Scrittura Magazine, Issue 21, Autumn 2020

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Scrittura AUTUMN 2020 / ISSUE 21


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Scrittura Magazine © Copyright 2020 All Rights Reserved. Scrittura Magazine is a UK-based online literary magazine, launched in 2015 by three Creative Writing graduates who wanted to provide a platform to showcase new and exciting writing from across the world. Scrittura Magazine is published quarterly, and is free for all. This means that we are unable to offer payment for publication. Submissions information can be found online at EDITOR: Valentina Terrinoni EDITOR: Yasmin Rahman DESIGNER / ILLUSTRATOR: Catherine Roe SOCIAL MEDIA ASSISTANT: Imani Dunkley WEB: EMAIL: TWITTER: @Scrittura_Mag FACEBOOK: scritturamag

InThis Issue 08 10 15 16 19 20 22 23 24 26 30 31

A Butterfly I Thought I Saw Christopher Laverty Raindrops on Roses Helen Kreeger Abandoned Corpses Diana Elizondo A Clean House Paul Blaney Finder Bernard Pearson Forest Bathing Nisha Bhakoo Amaretto Sam Arrowsmith My Various Successes DS Maolalai Bedfellows Mark Niedzwiedz

Cuando Despertó, el Dinosaurio Todavía Estaba Allí Paul Blaney An English Wood Geraldine Douglas Flowers in my Brain Katya Chambers

32 34 35 36 38 43 44 45 46 48 50 54

Arrows in The Breeze Dean Fox Game On Lynn White In Consideration Jeffrey Zable Met on The Corner James Bell Lucky, Blonde & Half-Ukrainian Lisa Reily Kintsugi Claire Walker Games People Play Lynn White Other Side of The Curtain ML Sund Driving The Love Train Into The Tunnel of Death E. Martin Pedersen Emergency Plan Rae Rozman Parroting James Appleby Polaroid Anindita Sarkar

55 56 58 60 61 62 64 65 66 70 72 74

Silver Eyes ML Sund Lady Of Courage And Conviction Peter George My Henry Lisa Reily Saponification Rae Rozman Roots And Branches Ed Blundell The Fog Returned Her Love Geraldine Douglas The Heart on The Wall Arianna Sebo Un-homing Nisha Bhakoo Spooks Louise Wilford Something After Wordsworth William Doreski Oasis Ed Blundell Sign of Life Ian Murphy

79 80 81 82 84 85 86 88 92 93 94 96

Rotations Gary Beck Sly Pigeon Anindita Sarkar Unspoken Jane Ayres The Chevrolet Chariot Katya Chambers The Bachelor DS Maolalai Stolen Ed Blundell Paris Fox James Bell Snow Line Derek Garnett Stare Arianna Sebo Untouchable Dream Nisha Bhakoo Rediscovering The Decrepit Amusement Park Zebulon Huset Stars in The Suburbs John Grey

97 98 102 104

Silver Sage Bobbi Sinha-Morey Ruby Louise Wilford When a New Country Beckons Vidya Shankar Where We Meet, Where We Stand Leah Holbrook Sackett

106 108 110

Why The Ferryman’s Mum Will Never be Queen P.W. Bridgman Willow Lake Bobbi Sinha-Morey Summer Days Lynn White

A Note From The Editors Welcome to the Autumn issue of Scrittura Magazine!

And BY FAR, our biggest issue yet. We were overwhelmed with submissions for this issue – poetry and short stories from all over the world – and we’ve included as many as we can in this bumper issue! Thank you to everyone who submitted – writers new to us, and those who we’ve published before. Times have been weird for everyone lately, and things have changed a lot since our last issue. The pandemic has affected us all in one way or another, and as always, current issues have inspired lots of writers. Check out ‘Games People Play’, page 44, ‘Oasis’, page 72, and ‘Summer Days’, page 110, for some thought-provoking poetry based on current times. Similarly, if you’re in the mood for something creepy to celebrate the aftermath of Halloween, check out ‘Ruby’, page 98, or ‘Sign of Life’, page 74, for a chill down your spin. For those looking for lighter reads, we have plenty of that this issue, too! Try ‘Met on the Corner’, page 36, for a beautiful love story. Or ‘Finder’, page 19, for something romance based, but a bit more light-hearted. Whatever you’re into, we’ve got something for everyone this issue. So have a flick through, and please do let us know which pieces you’re loving! We love hearing from readers on social media, so do drop us a line. A humongous thanks as always to our brilliantly talented designer, Catherine (but a bit more this time, considering the size of this issue and the amount of work she’s put in), and also to our social media and editorial assistant Imani, whose hard work brought in the masses! Lastly, we wanted to let you know about some changes to Scrittura. We are now switching to publishing bi-annually, rather than quarterly. We believe this will give us the opportunity to really make the magazine shine and do our writers’ work justice. We will still be operating on a rolling submissions deadline, so feel free to send us your work at any time, and we will consider it for the next issue. Our current submission deadline is 31st January 2021.

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A Butterfly I Thought I Saw Christopher Laverty

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A butterfly I thought I saw, with snow-like wings the field explore; the smiling grass you flitted on, your fragile beauty caught my eye. I then gave chase – with longing sigh, but blinked then looked – and you were gone. A spider in its place I found, poised motionless; beneath – around was spread your soft, alluring web, which with a thousand charms was wrought, where helpless like a fly I’m caught snared in the lair of passion’s ebb. The spider fled – around my head a boisterous bee I heard instead; with clumsy curiosity you caused commotion then me teased, threatened to sting me if you pleased with piercing kisses shower me. The bee vanished – last on my hand I felt a beetle soundless land; in nature’s duties deep absorbed, so delicate I feared to crush your tiny dome of colours lush of quaintest red with speckles daubed. All these things – Emelie – are you and more – a puzzle with no clue, a horde of creatures in a box; yet each is neither right nor wrong, just notes that form your varied song, song rich with human paradox.

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Raindrops on Roses Helen Kreeger

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Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens are not a few of my favourite things. My granddad was quite well-known in the rose world – he even wrote a book, well, a pamphlet really. It was printed up and given out at the Chelsea Flower Show in the early 60s. I’m thinking of doing one myself, you know, carry on the family tradition. He used to make me memorise the names of his roses when I was really little. It made me feel proper clever when I got them right. He said that he was going to name a rose after me one day. I didn’t really know what that meant then – thought it was like naming your pet. He died before I got my rose, and before I had the chance to get to know him really well. I’ve been working on a new rose myself for a few years now. I’ll name it for my granddad. I’ve been growing roses for forty years now, since my old dad gave me a corner of his allotment when I was sixteen. Well, he didn’t give it to me exactly – needed his arm bending. He wasn’t best pleased that I chose flowers over something to eat. Gave me a whack round the back of my head to ‘knock the girl out of me’, so he said. But Mam, she persuaded him that it was better I was growing flowers where he could keep an eye on me rather than me hanging around and getting into bother with the other boys. I was two different lads back then. At home I barely spoke, did as I was told – weren’t worth the ruckus not to. My dad was quick with his slaps, and more. Once I was out that front door though, it was like I was uncaged. I’d go wild, take risks. My mates loved it, encouraged me. Not that I needed encouragement; it didn’t take much to get me riled up. Most Saturday nights saw me come home with my knuckles scraped raw. Mam was always going on and on about me getting sent away if I didn’t change my ways. There were some days when her voice drove me up the wall, enough to, well, do something, I don’t know. She wasn’t wrong though. The police came to our door regular like, and not just for fighting. Me and my mates used to borrow cars. Not steal them; we didn’t even take the stuff from the glove compartments. No, it was just for the ride. I reckon we’d have got caught eventually, except for a lucky warning. I was driving round the back streets of our town with three of my friends having a good laugh. It was dark. One minute I’m heading down an empty road, quite fast I admit, otherwise what’s the point? Next minute this dog walks out in front of me. It was like hitting a wall. None of us wanted to get out and have a look. Then we see this old geezer running towards us, screaming his head off. My friends went into a bit of a panic, saying it must be old man’s dog and that we were really in for it this time. I told them that I could have a word with him, explain things, like, but the others wouldn’t let me, said he’d be able to describe us to the police if he got a good look at us, so I drove on. A few streets away I got out and left them to it. One of them drove miles out of town where they pushed the car into the canal, and then all went their separate ways. Next morning found us all picked up from school and taken to the police station, but they couldn’t pin it on us for sure. That old bloke had died later that night. Local paper said he was heartbroken finding his dog so smashed up like that. It should have been on a lead. That was the last time we were all together, me and my mates. Something went wrong with us that night. I think they blamed me because they were different around me after that. One of them said I frightened them. Silly buggers – it’s not like I did it on purpose. Anyway, it didn’t matter, gave me more time for my roses. I’m hooked on them. Other flowers are nice and all, but roses…It’s like an addiction – not that I’ve ever taken drugs, other than the ones the doctor gives me, but you read stuff, don’t you. Them addicts, the way they talk about their habits, well it sounds a bit like me and my roses.

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When the flowers aren’t in bloom, I’m miserable. More than miserable if I’m truthful; sometimes I feel downright suicidal. Homicidal some days. Whatever it is, I don’t feel quite myself. I can get a bit of a buzz by nurturing my plants so that they’ll have the best blooms possible when it’s their time again, but there’s nothing in this world like seeing that bud swell, then slowly open up into a perfect arrangement of petals. And the scent, well, I can’t explain it, but as it drifts into my head it makes me feel alive, really alive, as if I could do or be anything. Better than beer, better than women. Don’t get me wrong, I like a pint now and then. And I’m not, you know, like that – I’ve had plenty of girlfriends, though I steer clear of them nowadays. Women do tend to stick their long noses into other people’s business, which can really wind me up. I had this one girlfriend who I quite liked to start with. That was until she told me that I had a problem – floral porn she called it. It creeped her out, she said, how I went on about silly flowers. She said that I could only get romantic when I’d been in the garden fondling my roses. Of course, she didn’t say ‘romantic’, she had to go and make nasty remarks about my, you know, anatomy. We stopped seeing each other soon after that conversation. By coincidence, the same evening of our last little chat about my shortcomings she had a bad fall down my patio steps. Knocked out one of her front teeth it did. I’d forgotten to reel in the hose that afternoon and she didn’t see it in the dark. She was lucky she wasn’t seriously hurt, but she didn’t see it that way. ‘Raindrops on Roses’ – whoever wrote that song was no gardener. Roses don’t like being wet for long periods, especially in warmish weather. It gives them black spot which is a bugger to get rid of. When I grew my first roses on dad’s allotment it had been a warm spring, so I watered them before school and after. Poured water over the whole plant, a real drenching I gave them. I thought more water would make them bigger and better. They turned black, pretty much overnight. The old man went mad, said I was putting his veg in danger. I came to the allotment after school a couple of evenings later and all my roses were gone. They were in a pile being burnt. He said it was the allotment committee, said they had the right to protect the plots from infection. I knew that he’d done it. I saw the scratches on his hands and arms from the thorns. I cried. He said that cry-babies shouldn’t be allowed on allotments. I shut up and went home. Not long after that, I was kicked out of school. They said they couldn’t tolerate my behaviour – bastards. That teacher goaded all us boys. Bit like my dad actually. I didn’t hit him, although I would have liked to. It was just a push. It’s not like he was old like the geezer with the dog. He went over like a nine pin. It was while I was trying to get a job that I decided to learn about roses properly. I spent most of my time going for interviews or at our local library. It kept me out of Dad’s way. Mam let me grow a few miniature bushes in the garden, as long as I kept them down by the washing line where dad never went. It weren’t long before I was spending every penny I could get my hands on, on roses, aphid sprays and special fertilizers. I even gave up beer so as I’d have more cash to spend. After three months on the dole, and three months listening to my dad bang on about me being a lazy git, I got a job with the local council working in the parks department. I thought it was going to be a dream job for me. I imagined myself going from park to park digging, planting. Weren’t like that at all. Picking up lolly papers, chip bags and dog shit was all they got me doing. I stuck it for six months before I got into a bit of an argument with the foreman and got the sack. My dad came looking for me when he heard. He found me down the bottom of the garden placing a few ladybirds on a new rose I’d bought with the last of my wages. Stupidly, I started telling him that I was going to try controlling the aphids with the ladybirds instead of chemicals. He just stared at

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me – as if I was something horrible standing too close to him. Then he went ape. I knew what he was going to do – I remembered those thorn marks on his arms and hands. And suddenly it was like I wasn’t in my body anymore. It was weird, but I liked it, because it made me not scared of him. We had a bit of a set to and then he went off cursing me and saying that I’d be sorry. I believed him. At the coroner’s inquest a couple of months later his mates from the pub all said that he’d not been drinking any more than usual that night, but he’d been really pissed off about something. Each of them claimed that my dad was able to hold his drink, and it was unlikely he’d just fallen down. Despite this, the verdict was accidental death. He’d taken his usual short-cut home across the railway line. They found some damage to his forehead where he’d hit his head on the train rail and knocked himself out – that’s what the coroner reckoned anyway. The train pretty much chopped him in half. He wouldn’t have known anything about it, the police told Mam. She got some comfort from that. I loved my mam, but sometimes she didn’t know when to shut up. Like when she started on about the night my dad died. It was out of the blue, he’d been dead for years by then. But she tells me she’d met some of his drinking mates in town and they brought up again how it don’t seem likely that he would have just fallen. Never did before, they said. Then she starts asking me where I went after me and my dad had that fight about the roses and the ladybirds. Don’t know why she had to go over all that stuff again. Ancient history – she should have left things alone. Her doctor said it was delayed grief. She’d been to see him for sleeping pills – had things on her mind, she said, things that she didn’t know how to handle. He told the coroner that she was usually pretty good at taking her insulin properly, and that depression had probably affected her judgement about her dose. When she died I went a bit off my head and had to go away. Well, I was made to go away. I’ve been all right for years now. Probably would have stayed all right if them next door hadn’t decided to turn their back into a bleeding Japanese garden last year. Not my thing, but it wouldn’t have bothered me if it weren’t for the sprinklers, and the cat. Their cat had kittens. Those blighters kept getting into my garden once they found their feet. It was winter, no blooms, so I was a bit unsettled anyway. Next door denied it of course, but I provided them with the evidence. I would put the cat shit into sandwich bags and place them on their doorstep, every day. When I showed the police where the kittens kept digging around the base of my roses to use as a toilet they sympathised with me, but said I had to stop. I did. The kittens disappeared quite soon after that and the police came again. They had a little look around and left. Foxes, I told them, they always come round the houses looking for food in the winter. By late spring, with the kitten problem out of the way, I was totally focused on getting the best rose display ever in time for the local council’s garden competition. I’d never entered before. The idea of forms and judges were too much for me. But when I realised that my roses might be in perfect condition by the weekend of the competition, I just went for it. A warm April reminded me of my first roses all those years before, on my dad’s allotment. I never made that mistake again. I know how to handle the weather. I watered each of my fifty-two rose bushes by hand – just enough, and just at their bases. Not a drop of water touched those leaves or buds. Any accidental splash I wiped off with a soft duster I keep in my back pocket. There was no chance that the judges would find even a dot of black, and not a single bloom would be stuck closed from water. It hadn’t rained for two weeks when I heard raindrops pattering on my greenhouse while I was eating my breakfast. The temperatures were still high enough to cause some problems, so I mentally prepared for a long day in the garden. Shaking off the raindrops from every rose and leaf would be a long

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job. I didn’t mind. The results would be worth it. It wasn’t raining. Those idiots next door had installed sprinklers throughout their garden to ‘replicate the conditions in Japan’. The warm dry spring was playing havoc with their mosses they said, so they’d set up a system to sprinkle water from high poles – like rain. It was coming over our boundary wall and wetting all my standards in the circular bed. I told them, very patiently, that even if just one of my roses developed black spot the whole garden could be infected. I explained in detail about the spores getting into the earth. I wanted to keep it civil. Even when they said that it would be easier to replace a few old rose bushes than their expensive maples and azaleas. I kept calm. They laughed when I suggested that they water by hand or with a hose. I recall they said something about that ‘lacking authenticity’, and ‘interfering with their Zen approach’, whatever the hell that means. And anyway, they didn’t have the time, they said. By the time the warm spell was over, and a cold May arrived, I knew my roses were in danger of being less than perfect. I wasn’t feeling myself, so I withdrew from the competition. I kept up my work in the garden, but it had been spoilt, and would continue to be spoilt while those people lived next door. My doctor wasn’t sympathetic. He said he couldn’t write a letter to the council about my neighbours. He wrote me a new prescription instead. I didn’t bother getting it filled. A new family moved in next door four months ago and have absolutely no interest in gardening. Their back has turned into a jungle of weeds ­– you barely see anything Japanese. I don’t mind their weeds coming in though – they’re easy to deal with. Everyone in the street was in shock at the death of my previous neighbours. They’d been on their regular late-night walk with their dog. Stolen car – hit-and-run. The police are following all leads, blah, blah, blah. The usual stuff when they haven’t got much to go on. I didn’t go myself but sent some of my roses to their funeral. Funnily enough, they were the best blooms I’ve ever got. That’s the kitten compost I suppose.

