHED YOUR DESTINATION!”
Famous for Fifteen Chapters by Ruth H Russell How non-celebrity memoirs became a publishing phenomenon emoir today is big business. Once the preserve of actors and politicians, it has become another way for the non-famous to make their mark, and a lucky few have ironically become household names in the process. Sometimes referred to as ‘nobody’ memoirs, not all of these works are destined to be published, with some authors writing just as a way of preserving their memories. But the bestseller lists both in the US and the UK show that non-celebrity memoirs sell in their millions. The New York Times non-fiction paperback bestseller list currently boasts five such titles, while the corresponding Sunday Times list has two. As these figures suggest, the memoir industry in the US is particularly strong. The genre of the ‘nobody’ memoir is generally acknowledged to have been popularised in the 1990s, although there were success stories earlier than this, notably Frank Conroy’s Stop-Time in 1967, and Tobias Wolf’s This Boy’s Life in 1989. In 1995 Mary Karr’s The Liar’s
Club, chronicling her chaotic Texas childhood amid poverty, alcoholism and violence, became a literary sensation, spending over a year on the bestseller lists. While critics derisively coined the phrase ‘misery lit’, the genre appeared unstoppable, with Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes, about his impoverished childhood in Ireland, becoming a worldwide hit the following year, leading to the successful film of the same name. The phenomenal sales of these and other titles made publishers take notice and actively search for more memoirs that might hit the big time. This led to a proliferation of titles, and for some to dismiss it as a publishing fad. But memoir refused to die; in the US sales for the genre jumped from $170 million in 1999 to nearly $300 million today, according to the Bowker Industry Report. Many believe that the US is the undisputed home of the memoir because, as national stereotypes would have us believe, Americans love to talk about themselves. While this is a view you could come away with after watching Oprah or
the Tyra Banks show, where members of the public divulge horrifying personal stories to a studio audience ravenous for more details, things are rarely that simple. Another explanation for the public appetite for memoir is that over the last few decades, topics that were once unmentionable have come into the open, making it more acceptable for us to talk about certain issues. Even as recently as the 1960s it would have been unusual to hear people discuss child abuse, racism, homophobia or domestic violence, but now they are often the themes of memoirs and talk shows. This new frankness has encouraged more and more people to share their stories, knowing that they won’t be judged or shamed by the revelations. For the most part, we read memoir for the same reasons we read fiction – a great story, an absorbing narrative, and compelling or sympathetic characters. The best memoirs offer up some truths about the human experience, whether it’s the fact that families can triumph over poverty, illness and
Famous for Fifteen Chapters by Ruth H Russell
suffered. It has been suggested that memoirs act as a form of group therapy - by sharing stories we discover we are not alone in our dysfunction, and that a happy ending is possible. If you ask a voracious consumer of memoirs what attracts them to the genre, they would probably cite ‘honesty and truth’. The fact that these stories are real gives them an appeal that fiction lacks. A memoir seems more valuable because the events actually happened; someone went through the experience and became a better person because of it. This goes some way towards explaining why people get so irate when memoirs are revealed to be fake, or even just exaggerated. On Amazon, those who rate
Running with Scissors unfavourably almost all have comments about its truthfulness: ‘I don't believe it. Everything about this family is so outrageous, it could not possibly be as bad as Burroughs makes out,’ or, ‘I've heard worse stories but this book simply did not ring true.’ Similarly, when James Frey was forced to admit that A Million Little Pieces was fictionalised, there was a huge outcry, with Oprah Winfrey herself, who chose the book for her highly influential book club, commenting on how ‘duped’ she felt. What wasn’t so widely reported was that Frey initially tried to sell an earlier version of the manuscript as fiction but couldn’t. Memoir, it seemed, had become an easier sell for publishers. It isn’t hard to see why.
divorce, that a spouse’s death doesn’t mean life is over, or simply that being a child can be a magical time. Some are inspirational, like Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran, the story of how the author and her female students studied Western literature in secret, as the government had banned the books they read. Others are riotously entertaining, despite dark subject matter, such as Augusten Burroughs’ Running with Scissors, in which the author describes how his mentally unstable mother sends him to live with an equally disturbed physiatrist and his family. Some simply recall relatively happy times such as Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress, where Susan Jane Gilman humorously recounts her childhood and adolescence in a collection of memoir stories. Another theory about the popularity of memoir is its therapeutic function. Almost universally, these works demonstrate triumph over adversity. Such books offer the message that people can survive almost anything, whether it’s cancer, a rotten childhood, or simply becoming an adult. A good memoir can make us uncomfortable about the questionable things we ourselves may have done. Reading about an author’s misdeeds or misfortunes can reassure us that we’re not the only person to have acted badly or to have
Famous for Fifteen Chapters by Ruth H Russell Public appetite for personal stories has continued to grow, something that’s been reflected in the rise of reality TV. Watching ordinary people in shows such as Big Brother or American Idol has struck a chord with viewers all over the world. Crucially, another thing reality TV and memoir have in common is lower costs. Just as reality TV shows don’t need to pay for big names, publishers can sign up unknown memoirists at a fraction of the cost of well-known authors. When you consider that Sarah Palin was paid an advance of $1.25 million for Going Rogue, it’s no surprise that publishers are willing to take a chance on an unknown writer becoming the next Jeannette Walls, whose memoir The Glass Castle sold two million copies and earned her over two years on the bestseller lists. Another plus for publishers is that, compared to fiction, memoir has the edge when it comes to publicity. A first time memoirist may be able to get bookings for TV and radio shows on the strength of their personal story, especially if it is sensational. In contrast, a novelist promoting a fictional tale would be unlikely to attract the same interest. Memoir is appealing to unpublished writers for these same reasons; recently it has been easier to sell a memoir than a work of fiction because
of its popularity. Another attractive feature is that memoirs are often sold on a proposal rather than a finished manuscript, like other non-fiction books. A proposal is a document that typically contains a detailed overview, chapter summaries, a sample chapter, and information on how the author will promote the book. By contrast, novels are sold once they are completed. The enthusiasm for memoir among aspiring writers is reflected in the number of classes available. In New York City alone there are at least five writing schools offering such courses. And post-graduate creative writing programs, such as the MFAs offered by Colombia University or Hunter College, increasingly have a creative non-fiction option. But apart from the commercial benefits, what makes writers want to bare all for the public, rather than fictionalise their story? Part of it is undoubtedly that writing about a painful or troubling time can help to make sense of it, but still, many of us would be uncomfortable sharing our darkest secrets with the world. Melissa Febos, author of the upcoming memoir Whip Smart, an account of the four years she spent working as a professional dominatrix in Manhattan comments, ‘Partly, I wrote my story as a memoir because I thought it
could be more useful if readers knew that it really happened. I was writing about an essentially lonely experience, and wanted the reader who shared that experience to be confident that she was relating to a real person, not a fictitious one. I was also writing my own story in order to more fully understand it (at the risk of sounding self-indulgent), and I thought it important to confine myself to what actually happened. I didn't want to offer myself the escape of fictionalisation.’ Readers certainly respond to this kind of honesty. Writing about other players in the story can pose a different set of problems though. Skirt over the facts for fear of hurting someone and readers will notice. Tell the unpalatable truth and people may get hurt. One solution is changing names. Another option is creating composite characters, where several people are distilled into one, or their characteristics are changed to render them unrecognizable. If you flick to the front of many memoirs, you’ll see disclaimers such as, ‘Dialogue has been reconstructed, the names and personal characteristics of individuals have been changed, and some characters are composites. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental’. While some people cite this as proof that all memoirs are fic-
Famous for Fifteen Chapters by Ruth H Russell tion under another name, it has become common practice as more works result in lawsuits. If the essential story is unchanged by these manoeuvres, there seems little harm in protecting people who may not want to be written about. Still, people respect memoirists who publish and be damned. Sean Wilsey, in his 2005 memoir Oh the Glory of it All says of his step mother, ‘when I first saw Sweet Smell of Success, a movie that depicts a stylised evil so heartless, smooth-talking, and extreme that it seems impossible, I was filled with
amazed recognition,’ all while using her real name. The ‘nobody’ memoir boom continues today. Not only that, it’s evolving and spawning new sub-genres, such as graphic memoirs like The Imposter’s Daughter by Laurie Sandell, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, and Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman (the only graphic novel to have won the Pulitzer prize). Meanwhile, works about such diverse topics as adoption, weight loss, spiritual fulfilment and quitting smoking are still registering healthy sales. However, there
are fears of oversaturation; some literary agents have recently said that they are drowning in inquiries from memoir writers, and that not all have a unique or well-written story to tell. But even if we do see a drop in the numbers of memoirs published, as long as readers remain curious about people’s lives, and talented authors are brave enough to entertain and enlighten us with their experiences, the genre seems strong enough to survive.
