Scrittura SPRING/SUMMER 2021 | ISSUE 22
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Scrittura Magazine © Copyright 2021 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 www.scritturamagazine.tumblr.com EDITOR: Valentina Terrinoni EDITOR: Yasmin Rahman DESIGNER / ILLUSTRATOR: Catherine Roe WEB: www.scritturamagazine.tumblr.com EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org TWITTER: @Scrittura_Mag FACEBOOK: scritturamag
InThis Issue 06 07 08 11 18 19 20 23 26
Alarm Clock Annie Maclean The Pillar of Tears Christopher Laverty Togetherness James Bell Closing the Deal Peter Quince Into the Upside-Down Annie Maclean The Potato Eaters Lynn White 8 Minutes Lisa Reily Yorkshire Free State Dean Fox Enquiries (after Guillevic) Ray Malone
28 31 37 39 46 47 49 52 57
In a Dream ML Sund Meeting Bronte Andy Martin F.L.E.I.U.F.D.E/ life Feud The Garden of Fugitives Adam Slavny Singing in the Dark Times Patrick O’Shea These Shapes Ray Malone Familiar Eyes Andy Martin Ubiquity Gregory Dally Managrammatics Ed Blundell
A Note From
Welcome to the Spring/Summer 2021 issue of Scrittura Magazine! This issue is dedicated to James Bell, a regular contributor to, and supporter of, Scrittura, who sadly passed away on the 12th of May. We are honoured to include one final poem from him: ‘Togetherness’, page 8. You may have noticed that there’s been a bit of a gap between our Winter issue and this issue. As Scrittura is produced entirely in our spare time, we are finding it harder to balance all our jobs at once. This past year has included a big move for Catherine, a book publication for Yasmin, and Valentina brought our newest member of Scrittura, baby Luca, into the world. So we’ve been pretty busy! As such, we will be taking a hiatus after this issue, just to recharge and figure out how to run things more smoothly. We will be closed for submissions until further notice, but in the meantime, you can catch up on our back issues via our website. As always, this issue is filled with wonderfully varied work from lots of different talented writers. For some thought-provoking poetry, check out ‘8 Minutes’, page 20, ‘In a Dream’, page 28, and ‘F.L.E.I.U.F.D.E/life’, page 37. If you’re in the mood for some entertaining short stories, give mysterious ‘Meeting Bronte’, page 31, and humorous social satire, ‘Yorkshire Free State’, page 23 a read. We’re thrilled to be a able to feature a short script this issue too - check out ‘Ubiquity’, page 52 for a delightful short production. Thanks to our very talented designer, Catherine, for putting this issue together beautifully as always. And thank you to everyone who reads our magazine. Keep an eye on our social media feeds, and we’ll let you know when we reopen for submissions.
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Alarm Clock Annie Maclean
Oh, hear my praises for my mother! For her protection and for her nurturing. She saved me from sleeping every morning to tell me tales of the world’s events: the wars, conversions and the weather. She sang me songs about her garden. The flowers which blossomed. The bulbs she’d planted. She advised: ‘anticipate – and smile’. I compared her to a friendly robin who is first to sing to fill the silence. My mother now sleeps underground. The mycelium covers her with threads. In time, she’ll turn into the garden. I sieved and recycled her possessions. People thanked me for her garments. I chose to keep her bedside clock which I could wind up every evening, ascertaining when its bell would ring to wake me to the day’s concerns. Once shaken up, I feel her absence. On the earth outside, I see a robin turning worms – this helps the garden. I thank my mother for my awakening. I rise to try to help out nature. I’ll share her stories, encouraging others to rise to help resolve the crises.
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The Pillar of Tears Christopher Laverty
It was an Eastern cistern underground – a chamber filled with columns; once the key to waters pure – slaves built it for the free; a patterned pillar yet unchanged was found whose frozen tears seemed but to break in sound – the tears were notes – a silent symphony of suffering they made – a melody – that haunts the dimness with each spirit’s wound. Their voices formed a chorus – this they sang: ‘We are the ghosts of tired limb and mind; how tedious did our despot ruler find our sorrows – he whose name down ages rang; the hidden world in life we drifted through, while monuments majestic shrine the few.’
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Togetherness James Bell
we’ll always be together like a lyric from a contemporary song seamless in a crinkled kind of way every line continuous complete in one we will always be children as we have been since birth nothing is forever yet here we are ready for whatever comes next frozen in our own animation there are many ways to go looks like it could be round in circles life and soul of any party complete in one every line continuous seamless in a crinkled kind of way like a lyric from a contemporary song we’ll always be together
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Closing the Deal Peter Quince
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She sees him sitting at one end of a wooden bench which overlooks the sea. She has been wandering aimlessly since the most recent argument, wondering what to do. She doesn’t want to return home, not yet, because she knows that Stanley will either be sitting at his desk with telephones and the computer, fixing more deals – or he will be gone for the rest of the day, heaven knows where. So, deserting their plush seafront mansion, newly acquired, she walks along the grassy border beside the low cliffs which fall away to the beach. The stoniness of the beach provoked an argument in itself. The man she sees, young enough to be her son, sits completely inert, slumped, hands in pockets, head down, maybe asleep, drunk, drugged; she doesn’t know. But at least he is someone, and she knows no one else since they moved to the coast from London. It was meant to be a new start. As she approaches the wooden bench, a gull alights on the armrest farthest away from the young man. It does not squawk but merely nods its head at him, as if to say, ‘That is the person you should talk to.’ The approaching woman takes it as an omen. Before the gull, disturbed by the woman, opens its surprisingly long wings and lifts into the air, it steals bread left on the bench in an open bag. The woman momentarily halts and watches the gull as it rises on a thermal and dips one wing, drifting nonchalantly over the grass bank, the low cliff, the pebbly beach, the breakers that thunder at high tide. And then, watched by the woman, the gull is swallowed by sunlight. She notices on the slats of the bench beside the man three objects: a brown paper bag, a bottle and a sketchpad. She wonders what history might be written into each. The young man’s head is a tangle of rust-coloured hair; she can see nothing of his lowered face. He seems to be deeply asleep, lulled perhaps by the mesmeric rhythm of the breakers. Or by cheap cider. The woman wonders if she ought to leave him alone, this down-and-out, and walk along the coastline, chance upon someone else; drive thoughts of the vicious argument with Stanley out of her head. But she knows that that will not happen however far she walks – it is not a matter of physical distance. And, anyway, something draws her towards this solitary figure whom she stands beside and looks down upon. Something sparks him into life. Her presence. Or gnawing hunger. Or drink. Some spark brings him out of a near coma. The young man raises his head, his eyes screwed up against prodigious daylight, his unconsciousness invaded. His face is a crumple of lines and pale sunken hollows. The woman stands on the far side of the bench in precarious silence, closely observing, a little perturbed, uncertain of his reaction. A gull circles the bench twenty feet above, cries mournfully and looks down at the place where food was found. The woman studies the young man’s face and realises, to her considerable surprise, that despite his unkempt appearance his features are remarkably attractive. She cannot prevent an illicit thrill course through her, a momentary fantasy, before dull reality asserts itself. The young man is startled by the figure looming at the far end of the bench. His face contorts into a grimace. He yawns widely, audibly, runs both hands back through a haystack of dark ginger curls, shakes his head vigorously and forces himself into a semblance of conscious attention. The surprise of seeing a woman does not unnerve him. He takes a second glance, assesses the woman before him. She stands mute, unsure what to say, acutely aware of her unwelcome surveillance, her invasion of his privacy. ‘Who are you?’ the young man says. For a moment she does not know how to react; a sense of panic rises in her. He stares at her, rubs his eyes with the knuckles of both hands, as if emerging from some underworld. ‘Well?’ he adds curtly. ‘I…I’m sorry. I was just passing and.’
