T H E
H A M
SHORT-FICTION/POETRY/ART/PHOTOGRAPHY ISSUE #1 - The letter ‘A’ - FREE
Hello and welcome to the first issue of The Ham! The Ham is a small online and in-print quarterly journal based in Peckham (from where we take our name) which attempts to showcase quality short-fiction, poetry, art, and photography, by writers and artists that don’t yet have developed careers. The aim of The Ham is not only to provide a platform for writers and artists that are otherwise fairly under-represented, but also to distribute the journal in a way in which it will reach an audience not usually exposed to this type of work. A proportion, roughly 25%, of the total number of printed issues of The Ham, will be left on public transport, and in public spaces in which you might not expect to find literary and arts journals. By doing so we hope to bring the work of our contributors to as wide an audience as possible, as well as creating surprise encounters with good quality writing and visual art. If you have picked up this copy of The Ham in a public place, we would love to hear from you; tell us what you thought of the journal, where you found it (a photograph would be great), and any other feedback you might have. We’re very much amateurs here and this first issue has been a steep learning curve for us! The Ham was made possible through a crowd-funding campaign which allowed us to print and distribute this inaugural issue. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank each and every person that contributed to that campaign; your generosity has allowed us to pursue this idea into reality and for that we are eternally grateful. There is a thank-you page on our website which lists the names of all those lovely, generous souls, along with links to their respective blogs and websites, and I urge you head over and check it out. Extra special thanks must go to Shane from Equipped2Fit, Sam Bevington, and STORGY MAGAZINE, who all contributed a significant amount to the campaign. The lovely people at STORGY offered their constant support throughout the process from its inception to distribution of the finished product. STORGY is a wonderful resource for lovers of the short story form, it contains a wealth of short stories, interviews with authors, book and film reviews, short story competitions and much much more. Further details can be found on the second to last page of this journal - go have a gander at their website and we promise that you won’t be disappointed. We hope to continue working together with STORGY to promote the short story form, which seems to us to be in extremely good shape at the moment. I’d also like to thank Tania over at shortstops.info for helping us in our calls for submissions and adding us to their list of short-lit mags (a list which is happily growing week on week). ShortStops is another great resource for lovers of the short story, with comprehensive lists of short-lit mags in the UK and Ireland, writing competitions, live lit events, and much more. Thanks too to Máire at Short Story Ireland, and Vanessa at writing.ie for their help and support in our calls for submissions and crowd-funding campaign. A big thank-you as well to everyone at FOOTPRINT, the co-operative printers based in Leeds that have supported us throughout the process and put up with my constant emails and requests, you can find their details on the back page, and you will struggle to find a more helpful, cost effective, ecologically minded printers anywhere - and they’re a workers’ co-op! Thanks finally to everyone who has supported The Ham in any way, shape, or form over the past few months, and thanks especially to our first issue’s contributors, all 51 of whom have been extremely patient whilst we have put this issue together. As I have mentioned, the aim of The Ham is to showcase as much quality work as is possible, and because this first issue was crowd-funded, I didn’t
want to waste an inch of space. With the funds available to us we were limited to a maximum of 88 pages to play with, and wanted to use that space to print as much work as possible. As such you will find that we have packed the work into this issue, a mammoth mixture of short-stories, flash fiction, poetry, artwork, and photography, with some pieces of work finishing on one page and another piece starting on the same page, we’ve not printed a contents page, and the font size isn’t uniform throughout. We hope you can forgive these stylistic faux-pas on this occasion, but we trust you will still be able to clearly distinguish between pieces, and enjoy the broad spectrum of work in the journal. I have also taken the decision not to print the biographies of our contributors in this inaugural print-issue, but to list them online, for much the same reason. With work from 51 contributors, to publish a bio for each one would take up a significant proportion of the journal, which we felt would be better used to publish more work. However, if you particularly enjoy the work of any of our contributors, please visit the contributor page on our website, let them know, follow them, explore their work, and help support their creative endeavours. The theme of this first issue is the letter ‘A’, the first letter in the alphabet, a letter of new beginnings, and a perfectly broad prompt for out contributors to interpret. We were delighted with the response to the prompt and the following pages contain the pieces that we enjoyed the most. The work is varied in theme, content, and form, and is not laid out in any particular order, and we think it best to take the time to enjoy each piece on its own before moving on to the next. We hope you enjoy the submissions as much as we did, and we look forward to hearing any feedback you might have. Submissions are now open for issue #2, on the theme of ‘Change & Stasis’, further details can be found on the submissions page of our website. We have big plans for issue #2 – we’re going to increase the amount of pages and hopefully print some artwork and photography in colour. We’d like to include a lot more artwork and photography in issue #2, and we were lacking in submissions for this issue, so pick up ye pens and cameras! We’d also like to run some editorial pieces on anything literary and art related, and print more interviews with writers/publishers/artists etc, so if you know of any great independent bookshops, writing competitions, or events that you think might work well, or if you’d like to submit editorial pieces or interviews yourself, please get in touch. We’re very much open to ideas and happy to collaborate on projects, just drop us an email! A number of outlets have been kind enough to take a handful of copies of this issue for people to take as they please, but it is also available to order online (this first issue is free and so will only cost the price of postage & packaging). If you know of anywhere that might be interested in stocking a handful of copies of our journal, either this isssue or future issues, whether it be a bar, a bookshop, or a bakery, then please do get in touch. That’s enough from me, all contact details can be found below. We hope you enjoy issue #1 of The Ham! Ed Cheetham – Editor w w w. t h e h a m f r e e p r e s s . c o m t h e h a m f r e e p r e s s @ g m a i l . c o m t w i t t e r. c o m / H a m F r e e P r e s s
Cover image - MATT MANSON - ‘AAA’
The Opposite of Inertia by Dina Paulson It was an excellent school and he was excellent so he got a scholarship and made planes all day, splashing their wings in cerulean, mauve, and gold-- sensual, boisterous colors his professors had never seen on simple flying objects. To him they were more than objects; they were carriers, royals of the universe, the envy of birds. Even though birds made them possible he was sure his own folded machinery, his own way of lending earth back as air, was far more beautiful than what birds could do. Then, graduation and twenties-type expulsions, thirties and burn-out, staggering into impertinence-- all because of his father, and before that, his fatherâ€™s father. They worked at airports. He convinced himself of this. When his daughter announced she was a musician he tried, presenting DIY plane-making materials in her favorite colors. But his daughter did not like planes. Neither did his wife and eventually, once they moved out, he took on more shifts at the airport to pay child support and tuition for his daughterâ€™s school. Her love was the piano. They shared a synchronicity and precision; an obsession for landing oneself at a place of privvy by the sounds of fetish as it whirs, decides, lashes, and pronounces itself the opposite of inertia. His extra shifts were called early bird hours, though airports never really slept, so they never really woke, either. It was the usual grouping of people-- his was a small county airport-- so it was mostly business people with shiny shoes and arched eyebrows. There was the occasional young person with earphones, phones sticking out their back pockets, flying to see their grandparents or friends closeby. It was holiday time, almost spring, where the rush to get somewhere was more pronounced than usual. His last couple moved slowly because the woman had her arm in a cast. Her companion was careful, placing her things on the conveyor belt, bending down to remove her shoes, giving their back to her so she could steady herself, then removing their own shoes. They led her to the rubber mat where you waited until you got a wave-through. They went first and waited for her on the other side. He cleared them both-- the pills were for helping so he did not stop them. He watched as they put shoes on and headed towards the gate, their hand on her back, her unbothered arm slipped into theirs. Back in the break room, during lunchtime, he sketched out a cast. He thought about how brave his daughter was and how delicate her hands were. How, what would happen to her if she injured herself, too. He sketched out a plane, battery powered with thin-as-dental floss ropes curled around its body. These were ropes she could attach her fingers to on adagio and crescendo chords in the colors she liked the most.