Now write your own memoir! Online articles: How to Write Memoirs - BBC article http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/arts/features/howtowrite/memoirs.shtml How to Write Memoir & Biographies - The Guardian (various articles) http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/2008/sep/24/howtowrite/memoirandbiographies How-to Guides available on Amazon:
How to Write Your Own Life Story by Lois Daniel
The Power of Memoir - How to Write Your Healing Story - Linda Joy Myers
Jubilee by Ruth H Russell Looking back on an alternative Jubilee... n 1977, when I was eight, the Queen of England decided it would be awfully nice if her loyal subjects threw her a huge and lavish party to celebrate twenty-five years on the throne – her silver Jubilee. All over Britain people were organizing elaborate street parties, village fetes, parades, and trips to London to see her majesty and join in the festivities. Even the people of Wales, where my family lived, were caught up in the enthusiasm, despite their ancestors having been conquered by English royalty centuries before. Everyone was looking forward to a great day of celebration. Everyone apart from my family, that is. As a staunch anti-royalist, my father had always forbidden all mention of that “bloody over-privileged bitch.” As he was fond of telling us, generations of untainted Celtic blood flowed through his veins and, anyway, that “parasite” was the Queen of England, not Wales. These views were repeated often, not least because when the TV programs ended each night a
mournful rendering of the English national anthem would play as the picture faded to black. Even now, whenever I hear ‘God Save the Queen I half expect it to be drowned out by a furious barrage of expletives. It wasn’t that Dad was the only person to resent the monarchy, it’s just that he had a tendency to take a position and stick to it, regardless of the consequences. Over the years this had expressed itself in many ways. Buying a Moskvich car to show solidarity with those plucky communists, for example, a Russian vehicle so unreliable he always travelled with jump leads and a tow rope; or in his determination to acquaint his kids with the “real Wales,” which often involved driving us to the most deprived and bleak regions, where we would cower in the back seat trying to evade the suspicious stares of the locals. Occasionally our neighbour, Mr Wynn, would forget about Dad’s views and ask, “Will I see you at my Jubilee party then, Terry?” Mum would usually usher us swiftly away but a few random phrases
would drift over, like “bloodsucker,” or “that’s what’s wrong with this bloody country,” from Dad in a forceful tone, followed by the milder, cheerful voice of Mr Wynn with, “come on now,” and “nice for the kiddies.” Dad would come in looking flushed and agitated, the vein on his forehead throbbing alarmingly. He seemed strangely satisfied, though, as if he’d just won a bout of wrestling. I don’t know what my mildmannered mother made of it all, coming as she did from a former British colony. In Malta as a child she had once been chosen to present a bouquet to Princess Margaret, something her less photogenic sisters had always resented. Now she was a double agent – cheerful organiser of Jubilee parties by day while Dad was in work, half hearted anti-royalist by night to keep the peace. She’d even secretly baked a union jack cake for Mr Wynn’s party. Whenever she tried to persuade Dad to reconsider his plans for the Jubilee, he would stiffen, like the family cat when it anticipated a bath or some similar indignity.
Jubilee by Ruth H Russell “I’m not going to help celebrate the fact that we’re subjects of some evil old woman, and neither are my kids,” he would state, before returning to reading his paper.
sions of an angry lion mauling my brother and sister, dragging them off into the undergrowth never to be seen again. My long-held dream of becoming an only child would finally be realised and I could console myself with three times as many toys to play with. Dad refused to give a clue. He would just smile enigmatically and say, “You’ll see.” Needless to say, the mystery drove us into a frenzy of excitement. When the day arrived the sky was overcast, threatening a storm. Dad was overjoyed; there was every chance the Queen was going to get wet. After what seemed like hours of preparation, we clambered into the back seat of the car and set out. As Dad drove off, muttering about what a waste of public money the Jubilee
“We could leave them next door and go and have a drink on our own,” Mum would counter. “Just think, an afternoon to ourselves.” But Dad, with his unerring instinct for making life harder than it had to be, would remain stony and unyielding, saying, “It’s bad enough we have to pay to give the richest person in the country a day out without having to watch a bunch of fools celebrate it.” His feelings vented, he would hurl down his newspaper and stalk out to the garden. Standing there, wreathed in smoke from the Peter Stuyvesant cigarettes he was addicted to, I would sometimes wonder if his anger might make him spontaneously combust. I wasn’t upset about missing the festivities. Mr Wynn had given his word that he would save me some cake, and, more importantly, Dad had promised us something far, far more exciting than going to a stupid old party and wearing a union jack hat. He refused to divulge exactly what it was, no matter how hard we pressed him for details. All week at breakfast we would make extravagant guesses.