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‘Where’s my sandwich?’ He is staring down at the empty paper bag, swaying slightly, drifting. ‘A gull took it.’ ‘Gull?’ ‘It flew down and…’ ‘Fuck! That was my breakfast!’ ‘I’m sorry.’ He dismisses her concern and turns to the bottle of cider, unabashed. He unscrews the cap, takes a long draught, tipping his head awkwardly over the back of the bench. He replaces the bottle beside his sketchpad. The woman, middle-aged, twenty years older than the young man and well turned out in a flowing floral dress, feels horribly out of place and presumptuous. But the recent argument with Stanley, back on the sea view balcony of their mansion, has driven her into this surreal situation. She feels shockingly bold, even reckless. ‘May I sit down?’ she says. He eyes her with sleepy suspicion. ‘Here?’ ‘Yes. Why not?’ ‘Sit where you like – it’s a public bench.’ ‘But I don’t want to intrude.’ When he smiles ironically she sees that his teeth are remarkably even and brilliant white. Something doesn’t add up. Down-and-outs are supposed to have black teeth, or missing teeth, and slur their words and display stubble if not prodigious beards. The young man removes the empty bag from the slats of the bench and fastidiously sweeps crumbs away. The woman feels oddly touched by this gesture. ‘There. Sit down.’ She hesitates, staring into his strangely compelling face. But then, tucking the folds of her dress under her legs, keeping a proper distance between them, she sits down demurely against the arm of the bench. It feels to her at once pleasant and troubling; she has lowered herself into a different world. No deals to be made here. But she needs something. This is not London; and it seems far from the luxurious new-build mansion a few hundred yards along the coast, which forms an outpost of an exclusive gated community. This is an anonymous bench on a stretch of unkempt grass. The woman sits rigidly, stares at the horizon and spies a clatter of gulls engaged in noisy aerial acrobatics. The young man takes a second draught of cider, moves to res-crew the cap, but then thinks again and holds the bottle close to the woman. ‘Want some?’ ‘No thanks.’ She feels revolted – and yet rooted to the spot. Almost tempted. Why not? Something beyond her awareness keeps her interested. She does not wish to return to the mansion and risk another quarrel with Stanley. The young man studies the floral dress and notices the thrust of the woman’s breasts and the inviting bareness of her calves and ankles, so well-shaped. He wipes a forearm across his mouth unapologetically. The silence disturbs him. He feels a liminal arousal. ‘What’s your name?’ he asks. ‘Odestra.’ ‘Pardon?’ ‘O-des-tra.’ ‘What kind of a name is that?’
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‘My name. The one I was born with.’ She snatches a sideways glance at him; he is smiling extravagantly. ‘I like it.’ She tries a smile too, but it feels more like an embarrassed grimace. ‘What’s your name, then?’ ‘Jed. I was born with it and I’ll die with it.’ She cannot believe she is sitting here talking to a down-and-out – if that’s what he really is. What possessed me? She thinks. Stanley would be incredulous, beside himself. ‘What kind of a name is that?’ The echo of his own question amuses him. When he sees the joke, they both laugh with an edge of embarrassment. ‘It’s short for Jedburgh. Pronounced ‘Jed – borough’.’ ‘Really? Never heard of anyone by that name.’ ‘I was conceived in Jedburgh in Scotland, apparently – near Mary Queen of Scots’ house. Nothing to do with me. I don’t remember anything about it.’ Odestra gives a little chuckle and stares at Jed’s mass of rusty curls which glint gold, and senses a bizarre kind of connection. The vision that sweeps through her mind both appals and titillates her: Stanley has escaped to London once again; the mansion is empty. She invites Jed back for decent food, drinks, a shower, a lounge on the sundeck and then… Jed lifts the brown paper bag theatrically. ‘A bag full of fresh air! Bloody seagull!’ Odestra wishes to help out; there is an abundance of food at home. Seagull-proof. But she has none with her. She has simply left the mansion in order to put distance between herself and the quarrelsome, work-obsessed Stanley. Her heart sinks at the thought of returning and arguing about stony beaches, whatever. What friends she possesses live either in London or abroad. This stretch of coastline leaves her numb. Nothing but sea and sky and emptiness. ‘I must be going,’ she says. Jed smiles. ‘Nice to have met you – Odestra. I got it right!’ They laugh together as though nothing mattered. ‘Take care.’ ‘You too.’ When she doesn’t immediately come across Stanley in the mansion, she knows where he will be. This huge house boasts towers and turrets and attic rooms and, capping it all, a rooftop sunroom with magnificent views in all directions, a choice between rolling countryside and roiling seas. At the top of one turret, reached by a winding staircase and forming a cloistered world of its own, is Stanley’s office. If he’s not in the gym or spread-eagled on the sea view balcony, he’ll be in the office. Or the bedroom. His own, not Odestra’s. She enters the hallowed room. He is facing the computer screen. Beside the computer are two mobile phones and a landline. He hears her enter but does not condescend to take his eyes from the screen. ‘There you are!’ Odestra exclaims with mock surprise. ‘Where else?’ He does not turn to face her. ‘Where have you been, darling?’ ‘For a walk.’ ‘I gathered that – where?’ ‘Exploring the clifftop.’
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‘Really?’ he says without the slightest interest, scrolling facts and figures, charts, graphs, ads for lacy underwear. ‘Stan?’ ‘Yes, dear?’ ‘Face me,’ she begs. ‘Please.’ He spins around on the swivel chair. He is already smiling insincerely, pretending to please when he simply wishes to get on with urgent business. After all, he generates the wealth that bought this place. But, all things considered, he will give her a few minutes. ‘I met someone.’ ‘What?’ He is taken aback. ‘But we don’t know anyone here; we’ve only just...’ ‘A stranger.’ She decides that she must be honest. Take the plunge. No harm in that. All above board and virtuous. ‘What kind of a stranger?’ ‘A young man.’ ‘Oh!’ Stanley grins. He lowers his voice, imbuing it with mock gravitas. ‘I hope you weren’t flirting.’ ‘Don’t be silly.’ ‘Good good – look, Odie, I must get on and close this deal.’ His ingratiating smile is the one she knows only too well; it means ‘Go away, I’m busy.’ ‘I’ll be on the sundeck.’ ‘Whatever.’ As she turns to go, he adds, ‘Nearly forgot. I need to drive up to London to meet some business associates. You know what it’s like.’ ‘I know exactly what it’s like.’ ‘You’re so understanding, dear.’ ‘When?’ ‘I’ll be off early tomorrow morning – you’ll be okay for a few days on your own, won’t you?’ ‘Sure.’ ‘You might get Susie to travel down.’ ‘We’ll see.’ She hears him leave for London. That unmistakeable roar of the Mercedes as he pulls out of the drive on the cusp of dawn. She peers out of her bedroom window; the car is already out of sight. A faint orange glow above the horizon tells her that the sky is clear, as it was the day before. As it will be on many days now. Odestra doesn’t bother with breakfast. Something inside her, a kind of barely suppressed expectation, compels her to leave the mansion, open the electronic gates, close them judiciously behind her, and walk with feigned nonchalance in that same floral dress. She wonders if she should have changed into something different, put on a new skin. But what exactly is she expecting? It doesn’t take long to catch sight of Jed crumpled on that wooden bench, as if he knew telepathically that she would come again. But perhaps she is simply fooling herself. When she reaches him, he looks up and smiles knowingly and slides along the bench, pocketing his sketchbook and making space. ‘Sit down,’ he says. She does, as if he were an old friend instead of a virtual stranger. ‘Good morning,’ she replies, rather too formally. ‘I’ve brought you something.’
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‘Really? For me?’ He looks quizzical. ‘Yes. Why not?’ She produces a beautifully wrapped sandwich. ‘To replace the one the gull snatched.’ He throws his head back and laughs uproariously, displaying those perfect white teeth. She is enchanted with his manner, his gestures, his entire mien. How can such a man inhabit a bench? It’s absurd. ‘You like sketching?’ ‘Yes. I was an art student – before life and drink got in the way.’ Their eyes meet fortuitously. A long silence lingers between them. A new seriousness. Unnerved, Odestra is the first to look away. It feels to her that in that moment her fate has been sealed. The orange glow on the horizon deepens to a ravishing scarlet. She becomes aware of slipping into a kind of exquisite madness. Jed fiddles with the wrapped sandwich as a necessary distraction. ‘It’s roast beef,’ she says limply. ‘Oh – good. With horseradish.’ ‘Why don’t you come back to the house?’ she says as swiftly as she can, before the words gutter in her throat. ‘I can make us tea, coffee, cold drinks, whatever. It’s going to be a hot day.’ ‘Like yesterday.’ ‘I have a small pool in the back garden.’ ‘You live alone?’ Jed asks. ‘No – husband’s in London. Business. Sort of.’ Jed gives her a conspiratorial look, but then smiles. ‘I see.’ They sit on the veranda at the back of the house, beneath a huge parasol. The ‘small pool’ takes up half the garden. ‘Quite a place you’ve got here,’ Jed says. ‘Only been here a month.’ ‘Where were you before?’ ‘London. Kew, to be precise.’ ‘Lovely area.’ ‘You know it?’ Jed shrugs. ‘Been around just about everywhere in London. Know every park bench. And wine merchants.’ Odestra studies him in meticulous detail; he senses her naked examination and feels satisfied. The day drifts on. Nothing happens except a self-indulgent passing of time. Afternoon slides into evening. As dusk settles the sky, Jed and Odestra remain on the veranda, as if some inexorable force pins them there and refuses to release them. Some sense of fate unravelling. A beautifully poised tension. ‘Will your husband be back soon? I mean, I don’t want to...’ ‘No. Don’t worry. He’ll be away a few days. He has female friends in London – ‘business associates’, he calls them.’ Jed smiles. ‘I see.’ He senses where this is going; feels both nervous and aroused. ‘Go and have a shower,’ she says. It is almost a command, a prerequisite. He gives her a lingering look, smiles archly, understands. Cannot believe his luck. He hasn’t touched a drop of alcohol. The cider bottle is on the bench – along with his dignity.