michael herring - the letter â€˜aâ€™
The Adverb Challenge by Joy Manné Yes. Well. Duh. … You see, absolutely and totally without exception, right now at this very moment, as I sit, unaccompanied and alone (but not lonely), although my fantastically extraordinarily and amazingly devoted first second husband is in the suffocatingly crowded university library busily filling to overflowingly brimful his mind which is like a hugely dynamically vigorously retentively compulsive combine harvester greedily and slurpily gobbling unquestionably factual information— You must absolutely agree with my invincible conviction that this thoroughly researched list of adverbs that spontaneously and subversively and even possessively, nay, truly verifiably is tyrannically invading my mind (howbeit invited by the adverb challenge) reads authentically better without commas— Although, come to think of it, how would you know what was authentic as you categorically unquestionably undeniably unequivocally completely and utterly (thank you extremely and awfully faithful ((but still avoiding commas for aesthetically artistically fully justifiable reasons)) word thesaurus)— [… huge breath taken gaspily …] You absolutely as I was saying haven’t met me, and—I invite you to speak truthfully and frankly now—don’t know either partially or wholly or infinitesimally or organically or rightly or wrongly my personal, intimate and individual history, which reminds me— Would '—', or "—" in American, count fairly honestly objectively justly impartially nay and truthfully as an adverb? Is '?' ("?") an adverb or could it imaginatively creatively inventively indeed justly be used that way by an unfortunately miserably despondently desperate author frantically anxiously frenziedly urgently distractedly distraughtly—how long must I go on to fill my n hundred words diligently— I am absurdly ludicrously ridiculously preposterously absurdly outrageously tortuously (thank you grovelingly cringingly fawning5
ly creepily crawlingly word spelling corrector) mocked for methodically dutifully painstakingly exhaustively fully applying myself to the adverb challenge by that same lovely first second husband busily spending time in the university library because in most other areas of life I rebelliously eccentrically recalcitrantly (I love this one) iconoclastically (that’s me ok) stubbornly (have you ever considered that being stubborn is a virtue as much as a vice?)— Now, what was this challenge supposedly focussed on?
The Other Trouser Leg by Joy Manné This time the rabbit went down the other trouser leg of Time. Where he – yes it was a he rabbit, cock up in full fertility, who went down that hole. It was not Alice’s rabbit. Make a note of that. Down, he met a tortoise who asked why he was not his hare. The rabbit scratched behind his ear, rubbing his fur the other way. Our rabbit—I don’t know what he did, but the discussion turned to trouser legs of Time. ‘Like how many are there?’ the rabbit asked. ‘I’d say there are more for you than for me,’ the tortoise said, ‘even though you are not my hare.’ The rabbit scratched the fur on his chest, rubbing it the other way. ‘Is that my Fate?’ the rabbit asked. The tortoise tilted his head. So did the rabbit. They frowned simultaneously. ‘I’m getting used to you,’ the rabbit said. ‘Although I don’t know what you’re doing down a hole.’ ‘Time,’ the tortoise said. ‘I have so much of it. We live to more than one hundred, you know.’ ‘We breed in hundreds. Is that the same thing?’ 6
‘Does each one have his own trouser leg? That’s what I want to know.’ The rabbit did something. I couldn’t see what, but it had to do with the other way. ‘I am concerned with my Fate,’ the tortoise said, slowly. ‘I have so many,’ the rabbit said. ‘Fate comes through ancestors,’ the tortoise said. ‘Mine are eggs,’ ‘Sounds safe to me,’ the rabbit said. ‘I’ve heard of Peter Rabbit,’ the tortoise said. ‘The author, you know, she once owned me.’ ‘Ah,’ the rabbit said. ‘You see, when ancestors do things they affect our destiny.’ The rabbit wasn’t interested. It was until then his longest conversation. He never wanted to talk so long again. ‘Eggs can’t do much,’ he said. ‘They can roll down trouser legs,’ the tortoise insisted. ‘And they hatch. And before that they were laid, in batches, very many at a time. And before that my father laid my mother.’ ‘We are alike, then,’ the rabbit said. Our fathers laid our mothers. Then your mother laid many eggs and mine laid many rabbits.’ ‘Then I too have choice over trouser legs,’ the tortoise said, and slowly moved towards the other tunnel. ‘I’m glad I’m not your hare,’ the rabbit said. ‘Bye, chum,’ and he chose another other tunnel, and disappeared in a dash. Apples & Pears by Cath Barton Monday morning. The 8.14 from Tunbridge Wells to Charing Cross. Opposite me, two men. Two grey suits talking, apparently, about apples and pears. “One in my left pocket and the other in my right,” said the first grey suit. Okay, I thought an apple in his left jacket pocket, a pear in his right, a red handkerchief in his top pocket. I was, I admit it, a little hungover, I needed clear clues. “Perhaps one of them was a quince?” said the second grey suit. Blue handkerchief in his top pocket. What the hell was a quince? I leant across. “What’s a quince?” I said. Red and blue stared at me blankly and then resumed their conversation.