“Wookey Hole?” my brother Pete would yell, referring to a local attraction that promised huge witch-infested caves, life-sized plastic dinosaurs and a large funfair. At six years old, Pete was the most excited of us all; he only had a hazy idea what the Jubilee was, and as the fattest girl in his class had sat on him during his school’s Jubilee fair, he was happy to avoid any more celebrations. “Bristol Zoo?” my sister Sarah would suggest, without much hope. Being ten, she was old enough to know that anything with a high entrance fee was pretty much out of the question. I had my heart set on a trip to Longleat, a stately home about 50 miles away where wild animals roamed freely through the grounds. I had vi-
Jubilee by Ruth H Russell
them to stop and run back to the car. After soothing Pete with promises of ice cream we all trooped gloomily into the museum. I would like to say that at this point I sulked and screamed and demanded to go back and see the clowns. Unfortunately I wasn’t at all rebellious as a young child, and would do almost anything to
rein. At first he tried to interest us in the history of our birthplace, but one by one Sarah and Pete managed to slip away, leaving just me, pretending I was listening. My mind had wandered to a favourite daydream about my toys coming to life and forming a great army against my sister, until Dad’s voice jolted me out of it, saying,
gain my volatile father’s approval. Pretending to shoot the Queen or Prince Phillip or making Hitler salutes at Prince Charles when any of them came on TV had long been a winning tactic, so I had sycophantically pretended to go along with Dad’s anti-royalist stance. But even a little suckup like me wasn’t sure the museum was a good idea. Surprisingly, the day was rather enjoyable. We had the whole place virtually to ourselves, allowing my father full
“Are you listening to me? You know, if Owain Glyndŵr, the last Welsh Prince of Wales – not like that bloody usurper we’ve got today mind you – hadn’t been defeated in 1409, we’d be an independent country and none of this nonsense would be going on.” I nodded gravely, glancing over at Pete, who was giggling over an artist’s impression of a Welsh caveman who looked uncannily like our Auntie Angela. Thankfully Mum came over at that point to continue bickering
was, we stared excitedly at the party preparations in our neighbourhood - little rows of flags waving gaily in the wind, women setting platters of sandwiches out on long tables, the bowls of jelly, trifles, the plates of cupcakes, mostly with red, white or blue frosting. Rounding a corner we saw a makeshift stage being set up, and people in clown costumes putting on multi-coloured wigs, red noses and bulbous overlong shoes. Pete burst into tears, while Sarah and I just stared miserably out the window. The torture of watching elaborate preparations for what was obviously going to be the best day ever ended when we turned onto the motorway. In about twenty minutes Dad, sounding rather strained, announced that we had arrived, as we pulled up outside a striking white building with ornate columns and wide steps. With mounting dread I read the sign – Museum of Wales, Cardiff. We waited in the car while my parents got out and had an animated conversation on the steps. I couldn’t hear them but Mum jabbed at the air repeatedly with a forefinger, and, uncharacteristically, seemed to have an awful lot to say. Dad was strangely quiet but threw his hands out a lot, palms upwards, eventually thrusting them into his pockets. Finally, the onset of rain forced
Jubilee by Ruth H Russell with Dad, allowing me to escape. At a safe distance from our parents, Sarah, Pete and I were able to take off our shoes and skid around corners on the marble floors, move the ropes away from the exhibits, even climb on the antique furniture, until an ancient curator hobbled over and furiously admonished us. Dad eventually found another anti-royalist making his own protest and they spent a profitable hour bad-mouthing the royal family and discussing the gullibility of the Welsh, the conversation punctuated by sad shakes of the head and grave sighs. Mum slipped away to the museum shop where the parade in London was being shown on TV. By mid-afternoon we had exhausted the museum and Dad decided to take us to a café for an unexpected treat – a glass of fizzy pop and a bacon sandwich. Pete even got his ice cream. After the rain had cleared up, we rounded off the day with a trip to a nearby park, which was surprisingly free of anything Jubilee related. It too was fairly empty so we were able to linger on the swings, the slide and the merry-go-round, which we spun to dizzying speeds that made us stagger around pleasurably for several minutes afterwards, while my parents Issue 16
smoked on a nearby bench, their earlier disagreement forgotten. Driving back through the quiet streets that evening, we could see the tattered remains of union jack bunting in the gutters, mingling with bread crusts, plastic cups and other celebration debris. Mr Wynn was in his garden, looking dazed as he retrieved litter from his once pristine lawn. That night I lay in bed reflecting that, although no lions had materialised to rid me of my annoying siblings, it had still been a pretty good day. Even so, I’ve always wondered if I missed out on something significant, not to mention all the cake. When I voiced this to my husband he looked astonished before recounting his own experience. His mother took him to a street party where he knew no-one because his neighbourhood consisted almost exclusively of old people. This was followed by a show put on by the local church. As he was shovelling jelly and ice cream into his mouth and watching his next door neighbour, Mr Jenkins, dressed in his wife’s frock and dancing the can-can with a group of similarly attired local men, he got something stuck in his throat and washed it down with the only thing he could find – a half empty, warm can of beer. His last memory of the
day was of lying on the bathroom floor, feeling decidedly ill and looking up at his mum’s legs as she angrily lectured him about how alcohol was for grown-ups, not for ten-year olds, while the drunken strains of ‘God Save the Queen’ floated in through the open window. Twenty-five years later the chance to re-live the whole experience arose when the Queen was celebrating her golden (50 year) Jubilee. My husband, scarred by his experiences the last time round, flatly refused to have anything to do with it. My mother, now that Dad was no longer around to disapprove, asked if she could stay with us in London to attend some of the events which were being staged, and which promised to be even more lavish than those of 1977. “We could go to Buckingham Palace for the classical music concert, see the procession from St. Paul’s and then watch the fireworks in the evening, if it’s OK with you of course,” she said excitedly over the phone. With a depth of feeling I didn’t know I possessed, a reply formed before I’d even thought much about the request, “What, and validate that over-privileged bitch? I don’t think so.”