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‘Okay. Where…?’ ‘I’ll show you. I’ll show you everything.’ The next morning Odestra kisses Jack demurely on the cheek, restoring a sense of propriety. The electronic gates seem to open of their own accord. ‘Thanks for the sandwich,’ he says. ‘And the…’ She places a finger over his lips. ‘And nothing. I am the one who should be thankful.’ The following day Stanley’s Mercedes pulls into the drive. The electronic gates close behind him. He breezes into the kitchen full of himself and hugs Odestra tightly from behind as she stands twisting half a lemon on the squeezer. ‘Had a really good time in London, Odie. Closed the deal. Without turning to face him she says, ‘So did I.’
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Into the Upside-Down Annie Maclean
(Longing comes upon him to fare forth on the water. Ezra Pound, The Seafarer) An exile’s dream burns to be back home to walk again each grain of sand sifted on a distant beach of crusted shells ground to powder-white. A child swims across a secret bay, listening to the screams of gulls, the fizz and breaking of the sea waves. Is the water clear as crystal? Is its purity respected? The child disappears to scour the seabed, searching for mermaids and for selkies. And deafened to the tick of time, she gulps the air above the water to scope the beach in search of movement. Nothing seems to be alive. Here, the stillness of a postcard. An unknown carcass lies in shadow. Tight ropes intensify the sight: dead eyes, the stare, the twisted body. The sun shines too hot before it sets. Jellyfish bake too hard to melt. Tides overspill. The grasses rot.
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The Potato Eaters Lynn White
The harvest looks good today un-blighted so we know that we shall eat this winter and there should be enough to pay the landlord and put a roof over our heads this winter. So we will kneel and say a prayer that he will not ask too much.
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8 Minutes Lisa Reily
it takes 8 minutes for sunlight to travel across space to earth. eight minutes. when life is fast, you don’t even know that it’s passing you by; that every hour you have is never coming back. you could be crossing the street, as usual, then something happens, right in that moment, that changes everything, the direction of your life, forever. when you find out you are ill, you realise you’re on borrowed time, the things you took for granted, like being able to walk to the shops, having energy to go out with friends, to cook, even to clean, to enjoy doing what you want, when you want. 8 minutes for the sun to reach the earth, and a lifetime to realise that life is short.
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every minute counts. when people see life is short on a poster, they think they should do something, work harder, be more successful, win that prize. but it’s not like that. once you lose your health, you just want to feel good, you want the minutes to pass with ease, like they used to, when you were not conscious of your body and its pain; you want 8 minutes to pass you in peace. so much can happen in the time it takes for sunlight to reach us that we miss that the light is even upon us; it’s there, but we just don’t see it. then our dog dies, our parents die, and we find that we are next. 8 minutes is a long time. every minute counts.
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Yorkshire Free State Dean Fox
‘For far too long we’ve been ruled from London! They’ve been telling us how to live, what to do, spending our money, running our lives! But we’ve had enough! From Skipton to Bradford, from Settle to Filey, the people of Yorkshire have found their voice, and they are shouting: We want change! We want independence! We want our freedom!’ From that first speech in the church hall in Harrogate, Tom Patel had come a long way. To Wetherby, to Bridlington, to Halifax and Hessle. The crowds grew. Church Halls no longer sufficed. Tom had to speak in school gymnasiums, car parks and conference centres and then he booked Craven Park and College Grove to pack them all in. And on those rugby fields, cricket grounds and football pitches, Tom’s words, like fire, ignited the crowds, and in their eyes he glimpsed hope and faith. The Right Honourable Sir Horace Fielding-Wilks, Tory MP, Chair of the 1922 Committee, held a seat in Yorkshire’s Red Wall, ‘We need to bring this Patel round to our way of thinking.’ ‘I’m afraid that he has his own way of thinking. He’s now muttering the R word,’ replied Sheila, his daughter, and Parliamentary Senior Caseworker and Administrator. ‘The R word. No, he can’t!’ ‘Deadly serious. Gaining traction.’ ‘We can’t have another one of those. Right, we’re bloody talking to him, got to dissuade him from the R, can’t have that! When’s his next engagement?’ ‘A rally at Elland Road, I think.’ ‘Where’s that?’ ‘Leeds.’ ‘Right, set up a meet.’
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# ‘You’re not from Yorkshire are you Sir Horace? Don’t tell me, London?’ began Tom. ‘Actually, Hertfordshire.’ ‘That’s London. You see, if you’re not from Yorkshire, you’ve no way of understanding Yorkshire people. The way they think, their values, their collective consciousness. And the people of Yorkshire have had enough of being ruled by you Londoners. End of.’ ‘But is having,’ Sir Horace paused, cleared his throat, dropped his head, ‘a referendum really the right way to go about it?’ ‘It’s the only way.’ ‘The PM will never agree to it.’ ‘Listen, if there’s no referendum in your manifesto at the next election, then I’m standing Free Yorkshire candidates across the Tory red wall seats. See if you get your majority in parliament then.’ # Sir Horace was the first MP to endorse the Yorkshire Independence Campaign, ‘It’s the mistake of countless previous governments that Yorkshire hasn’t had the devolved assembly it needed and deserved. But, I’m afraid, it’s too late for that. The people want full independence, and it’s our job as democrats to listen to the will of the people. I’ll be sad to see you go Yorkshire, but it’s time you made your own way in the world.’ In the same television studio in Sheffield later on in the week, the interviewer glared at Tom like she was opening the bowling, ’You’re serious about breaking away from the UK, aren’t you?’ ‘Deadly.’ ‘Won’t this do untold damage to the economy of Yorkshire?’ ‘Quite the reverse in fact. You see, for far too long now, the people of Yorkshire have put up with being governed from London. It’s held us back. They haven’t made decisions which have ever been in the economic interests of Yorkshire. Take pit closures for example, it’s destroyed whole communities. But it goes way beyond that, they’ve destroyed the manufacturing base here.’ ‘The Bank of England has reported that if you win this referendum, there would be job losses in the thousands across Yorkshire.’ ‘Rubbish. Our research suggests that with independence, there would be a boost to Yorkshire’s economy creating 25,000 jobs in the first eighteen months alone.’ ‘Many commentators have said that Yorkshire’s just jumping on the bandwagon of separatist movements like Brexit, Scottish independence, Catalonia etcetera. And that the whole thing is a pipe dream. What do you say to those people?’ ‘In polling stations in this referendum, you will see the depth of feeling for Yorkshire independence.’ ‘But so much of your Yorkshire Free State Manifesto is, at best, patchy. You gloss over aspects such as your share of the National Debt, a currency, central bank, an immigration policy, the role of the monarchy. Don’t the public deserve to know what they’re voting for?’ ‘The monarchy’s going! Don’t worry about that! That lot won’t be representing Yorkshire. But all those other things you’ve mentioned will be worked out in the free trade agreement with England.’ ‘You might not get a free trade agreement?’