“It wasn’t a quince,” said red handkerchief man. “A quince behaves differently.” I didn’t feel too well, but even in my hungover state I knew that fruit didn’t behave in any way at all. Behaving is something people do. Well, try to. Something dropped onto the floor of the train. It was an apple, or a pear. Or maybe even one of these mysterious quinces. The movement of the train rolled it to my feet. Red and blue handkerchief both looked at it. Blankly. Not for the first time, I wondered whether grey suits were real people, or some kind of cybermen. I felt a little jittery. Maybe this thing was going to start whirring. Maybe it was an explosive device. Oh My God! That’s what it probably was – a computer-driven explosive device. I wanted to run, but my feet felt stuck to the floor of the train. I was having difficulty breathing. I was sweating. “You okay love?” A woman’s face up against mine. Too close. She was wearing a headscarf. She was in cohoots with the men. Terrorists the lot of them, I could see it now. I was not okay. I tried to stand and the quince thing touched my left foot. I screamed. The woman was stopping me moving. I could see that red and blue handkerchief were getting up now. Their faces weren’t faces at all now. They were metal, or leather, or computer screens. I couldn’t tell. I wasn’t well. I looked through the grime on the train window. The train had stopped on a viaduct, somewhere in that empty area between Lewisham and London Bridge. I was feeling worse. I couldn’t see red or blue handkerchief now, but they must still be on the train, so surely the bomb wouldn’t go off. Oh My God, they were extremists. They weren’t going to care whether they died. They were blank inside already. My mind was clearing. I understood. We were all being turned into cybermen. The quince thing was doing it to us. This was not good. I bent down and picked up the quince thing. It looked for all the world like a yellow apple. Or a pear. “It’s a computer,” I said to the carriage. No-one reacted. There are a lot of mad people on commuter trains. I raised my voice. “It’s a computer,” I said again. “We are all being turned into cybermen.” Down the carriage someone laughed. Then the train gave a lurch and we were off again, heading for central London and our awful destiny. “Don’t worry, love.” It was the headscarf woman again. She would say that. “We’re all going to die,” I mumbled. “Course we are love, course we are. Don’t worry, I’ll look after you.” Maybe I passed out, because the next thing I knew the train had got to Charing Cross and everyone was getting off. There was no sign of red or blue handkerchief, or of the headscarf woman. But I still had the quince thing in my hand. I put it on the seat and got off the train. There was no explosion. Take my word for it. This is important. If anyone uses the word quince to you, report them to the police. I have told them myself but they say they need more evidence. So let’s collect it. Spread the word on Facebook and Twitter. Text your friends. There’s a chance, just a slim one, we could defeat this menace. Oh, and don’t eat apples or pears. Just to be safe.
Oven by Luke Humpries Our oven overheated because it was old and clogged with fat. There were no windows in the kitchen and the vent was blocked with a green brown sludge we later found out to be pigeon shit so we could never cool the oven down. Also, our central heating was stuck on full whack, a problem the landlord only admitted knowing by the time my flatmate and I signed our twelve month tenancy agreement, and this with the lack of ventilation and the overheating oven meant the entire flat would reach oppressively high temperatures setting off our fire alarm as a result. Our fire alarm was wired in a way which set everyone elseâ€™s fire alarm off and after a while this upset the other residents of the flat who, tired of the incessant ringing, began slashing our bike tyres and opening and spitting in our letters and at least twice left a bag of what looked like (human?) faeces tied to our front door. It is my belief that everybody has the right to a hot dinner so rather than forgo the ready meals and the quick cook pizzas and the potato based oven snacks our grandparents had fought for us to enjoy, we bought a number of portable, electric fans to help circulate the heat the oven produced. The trouble was the way the fans shorted the electricity in our flat and then further the rest of the building, throwing us all into a darkness quite profound. This again agitated our fellow residents who in turn urinated on our front door in a silent, ammonia charged protest. What we eventually worked out was if we cooked with all our lights off, we could still have our fans going, circulating the heat. This tactic worked well in summer whilst the days were longer, but as they shortened we found ourselves returning home to a pitch kitchen. For a while we cooked in the dark and we got quite good at it too until, one day, whilst overly confident and spatchcocking a chicken, I cut off all the fingers on my right hand. We might have been able to get by if my flatmate hadn't had done the same whilst preparing an absolutely divine but notoriously poisonous and difficult to fillet Fugu fish heâ€™d found in the reduced section of our local supermarket. My flatmate lost his entire hand. Because our flat was without the proper recycling and bio-hazard waste disposal facilities, we were left with a hand, four fingers and a thumb slowly rotting on our kitchen counter. We tried flushing these progressively stinky appendages down the toilet but our poorly plumbed system became blocked and this then flooded our bathroom. 9
I don’t know if you have ever tried clearing a room of water with only mugs and saucepans but it’s not an easy task at the best of times and so doing so without hands and fingers was an absolute nightmare. Also the corridor carpet was ruined by the shit water and this made the flat smell like a sewage works, the stench ripened by our overly active central heating. By this point we’d simply had enough. Complaints readied, we rang our hard to get hold of landlord, my flatmate steadying the mobile phone on the living room table whilst I dialled the number. As expected, the landlord’s phone went straight to voice-mail so we left an irate message detailing the injuries we had sustained and waited for his reply. Time went by and though our wounds healed and our appetites for spatchcock chicken regenerated, the injustices we had fell victim to took toll upon our happiness. Whole days were spent moping around our hot, dark, shit smelling flat, the horrid atmosphere feeding our hate for one another, both of us looking to blame the other for our insufferable situation. On the worst days, we hated one another, our bond severely hampered. Better days, we merely endured one another and together left further answer-phone messages for our landlord, messages that were left unanswered. Things came to a head one night when, exasperated by not knowing where to turn for help, I called my flatmate Stumplestiltskin in a tirade against him asking me to tie his shoe laces. This of course upset my flatmate and flashing my torch upon his face - we were again sitting in the dark waiting for our pre-prepared pasta bake - I saw the sad sparkle of a tear roll down his cheek, making me regret my behaviour almost instantly. I could not take it any longer! I was thirty and living in a condemned flat which cost me nearly three quarters of my monthly salary. Folk told me to move home, to seek solace at my parents, but I’d have rather died. In my view, a thirty year old man should be able to provide for himself. This I have been led to believe through all those fabulously successful people younger than me who I see in the magazines, flaunting exuberant pads paid for with YouTube, reality TV shows, breasts, inherited wealth, etc, etc, etc. Also, sharing a bunk bed with - for arguments sake - a repressed, steroid abusing and thus dangerously paranoid, body building, older brother isn’t something I’d wish upon even my worst enemies, let alone myself. And that’s when, with my flatmate quietly sobbing in the darkness, his laces undone, and with me desperate, slowly losing the will to live, wishing ever harder that my dad might have been a property 10
magnate or an untouchable oligarch or even a career criminal, I had an idea. I told my flatmate to pack his bag and to meet me downstairs where I would explain all. Soon enough, we found ourselves on the stretch of street I walked every day to work, and the same stretch of street where the luxury retirement homes stand. After drawing a series of biro wrinkles on our faces and climbing the drain pipe up to an open window we found ourselves standing in a plush, all inclusive room where, having throttled the old dear living within and hiding her body in the walk-in wardrobe, I took up residency with not the slightest remorse. I then supported my flatmate in doing similar to the elderly gentleman who lived across the hall. As of yet, not an eye lid has been batted about our sudden residency here. I suppose it has something to do with the quick turnaround of rooms and the way the carers lose track of whoâ€™s who, rendering them uncertain of new faces. Of course, a minimum wage is not near enough payment for somebody to want the extra hassle of reporting an unknown on site, never mind filling the further paperwork required, and so this plays to our advantage too. Now my flatmate and I spend our time taking part in craft activities and watching Dadâ€™s Army repeats and we even run the karaoke every other Saturday evening which so far has been a resounding success amongst the other residents. You'll be pleased to hear we are as yet to receive faecal matter in any form, even though such a gesture would be a doddle with so many colostomy bags at hand, and as such I finally feel I am being awarded the respect I deserve.
