Editor Terri Jane Dow firstname.lastname@example.org | @terrijane severinelit.weebly.com | @severinelit :: Cover Art â€œMountainsâ€? Kristina Soggee
Writing Bee Stevenson Matt Harris Violet Mclean Laryssa Wirstiuk Levi Andrew Noe Emma Hutson London Undercurrents Leyla Giray Alyanak Prerna Bakshi Katelynn Carver Jack C Buck Rhi창n Davies Aran Ward Sell :: Art Kristina Soggee Tessa Galloway Sam Sephton
they drove through golden skies, top down, pausing by the roadside for breath. between milky leather seats they whispered sweet nothings: of late nights and early mornings, silence and sleep, forever summers and phosphene, blissfully blind as they intertwined, limb by limb, and drowned inside one another.
bed sheets hooked around the moon we lay for hours, then days drinking in the secrets of the stars until we both were full.
At this time I was running a night club. It wasn't doing too badly. It was attracting what you might call an alternative crowd, friendly and tolerant. Lots of drugs of course but we hadn't attracted the attention of the police or the serious dealers, so it was okay. The atmosphere was good, and the music too. It was dance music of some leftfield variety, though I couldn’t say what kind exactly – I don't know much about that side of things, a woman named Kay booked all the DJs and so on. I just ran the venue, worked the bar. The rent on the building was really low thanks to some wily negotiating I'd done when I let the place. It was an old warehouse. A previous owner had begun converting it into a bar before abandoning the idea when the economy collapsed, and for years it had sat unused. A grungy cube of brick lying fallow by the dockside. Idle cranes and old factories all around. The company who owned it now didn't seem aware what it was like inside. They had been surprised I wanted to rent it. Before opening I'd done some minimal refurbishment, but retained what I liked to call 'the dive aesthetic' – which is to say, it was a dive. I called the place Xternetsa, and had an artist friend of mine paint up a nice sign to hang outside the door. At night the slowly pulsing orange lights on the cranes made the sign appear and disappear in a tireless rhythm. In no time at all the place began to take off, despite its unappealing location far outside of town. We didn't shift much booze at the bar (most people were high), but we charged a few quid for entry and turnout was so good that the bar ticked along well enough anyway. Overheads were low – I just kept a few staff on and only opened four nights a week – and the place was making good money. Every penny earned went straight into my project, which was to build a robot indistinguishable from a human being. I used a back room at the club as a workshop, and could even get some work done while we were open, as long as the bar wasn't too busy. After six months of business we were doing very nicely and had attracted a solid regular crowd – the alternative types, the older ravers, the trendier students, the parts of the gay crowd that didn't like the mainstream gay scene. The music was good – repetitive and mechanical, deep and undulating, hard and cold. The punters seemed to love it. Quite a lot of people would come up to me at the bar and tell me the club was the best place in town.
When the night was in full swing and the bar was quiet, I would take a wander round the club, enjoying the atmosphere. The flickering lights in the darkness, the blissful faces, the bodies moving to music. Kay would be flouncing around saying hi to everybody she knew, and would always give me a sweaty hug as she passed me. A few regulars would greet me warmly. The mood was always good. We had a couple of girls and a boy who worked the bar with me, as well as manning our little coat room. Following the advice of a friend who ran a club down south, we'd hired one male and one female bouncer. The male bouncer, a huge guy called Paul who didn't talk much, would just stand at the door looking imposing, while the female one, who was a loud, jokey, intimidating middle-aged woman called Teresa, would do all the interacting, marshaling the queue and keeping a notional eye out for drugs. The idea of having a woman do it was that angry men were less likely to get aggressive when she had words with them, and we had the big guy just in case. But then we didn't seem to get any of that breed of men anyway, so Teresa had an easy job. We never had any trouble for those first six months. That whole period was a very exciting time. All of us felt as though we were part of something beautiful, something thrilling. Most nights, after I'd enjoyed my wander round the club, I'd retire to the back room for a little while, telling the other staff I was checking over the takings. In the back room, a locked door led to my little workshop. The robot stood in the corner. It didn't look much like a human at that stage, its head was bare and you could see the cogs and pistons working when it thought, and most of its body was exposed machinery. But the appearance is the least important part, and can be finished off last of all. The important thing is to get the behaviour right. I would test the machine out in various ways; ask it some everyday questions and see if it responded normally; ask it how it was feeling; have it pick up a cup and sip, or pat me reassuringly on the shoulder, or appear to read a book or look surprised or act like it was raising a sensitive issue. After each test there would be adjustments to make; pistons tightened, brackets oiled, cogs swapped out for different sizes. There were so many little quirks and bugs, and each one would need to have its cause tracked down. An insensitive comment, a non sequitur, a cup clumsily dropped, or even a cup caught with inhuman precision; all these faults would have their causes, and I would spend taxing hours tracking them down, till finally a mis-calibrated lever or a shorting tube would be discovered. It was an expensive project; the parts were not cheap, and replacements, refinements and additions were needed all the time. Sometimes work would have to stop for weeks while I waited for the club's takings to pay for some costly new component. It was hard work, but I enjoyed it. When the machine was thinking it was quite beautiful to watch: golden cogs spinning smoothly, rods pushing, riding. Cables would tauten and relax with velvet precision. A harmony of poised and elegant metal moving. As time went on, and I observed the many behavioural quirks of my machine, I realised