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Abandoned Corpses Diana Elizondo

Tombstones crack and break while people walk past them. Tall grass and trash replace bouquets because no one cares. Names are forgotten as they fade into the old marble. Coffins wither and mold with corpses laid abandoned in the old graveyard.

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A Clean House Paul Blaney

Yesterday night I spent cleaning my dead mother’s house. I’d spent the whole day, from early morning, disposing of its contents, ferrying boxes to charity shops, filling up the skip. Unsure of what I wanted to keep, I’d kept no mementoes—just an old comic book that turned up in a drawer of my childhood bedroom. Now the house stood empty—wallpaper, carpets, light shades, tables, beds and chairs, hangers jangling in empty wardrobes—in need only of a thorough cleaning. I could have paid someone to do it, but in the circumstances that felt not right. And yet, as I sat in the waning light from the kitchen window, listlessly leafing through my 1970s comic book, I couldn’t bring myself to begin. Even though it was a small enough house, just your basic terrace. And even though my mother had always kept it very clean. That was one thing you could definitely say for her. Even when she was in her eighties and I came for my monthly visit, I’d find the place spotless. Not like colleagues who, when visiting their widowed mothers, spend their time dusting cobwebs and mopping floors. I never had to do that, nor did I ever ask her how she managed. Or why she bothered. Myself, I clean my house infrequently, though I wouldn’t say I’m the worst. A woman I know tells me the only way she can motivate herself is to invite

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guests to stay. Or at least to imagine them: the vicar’s mother or a severe aunt arriving unannounced, women whose eyes would miss no tell-tale detail, whose fingers would prod and trail, who would smile and condemn her. My mother needed no such outside assistance. Not that she enjoyed cleaning or ever pretended to; cleaning, she would tell you, was no agreeable business. What I’m trying to say is, sitting at her kitchen table yesterday evening, reluctant and exhausted even before I’d begun, I summoned my mother. That is, I pictured her as I’d seen her often in childhood, standing in the door to my bedroom, gloved and aproned, fists on hips, grim-faced. ‘Would you look at this pigsty?’ Back then I’d been puzzled by her vehemence, but last night I understood. In order to clean house you must first achieve a state of righteous indignation. Cleaning as life-or-death crusade against grime and filth, against bacteria and germs, against microbes. It worked; I felt some of her fervor course through me, enough to impel me to pull on her rubber gloves, tie her apron round my hips and open her closet. It was just as well when I reviewed what was inside. I’d hoped for a few back-saving devices—Swiffers and the like—but of course there was none of that. Vacuum cleaner, broom, dustpan and scrubbing brush, bucket, duster, tea towels, sponges, bleach and cleaning fluids. My mother was of the old school of cleaning, the old-fashioned, sleeves-rolled-up, down-in-the-dirt school. Cleaning as a job of work, woman’s work for a generation before yoga or half marathons. Okay, mother, I told myself, we’ll do this your way. More than a month since she could last have cleaned it, the house had surely never been dirtier. I might have lost heart had I not as I began—starting with her bedroom and the other that had been mine, cleaning the place top to bottom—felt her there with me. Much like at the crematorium I’d felt her not there. Nothing sinister about it, not like a ghost. Or if a ghost, then a very insubstantial one. Not an unsettling presence either, though ready to point out any shortcut I might consider, anything less than thorough. It was her house after all, my mother’s dust that I swept from headboard, dresser, stairs; she meant to see it was cleaned right. And gradually, as I moved on to the bathroom, crouching, squatting, stooping, aching, wincing, loosing a sigh as I scoured the tub, her presence grew more encouraging. As if she were lending force to my quivering arm. Three-and-a-half hours and the house was done. I barely had strength to strip off her gloves and apron before collapsing on the sofa. She was there, too, hovering over, approving. And I was glad myself that I’d been able to do this for her. Not that I’d never done anything for my mother—taken her on holidays, paid for her knee—but this was different. This was her way, physical; I’d ‘done it right.’ And lying there, unable to rise from the sofa, I felt not just my mother but her mother, too, and hers—a whole lineage of women I’d never known crowding the room. A sort of communion, though not in any religious way. As sleep began to enfold me, peculiar thoughts surfaced in my mind. I thought of generations, centuries of women living and dying, their lives defined by relentless labour, domestic or otherwise. Death of course was labour, a job of work, but life was, too, and especially helping someone else to die. Nursing, sitting by the bed, the final vigil, and then undressing, washing the body—did people, women, still do that? I hadn’t nursed my mother; it had all been mercifully quick. I hadn’t even been there when she died. But I’d cleaned her house and that was something. An intimate female ritual. So little we’d shared, mother and daughter, our lives so very different—a difference that widens, it seems to me, with each new generation. But we’d shared this at least. I felt her still there as I fell into sleep, but when I woke she was gone. The house was truly empty, except for me. It was three in the morning, rain outside in the street, and I rose stiffly from the sofa. I

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walked all over the house, though I knew no trace of her would remain. Just a clean, empty house—a house on the market, in the estate agent’s window, and now at last, ready for sale. At some point, as I went up and down stairs, I realized I was weeping, fat tears tracking down my cheeks. And then I wasn’t weeping any more. Then I was out in the wet not-yet morning, tossing one last bag in the skip, starting the car, and heading home. Except that I began to nod off on the motorway and had to pull into a service station for coffee. Sitting there as the shadows lengthened, I flipped through that old comic book I’d somehow brought with me until I came to Mandy Hopkins. Mandy had been one of my favourite characters, a spoiled little girl in school uniform, forever stamping her foot and throwing tantrums. As I finished reading her adventure, another strip came back to me and one image in particular: Mandy standing by a sink full of dishes, her fist clenched and raised over her head. When I grow up, I’m never going to do washing up again! read the speech bubble, or words to that effect. You weren’t meant to sympathize with Mandy, but at ten years old, or whatever I was, I had. Me neither, I’d thought. But, in fact, I did; I have. Even now, forty years on, I can’t go to bed with an unwashed glass in the sink. And, though I could afford it, I won’t pay anybody to clean my house for me either. That might be a class thing of course, but—I realized something that was obvious really, obvious to anyone but me—it’s also a daughter thing. All my life I’ve thought I was nothing like my mother, chalk and cheese. It’s true our lives have been different, but there’s a good deal of her in me. Once that thought would have angered me, or frustrated at least; not this morning. Aging, we grow more like our parents—or is it just that we stop refusing to notice the common features? She may be gone but I carry some of her with me, more than I thought. Comfort in that, I suppose. It’s broad daylight now, Sunday morning. My coffee’s long gone and my comic set aside. I’m turned to the window instead, watching the columns of traffic hurtle past. Death is strange, they say, especially the death of a parent. It changes you. I’ve certainly never experienced anything like I did collapsed on that sofa of hers: the communion of hard-working women! Am I changed though? Does our outlook on life ever really change, I wonder. Our character. Put it another way, will I set to work on my own house next, give it the good old-fashioned cleaning it deserves? Not today I won’t; today is for rest and recuperation. A two-hour bath, takeaway lunch from my favourite Chinese, and so on to the health club for facial, manicure, massage. All things my mother would never have done for herself. Up to me, now, to do them for her. To do them for the both of us.

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Finder Bernard Pearson

‘Well preserved literature lover’ Seeks Cathy, not Jane For a bit of the other. ‘Johnny Depp lookalike’ Looking for a love token, Would send picture, But unfortunately his scanner is broken. ‘Hopeless romantic’ With a penchant for dance Would love to give Mr Darcy Just one more chance. ‘Small Ad’ with absolutely nothing to prove Wants a look-a-like Marilyn To fill her groove. ‘Non Smoking Guardian Reader’ Seeks non-nuclear family. A fast reactor and breeder. ‘Man about at the end of his tether’ Would like his Carol to read his weather. While ‘uninhibited girl’ whose battery is getting low looks up from her screen, and decides to give it one last go. But the thing when meeting via the internet, is one never knows quite what one will get. Like the time she tried a Lonely Hearts column, hoping for Brad Pitt but ended up with Gollum. You see for every ‘Elite, up for anything’ single out there There’s ‘someone alone at home’ Who might just want to share.

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Forest Bathing Nisha Bhakoo

The snowmelt rivers from Mount Ontake in the West are lonesome tonight.

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Amaretto Sam Arrowsmith

We knew you were bored, but you did boredom well. No more walks around the block without knocking back an amaretto. Now there are no more walks and you’ve forgotten the route, after all you’re drunk. Now you’ve forgotten why you sit there. All you can remember is what amaretto tastes like, and you like it.

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My Various Successes DS Maolalai

after a while, she writes me on the internet. tells me she’s just got out finally of a 3 year long relationship. asks if I’d be down for something casual – something easy like what we had before. I think about it, then write back no – I’ve left Toronto and anyway I’m in love now, and very happy about it. we don’t live together, not yet, but her dog is living with me. she says “oh” and then “congratulations”. I talk on blindly, telling her about life and my various successes, like boots in a meadow trampling stalks, newts and white bean flowers. soon she begins to stop responding. I notice my broken path.

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Bedfellows Mark Niedzwiedz

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Funny, how we end our days With strangers either side in nearby graves Never met in life, or at least not knowingly We become the most intimate of friends Sharing who we were, what we did Whom we loved, where we lived Misfortune may have brought us together But since we were first introduced By way of spade, rough and gravel toned Tempered by the melodious meanderings of a parson I think we’ve got on rather well So, don’t be surprised if you hear chatter, amongst the flowers Or, once in a while a much-needed laugh For it’s only me and my bedfellows Who live one metre apart Kathleen was two weeks before So, she bedded me in, took the edge off the raw Told me not to get too upset on visiting days If numbers dwindle or the long grass gets longer A lovely lady, who used to make dresses And as to her age, she gave me three guesses But that can’t be hidden as dates are all we are now Boldly written on brass plaques, or chiselled out on cool marble But I play along with Kathleen So, don’t be surprised if you hear chatter, amongst the flowers Or, once in a while a much-needed laugh For it’s only me and my bedfellow Who died two weeks apart Ken came a month after, and needed time We have that in abundance here, to adjust, realign Being born in the same decade gave us a footing, common ground So, it was not long before familiarity thawed the frost Ken was a family man, with a passion for trains He tells me about his Father, I just listen in the main, And then there’s me, piggy in the middle, making the best of things for, in this scented garden, sadness does pass away So, don’t be surprised if you hear chatter, amongst the flowers Or, once in a while a much-needed laugh For it’s only me and my bedfellows Who sleep one metre apart

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Cuando Despertó, el Dinosaurio Todavía Estaba Allí Paul Blaney

That’s right, when he awoke, or woke up—or even, if you prefer, when he came around—the dinosaur was still there. She hadn’t budged from where she lay stretched like a cow in fine weather, though she’d been awake the whole time, wide awake and staring down at the boy who was now again staring up at her. The boy who began slowly to rise from the recumbent position in which he’d slept, without mattress, pillow or blanket. The boy who, never once shifting his eyes from the dinosaur, rose and crossed his legs to sit upright on that parquet floor. Brown-eyed boy looking up at yellow-eyed dinosaur looking down: you’d have been hard put to say which was more curious about the other. And then what? Why, then, for the moment, nothing—no sound or motion, no rising drama. Not so much as a fat, buzzing fly to break the still hush. Well now, pauses can be awkward but we’re all friends here. We know how to be patient. No doubt a story will break out sooner or later. In the meantime, an opening paragraph like that one throws up a host of questions. Without taking our eyes off this incongruous pair, while waiting for their encounter to develop, what say we tidy up some background details? Incidental matters, like the size and aspect of the room—a parquet floor definitely implies a room—and the circumstances in which the boy first encountered this dinosaur; how he came to fall asleep, and what he’s wearing. And then how can I say for certain that this is a dinosaur—they have, after all, been extinct for some time? I can, I think, answer these questions readily enough. Where to begin?

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With the dinosaur! She has scaly skin, naturally. Powerful hind legs with nice sharp claws. Oh, and a tail. She’s about the color of pistachio ice cream and about the size of a full-grown cow, to which we’ve already had occasion to liken her pose. No doubt an expert could identify the exact species but the main point is this: what we’re dealing with here—what the boy is dealing with—is a bona fide, authentic, 100-percent-proof dinosaur. If you happened on her yourself, trust me, there’d be no ifs or buts. Oh! you’d exclaim, as if you’d chanced on an orange puffball or recalled a hair appointment, a dinosaur! The question of how our boy fell asleep is an easy one. He’d just had his lunch, a rich lamb stew with tarragon and mint-yoghurt, and this was a boy of no great discipline. He didn’t know how to stop himself, or not till after a second bowl. So, you see, his falling asleep was entirely predictable, biological, and in the normal course of events. But wait! What do I see here (in the nick of time, since I’d yet to determine how the boy-dinosaur encounter came about, and as for that room . . .)? The boy’s eyebrows have drawn together in a manner suggesting concentration. Still cross-legged, he raises his left buttock from the parquet floor, and a volume of gas sighs through his anal sphincter. The boy is unembarrassed. Nor does the dinosaur—I don’t think we can call them companions as yet—betray any reaction. Perhaps her eyes widen a fraction, perhaps her eyebrows. . .but dinosaurs don’t have eyebrows and, in their absence, it would be wrong to speculate. Forget the dinosaur for the moment; the boy has stirred himself again. He’s stood and stretched and set off to walk around the dinosaur (from which we may infer that the room is of a fair size and not, like some, encumbered with too many chairs and tables). Once, twice, thrice he circumambulates the dinosaur—she moving only as necessary to follow his progress with her eyes—pausing at intervals to tilt his head like an artist pondering perspective. And then, for a second time, the boy breaks the silence of our story. ‘Dinosaurio,’ says he, like a doctor pronouncing diagnosis. To which our dinosaur replies not a word, possibly because: i) She’s deaf; or ii) She speaks no Spanish; or iii) She lacks the gift of speech; or iv) She’s unimpressed by his conversational overture; or v) There’s nothing much to say. And then what? Why, then, I must admit, there’s another pause—nothing like so long as the first! And, in its wake, the story’s tempo really picks up. First, the boy extends a hand to the dinosaur’s squamous flank. He gives her a tentative pat then a stroke—from his expression we may infer that stroking a dinosaur is nothing like stroking his pet rabbit. For her part, the dinosaur remains placid; she goes on watching over her shoulder. Only when the boy makes bold to throw his leg over her back, attempting to mount her as you would a camel, does she bestir herself. Even so, it’s only a shrug. But that shrug is enough to tumble the boy gently back to the floor. Whereupon he repeats his effort. With the same outcome. The boy’s brow furrows with a blend two parts puzzlement to one of frustration. To cut a long story . . . (But has this been a long story? Long is a relative term and, as this story’s humble author, it’s not my place to judge.) At any rate, to cut our story short, the boy loses interest. He takes a hike. Slings his hook. Quits the scene. Exits stage left. Evidently, like some boys that age, he hasn’t a great deal of patience. To be fair to the lad, he can’t be more than ten. And looking back on this low-key encounter—one that began with such promise, curiosity on either side—I see now that this was our real problem: the age gap. Him just ten and she . . . how long do dinosaurs live? Anyhow, definitely older. (You’d be surprised how many stories fail to take off or catch fire for just this reason. Like when, aged

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12 or so, I used to get my hair cut by a trainee, a buxom young woman of 18 or 19. Conversation was painfully stilted.) Yes, I can’t help thinking that if that boy had only been five years older. Or even a little girl. Imagine how much we might have learned? What a story that would have been! Still, there’s no use crying over spilt milk. And I’m forgetting our dinosaur, alone now in the wood-floored room. I was, in fact, about to describe that room to you, in delicious detail, had she not chosen that moment to break her saurian silence. To do so, what’s more, in the form of words: in the form of a complete, grammatically sophisticated sentence. What the dinosaur said, speaking English, which the boy, Ernesto, might not have understood but that you and I naturally do, was as follows: ‘Well, I do think he might have said pardon!’ Now I must confess that even I, at first, found this to be a puzzling comment. (Why that emphasis on ‘do’, and why the exclamation mark, though Heaven knows they get everywhere these days?) Until it dawned on me: that gaseous leak between Ernesto’s nether cheeks. And, having once determined the dinosaur’s point of reference, I felt greatly consoled. Yes, there are a number of facts and details concerning dinosaurs that my story has failed to furnish. These include: i) Do dinosaurs believe in an afterlife? ii) Do they prefer the Beatles or the Stones? iii) Are they capable of altruism, empathy, jealousy, love? iv) Do they scare themselves sometimes? v) Do they tell jokes? Funny ones? vi) Which system of government do they favor? Plenty of things we didn’t learn about dinosaurs, granted, but we did learn something. Sluggish they may be, slow to movement or speech, but they value good manners. And I, for one, dear reader, find that knowledge immensely cheering. What’s that you say: a single dinosaur is not statistically significant? She may be the exception rather than the rule. But, I ask you, could she have acquired that sort of refinement in isolation? I’ve thought about the matter a good deal and, frankly, I can’t see it. What I can see is a whole sophisticated dinosaur culture, complete with elaborate customs and intricate dances, polite forms of address and frequent use of the subjunctive, with thank-you notes and elegant, heartfelt apologies, exquisite ceremonies and seven-course banquets served by well-adjusted adolescent wait staff. A culture that puts our human society, in its crude, present-day form, to shame.