Hungry Goddess by Walburga Appleseed “Adephagia? Well, that’s a mouthful.” His gelatinous belly shook with laughter, vibrating down his arms and into his hands. He spilled champagne onto his shoes. But he didn’t notice. “Champagne…Adephagia?” “Can’t stand the stuff.” She leered at his meaty pink fingers gliding around the glass. She slid her tongue across her upper lip, blinked, and summoned the waiter with the sausage rolls. “Adephagia. Intriguing. What does it mean?” he asked, stepping too close. “Greek.” She grabbed five rolls off the floating tray. “For Gluttony.” She stuffed one roll after the other into her mouth, blowing up her cheeks like a hamster. She winked at him. “Oh,” he said. He wavered, then chortled. “Well, Adephagia.” He raised his glass. “To all the gluttons in the world!” Adephagia’s eyes narrowed. If he didn’t go away soon, she wouldn’t be able to spare him. She grinned puff pastry. She masticated the rolls, her mouth open. When she had swallowed the last crumble, she wiped her lips with her sleeve, leaving a greasy smear on her silk blouse. She burped in his face. His belly wobbled again. He held out his hand: “You’re good value. Fancy a dance, Adephagia?” The pink fingers were too close - she couldn’t help it. She had tried. Her eyes morphed into slits of brightest blue. And the Goddess struck. Adephagia’s lips burst open, drooling saliva, expanding beyond the size of any human mouth. She grabbed the fingers and stuffed them into her mouth. Arm, shoulder, head and torso followed. And before the man’s hollow belly laugh had turned into a scream, all that was left of him was a pair of shiny black shoes which sniffed, licked, and dropped. They still tasted of champagne - and she couldn’t stand the stuff.
Author of the Sea by Martin Richmond In the kingdom of more elbow room cascaded by sheets of salty spray, the old hermit crab retells its tales as gulls take turns in endless play. A lone crusty sage of the seascape waving a damaged pincer at the sky, pondering its words most carefully of fragile freedom and its tearful cry. Drawing conclusions on a brief life scratching anecdotes in the sand with its autobiographical, silly walk jotting scripts in Mother Natureâ€™d. The dark, perpetual, censoring sea erases all of his wondrous tales. Without hesitating, it begins again, interpreting the songs of the whales This critic of the nomadic surf, this bountiful bard of the sand, knows all the secrets of the wild that only the sea can command. Wild bracken and heather fringes, a rock pool punctuated beach, as staccato bird call rides the wind, the hermit crab repairs his speech.
Abducted by Ryn Holmes 2 bodies were found in the woods today, female, lives interrupted â€“ one newly graveless the other a longer resident of that lonely place. Decayed, left in pieces by feral marauders, both sad objects chosen for wicked pleasure, used as human toys then cavalierly tossed aside like trash out of a passing car window or a rag doll no longer amusing to a selfish child. Eroding on the damp grass, they mingled with greedy elements eager to consume fresh remains, two women existing on lifeâ€™s fringe and barely here, departures going unnoticed. Maybe they struggled or fought in sorry attempts to save themselves, or perhaps grasped futility and gave up hope, each giving up her body in sacrifice to a dark priest, the deadly thief who led them into an unknown, leaving them behind forever named Victim.
A Lovely Part of the World by Rachel Stevenson 'We're just here for a week; we'd've liked to stay longer but we look after our grandson once a week and well, we miss him, don't we Andy, when we don't see him. Would you like to see a picture? I've got some on my iPad.' Anne took the tablet out of her bag. 'Now I always forget the password don't I, well not the password, the squiggle you have to â€“ there it is. Here's one of him watching the laundry go 'round in the washing machine. He's fascinated by it. Loves seeing how things work. Going to be an engineer, I'm sure of it.' 'She dotes on him,' said Andy. 'He's just so sweet natured. Not like Melanie at his age. Such a grumpy toddler! She was always crying and throwing tantrums. When I took her to nursery, she'd grab my leg and wouldn't let go. Albie loves it, he's straight in there, commandeering all the best toys.' 'He has a look of Prince George,' said Val. She touched the picture of the child and it moved. 'Ooh,' she said, 'I don't know how these things work.' 'We're total Luddites,' said Alan, 'we only got a computer last year so we could email our son.' 'We like to keep up,' said Anne. 'Where are you from?' asked Alan. 'Lyme Regis. My daughter lives in Dorchester. We moved down to be near her.' 'Lovely part of the world,' said Alan. 'And yourselves?' said Andy. 'Just outside Grantham.' 'Where's that?' 'Just off the A1, in Lincolnshire.' 'We've never been there have we, Andy? We do like to travel.' 'We're loving retirement,' said Andy. 'We've been to Gran Caniara, Malta, Cyprus, Morocco, that was a bit different wasn't it, all in the last five years,' said Anne. 'Spending the kids' inheritance!' said Andy. 'Well, we deserve it,' said Anne, 'we worked hard all our lives, we deserve a bit of fun. And now the mortgage's paid off, we can afford it. 15
Don't want to be like our parents, do we, old before their time. Stuck at home.' 'My dad died four months after he retired,' said Andy. 'Sixty-five's the new fifty,' said Anne. She smoothed down her hair. 'It's terrible though isn't it,' said Val, 'about the young people. Mortgages, I mean. My son, he lives in London, he can't afford anything, even a one bed flat. We've offered to lend him some money for the deposit, but needs much more than we could give him. And he says the only way he'd be able to afford the repayments is if he got an evening job as well. He's in a house-share at the moment â€“ thirty-five and still living like a student. When we were thirty-five, we'd had a three bed semi for ten years.' 'That's right,' said Alan. 'It's the government,' said Val, 'they're terrible.' 'They're doing pretty well,' said Andy, 'under the circumstances. Considering what they inherited from the last lot.' Anne indicated her empty glass to Andy and he refilled it. 'Have you been to France?' asked Alan, 'we liked France, didn't we, Val.' 'France is lovely, apart from the French,' said Andy. They laughed. 'The northern French are grateful for our war effort but the southern French, they're not appreciative at all,' he continued, 'you'd think D-Day never happened.' 'Andy, it was seventy years ago, it's like being obsessed with the Franco-Prussian War during the time of the second world war!' 'Yes, they weren't grateful then either!' 'It was our finest hour,' said Alan, solemnly. 'Those were the days indeed,' said Andy. 'They didn't want the channel tunnel, did they, the frogs, it was us who wanted it and look at the trouble it caused,' said Alan. 'What, Belgians?' asked Anne. 'No, immigrants. They get to Calais then they're hiding in or under the trains. It's a disgrace. All the illegals.' He sighed. 'I don't mind them,' said Val, 'they do a lovely biryani in our village.' 'Oh I don't mind the immigrants from the colonies,' said Alan. 'I mean the new ones. African, Poles, Muslims. OK, we've done our bit, but enough is enough. It's just common sense. I mean, you've only 16
