ontents Mollie Baxter Thinking in Slices
Ian Seed Consequences
Andrew Michael Hurley Guns and How They Work
Ian Seed Shadows
Peter Wild The Other Side
Ian Seed Mine Before Night
Jane Eagland Wind
Ian Seed Until We Die
Lynne Alexander The Whale
Ian Seed All Kinds of Dust
Hendryk Korzeniowski Sleeping with Walt Disney
slice tomatoes in the kitchen, 50p from the kids’ stall down the road. It is the summer holidays, they are bored, so they sell their father’s vegetables. I chose the hard fruits, tight on their stems, and watched the girl put them solemnly into a bag. “Have you plans?” you say and I jump, the blade slithering through peppery tomato guts on the wooden board. “Just supper.” You drift round to my side, your face sharp, your body in soft focus. “You taste of garlic,” you say. This is a kiss. This is how you speak: through phrases I remember from when you were alive. Over time, as I forget, your vocabulary gets narrower. One day, I suppose, you will be silent. You will have to speak through your eyes again. “Have you plans?” you say softly. You are asking what is wrong. “No plans. Going to relax.” “You need to focus on the exams,” you command, confidence returned. You are blocking the way to the patio door, so I walk through you carrying my plate and glass. A sensation like the moment I watched you stop breathing. “No, I don’t. I passed them. Years ago. I have a job now. I teach.” “You need to focus on the exams,” you say, full of concern. I run out of movement, correct the slope of my plate and watch liquid circle. “I will. I promise.” I slug my wine. They took photos of your head, looked at it slice by slice, went back and looked again. Your brain was as cluttered as your desk, it took too long
to find the problem. Perhaps if you’d been tidier you’d still be here. But this wasn’t something that could be argued out on paper, referenced and sourced. When you died, part of me thought it served you right. I sit, my back to the patio step, and start to eat my tomatoes. The dressing is sharp. You bumble out like an old carrier bag and snag against my back. “You taste of garlic,” you whisper lovingly. I can’t feel you, even though part of your blur has settled like an arm around my shoulders. “Have you plans?” you ask, tenderly, from a great distance. You want to know how I am, what’s wrong. Drops of oil float and slosh around in the vinegar and I wish I’d brought some bread. “No plans.” “You should focus on the exams,” you reply. I look at you then, straight into your dead eyes, like those in the head of an old man in a Victorian photograph and see you looking past me, back to over eight years ago. I remember the conversation. You were in the study, reading. I was looking down the sweep of strings to the bow, trying not to tilt, and suddenly feeling a shriek in my finger. Gut had worn through skin and bright blood smeared the wood. “Great!” I spat, setting the bow down roughly, hobbling to my feet, stiff and clumsy, the cello slumping like a prudish dog. Your head lifted in a silent question. I held my fingers up. “That’s the exam written off.” “Can you not still play?” “I’ll have to.” You’d put your book down, slid in a marker, and said something that
onsequences A stone dislodged, running through grey light, the clatter of an unseen train to our left. We stop at the edge of the forest. I can still see us, strolling down the main thoroughfare of the pink town by the sea, latticed sunlight across our faces, winter forgotten. Such kids then, spirited out of the business up north, as if a promise were for a lifetime. Now afraid to negotiate beyond the sound of our own breathing in the dark.
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Shadows Mine Before Night Until We Die All Kinds of Dust
find Chris in tears on the floor of the garage. He is surrounded by parts of my guns. He tells me that he was trying to find out how they worked and had taken them apart and got the parts mixed up and thought he might find the missing parts in the other guns and so on. He has a system, though. All the parts are laid out separately on the floor and he is trying to match them up to the exploded diagrams in the manuals he has open next to him, their pages oily from his fingers. “One at a time, Chris,” I say and he starts crying again. I look at his T-shirt, which has a large number 73 on it and the word Brooklyn arching over the top. His mother brought it back from Greece last year. It was too big for him then and now it rides up his arms and onto his shoulders. “Let’s do this one first,” I say and pick up the handle of a Browning. Chris smiles and he sits down in the armchair and looks tiny again. His feet do not reach the floor and the magazines sticking out from beneath the seat cushion are scratching his calves. He sits cross-legged instead and I look at the battered soles of his trainers. When he is settled he takes an inkylooking sandwich off a plate balanced on the chair arm and bites into it and then reaches for the glass of milk on the workbench. “What’s in the sandwich?” I ask, and Chris opens it for me to see. He offers to make me one and, stuffing the rest of the bread into his mouth, goes off to the kitchen with a copy of Guns & Ammo under his arm. I look at the Browning and begin to pick out the parts I need from the scattering of metal on the floor.