How Jagdesh became George and other reflections... ake up, man! Sheena has to get back to the babies.” George squinted up at his wife looming over him. She surveyed his curled body under the mountainous duvet, her left eyebrow cocked in disapproval. If he ignored her for a moment, she would start pounding the bed until its airy cover no longer protected him from her insistent blows. “Ok, Ok, give me a minute woman.” He felt for his reading glasses, knocking a half-eaten bowl of aloo tikkis to the floor. He peeled a cold potato patty from the ball of his foot and rocked his body forward and up from the bed, his long legs heavy and hanging like a pendulum from his round frame. He peered, squinting, over his thick, half moon lenses. 2.45am. As his head cleared he recognised the familiar thud of the bass vibrating from the dance club down the street. The DJ’s muffled war cries punctuated the early morning air and distant shrieks of rap-
ture exploded in response, rising above the tireless beat. “Hurry up George, the twins are waking and Rishi is working the late shift tonight.” His name hadn’t always been George. He and his brothers had arrived at their first job in London with the enthusiasm of school boys kitting up for gym class. They jostled and elbowed each other, clambering for position in front of the clocking-on machine. The clock’s hand ticked towards 12 and they at last stood still, ready to punch their time cards exactly on the hour. The other workers hung back behind them, murmuring amongst themselves and watching curiously. They were divided into groups by task and the foreman asked each of them to identify themselves. “Jagdesh, sir. My name is Jagdesh. “Your name’s what? “ “Jag – “ “Everyone, this is George.” Dressed in the same red flannelette shirt he’d worn that afternoon, George shuffled down the stairs, the cold seep-
BEST PROSE ing through the threadbare carpet. His wife already stood in the entrance to the shop below him. Neon yellow light flooded the shop from the bus depot outside and enveloped her like an aura, giving her skin a strange, sickly tint. She cradled one of his daughter’s twins, the child clawed desperately at her blouse and lurched at George’s nose as he paused to kiss his grandson on the forehead. “There you are, Papa!” His daughter pecked him on the cheek and squeezed past him, her arms outstretched to receive her son. Her son looked at her longingly and wriggled to break free from his grandmother’s embrace. “Morning, Sheena. Take much last night?” “Just the regulars. I sold a couple of bottles of booze.” She fumbled with the buttons of her blouse, cooing at the fussing child. The baby latched on to her breast and his writhing body relaxed in her arms. “I need to get home and put the babies down before Rishi finishes his shift. Little
George by Jennifer Marshall Aditi is still asleep and I want to get out of here before those hooligans are let loose.” The floodgates opened every night at 3am, releasing waves of partygoers into the street. The revelers trickled into the store, their sweaty, jittery bodies shivering, still suspended in chemical dreams. One by one their sense of perception would alter and their eyes, as wide as saucers, adjust from the burning lights of the club to the orange glow of the city. They hopped from one foot to the other, some blowing into their hands, others lighting up a fag and motioning for cruising mini-cabs to pull over to the curb. “Thanks for coming in. It’s the last time, I promise. Your brother will be in next week, his last exam is tomorrow.” “I know, Rishi spent all morning going through his notes with him. I suppose we’ll hear how he went soon
enough. Good night, Papa.” His daughter and wife climbed up the stairs together, their heads bobbing in agreement over some secret scandal. George took his post behind the counter. He sat hunched on an old bar stool he’d discovered one morning lying in a puddle of mud and shattered glass inside the shop. George’s feet rested on its lower rung, his legs bent at the knees and tucked beneath him. He stared out of the corner shop window, the flourescent light of the bus depot across the road buzzed and twitched like a vein pulsing through the street. A double decker bus sped through the waiting area, its passengers’ faces pressed against the glass like zombies, each expressionless, consumed by its own curious mission at an unearthly hour. The bus’ upper deck rocked precariously to
one side as it turned the corner and disappeared out of sight. Fresh posters had been slapped amongst the torn remains of forgotten gigs dressing the grey brick wall. One poster stood out from the rest, its bold, black type splashed across a deep, orange sunset. “Enchanted Evenings – learn to free your subconscious” George sighed, remembering the swami yogi around the corner from his flat in Delhi. The old man’s brittle, white beard touched the ground where he sat cross-legged and draped in a faded, tangerine robe. George’s wife had visited him to have her fortune told and he had predicted the birth of their only son that same year, the year they had watched from the safe house high on the hill as the monsoon rains washed away their home. That year they had left India to join George’s aunt and start a new life. She had paid to bring them over and soon after their arrival, they moved into her house to look after her in her old age. George’s wife had spent 10 years of her life upstairs nursing his Aunt and, in the early days, schooling their children. His aunt had long since passed away. After her death, George had converted the shop out of an abandoned laundrette on the street level. A dark figure hovered outside the shop window. The 37
George by Jennifer Marshall long-haired woman approached the shop window timidly, searching the mosaic of post-it notes taped to it – cleaners and nannies wanted, flats for rent. It was the Polish woman. She often came into the shop to buy a pint of milk or loaf of bread, stopping midroute to the bus depot in the early hours of the morning. Recognising George, the woman gave him a half-smile, then sheepishly tore a phone number from one of the pages stuck to the window and hurried across the road, glancing at her watch and checking for the bus. “She’ll be waiting a while for the next one”, George thought. Footsteps echoed down the street accompanied by muffled girls’ voices alternately breaking into excited chatter and hushed giggles. As the voices grew louder, the doorbell tinkled and a young man entered the store. He wore a pilled, black woolen beanie and a fitted leather jacket. His hands were wedged inside each of the jacket pockets and he walked with his shoulders hunched and collar up. He hovered for a while amongst the rows of baked beans and sacks of rice, sheltering from the cold outside, and then approached the counter with a nonchalant air. “I’ll just take these”, the
stranger mumbled, tossing a bag of crisps on the counter and grabbing a handful of sweets, knocking over the ripped cardboard sign, “25p for 5”. George carefully re-positioned the sign so it stood upright. As George gave the young man his change, he noticed the group of girls loitering outside the store. Two of them leant casually against the glass window while the third pressed her mobile phone against the glass door, taking snapshots of the customer. The young man turned and glanced nervously out of the window and the girls bustled each other away from the window, chattering excitedly about their sighting. Perhaps he was a soap star or member of a boy band. George glanced over his shoulder at the magazine rack at the back of the shop and strained to make out the faces on the covers while the young man reached for his change. “No! Please! Please just take it all!” George felt a piercing heat shoot through his gut then the cool of leather against his cheek, the scent of the man’s jacket embraced him like an old friend. He grasped the counter, boiled sweets and lighters bouncing and scattering over the floor, then collapsed, his arms wrapped around his waist and hands gripping his shirt that clung,
warm and wet, to his torso. Through his blurred vision he could see blood pooling at his side and a handful of notes that had fallen from the till. Sheena and his wife had left with the babies. Thank Goodness. Would he die here, alone? “Not like this”, he thought. Shadows slipped in and out of George’s sight. A large, red ink blot crept across his vision and his aunt appeared against it, dressed in a white sari, its folds caught in a whirlwind, circling and entrapping her in swathes of cloth. The red ink rose in a wave and enveloped the cocoon, sucking her back into the world that awaited George, a world existing in-between reality and the realm of the soul where his son and daughter would visit him in their dreams. George felt swathes of the soft cotton sari brush his cheek. A pair of small hands cupped George’s face and a soft voice spoke to him calmly. “It’s me. It’s Ola from outside.” George struggled to open his eyes and focus on the face peering over him. He sensed the shallow, sweet breath of a young woman. “You missed the bus,” George replied, his temple reverberating with the sound of his voice. “Yes. Please don’t worry, help is coming.”
A rediscovered old photograph evokes a potent memory...
it was so important at the time. Looking at the photo, feelings flood back, the hurt, the loss I felt when you were suddenly wrenched away from me, it was probably not long after the photo was taken. I can remember what day that was and what month. It was after a long summer. Our meetings were few, just three a week at a local youth club and a Sunday afternoon bus ride to meet you. That was when the photo was taken, on a Sunday, we always went walking because we had no money, I remember you felt bad about that, you said you would put it right and get me something nice. I wish you hadn’t be-
cause then you wouldn’t have gone away. The last time I saw you, you were standing in the court, you didn’t realise I was there until you suddenly looked up; you stared at me then broke down and cried. I only had the memory of your face in the photo, happy and smiling. I never saw you again, you were gone too long but not from my memory. The months after you were taken away I imagined I could catch the smell of you; perhaps it was on that green coat. I kept it for a long time. You broke my heart. You didn’t mean to, so I forgive you for that.