got to look at the roads.' There was a silence, then Andy said: 'You mean the wobbly yellow lines? Are they done by immigrants? In my day, lines were straight, not bent like Larry Grayson.' He laughed. 'No, I mean the traffic. When I first learned to drive, '68 I think it was, there weren't so much traffic on the roads. Now takes us over an hour to get to Peterborough. And there's no British left in Boston now, it's only East Europeans. Some pubs are no-go for the Brits: a friend of mine got asked to leave because he was speaking English. The country's been taken over. ' 'And gypsies,' said Val, 'they steal children, keep them as slaves. I read that in the paper.' 'Our son was mugged by a black man,' said Alan. The waiter, hovering at Andy and Anne's table said: 'Dessert coffee brandy whisky?' Alan and Val were still on their main, but they dutifully looked at the dessert menu. 'I'll have a Johnnie Walker,' said Andy, 'and my wife will have a Captain Morgan and coke.' 'I'm supposed to be doing the 5:2,' mused Val, 'but I do like a lemon tart.' 'We're going on a helicopter ride tomorrow,' said Anne. 'That sounds lovely,' said Val. 'Yes, there's a couple at our hotel who booked a 'copter and they said we could join them.' 'We should bung them a few Euros,' said Andy. 'They said free, Andy,' said Anne. To Val she said: 'They come here every year, they told us all the best places to eat. Weâ€™re going on a tour of the island with them as well. It's free as long as you listen to a timeshare presentation.' 'Very nice,' said Alan. The waiter returned. 'I'm sorry sir, we don't have Johnnie Walker, we do have Bells or Teachers.' Andy frowned. 'Any Jim Beam?' 'I'll check, sir.' 'There's no loafers here, are there,' said Anne, 'everyone works hard, they're all in the restaurants from eleven in the morning to twelve at night.' 17
'My son's friend is on zero hours contract,' said Val, 'terrible.' 'You need to work your way up,' said Alan, 'start with zero hours, then you get ten, twenty hours, then full time. Show willing. I left school at fifteen, no qualifications, I've done alright for myself, I didn't get any handouts.' 'Well, we all got cod liver oil,' said Anne, 'and milk. And pensions. And cold weather payment. And I went to university, all free.' 'Teacher training college,' Andy reminded her. The waiter returned with the digestifs. Andy took a sip. 'This isn't Jim Beam,' he said. 'I hated that milk,' said Val, 'it was always warm. I was glad they stopped it before our Gavin started school. Mind you, they're all lactose intolerant nowadays aren't they.' 'What I think,' said Andy, ‘is that too many people go to university nowadays. It gives them false expectations. Hundreds and thousands of kids with media studies degrees! No wonder they can't get a job.' 'Our Gavin's got a media degree,' said Alan. 'Ooh, they do Crepe Suzette,' said Val, 'it's been ages since I had a flambé. They do Peach Melba too, look Alan. Used to have those in the '60s. The old food is the best, isn’t it.' Andy and Anne finished their drinks and called for the bill. 'Are we having a sweet then?' asked Alan. 'Ooh go on then, we're on holiday aren't we.' Andy left a €50 note on the table and he stood up, pulling Anne's chair out for her. 'We must be off now,' he said, 'got to get up early tomorrow for the 'copter ride.' He brushed an insect off his jacket. It fell, squashed, on the table. 'Lovely to meet you,' said Anne, 'if you're ever in Dorset....' The men shook hands and the women each kissed a cheek. 'Lovely couple,' said Val, once they'd gone. 'Bit full of themselves,' said Alan, 'helicopter ride indeed.' Outside the restaurant, Andy flagged down a taxi. 'Nice couple,' he said, as he opened the door for Anne. 'Never met such terrible racists in all my born days,' said Anne, 'let's hope we don't bump into them again.'
A Day in the Life by Chris Branson On the far side of the breakfast room a teaspoon rattled inside a fine china cup. Besuited waiters waltzed about tables of immaculate linen, pouring tea for the fussy housewives as they conversed across their minimally-adorned plates. Maurice, more or less oblivious to this activity, brought his hands together and nimbly turned the pages of his broadsheet, flinging it open once more with a satisfying crack. Across from him, concealed behind the international news, Peter spoke: ‘I take it you’ve heard about Simon Parry?’ ‘Yes,’ Maurice said, scanning the reports from Ukraine. ‘Mary mentioned it. Terrible shame.’ ‘They have an obituary here. Poor boy had the misfortune of going on the same day as Tony Benn – he didn’t make the Saturday editions at all. As it is, he’s barely got a quarter of a page.’ He tapped the page in question with his stubby red index finger. Maurice glanced over and snorted and turned his page again with a practiced concertina motion. ‘My God,’ Peter continued, ‘he was only thirty-one. What a bloody waste.’ ‘Dreadful shame,’ Maurice muttered, scanning the commentary. ‘I daresay I have a bad feeling about this. The Russians will hardly be content to stop at the Crimea.’ ‘He’d barely got going. He was an enormous fan of yours, you know.’ Maurice lowered his newspaper. ‘Who?’ ‘The boy. Parry. Admired you tremendously.’ ‘Is that so?’ Maurice folded his newspaper and laid it to one side, watching Peter’s face for the twitch that would reveal he was putting him on. ‘Who told you that?’ ‘I don’t recall. Probably Dawn Sykes. She was his agent, wasn’t she?’ ‘I don’t know, Peter,’ Maurice said, ‘quite possibly. What did she say?’ ‘Yes, it was Dawn. He considered you his master.’ ‘No. How strange.’ Maurice dropped a lump of sugar into his tea and stirred it absently. ‘Now you mention it, I suppose there was a degree of homage in the themes of his first book – I forget what it was called. It’s a shame he didn’t contact me. I would have been happy to meet him.’ ‘Did you read his new one?’ ‘Not yet. Just the first. Rather daft plot, but it had something about it, some quality of insight that moved one.’ He paused for a moment. ‘No, it was very good. Excellent, in fact. Very memorable. A very strange book. It’s an awful shame.’ He shook his head and lifted the cup and saucer toward his mouth. ‘The new one isn’t far from a masterpiece,’ Peter said. He sat forward in his chair, his hands animated. ‘It really is wonderful – deserves everything they’ve been saying about it. And think, just thirty-one. He really could have been a great. God, I’m starving.’ He looked around to see if anyone else was still waiting for their food. ‘Bloody shame,’ Maurice muttered to himself. A handsome red-haired woman entered the room with an elderly lady. Her eyes met Maurice’s and he smiled cordially. He began to unfold his paper, only to notice the waiter approaching with their plates, and so folded it together again. ‘Would you like a coffee?’ Peter asked after they’d finished eating. For as long as either cared to remember they had breakfasted each Monday at the hotel, and it was their custom always to extend their time together with a drink in the morning room. Nevertheless, they refrained