how many of them were familiar. It was gradual, and was less of a realisation than a confirmation of something I'd long suspected, but before long there was no doubt that I shared many of those quirks; I didn't really think too hard about it or even verbalise the idea in my own head, but it was pretty obvious I was a robot too. I can't say it was a surprise, nor was it in any way upsetting; to be honest, it explained quite a few things, and I actually felt relieved. Work continued as usual. There was a certain time, maybe as long as two or three months, when I was working on the robot every hour I could. The project was at a crucial stage, and I spent hardly any time in the club itself. I missed the excitement of it, the sense of belonging and sharing with others, the thrill and noise and hedonism, but my work was important, and I needed to avoid distraction. The hours and days were swallowed up in minute adjustments of arcane mechanisms. Eventually I hit a difficult problem, and work slowed. I decided it would benefit me to take some time away from the project. I returned to manning the bar regularly; I was less distracted and my thoughts returned to the daily running of the club. It was then I realised it had begun to change. Maybe it had been changing for a while. The crowd seemed different. Less amiable, less welcoming. Fewer people were dancing, more people were standing around, looking at the other people, making comments, glaring. There were more large men in tight t-shirts. They didn't dance, these men, they stood and nodded in rigid time to the music, clenching their chests and hands. Teresa was spending more time sorting out trouble in the queue than ever before. One Saturday night, for the first time ever, a fight broke out on the dance floor, and Paul the bouncer had to come in and chuck the two brawlers out. Kay looked a lot less happy and was always rushing around trying to sort out problems. She no longer had time to dance and offer sweaty hugs and hellos to everyone she recognised, and anyway it didn't seem like she knew so many of the punters any more. Two of the girls who worked on the bar quit, and we hired a couple more to replace them. They were not nice people. They were snotty to the customers and made it clear they were laughing at me behind my back. There were more fights. The atmosphere in the club became overwrought and aggressive. Large, tense men stood with thin, sneering women on their arms. Or sometimes the men and women would stand in separate groups, the men cavorting loudly when they were in sight of the women, the women whispering and pretending not to notice, or shrieking ostentatiously as though there was a contest for who was having the most fun, and they were determined to win. Kay left; she said she needed a steadier job. I never saw any of our old regulars, and when I wandered round the club the punters glanced at me with mild distaste, as though I didn't belong there â€“ none of them knew it was my club. I heard people making comments on my clothes and appearance, and laughing. The last of my original bar staff left and I had to take more on, and I found them all quite unpleasant. When I spoke to them they barely
bothered to hide their smirks. If I came near while a group of them were talking they would fall silent. With the increased trouble, I also had to take on a couple more bouncers. They were big, brutal men. Teresa left to join the police. One night I noticed a large group of rough-looking men with a retinue of tottering halfdressed women seated in the little raised area at the back that usually served as a secondary dance floor. They acted like the area was their exclusive domain. No one came to dance there anymore. They seemed to make other people uncomfortable. They made a point of being loud and showy with their money. As I watched I noticed our bouncer Paul come in and exchange a few words them. He shook hands as though they were all friends, then left them alone. From then on they came in every Saturday. In an effort to bring back some of our more alternative crowd I had our music policy changed on week nights, and the DJs played strange experimental music. But the same crowd turned up and didn't seem to care; they weren't much concerned with what music was playing. The drugs of choice seemed to have changed; at least, the demeanour of the people was different, no longer sweaty and blissful, but now triumphant, suspicious, tribal. But more money was coming in, that was certain. This new crowd were spending more at the bar, and attendance on Saturday nights was up. I withdrew to my workshop again, avoiding the club whenever I could. The robot wasn't yet finished, but I'd put the project on hold and had begun work on a spacecraft that would take me off the surface of this planet and out into the void.
You my second to last love, fading into blues and greys now sometimes I resurrect the dark corpse of your transgressions so I have something to think about. A little opine. Because a friend told me that I have done the hard part and now I’m in the long part. It is long. The days, darling. I try to call you that now, though I never said it to your whirlpool eyes. It was much easier to follow you in an airplane because what were my days if not waiting for you to fill them, the emptiness expanding under parched desert air slipping to Caribbean heavens that hung like mosquito netting between us. My days were waiting there for you, the vacancy of them. We are all afraid of the terror that comes after the silence, of when you actually shake your rusted knees and leave. Maybe it’s just me, here alone with my self-possession and the fear of it. You’re a tiny ant, a baby spider crawling over my calf while I try and sleep in the August everything. You are easier that way. I can feel your phantom feet tap tap on my skin, or I can swipe heavy fingers in your direction and you are gone, and there are my arms again.
Facing – Seville, by Tessa Galloway
On Tinder, I swiped left, past men in exotic locales who made me wonder why I also haven’t been able to save money for international trips. My own profile photos included backdrops like a blank wall in my studio apartment and a local dive bar. When I asked one candidate about his most exotic travel experience, he responded: “hiked the Hump Ridge track in New Zealand, paraglided in Chamonix, landed on a glacier, swam with piranhas, and slept among tapirs in Costa Rica.” And I’d always believed a “Chamonix” was a cleaning rag. I swear I’m intelligent, but the farthest I’ve traveled was London, almost 15 years ago, when I was too much a disaffected teenager to appreciate it. I finally accepted a date, to prove to myself that I, with my graduate degree, could hold my own with a man who’s traveled the world. I chose to meet someone who, like me, grew up in the New York City metro area; at least we’d share that. We agreed to meet at a bar on Jersey City’s waterfront, on the bank of the Hudson River with an unobstructed view of Lower Manhattan. “It’s not that I haven’t wanted to travel,” I said. “I swear I’m adventurous. I just haven’t had opportunities. Trying to live so close to the city on my paycheck, you sacrifice things.” I thought then of the show “House Hunters,” how the clueless couples complain if they can’t find their dream, three-bedroom house for less than $150,000, how they can probably afford to travel and pay their mortgages too. Granted, they’re usually house hunting in rural Alabama, but I shuddered at demands like heated bathroom floors. “I’ve been to many countries,” he said. “But I’m sad that I’ll probably never get to visit all the places I want to see.” “I always wonder about people who live in the same remote village until they die,” I said. “Maybe they don’t even have an Internet connection. How rich are their inner lives? How much do they yearn to leave?” “Oh,” he said. “I mean, look,” I said, pointing at the floor-to-ceiling windows that flaunted their panoramic view of the Freedom Tower. With his back facing the skyline, he had to turn around. “Do you know how many people would love to be here right now? Is it too forward to say this is the greatest city in the world?” We considered the Hudson, dark and choppy from the cold, winter wind.