he photo fell out of the battered box where it had lain for years. Two young people stared back. I was very young, still a child really, at that time. After that photo was taken I became a naive young girl with a broken heart. I sat on that style with you, me wearing that ridiculous green coat, I think it was green, the photo was black and white, yes it was green with box pleats and a scarf that kept getting in the way. You wore a suit with a V-neck jumper. You smiled out of the photo with your beautiful startling blue eyes, you seemed happy to be there. I looked miserable but I don’t know why, I wish I did, I have been racking my brains to remember but this part of the memory has faded. I’m sure we hadn’t had a row, we never did. I can’t tell what time of year it was, there was grass surrounding the style, it could have been frosty earlier in the day, or there could have been spring flowers hidden in the grass. Our friendship crossed the seasons so it could have been either. I wish I could remember the date,
Just Saying Rick Ewing If a corpse could talk... ou try spending forever in a landfill on Staten Island. See if it don’t make you cranky, make you feel like sounding off once in a while. These seagulls we got over here? Circling day and night, rain, shine, what have you? Squawking, pooping white paint down on you from a mile up in the sky? Then, insult to injury, you’ll have this one thinks he’s a wise-ass, thinks maybe he spots a tiny chunk of meat leftover on your right elbow, say. Down he comes, swooping like this feathered Messerschmitt, goes to pecking and poking, all you want to do with this guy is swat him away, use your left arm, not even whack the fat bugger, just get him out of the area. But you can’t, ‘cause you’re dead. And he ain’t, so he gets the elbow. The rats, I’m going to surprise you. Not so bad, I’m almost a fan, swear to God and I tell you why. Say I got an itch, it’s on my back, up under the right, no, left, clavicle. Weren’t for the rats scudding around, these little claw feet they got? I’d never get a bit of relief.
Yeah. All this backing and forthing, they scamper, nosing you, like, the claws raking, but gently…actually eases that itch. It’s the worst one I get, usually every day, I think because the fifth bullet went in just above there, maybe it’s like the itch of phantom healing or something crazy. Don’t let me get carried away. This is not about me. This is about the kid. Aurora taking up with this… Lookit. I did what I did, what happened to me is what I knew could happen, so…It ain’t the surroundings. That I can live with. The borough? Eh. Bit of a comedown. I got my start over in Ozone Park in Queens, so naturally I’ll have that attitude, you know, the clubs, the streets, the guys. Finally they burn my palms with the saint — this is going back nineteen years — from that day on I’m assigned my crew, Sonny Blue’s my boss, most of my action’s in Brooklyn. Some Jersey City stuff too, plus side things down the shore. I range wide. So, Staten Island? This is like Siberia for cops who mess up, what do you think it is for a
guy like me? Meanwhile, what I hear, the world thinks our thing is over. I keep up. It’s not like you don’t get newspapers, magazines in a dump, think about it. I got a stack thicker than two ropes of mozzarella under my hip right now. So they say we’re back where we started, just a street gang. Say more’n half the boys are away for life. Others — plenty — are in the wind for good, just vaporized.
Just Saying by Rick Ewing An impressive number dead. Yello, And the rest…hey. Nothing but rats. Two-legged. Not my little buddies. Guys who get new smiles, new hair, ranch spreads out in New Mexico, marshals doling checks. That’s what eats my lunch. Nobody likes to think they got it for nothing, nobody. Slob gets plugged on Armistice Day, what kind of sucker is he? I want to hear I’m this unnecessary casualty? The company folds, I’m the last guy in the office, over in the corner diddling the Xerox? Top it off, who gives it to me? The doob who comes to do me ain’t the famous fink who brought down half our thing. Uh-uh. The guy does me is a guy the high-profile guy did
afterward for incompetence. Oh, yeah. This is straight up. I got nothing to lose here. I get whacked by somebody who, after the fact, gets it himself for not being good enough. It’s for shame, just very embarrassing all around. Might even be funny if not for recent, uh, developments. Probably you can tell I’m doing all I can to keep control here. It’s a justice thing. All right, the latest is, and I’m saying this slow to keep the lid on…this loser’s kid, my very-best-palslash-killer’s son is making moves on my daughter. Yup. Gimme just one day and a little flesh, don’t you know I’d…man. I’m all over the place here, I see this. Tell you why: I’ve got
that day like a movie in my head. Half my head, correction. Part of it didn’t make the trip. Picture me. I’m there, early June, it’s like a little after two, I got flip-flops in one hand, the phone rings, ID says Floorboard Vic, I grab it: “Bop.”. “Hey,” I say. “Rain quit over by you?” “Like twenty minutes.” “Mmm.” “Four days, now I got yellow sun right over the house,” I say, “Franny says let’s hit the beach.” “Actually, we got an errand, weather’s clearing.” “We.” “I already been to Home Depot. For tools.”
Just Saying by Rick Ewing “Franny’s got her heart on Point Pleasant. ‘Rora’s packing, squealing. I figure to mix business, stop in on Mikey at the surf place.” “Bop. The skinny guy says we got a thing.” “Skinny guy says.” “Yeah.” “Tools for two?” “We do it right, have you back by six. You can kiss Franny goodnight by the ocean.” And that’s how it is in our life. You get the call, you have to go. And Vic, well, he caught me in the classic. Snookered me but good. Who calls, says “Let’s take a ride?” Your best friend. What are you heading out to do? Somebody else, this third party you’ll get filled in about on the way, gotta rush, the guy’s right now exactly where he’s supposed to be so you can get it done. So you keep it hushed as you’re out the door, nobody knows who you’re with, what’s your destination, when you’re coming back. Then when you don’t reappear. Who comes to the house, re-ties the knot of that little blue sweater my wife wears around her neck, offers one of those monogrammed hankies I gave him last Easter, brings waterpark tickets to the kids, his little woman I introduced him to twenty-four years ago tagging behind with steaming platters of whatever
and gravy? Floorboard Vic. Hoisting the footrest on my Dadchair in the entertainment cove. Scratching his clavicle whenever he gets the urge. Who had a week left himself but didn’t know it. Trust me on this, I know what I’m on about here. I don’t know how this works, but I know what happens and that has to be good enough. Remember I’m the guy who shuffled off without knowing how to hook up a DVD box. I’m beaming this out, that’s the way I put it, because that’s how I seem to be able to keep up with things, they just kind of come in, anytime of day, and then I know what’s up, and where, and who’s doing what why. The who in question is Vic’s boy Jimmy, who we call “Mohair” to keep the family tradition going. Vic’s dad started it when he got into our thing, he loved the Ford Model A gangster cars of the ‘30’s so he made up his own moniker. That kicked it off. He was “Flathead Pete” after the car’s engine, so yada yada, little Jimmy is “Mohair” after the upholstery they had in there. Anyway, the kid’s, what, nineteen now and he’s not leaving it alone. Has it in his head to revive the old glory, bring our life back. Heading for major trouble, got a load on about Vic getting whacked, hotheading himself straight for
disaster. Lately, when he’s not racking up felonies he’s cozying up to my Aurora, who’s seventeen and three weeks. Last Thursday they rendezvoused at this burger joint out in Paramus. I’m not having this. I’m cutting it short by beaming this out there. If you see this little lady, inky hair, long, and she’s getting tall, 5’,4” now, with coffee eyes big as a mare’s, she does this thing where she’s standing in place but her right foot she arches and dances the toes against the floor, and sometimes she’ll suck on a strand of that black hair, keeping it in her mouth...you’ll know her. Him you’ll know by the dead grey eyes looking right through you. Do what you can, huh? Me, I don’t have it too bad. I’m at the far edge of the landfill, nice view of the place, away from the truck drive. One good thing, none of the fellas I was called on, over the years to, um, dispatch, is here. That would be awkward. Neither’s Vic. He’s down in south Jersey, the Pine Barrens. Hope the squirrels eat him. If you’re ever at the Cheesequake rest-stop off the Garden State Parkway you might want to watch where you’re walking. Mostly I don’t judge. Death’s good, just slow and plenty of it. Shore should be nice about now.