from appearing presumptuous about the arrangement. Every Sunday evening Peter would send the invitation to meet the next day, and each time Maurice would accept promptly with thanks. Maurice checked his watch in response to Peter’s superfluous question, the charade coming naturally to him. It was still only nine-thirty. He felt it important not to move too abruptly from the weekend to the working week, particularly at his age. They gathered their things and walked slowly to the empty morning room, taking their usual armchairs beside the frosted window in the corner. Maurice watched with discomfort as his companion backed into his seat, leaning heavily against his cane as he swivelled himself round before falling onto the cushion with a thud. Peter exhaled, pulling his collar away from his throat with a swollen finger. Just when it appeared he had recovered from the exertion, he burst into a violent fit of coughs, his body jerking in the chair. As his left hand rose to the mouth of his strained red face, the right hand, as if possessed of independent agency, felt around for his cane, grasping it just as it was about to slip to the floor. Maurice grimaced at the thick grinding heaves from Peter’s chest and leaned forward and rubbed his knee. It was aching, as always, but he was relieved that his body wasn’t failing completely just yet. The hip replacement had done what it had intended, even if the other one was now going, and the surgery on his piles had come to feel like rejuvenation. Once Peter had regained his breath and lost most of the excess colour from his face, a handsome young waiter brought over their drinks, having had the good grace not to embarrass the customer in his moment of discomfort. As he poured their coffee his greased dark hair caught the brilliant morning light. Maurice observed Peter’s fawning smile with amusement. His friend made no attempt to hide his air of longing, nor his enchantment at the boy’s lean behind, which his eyes tracked as it glided back out of the room. When he returned his attention to Maurice, his countenance appeared marked more by nostalgia than lust. They sipped from their coffee cups, neither remarking on what had passed. Then they returned to their papers. ‘Why do they say he did it?’ The question broke an extended period of silence between the men. A Piccadilly bus rumbled by in the distance. ‘Who?’ Peter asked. Now he lowered his paper. ‘The Parry boy?’ He sniffed and reached into his jacket. ‘Why he topped himself, you mean?’ He paused to blow his nose. Maurice watched the progress of the soiled handkerchief as it finished its duty with a cursory wipe back and forth before being stuffed back inside Peter’s blazer. ‘It was the usual, or so I heard: manic depression, of course; worried that his work was no good; worried he had nothing left to say. Silly chap. I’d wager he wasn’t coping well with the sudden adulation. The success.’ ‘Silly boy. It’s such a shame. Did he not have anyone?’ ‘I think it mentioned something about a woman,’ Peter said, gesturing at his paper. ‘No, one of us, I mean. Someone to guide him in the life. To talk him away from the edge.’ ‘Not that I know of. He avoided the scene, as far as I can tell.’ ‘I wish I’d known.’ Maurice leaned towards the table and sipped his coffee, stopping short of returning the cup to its saucer. ‘How did he do it?’ As Peter made to respond, Maurice couldn’t help but notice the beginning of a smirk on his companion’s mouth. ‘Oh, he hung himself, of course. Just in case there was any doubt he adored you.’ ‘What do you mean by that?’ Maurice asked, unable to stop a wry grin forming. ‘Isn’t that how all of your characters do themselves in?’ ‘No,’ Maurice said. ‘Not at all.’ Suddenly he felt quite put out. ‘There was The Last Orchard, I’ll grant you…’ ‘You’re very kind.’
‘…and a couple of early short stories. But that’s all, if I remember rightly. The fellow in A Country Romance took an overdose…’ ‘Yes, I remember that.’ ‘…and Jane in When Will You Have Time?...’ ‘Opened her wrists in the bath!’ Peter said with glee, slapping his hand on the table and uprooting a spoon in the process. ‘Yes,’ Maurice smiled, leaning round to see where the spoon had landed. ‘I believe that accounts for all of my self-destructors. I hope you’ll agree that the large majority of characters in my books refrain from suicide. Indeed, most actually survive my novels, unlike yours.’ ‘Very droll,’ Peter nodded. ‘Very droll. But if we must be pedantic, then of course I refer to The Last Orchard. I mean, it’s not as if just one of the characters hung themselves. They were all at it.’ ‘There were a few hangings in that one, I’ll admit.’ ‘I’ll say!’ Peter put down his coffee and leaned back in his chair. ‘But that really was a hell of a debut, wasn’t it? My God, you knew how to write a novel. From the outset, I mean. What do you think of it now, The Last Orchard? I’m completely ashamed of my first.’ ‘But it wasn’t my first, old bean. Swell a Scene or Two came first – not that anyone bothered to read it until the Orchard started selling. And I don’t know if I ever mentioned, but I wrote an appalling novel before that. Sheer luck that it never saw the light of day, though I don’t suppose luck had much to do with it, it really was awful. A bad pastiche of Graham Greene. I had the good sense to destroy the one remaining copy before the biographers came sniffing.’ Peter laughed. ‘It’s not just you, old boy, I avoid recalling my first two attempts. I must remember to burn them. But we were talking about The Last Orchard. Are you still fond of it?’ ‘No,’ Maurice said, ‘no, I’m not,’ and he signalled to the waiter for the bill. As they left the hotel they performed their customary farewell, a gesture midway between a handshake and an embrace, and they went their different ways: Peter hobbling back to his small flat in Soho, Maurice going on to his club. On the short walk over there he prepared himself for the day’s writing, rehearsing the passage he was currently working on. Inside the club he nodded to the receptionist and took the cramped oak-panelled lift to the third floor. A passing butler greeted him by name on the landing and he responded politely. There was one other fellow in the old library but he did not acknowledge him. Maurice removed the papers from his case and sat down at his customary desk in the far corner. He’d been working there every day for nearly thirty years now, Sundays and holidays excepted, and the mahogany desk felt like an extension of himself. He began to write. For several weeks now his words had ceased to flow, and this morning was no exception, each sentence having to be heaved onto the page like a sack of grain onto a truck. At half-past one, unable to concentrate any further, he stopped for lunch. He greeted a few familiar faces in the pea-green dining room, but as usual sat on his own in the corner, beneath a garishly-framed portrait of one of the club’s early presidents. He read his LRB and had the soup of the day – carrot, rather thick but nicely seasoned – with a roll and a glass of sparkling water. When he returned to his desk after lunch he reviewed his work. It was hopeless. His previous two books had been short, light-hearted affairs, and had received uncritical praise – the sort of warm praise reserved for writers whose obituaries have been drafted more than once. It seemed to him that unless an ageing novelist pens an outright masterpiece, or something verging on a complete embarrassment, then their work is invariably received in the same prosaic manner: a long, pious bow to the author’s great contribution,