“Would you ever swim it?” he asked. “I don’t think I’m adventurous enough,” I said. I imagined uploading a photo of myself not drowning but waving from the violent, polluted water. Considering the bacteria, I nearly spat out my beer. At my disposal, I had trains, I had ferries. I even had a car and buses to cross bridges and tunnels. I couldn’t be bothered with the effort required by anything less convenient.
A Thai pepper plucked fresh from the bush. “You taste,” said my guide. I tasted and then drank, in one gasping gulp, all the water I had for the hike through the jungle, and elephant ride to the hill tribe. Rice fields in the sticky summer, endless in every direction. Mt. Tsukuba in the background holding up the sky. Two days traveling by slow-boat. Sitting right next to the motor doesn’t drown out the green beauty and the river's song pulling me into this artery of the earth, the Mekong. People, animals, rivers, mountains, trains, temples everything from the cow dung to the holy men all living and breathing with a vividness that hurts at first until I accept it for what it is, and then the Himalayas feel like my oldest home. Sakura trees on every street, every field, every path, and climbing to the clouds on every mountain. The ethereal pink-white blossoms that light up the earth and sky are a color that can only be seen once a year for one week, maybe two, if you're lucky; or in rare, promising dreams. Two years later when I come back home. It is autumn and the aspen in the Rockies are a gold and ochre ocean. It’s a cloudless day and the moon rests on the hips of the mountains. And I think of that grove of trees sharing a single source, and I feel my own roots circle the earth.
The sand slid between her toes, catching on the rings and resting on the top of her foot, slowly trickling down whenever she moved. It still smelt slightly from cup of coffee she’d knocked over yesterday. She tipped her head back and closed her eyes against the warm light, listening to the repetitive rush of the waves and the humming tinkle of pebbles as they drew back. The underfloor heating kit should arrive tomorrow. That would make the sand authentically warm.
Beth took a sip of coconut water, pushing it around her mouth to cool her gums, and turned back to her laptop. Six of her bets had come in winners and she was selecting another four, calculating the odds and each necessary bet to spread. Her maths Masters certificate was hung on the door to the China room, a subtle nod to her perception of an achievement culture.
She thumbed through Tinder as she waited for the results and for the post to arrive. She’d ordered a new wall hanging for the India room. It was one of the first rooms she’d finished and it was getting a bit tired. Her phone beeped, but she ignored it. She already had a couple of conversations on the go that would lead to an almost immediate hook-up should the mood strike her to invite them round. She didn’t have time for relationships; she had a world to cultivate.
Two of her bets lost but the other two made up for it and her kitty was stable. She switched IP addresses and moved to a different site. The number of email addresses she burned through in a week would be incomprehensible to most. The track on the music dock changed, this one was out at sea, water against a wooden hull and sea birds calling. She switched off the UV lamp and closed her eyes.
*** By the time the doorbell rang she was bored of betting and ready for a cup of tea. Wiping her feet on the mat next to the sand she strode to answer it, closing Thailand’s door firmly behind her. The corridor was much cooler and she snatched a cardigan off the hook as she opened the front door. Jacob was leaning against the porch wall, his halo of hair held raindrops. “Morning.”
“A soggy one. Three parcels today.” He flicked his long dark fingers through the pile of packages and letters in his arms, separating hers from next door’s and handing them over. “Fab, thanks.” “Need a signature.” She nodded, leaning behind her to put the bundle of post on the low table that held her modem. As she turned back she noticed his eyes flick back up from her legs. He fiddled with the hand-held, before passing it forward for her to sign with the little stylus. “You get up to much this weekend?” “Nah, five-a-side on Sunday like usual. Otherwise, nothing really. You?” “Worked on some yoga, tried out that ackee and saltfish recipe you mentioned.” His teeth flashed when he grinned. “Yeah? What you think?” “Bloody spicy is what I think. Scotch bonnets? Never again.” “You said you wanted the proper experience. Cultural immersion. I was just helping.” “You’re a sod. Maybe I’m not ready for a Jamaica room just yet.” “What country were you gonna get rid of then?” “Maybe France. It’s not that different to here. There’s only so many croissants a girl can eat to feel authentic.” “Well, don’t give up on Jamaica just yet. I can always offer more advice.” She snorted. “Yeah, yeah. Go and finish your rounds.” He checked his watch and scrunched his nose, nodding. “Yeah. See you tomorrow.”
She sat at the breakfast bar in the kitchen with her post as she waited for the stovetop kettle to boil. It was the only place in the house that resembled the UK so she’d designed it to look like a country kitchen with pale counters, duck egg cabinets and a limestone floor. She opened the package from India first, already knowing what was inside. The dark reds, purples, blues and yellows spilled out of the padded envelope, smelling faintly of dye and spice. She shook it out, holding it at arms length to admire the mandala that spiralled out from the centre. It would look brilliant on the wall opposite the window. The kettle whistled gently, building up to a full boil. She folded the hanging and draped it over the second barstool.
Beth’s phone pinged three times in quick succession meaning Liu must be up. Liu tended to hit enter rather than space after every sentence, especially first thing in the morning. She’d passed her undergraduate degree and her parents were taking her out for a celebratory meal. She’d been talking it through with her counsellor for weeks and had been practicing with small daily walks. Her token was an egg sized jade sphere; she carried it with her as an anchor, something to concentrate on. Liu was certainly getting better. She had a drive
that Beth never had. Her phone pinged again.