Connected Humanity hums around me. I feel the energy and life, throbbing. Awareness is below, hidden like radar, electric but unmistakably present, below the coats and scarves and gloves, below the hooded eyes and blank faces, an invisible singing wire. Below the silence and unspeaking this bus is shouting. Anna Meryt
Illustration: Owen Pomery
Source of delight for what's inside to grow the outside will want to be broken the best soil has to explode for the seed to get through for the dark cry to escape light itself has to bleed eruptions can't stop at the skin as you make your own shape twenty's a breaking out time de-idolising old childhood diving blindly into ocean when it's the size of a stream you're plunging into a space that's infinite inside you hoping to land on your feet with something approaching grace there's no way to know you're right just keep those windows open that demand to be shut - selfstruggle is the source of delight RG Gregory
Someone Else Sometimes I wish I was someone else. Enter your life as someone new, Brighten your days with sun kissed dew. Sometimes I wish I was someone else. Someone you didnâ€™t know, Would have got then, new seeds to sow Sometimes I wish I was someone else. You'd see me with a different eye, I'd rewind, retake, remake, retry. Sometimes I wish I was someone else. Memories of pain would then alter, Could be human again, probably falter. Even when I wish I was someone else. Iâ€™ll love you still, till end of time, Miss you I will, in every rhyme. For just this once I wish I could be someone else. Khamir Purohit
Illustration: Owen Pomery
Peace I Desire and Time Without Clamour Peace I desire and time without clamor. I am dove of day, bird of peace and light. My steps an enigma, my heart a banner. Honor is worn like protective armor When death runs slow with mayhem and might. Peace I desire and time without clamor. Rose of illusion blighted by anger, Will rage now rule out the stars at night? My steps an enigma, my heart a banner. The tragedy of this world is now an altar Few precious dead once viewed with delight. Peace I desire and time without clamor. My words received in an ungrateful manner, An instinct of sanity I wish to ignite. My steps an enigma, my heart a banner. Life let it be a noble disclaimer, My song be heard which I know is right. Peace I desire and time without clamor, My steps an enigma, my heart a banner. Martin Ramos
Where We’re Going we rolled the windows up against the rain and my father said “I wonder what that husband of yours is doing right now” and I just looked out through the streaky glass and said nothing watching countryside slide away in varying shades of green. behind me the baby cried in his car seat tired of being strapped down for six hours straight and I wanted to cry too but grown-ups don’t do that. outside the car cornstalks unfolded under the onslaught of rain sparse trees dances in waves of rippling light and everything I thought I knew about where I was going and who I was going to be
Illustration: Owen Pomery
faded into a black spot behind us a black spot of nothing against a straight line of horizon.
Rachel Sarai’s Vineyard by Deborah Rey (Merilang Press, 2009) £12.99 ISBN: 978-0955543098 Reviewed by David Gardiner
believe this to be something special – a truly outstanding and moving work, fully worthy of literary awards – although as a small press publication it’s unlikely to attract the attention of those who decide such things. I must declare an interest in having had the great privilege of working with the author over the last year or so to help polish it up ready for publication. This is a raw and angry novel – there are no euphemisms and there is no mincing of words – nobody is spared, the unspeakable is spoken, wrongs are not forgiven. In many cases
I doubt that they could be. It tells the story of Rachel Sarai, a little girl of around 6 or 7 living with her family in occupied Holland during the closing years of World War II. When Rachel’s father is forced to go into hiding she takes over some of his duties in the Resistance, delivering messages and news-sheets and escorting those fleeing persecution to a safe house across the forest. In the course of these activities she must lie, deceive, manipulate, role-play the sweet little child, feign illness, even kill, but never ever reveal what she really knows or what she really feels. Childhood is utterly denied her. Even more appallingly her family life is a microcosm of the evil that rules in the outside world. Resented and shamelessly abused by a ‘mother’ who regrets her very existence and fails to protect her from being raped in her own bed, the young Rachel Sarai is forced to witness a bloody amateur abortion, and humiliated, belittled and loaded with guilt at every opportunity. Only the unconditional love of someone else during these years rescues her from total despair. Her weak and physically very vulnerable father is unable to do anything to control the demonic ‘woman of the house’, who finally discovers a way to manipulate the absolute evil of Hitler’s occupying army and the ideology that drives it to serve her own domestic agenda. It is a story that, right up to the Epilogue, frankly leaves the reader shocked and gasping – is there really as much evil as this in the world that we all share? Is there any hope for the human race if it is true? But after this immensely harrowing journey the novel manages to end on a life-affirming and redemptive note. After the
Review: Rachel Sarai’s Vinneyard by Deborah Rey seeming obliteration of a long bleak winter, tender new life comes to the slashed and trampled vineyard. Although this is not primarily a Holocaust novel, you could if you wished see Rachel Sarai’s story as an allegory not just of the Holocaust but of all the attempts throughout the centuries to destroy Judaism and rob the Jewish people of their roots. But those roots do not die easily. When you start to read Rachel Sarai’s Vineyard, which is something I strongly urge you to do, set aside some free hours, because it is a book that you will not easily put down before the final page. Be prepared also for a change in the way that you see your fellow men and women and the world around you. Read it in the summer, to a background of children’s voices playing in the park, when the sun is shining and high enough in the sky to drive the shadows away.
Find out more Deborah Rey, born in Amsterdam in 1938, has from the time she was a little girl worked in radio, (later) television, publicity and the theatre, as an actress, broadcaster, entertainer, scriptwriter, translator and editor in the Netherlands, Canada, and the USA. Today, retired, she finally has the time to be a full-time writer and editor. She lives at the French Atlantic coast with her husband, two dogs, and five cats. Rey is recognised by the Dutch Foundation 19401945 as a participant in the Resistance during the German occupation. Deborah Rey was editor-in-chief of the now discontinued quarterly literary magazine La Fenetre. Her second novel, a romance story entitled The Sleeping Madonna, is due for publication in the New Year. We hope to review it in our next edition. Her weblog is at: http://deborahrey.wordpress.com
South of Nowhere by Tim West
ust south of nowhere, On the road to somewhere you've been, Lies the village of Upper Stuffit, And there by the village green
If she sat on your knee you would yelp The next day it was William the Woodman Who ran into town all agog "You'll not believe who wanted some sticks... I've just met a talking hog!"