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An English Wood Geraldine Douglas

Breezes, juicy as tangerines, play, Snug next to Roses, waiting to surge their brilliance. May’s seed embed celebrates June’s feast With blasts of tinselled tapestries and silk gowns. Orbs, spiralling, void from Buttercup to Clover. Californian Poppies open daytime hearts, Close like a doll’s heavy eyes by evening, when… Shadows of Doves chant…as monastery Monks, Foxglove flutes, a showcase for Bumbles, Who seem to float through a river of air. Camelia flowers, blown bubbles of blood, simmer As withering Tulips say goodbye. Cosmos mini-skirts flair in gusts who flaunt, While Wisteria’s fringes flap. Grass, beats his greenery to raindrops, Rose strives for perfection, Aided by Blue-Tit fighters Targeting Aphid squadrons. Phlox shine like tinfoil, musk scents, leaves of green velvet. Wood Pigeon shatters the mirrored bird bath, His silverness melts the water chiffon As violet mists snake around a Blueberry bush, Looking for an end…or a beginning. Butterflies wing the air like an ocean of azure, Seeking cribs, birthing their pearls on tissues of olive. An English Wood… A glimpse of another world, Closer to paradise. A jewel maker nourished by silence.

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Flowers in my Brain Katya Chambers

‘Do you want to talk about it?’ they ask.

About the flowers in my brain That died from lack of sleep? And about the lilies that grew And lay alone beneath the grief?

At times, there stands a weeping willow In with the joyous Spanish moss: When the rain should kiss my cheeks, I’m swept below the undertow of loss. So I say, ‘let’s not talk about the Jungle of my mind.’ For I know your face will drop In with the weeds that My friends once left behind. Scrittura Magazine / 31

Arrows in The Breeze Dean Fox

Miles Atkins, minor reality TV celeb, married to Bianca Roberts from the all-girl group, Startle! It was wedding of the year on some gossip sites, until that is, the next one came along. Miles, a prolific tweeter, spent hours on his phone. Absolutely loved gaining followers – never replied to any of them though. Just passed 100 000, but his goal was one million – that was the Holy Grail! The Shit! The Fucking Big Time! One million: ‘such stuff as dreams are made on!’ Today, it was time for another tweet to generate babble, maybe a photo. He’d asked Bianca if they could post a selfie in their matching Burberry ponchos and cowboy hats, but she said that she couldn’t be bothered. So, instead, he posted one of himself: moody in a white vest, torn jeans and carrying a hacksaw, like he was about to do some DIY! It was then that he saw the tweet from Gaz. It was a mother-in-law joke, a bit Les-Dawson, but quite funny in a seventies, retro sort of way. Miles liked it, made him smile! Worth a retweet. So in a breath, from his phone, it careened through Cyberspace until it spanned his 100 000 followers like a vast rainbow. Sweet. Miles then forgot about it as he had to go out, his agent, Simon Snively, wanted a meet. As the disquiet grew, the rainbow cracked like crazing on porcelain. At first there was just a ripple. How could Miles represent such outdated, damaging stereotypes? This is an affront to mothersin-law everywhere! The ripple became a quiver, then a stir, swelling to a wave, a gust, growing into a squall, before the storm broke! The twitterati had spoken in their thousands from their armchairs and offices, and they disapproved! Mother-in-laws around the world deserve more than that Miles Atkins! We used to believe in you! In the office, Simon Snively – navy Canali suit, no tie, top button undone – was dismayed. ‘How could you? Don’t you think before you do anything? You spanner?’

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‘No, it was a hacksaw.’ ‘Not that tweet, the other one. Who sent it to you?’ ‘Gaz.’ ‘Who the fuck’s Gaz?’ ‘A school friend. Look, B’s mum doesn’t mind when I tell jokes like that.’ ‘Bianca’s mum’s on Trabazone, she’s probably not even listening! Look at what they’re saying about you: misogynist, ageist, insensitive. Oh shit, that’s all we need!’ ‘What is it now Sime?’ ‘It’s been picked up in the newsfeeds! “Reality TV star causes Twitter furore! Miles Atkins, who appeared on Gigolo Goldigger, Dating a Cougar and Open Relationships has offended thousands on social media with his latest tweet ridiculing mothers-in-law.’ The article went on to quote a representative from a national charity representing mothersin-law, who felt that all their progress over the last 30 years had been eroded. Then, as he read the last section, Simon buried his head in his hands. ‘Energy drink sponsors, Wrecking Havoc, are now carefully considering Miles’ position as their brand ambassador.’ ‘Do you think they’re going to terminate my contract?’ asked Miles. ‘They might, but we need to write an apology first, that might take some of the sting out of this.’ ‘Like I’m sorry, won’t do it again, that kind of thing?’ ‘Exactly.’ Simon began to draft the apology as Miles waited. ‘Right, I’ve finished it, what about this then?’ Simon read the read the letter aloud to Miles: This morning I retweeted something without giving it my full attention and consideration. The meme about mothers-in-law has caused a great deal of offence, and I now recognise that retweeting this was wrong. In light of this, I would like to offer, to all those people who feel disappointed in me and were hurt by my actions, a sincere apology. This has given me cause to reflect, and I am now on a journey to understand how, as a celebrity in the public eye, I can use my influence in a responsible way to uphold values that I truly believe in. I hope you will support me in my atonement. ‘What does atonement mean?’ ‘It’s like forgiveness.’ ‘Forgiveness? Sime, it was only a bit of banter!’ ‘I know, but you’ve upset a lot of people, and potentially you’re going to lose a contract. This’ll flip the story, so it’s goes from being about mother-in-laws to being about your journey to become a better person.’ ‘Journey, I like that.’ ‘Can you send that out now on your phone?’ ‘It won’t fit,’ replied Miles, ‘140 characters, remember?’ ‘Well send it in two or three parts then, and hopefully it will draw a line under this business.’ ‘Now?’ ‘Yeah now!’ Obediently, Miles posted the tweet, and soon there were countless likes, retweets and comments in support. Some users held Miles up as a paragon of decency in these morally ambiguous times. In short, he became a voice, representing mothers-in-law everywhere. Meanwhile, for the rest of the day, social media was fairly quiet, but only for 24 hours, until the next round of opprobrium and dismay was unleashed in someone else’s direction.

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Game On Lynn White

Even as a child, she could play a mean game of dominoes. Sometimes it was just against her mother, sometimes other members of the family as well, or her friends and their mothers. Games were always sedate, well mannered, even tempered dominoes carefully placed on the table with a gentle click clack. She usually won. Later, she discovered that the pub game was quite different. Every move was contested. Dominoes were slammed down noisily with a bounce which disturbed those already placed and led to heated debate about where they had been and where they should be now. And there was always an audience which joined in as well shouting advice and abuse, whichever was deemed appropriate. Excitement mounted as the beer flowed. And she won again.

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In Consideration Jeffrey Zable

For me, having higher thinking skills has never done me much good. In fact, being able to reflect and analyze is probably the reason I’ve had to deal with sadness and depression my entire life. Given this, I often wish that I had no more thinking ability than a turtle or a lizard for I likely would have enjoyed my life a lot more, actually moving around with a smile that wasn’t put there to hide my true feelings. If I were able to do it over again, I’d surely trade my mind for that of a small animal that just lives for the moment and has no more aspirations than to find a little food and a place to enjoy the sunlight.

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Met on The Corner James Bell

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Alan was aware of the unwritten conventions around meeting on the corner. First you agreed the time: seven o’ clock. Second, the guy should arrive early. About ten to seven worked as a margin, in the unlikely event the girl was early. Legend had it that this had happened and spoiled the date. The girl, by contrast, could show up five minutes late and keep the guy keen. Later, and he would become more and more annoyed. Nothing could be left to chance, especially for a first date. Alan’s first date with Lucy made him both nervous and excited. She worked just up the road in a drycleaner’s, he in a camera shop a few doors down. His boss liked to wear starched collars with his shirts that needed to be dry-cleaned. So Alan, as junior, took them to the drycleaner’s. Lucy, a pretty little dark haired girl had caught his eye and he hers. It took many weeks and many starched collars. Finally, over the corner of the counter they snatched a quick chat. She finished half-day on Saturday just as he did, so plenty of time to finish, get home to wash and change. So there he was, as convention dictated at quarter to seven, not leaving anything to chance. His watch synchronised to the clock that had hung from House of Fraser’s corner above the store, probably for more than Alan’s seventeen years. Thousands of dates must have started here, with thousands of different outcomes, all taking their chances of this one being the one – or not as the case might be. As soon as he got off the bus and walked up to the corner, hands in overcoat pockets, he felt like he had stepped onto a stage with all eyes on him. They all knew why he was stood there; the corner was famous for meeting up. He tried to walk up and down a bit to look less conspicuous. The only person who stood on the corner as a real fixture was the news vendor. He was doing a roaring trade with the Saturday edition of the Evening News. ‘Evenin’ Nooze,’ he barked at regular intervals, punctuating Alan’s wait. At ten to seven, a couple of other guys

showed up and stood under the clock, nervous and excited as he was but trying not to show it. They rubbed their hands and stamped their feet. A cold Saturday in March, the news vendor was wrapped up for the weather in a hat with ear flaps and fingerless gloves. He knew from years of experience the potential for wind chill and took no chances with his livelihood. The other guys had smart jackets, trousers and ties but no overcoats. Alan felt an affinity with the old news vendor. Five to seven, and a girl appeared. She was not meeting either of the other guys. She was not Lucy either. Small with dark hair, she was like Lucy. She wore a green woollen bobble hat that went with her warm green duffle coat and held her handbag in gloved hands. Although warm, she had broken the convention for girl arrivals. She was pretty, especially when she smiled. Alan tried to think about Lucy. Seven o’clock and three more guys had arrived: smart jackets, no overcoats. A couple of girls showed up and went off with the two coldest guys. Time seemed to accelerate to five past seven and there had been swift changes in the corner waiting population, all walking away together from the cold, windy corner. The only constants to remain were Alan and the pretty girl with the bobble hat. At ten past seven they nodded politely to each other. Quarter past and a couple of guys appeared early for their seven thirty rendezvous. Alan made a decision. He walked over to the girl and said, ‘Looks like we’ve both been stood up.’ ‘Yes, it does, doesn’t it? she replied, a little sad. ‘What were you going to do?’ ‘Go to the pictures.’ ‘Me too. How about if we take a chance and go together? I’m Alan, by the way.’ ‘Moira. Yes, let’s do that.’ They both smiled and walked off arm in arm – a boldness uncharacteristic of either of them. They went for coffee to warm up and get to know each other a little better. Moira, a clerical assistant in a big civil service department, had been asked out by a ‘good-looking boy from another department’. She suspected she had been stood up deliberately, duped and laughed at. Alan told his story. ‘You are too good for her,’ was Moira’s judgement. # The news vendor looked younger than Alan remembered. He was selling the early edition of the Evening News – would need to sell all of them before the late edition came out. The latter were greater in number and sold better. The bark was always the same though: ‘Evenin’ Nooze’. His second word sometimes sounded like noose. It was disconcerting that the news vendors looked younger now. Alan had known them all over nearly forty-five years. He’d told them how he and Moira had met on this very corner. He could see Moira coming through the crowds with her bags and bits of shopping; always imagining her in her green duffle coat and bobble hat. They always met at this corner when going into town on a Saturday having decided that, after the circumstances in which they first met, nothing should be left to chance again. At least he thought he saw her walking towards him, as he had done for a few years now. It had been their Saturday afternoon routine for so many years. He’d stay for half an hour – he hadn’t been stood up – then chat to one of the ever-changing news vendors in between their shouts of ‘Evenin’ Nooze’, before going for the bus home to the empty house, having made some kind of minimal purchase to justify yet another trip into town with his memories on a busy Saturday afternoon.

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Lucky, Blonde & HalfUkrainian Lisa Reily

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I was lucky I started out okay. I was born in the hospital where my aunty worked; Mum squatted through the fence in our backyard, dropped me off in the ward shortly after. Dad was sick of fighting with her, so he didn’t turn up, but he expected me; I was the only one who was planned. When you make plans, you get a girl; the boys just turn up, they always reckoned. I had blonde hair, legs like a peasant, and blue eyes—like a Russian spy, a boy once told me. My nanna wore a grey scarf, sometimes a black one. I was half-Ukrainian, I told the boy, but he’d only heard of Russia. We hid chocolate eggs in Nanna’s garden amongst her roses, tomatoes and plum trees. Zida ate most of them. Zida was her dog, got the coloured foil between her teeth, but at least we got some. We ate pierogies, but nobody at my school had heard of them, or Ukraine until Nadia Comăneci; that was the first time I’d seen the blue and yellow flag, the first time I knew that I was someone else. I tried ballet with my brothers, wore pink tights and satin slippers, tried judo—got to yellow belt, couldn’t hit a tennis ball, throw a netball, kick a soccer ball; did a somersault and a cartwheel in a purple leotard on a wooden beam; got my green hat with a flower on it tangled in my stupid hairdo at my ballet exam when I was seven, and I felt betrayed; fell into the water on a farm excursion, had to wear the teacher’s jumper with wet undies on until I got home. I was lucky I had blonde hair, good undies, and no one had heard of Ukraine. I burnt my eyebrows playing with matches, watched my big brother swallow a leaf through his snorkel, watched creaming soda squirt from his nose, watched him run with a tin of soup and biscuits

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from the old witch lady down the road, and I ran with him to hide her gifts in the scrub at the park. Ripped my arm on the rope that tied me to the back of my uncle’s speedboat; watched dad waving when he thought I was laughing watched him laughing and smiling and waving while I dragged behind, crying and crying out to him, like I cried and cried when my uncle died and left the submarine he made for his built-in pool only half-finished, and his big dog lonely, my two cousins without a dad, and my mum sad at her sewing machine, the sink and the stove and the Hills Hoist; and at night Mum dreaming of flying with him. I had a little dog called Lulu, a yellow dog called Humphrey, a root-your-leg dog called Radar, a duckling called George, and a rooster who attacked you on your way to swing round on the Hills Hoist. I had an arse to sink a ship, legs like tree trunks, but some boys liked it all and wanted to go with me. I had small breasts you could see through my school shirt ‘cause I didn’t have enough to fill a bra. I had an uncool school bag, the one I always wanted, only five years too late when Mum and Dad finally bought it for me. I had a moody older brother who broke tiles when he was angry, a foster brother who got caught by the cops, a younger brother who got everything, but I loved him anyway. I was the only girl and got pretty dresses, jazz shoes, and tight jeans, fairy costumes, bird costumes, Hawaiian dance outfits. I was lucky I was a girl, and no one knew I was half-Ukrainian, because I looked Australian and Mum didn’t have an accent, and no one saw Nanna with her scarves, because she lived a drive away and we always went her way. I listened to the Bee Gees, the Bay City Rollers, AC/DC, Mum’s Waylon Jennings, her Fleetwood Mac, and her torn-between-two-lovers-Mary-MacGregor. I knew a ramblin’ man when I saw one, damned the dark and damned the light, and I screamed my guts out singing Jailbreak with my foster brother on the vacant block next door.