Andrew Michael Hurley
There is a bee tapping on the window and getting caught up in a spider web. I watch it for a while and after going mad it seems to settle and then remains very still. Chris comes back in with the sandwich and a glass of milk and I notice that he has washed his hands which means I am on my own now. I have taken over. “Do you know what this is?” I ask, and he shakes his head and hands me the sandwich. “It’s a Browning. A GP35,” I say, and bite into the sandwich, which is thick with ham and red onion and cheese. “It’s American,” I add through a mouthful of bread. Chris nods and puts the milk on the worktop. He watches as I reassemble the gun and asks me about the bicycle that is hanging from the ceiling. He wants to fix it up so that he can come and see me more often. He squeezes the tyres and spins the back wheel, which shudders and grates against the mud guard. All it would need would be some new wheels, he says. We could fix it up, he says, when we’ve put the guns back together. I tell him to put out his hand, which he does, and I lay the Browning in his palm. His wrist bends with the weight and he brings up his other hand and holds it steady – tiny fingers wrapped around the handle and cupping the underside of the barrel. “Try and aim it at the back wall,” I say, and Chris holds the pistol out in front of him. It shakes and he lets it fall, laughing. He hands it to me and I hook it onto the rack. He picks up the frame of the Beretta and asks me about the writing on it. “1942: that’s the year it was made,” I tell him, “and the letters are Roman numerals for twenty-one. That means it was made twenty-one years into the
Andrew Michael Hurley
t is as if they are strangers who have stopped alongside each other on the street, one of them perhaps asking the other for directions. Only in the time it takes to ask and be answered, they have lived together and married and almost raised a child. The evaporated street frightens them, its sudden lifting striking them like the base of a carbon black frying pan. They find themselves surrounded by books and furniture and clothing and memories – memories more than anything else. Where did all these fucking memories come from? How do I have memories of you, when you are a stranger? This was how she looked at him. Her bitter look accused him. It was rape, what he had done. The time they had spent together, the time they had spent becoming strangers together, the time they had wasted loving each other enough to make a child, all that time made useless. Each of them was burned out. Each of them was a burned out husk, the remains of a body, life after life has gone. Crucially, that burning – the burning of everything that made each of them an individual – left them strangers. It took what they were and left only grief and pain and unfocused rage. 2. For a long time, they slept alongside each other. The death of the child altered the way they were with each other. Where once she had curved within the S of his body – the pair of them seen above, an ear covered by blankets – now they remained apart, exclamation points on the left and right side of the bed. The middle of the bed became an uncharted
wilderness that neither dared broach. Each lay listening to the clock tick away the hours and minutes of the night. Neither slept, or slept for very long. Occasionally, she roused him, when exhaustion had proven so great he did sleep, accusing him in her rebukes about his snoring, of not loving the baby enough to stay awake throughout the rest of time. What he intuited from her pinched stings: how could he sleep when sleep was the enemy that had stolen their child? What he read in her face provoked him beyond all countenance. He wanted to rage in the face of her: I can sleep because in sleep I forget. I can sleep because sleep is like death and I want to die. When the rage gripped him, his entire soul crippled crisp upon the tip of a white hot soldering iron, he could reduce everything down from abstract pain and complex grief and civil mourning to nothing, to wanting to die. He never told her, but inside, over and over and over again: I want to die. Sleep became a kind of admission. I am guilty. It was my fault. Take it out on me. Accuse me. My grief is not great enough to keep me awake. I am a terrible man. I am the worst father. I cannot pretend to attain the lofty heights of true grieving. He wanted to tell her. In his head, the words confused themselves. Was he angry with her? Did he blame her? Did he blame himself ? Did he hope they would make it through this awful black tumour time? Or was it time to walk away from all of the cancer shadows? Was it time to call this a day? He wanted to tell her that her grief lacked honesty. He wanted to tell her that she was phoney. He wanted to tell her that the thought of his little girl weighed upon him throughout the magnified seconds of every day.