Hi You up? Have you seen the message board this morning? ??!! No, why? Mark was hospitalised. What?? Why?? Apparently he pushed too hard and sent himself into arrhythmia. Who said? How’s he getting on in hospital?
Jill said his mum called her. I don’t know. Jill’s still waiting to hear. I’ll message her now.
Beth grabbed her laptop from Thailand and put it on the breakfast bar. She switched from the betting site to the Agoraphobia Support Network page and clicked through to her DMs pulling up her conversation with Jill. She was set as offline. After leaving a quick message asking about Mark she headed to the original post. Just a few lines saying what Liu had said and then twenty-three comments from various members asking for updates. She typed a reply saying that she hoped he was ok and closed the window. Someone was always trying too hard to pretend they weren’t what they were. She’d given up on that years ago and had a shelf of discarded tokens in the bathroom to prove it.
Tapping out a quick reply to Liu she finished making her tea, chiming the spoon on the edge of the mug and leaving it in the little teapot shaped rest. She sat up at the breakfast bar and pulled the second parcel closer. She edged her fingers under the tape, pulling it upwards with a creaking rip. The top of the box was layered with tissue paper. She untucked the first corner, crinkling it up and out of the way. Underneath was a photo, a black sand beach in Hawaii. She pulled it out to reveal a stack of other pictures. Taking a mouthful of tea, she flicked through them. A giant moss-covered buddha in China; sea-hewn arches in a turquoise bay; a foot stepping out onto a cobbled street. Gina had been travelling for months now; she was always sending little trinkets. Her round-the-world ticket was coming to an end in another nine weeks and then she’d be back in the flesh with stories to tell and more photos to share. Wrapped in an extra layer of paper was a little glass
vial of the black sand from the photo. There was a postcard at the bottom of the box of a waterfall in Lebanon.
Dear Beth, Wish you were here and all that. Today I ate kibbeh – it’s like the Lebanese version of a scotch egg, but with no egg and more onion. I have a recipe; we can make some when I’m next at yours. I’ll send this parcel soon. I hope you like the sand. It was amazing seeing an entire beach of it. Lots of love, G xx
Collecting the photos, sand and wall hanging, Beth put her cup in the sink and wandered into the corridor. Strung along the wall were fairy lights, every few bulbs there was a photo pegged up. She added the latest pictures to the gaps and put the vial of sand on the radiator cover next to the fridge magnet from Australia, the carved wooden figure from Africa, the papier-mâché mask from Italy, the pile of change in various currencies and the poker chip from Vegas.
The India room was set up in what would have been the dining room. The walls were painted a pale golden yellow; there were two vibrant rugs on the floor and a carved wooden screen against one wall. Cushions were spread around the room, each were different colours, some with embroidery and small mirrors sewn on, others made from shining sari fabric. On the wall where the hanging was to go, there were a number of framed pictures of India itself. Stacked behind the screen were her yoga mat, blocks and bolster. An instructor came round once a week to teach her new poses. Leaving the hanging on the floor for a minute, Beth popped back to the kitchen to grab a barstool.
She’d hammered nails into the right places the previous week according to the measurements on the website. She climbed up onto the chair with the hanging over her shoulder and hooked the first corner onto the nail. The second corner was a bit of a stretch. The chair wobbled. She grabbed the wall. She laughed a little to herself at her fear. When it was hung, she pushed the chair to the side and stood back to look at it properly. It filled most of the wall. The mandala’s sacred geometry grew outwards from the centre, blooming across the space. Beth lent against the windowsill, crossed her ankles and let herself imagine that she could smell fresh spices and hear the sizzle of a dosa being spun out into a disk on a hotplate. She pushed her shoulders back and down, straightening her spine and let her head roll back against the glass. She caught sight of Jacob out of the corner of her eye. He was on the other side of the road now. She turned to smile at him and saw Lynn from number 17 rushing down the path. She waved at Jacob, summoning him towards her. She had one of those red slips that means you’ve missed a parcel delivery. They spoke, she placed a hand on his arm and tipped
her head back to laugh, exposing her neck as it lead down to the deep vee of her top. He was smiling back at her, not yet rummaging in his bag for her package. Beth watched for a moment more as they stood on the pavement talking. She turned her back and stepped to the side, so they wouldnâ€™t see her if they looked over. Leaning against the wall she looked back at her new decoration. She slid down to sit on one of her cushions, automatically bringing her legs into cobbler pose, the soles of her feet pressed together. She pulled her phone from her pocket and clicked on the Tinder notification that sheâ€™d left idling. Somewhere outside Jacob laughed.
Where is your husband? Mary Kingsley replies, 1893
I travel afar as I please, alone. Not missionary wife. No wedding ring. But amongst the natives I feel at home. African wives pull together at home many hands to help carry and bring I travel afar as I please, alone. Jungle and snake beats Islington gloam Rain grey, parents dead, dull notes to sing But amongst the natives I feel at home. I travel afar as I please, alone. New woman? Itâ€™s not a feminist thing. But amongst the natives I feel at home. I travel afar as I please, alone. For all in our colonies freedom bring But amongst the natives I feel at home. London roots pull me to N1 zone Will frighten rats with the parrots I bring But amongst the natives I feel at home. High collars and skirts in them I will roam Trade in East India, write books, have a fling I travel afar as I please, alone. But amongst the natives I feel at home.
Tea Girl in Battersea Park Summer 1895 A girl can dream, I tell myself. She can dream all day while serving teas and clearing tables and taking orders from ladies wilting pleasantly under shady trees, their covetable bicycles propped and resting after so many circuits round the park. She can dream of how many miles she’d ride, out to Richmond and beyond into countryside and sweet sootless air. How boundless then her horizons. So, off you go, ladies, refreshed, aglow, tootling blithely to your undreamt-of homes. This girl has to hoof it up the Junction, weary of limb, aching for your ease and longing for my very own freedom machine. Sandwiched between little sis and big ‘un, I’ll dream of spokes and pedals, two flashing wheels, the unstoppable momentum of my journey out into the world.