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We had an out-of-the ground pool; I had orange goggles, blue flippers and a pink bikini, but I didn’t always wear the top when I was little. We had a phallic stack of river stones Mum stole from the park, cemented in the pond she’d made herself, and our dogs would swim around it. We had a garage full of games, rusty shelves to the ceiling with Pick-up Sticks, Monopoly and Scrabble, and outside a swing set and a slippery dip and some monkey bars that were good for climbing. We had skateboards and bikes, but I had training wheels at first. I had roller skates, a talking doll, and a doll that wet her pants. We had a green plastic Christmas tree with decorations we made and some little birds from Poland; I mostly loved the pretty birds, all shiny with feathery tails and sequinned dots. Mum loved them too. We had a new concrete driveway that my little brother hopped down in a homemade Superman suit that Mum made, thinking he was really flying, really believing it. So we kept asking him to do it. I was the only girl, so I was lucky; lucky as the dog that Mum found on the side of the road near our street, a ball of white fluff Mum thought was dead and went to move, but it was breathing and she nearly lost it; she picked it up and drove it to the vet and fixed it, even its teeth ‘cause the bloody owner didn’t look after it. I was lucky I was the only girl ‘cause I had my own room and Mum covered it with lemon-and-gold rose wallpaper until I was old enough to cover it with the Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger and a Salvador Dali, and a poster of John Lennon, and I cried all night when he died. I was lucky I started out okay, ‘cause it didn’t matter as much when things went wrong and Mum got mad and got a divorce and Dad went crazy and they kept fighting and moving and cheating and sneaking and yelling and hating each other. I was lucky when I was little that my mum was pretty and nice and kind and she fostered one of my older brothers and she was better than the big fat lady, who was his real mum. I was lucky I started out okay,

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so when Lulu died and Humphrey died and George died I knew I would survive and they would be happy in their blankets under our tree with Mum’s purple violets in our backyard, just like Mum said they would. I was lucky with my spelling lists every year that I never got a word wrong that Mum always helped me draw pictures on my projects that Dad taught me to ride a bike and lied when he let go, so I rode on and on with him yelling like he was right behind me. (I wasn’t lucky once when my little brother pinched and slapped his leg, told Mum I smacked him, and I got into big trouble.) I was lucky I got to have two Christmases and two Easters, one at our place and one at Nanna’s, because she was Ukrainian and we got to eat too-hot horseradish and cabbage rolls called holopchi and sweet cake which was blessed by the priest and the painted eggs from Nanna’s basket; and the people would laugh when the priest splashed them with his holy water on his way round the church where everyone waited with their full Easter baskets, and I got to go there with Nanna; I was the only one who got to go ‘cause I was the only girl, and Nanna bought me a special dress with pinched material on the front that no one else got except me and each pinch was decorated with a tiny, sparkling crystal, so it twinkled when I looked down, and everyone at the church had heard of Ukraine, and I had blonde hair and good undies, and I knew I was someone else, and I knew my Mum and Dad loved me, and I had a scarf-wearing nanna with a dog called Zida, and three weird brothers, and my own room, and lots of games and pets and everything, so even when things went wrong I knew I would survive and that George and our dogs would be happy in their blankets under our tree, beneath Mum’s purple violets, just like Mum said they would; and I knew that I was lucky. Even when things started to go really bad, I knew that I was lucky, ‘cause I started out okay.

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Kintsugi Claire Walker

My trembling hands filled the kettle. Your football mug with its tea stains whispered the scent of an accidental earl grey, the added betrayal of milk not lemon and the frosting of her lip gloss to one side. The kettle bubbled, hissed, told me, I’m done. You spoke about the end of our love Like you were discussing the weather The sideboard my steer in this storm. I dropped the teapot, the pieces as coarse as the November air that followed you out. Now the sun ripples through the full tree that was bare when you last took tea. I lift the thin-lipped china, enjoying the bergamot dancing on my tongue, while outside magnolia buds fall, blanketing a Spring carpet And the birds sing like they know.

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Lynn White The marks have already faded in the playground in the park. It’s deserted now. Since the lockdown no one plays outdoors. None of us play the old games anymore. I try to remember the rules but my memories are fading like the laughter of children, like the marks on the ground. There are new rules now, but no games to play.

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Games People Play

Other Side of The Curtain ML Sund

Potions and pills Levity, sin Past shroud of day Night draws him in Behind the curtain Blue sky turns black Nothing certain Will my son come back? Behind the curtain Blue turns to black Look deep in his eyes Past tubes and machines Did the forces demonic Take all his dreams? Behind the curtain Blue turns to black Did his soul escape? Will he ever come back? Reminisce the joys Talk close in his ear Wish we’d done more In the months and years Faded pictures Flash through my mind Birthdays, holidays His smile so wide The future was aglow Endless dreams Now no horizon Lost it seems Can’t look no more I just can’t take it The priest utters words But can he make it Nothing certain Will my son come back? Behind the curtain Blue turns to black Blue turns to black

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Driving The Love Train Into The Tunnel of Death E. Martin Pedersen

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If you are my only mnemonic device I cannot see your face through the haze closing in knowing it’s there after me; you ripple of electrons as mine slow to a stop. How you picked and picked at your cuticles, how you warred against articles, prepositions then tore apart the snow peas grinding down your gears. I was never satisfied either but now all religion vainglorious tastes are a nuisance daydreams as common birds – nothing without the hard sense of nothing – blue of sky, green of fern, fresh of air, cool of night, black pillow cloud smothering extinguishing stars on my countenance. Still, my love, romance aside I truly hope I’ll be your guide.

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Emergency Plan Rae Rozman

When Aphrodite has pulled the stars one by one from the sky to give as gifts to another undeserving lover darkening the night to a dystopian paradise Meet me under the weeping willow next to the smallest bend in the river bring a bar of expensive chocolate and that bottle of cognac you were saving for a special occasion (what were you waiting for if not the end of the world?) Sip by sip we’ll sway ever closer to the water pulling each other back from catastrophe just one more time

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Parroting James Appleby

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‘I can only say that it is troublesome to watch a songbird beat itself to death against the bars of a cage or die of fear as soon as you enter a room.’ This was what my father said as he left me with the woman. ‘But you’ll find this parrot a different order of animal altogether. They adapt readily to captivity; I can assure you of that.’ My father was a stooped man, bird-looking but not a bird. At the centre of his face he had a beak like mine, with a small fleshy growth beside his left beak-hole, and a scalp of dark feathers. I had my father’s eyes: the pupil took up almost all the space, with a thin circle of orange by the socket. From the moment I split the shell of my egg with my egg tooth, I had adored my father. ‘The tribes of South America have kept them for millennia,’ he told the woman. We were in her home, which was as dark and warm as an incubator. ‘They had them in Rome and they had them in Ancient Greece. Columbus stole parrots and brought them to Spain. Madam, I welcome you into a grand tradition.’ From inside the cage I saw the following: a chair, a chest of drawers, the window and its brass latch, a television. All of these things I knew from my father’s home. I had never seen a plant outside of posters, but I recognised a tree in the corner of the room. My father picked at its decorations and said, ‘Christmas in February?’ The woman coloured a tropical red though her outfit was temperate brown. As they carried me into her home, I saw a doormat where the word welcome was written, and though the word welcome was not written in her head, her plumage was the same texture. The lenses of her glasses contained small luminaries. She was so slight that, when she shook my father’s hand, her fingers were swallowed up, and she looked relieved to have gotten all of them back. My father patted the roof of my cage and told me to be a good boy. ‘This is Mrs Stevenson,’ he said through the bars. ‘She’ll be your mother now.’ Then he crossed the welcome mat and the woman closed the door. I screamed. I didn’t stop screaming even when Mrs Stevenson bunged up her ears. She looked pleadingly into my cage and offered a tray of sunflower seeds. I didn’t stop screaming. My father was the animal I loved most, and he had abandoned me. She filled the tray so high that the seeds brimmed and clattered onto the cage’s plastic floor. I screamed until Mrs Stevenson threw a cloth over my cage and it became dark. Hours later, the hem of that cloth lifted. From underneath I could see the glint of Mrs Stevenson’s lenses. ‘Would you look at your feathers? They’re all fluffed,’ she said. I had no voice left to scream. With my beak I reached into my chest and tore a feather out. Mrs Stevenson looked as if I’d pulled the bristles from her welcome mat. ‘Stop that!’ she said. ‘Robert, you’ll hurt yourself!’ I didn’t stop until my chest was naked. I was so much thinner on my chest than on my head, and my skin was puckered, and Mrs Stevenson said, ‘Like a rotisserie,’ but I didn’t know what she meant. Then she was crying. She wasn’t crying like I had been screaming; she was silent and her lenses fogged. ‘Robert,’ she said. ‘Please don’t be so sad.’ She unpeeled a banana and, opening the door to my cage, held the tip towards me. I retreated into the corner. She drew back her hand, took a bite and chewed. I knew that she was showing me the way, but I could not make myself eat. This place was nothing like my natural habitat, my breeding facility. Soon Mrs Stevenson didn’t want to be my friend; she did not want to be my mother. She left the radio playing while she made boiling drinks. I couldn’t see the content of the television, but I watched

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the colours pass over her face. She didn’t wash and her plumage became matted. The room was like this for a long time. Sometimes Mrs Stevenson took a screen from her chest of drawers. It was nothing at all like the other telephone in the house, which had a receiver the size and shape of a banana. She stared at the screen with the same distrust that I had seen in wild-caught birds. She touched it with intent, beginning each movement with her hand beside her face. The phone was loud enough to hear across the room, but she still held it close. Someone said hello as if disturbed. ‘It’s just I was wondering if you – well, how is everything?’ said Mrs Stevenson. ‘It’s been so long since we’ve spoken, and it’s a shame, it really is, when you think of everything you used to tell me.’ The voice that said hello was always different and its tone always the same. The call was soon over, and Mrs Stevenson put the phone back in its drawer. The screen-light was still on and the edges of the drawer glowed in the dark little room. After many days of such calls, Mrs Stevenson began to stare at me. She dragged her chair from its place by the television. She placed it in front of the cage and told me, ‘Speak.’ I was silent. I was not a toy. Her fingers knitted. ‘Robert,’ she said. ‘I’m asking you to speak to me.’ I squawked instead. She threw her arms into the air and shouted, ‘Not even the parrot will talk!’ I said, ‘It’s six o’clock and you’re listening to BBC news.’ She gestured for me to speak again. ‘I cry like a baby. Waah, waah, waah.’ ‘Don’t you stop!’ she said. ‘What else can you do?’ In the same tone as her contacts, I said, ‘Hello?’ I knew at once that I had done something wrong. I thought that Mrs Stevenson might cry, but she gulped it down. She looked at me slanted through the bars. ‘Fast learner, aren’t you?’ The more time I spent outside the cage, sitting on Mrs Stevenson’s chair or perching on her finger, the more I understood about the room. We were up very high. From the window I could see trees; at sunset and sunrise, wild birds flew around them. I began to recognise individual pigeons. I knew the one with the splodged white face, another who had lost his leg on vermin spikes. I heard the sparrows calling when a hawk passed over our roof. I had hopped from the Christmas tree to the window; I believe it was a Tuesday. The fact that it was a Tuesday did not matter to the wild birds but to me and Mrs Stevenson it was of enormous importance. Our favourite shows played on a Tuesday evening, and she called for me to join her in her chair. I waited another moment at the ledge and saw a new flock on the far side of the glass. Four birds, green as artificial turf, passed in formation. I could not believe that I had seen parakeets. Mrs Stevenson said, ‘I heard they escaped from a zoo. It’s very exotic having them around.’ And when they appeared the next day, ‘Sure you’d love to fly around like that. It’d be dangerous, mind. Just last week I saw one taken by a bird of prey.’ ‘Fly around like them,’ I repeated. ‘I could open the window and you could – I don’t know – perch there. Talk to them. But what would you say?’ I opened my wings to show where my feathers had been clipped. My father had taken my body

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in his hands and, with a pair of scissors, cut six of my primaries away. Those of us who were born at the facility hardly knew the difference between flying and not flying, but the wild-caught birds shuddered in the days after their operation. Some did what my father called going light. Each day they weighed a little less, and soon they were so weak that they could not lift themselves from the cage floor, and soon after that they were dead. Mrs Stevenson took the screen from her chest of drawers and brought up a picture of a parrot. She pressed an arrow at the centre of the image, and I watched the bird as it flew. When I hid in the Christmas tree, she asked, ‘Don’t you want to see how you’d look?’ ‘Don’t want to look,’ I said. But I often thought of that film as I flapped about the room. For the first time I wondered how natural my habitat had been. I remembered the fungi that wound about our legs, the psittacosis, the infestation of mites that made our beaks grow monstrous and crooked. ‘Would you like to sit on my finger, or would you prefer to stay at the window all day?’ ‘Stay at the window.’ I waited for the flock to pass, noisy as they pleased, their tails streaming behind as if unable to keep up. My own wings had moulted and the feathers on my chest had all grown back. You’d never have known what the scissors took away. And I was stretching by the glass. I was watching the birds. ‘I don’t understand you,’ said Mrs Stevenson, her hand on the window. ‘Understand! Understand!’ ‘You want to leave, don’t you? You want to abandon me?’ I couldn’t make any of that into words; I only called to the parakeets as they passed. They came by the window and I was certain that they saw us. Mrs Stevenson held the brass latch. ‘But why do you want to go?’ she asked. She gestured at her home, where the television was mute, and the Christmas tree shed needles. Jumping on the sill, I called, ‘Want to go!’ Her glasses fogged as she undid the latch. She pushed at the window until there was nothing between me and the birds. And I stepped into the air, screaming for joy.

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Polaroid Anindita Sarkar

I get out of my house, sling my backpack on my shoulder and wave at Javed; he is there as usual on time. In the car, I initiate a casual conversation but end up pouring out my passive aggression and rant about my mid-life crisis. I pause at a Polaroid tucked into the rear-view mirror: a woman in her thirties proudly displays a beach-ball size baby bump and palms the taut surround of her naval. I ask him about the picture pointing to the Polaroid with my square-nailed finger bitten to the quick. He readies himself to confess, ‘The girl I proposed to in mud-splattered boots on a rainy evening in Iran. I used to meet her after Friday prayers under a tree. I married her five years ago.’ Javed is a man of few words. He lives alone at Bartram Avenue in his small one-room apartment. Life wasn’t easy for us. But Javed works with a rhythm. During break time he wanders aimlessly in the park in front of our office. On weekends he never hangs out with us, he stays at home working on his new project, composing a new poem or building a birdhouse. He is a man of solitude. Occasionally he can be spotted at the cinema or the farmer’s market, all alone. We stop at the signal. I roll the window down and notice two middle-aged men just like us, in the car adjacent to ours, staring. As the signal reads green, car sirens honk behind us. I struggle to remember where we are. ‘I never knew you were married! Do you have a kid too? Where do they live?’ As I speak his pupils dilate, his face smudged with shadows. ‘They lived in Tehran, in our new apartment with a good view of the city. Now it’s just twisted wires, chunks of concrete and debris from pieces of a plane’s cabin.’

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Silver Eyes ML Sund

The man who stands here before his fortress stronghold He looks right through us with his silver eyes Travel to the west side where the nights are brighter Arms laid down and the threats you can’t buy In the jungle he sees words posted on a tree They are written by those who keep the land In a swamp deep and wide, catfish moved by the tide Fellow soldiers draw lines in the sand And it makes him think of home It makes him think of home There’s a girl in a barn, keeps her child in her arms And the orange flames take them away There’s a new place to go but the machines are slow And he watches the sun set over the bay It makes him think of home It makes him think of home At night he speaks delight to bury the day’s fright The men dream that the winds will bring reason Night seeps inside while poison snakes blind them And they hope morning brings a new season Do you know the princess? She wears a threadbare dress And her form is most succulent sweet Her smooth arms hold him tight, but she’s gone with the night Now the quick way home is left at his feet A distant voice calls from beyond if you listen She will take the allies across the wet land Vine-covered hills are not their home, but she grasps them And you know she won’t set free their hands He marches through the swamp rat way Past the shadows of men who lay Face down, beaten by their own tune One that rings on the fullest moon Silver eyes meet all those of black Snakes and spiders nest in a pack Who’s the prophet who sings so sweet Do the soldiers stand on their feet? It’s time to follow the man home It’s time to follow him home

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Lady of Courage And Conviction Peter George

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I am a feather in the wind. I am an autumn leaf. I am a mobile speck of sand blown from dawn to dusk And blown with the ghostly congregation That populates the night, The hopeful moths that stir themselves abroad, Amidst the forest dark. Yet what I must write about is a precious metal, A substance of strength, And a determined character, A distant relation of silver and gold. Joyce suffered her husband John’s neural degeneration, And the nightmare unfolded Day by day, Words jumbling their sense, And silences growing longer, Though John always was a quiet man; But here John was losing effectiveness of speech. Yet Joyce fights against despair, Returning to the Lodge to help him eat. Day by day he will accept Mashed potato balanced on the spoon. Feathers, leaves, and dust Are carried by the wind, Where spoons and knives and forks Are metallic relatives of the strength that bides, And hurries to the gate; For hope was born to spin across the world, And toss and wait and smile, Spoons and knives and forks crashing on the ground, The implements of further meals to come.