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‘It would be in England’s best interest to strike one with us,’ replied Tom. ‘You’ve written, “If there’s no free trade agreement, we would be forced to put up border controls on the M1, M62 and M180!” Are you actually serious about that?’ ‘Of course, as an independent nation, we would have to protect our borders. Any sovereign state would do the same.’ ‘Many are saying that when push comes to shove, you’ll capitulate, England will walk all over you in the negotiations.’ ‘Do you honestly think the county that produced Geoffrey Boycott will capitulate?’ ‘But, Mr. Patel, in our globalised, interconnected world, how can you justify creating a breakaway state?’ ‘It’s what the people want love. And you know what the great Yorkshireman, Harvey Smith, would have done if he’d heard you talk like that?’ The interviewer shook her head. ‘Stuck his two fingers up!’ Polling day arrived in God’s own country. Early indications were that the turnout was high. Tom arrived at his local polling station in Sheffield at ten o’clock to a knot of photographers. Snaking along the street, there was already a queue to vote. And the queues would persist throughout much of the day, spilling around walls and corners. As they waited, in their eyes, the dream of freedom glistened like a constellation, bright and scintillating, but forever out of reach.
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Enquiries (after Guillevic) Ray Malone
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1 When you wrote the poem about the flower, were you thinking about the flower or only the poem? 2 That man there standing at the corner deciding where to go, why does he hold you there at the window waiting to see which way? 3 What stirs in you as the wind stirs in the trees, what sounds do the waves wake in your ear? 4 If you were a poem how long would you want to be, how much space on the page would you wish to take up, how soon would you care to be read, set aside or forgotten? 5 If a star were one day to be named after you, how far away would it be? 6 Imagine a table laid with all your wishes, how simple would the simplest dish be? 7 The street you imagine walking down one day, how long is it and where would it end?
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In a Dream ML Sund
Strolling down a dead-end road Looking for you, wasting time it seems But it’ll be over soon enough When the night takes me back to dreams Where the gates open wide Into gardens forever In a place you can’t hide We can be together All the waiting Left behind Now in a dream I make you mine In a dream I make you mine again Think back to the days gone by You were the best wife a man could ever have But it wasn’t to last That great joker in the sky would have the last laugh Yet now the trees grow In just the right place at the edge of the garden Shading our kissing place Far from the cold empty streets you left me on All the waiting Left behind Now in a dream I make you mine In a dream I make you mine again
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Sunlight wakes me, back to life And I see the clocks don’t rest their hands I’m up and ready to breathe Though every hope is built on sand Washed away forever When He sends rain down to land Leaves me with nothing As I look at my aged and empty hands I walk back down that dead-end road Looking for you out of habit Past the graveyard that never changes No hats full of rabbits See, no one gets more respect Than the dead lying in their graves And no one’s more despondent Than a man who’s on his way All the waiting Left behind Now in a dream I make you mine In a dream I make you mine again In a dream I make you mine
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Meeting Bronte Andy Martin
‘Morning, I’m calling about the room you’ve got advertised.’ ‘Sorry, it’s already taken.’ ‘Okay, thank you.’ I drew a line through the phone number on my piece of paper. Another one gone. Surely, I wouldn’t end up homeless on my first day at Exeter university. I had spent the summer working as a waiter at a holiday resort in America and hadn’t been able to view any properties during the weeks leading up to my first year. The Students’ Union had given me a list of potential places that morning, but they all proved unsuccessful. All, that is, except one. It would take two bus journeys to get there but had a sea-view. Without any alternatives, I went to see it. The three-story house stood alone at the end of a sandy dirt-track. The landlady, Mrs Johnston, looked to be in her forties, with auburn hair gathered at the back and secured at the top of her head with a butterfly clip. She wore expensive looking clothes over her full figure. A widow who didn’t hide the fact that she needed a lodger. She greeted me warmly and spoke of the house’s many conveniences: the AGA oven, the washing machine I could use whenever required, cost of electricity and gas included. The only potential issue might be the size of the bedroom. Upon inspection, it became apparent I would have to look elsewhere. A single bed took up the majority of floor space and there wasn’t even room for a desk. Mrs Johnston told me of a room downstairs that a woman kept all year round for a discounted rate, and mainly used during the summer. ‘She might offer it up during the academic months. It’s a very good size.’
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I thanked her for her enthusiasm in finding a solution but told her I would try elsewhere. Sitting in the university canteen, worried about where I was going to stay that night, I received a phone call from Mrs Johnston. The woman who rented the downstairs room had agreed to give it up during term time. ‘I knew it would be no bother. She’s very kind. She’s currently in London and won’t need the room until June, should you want it.’ I moved in that evening. A wooden door opened up into a huge space with high-reaching ceilings and white painted walls. Wooden floorboards stretched the expanse of the area leading to tall patio doors, where the back garden was faintly visible through muslin curtains. Picture frames hung on the walls with prints by Edward Hopper and Magritte. Amongst various pieces of oak furniture, a king-sized brass bed took up one corner and in another stood a shelving unit holding dozens of books. Despite the owner’s personality stamped everywhere, it matched my taste. I moved in without changing a thing. Even the pictures were to my liking. A knock at the door interrupted my thoughts and Mrs Johnston peered in, her mouth touched with colour now. ‘She’s a poet.’ ‘Sorry?’ ‘You’re studying literature aren’t you?’ ‘That’s right.’ ‘Well, Brontë, the woman whose room you’ve got, is a published poet. Been renting here for five years. Lovely lady. She’d do anything for anybody.’ ‘Brontë?’ ‘Her parents named her after Emily Brontë.’ ‘Brontë, the poet?’ I paused. ‘I’m familiar with her.’ I had had a poem published in a magazine the previous summer. It was printed at the bottom of a page in small writing, and above it was one of hers. Her name stood out. The editor had commented on how both poems expressed similar emotions, which lead him to place them together. Mrs Johnston raised her eyebrows. ‘Well, there you go. She’s a little dreamy.’ She smiled. ‘But that’s poets for you.’ ‘Dreamy?’ ‘Like I said, artists are funny folk. I saw her wandering round the garden one night. Must have been about three in the morning, lost in thought. Anyway, I’ll leave you be.’ Intrigued by the enigmatic character whose room I inhabited, I browsed the books lining her shelves. Near the bottom, I spied her name on a spine and lifted out a short collection of her poems. With special attentiveness, I read her verse: ‘As winter howls with driving rain, I roam the lonely hills again. In secret pleasure, secret tears, My vision of you disappears.’ I read on through beautiful, lonely prose. Words that I would have loved to have written
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myself, and being here by the coastal hills, they felt particularly poignant. Despite the long distance to the university, I enjoyed my time in the house. My landlady often cooked me meals: Homemade soups, beef casseroles, sometimes washed down with a glass or two of red wine. I also appreciated the chance to wander up on the heath or along the beach when the fancy took me. I loved studying the Romantics and immersed myself in Blake and Shelley, Byron and Coleridge. Mrs Johnston shared my interest in literature and we often discussed them over dinner, but for both of us, none of them held quite the same fascination as the woman whose room I inhabited. Every now and then, I would see one of her poems in a magazine, and Mrs Johnston would speak of her: ‘She used to walk in the kitchen, mid-morning, dressed in her nightie, and put the coffee on. She would often hand me one of her new poems, written on the back of an envelope or something similar. I’m sure you’d find her interesting. She’s very shy though. Spends most of her time reading or writing and doesn’t see many people. Such a lovely young lady too. You don’t meet many like her.’ ‘I’ve read her work but I’ve never seen her. What does she look like?’ ‘Some might call her attractive. Some might not. There’s a photo of her in the wooden frame on the dresser in your bedroom.’ I paused in thought. ‘That’s a Man Ray picture.’ ‘Yes, but she’s behind it. When she agreed to let out her room, she told me to cover it up. ‘I don’t want anyone looking at me and I’m sure he wouldn’t want me staring at him.’ So, I put the Man Ray over the top. If you take it out you’ll see her underneath.’ When I got back to my room, I re-read one of her poems. One that captured her vulnerability and intensity: ‘My heart longs for a touch divine, And for another soul to find Me here, beside the wild sea, To cherish and to comfort me.’ I picked up the picture-frame, removed the back, and set it on the dresser. It was a striking image. Rusty coloured hair hung down the sides of her face contrasting with a turquoise scarf around her neck. Dark blue eyes, looked up thoughtfully, like a character from an Edward Hopper painting. Here was the woman who expressed thoughts and feelings that I identified with, in ways nobody else seemed able to. Beautiful. I read her whole volume of work and learned some of her poems by heart. I tried to emulate her style in my own writing, but no matter how hard I tried, couldn’t get close. The more I read, the more my fascination grew, intensified by living in her environment, and topped off with information from our mutual landlady. One evening, a tapping sound alerted me to Mrs Johnston by the door. ‘Sorry to bother you.’ She held an olive green, woollen coat in her hands. ‘It belongs to Brontë. Would you mind keeping it