Is the Wolfâ€™s Head Inn The Landlord's name is Big Red Wulf, A man who is full of good cheer He has bright red hair and a bright red beard And he stands on a box to serve beer One day in the middle of summer As the dust motes gently played Harry the Harvester raced into town All bothered and quite dismayed He burst through the door of the Tavern And gulped down a beer double quick "You'll never believe what I have just seen." Said he as his face turned quite sick. "As I was walking home today With a large pile of hay on my back A pig asked for hay for to build him a home For he fancied a hay-built shack" "THE PIG SPOKE!!!" "Well," said Big Red, and he scratched at his beard "I don't hold with pigs that can talk" Then he took down his trusty blunderbuss And said "Anyone fancy some Pork?" The next day a new sign appeared Outside the Wolfâ€™s Head Inn It said "Pork Chops are on sale here And scratchings made from Pig's Skin"
Big Red nodded "It's a shame, When animals step out of line, Now, if they were not meant to be eat Then they would not taste quite so fine." He sighed and sadly took up his gun And marched out into the woods "When I return," he said to his daughter "We can put up the price on the goods" Big Red was missing for two days His daughter felt quite forsaken But when he strode back into town He quite literally brought home the bacon Little Red made bacon sandwiches All streaky and crispy and fine She served them with salad and pickled eggs And the finest of vintage wine. It was George of the builder's merchant Who arrived at the Inn out of sorts "I never believed," he said with a groan. "The stories of pigs that could talk... "But a pig in jeans and a t-shirt Strode into the yard just today He ordered up bricks and plaster And girders and timber and nails "He ordered up fixtures and fittings And sand and cement by the yard And paper and paint and windows and doors All on his own Credit Card."
Well that IS what they're made of! Big Red did such a roaring trade He asked his daughter to help Little Red was a girl of such stature 50
"A Pig with grand designs, eh?" Big Red said with a grin "Now that's what I call a challenge. Now where shall I begin?"
Big Red took down his blunderbuss And set off down the road But he came back after a while Just, he said, to reload Big Red became obsessed Every day just before dawn He would march down the road to the woods Just to return all forlorn Then one day an idea came to him He thought of a way to get in He thought of a way to blow down the house By the hairs on his chinny chin .... You know the rest... He sent off to a mail order company
For dynamite and T.N.T And barrels of black powder (Buy two and get one free) The Van arrived on the morrow Rolled up in the dead of night Big Wulf peered into the trailer And said "Somebody get me a light" Big Wulf rubbed his hands in glee His cruel plan to hatch In his rush to look upon his explosives He eagerly struck a match BANG Now Little Red runs the Wolfâ€™s Head Inn In the village of Upper Stuffit She doesn't sell bacon or pork anymore But somehow she makes a profit
What a difference a moustache makes... My father handed it over on his deathbed, the most valuable thing he’d ever owned. His precious moustache. We could only ever afford one moustache in our house. My brother and I would watch the other kids trooping off to school, their moustaches billowing out behind them in the breeze, and we’d long for moustaches of our own. But Mama said, your father needs his moustache to make a living. In those days you were nothing in the world of work without a moustache. But as Papa lay dying, he said to us, ‘Boys, take the moustache. Let God see me without it, however shocked He may be. My last request is that both my sons get equal use of this moustache. And so, as he passed into the other world, we took the moustache home. Mama kept it in a glass case in the kitchen, polishing it every Sunday. And every time one of us looked at it she would say the same thing, not until your brother’s had a turn with it. That’s what your father wanted. 52
Time went by, and the two of us went out to work. And every Saturday night we’d go dancing at the only dance hall in our little town, the Yellow Rose. And every week it would be the same, whoever had the moustache would have the girls. On nights when my brother had it I’d watch women flock to him while I stood there alone. I knew I’d get my chance. The following week I’d walk in and watch that moustache drive them wild. The same girls who’d been all over my brother didn’t even want to know him. ‘Did you see that guy’s upper lip?’ they’d whisper in horror. ‘It was completely bald!’ This went on for a few years, then what was to happen but World War II? Mama wouldn’t trust us to take the moustache away, but fortunately we were stationed in England and most of the women had been without men for so long they didn’t really care. Anyway, back to the story. The war came to an end and we went home. My life went on pretty much the same.
All week I worked in the same job, and Saturday nights I went out to the Yellow Rose. But my brother, he wanted to better himself. He quit his job, enrolled at college and stayed home in the evenings, frantically writing at the kitchen table. He never went out, never used the moustache. But Mama’s rules stayed in place. No one had the moustache ‘til it was their turn. One night I had the moustache. I went out to the Yellow Rose... and came home walking on air. I put the moustache back in its case and I thought to myself: would it be so terrible if I used the moustache next Saturday? I imagined what I’d say to my brother. ‘There’s this girl,’ I’d say. ‘I think she likes me, and I know I like her. But I don’t know if she’s serious. Please, I can’t tell her that I don’t have my own moustache. I can’t tell her I have to share one with my brother.’ Surely he would understand? So... next Saturday I came home. Mama was out. My brother was just sitting at the table, writing something that I
Hairy Men by Isobel Galt didn’t understand. Didn’t even notice me. I looked at him, I looked at the moustache. I took the moustache. How was I to know he planned to go out later? Oh, were he and Mama mad at me! He said why did I need the moustache? I told him. He said if she was serious about me she wouldn’t care. I said I couldn’t see him going out anywhere. What difference did it make? After that he stopped going out. So I stopped going out. Neither of us was going anywhere. Time went by. Mama died. My brother finished his course and got a better job, but neither of us left home. We just stayed there, glaring at each other across the table. Looking back I don’t know why we didn’t just buy a new moustache with the
money we’d saved by not going out, but I don’t think that’d occurred to us at the time. God, time, time, time. Time dragged slowly by. We got older and greyer. I don’t think the moustache would have matched our hair any more, but it was still there. And one day I snapped, I smashed the glass. I turned round to look at my brother, as if to say ‘I’m going out. There’s nothing you can do’. He said nothing. The phone rang. ‘It’s for you.’ I picked the phone up. I listened. I couldn’t believe it. ‘I’ll be there.’ ‘It’s Mary,’ I said. ‘Mary?’ ‘The girl I was going to see at the Yellow Rose. She went back every Saturday night. She waited for me.’
My brother wept. He reached in among the broken glass. ‘Take the moustache. I don’t care if I never see it again. Go to her.’ We hugged. I tore the moustache in half. ‘You said if she was serious about me she wouldn’t care. And I think she’s shown that she is.’ When we found her she was standing in what had been the Yellow Rose, an old lady all dressed in white. She smiled. ‘The dance hall closed down years ago, but these nice people still let me wait for you here. It’s a nice bus station, don’t you think? Oh Joe, did you honestly think I’d care whether you had a moustache?’ I fell into her arms. We buried both halves of the moustache with our father.