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when I met you, you were a ball of life, a gentle spirit, a precious red heart; your small shaggy self, a feather in my hands, you wagged your tail, shamelessly, assumed that I would love you and, of course, I did. when I could not trust a man to love me, deemed my body ugly, you taught me that I wake up beautiful; and you, my little Henry, were unashamed of your wet hair, how it changed your face, revealed your skinny frame; you showed me the pleasures and fears of hairdryers, and how one’s looks can never change a love that’s true. when I thought my life was important with its so many things to do, you sat warm on my lap, reminded me there’s always time for a cuddle, not to rush, to appreciate each moment. my constant companion, just the two of us, your enthusiasm for each day’s gifts, no matter how small: a drive, a walk, a taste of roast chicken; every meal and morsel, a feast to be savoured. you taught me life was full, each day as good as every other.

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Henry Reily

when I came home from work, I was your long-lost love at the door; when I didn’t feel like talking, you lay by my side, softly, and lifted my spirits, asked nothing of me; and when I woke you late at night to suggest a stroll, even if it seemed I’d lost my mind, even in the rain, you’d always keep me company. when I came home from shopping to find you lying by the window, you taught me that sleeping in the sun is not a luxury; when I held your leash in my hand, you taught me to jump at the thought of something fun; and when I was called into work early, you reminded me to keep my boundaries, not to come running just because someone calls my name. my Henry, you showed me that fresh clean sheets are a treat, but they don’t need to stay that way for me to be happy; to enjoy the grass, the bees, the birds, and the freedom of running, just for the thrill of it. you taught me to go to bed when I’m tired, to take myself there quietly, even when there’s still lots to do; to simply offer my presence, because someone may need my warmth, my closeness; and that someone out there will love me as I am, as I have always loved you.

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Saponification Rae Rozman

Lye is too dangerous to touch but Jennifer uses it to make soap transfiguring poison into cucumber scented bars of green and blue swirls I have taken your words and recited them in my head a million and seventeen times until they’ve lost all sense together together together togethertogethertogether it has no meaning when you practice And what it is we lost when we allowed the morning to dawn between us when we had a chance to refuse desire and we took it we took the distance and the empty beds and the space between our voices and we didn’t ask to turn the toxic in us into something beautiful only into something we could no longer see

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Roots And Branches Ed Blundell

That tree was everything. Our den, Space rocket, hideout, pirate ship. We played there, stayed there after dark Frightening ourselves with ghosts and Things That someone’s brother’s friend had seen Could kill a man with just one glance. Only our gang could climb that tree, You had to get the password right, Then cross your heart and hope to die If you revealed those secret words. We sat on branches in our teens Discussing girls and how to kiss. We talked of future plans and schemed How we’d get famous and be rich. The tree’s still there, although it seems Much smaller now, just like our dreams.

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The Fog Returned Her Love Geraldine Douglas

Peace desired, The cost is nothing. Invisible, like aromas of Rosemary and Thyme. No colour, but rich in design. Her body, stone…easier for them to trample on. She befriended her shadow, talking often, both in a pretend bubble, joined by phantom Dollies. Could not wear her own face. Did not know how. Clothes she stood in were flowery, Or so she thought. Searched for mother… Maybe she’s a cut-out illusion. The fog returned her love as Poppies eyes glittered when seeing her, Viola seeds effortlessly produced when pacing past them. The rain had no voice. The Moon is no door. No heart nor Spirit…

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better to be stood in that photograph, a monochrome statue, untouchable, or listening to echoes from weeping walls under a portrait of Our Lady. Brown hair, stripped of gold, parting middled. Freckled, as though splashes of gravy were thrown… and set around hazel eyes showing smiled wrinkles. Grandma said one instep was bigger than the other and if she sucked on an Ice lolly she would break out in a rash. They listened to Jimmy Clitheroe, Fireplace flames danced like lost ghosts, Opal icicles dangled on red coal. She was forever cold. Playing magic, recreating words, strung together as a diamond necklace. Singing, as breezes became choruses. Living an imitation life was cruel. They snapped her kite’s string. It flew to nowhere, zig-zagged on a menacing wind. Nightmare school days, every minute crawled. Lonely feelings gnawed her heart, Aching for the four o’clock bell. Home time! She became a Princess, sky laced with raspberries, golden Bees daydreamed in white Lilies, Buttercups wrapped in yellow shadows Momentarily replaced her dark life. Mother never found. Just carried on in a world embroidered with horrors. No natural light soaked her skin, however… She sculptured an existence like no other Until the clockwork stopped… She left her signature upon Sunflowers, Honeysuckles and treasures of Roses… as the light became copper.

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The Heart on The Wall Arianna Sebo

It’s hard to see it’s actually a heart nailed to a wall blood dripping down leaving a pool of red on the tiled floor smelling of salt and iron shavings the heart is the only clean organ in my opinion taking in all emotional burdens and releasing them into human energy captivated inside our rubber skin suits tiny molecules escaping our searching grasps releasing into the air the pain we do not (rightfully) feel

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Un-homing Nisha Bhakoo

A never-ending street took me by the hand. I couldn’t find my way to the forest. Running from a sublime stench of appropriation. In the eyes of morning, I found myself squinting into a dusty pocket mirror. A startling un-homing. In the mouth of the morning, I found my identity fetishized. At Krumme Lanke, the houses were set to different angles. I thought I would find a home in the forest. I ended up further into a cabinet of curiosities. There was hair-like straw spread along the pavement. Where was it from? I felt an unknowing of the world itself. I was drawn to a silver pool of water at a yellow house’s gate. A feeling like sea-sickness took over my body. The puddle was opaque. The wind carried its voice to me. It hummed: “You don’t need a mirror to see yourself.”

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Spooks Louise Wilford

Riley Grant was working late, sifting through CCTV footage. He sometimes felt as if he spent most of his nights sitting in front of a computer screen, searching for the arcane and peculiar. But someone had to do it. This time it was Norwich city centre. There’d been reports of mysterious ‘activity’ in and around the city: dark figures backlit by some kind of bright light suddenly appearing in the middle of shopping malls, vanishing round corners, walking through walls; ‘creepy noises’; even ‘a peculiar trembling’ of normally stable pavements. Of course, there were always a few crackpots who believed in the supernatural. That was why the Department for Research into Extra-Normal Activity (DRENA) existed, though it was generally seen as a joke department, seriously under-funded and criminally under-staffed. It was the Department to which people were redeployed after they messed up (like Riley himself who’d spoken his mind once too often to his former boss) or if they were burnt out and needed a long rest (like Agent Fenella CooperWright, who used to work in the Russia Division). The only member of the team who truly believed in the supernatural was their boss, Professor Marlene Hibberthwaite, who spent half the week engaged in serious research at Cambridge University. They were well-trained spooks and, whether staking out a terrorist cell or listening in on celebrity phone calls, they always acted with consummate professionalism. But their hearts weren’t in this supernatural nonsense. They were simply going through the motions (quite literally, in the case of the Newcastle Sewer Wraith). However, this current tranche of ‘Weirdness Reports’, as they were known, was somehow a little different from the usual stuff. There were so many of them, for a start, and they were all in and around Norwich. The descriptions were curiously specific, peculiarly detailed – not the usual ‘Well, I was coming out of the Fox and Hen, having drunk nine pints, when I saw a great big blobby thing which just vanished when my head hit the pavement…’ No, these testimonies had details you didn’t usually get: one witness claimed the thing he’d seen was ‘just like a tabby cat, but it melted down through a grating just outside a shop on Elm Hill’. Another claimed she’d spotted a ‘fat woman in a beige raincoat carrying a net of brussels sprouts’ who had mysteriously ‘popped out of existence’ just as she approached the zebra crossing near the Guildhall. A couple of kids maintained they’d seen a five-year-old in denim dungarees slide down a bendy slide in the soft player area at the Brewer’s Fayre at The Oaks and then ‘slip straight down through the floor’ leaving no trace he’d ever been there. Fenella said she couldn’t remember them ever getting so many Weirdness Reports in such a short space of time, all from the same region. It was strange even by DRENA’s standards. Night after night of trawling through video footage of the streets of Norwich was beginning to give Riley the eye-wobbles, as they called it in the service.

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‘Fancy a brew?’ asked Fenella, who was on her break. ‘Why not?’ Riley leaned back in his swivel chair, stretching his arms and wriggling his shoulders to loosen the muscles. ‘You know, Fen, I bet I could tell you the whole layout of Norwich city centre from Anderson’s Meadow to Wodehouse Street.’ Fenella smiled sympathetically, kneeling down to top up the saucer of milk they put down for the office cat, Scully. ‘You still working on the Norfolk Nutters?’ ‘Don’t let Hibberthwaite hear you talk like that. You know what she says…’ ‘The truth is out there!’ they said together, dissolving into giggles. Professor Hibberthwaite was a believer. She’d given Riley ‘The Talk’ when he first arrived at the Department six weeks earlier. ‘I theorise that the ghost world and the human world exist simultaneously, occupying the same space,’ she’d said, leaning over her desk towards him with an earnest expression and several biscuit crumbs on her face. She liked to stress certain words for emphasis. ‘The human world is laid on top of the ghost world, like a palimpsest – roughly the same dimensions but different details. Some buildings exist in one world but not in the other. Certain roads take different routes, certain parks have different orientations, interiors have different layouts. That’s why, when these creatures are sighted by us, they are often seen drifting through walls or sinking down through the floor – in their reality, those walls and floors aren’t there. And we think that there might be other differences – differences in history and culture.’ ‘You mean they live in a parallel universe? Like in Star Trek?’ ‘Exactly! For instance, in their world, maybe Alice in Wonderland wasn’t written by a mathematics Professor at Oxford…’ ‘But why is there so little actual evidence for the existence of this ‘other world’?’ Riley had asked, air-apostrophising but aware that he was treading on dangerous ground. He’d already been kicked out of one department for impertinence. ‘Oh, but there is!’ Hibberthwaite had responded, tapping her bony nose knowingly. ‘Back in Cambridge, I have files and files of evidence. But GCHQ don’t like it to be widely known. Official Secrets and all that. We don’t want a national panic.’ Riley could do with a spot of national panic. Anything to break the monotony. When he’d first been recruited by the Ministry of Information, he’d expected life as a spy to be exciting and dangerous – not the world’s most tedious desk job. ‘I’ve always fancied seeing Harry’s Folly,’ said Fenella, pouring boiling water into two mugs. ‘Never took you for a monarchist!’ The landmark colloquially known as Harry’s Folly had been erected by King Charles’s youngest son on the occasion of his own son’s first birthday, a year earlier. Why he’d chosen Norwich as the location for this tribute to his first-born was a source of energetic internet speculation; why he’d chosen to build a fifty-foot granite obelisk carved with gargoyle faces was a mystery known only to himself. There was a theory doing the rounds that Harry’s wife, the elegant American actress Meghan, was secretly a powerful Wiccan who had insisted the memorial be built at the junction of certain hitherto unknown Norfolk leylines. But some people would believe anything. It was just as Fenella placed the mug of tea by Riley’s arm that he spotted the dog. ‘What the flying feck was that!’ His arm shot out, almost knocking over the tea, as he pointed at the monitor. Fenella steadied the mug with one hand as she peered forward to stare at where he was

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pointing. ‘What? Where?’ Riley rewound the tape a few seconds and replayed it, indicating the top lefthand of the screen. Then they both saw it. A normal pedestrianised High Street, late afternoon, a few shoppers wandering up and down, a toddler screaming as its harassed-looking mother dragged it along by the hand. And, at the back, an unaccompanied dog – a Jack Russell terrier by the look of it – trotting along, heading straight for the brick wall of a branch of Boots. And as they watched, the dog walked head-first into the wall. Not in the ‘bashed-its-cute-little-head-and-rebounded-in-a-comic-fashion’ type of walking into a wall, but in the ‘stepped-right-through-the-brickwork-as-if-it-wasn’t-there’ version. It continued moving forward, straight through what was to all intents and purposes solid brick, until its perky little tail vanished. ‘Did you see that?’ asked Riley, pushing his fingers through his fringe in excitement. ‘I did,’ responded Fenella. ‘Up for a field-trip to Norwich?’ The next day, they were walking round the streets of Norfolk’s premier city, arm in arm, pretending to be a couple of tourists. Riley was scanning an A-Z, while Fenella glanced longingly at every tea-shop they passed. ‘That’s the place!’ Riley pulled away from his colleague and strode off towards a small branch of Boots. He hunkered down and poked at the whitewashed brick wall. ‘Draw attention to yourself, why don’t you?’ muttered Fenella, at his elbow. He shrugged off her warning hand on his shoulder. ‘This is where that bloody dog vanished,’ he said. ‘Right here. Went straight through this wall.’ ‘Might’ve been an optical illusion,’ said Fenella. ‘I mean, we don’t know it was something…other, do we? It certainly wasn’t a long-leggedy beastie, though it certainly had goolies…’ She giggled. Riley frowned at her. ‘You’re not taking this seriously, are you?’ ‘I don’t know why you are,’ she responded. ‘I mean, you’ve never believed in this crap before. Old Hibberthwaite’s talk must’ve really got to you after all.’ ‘I saw it, Fen, on the screen – so did you! Clear as day!’ ‘We both know how easily video can be tampered with.’ ‘It was the middle of a long stretch of CCTV footage. Who’d want to tamper with it?’ ‘Pranksters? Putin?’ Riley rolled his eyes. Then, before he could stand up, they both felt a powerful vibration tremble through the paving slabs beneath their feet. Fenella clutched Riley’s arm, hoisting him to a standing position. ‘Whoa!’ said Riley. ‘What the feck was that?’ And then they both saw it. A man in a hard hat and Hi-Viz jacket, digging up the road with a bouncing jackhammer, right in front of them. He hadn’t been there a moment earlier. And they could see the window of WHSmith’s through him. Fenella was fumbling with her camera, moving the film on. ‘Sensational!’ she said, looking as if she’d got her mojo back. She was beaming at Riley. ‘I mean, wasn’t it? A real sighting! Proof of the Prof’s mirror-universe theory! Go, Marlene!’

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‘It’s not a mirror-universe,’ said Riley, grumpily. He wasn’t used to Enthusiastic Fenella and felt wrongfooted. ‘You’re thinking of Alice In Wonderland…’ ‘I remember the Prof saying someone else might have written that in the other universe! Anyway, I took a pic!’ She waved her camera. ‘Assuming the apparitions show up on film…’ ‘Well, we both saw that dog on the CCTV footage,’ Riley reminded her. ‘Though admittedly most of the pictures sent in by civilians have, frankly, been blurry crap.’ ‘I vote we look further. Let’s go be tourists near Harry’s Folly.’ It was impressive up close. ‘Reminds me of a gigantic totem pole,’ said Riley, craning his neck so he could peer at the top. ‘Prince Harry must have a serious case of low-self-esteem,’ said Fenella, thoughtfully. ‘I mean, it’s very…large, isn’t it?’ ‘Eye-catching, I’d say,’ said Riley, diplomatically. ‘Those faces are a bit disturbing.’ Fenella was peering close to one of the gurning stone visages, stretching out her hand towards it, when Riley gripped her upper arm. ‘Don’t touch it!’ he said. ‘It might not be safe!’ Fenella pulled her arm free. ‘It’s only a sculpture.’ ‘Maybe,’ said Riley, who was scanning his tourist guide. ‘But it says here that the artist who designed Harry’s Folly inadvertently carved black magic sigils into it…’ ‘Nice birthday gift for a toddler,’ muttered Fenella, drily. ‘And the faces of actual humans…’ ‘Those tourist guides’ll say anything,’ said Fenella, scornfully. ‘It’s thought,’ went on Riley, still reading, ‘that the obelisk has the power to weaken the barrier between the two worlds, to use Professor Hibberthwaite’s language.’ The two agents took a few steps backwards, partly to see the obelisk better but also to put some distance between it and them. ‘But all that stuff – black magic, humans – they aren’t real,’ said Fenella, but she sounded unsure. ‘I didn’t think so,’ said Riley. ‘But we both saw that road-worker, didn’t we?’ ‘I could see straight through him.’ ‘And we both saw that dog walk through a wall.’ ‘But, Riley, we’re talking about humans here! There’s no such thing! It makes no sense!’ ‘I’m not so sure any more, Fen,’ said Riley. ‘You know what Marlowe wrote: there’s more between Elysium and Hades than can be dreamt of in your philosophy.’ Fenella laughed scornfully. ‘Next you’ll be telling me Alice In Wonderland wasn’t written by Brenda Chang!’ she muttered, as she stomped off towards the nearest tea room.