You know those tacky paintings of Elvis on black velvet, so popular last century? I have a velvet cat, right on my wall, around the corner where no one can see it. And that miniature Eiffel Tower on my bookshelf? It stands somewhere between the wrinkled spines of Scoop and The Honorary Consul. As for that granite Mexican sundial, its greenish tinge reminds me of a drinking night gone very wrong. It will have to go. I cringe at the leftovers of past voyages and my memory swings back to my mother’s tiny apartment, whose walls were so cluttered a steam cleaner couldn’t fight its way through the multiple layers. She was a hoarder, my mother, of objects strange and wonderful and of others you’d disown or throw away when no one was looking. When she and I lived in the same city we would meet for coffee early every morning, memorable little encounters before the rest of daily life took over. My eyes would surreptitiously scan her wall of the world. I was in-between travels then, with itchy feet but a stable lifestyle. Routine had become my friend and anti-travel my romance. As Mother and I sipped thick, crunchy Turkish coffee, twice boiled like my Turkish father had taught her, my eyes would fixate on the imaginary cartography of the world splashed across her space. First to grab my eye would be a thing I called The Icon, a series of lively Ethiopian reproductions painted on a canvas, crookedly framed, daring me to straighten it. Its curled Amharic script stuck to each image like spray from rain. It must have stood for days in the sun
Facing – Loch, by Sam Sephton
along the fringes of the crowded Merkato in Addis, daring someone to buy it. I imagine the merchant, with his long robe and even longer scarf, would have jumped with glee when – distracted by the strident loudspeakers and chaos – my mother walked off with her wrapped package, oblivious to its frayed and faded edges. To the left of The Icon hung an African mahogany mask, a sad artifact made from trees that should have been left to grow out their old age. She might have bartered with a Zanzibari merchant fresh off his dhow, the salt spray still coating his hair, his eyes watering from the nausea of the brutal crossing. Slightly above the mask sat twin blood-red and charcoal lithographs, painted by a Native artist from the Canadian North with such realism the whale seemed to be eating the hunter. Spears, fish, waves frozen in mid-air by the Arctic iciness on a toasty beige background, all was deceptively designed to soothe the sight of all that blood. Her bookcase was stuffed with tomes in Esperanto and Italian and Arabic but my favorite was Ave Maria in 404 Languages, a prayer book dating back to her school years. I delicately turned the disintegrating pages: Ndikukuposya, gwe Maria in Kibende from Tanzania; Marie telonnonronkwanion is ichiati in Huron; Alatala itumang-gung salea Maria in Moro from Mindanao. As each language rose from the page I would travel there in spirit, floating dreamily over East Africa and the Great Lakes and the Far East. And then there was a torn and twisted photograph of little me, captured in black and white and mounted in a penny frame. I was being pushed in a stroller along the grainy alleys of the Jardin des Tuileries in Paris a few weeks after my birth, tucked into a furry coat so huge had anyone petted it I might have been smothered. In the corner next to her balcony door stood her treasure: a clutch of desert roses, sandy, gritty rocks, pink and shaped like flowers, shipped by container at great cost from Algeria. Some were the size of a baseball, others knee-high and impossible to shift. They had been collected from towns dotting the Sahara’s edge, towns filled with baked mud houses and spitting camels, places now rendered too dangerous for the average traveler. Her wall was my touchstone, changing with each trip, a growing, living wall of wanderlust. She would return from some distant part, suitcases bare of clothes but filled with the obscure, the unexpected: an ashtray stolen from a Lisbon restaurant (for which she was caught – and billed), swizzle sticks from Singapore, flag patches she would sew onto pillows and purses or anything at hand, like globetrotting awards on show.
My mother’s wall made my physical travel unnecessary. Whenever my nomadic urge kicked in I would dart a quick eye around her living room and I’d be carried away by a strange stone or sculpture to places so distant only my imagination could reach them. I could sit and sip coffee and wait for the world to come to me. That wretched velvet cat on my wall gets to stay, as does the Eiffel Tower on my shelf. They may be ugly and old-fashioned but I look at them and remember the precise adventure, the moment I purchased each one, so appealing at the time. Along with my memories my walls are my own testaments of travel, as my mother’s were hers many years ago. As for the pistachio sundial, it’s out of here.
Kantha saris. Macchi markets. Tangy puchkas. Yellow taxis. Pulled rickshaws. Trams. Old Victorian buildings. Goddess Durga’s pamphlets plastered on the walls. Mosaics and murals all around. Everything looks the same since I last visited. Including the hammer and sickle graffiti on the walls – faded or turned brighter red instead… not sure.
(Originally published in Café Dissensus)
Facing – Ha-long Bay, by Tessa Galloway
So you know The kind of rain that isn't rain that's more like the spittle that comes when you talk too fast when your heart's in your mouth In your words And your can't stop to breathe and so something wet and raw and visceral has to spill out with the words; you knowâ€” But refined-like? That rain. That rain that makes it dark but not dark makes the coast thick with fog but you can see because you know that coast and you map it in your veins from the viewpoint of a watchtower Panoptical: That rain. And still above the clouds there is endless blue, and undampened light, and from above there is no proof of where the world hurts or where it cries or where the rain touches ground save in our hands and on our skin and all that's housed in the kind of metal that sprouts wings and takes flight and casts shadows even as it reflects Pure light above the clouds. All that's housed in metal, obscured by refraction of light. The man in C17 is reading about Paris. American presidents. England and the World Cup. Back through the clouds, there's the spittle-rain again. Hearts-in-mouths again. No reflecting light again. Touch down, again. And we forget again how to rise above.