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in the wardrobe for me?’ ‘No, not at all.’ She placed it into my arms, and left me to put it away. I held it close and breathed in the scent of her perfume on the collar. When I put it in the wardrobe, something fell to the floor. A small notebook, patterned in black and pink roses. It contained scribblings and doodles, ideas and reflections. Sitting on the bed, I read through them. Halffinished verses spoke of solitude and loneliness and a need for deep connection. I wondered if I’d ever meet Brontë. # At the end of the first term of university, some friends on my course told me of a room going in their house. One of their mates had dropped out and left a vacant place. When I mentioned this to Mrs Johnston, she let out a small gasp, and put her hand over her chest. She composed herself. ‘Do what feels right for you.’ That evening, I noticed some faint writing on the wall by the side of my bed. When Mrs Johnston called at my room to ask if I wanted any food, I pointed it out to her. ‘Here. I’m surprised I didn’t notice it before.’ She stepped into the room and her skirt moved up her thighs as she climbed onto the bed to get a closer look. ‘It looks like the beginnings of a poem. She probably woke one night and wrote her ideas down before she forgot them.’ ‘I think you’re right.’ Mrs Johnston started to read them out: ‘My darling pain, both day and night, You are my intimate delight.’ That night I couldn’t sleep. After glancing at the scribblings again, I got out of bed. A silvery light shone through the ghost-like curtains, and I walked over to the door. I pulled back the drapes and looked into the garden. The bright moon gave the world a strange grey hue. I turned the key slowly so as not to wake anyone, and stepped outside. The clear air was perfectly still. I stepped onto the lawn, and with the dewy grass clinging to my feet, made my way towards the shadowed woodland at the end of the garden. Such a beautiful night. A small creature scuttled over the grass in front of me and disappeared into the undergrowth. Leaves stirred on the bushes, and I turned to look back at the house. Part of me wanted to leave and be with my friends in the hive of student activity, but another part felt an immense connection with the poet and this building. I stood a while and was about to go back when I noticed a dark figure move through the trees and disappear into the blackness. Brontë? She wouldn’t be here, surely. She was in London. There again, further on, a woman wearing a thin white gown walked towards the beach. I could hear the gentle roll of waves, and watched her sit down on the sand, facing the sea. Her hands
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supported her body as she leaned back. Who was she? What was she doing out at this time? I stood for a while, watching. The tide came in on a strong current and washed under her but she stayed where she sat. Taking a deep breathe, she tilted her head back into the night sky. A cloud covered the moon and she glanced around. My heart raced, I pulled back into the shadows, and headed back to my room. # I decided to stay at the house. My friends couldn’t understand why, but I told them I enjoyed the beach and the home-cooked meals too much. Deep down, I always knew I wouldn’t leave. Blood Ink magazine published one of my poems, along with three other previously unpublished writers. To my delight, Brontë, being a regular contributor to the magazine, reviewed them. She wrote that mine was sensitive and moving and showed promise of more to come. The magazine printed another of her pieces alongside mine and my longing to meet her overpowered any other ambition. I took advantage of the email address printed next to her name and wrote to her. I thanked her for her review, expressed my admiration for her work, and informed her that by strange coincidence, I temporarily resided in her room. When I told Mrs Johnston this, she showed palpable excitement. ‘You’ve got a real soft spot for her haven’t you?’ She smiled. ‘Let me know if you hear back from her.’ That night, I placed Brontë’s picture on my bedside cabinet and scanned the scribblings on the wall. While I reclined on my bed, I spoke out my favourite lines from her poetry, warm and sweet as they brushed my lips. ‘With a ready heart, I swore To give my spirit to adore You, ever present, phantom thing, My slave, my poet, and my king.’ Now I lay where she had, my face on the pillow where she had slept, immersed in her presence. An email from her the following day elated me. Brontë expressed a genuine enthusiasm for my poem, delight that I had been the person who took on her room, and a promise to look out for more of my contributions in the future. Mrs Johnston advised me to continue with the correspondence. ‘You know, you’d make a lovely couple.’ The emails continued between myself and Brontë daily, and one Friday, she informed me that she would be calling in at the house to collect some books. She wrote that she looked forward to catching up with Mrs Johnston and meeting me in person. That morning, I chose my clothes carefully. A checkered red and black shirt that fit particularly well. The curtains moved gently with the morning breeze, the waves audible in the distance. Midmorning, a knock at the front-door informed me of a visitor. I waited a few minutes and then, unable
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to stay in my room any longer, stepped into the hallway. Mrs Johnston closed the front-door and turned towards me. ‘Oh, you’re going to be so disappointed. Brontë changed her mind. I’m sorry. I know how much you were looking forward to meeting her.’ ‘She changed her mind?’ ‘She called, but decided against coming in. Headed into town instead at the last minute. She’s not been doing great to be honest with you. Her last collection of poetry got slated in a review recently and she really took it to heart. Too raw and passionate is how the poems were criticized. It really got to her. The problem is she spends so long by herself that she has the time to dwell on that kind of thing.’ ‘She was here?’ ‘She was. She’s just not up to socializing at the moment.’ I rushed forward and opened the door. I descended the steps and looked down the street but there was no sign of her. I had come so close. Would I get the opportunity again? ‘She’s gone.’ I told Mrs Johnston. ‘I’m sorry.’ She held my arm, and our eyes connected, ready to console me should I need it. Racing thoughts prevented me from sleeping that night. ‘And reason mocks my muddled thoughts, That deaden me to real cares.’ A solid yellow block of light shone under my bedroom door indicating that Mrs Johnston was up. She was the only person who understood my feelings for Brontë and I felt a need to speak with her. I put on my dressing-gown and stepped into the hallway. A steaming cup of tea stood on the kitchen table next to a notepad and pencil. She would be back in a moment. I put the kettle back on so I could join her, and took a seat. The notepad caught my attention. Poetry. I looked closer to see a message with my name at the top, and at the bottom, the name Brontë.
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This is the music with no sound the gun with no trigger the bulletproof beer belly that just keeps getting bigger it’s the talk without the walk the words scratching at your throat it’s the other of the copper coin it’s the job you never applied for the dying need to be something more it’s the birthmark on your skin the tattooed hand opening the next door it’s the army with no leader the desperate need to please her it’s the record spinning around the turntable. 45 RPM the A side to the B side the carpe to the diem it’s the electricity running through us the wraparound cable the three legged wobble of the second hand table it’s life
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The Garden of Fugitives Adam Slavny
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In the Garden of the Fugitives you have your epiphany. You are on holiday in Naples with your wife, Hannah, and your seven-year-old daughter, Hope. The trip is agreeably filled with gelato, cocktails and Neapolitan pizza. Hannah wants to languish in her cycle of snacking and pisolini, dozing through the warm, soporific afternoons, but after a travel leaflet catches your eye, the black rock of Vesuvius rendered awkwardly on its glossy surface, you decide you should all visit Pompeii. You eat lunch at the hotel, talking through doughy mouthfuls, sanitising what might prove a harrowing trip, especially for Hope, with some historical rote learning. Vesuvius erupted in AD 79. You make her repeat the fact until she can chirp it like a parrot. You eat too much, as you always do with prepaid buffets, sinking enough calzones to outweigh the sunk cost. Later, you emerge from the tour bus bloated and gassy (appropriately so, you joke to Hannah) into Pompeii, where tourists chat and squint at the volcano, a crusted sore in the distance. The figures in the Garden of the Fugitives seem, at first, like any other museum exhibit: arrayed behind a glass pane and eyed lazily by tourists. Yet when you make your way through the crowd to see them for yourself, something happens. Their final moments are cast in ashen grey, some cowering for safety, others caught trying to escape. There is something so futile, you think, about their attempt to outrun all that rock, pumice and ash. They are like insects to Vesuvius, ants stuck to a hot, hungry tongue. Looking at the figures, at the impression of a nose, the vacancy of eyes, you see something preserved through the centuries, and feel some cinder of it burning in you. You look at Hannah and Hope to see if they have witnessed the same thing. Hope is eating gelato in a series of slow licks, her tongue glossed in wet marble colours. The wrapper has fallen to the ground--not thrown, dropped nonchalantly--where it skitters around in the dust. You realise Hope isn’t even looking at the figures, but at the wrapper hitching a stray breeze, disturbing the base of the exhibition before disappearing out of sight. ‘Honey, aren’t these amazing?’ you ask, pointing to the human shapes. You’re not sure what response you’re looking for; perhaps you think your own awe is childlike and want to see it reflected in her. You are also conscious that Hannah isn’t paying attention, absorbed by some triviality on her phone. ‘Dadeee?’ Hope begins. You recognise that intonation: whimsical, curious, the one she once used to ask why snakes don’t poison themselves. ‘What made the people turn to stone?’ ‘Well, when the volcano erupted, rock and ash came raining down. And it was hot. Really, really hot. And when it hit them, they became fossilized like the dinosaurs in the museum.’ Hannah’s indifference hardens to distaste. Hope considers the matter more thoughtfully, licking her ice cream, blobs of creamy saliva collecting at the corners of her mouth. ‘It looks like it really hurt,’ she says, gesturing towards the figures, each one bent awkwardly, foetally. ‘Actually, it didn’t. They died instantly. They just look like that because heat shock makes the body spasm.’ You give Hannah a secretive smile, feeling you have successfully navigated a delicate parental challenge. She just pulls out her phone again--a reflex, not unlike heat shock--looks at it absently and returns it to her pocket. The figures in the Garden of the Fugitives follow you back to your hotel room. You see images of them as you and Hannah luxuriate later that evening, puffed up in towelling robes. Hannah gives you her usual invitations--playful pokes in the side, brushing her face against yours, eyes cocked--