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Something After Wordsworth William Doreski

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Along the path by the river, fistfuls of bluets flaunt themselves. Cloud-draped angles skew to slip under a busy highway bridge. In the shadows, a delinquent smokes weed with a certain flair that in my youth I envied but knew better than to imitate. I pass with a nod. Overhead, massive rusty girders quake as an eighteen-wheeler passes. In a year or two the state will demolish and replace this bridge. I wouldn’t linger beneath it. If it bent and abruptly collapsed the terrible weight of that steel would render me as colorfully as Monet rendered his garden. Emerging from that patch of dark I find the shopping center still in place, liquor store, Rite-Aid, discount store, and a dozen businesses gone out of business because the plague has claimed them. Wordsworth recalling a walk roughly comparable to mine would flash upon the bluets clustered against the mid-spring chill. But he never saw trailer trucks crouched in a tired asphalt parking lot, never saw plate glass facades grown dusty with lack of business. And he never met a teenager stoned and perched on a railing like a crow on a wire, dreaming that the debris piling up in his mind is more authentic than the wrinkle of river behind him or the highway pouring overhead or the bluets braced against frost.

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Oasis Ed Blundell

Outside. Empty streets, deserted, People curfewed, lockdown, lockup. Silence in the car-less city, Be careful, careless walks cost lives. In my garden, life is the same, Bumble bees buzz among bright blooms, Noisy birds are busy nesting, A blackbird rustles in the shrubs, A thrush is tap, tap, tapping snails. Nature hasn’t heard the newscasts.

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Sign of Life Ian Murphy

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The woman was all that separated herself from silence, her ticking and clicking accompanying each painful step. The aluminium frame hopped, and her swollen feet shuffled behind – hop…shuffle… hop…The recliner inclined as the woman positioned herself, reversing, falling as much as sitting onto cushions that allowed her to transfer the burden of herself. With the woman comfortable the recliner reclined, taking its time in doing so. There was no rush, time there for nothing but the taking. The monotone mechanical hum of the chair accompanied rather than pierced the silence of the apartment, the chair tipping the woman back as she watched her swollen feet, bulging within faded blue slippers, rise up before her, stopping short of blocking her view of the television set. As she caught her breath, the woman was relieved by the sight of the tonic water as it fizzed within reach upon the bookshelf. Bubbles floated up to the surface and with each pop of each bubble the air within rejoined the air without. Glancing at the carriage clock, the one she couldn’t hear, the woman saw that it was time and her hand reached down beside the chair until happening upon the familiar texture of the packet that rested there. Half of the packet had already been consumed, the time-sensitive perforated windows having been punctured at their appropriate times, most of the time. One of the health visitors, she couldn’t recall which, had once referred to it as an, ‘Advent calendar for junkies.’ She had been one of the nicer ones, thought the woman. Never rushing to leave, never impatient with her, never consumed with the paperwork. She hadn’t seen her in a while. Days. Perhaps weeks. The woman now punctured the window that said EVENING on it to discover the same four tablets that she took every evening, each a different size, shape and colour, each an insurance against the other. The woman shrugged her uncertainty away and reached for the tonic water. It took all of the water for her to swallow the pills and then she burped. ‘Pardon me,’ she said, to nobody. The newsreader appeared courtesy of one of the three identical remote controls and duly reminded the woman why she never went out, not that she could get down the stairs, mind. At such a thought she cursed herself for not having listened to Geoffrey way back when. It had been…many years ago now that he had suggested they move somewhere more befitting, before getting too old. Too old for their own home. ‘Those stairs will kill one of us someday, mark my words,’ he had said, always the pessimist, and she had dismissed him as such as she always had. She couldn’t help but now find comfort in the knowledge that he must have died happy proving that particular point – he’d always insisted upon the last word. The woman sighed as she now missed him more than she had ever thought he deserved. After Geoffrey, well, there was no possibility of moving from their home of all those lost years now. With each passing year those stairs out there had become steeper, the world they led to had become darker and colder, until she had found no justifiable reason to risk it. The weather was bad, the people worse, and the noise, why, it was as if the world itself were not enough that folk needed music and beeps and devices to accompany them through every damnable moment, as if to distract them from themselves. With an irony not lost on her, the world and its inexorable technologies that had left her in its wake had also made it possible for her to avoid it with relative ease. Even her own son, bless him, had given her one of those little so-called smartphones for ‘an emergency.’ Useless thing, it had only worked a few days and then had gone and switched itself off – not too smart, eh? She nevertheless gave it and her son the benefit of the doubt, assuming it would come back to life when somebody called. She’d thought that for weeks now and glared at the dead phone as it collected dust beside her empty glass, a familiar lump rising up into her throat. She hacked up the lump of something into the tissue

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that she kept tucked down beside the seat cushion. She examined the tissue and then returned it. The newsreader, a young thing with hair and teeth, told the woman that the Prime Minister, our fearless leader, was going to do exactly what he had promised he wouldn’t do, and that this was apparently news. The PM duly appeared on screen to regurgitate the sort of rhetoric that gets regurgitated at times of deceit. The woman knew what he was up to. Everybody knew what he was up to, but it made no difference. Never had, never would. The hard times of today were nothing to what they had been in her day. Folk were too comfortable to revolt, if not distracted by all the televisions of the world. The woman’s eyes drifted from her own television to the window that looked out over distant rooftops, the slate grey of which threatened to blend with the sky. Summertime, apparently. Over the years the view had remained largely unchanged, save for the seasonal effect on the wych elm that rose up from behind the tenements opposite and which was only now coming into bud. It was a fine view because she rarely saw people spoil it. Roofers sometimes, but otherwise mere silhouettes in distant windows and only then when it was dark and the windows bright. The sun, when there was a sun, would illuminate her in its passing and leave only the moon to say goodnight to. It was colder to leave the curtains open at night, but she needed the view some evenings. The sky belonged to everyone, but that view belonged to her. Some of the health visitors would draw the curtains in the evenings, but today’s had left them open for her. Out of kindness, perhaps, or lack of forethought, she wasn’t sure which. Either way, she was grateful for the light of another fading day. Securely lost in her thoughts, it was somewhat unfair that the doorbell was about to buzz, as the woman’s heart had only just recovered from the trauma of sitting. Adding to the physical distress it would cause her, the harshness of the buzzer would give rise to a confusion of questions that would compete for her frayed attention. Her only visitors had keys and so why would they buzz? Do salesmen consciously ignore the note she had asked to be placed beside her buzzer? Do the neighbours beneath her not have their buzzers appropriately labelled? More importantly, who knows she is even here? How could anyone possibly find her? What, for heaven’s sake, did they want with her? BUZZZZZZZZZZZZ It was a miracle of sorts that the woman didn’t die there and then. Instead, her whole being jolted as if the recliner were electrified and she placed a hand to her chest to check for any sign of life. ‘Good heavens,’ she said, not the type to swear lightly, as a confusion of questions competed for her frayed attention. She looked to the newsreader as if for help, but the newsreader was busy cultivating chaos of some sort or another. Even the recliner hesitated as the woman pondered the required effort to extricate herself from her comfort, to shuffle all the way to the hallway and the intercom to decipher what specific mistake had actually occurred. It had to be a mistake, she reassured herself, why it just had to be. The health visitor had already left – hadn’t she? – and wouldn’t be back until the following morning. And Simon always called before visiting, and that smartphone of his was still dead. Nobody else ever came. The woman relaxed and opted to ignore the problem, as it would no doubt go away. BUZZZZZZZZZZZZ The woman jolted again, though with less severity. She’d always hated that buzzer and had forgotten that particular hatred until now. So it did still work, she thought, as her blue slippers fell from view and the chair pushed her up toward the aluminium frame. BUZZZZZZZZZZZZ ‘Yes, yes,’ she hissed. Her tone was a frustrated one and she became almost tearful with

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exasperation. A dozen-or-so hop-shuffles later, the woman stared at the intercom receiver hanging beside the main door. She felt for the glasses that hung around her neck and slid them on, as if they would somehow improve her hearing. Her slender fingers then wrapped around the receiver, disturbing the sticky dust of it as she peeled it from the wall. As she did so, the sounds of the street below leaked into the apartment, not that she heard them until placing the receiver to her ear. She listened without a word of greeting and heard only the white noise of the world. It reminded her of her father’s claim that you could hold a seashell to your ear and hear the restlessness of the sea, a lie she herself had since fed to her own children. But she no longer heard the sea, or her children, just noise… and her own breathing. She held her breath and it was as if the world outside held its breath in solidarity. Then a voice. ‘Let me in,’ said the voice. It was a low voice, barely audible. ‘I said, let me in.’ There was no urgency to the voice, no intonation of any kind that the woman could infer. It was simply a voice. The woman was reminded of the three little pigs. Well, the wolf, at least. Her heart threatened to burst through her chest as she searched for an appropriate response. Adding to her disorientation, the doorbell buzzed unnecessarily, as if out of nothing but spite. ‘Let me in the house.’ ‘But…who may I ask is calling?’ she said softly. There was a hesitation. ‘It’s me. Let me in.’ A rattling sound drew her attention to her own shaking hand as the receiver vibrated against her earring – she always made an effort for the health visitors on her good days. She steadied herself, located her nerve. ‘I think you have the wrong address,’ she said, her tone hardening. ‘There’s nobody here.’ And she returned the receiver to its cradle, her fingermarks now visible amongst the dust. She felt like crying as she stared at her feet, her gout threatening to flare up. After a moment, she felt free to return to her chair but made it only two painful steps. BUZZZZZZZZZZZZ ‘OH!’ exclaimed the woman, tears now pooling in her eyes. ‘Damned nuisance.’ She reversed and swiped the receiver from the wall, ‘Please, I really must…’ ‘Let me in, Margaret,’ said the voice. ‘It’s cold out here.’ ‘How do…Who is this?’ said Margaret. ‘Let me in.’ ‘I shall call the police.’ ‘Let me in.’ She hung up, this time leaving her hand on the receiver as if to muzzle it. It felt as if all the blood in her body were draining down into her feet. She simply had to sit down and was about to when she heard the buzzer. This time, however, the buzzer was faint, muffled by the thickness of the carpeted floor she stood on. Staring at her feet, she followed the sound of movement below followed by the muffled voice of her neighbour. She gently, reluctantly lifted the receiver back to her ear to hear all she needed to. ‘That’s most kind of you,’ the monotone voice said. The next sound she heard was the distant click-clack of the lock followed by the opening of the door three storeys below. She dropped the receiver with the sound of the door slamming shut and stared at the only lock now separating her from whatever had entered the building. She moved as quickly as she could and went to lock her own door, hesitating, stupefying herself by instead opening that door. The sickly fluorescent light of the landing

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flickered on as she shuffled to the precipice of her doorstep. The step was only an inch-or-so, if that, but that was all it might take. With the energy she saved for special occasions she navigated herself onto the landing and peered over the iron railing, down into the stairwell to the lobby below, her spectacles sliding from her nose and dangling over the void. Only the light of her own landing had been activated and the light of it, despite colluding with that of the skylight above her, was insufficient to illuminate so far down. In fact, unless her eyes deceived her, which was highly likely, it appeared that the darkness of the lobby was becoming somewhat…thicker, denser, as if the woman’s eyes were failing to compensate. The harder she stared, the darker it became, and she then heard the sound of the inner door close lightly somewhere in that darkness. Even despite her eyes, despite the encroaching darkness, she would have struggled to see anyone until they had reached the final set of stairs unless they happened to peer up over the railing, and that thought struck her just as she saw the faint outline of someone, or something, peering up at her over the railing. ‘Is somebody there?’ she chimed, adopting the posh voice she reserved for visitors, welcome or otherwise. No response. ’Carol?’ Carol was the name she mistakenly thought belonged to the girl living directly below her. ‘Carol, is that you?’ ‘It’s me, Margaret,’ came the voice as it resonated up and around the stone of the stairwell. ‘I’m coming up now.’ She cursed Carol for unlocking the door – how many times does a person need to be told? And she cursed the council for not adequately lighting the stairwell after all these years – had Geoffrey died for nothing? Even the light of her landing seemed to then fade, almost imperceptibly, as if the whole world were fading around her, as if the darkness itself were approaching. Unable to now see her own feet, the woman turned and retreated behind her door, almost closing it upon herself in her relative haste. The snib was secured and she then struggled with the mortis thanks to her arthritic hand – the cold of the hallway hadn’t helped. Through the dirt of the peephole she saw only darkness and she shuffled back from the door as if in fear of it. The handle of the door turned, the door then shuddering with each consecutive thump. The keys dangling from the mortis danced. Then, for a moment, all fell silent and still. ‘Let me in,’ came the voice. ‘It’s cold out here.’ ‘I can’t,’ said the woman, now crying. ‘I simply can’t. Please, go.’ ‘If I could I would, but I can’t. Let me in, Margaret.’ ‘But I’m not ready,’ she said. ‘You’re as ready as you’ll ever be, my love.’ As if in spite of herself, the woman found herself turning the key and flipping the snib. Nothing happened. The handle did not turn. The door did not open. There was no need. The woman turned her back on the door and made her painful way back to her chair. The ticking and clicking, her swollen feet, the recliner inclining, falling as much as sitting, the burden that was herself. There was no rush, time there for nothing but the taking. And slowly, almost imperceptibly, the light gave way to the dark, as did the sky, as did the world outside and the world within, until there was nothing left of the world of that woman, a woman who had missed him more than she had ever thought he had deserved.

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Rotations Gary Beck

We do not know why we are born because we cannot question until we have maturity and relearn curiosity to seek answers from elders. And if we do not know wise men we must search confusing books. The need for understanding does not affect everyone, preoccupied with daily tasks to provide food, shelter, clothing, to their loved ones, dependents, while those elected, appointed to serve the people, the nation do not always do their duty. In the clash of interests between the haves and have nots rulers usually decide in favor of the privileged, whose wealth, resources, influence allows retention of power for cooperating leaders. When we come into the world without the means of advancement we are creatures of coincidence, nothing assuring accomplishments except brains, talent, acquired skills, opportunity discovered by accident, luck, chance, a haphazard path to the future. Those dissatisfied with status quo, demanding comprehension of the forces that control us are destined to be exiles from the comforts of the system, malcontents identified, opponents to a sterile life.

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Sly Pigeon Anindita Sarkar

I made friends with a girl, balancing myself on the window of her penthouse apartment when the city was submerged in billows of sewage water, and the sky thundered in indignation. She fed me with bits of fries, sun-glazed grains, and butt ends of breads. My tousled tongue pranced in delight to have tasted ambrosia from the Holy Grail itself. She gulped down a glass of wine and mumbled something, something, I couldn’t figure out, perhaps she crooned about the boyfriend who betrayed, or about the aborted love letters to her female best friend she didn’t dare to deliver. She had mistaken me for a therapist! So, I responded with a ‘coo’ pretending to listen, my eyes intent, avaricious for more food-grains.

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Unspoken Jane Ayres

beside the dollsize coffin a single golden coil of angelchildhair nestles silk-soft in the palm of my hand hiding the babypinks & babyblues as if I could fold your sevendaybreath into mine keeping you safe in the crook of my elbow

sidebyside we fracture a door closes on our oncechild forms an unbreakable seal & our shadows tiptoe in the silent spaces where we no longer speak

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The Chevrolet Chariot Katya Chambers

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When my grandmother died, The nurse said she saw her soul fly Right on out the bay-window. Every ounce of our hope dissipated As she tip-toed her way between A myriad of morphine dreams. Earlier that day, she asked if I could call my grandpa to pick her up (Though he’d driven on by seven years before) She said she was so tired of the perpetual party Between her mind And the walls of the hospice ward. Sometimes, I think about him, Collecting her that starless night In a Chevy Two-Ten parked in the lot. As she soared through the window, He’d have a Sinatra love song blaring sweetly from the radio. Like teenagers trying not to get caught. Sometimes, I wonder if, In a hospital gown, She felt like the prettiest bride. Sometimes, I hope and pray that, Heaven is simply, A ‘50s winged chariot with your darling inside.