to their longevity and consistency, then a cursory reference to the matter of the book – condensed into a single excruciating sentence if possible – before cheerfully ending with a celebration of the work’s familiar charms. It mattered not whether the review concluded that the book was “classic Brown,” or “not quite vintage Brown, but still well worth a read”: either way, the reader would be left with the pervasive sense that the author no longer mattered: that nothing more could be learned from them, that they had nothing left to say. Maurice’s present novel was a final attempt to compel the reviewer to think again. The subject matter, so close to home, was the strained relationship between a father and son, the narrative unfolding via a clash of careers and values: art and commerce, the aesthetic and the material. Such a transparently autobiographical premise ought really to have inspired him, but he could locate little of value in his script: stilted dialogue, banal commentary, and the drama, insofar as there was any, proceeded by crude devices. He looked over what he had managed that morning and told himself he must go on, but the very thought exhausted him and he knew it would be useless to persevere. He had no need to audit the page to know he’d not achieved his daily count. Over the past decade his trusted practice of five hundred words per day had receded fifty at a time, until he’d finally suffered the indignity of lowering the bar all the way to three hundred. He could plainly see that his efforts that morning had barely taken him two-thirds towards this humbled ambition. Collecting his things, he left the club and stepped into the street, surprised at how relieved he was to feel the soft breeze on his throat, how thirsty he was for the cooling air. The rest of his afternoon in town proceeded like clockwork, beginning with a visit to the National Gallery. He walked over there at a more casual pace than usual, leaning on his umbrella, his mind for a while delightfully blank. He limited himself to three rooms per day at the gallery. Today’s housed the oldest art in the collection, Christian iconography from late medieval Italy. As he’d aged, so had his tastes, and these now counted amongst his favourite works. Today, however, he was struck by an unusual disinterest in them. Where previously he had come to appreciate the naïve faith in these pious images, their uncomplicated wisdom, he now perceived mere foolishness. The flat images of saints and the crucifixion appeared as if painted by idiots; the shimmering gold leaf looked as though ladled on with a simpleton’s joy. He laboured through the rooms with uncommon haste before descending to the café. There, as always, he bought a coffee and a slice of their radically overpriced cake. He slumped onto a chair with enormous relief, sitting motionless for several minutes with his hand on his knee. When he’d sufficiently recovered, he removed a book from his case. For an hour or so he re-read the final part of Anna Karenina, finding shelter, albeit a little uncomfortable at times, in the ease and mastery of Tolstoy’s prose. When the café closed he walked to the unpleasant pub nearby and had his usual pint of bitter. He tried to make it last an hour but couldn’t. Outside again the sky was clouding over, but he decided nevertheless to pursue his pre-dinner stroll. Ignoring the pain in his leg, he proceeded down The Strand, followed it almost to Aldwych, then walked into Covent Garden. He struggled around tourists at the Seven Dials, and with mounting lethargy went over Charing Cross Road into Soho. Despite his fatigue, he considered going all the way back to Mayfair, where the streets would be relatively deserted, but when it began to rain he turned south instead, wearily lifting his umbrella above the pedestrians on Shaftesbury Avenue and hurrying as best he could to the small bistro off Leicester Square. The food there was cheap and hearty: French onion soup, stew and mash, pudding and
custard. He no longer took any interest in his fellow diners. Over several decades he had perfected a talent for spying and eavesdropping, but his need for source material had now expired. Nor did he feel compelled to occupy himself with reading. He experienced no discomfort at dining alone. It was still raining after he’d finished, more heavily than before, and he walked to the bus stop with studied steps, his supposedly good hip now causing him to wince. Given the choice, he preferred the bus to the tube, even when a direct route was lacking. Travelling on the underground, one felt as though one’s day was over: the journey was an exercise in mere utility, an efficient movement from place to place. The bus, by contrast, was a reprieve, an encore, a generous act. With its eccentric, winding ways, it delivered a continuation of the day, kept one together with the city for a last slow dance, alleviating the transition, easing one home. He alighted at the Elephant and waited beneath his umbrella for the number 155, standing apart from the housewives laden with shopping and the surly youths in their headphones. It was three years since he’d sold his flat in St James’s and bought the place south of Clapham, a few streets from the family home they’d had in the Fifties. The profit he’d made from the move had been considerable, and would sustain him in his habits until the end of his days – so long as he didn’t reach a hundred, at least. Safely on the bus for the final leg of the journey, his mind fell slack and the distant past, as it often did of late, invited itself inside. He found himself in the garden of the cottage they’d once rented outside Hastings. Elizabeth was tottering about in a pale yellow dress that was far too big for her, waving a toy watering can over the patchy flowerbeds. Henry was flapping on a blanket, trying to crawl; Rebecca was presumably at work. He had a gin and tonic in his hand and was correcting the proofs of The Last Orchard. He’d known then that this book would change his fortunes. The novel recounted a series of disasters in a Sussex farming village after the First World War, culminating in a spate of suicides. It was lyrical and impassioned, caught a note of despair in the otherwise optimistic post-war mood, and sold well as a result. For three decades Maurice had not returned to it, not until a spate of hangings amongst teenagers in South Wales a few years ago had brought it back to public attention. Upon that recent reading he was struck by how powerfully it dredged up memories of his life at the time: how he’d been struggling to support his young family, already suffocating within the confines of his responsibilities to them; his marriage already passionless, the skirmishes of infidelity having already begun. When he departed the bus just past the common his body felt like it might crumple like an empty suit. He leaned for a minute inside the shelter, waiting for his sore and swollen feet to settle. The rain had almost ceased and he walked in the lamp light without his umbrella, quite glad of the dampness on his thin pate. He let himself into the building and out of habit tried the hallway light, though it hadn’t worked for weeks. In the dull glow from the streetlamps he checked the post, finding notice of some royalties from America and what he recognised as a birthday card, two days early, from his daughter and her family. He placed them in his case and steeled himself for the stairs, gripping the banister tightly. His children had warned him of the impracticality of the second floor flat, yet he could not imagine living anywhere but at the top of a building, as far removed from the street as possible. He enjoyed the knowledge that no-one was above him. The occasional sight of one or two stars through the landing skylight gave him peace, allowed him to feel he could breathe. The exposed beams in the vaulted living room ceiling were of course a further bonus.