17 Peter Wild
he library windows rattle in their frames. My new suit was a mistake: far too thin for this February night and the heating’s gone off, of course. The doors swing open, bang shut. All evening a branch has been tapping morse code on the pane. I glance at my watch. 9.25. Everyone else will be at home by now, in the warm. Five more minutes then I’m off. I look at my list of appointments again. All ticked apart from one. Where are they? A shadow falls across the desk. “Miss Gibson?” A coat in a cruel shade of pink fills my view. “I am the mother of Anthony Brunstein.” Slight accent, difficult to place. Somewhere Middle European. She eases her bulk onto the plastic chair. I have a momentary vision of the chair buckling, sending her sprawling onto the carpet, like an uncontrollable blancmange… “Oh yes. Hello.” Anthony’s dark eyes in a fleshy face, chins resting on swathes of crimson scarf. Something sharp hits the window. I check my mark book then set off. “Anthony seems to have settled in well. Most of the time his work is very good but just occasionally –” She puts out her hand to stop me. “Anthony is very upset.” Her voice is deep, emphatic. “Is he? Why?” “The last essay. You gave him a poor mark.” “Yes, the analysis of Ted Hughes’ poem ‘Wind’. That’s what I mean – in class
he’s perceptive but sometimes –” The hand waves again. “He worked very hard at that essay. He was very disappointed.” Her eyes are moist with emotion. The tapping on the window is more urgent, threatens to break the glass. I pick up Anthony’s essay. Aim for sympathetic but brisk. “I’m sorry to hear that. But it illustrates perfectly what I’m talking about. Look, this is what Anthony’s written: In these lines, the wind symbolises the potency of the male, his thrusting virility. The earth symbolises the female. The hills are her breasts and the wind is described as a knife, an obvious phallic reference … You see what I mean?” She has been listening with her eyes shut, smiling and nodding her head. “Yes, very good.” Her eyes snap open and fix on me. “So why you not give him a good mark?” I choose my words. “Anthony’s ideas are interesting, but the examiner will be looking for his understanding of style and structure –” Mrs Brunstein frowns. “The meaning is not important?” “Well, yes, it is, and it’s impressive that Anthony has such … original ideas, but it might be better if he was more … speculative. We can’t know that Hughes intends all this symbolism. Perhaps he’s just describing the wind. He’s exaggerating its power, of course, but –” “No.” “No?” “No. In this poem he is describing an act of sexual congress between Mother Earth and Father Wind.” She illustrates this with a sweep of her arm, her expression daring me to contradict her.
For that strange spectacle observable in all sperm whales dying – the turning sunwards of the head, and so expiring... Moby Dick: The Dying Whale
Wallis stood onshore with the others. The group tried to get closer but were kept back by a shore guard: “Official autopsy taking place, instructions not to disturb.” The creature they were there to witness was beached on the rocky skia about a quarter of a mile out into the estuary. “Looks like an overturned boat,” someone said. Wallis agreed. A guy with a high powered telescope offered her a look: “Try that.” She plugged her eye to the lens socket, steadying herself. She saw not an animal but a shape in space. The thing was far too big. She thanked the telescope owner, peeled off from the group and headed south towards the Point, over rocks and washed-up tide-junk: a turquoise plastic frog, its fingers so like the tendrils of dried stagshead seaweed; several red spent cartridge shell cases; miles of orange and blue shiny twine; a Premium and a Diet Coke; an 1851 marmalade pot too broken to salvage; a mauvey-pink Tupperware lid; half a blue Thermos. Most of a mammalian skeleton was scattered among the feathers and limbs of driftwood and semirotted weedstuffs. All this, she thought, our gaudy currency, thick underfoot. She picked up a small chunk of blue-on-white china. As the shore was being eroded, more and more fragments could be found among the rocks: the remains of a Victorian pottery dump. The piece fit her palm. It showed