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The Bachelor DS Maolalai

you don’t notice for days on end and then, one day, you do - dust washing the mantle like empty rivers in countries with no clouds. dust, dripping your lightbulbs, and places on the table where you never eat your breakfast. rubbing your finger and bringing it back, the flaking ghosts of saturdays. making patterns and writing someone’s name. dust everywhere; you could hoe it, sow seeds and never need groceries. your life as a list of priorities and rarely as tidying up.

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Stolen Ed Blundell

Dew stained, wet footed, we crept in, At early dawn to plunder fruit, Ripe and scented with autumn days, Crisp, sharp sweet to youthful bites, That stolen fruit that tastes so good, Was scrumped which is a lesser sin. I did not know ‘til later years, The old man watched us from his room, Recalling when he’d been a boy And raided as we raided him. Remembering boys long since at rest, Wishing that he could steal with us. He watched us from his sick room there, Those thieving boys without a care.

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Paris Fox James Bell

these days only a fox peruses tombstones at Père Lachaise – apparently taken by the anarchic flamboyance of Jim Morrison’s grave – even now a place of pilgrimage in better days – though Victor Hugo is passed without notice much later sniffs a whiff of lead on the air around Notre Dame when he takes a stroll by the Seine crosses a quiet Petit Pont – traffic lights flash beside closed restaurants on the other side on the edge of Quartier latin pauses briefly at Shakespeare and Co then cocks a leg in the grounds of St Julien – can be done safely now in broad daylight

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Snow Line Derek Garnett

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The voice came in his dream, huge and perfect, filling every crevice of his mind, with enough fullness and body to turn James Earl Jones into a burbling mass of tears. Chris lay there, appreciating the beauty of its sound and stopped listening to what it was saying. Blah, blah, blah, something about a flood and building a boat blah, blah, blah, 35 cubits by blah, blah. He sat up breathless and sweating in the semi-darkness and scrawled what he remembered in the notebook he kept next to his bed. He got up and without turning the lights on, crept into the bathroom and poured himself a glass of water. He was alone in the house and there was no reason for him to sneak around, but old habits take time to belly up; he was always a restless sleeper and did not want to disturb the sleeping ghost of his wife. He downed half the glass of water. Back in bed the words Flood and Build a boat bounced around his head. Well, he thought, I really have nothing better to do. # In the morning, sitting on the balcony sipping tea, he assessed his life as he always did after breakfast. This morning there was none of the cloying self-pity that lately dominated his musings; he was feeling almost upbeat. He bought this house after selling the flat he and Julia shared in her hometown, Vienna. They had written a few screenplays, which had become hit TV shows and bought the flat outright. But he could no longer face living in that empty space, could no longer face living in the city. So, two months after her death, he sold up and bought a house in the Austrian mountains. Five kilometres below the permanent snow line and with a good view of the village below. The summers were mild, sometimes hot; the winters cold, but beautiful. It seemed perfect. He would start writing again, bounce his ideas off the mountains, instead of Julia’s sharp decisive mind. Christ! What a team we were. Chris and Julia Thompson. They spat out idea after idea, show after show. But the words didn’t come, the mountains only echoed his own thoughts, unchanged, without spin, limp and lifeless. He picked up the piece of yellow notepad paper and examined what he had written the night before. Indecipherable scrawl…followed by the words ‘Flood’ and ‘Build a boat…’ in what was not his usual handwriting, his normal print was a neat, school teacher script, every letter the same height and size; what was on the page before him now looked like it was written by someone else. But the memory of the voice in his head was vivid. Had God spoken to him? Did he even believe in God? All he knew for sure was that something happened in his dream last night, something touched him to his core, filling him with purpose. Whether he was going mad or God had spoken to him, it didn’t matter, he was going to build a boat. He started that morning. He had no experience working with wood, but he had a precise mind. The way he kept the house was proof of that, everything in its right place, it used to drive Julia crazy. Surely he could measure and cut wood to the right size, technique he could pick up from the internet – Goddammit. Enthused, he started sketching it out, 35 cubits by whatever really didn’t interest him. He was living in Europe now, and they used the metric system. Besides, he rationalised, it probably wasn’t God, just his subconscious telling him to get busy or go mad. He spent the rest of the day designing his divine vessel, his mind working like a machine, examining his design from every angle; looking for a hole in the plot. That’s exactly the problem; Julia was the one with broad stroke ideas, the situations. He always had the solutions. By the end of the day, he had it all: a pencil sketch of the boat, a detailed plan, a list of materials, and a list of the equipment he would need. He went to bed satisfied, tired, but fulfilled; the feeling you only get after purging your soul, filling a purpose on earth. He slept through the night – undisturbed – God left him in peace – even if he was using the metric system.

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The next morning, he drove down the hill to the village. Stopping outside the guest house, he went inside the typical Austrian Wirtshaus. Franz Müller, the proprietor and closest person he had to a friend in the village, owned a beat-up old delivery van he would need to borrow. He entered the wood-clad dining area, Franz, as expected, stood behind the counter. Chris had been in there a few times; a couple of Schnapps fuelled late nights and followed with a couple of hungover breakfasts. ‘Ahh! Good morning, Herr Thompson. Coffee?’ Franz said, an easy smile underpinning his balding head. ‘Good morning. Yes, that would be good. Thank you,’ Chris replied. ‘Na? How is the writing coming on?’ Franz said sliding a cup of black coffee over the counter. ‘Bad Franz. Really bad. Not a single word.’ ‘ will come in time. Yes?’ ‘Yes, I suppose so. Listen, Franz, I need a favour, could I borrow your van?’ Franz frowned, looked at Chris and then smiled. ‘Why do you vant to borrow my old clunker? Are you moving out? Running away from us so soon?’ ‘No, no…I need to get some, uh supplies from the timber yard.’ ‘Hhum,’ Franz grunted, shrugging his shoulders. ‘You should be writing my friend.’ He was disappointed that his village had not cured Chris’s writer’s block. ‘I had a dream Franz, God spoke to me, he said I must build a boat.’ Franz had worked for years in the tourist ski areas; his English was good, but he still frowned as if he didn’t understand. ‘Aha...’ he said, his voice betraying his scepticism. Chris laughed. ‘Ja, ja, sounds crazy, I know. But there was a voice in my dream. It told me to build a boat, and that’s what I am going to do. Build a boat.’ ‘And zhiss voice vants you to bring all the zhe animals two-by-two oder?’ said Franz making a walking motion with his fingers. ‘I don’t know, yeah maybe, but I stopped paying attention. But I want to build a boat anyway. I need to do something,’ ‘Aso, ok. Take it. Ja, just put in some fuel.’ Franz said sliding a single key across the counter. ‘But what do you know about building boats then?’ ‘Absolutely sweet nothing Franz. But God spoke to me in a dream, I have no choice’ Chris said theatrically raising his hands to heaven. Franz smiled, shook his head: ‘You should be writing, you crazy Englishman.’ # Chris spent the last couple of weeks deeply engaged in his…or God’s…project, he didn’t know anymore, hadn’t heard a word from Him since the dream. It was like a bad date, but it felt good, it felt right; cutting, chopping, nailing - swearing - getting sweaty. There was progress: a large skeletal shape appeared, resembling the bones of an upturned and dehydrated dinosaur. The village was friendly and curious about his work; he didn’t seem to be doing himself or anybody else any harm; doing real work, even if it was pointless. No one mentioned the message from God; even the village priest (who was in the God business) regarded him with narrowed eyes but kept his taciturn distance. Everybody knew he was simply

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sweating out his grief. And it was good to do so. For Chris, every hammer blow, every bead of sweat was a goodbye. He was building a boat, and he would name her Julia. God and his flood forgotten. Sunburned and sweaty, he went to bed. He hadn’t noticed that the birds weren’t singing or flitting from tree to tree that afternoon. Nobody noticed the silence. In the middle of the night, Chris awoke, eyes wide, pulse racing. Something was wrong. There was a deep rumble, something felt more than heard. Well, if it’s God again he’s got too much bass on his voice tonight, the flippant thought jumped through his head. The rumbling stopped and the walls of his house gave a shiver as if it was cold, and then it felt as though the whole world had started shaking. Glasses rattled off tables, and pictures crashed to the floor. Chris scrabbled out of the bed onto the floor. There was a loud crash and the sound of breaking, splintering wood. Then…silence…the shaking had stopped. In a city there would be car alarms and sirens blaring after an earthquake, but here in the mountains—quiet. He clicked on the light. The electricity was still working. He was shaking on the inside now that the Earth was still. Then he heard it, the sound of creaking wood. Snap!…creak…Snap!… He rushed towards the front door, thinking the house was collapsing, flinging it open, he froze, heart choking his throat. In front of him, higher than the house itself, was a wall of rock, a frozen tsunami, ready, eager, waiting to smother his house and encase him in an early tomb. Creak…snap!… Chris was unable to move, stiff with shock and amazement. He realised there had been an earthquake, nothing major, just a minor tremor, but the ensuing rockslide now threatened to crush his little wooden house. All the massive weight of upturned rock only being held back by his Ark, his boat, his dedication to lost love and God. It moaned and creaked under the colossal weight. Creak…creak… He stood in the doorway, spellbound, watching as the weight of the Earth with glacial slowness bent the hull of his boat towards him. Smaller rocks crashed over the wall and landed at his feet. From his bedroom, the persistent bleeping of his cell phone brought him out of his stupor. It must be Franz...Slowly, he crept down the narrow corridor between house and wall of rock, but the loud creaking broke his nerve and he started to run. Stumbling on a loosened rock, he went sprawling, cursing onto the rough street, just as with a loud SNAP! The wooden supports gave way, the mass of Austrian landscape tearing into his house, flattening it with a deafening crash that ricochet through the still air. # Lying on his back looking up into the night sky, the sound of Franz’s old clunker broke the extreme quiet coming up the road. He could see headlights zigzagging somewhere below. Well, I’m done building boats for God, he thought as he sat up and looked at the pile of rubble that was once his house. He started laughing. ‘Well, that’s some flood lord!’ he shouted. He looked at the pile of rocks and was quiet; a thought hit him, what now remained was a monument, a cairn–for Julia–there was no way he was going to rebuild his house; the insurance wouldn’t pay for an act of God. A smile crept across his face as he waited for the approaching headlights. He had an idea for a story.

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Stare Arianna Sebo

on the subway a bald man pixelated and in shadow stares back at me cloudless while I am colourful he limps while I sit watching his goatee trembles he experiences emotions I can only dream of experiencing caneless scarless my boy watches intently I share a stare with the bald man his eyes smile and he looks away mumbles to himself my boy chews his gum loudly I apply my lipstick 92 \ Scrittura Magazine

Untouchable Dream Nisha Bhakoo

I could sit in small convenient depressions. A strict diet of gossip TV. Waiting for my heart rate to slow to normal. Living out a comfortable sofa-bound zero. I could finally get my driver’s license at 35, to travel safe roads. Or create new paths for all of us to experience the world. I am no longer playing an outdated game. It was set up to make this generation fail. Distrust! Don’t follow their trail of bread crusts. Millennials, beware: don’t waste your life chasing an untouchable dream. This is the moment where the pendulum swings.

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Rediscovering The Decrepit Amusement Park Zebulon Huset

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Marshall Scotty’s, El Cajon, CA Cotton candy and bubble gum, soda pop and sunflower seeds. Childhood finally revisited, its snacks provided by the 7-11 at the freeway exit. It’s smaller than you wanted to remember, Ferris wheel standing idly by. It probably hasn’t run in years, motor rusted, stairs rotted. Weeds litter the path where you once skinned your knee and cried ‘til salved by popcorn, then you ran to the bumper cars. Butter knives litter the floor now, stolen from the boarded-up concession stand. Someone carried away a bumper car, because there used to be nine—you remember nine like it was an inner eyelid tattoo. Your eighth birthday: you used them all in one magical round. Everyone else had to wait for you as a spring rain fell.

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Stars in The Suburbs John Grey

We’re making our own little stars in heaven here, a constellation consisting of all the houses on this street, and the next and the next. One little glimmer is the couple that fight constantly. Another is the woman who sunbathes in her backyard in that blue bikini. These are not fake stars. It’s a new development in the black of what was formerly forest. Not the big bear. Not the lion or the ram. But Cypress Acres in honor of what was razed to make way for population growth. It’s all for the benefit of planes flying overhead, or the bats that roam the night sky attracted by the ghosts of old nesting places. And maybe alien creatures out there somewhere, peering through telescopes trained on us, with a different name for earth and another for suburbia. We must confuse them when, after a long hard day, we turn the lights out, curl up in our beds, sleep until dawn. That’s not typical for stars in the heavens. They’re held together by gravity. We’re the luminous plasma of mortgages.

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Silver Sage Bobbi Sinha-Morey

On Coral Bridge Lane we lived in a dark duplex on the corner with very few friends except for the mother and her eleven-year-old son we met to play Yahtzee, his dreams of building a city, the only one of us with a glint of hope, the others around us who weaved their memories into fantasy til night cloaked the sun and I’d grow fat on The Cake Lady’s delicacies while watching Rachael Ray on the TV, trapped in an empty life, my only solace a book to read, a carrot in the middle of the night to ease me into sleep; night terrors that woke me and neighbors who’d bang on our wall; every morning a shower that half the time would run cold; and our dearly departed cat I’d hold so tightly to in my dreams. We never knew how long we would be here, more than half our belongings packed away inside storage cells; street signs with the names of assassins, and dusk a prelude to a starless sky. Windows were dark mirrors that reflected our small dining room table, our lives wrapped in layers of shade waiting for an eyelet of light where we lived in Silver Sage.

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Ruby Louise Wilford

‘There. What is that?’ Pushing the cordless mini vac over the painted treads, her back aching, Rosie freezes. What had caught her eye? It’s nothing much – just a trembling shadow, criss-crossed with darker lines from the banisters that cage the upper staircase. Something odd about the way it moves though. Purposeful. A dart up the steps – a pause – then a shimmy back down, splitting into shadowlets as it descends. It shoots a pulse of anxiety through her gut. The baby fidgets inside her and her hand moves to rest on her huge taut belly. Abandoning the hoover, she half-stumbles onto the landing, and peers into the bedroom she shares with Tom. Its curtains are rippling in the breeze from the open window, but without the shadow’s fixed rhythm. The door to the nursery is shut as are the Venetian blinds covering the tiny landing window. There’s nothing to cast a shadow like the one on the stairs. Shaken, she creeps back to the upper staircase, squinting through the gloom to the bookshelves at the top. Tom’s study door is, as always, shut. Above, the ceiling of the staircase is a cave mouth of grainy darkness. The shadow has vanished. She flicks the wall switch and watery yellow light fills the space. Pressing the flat of her hand against the wall as if to check it’s still solid, she’s startled by a patch of scarlet on one of the steps. But it’s just the heart-shaped stone from the necklace her mother sent when she became pregnant. The chain must have broken while she was hoovering. She slips it into her pocket, takes a slow breath to calm herself like they suggested years ago, and picks up the hoover. Two nights back, stirring a risotto for supper, she thought she heard whistling outside, but when she looked through the window, there was no one there, just the crimson berries of Cotoneaster against the bin-shed wall, moving gently as the wind slid through them. She quickly shut the blinds, then gripped the edge of the sink until her heart stopped pounding.