It's an even kind of pressure: foot on the gas pedal, peace-sign fingers pinching the wheel This way. That way. Driver says: got the best, so forget the rest—and if you don't believe that you're the best you sure as hell can't expect anyone else to believe it for you. God is Good, he says—God is Good; and this is JetBlue terminal. It's a foolish kind of pressure: shouldn't wear these heels, I know I shouldn't: it's impractical and it's stupid it's vain and yet here I am walking the dark on four inch steel crossing the interstate bridge and one of my friends who live outside—that's what we were taught to call them when I lived in the city— One of these friends moves out of my way as if accommodation is needed; as if I am not the one who is invading his home, in need of a proper invitation I didn't wait for, because there's not post on Sundays. Except that's not the reason, really, is it. It's a sprawling kind of pressure: Wine-in-vein watching the skyline in the dark; all glitter bright monument progress to the last legal drug we imbibe via carbonation in glass bottles; bright red script against the stars like it can hold a candle or dare compare— we hold a reception at a civil right center for the privileged, eating sweet potatoes, drinking Cabernet and sampling fudge— going back for seconds. It's a storm-front kind of pressure: the lake doesn't freeze, though I remember it frozen best; jagged edges unforgiving white white white above the dark when the dark is least dangerous, when the ice can slice your skin and pierce your flesh the lake doesn't freeze, yellow masks don't fall, the lake doesn't freeze. the pressure is constant It's a breathless kind of pressure: I called this place home once though I'm not sure I know what home means or where home is I don't know that home is a place. There is a guitar made of mirrors at the baggage claim; you don't have to stare into it for it to stare back what kind of pressure is a sunset dropped too early or just early enough enough darkness so that we remember there are no yellow makes here, and the pressure is a breathless kind— Doesn't fade.
wear a raincoat even if you have no idea whether it is supposed to rain or not. cover the apartment floor vents if you are open to the idea of the neighbor living downstairs listening in with the cia. tape collage art over the tv screen until you finally remember the name of that one movie you have been wanting to watch. read poems and short stories written by people who don’t have a book deal. walk down streets in your city you have never walked down even though it takes longer to get where you are going. when you want certain moments to last longer say the word mississippi before and after each second said aloud. when you are wanting to write but it just seems like something is making it hard to do replace standard sized paper with 5 by 7 inch paper so the page fills up easier. if you’re not one to save stuff use movie and concert ticket stubs as bookmarks or as kindling for a fire. learn to cook something new this week. tell your friends and family what you had for dinner last night. bond with coworkers you normally don’t talk with over the memory and promise of good food by way of food talk. buy a second hand shirt at a thrift store that doesn’t fit you but will look good on a friend. go move away if you want to then move back if you want to but make sure to tell people an elaborate uncontrollable reason of why you moved back because people like to hear good stories that they can tell other people. ride the city bus all day and listen for signs of which numbers to pick for the next lotto drawing. fill in your wall calendar with birthday reminders of your favorite dead people. make sure to go to bed early once in awhile to give your body rest. notice the effects of what food you are eating on your energy levels. don’t use the word “all” when arguing an issue. openly talk about sex with your partner to help with each other’s self esteem. buy stamps and consider mailing the occasional letter. keep a chest or box in your childhood basement to fill with stuff to keep forever. be thankful if you had a childhood home and liked living there. know when someone isn’t doing you any good and plan accordingly to find someone better for you. ask for help from friends when your mind is saying negative things to you. smile and acknowledge people who otherwise walk with their head down living unnoticed. when you find yourself living in a big city don’t let it be an excuse to not introduce yourself to the neighbor across the street. keep conversations going either in talk-talk or write-talk sort of like this.
Facing – San Francisco, by Tessa Galloway
I’d told them I was going to celebrate my birthday in Cambridge with my best friend. A late train would take me there, it’s cheaper than driving, I told them. At half past eight I boarded my first train. I felt at ease. I listened to the lilt of the accents around me, I marvelled at the emptiness of a Friday night train into the city. In just 15 hours’ time, things would make sense again, or at least begin to. I was throwing myself back into the environment where my restlessness began. A strange yet familiar place, one with language and weather and the simplicity of days. A place where you could still get your shoes shined on the street, a legitimate day’s work. Porto. A city with an undefinable yet definite identity. Cobblestones and magnificent, royal bridges; streets that demand your undivided attention. A ridiculous and perfect union of timeworn and contemporary life. Porto, where I’d been only weeks earlier. The place where life as I had known it had ended. The place which challenged me to demand reminiscence of the girl I used to be, the girl who knew no boundaries, whose life would be a series of fuck ups and mishaps, about the girl who would be okay with that. The girl who couldn’t sit still had sat still. Second train. Emptier still. Dark, still, patient traveller. Third train. Almost there, now. I thought about why the other passengers were here. I thought about what could be inside their heads. Would you let me read you, let me know you? I arrived to a vacant airport. I couldn’t believe my eyes; only two weeks ago this same place was congested with queuing, fatigued passengers, the noise of the rabble so loud and too thick. I wandered around, looking for a place I could have a cigarette. “Where the hell do we go?” I heard, directed at me. I turned around. A woman with two suitcases looks at me; she too completely addled by the silence. I told her I didn’t know where, that I’d assumed desks would be open, that shops and restaurants would be open. Six hours until my flight. In the lift, she asked me where I was going and what I’d be doing there. I looked to my feet while I spoke, embarrassed and self-conscious of my explanation. When I looked up, she stared at me with a stunned guise on her face; was it judgement? She replied, “No way. Me too. Seriously. I can’t believe how funny this is”. We found the only open shop in the entire airport, curled up on those goddamn awful airport chairs, and started talking, divulging our innermost thoughts the way you really only can to a complete stranger. Our stories couldn’t have been more similar. I felt bolstered