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but you can’t summon the mood. As her tongue plays around the corner of your mouth, you notice a chalky residue of foundation on her cheekbones, and in its cracked texture you divine those stone-grey faces. What would it have been like, you wonder, when Vesuvius erupted in AD 79? When those people were jolted from the minutiae of their lives and looked up to see the ash falling from the sky? What would it have been like, not to see it through their eyes, but to be reflected in them? # What you see in Pompeii changes you in a way you cannot describe. Hannah always says you have an explorer’s mind, able to roam far and wide, to circumnavigate any problem. But after the Garden of the Fugitives you are marooned on Pompeii, able to think about nothing but the volcano. You spend hours picturing its first convulsions: the billowing of black dust, the drawing of Earth’s molten blood, how the rumble must have been felt for miles around. You tell yourself you’re having a midlife crisis and need to revisit the thrills of your youth. You visit Brands Hatch and tear a McLaren around the racetrack, willing the tires to burn, the engine to overheat, hitting gut-shuddering speeds on the straightaway. But instead of feeling powerful and exhilarated, you just feel childish, too aware of the comforts that swaddle the experience: the ergonomic driver interface, the soft Napa leather. You decide to suggest another holiday, settling on New Orleans, ostensibly to sample the music and Creole cuisine, but secretly hoping you can tour the damage wrought by Hurricane Katrina. You arrange to whisk Hope and Hannah off for an impromptu trip, book some last-minute flights, and few days later you are having coffee and donuts at the airport lounge. When you arrive in New Orleans you must be patient for the first evening. You tour the hotel, shower, nap, then go for dinner somewhere local. Hannah swoons over baked oysters and eggs Sardou, speculating loudly about the food, the building, the history of the place. Hope grimaces at her meticulously landscaped dinner. You tut with disapproval (tinged with amusement) when she announces that the Hudson Valley foie gras is not as delicious as ice cream. Whenever you find an opportunity, you slink off to the bathroom and watch videos of the hurricane on your phone. Breathlessly you devour one after another. You should inform yourself about what happened here, you think--it’s only right. 80% of the city, submerged in the brown slush of floodwater. You watch people stranded on rooftops, the panning shots of passing helicopters so perfect in their scope, their reveal. Again, you reconstruct the disaster in your mind, picturing the tropical wave building over the south-eastern Bahamas, gaining speed, making landfall screaming doors off hinges, ripping roofs from houses like plastic seals from yoghurt pots. ‘I think we should do a Hurricane Katrina tour,’ you say abruptly when you return to your seat. ‘I’ve found some that look pretty good. There’s one that drives past the levee that broke when the storm hit.’ Hannah frowns. ‘That sounds a bit grim.’ ‘They give a dollar from every ticket to the relief fund. And don’t you think we owe it, while we’re here, to learn about this stuff?’ ‘Owe it to who?’ Hannah asks.
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‘Whom,’ you reply, stifling a smile. Correcting her grammar is a guilty pleasure. ‘Who’ refers to the subject, ‘whom’ to the object, you sometimes say. Can’t you tell the difference between subject and object? ‘I don’t know,’ you shrug. ‘The city.’ Hannah looks at you incredulously. ‘We owe it to the city?’ You bridle at the wooliness of your own justification. ‘If you go, I’ll take you for cocktails at Galatoire’s.’ Hannah’s grin returns--now you’re on more familiar ground. You both enjoy this bargaining, the giving and withholding, the offer and threat, it’s a game that structures your entire relationship. You can spend hours negotiating where to eat, who will look after Hope when the nanny isn’t around, when and how you will have sex. ‘Go on then,’ Hannah sighs, placing a hand on yours. She sounds self-consciously concessive, which means she would have agreed even if you hadn’t offered something in return. A small failure on your part. # The next day you placate Hope with a hastily procured selection of ice creams and then load onto a tour bus. Once settled in the seat in front, Hope unwraps each cone carefully, then probes the seam between the ice cream and the wafer for drips. When one falls, she catches it on her tongue, then sits back to repeat the process. She does this with increasing speed as her pile of ice creams slickens in the midday heat. You negotiate a window seat for yourself, trying not to sound over-keen. You pull the shade clear, rub some smudges from the window with sleeve and spit. Now you have your own private booth. You go through Lakeview and see the 17th Street Canal where, the guide informs you sombrely, a torrent of water spilled into surrounding neighbourhoods. You want details: the force of that torrent, its movement, its every swish and sway. You stare at the streets, trying to imagine how they looked when awash with floodwater, houses half submerged, furniture bobbing absurdly along. It’s a difficult exercise, constantly undermined by the signs of normalcy patched over the disaster: people shopping, pushing buggies, loitering, laughing. All signs of the flood buried deep beneath the sediment. Hope pokes her little nose through the gap between the seats and says ‘Daddy’ incessantly. You ignore her for the most part, hoping Hannah will distract her. When you eventually turn to face her, her eyes are bulging, her face limpid. ‘Honey, what is it?’ you ask, straightening up, glancing at the passengers who have been eyeing Hope with that special brand of spite reserved for other people’s children. Hope responds with a gargling hiccup, and then vomits a stream of yellow liquid over the side of the seat. The other passengers recoil-- some have had their clothes spattered. Hope expels a final, stubborn string of saliva and then watches her vomit run in rivulets down the rubber aisle of the coach. ‘Oh, Hope,’ Hannah sighs, exasperation and concern jostling in her voice. She fumbles in her purse for tissues. You cover your nose in disgust. The bilious smell mingles with the stale air of the coach. The
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tour guide nudges the driver, the coach stops, and everyone waits for you to leave. Hannah stuffs the tissues back into her purse, and you are grateful to be spared the sight of her dabbing at the soiled floor. You carefully step over the pools of vomit, finding the few patches of rubber not yet submerged. The other passengers will not be so lucky, you suspect, by the time it is their turn to disembark. They look at you, stranded, across an aisle quickly disappearing under an acrid yellow sea. # Later that evening, after you put Hope to bed and seek refuge in the study of your hotel suite, you are brought out of your thoughts by Hannah’s shrill voice coming from Hope’s room. You rush in to find Hope lying on the bed with arms flopped at her sides. On her face is an expression you cannot parse, languid yet deep in concentration, as if chasing a thought at the very edge of consciousness. As you approach, you see that the corners of her mouth are covered with oozing yellow lesions. You peer closer, putting your face as near to hers as you dare. The lesions seem to pulsate slightly, as if animated by some movement beneath her face. The smell is suffocating, too: rancid flesh, faintly faecal, mixed with the sickly-sweet scent of cosmetic lotion that Hannah has misguidedly slathered on her. ‘What do we do?’ Hannah cries. Seeing her face crumple like a paper bag, you remember with distaste how quick she is to panic. ‘We get her to a doctor,’ you say irritably. ‘What do you think it is?’ ‘It’s an infection. She probably needs antibiotics.’ After a storm of phone calls, Hannah finds someone prepared to see Hope at short notice, who examines her for thirty seconds and scribbles out a prescription. You return to the hotel late, sick from lack of food but too tired to eat. Hannah manages to find a convenience store and buys the most expensive ice cream she can find. Quality brands: Ben and Jerry’s, Haagen Daz. Your put Hope to bed and kiss her glistening forehead. Hannah places a tub of ice cream next to her and winks devilishly. ‘A little treat for you, for being a brave girl.’ ‘I don’t want any more ice cream,’ Hope complains. ‘It’s too cold.’ Hannah grins. ‘You’ll be singing a different tune once you’re feeling better. This is the good stuff. Expensive.’ Hope looks up at you, her fingers playing on the surface of her face, tracing the base of each lesion where hard crust meets soft skin. ‘Daddy?’ ‘Don’t worry, sweetheart. You can’t get an infection from ice cream. You eat whatever you want.’ She seems reassured by this, so you leave her to sleep. You find her the next morning with the empty tub lying on her stomach, the spoon in her hand. Hannah starts, thinking she is frothing at the mouth. But you know it’s just the slow-churned French vanilla, melted to a creamy goo, overflowing her face and dripping onto the Egyptian cotton. #