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She hopes it isn’t going to be like when she was a teenager: she used to hear inexplicable noises from closed rooms – the pantry, the airing cupboard – noises which made her sweat and shiver but were always dismissed by her parents as her ‘imagination’. As if possessing such a thing was a disorder, an abnormality. * If she’s honest, she’s never liked the house. It’s in the middle of a terrace of three-storey townhouses on what seemed, back in the summer, to be a pleasant, old-fashioned cobbled lane near the park, but which, as the nights drew in, has begun to seem more like a dank alley down which the wind constantly whispers. The house itself – tall and thin, with a crooked spine of stairs rising from the narrow hall through two dark and claustrophobic landings, their mean-looking windows gazing out belligerently at the houses opposite – makes her think of a bent old warlock she saw once in a children’s book. But, as Tom says, they were lucky to find a three-bedroomed house near Cambridge at that price, especially one they could move into immediately. His enthusiasm carried her along at first. Four months later and eight months pregnant, she’s no longer so sure it was a good deal. She wishes they’d been able to stay in London, but, after Tom left his job at the school and started his IT business, Cambridge was, according to him, the ‘place they had to be’. Sometimes, the house creaks round her like a ship on the high seas, sending a tremble of anxiety trickling through her body. She feels as if it’s trying to shrug her off. Often, she lies in bed at night listening to this senseless groaning of beams and joists, imagining the bed is rocking, trying to tip her out. She won’t mention the shadow to Tom. He already thinks her pregnancy’s made her neurotic. He’s so much older than her. Her mother always said he’d treat her like a child, and that’s how she feels sometimes. ‘Good god, Rosie, you’re so jumpy!’ he complained, last night, when she dropped a cup. She stood there, motionless, holding the teacloth. Just listening. The whistling outside was back. If she could only build up the courage to open the blinds and look out into the darkness. ‘Can you hear that?’ she asked, breathless. He looked up from the floor where he was crouching, picking up the pieces of crockery, wearing his usual disapproving scowl. There was a smear of blood on one piece where it had nicked the palm of his hand. ‘What?’ ‘That. Outside. Someone’s whistling.’ ‘It’s probably Mike next door, having a fag.’ ‘Why would he whistle?’ ‘How the fuck do I know?’ He pulled a face, a silent comment on the unreasonableness of women, and tipped the broken pieces into the waste bin. ‘It’s not Mike.’ Their neighbour’s whistle was a tuneless, breathy hiss of noise, but this whistling was clear, strong, melodic – a song by the Kaiser Chiefs. Tom inclined his head towards the window, running cold water over his cut hand, listening. ‘I can’t hear anything.’ ‘It’s stopped now.’

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She leaned back against the draining board, as if released. ‘Funny he was whistling that song.’ ‘What song?’ ‘The one about Ruby!’ Ruby was the name Tom had chosen for their unborn daughter. His mother’s name. ‘Oh, yeah.’ Tom nodded briefly to acknowledge the coincidence, but he didn’t seem interested. ‘I’m off upstairs. Got to edit that new stuff for the website.’ ‘Again? I never see you these days.’ She saw his shoulders stiffen. ‘It’s not as if I want to spend my evenings at the computer, is it?’ The subtext was that he had to keep the business afloat, since she’d given up her teaching job and was soon to increase the family expenditure by giving birth. She could feel herself shifting from asset to burden. He’d been thrilled when she showed him the blue line on the test. If it hadn’t been for her mother, it would have been the happiest day of her life. Rosie travelled all the way to Lewisham to tell her the news in person, but instead of the hug she’d been expecting – the thawing of the ice-wall between them since the wedding – her mother simply turned away, silent and shifty. ‘Mum? Aren’t you pleased?’ ‘You should never have married him!’ ‘You’d like him if you just let yourself get to know him!’ ‘I know him well enough!’ ‘Then you know he’ll be a great father, just like he’s a great husband!’ Tom loved kids – he’d been a school librarian when they met. Even now, he coached the local under-eights football team, despite the hours he worked. Her mother listened to too much gossip. A week after the visit, the necklace arrived through the post. A peace offering. She isn’t sure why she feels this urge to do housework; her mother calls it ‘classic nesting behaviour’, but the baby isn’t due for a fortnight. As she climbs the stairs, mini-vac in hand, she keeps a weather eye on the uneven plaster, alert for lambent ripples in the half-light. At the top she pauses, to catch her breath and fight the strange reluctance she feels about entering Tom’s study. Even though the spare key is on her own keyring, alongside the one for the bin-shed and the outhouse at the end of the garden, it feels wrong somehow to slip it into the lock. Opening the door, even though the key turns easily, is strangely difficult, like entering a shrine. As expected, the room’s a mess. She groans at the unsteady piles of books and papers littering the floor round the desk, the overflowing waste-bin, the sour, unloved scent, like an unused attic. Why does Tom like it up here so much? As the heavy wooden frame of the sash window squeaks open a few centimetres, she can smell the traffic pollution that blackens the sill outside. A large crow flies past, cawing loudly, making her jump, before settling on the roof of a house across the lane. She’s dusting the bookshelf when she hears a faint skittering noise above her head, like a cat’s claws scrabbling across a laminate floor. She stares at the window through which she can see a rectangle of pewter-coloured sky. She’s not frightened exactly, just unsettled. The noise is coming from the roof, tiny rapid feet scuttling from one side to the other.

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It’s just a bird, probably another crow - but there’s that same clammy tension she felt when she saw the shadow on the stairs or heard the whistling. She takes a few steps backwards, away from the window, until her shoulders are pressed against the door. A formless darkness passes over the glass. Just a cloud, she thinks. Her nerve breaks. As she fumbles frantically for the door-handle, heart drumming inside her chest, cold sweat breaks out on her forehead. Finally, her fingers find the lever, and she backs out unwilling to shift her gaze from the window. Out on the landing, the noise stops, replaced by a dusty silence. The baby moves restlessly. She’s being ridiculous. It’s just the wind blowing a dry leaf across the slate. The pregnancy hormones are making her edgy and irrational, like Tom keeps telling her. Deep breaths. Like before. The door to the study is still open a crack. She’s still holding the handle, willing herself to calm down, get a grip, go back in and finish the cleaning. And then the shadow returns, a liquid wraith flitting up and down the stairs, rhythmically breaking apart and reuniting like fragments of mist. Her grip on the handle tightens and she pushes the door open again, wanting to escape the shadow but unwilling to face Tom’s room. There’s an unexpected sound. It’s the noise a computer makes when you turn it on, a gentle rising purr, a few tiny clicks, the delicate glockenspiel notes of a little tune as the various programmes open. She’s sure the machine had been turned off. Hearing herself breathing, loud asthmatic gasps, she’s drawn back into the study. Each step stiff with indecision, she moves over to the waking monitor. Tom must have left it in stand-by mode, and something had roused it. She hates computers with their pretence at life. Gingerly, she touches the space bar on the keyboard and a prompt box opens out from the centre of the screen: ‘Password?’. She isn’t the kind of wife who pries into her husband’s business, reading his emails and texts. ‘Never go looking for things if you don’t want to find them,’ her mother always says. And anyway, she trusts him. Completely. Tom loves her. They’re expecting their first baby in a fortnight. All that stuff back in London was just a misunderstanding. It sickens her to think of Lucy Ellison’s face that time, when Rosie told her Tom would be coming round to babysit with her. Everyone these days believes every nasty rumour they hear. They want to believe the worst of everyone. They just don’t know Tom like she does. The word in the prompt box flashes red a couple of times as if urging her to key in the password and find out what it is Tom does, all those hours up here alone in front of the screen. She’s almost glad she doesn’t know. Her curiosity begins to rise in a sudden tsunami, overcoming her respect for his privacy. The whistling starts. It’s coming from outside the window, but she’s three floors up. Goosebumps rise on her neck. The shadow wobbles round her, deliquescing and reforming in a cascade of moving ghosts, though she barely notices. Unsteadily, she leans forward and, with trembling fingers, keys in ‘Ruby’. The screen brightens into a startling image. For a second, she’s too shocked to take in what she’s seeing. Then she recoils, groaning like an animal in pain, shielding her eyes as the first cramp begins.

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When a New Country Beckons Vidya Shankar

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My husband and I have landed just this evening, And have been shown our studio apartment; The walls are newly painted, the tiles polished, The furniture is new, And new—the mattress, pillows, and bed linen. Drinking water is stocked and so is the refrigerator to take us through a couple of days at least. ‘Rest well, sir. You too, ma’am. Both of you must be tired after your journey.’ And promising to send us a car to pick us up the following day, our chauffeur has bidden us goodbye, Leaving us to take in the precincts of our new house— The house we were going to live in for the next couple of years. We look at everything with expressionless eyes while we shed our tired travel attire like vernix off a newborn… We dig out our pyjamas from our overnight bag and wrap ourselves in it— Faded pyjamas that smell of home... Of the everyday mingled perfumes of all our people; Of the floral fragrance of jasmine, marigolds and tulsi; Of the heady, aromatic kaapi wafting to the strains of Vishnu Sahasranamam... Of the flavour of boiling sambar seasoned with mustard and chilly Of the crispy tang of clothes dried on a clothesline in Chennai’s everlasting summer… There may be none of these evocative scents in this new country where fate has brought us Yet, this is where the next two years will see us! Daunted by the thought, we cry. The crying makes us feel better, but tired too, So we get into the brand new things to sleep; We miss the snug of comfort of our bed back at home— A mother’s womb…is this how a new-born feels at birth? Like one, here we are at the threshold of a new life Which has to be lived, but that is from the morrow— We still have our today which, as yet carries the familiar impressions of home. Wanting it to linger on for a while longer (It would begin to peel off from the morrow anyway) We lock ourselves in, and cuddle to sleep.

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Where we Meet, Where we Stand Leah Holbrook Sackett

I drove up Main Street looking for old haunts. I had avoided Main Street every time I’d been home to see the family. Afraid of the memories that might be conjured or erased with the shreds of time in that place called home. Troy and the kids usually came back with me, the focus was on family. I was the prodigal daughter returned on holidays and for two weeks during summer break. That was a lot what with living on two teachers’ salaries. This summer, the kids were busy with swim team and summer jobs, while Troy decided to go on a fishing trip with his buddies. I was flying solo to see the parents. They were getting older, but not so old as to need assisted living. They were baby boomers – refused to age on the bulkhead of knee surgeries and gall bladder operations. Mom was still doing a lot of the work on her own. My older sister was on hand day or night, and she let me know about it all the time. I made an excuse to get more groceries just to get out of the house. I drove Mom’s car. They insisted on picking me up from the airport. I couldn’t even have the freedom of a rental car. But really, it was a freedom I didn’t need. I found myself scoping out old haunts all the same. At first, I just did a casual drive up and down Main Street, and then I was pulling into Subway. We ate Subway all the time in the 90s. What memories did I think I was going to find at the Subway counter? I lingered, then settled on my old order of a 6” veggie on wheat. Nothing. I felt nothing – no tingle or shimmer of memory. Obviously, I was thinking of him, but it was a buried artifact that would not be unearthed by a sandwich. I got back in Mom’s car, frustrated. I tossed the Subway bag on the passenger side seat. Something had to be left, it had to remain, and I was going to find it. I don’t know where the drive came from, but it must have been built up for years. It was just the family crucible keeping me from reaching out – finding out where he’d gone, who he’d become. I headed to Baskin Robbins. It was gone. Where did it go? I saw it further down the road. It had changed strip malls, and it stood alone in the parking lot, no storefront, just a drive-thru. I got in line and ordered a Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough single scoop. There were absolutely no memories. I supposed any ice cream memories that may have existed were lost in the migration. I ate my ice cream cone and planned my next strike. Blockbuster Video would have been an excellent choice, but that was long gone. I went to St. Louis Bread Co. It was a bustle of activity, mostly

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geriatrics like my parents, the smell of fresh bread was comforting, but he would not be conjured even here. I had been gone a half-hour. My parents would have questions – well, my mom would – dad would be napping. I decided to go to the store to pick up those groceries I’d set out for in the beginning. That’s when I saw him, Damon, stocking shelves. I shuddered. He had an aura of an angel, and the concrete reality of a nobody. I found him at the grocery store. I found him ordinary. The ghost of the 90s was made whole, glowing before me then shattered into a million fragments like broken fluorescent bulbs. The sharp shards expanded between us. He saw me and smiled. He crossed the sea of infinite possibilities and hugged me. I felt nothing. Seeing him was worse than not finding him. He was hopeful. I was the toxic one. We spoke for a bit, and I promised to get in touch during my time in town. Somehow time had made what it will of life, and it turned the tables. He went nowhere, but he was stable and happy. I went on with my life, a life riddled with what I missed and what could have been. I could feel the toxicity seeping through the spaces in my teeth, although tight from years in braces. Dripping lies on my tongue. I had no intention of ever seeing him again. I drove home to my parent’s house. When I got out of the car with my groceries, I saw Mom standing in the driveway. ‘Ah, so you know,’ she said. ‘I should have left it alone,’ I said. I dropped my head and tears fell. Mom came to help me with the groceries. ‘Some things can never be the same,’ she said. We went inside, and I called Troy’s voicemail, just to tell him I loved him.

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Why The Ferryman’s Mum Will Never be Queen P.W. Bridgman

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(After Louis MacNeice)1 It’s no go the ferryman’s hat, it’s no go his polka-dot wellies, All we want is a clean, clean ship and food we can put in our bellies. His pockets are full of Turkish Delight, his hair is incredibly thin, The ferryman knows if he picks his nose, his croissants will land in the bin. Young Ollie Cray took a walk one day and passed by the ferryman’s house. Raspberries grow on the roof (don’t you know?) and their cat is afraid of a mouse. Ollie peeked in, while scratching his chin, and what do you think that he saw? A donkey for certain (by the lavender curtain) and a snowman wearing a bra! It’s no go the dogfish pies, it’s no go peppermint gin. All we want is a restaurant serving aspic with grasshoppers in. The ferryman’s mum has warts on her bum and hair grows out of her nose. Yet she’s late for a date with the new Head of State. (She’s tangled her foot in the hose!) It’s no go the raspberry canes, all getting dry overhead. If only Blackadder’d remembered his ladder then he could have watered instead. Old Captain Carey runs his shiny new ferry like an admiral fighting a war. T’was all neat and tidy, at least until Friday and ferryman’s turn at the floor. Instead of a mop and a bucket of suds, the ferryman came with his toothbrush. “What’s he been drinking?” the captain cried out when he saw him behaving so foolishly. It’s no go the peppermint gin, it’s no go nose-picks at work. If ferryman wants to keep eating croissants, he’d better shape up and not shirk. Meanwhile at home in the house on the hill with the raspberry canes on the roof, The ferryman’s mum’s sipping peppermint gin, unaware that it’s 65 proof. The new Head of State continues to wait. The cat’s running scared from the mice. “Just one more glass,” says Mum to the ass. “And snowman! Bring me more ice!” “It’s no go these antics you know,” says Carey to ferryman teary. “If things don’t get better, I’ll fire you by letter and leave you behind in Dún Laoghaire.” It’s no go her wobbly knees, it’s no go her stomach that’s churning. It’s no go the ferryman’s dinner of jellied grasshoppers she’s burning. It’s no go the engagement ring that the new Head of State was to give her. The ferryman’s mum’s lost it all, and then some. And what’s to become of her liver? It’s no go you poor ferryman, your firing’s permitted by law. Your mum’s passed out on the lavender couch; the snowman’s still wearing her bra. Who’s making eyes over dogfish pies while you stand on the dock in Dún Laoghaire? Red roses arrived for the new Head of State… Blackadder? Well, that is my theory.

1 This nonsense poem was written for children. It is loosely, mischievously and (above all) lovingly based upon Louis MacNeice’s magnificent “Bagpipe Music”.

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Willow Lake Bobbi Sinha-Morey

In my dream, my pashmina over my shoulders, my shy heart wrapped in its solace, I took the brick path by Willow Lake, a golden oriole alive in the wind with its black tail and wings, a child’s fort hidden behind white-fingered birch trees. I was alone with my own trembling thoughts, the quiet sky so patient as if listening to my breath; butterflies in their flurry of yellow wings, and I felt the earth waken my senses. I was so still gazing upon the most vibrant roses I’d ever seen quivering there so joyfully as if they were brightly dressed young girls sitting in the back pew of a church. I clung to the hush in the air, and words of what could’ve been a morning prayer forever stuck to my tongue.

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Summer Days Lynn White

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We know they’re coming, we can see them and hear them those days of soda and pretzels and beer. The birds have sung an opening chorus for the pollen laden bees to hum and the flowers show ready for the main event. On patios the barbecues are lit and smoking about to sizzle like skin with no sunscreen. But this year’s different, crazier and crazier as we stay at home carefully distanced in our hazy miasma of enforced laziness waiting and hoping that soon the cloud hanging over us will blow away.

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CALLING FOR SUBMISSIONS! We are looking for prose, poetry and scripts to publish in our online literary magazine. Deadline: January 31st 2021 Enquiries/Submissions: Please visit our website for our submissions guidelines: @scrittura.magazine @scritturamag @scrittura_mag


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