and supported by our analogous confessions. There was sisterhood in our encounter. I was doing the right thing. An hour passed. I sat next to some slot machines to charge my empty phone, hoping that no-one would come by, frown, and tell me to unplug. Despite the lone venture, I needed a constant stream of messages from friends. At this point, the only company I felt I needed was virtual. I had always had wanderlust in me. The unruly and uncompromising appetite to just be elsewhere, anywhere that wasn’t comfortable or un-extraordinary. But I knew this trip would be different. It wasn’t laced with a desire to stroll around and marvel at baroque architecture or gothic churches. It wasn’t about seeking out the free walking tours, or trying to stay in the cleanest yet cheapest hostel to save money to spend on eighty cents red wine. It wasn’t about holidaying or travel. It was about escaping, and then discovery. I decided to leave our conversation where it was once I knew that security was open, with the promise of meeting her at Starbucks once she was through too. I relentlessly fumbled for my passport and boarding pass, panicked that I would lose them before getting onto my flight. As I sat, shops opened around me, airport workers rubbed the 4am sleep out of their eyes, and a song came on over the lounge. It made my blood chill; sublime. It was a song synonymous with a previous period in my life where I’d felt lost but ready to be found. “Fuck”, I thought. I’m not much a believer in ‘signs’, but if I was, this song was a huge, glowing neon sign, validating this whole trip. The next few hours passed me by in a blur; somehow, I’d ended up in a VIP lounge with my new friend, a steady dosage of caffeine and croissants fed to me for free. We said our goodbyes, hugged, and whispered sincere wishes of good outcomes. The flight itself was uneventful. I drifted in and out of foggy, light sleep, while excitement swelled in my chest. Walking through the airport, I felt incredibly relaxed. At home, at least for the next few days. I wondered when he’d text me. I wondered whether it really mattered. I want to write more. I want to write about how when I got there, he had text me, how we met briefly before making plans for the evening, the night that would lead into the early hours of my twenty-fifth birthday. I want to write about how alive I felt. But about how illusory everything felt around me. I could write about how my expectations of the night weren’t met, and neither were the remaining days of my limited time abroad. I want to write about how he lied to me, let me down, how I spent my birthday hungover and alone. What I needed from this trip was not embedded in anyone else. I travelled for an answer for myself. I recognised that it’s okay to feel, without burdensome guilt and obligation. I stopped being so fucking obligated. * Twice I had sat on the same bench, waiting expectantly for something to change, something to shift. For something to make sense. In the view of this most beautiful city, I sat ugly and disfigured.
“See, this one.” The man – who was not old but his face was deep-lined – shuffled through the cloth squares until he came to Satan. Satan looked a lot like the others. Brown and thin; body fronton but head in profile; hair cut in a bowl and his one visible eye half the size of his head. He carried a jar. Most of them carried something. Jesus had been carrying a fish. Mohammed’s tapestry, avoiding forbidden idolatry, had shown only a sheaf of wheat. It had hovered in the air as though carried. “It looks like all the rest,” I said, probing. The man smiled triumphantly. Half his teeth were missing. There was hot dust in the wrinkles around his eyes. “Yes, yes,” he said. “He looks like all the rest!” He rolled Satan into a scroll and pressed it into my palm. He folded my fingers around it. He raised his begging-bowl and I put in two thousand American dollars, as agreed. * That was a month ago. The First Abrahamic Bible had turned out to be a fake. We thought it would be. Paying two thousand dollars for something that’s almost certainly worthless; that’s the sort of thing I do. The almost is the kicker. Satan travels with me. Lowell laughed when I brought him in. He didn’t do the thing with the magnifying glass. He didn’t pick Satan up and examine the stitching with his thumbnail. He certainly didn’t snip off a tiny corner of the stiff fabric to test with chemical dyes. He just laughed, and frisbeed Satan back to me. “Nope,” Lowell said. “Next!” I fumbled the catch. “That sure?” I asked. “Hundred percent, sorry. Look at it, it’s a child’s idea of an Egyptian hieroglyph. Obviously it’s far too recent as well, but if it was a copy, of a copy of a copy: well, it should either be translated into a 21st-Century style, or bear some hallmarks of the original. Which wouldn’t look like Tutankhamun’s first day at art college. This dishrag first saw Palestine the day your contact took it there to meet you.” I looked closely at it. Dirt was ingrained deeply into the warp and woof. I pictured a
heel, grinding it into the roadside dust to create that effect. “Worth keeping for the interesting fakes collection?” I asked. Lowell shook his head. “Jamela, it’s not interesting. It’s crap. Hang it on your wall if you like it.” I stitched it onto my bag instead, onto the flap of the canvas satchel I usually carried. Lowell was right, it looked childish. Some tourist tat sold to westerners in an Arabic airport. But I did like it. I liked being the only person who knew that I was carrying Satan. * Witchy Satan saw through newfake eye. Buzzing in the skull of the fabric was a twitchy wasp of a thought. The thought said: scurry to me, scurrytome. The thought was not new. It spoke to rats and snakes and other shapes which people have decided are villains. It spoke to cockroaches, and carrion crows. * I woke in a hotel room in the Fuckknows district of Somewhere. The man I'd met in the resident's bar snorted sleepily into the pillows. He was thin-featured and pretty, with eyebrows like brushstrokes. I'd enjoyed him. By the time I was dressed he was half awake. “Leaving already?” he asked, and I did the duty-calls half-shrug and half-smile, and said “duty calls”. I waggled my phone at him to indicate places to be, meetings not to miss, maps to follow. “What's that?” he asked as I slung my satchel over my head. His hand emerged from the blankets to point at Satan. “It's the First Abrahamic Bible,” I told him as I left. “Page 666.” * Satan's vision jounced as he was carried hip-high. He saw a lot of walls, the cars lining pavements. He saw hotel ceilings with his single eye. He saw his carrier's left arm as she fumbled for her purse, her keys. He saw table-legs in cafés, and the luggage-racks of many planes. His scratchy thought he kept on thinking. He was made to think it. Made even though faked. He was faked to think it. *
Today my flight was cancelled. First trip home in two years and I'm sitting in an airport drumming my fingers on Satan in my lap instead of boarding. Nothing slakes the wanderlust like no reason not to. There was a bomb, Somewhere, Elsewhere, and ripples from the explosion toppled other things far afield. Flights fell off departure boards. I read down the flights before and after mine. CANCELLED CANCELLED CANCELLED. My niece is four tomorrow. I should have flown to see her earlier, later, some day when there wasn't a bomb. I should have had a different job. This one had many exciting travel opportunities. It said so on the spec. A TV screen shows rolling news. Blurred CCTV shots of policemen running. The meatpale leaders of Europe expressing support for the victims of Elsewhere. Their screenflattened faces say: this isn't what I got in the game for. Who would do such things, to us, to me? A movement through the grille of the metal airport bench. A cockroach wandering across the terminal floor. I try to crush it with the heel of my boot, but I miss. I try to squash it with my satchel, and I think I have. But its feelers appear from under the canvas, and it scurries on.