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When Hope’s condition does not improve in the next few days, you cut your trip short and return to London. Hannah insists on taking her to another doctor, who gives you the same diagnosis. The infection is stubborn, but not spreading too quickly. Another round of antibiotics should clear it right up. At home, it is impossible to concentrate on work, let alone hold a conference call, with Hope groaning in the next room. You complain to Hannah that you can get nothing done. Your work is just a pretence, of course. You are positioning yourself for another holiday. You have heard on the news that a flood has hit Bangladesh. A great swell of water has engulfed the coast, the rivers rising from their beds like sleeping gods. You tell Hannah you need to go to Rio for work--a frequent business destination. She tips her head back and groans miserably. ‘Hope is ill. She needs you here. She won’t like this at all.’ ‘Hope is stable.’ ‘Stable?’ The word raises her voice an ugly octave. ‘I’ll be back as soon as I can. A few days.’ After a long, grudging sigh, Hannah nods. You begin walking towards the bedroom to pack a suitcase, when she calls after you, ‘I can barely look at her.’ There is a thorn of guilt in her voice. ‘Her lesions. They’ve gone yellow. They’re sticky. It’s just horrible.’ Ignoring her, you go to Hope’s bedside and give her a kiss. She looks better, you decide, sitting up, her pale face illuminated by the soft underlighting that bathes the room. You tell her you’ll be back soon, that all will be well, that by the time you return she will be binging on ice cream in front of the TV again. # You fly from London to Dhaka, a long flight crowded with fretful relatives and stoic aid workers. When you arrive, you don’t eat, don’t rest, don’t find a hotel. You flag a Navana taxi and head south immediately, relieved to put the city behind you, to get away from the angular buildings and hammering voices. There are too many people there, too much glass and concrete, too much artifice. You tell the driver to take you to a private airstrip not far from Barisal, where you have arranged a helicopter ride under the pretence that you are a journalist covering the flood. Soon you are climbing into a helicopter outside the hangar and strapping in. The blades begin their crescendo, shrieking your arrival to the skies. Once you are airborne, you catch your first glimpse of the flooded coast and the full extent of the damage reveals itself. The streets are inundated with water. Specks of people huddling together on rafts arch umbrellas mournfully towards the rain. Families are perched on rooftops of corrugated metal that barely take their weight. People are wading waist-deep though murky water, carrying children or the elderly, struggling to keep limp bodies afloat. Beyond all this is the ocean, rushing through the Bay of Bengal, gulping up the islands, the towns, the land. You instruct the pilot to fly over the coastline, then turn and follow the waves inland. He looks at you dubiously but does as you ask. As he positions the helicopter, your phone vibrates in your pocket. It’s Hannah: Hope’s condition much worse. Pills not helping and doctor crock of shit. Pls hurry home. Before you have a chance to reply, the phone slips from your hand and out of the open door. You
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watch it descend, a shrinking dot, into the water below. You return your attention to the chaos around you. A feeling spirals in your stomach, like panic but more detached, more cleansing; to panic what catharsis is to tragedy. You are flying directly above a wave as if carried by its momentum, and you hold your arms out on either side. One arm points west, the other east, and from this high up they seem to span the length of the coast. You feel as if your consciousness is slipping out of the helicopter, following your phone down into the ocean, dissipating into it, fitting to its unfathomable shape. You close your eyes. Your arms become the waves, the rest of your body the stirring ocean: your heart the twilight water, your bowels the dark abyss, your feet and toes the rifts and trenches. As you exhale, the great tide rises. The sound of the helicopter fades away. The rush of air subsides. All you can hear is the ocean, its body, and yours, rising.
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Singing in the Dark Times Patrick O’Shea
We sing in the dark times since we quite simply cannot afford to do anything else, We sing because now we must try with all our heart to keep the darkness at bay, But it does not really help or matter, because the dark creeps around into your soul, And then you may sit aghast at what you may very soon, find yourself becoming, There is something trembling perched on your shoulder that you do not recognize, But with a quick glance in a mirror, you realize it is yourself seen across a room. Displayed openly on the plush sofa, lays an indolent youth, moving in circles a lazy leg, And on a street a Dickensian child is glowering, with a feral look as they hunt their food, Army leaders are as ever with consummate skill marching young innocents to war, And the many so-called religious leaders seem to be selling bigotry in the name of faith, Dark clouds of tears are falling over many graveyards, as new virus victims are buried, And it may seem that the only singing is left with those giving voice to a silent choir. Now faces show crimping around mouths, and so many seem to wear the masks of felons, There is, however, despite all, still no need for great worry as new choirs are now forming, The singers now start to sing of hope, of joy, of the possibility of a renewal in a coming time, But still, they seem to look back in time for inspiration, before the last visions were dulled, To see before the times when the last spirits were found to be so full of empty promises, So now those hopeful singers must grope across landscapes that they never chose to see.
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These Shapes Ray Malone
These shapes the mind makes of every walk this I found in the fork of a path caught in the sun which way to go with the dust into the dark or the bright pebbles talking to the light and why There in the straits between fence and trees the late bounty of leaves green brown gold wet together which to pick a leaf too has its shape
its short life
of the myriad hardly a handful brought home ‘its dry death to die’ pressed to be remembered print of a past a path a poem
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Familiar Eyes Andy Martin
A fierce downpour pounded the pavement outside Birmingham International Airport and lashed against my windscreen. The rear lights of the car in front lit up, and a cloud of exhaust fumes gusted into the night air. Through the dissipating smoke, I saw her walking towards me, dressed in a red coat and woollen hat. She placed a case on the pavement next to my cab. I stepped outside, keeping my face down, away from the bitter rain. ‘Taxi?’ ‘Yes, please. Highbridge Road.’ My last fare of the night. Something about her accent reminded me of someone as I opened the door to let her in. I started the engine and tried to put a face to the distinctive voice. ‘Been anywhere nice?’ In my rear view mirror I watched as her brow creased in thought and she removed her hat. ‘Ireland,’ she said, and it clicked. ‘Lulu.’ We were a couple, fifteen years ago. That unmistakable Irish lilt brought me back to student days, gigs, drunkenly stumbling around cheap student accommodation, talking and smoking into the early hours. ‘Dan.’ She smiled. ‘How are you?’ ‘I’m okay.’ She paused a moment, then continued. ‘I’m back for a book signing tomorrow.’ ‘A book signing? That’s great.’ She had aspirations of being a writer when we were at university. ‘Poetry?’ She never stopped writing poems. In notebooks, on scraps of paper, on her hands,
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wherever she was, whenever she thought of it. ‘It’s a novel,’ she said. ‘What’s it called?’ She hesitated. ‘Meeting Bronte.’ Wuthering Heights was our favourite book. We visited Emily Bronte’s house together and spent a weekend camping on the Howarth moor where the story was set. ‘Sounds interesting. I’ll have to get a copy.’ Memories flooded over me like the ephemeral raindrops dashing against my windscreen. The light of vehicles glided over the inside of the car. Our relationship had been intense and unpredictable, joyful yet exhausting. It ended when she returned to Ireland to ‘get her head straight’, leaving me devastated. ‘I wrote to you.’ she whispered. I glanced in my mirror and saw her beautiful dark familiar eyes. ‘Yeah, I got your poem but you didn’t put a return address on it.’ ‘I put it on the letters.’ ‘The letters?’ ‘I sent you letters but you didn’t reply.’ I took a deep breath. ‘The lease ran out on my house shortly after you left. I didn’t get any letters. I did call in every now and then to ask if anything had come but the new tenants weren’t interested.’ Her eyes widened. ‘I tried looking you up,’ I said, ‘but I didn’t know which village you were from.’ We were silent for a few minutes, the windscreen wipers clearing the raindrops that distorted my view. In the rear view mirror I saw shadows move across her face. ‘How have you been?’ she asked. ‘Are you married?’ ‘No. You?’ ‘I’m going through a divorce.’ She looked outside at the passing city landscape. ‘Sorry to hear that.’ I said, as I pulled onto the expressway. ‘What have you been doing? Weren’t you thinking of going into the ministry?’ ‘Yeah, I was a vicar up in Ayr for seven years.’ ‘I bet you did a wonderful job.’ ‘It’s a difficult role. I’m on a break at the moment. It’s lasted about five years so far.’ I paused. ‘I went to the Wuthering Heights pub.’ She would know what I was referring to. When we stayed in Howarth I asked her to meet me back there, on the anniversary of Bronte’s death at midnight in the year 2000 whether we were together or not. I had returned and found a message from her carved into a tree next to where we camped. She had been there too. ‘I saw your message.’ ‘You went?’ she said. ‘I went at midnight on the night of the anniversary. It was only afterwards that I realised you returned in the morning. That’s why we missed each other. I saw your message but had no way of finding you.’ Under an inscription of our initials that she had carved on our first visit, she had written, ‘IF ONLY YOU’D COME. X.’ She opened her purse and asked if she could smoke.