Contributors This issue, our contributors sent in their work from the West Indies, the US and the UK
Short stories MJ Nicholls MJ Nicholls is novelist based in Edinburgh, Scotland. Currently creating the mythology around his new novel, A Postmodern Belch. Previous work has been published in Edinburgh/Bremen University literary supplements, and in a short story collection for Cantaraville. Numerous stories also appear in the Edinburgh Review. James Rawbone James Rawbone was born in 1977 and is still not dead. He cares for people who routinely hold conversations with their shoes and so everyday life often has a slightly surreal tinge. He lives in the tranquil Kentish Downs and will do almost anything to avoid work. Ruthie Lockyer Now retired and living in mid-Wales, Ruthie Lockyer trained as a Clinical Psychologist and worked for the NHS. She also has qualifications in Egyptology, Photography and Public Speaking, and holds a Private Pilot's Licence. She and a friend set up a charity in 2006 supporting a school in Kenya. She recently had an article published in a Portuguese diving magazine, and another is due to be published in Sea Breezes magazine. Ruth H Russell Ruth H Russell started writing when her bossy older sister set up a newspaper in their shared bedroom sometime in the 1970s. (Ruth’s first assignment was a ‘Day in the Life’ feature article, plus crayon drawing, on Smokey the family cat.) Since then she has concentrated on memoir stories and personal essays. Her work has appeared in Prick of the Spindle and is forthcoming in The Battered Suitcase. She lives in Manhattan and is working on a memoir about her childhood and adolescence. Ruth blogs at http://ruthrussell.wordpress.com. Jennifer Marshall Jennifer Marshall is a freelance writer who has lived and travelled throughout the world. She most recently moved from London to the Caribbean and is a contributing member of the Get Creative Oxford Short Course group. Many of her short stories are inspired by her travels and she is currently working on her first young adult novel. She lives in the West Indies with her husband and three toddlers and has previously published in India Currents.
Rick Ewing Rick Ewing is a newly-aspiring writer whose first five works of short fiction have been accepted for publication. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey, United States. A repentant WallStreeter, shameless dreamer and demoniacal surf fisherman, Rick is at work on a novel.
Flash fiction Brian Phillip Whalen Brian Phillip Whalen received his MFA in Creative Writing and Environment from Iowa State University in May 2009. This year he'll be serving in the Americorps VISTA program, working with Central Iowa Shelter and Services to lessen homelessness and poverty in the greater Des Moines area. His fiction has appeared in Eclectica (AprilMay 2009) and is forthcoming in The Dream People (Issue #32). He is currently working on a novel and a memoir. John M Shade John M Shade is a recent graduate of the University of Houston with a major in creative writing. He would rather be hot than be cold (hence Houston) and this is his first time in print. Jason Vandaele Jason Vandaele was born in Belgium. In the twenty-five years since, he has lived in unequal lengths and for different purposes in England, Japan and America. Linda Deex Linda Deex is a great-grandmother who has suddenly found the time to jot a few things down. Having a large, close family she has a wealth of subject matter for writings. Linda decided, while on an OU Literature degree, to submit a few of her writings. Running keeps her in physical shape while she hopes writing and studying will stave off any senile leanings. This is her first published piece. Isobel Galt Isoble Galt was born in Surrey but spent most of her childhood in Norfolk, and moved to Birmingham at the age of nine. She studied English at Wolverhampton University and currently works for the NHS and lives in South Birmingham with her husband.
Poems Patricia Esposito Patricia Esposito is a freelance editor, who lives near Chicago. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in various speculative and literary publications, with upcoming stories in the anthologies Apparitions and The Cougar Book. Her poetry has won the Rhino Reader/Writer contest and her fiction has received honorable mentions in Ellen Datlow’s The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror (2004 and 2005).
Tim L West Tim L West. The L is either for Lucky or Leonard. You decide... Actually it's Leonard. Born; Long time ago. Grew; Teeth, Hair, Fat. In that order. Lost; Hair, Teeth, Sense of Humour. Co-Owner of the Big Green Bookshop. That's the Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green. Hobbies include skydiving, underwater exploration, space travel and lying. Did I mention that I was the co-owner of the Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green? Available for all occasions and I bring my own knife and fork (and spoon, but I keep it hidden as I don't want to show off).
Elizabeth Jardine Godwin Elizabeth Jardine Godwin was born in South Africa in 1959 and grew up in England. She currently lives,writes and works in the Midlands.
Reviews & Features
Anna Meryt Anna was born in Zimbabwe but brought up in Wales. She has had various single poems published in anthologies and is currently preparing to publish a small collection. She chaired a Writer's group until recently, and is half way through a creative writing MA and is also currently writing a memoir. RG Gregory RG Gregory: born Southampton; wartime evacuee, postwar conscript; King’s College, London; English and Drama teacher for 19 years (2 years in Uganda); Word And Action (Dorset) – community/touring theatre/poetry/publishing company for 30 years. Poet, playwright, director, actor. Over 150 poems in range of magazines; editorial roles with DOORS and SOUTH poetry magazines (amalgamated) for twenty years.
David Gardiner Ageing hippy, former teacher, now part-time psychiatric care worker, living in London with partner Jean and Charlotte the chameleon. Adopted daughter Cherelle lives nearby. Three published works, SIRAT (a science fiction novel), The Rainbow Man and Other Stories (short story collection) and The Other End of the Rainbow (short story collection). Interested in science, philosophy, psychology, scuba diving, alternative lifestyles and communal living, travel, wildlife, cooking and IT. Large, rambling homepage at: www.davidgardiner.net. Ruth H Russell See short stories. Source: stock.xchng
Khamir Purohit Khamir Purohit is from Mumbai, India. Reading, writing and blogging are his passion and this is how he makes his living. He believes that life gives us two choices, one that is easy and one that is correct. Taking the one less travelled might make all the difference. Martin A Ramos Martin A Ramos is a writer of short stories and poetry from Hormigueros, PR. He grew up in Chicago, has a master's in TESL and currently works as an Aux. Adm. He has published stories in small literary magazines such as Chiricú, and poetry in Dragonfly, Rattle, Latino Stuff Review, Cyclo*Flame, and Writer’s Digest. His work has appeared online in The Cortland Review and in Red River Review. Holly Day No biography provided.
Our first anthology...
Solid Gold by various (Merilang Press, 2009) £7.59 ISBN: 978-0955543081
Solid Gold is now available to buy! Solid Gold, the very first prose anthology from Gold Dust, is made up of our best ever published stories, the cream of our most recent submissions, as well as brand new stories from the Gold Dust team members. At over 180 pages, this bumper anthology comprises 23 stories in all. From the laugh-out-loud Wikihistory by Desmond Warzel to the frighteningly tragic Dirty War by Andrew McIntyre to the wickedly surreal One’s Elf by Alan Kelly, these stories cover the full range of the human condition. Our launch party was a great success and we have given over most of this issue’s cover to photos from the event. Readings are now available to view on YouTube, on the Gold Dust channel. This collection is flying off the shelves, so order your copy now, before stock runs out! Available from Amazon and other online bookstores.
We have some great prizes lines up for issue 17! • Best short story wins £20 • Best poem wins £20 For submission details, see our website, at www.golddustmagazine.co.uk
Published on Nov 25, 2009
Issue 16 of Gold Dust, biannual magazine of literature and the arts, featuring an interview with author Tom Saunders, as well as our usual e...