Leyla Giray Alyanak is a former newspaper foreign correspondent and diplomat who writes about people, places and politics from a woman’s perspective. Born in Paris, she grew up in Spain, Switzerland and Canada, a perpetual expat. http://blog-women-on-the-road.com | http://www.twitter.com/womenontheroad. Prerna Bakshi is a Macao-based writer, scholar and translator of Indian origin. Her work has previously been published in over three dozen literary journals and magazines including Silver Birch Press, Wilderness House Literary Review and Wordgathering: A Journal of Disability Poetry and Literature, among several others. Her full-length poetry collection, Burnt Rotis, With Love, is forthcoming from Les Éditions du Zaporogue (Denmark) later this year. She tweets at @bprerna Jack C. Buck, originally from Michigan, lives in Denver, Colorado, where he is a middle school teacher. He loves Michigan and Colorado just the same. And, baseball and reading just as much. He thanks you for reading his work. You can find him on Twitter @Jack_C_Buck Katelynn E. Carver is currently studying for her PhD in the Institute of Theology, Imagination and the Arts, St Mary’s College, University of St Andrews. She earned her Master's degree at Harvard University, where she also served as Managing Editor for Cult/ure: The Graduate Journal of Harvard Divinity School. She currently serves as a Contributing Scholar at State of Formation, Guest Contributions Editor at Transpositions, and Editorial Assistant for the Journal of Inklings Studies. She can be found online at katelynncarver.wordpress.com, and via most social media as katelynn_carver. Rhiân Davies Writer, blogger, wanderer, feminist. Lover of stories, the sea, and filling notebooks. Degree in Politics and International Relations. Currently scouring Europe for my next place to live. Find me at www.chapterandcircle.co.uk and on Twitter @rhiddles Tessa Galloway is a London based illustrator whose work explores her love of city life and travelling. The original drawings in Tessa's unique style, intricately capture the spirit of a place with a charming quirkiness. Tessa previously studied textile design and screen printing, disciplines which still inform her current work. www.tessagalloway.com Matt Harris is a writer based in Liverpool whose short fiction and poetry have appeared in Confingo, Hoax, the Alarmist and others. He is currently completing his first novel. Emma Hutson is a PhD student in Sheffield looking at trans theory and trans authored fiction. She has work published in The C Word: An anthology of writing from Cardiff and is an editorial reader for A cappella Zoo magazine.
London Undercurrents is an ongoing poetry project by Joolz Sparkes and Hilaire, unearthing the voices of feisty women who have lived and worked in the capital over many centuries. Our poems have been published in South Bank Poetry and Brittle Star and featured on Proletarian Poetry. https://londonundercurrents.wordpress.com/ | @joolzess | @Xilaire Violet Mclean is a poet and essayist in northern California. Her work has been featured in print in FLAPPERHOUSE and Prose & Lore and online at The Toast, Ravishly, Human Parts, and elsewhere. You can find her tweeting @oh_my_vi. www.violetmclean.com Levi Andrew Noe was born and raised in Denver, CO. He is a writer, a yogi, an entrepreneur, and an amateur oneironaut. Levi won first prize in 2011 and 2013 in Spirit First’s international poetry competition. His works are forthcoming in Ink, Sweat & Tears, Connotation Press, Boston Literary Magazine, Crack the Spine, Eunoia Review, and Scrutiny Journal. He is the editor in chief and founder of the podcast Rocky Mountain Revival, Audio Art Journal. @LeviAndrewNoe, @RockyMtnRevival Aran Ward Sell recently gained an MSc in Literature and Modernity from Edinburgh University. He currently finds himself moving to London. More of his writing can be found at www.reasonstoremain.co.uk, and he is a producer for www.parachute-dance.com. He is still completing a novel, which has jungles in. @AranWS Sam Sephton graduated from Plymouth University in 2014, with a BA in Illustration. Sam can be found at www.SamSephton.com, and on twitter and instagram @SamSephton Kristina Soggee Born and raised in the UK, Kristina now ventures through life as a Graduate Architect and Artist in Australia. Exploring a variety of media from digital art, painting, drawing and photography depending on the idea in mind. Her work can be found at https://society6.com/kristinasoggee Bee Stevenson is a creative writer and recent graduate that lives in the West Country. She also runs a creative lifestyle and book blog, Vivatramp. For a daily dose of nonsense, however, you can read her tweets: @vivatramp Laryssa Wirstiuk lives in New Jersey with her mini dachshund Charlotte Moo. Laryssa’s collection of short stories The Prescribed Burn won Honorable Mention in the 21st Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards. Her poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction have been published in Gargoyle Magazine, Word Riot, Barely South Review, and Up the Staircase Quarterly. http://www.laryssawirstiuk.com