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‘It’s not allowed, but feel free.’ I saw the end of the cigarette burning in the shadows and smoke filled the cab. She opened her window a little. ‘Do you want one?’ ‘Yeah, thanks.’ She handed me the cigarette she’d already lit, just like the old days. I took a deep drag and felt the nicotine rush to my head. I blew the smoke out. ‘It’s been a while.’ ‘I’ve been trying to give up.’ she said. As I pulled up to her house I told her I was glad we’d run into each other. She opened her purse, and pulled out a fifty pound note for the twenty pound fare. ‘Thanks for the lift.’ I went to give her change but she held up her hand in protest. Was she trying to communicate something? Was it an apology? ‘Thanks.’ I said. I watched her walk down the path to her house. She went inside without looking back. I held up the fifty-pound note, and in the corner was a telephone number and a name, Lulu.
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Ubiquity Gregory Dally
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Ubiquity Characters X – female Y – male Their ages are open. Intellectuals overfed on facts of dubious utility, they are mutually impressionable. They yabber in the syntax of chipmunks on uppers, attuned to each other’s rhythms. Setting/Props The space contains two chairs or a sofa. Other items: a magazine; a tablet; a phone. X and Y are slouching on the seating. Y is reading a magazine. X is typing passionately (her computer screen might feature this script). Y: (amused) There’s that word ‘ubiquitous’ again. X laughs explosively. Y joins her in mirth. X ceases typing. X: It’s...everywhere! Their mutual laughter continues in a self-congratulatory manner for a few seconds. Y: That’s so weird. I didn’t even know that word till last month – ‘ubiquitous.’ Since then I’ve seen or heard it, like, heaps. X: I can outdo that. Y: Of course you can. X: You’ve found ‘ubiquitous’ on untold occasions since you learned it, right? There’s a term for that syndrome, that sudden recurring awareness. Technically, it’s the Haim Deutschendorf Theory or something. Y: Yeesh. X: Yep, it’s got a name. (Grinning) Thing is, since I first heard it in a doco last year – Y: – You keep finding it all the time? X: You know it. Y: Uh-huh. This name means that you, mm, suddenly start noticing something all around, and now you’ve – Almost in unison, a syncopation: X: } – suddenly started noticing it all around.
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Y: } – suddenly started noticing it all around. X: Yip. Y takes out a phone. Y: I’ve gotta see this. So it’s like... X: Haim Deutschendorf. Y: High...? X: Maybe H – A – I – M. Y: (tapping adroitly) Haim Deutschendorf. (Shakes his head.) Nup. X: Try, um... Y: Try the obvious? (Tapping.) “Suddenly start notic –” (Surprised) Ha! X: What? Y: I didn’t even finish the phrase. Google just did it for me: “suddenly start noticing something.” X: Heaps of others have typed the same thing. Y: “Baader Meinhof Phenomenon.” X: That’s it! Pretty close to – Y: } Haim Deutschendorf Theory. X: } Haim Deutschendorf Theory. (Laughs.) And now – Y: I’ll start clocking this Meinhof thing, too, ubiquitously. Hell. Y puts the phone aside. X: I’m gonna, like, put this in a story. A play, maybe. Y: What? This? Finding ‘ubiquitous’ a lot, and stuff about Haverstock Munter Phenomenon? X: Baader Meinhof. Yep. X starts typing again with renewed enthusiasm. Y: A pretty thin concept. X: Hey, meaning is where you find it. (Affecting a histrionic tone) Life is an onion.
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Y: Ours stinks like one. (Pause.) Oh, you’re really doing this? Thought you were joking. Hm. So people go to your play... X: They see it then carry on with living, having absorbed those terms, thinking about this syndrome they’ve never heard of before. Then eventually, increasingly often, they notice ‘ubiquitous’ or Baader Meinhof, like – Y: – everywhere. X: Voila. ` Y: (underwhelmed) That’s it? X: Sure, at the time they’ll think, “That’s the dumbest idea ever.” If you listened to their amateur critique, you’d hear the nastiest slagging any repertory piece has ever received. Y: Yep, stick that in the dialogue. Call them amateur. That’ll get the audience on side. Y breaks the fourth wall for a moment, quickly giving the audience an expression that is derogatory of X as she talks, ignoring him. X: It’ll settle in their heads, though. Each time they encounter those words, their critique of my drama will shift oh so slightly, until one day – Y: – they’ll equate your dross with high art? Yeah, right. Likely. X: Mm, you’re misreading my intent. Slyly ironic subtlety is the aim. Y: Good old SIS. X: I’m giving patrons a few minutes in the thrall of an artist who’s compassionate enough to set them a gentle time bomb for the soul. Y: (mocking) “A gentle time bomb for the soul.” That’s the level of your ambitions? X: Yep. The lighthearted ones. Y sneers. X laughs. Y: What? X: This could be the most boring, unimportant conversation we’ve had yet. Y: Oh, you underestimate us. I’d say it’s possibly the most boring, unimportant, drooling snorefest anyone’s had. And that’s against some heavy opposition – most of it from us on other hideous occasions. X: True. This is a fresh level of overextrapolationalism.
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Y: That’s not a word. X: Could be. It’d mean – Y: Yeah, I get it. That’s how scarily tuned in I am to the turgid mechanics of that slush you call your mind. (Pause.) How much material do you reckon you can overextrapolate out of such a pathetically simple idea? X: Oh, I think this falls into the “Mustn’t outstay its welcome” category. Y: Get ‘em with a one-note joke, milk it for a moment, exit? X: (sonorous voice:) Ahhh, notes contain dimensions of resonance. They eddy in the memory. Y: Jeez. You really are at home in dramatics. Abandoning her typing, X smiles, stands and stretches. X: Timing, man. Leave ‘em confused, and they might think they’ve learned something reasoned, sort of clever – or at least had a jagged jolt to their timid thoughts. Y: A jagged jolt? (Shakes his head, laughs.) This is your artistic philosophy? Random ideas? ‘Zat how you concoct these things your poncy thespian friends at the theatre act out for you? X: That’s about it. X moves to depart. Y does likewise, taking the phone. They may have exited by the time their repartee is over. Y: (derisively) You know people go to the theatre to escape the tedium of their lives? X: Or to see their tedium mirrored, and derive some measure of comfort from that. Y: (humouring her) Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard that before somewhere. X: I’ve heard it everywhere. Out
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Managrammatics Ed Blundell
He takes my words and twists them round, Turns them to things I never said. Although they are the words I spoke The meaning is ambiguous. I’m down, I think he held me up. I’m in and sometimes out of it, He’s out and sometimes into it. He’s here, I don’t know what to say, He says he doesn’t want to hear. Our love’s a sort of anagram, The words we say are just the same But mean such very different things.
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Scrittura LITERARY MAGAZINE
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Welcome to the Spring/Summer 2021 issue of Scrittura Magazine! This issue is dedicated to James Bell, a regular contributor to, and support...
Published on Aug 9, 2021
Welcome to the Spring/Summer 2021 issue of Scrittura Magazine! This issue is dedicated to James Bell, a regular contributor to, and support...