two blue people: mouse-delicate, wearing tall buckler hats and bibs; puritans, perhaps, on their way back from America. What, she asked them, was it not so great over there after all? At the next bay she found the remains of a fish. She knelt beside it. Now this had potential. Originally three feet long, she calculated, it was now reduced to its midsection. Who swiped your head, fish, eh? she asked it: your tail? Its skin was orange, pitted and dull, like the rind of a smoked cheese. It didn’t stink; no obvious blood. A collection of torn-off veins and arteries extended out of the fish’s jagged front opening like so many unfinished freeway flyovers; while one trumpet-like valve announced its once-connection with the heart, that organ presumably having been swiped along with other choice innards by herons and oystercatchers and any other seabird that could get a look-in. Wallis scrabbled for a pencil and paper but found only a petrol receipt and a furred-up pen. Never mind, a doodle would remind her. Already, she could imagine it as an installation arranged among whitened stones, its viscera reaching out to disturb the airy, tasteful space of a gallery and its even more fastidious visitors, barely identifiable as ‘fish’ in its head-andtailnessness. She almost thanked it for a find but then thought: no, too realistic, do-able: boring. Forget it. A fish couldn’t swallow a man or a giant squid whole. But then a fish was not a whale. She could still hear voices plus clankings and revving noises, then a chainsaw. The show was over. Late afternoon, a turning tide. Maritimers talked of it as the moment when the waves reconsidered. What did it take to perform that joined-up backflip? how did they get it together? But the tide
he cough sounds like cancer and doesn’t stop. The smoke would like to be suggestive of seedy sixties strip joints, but it only manages to reach the level of an industrial town preclean air act, 1956. The cigarette shakes and the interviewer nods sympathetically. “Go on…” “They turned me down you know. Turned me down. Had it all you know. Everything. Know it don’t look like it but had a good job, family, respect, especially respect, and wealth. And I’m southern. Newport Pagnell may not mean a lot to you, but I would’ve put it on the map. ‘Local boy done good’. Yeah.” The interviewer nods through the smoke and tries not to breathe in. “I won the lottery you know. Despite all the petty jibes and jealously, I won millions. Millions and people sneered. Wot ya gonna blow it on? Mansion? Football club? Private island? Slags and illiterates, the lot of them. Common as muck. After I took the wife and kids to Florida” – he stops, seeing the reaction on the interviewer’s face – “well, it’s the done thing, innit? And before you say a word they had a lovely time. Gorgeous. How life should be. But I had bigger plans, oh yes. And the bastards turned me down.” The cigarette is stubbed out in an overflowing ashtray. With a shaky grace he lights another. “I did complain you know. All the time. Letters to Citizens Advice, letters to MPs, letters to the media … and I kept up my pressure on them. Oh yes. Ringing ‘em up at all hours. Once, they kept me on hold for five-and-a-half hours, yes: five-and-a-half hours! Most people would’ve hung up, but not me. Determined. Despite it being premium rate, I stuck in there, for the principle of the thing.” He pulls on the cigarette as though his life depends on it. Not anymore.
“And when I did finally get through, and past the robotic voice with the useless options, I complained about the wait. And this tart with one O level reckoned that because their service was so unique and very, very popular with the rich and famous, delay was unavoidable, and that if I had trouble waiting for over four hours, how could I possibly be happy waiting for eternity? Cheeky bitch. So I said I could easily wait for eternity, but not if eternity meant hold music consisting of ‘Candle in the Wind’. The 1997 version. And d’you know what she said? She said, sarcastic slag, she said that the company based their choice of music on a Gallup Poll on ‘Hits That Should Last Forever’. Just goes to show people have no taste. Know nothing about inherent music value.” He sniffs his own smoke, doubling the carcinomic certainty. “ The music should’ve been Michael Jackson.” He sucks through the cigarette, its thin paper disappearing like health. “Despite these obstacles, I kept complaining. I wanted to know why they had turned me down. You know, like when you get dumped. You keep asking ‘why?’ At the interview, they mentioned places were ‘subject to status’ and I just laughed. If you can’t buy status, influence or close friends with lottery winnings what good are they, eh?” He pauses, pointing at the interviewer. “Imagine how I felt when they said ‘No’. No. No, no, no. Their only answer. Didn’t think I was ‘suitable’. And that was their last word.” He shakes his head, all lank hair and dandruff, and contemplates the end of his cigarette, now almost a butt. Looking for an answer in its end. “Found out about data protection, didn’t I? Went along to their offices in Putney, demanded to have access to what they’d said about me in their files,