Not that these redeeming features afforded him any pleasure in being home. Upon opening the front door, its emptiness flooded over him. He stood his umbrella in the hallway and proceeded wearily to the lounge, resting his case with some effort on the trunk that doubled as a coffee table. He dropped his jacket onto the couch and collapsed into the armchair. Boxes were arranged in stacks of twos around the room, still taped fast from the move: his best crockery, ornaments and vases; many fond items of clothing; all of his first editions. For a long time he remained still in the chair, entreating the pain in his hip to subside. When at last he mustered the will to move, he took an opened bottle from the cluster in the kitchenette and poured his measure of vodka. He still liked to think of it as a couple of fingers, but in truth it had swollen from three to four. He shuffled back to his armchair and took out his script. This was his final professional act of the day: reading once more over the day’s words; preparing the unconsciousness to draw its plans as he slept. Reviewing it for the second time that day, he recognised how far he was from something resembling a plausible draft. He sat for a moment before pushing himself up from the chair again. On the pile beside his bed he found the book he was looking for and then returned to the lounge. He sat back down, clutching the late Simon Parry’s second and final novel in his hands. Before opening it he brushed the author’s name on the cover with his thumb. It was clear, from the first paragraph, that the book was brilliant, bursting with the anguish of youth. And yet soon after he’d turned the first page he found himself overcome with tiredness and let the book drop to the floor. His eyes stung, his limbs felt like dead weights. To be old, he thought, is to understand that we do not have an immortal soul. We are nothing more than a temporary complication of flesh. And flesh always untangles itself in the end. He reached for his glass and drained it, enjoying the rub of the spirit between denture and gum. He laboured himself upright. One hand on his knee, he pushed aside his briefcase and opened the chest, where at the bottom a length of rope lay hidden beneath some magazines. Retrieving the rope, he toyed with it for a while, flexing it in his hands, pulling it taut to feel its strength. His mind elsewhere, he rubbed the familiar surface of the noose between finger and thumb. He stood up. At the second attempt he managed to toss the free end over the central roof beam. He dragged over a wooden chair from beside the sofa and lifted a tired foot onto it. With some effort he managed to climb up. Once he was sure of his balance he attended to the rope, which was worn in places from being tied and untied over the years. Using these marks to calibrate the length, he secured it to the beam with a double knot. He squeezed the noose over his crown, chafing his ears in the process, before nimbly tightening it to his neck as though adding the final touch to an outfit. He leaned back very slightly so that the knot slipped a fraction against his throat, just stopping short of cutting off the blood supply. He inched forwards until the balls of his feet found the lip of the stool, and then he stopped. He balanced against the tension in the rope; teetered on the brink of falling. The cord gripped his neck a little tighter still, reassuring him, like a father holding his son on his shoulders, that it wouldn’t let him go. For a moment he felt as though a weight had been lifted and he was able to forget about it all: his novel; old age, death; the tyranny of what comes next.
A=B by Glen Armstrong
Okay, but it’s more than a leap of faith.
One must crawl through that cross-section of pipe . . . It’s like the time I tried to back out of the orgy and scraped my butt on the equal sign that admitted me. I did not trust the absolute balance afterwards becomes.
A Brief History of the Automobile by Glen Armstrong It is hard to tell where I am, even though I signal each turn. My suicide arms can’t contain me; my eyes shoot conical beams into the fog. The only name I answer to is the muddied white numbers stamped on my ass. At these speeds, each major city is a flash of joy. The open road. An open shirt. The hitchhiker’s beckoning nipple. My grandfather’s generation sold me this notion of freedom, this notion that all roads lead somewhere. But somewhere in the dust of destination I lost myself in my means of escape. It’s a Motor City lullaby: gas combusts and drives a piston up. 25
After Orlando by Howie Good The Angel of Death had yellowand-black wings that looked gold and gray in the setting sun. You can be killed any time by someone you don’t know. My mother’s side of the family doesn’t exist anymore. Someone killed them all – had them gassed, shot, hanged, injected. I can’t think too much about it without feeling I’m meeting the person I might’ve been. Billions of us occupy the same small planet, but it only seems like we’re sharing. This isn’t any ordinary day. Slippery is a word that’s everywhere. Coated bullets are slippery. People slip away over the border. There’s nothing left to see here. Nothing. The flowers that were supposed to come back every year haven’t. It’s a vagabond life. Flames behave in ways no one thought possible. Yes, my baby sister lived there, too. She picked up a spider she found in the house and put it back outside. Give thanks to thoughtful hands.
Odysseus Lost by Laurie Theurer It was Parthenope Pringles who first ventured to seduce George. Her virtuous voice with its indelicate innuendos beckoned from the kitchen cabinet, captivating him, calling him closer. He really shouldn't. Fatty foods gave him the squirts since the intestinal bypass. Ligea Lucky Strike lured him next, enticing him with the fresh, earthy, beguiling aroma of un-smoked tobacco, seeping out of the upper desk drawer, hula dancing past his nose, promising relief and fulfillment. George resisted her hypnotic, entrancing charms; tempted to the breaking point of his resolve. He really shouldnâ€™t. His doctor had warned him. Again. Leucosia Lager liquidated the last of George 's willpower with the wiles of her white frothy crown and the fullness of her effervescent amber body. He really, really... shouldn't. George grunted as he disgorged himself from the creaking green recliner and waddled towards the kitchen like a ripe Thanksgiving goose. He snatched his emergency pack of Lucky's from the desk drawer and collected a can of suds from the fridge. Parthenope's call pulsated anew from the depths of the pantry, exquisite and excruciating. George threw open the pantry doors so fast that the hinges forgot to squeak, liberating his love from her salty solitude. Hauling his catch back to the living room, George scrunched himself into the armchair to indulge in his Trifecta feast. The three enchantresses perched on his crumb-covered lap, their voices a bewitching blend of ale, tobacco and salt & vinegar harmonies. George 's eyes rolled back in his head as he smiled and conceded defeat; cherishing the crinkle and crunch of his ill-fated craft as it slammed against the rocks; savoring the smoldering smoke that saturated his lungs; relishing the salty, yeasty, tar-infused sea water that inundated his being; rejoicing in his slow, sensual demise. 27
All Fall Down by Joan McNerney Leaves toppling from trees fiery leaves red yellow green flames. Only this remains...smoky ends of days. Days like leaves crumbling, shriveled, tumbling down, falling to the ground. Scattered into an acrid mound. An acrid mound of sour roots. Our garden grew from the wrong side of the moon. Brackish vines are harvested there. Flowers of despair grew a single fruit. It tasted bittersweet. My laughter became harsh. My eyes grew oblique. I want to curse and cry against this world. Fine dreams stolen...ragged and torn like leaves blown in storm. Storm winds strangle treetops, shaking, foliage pulled from boughs. Broken by thunder pummeled through long nights Long nights heavy rains spilling black ink stains. There is no solution, another day done, another piece of the puzzle gone Ashes ashes all fall down what is lost cannot be found.
D.O.A - Dawn of Agriculture by Mark Blickley Before the Dawn Of Agriculture men like ME were slapped into the shadow of sexual shame but now who needs muscles or chiseled chins, great size or strength, a lover’s passion or a manly countenance ‘cause for ten thousand years now I can persecute any female for infidelity towards ME and hold paternity privilege over MY biological children because we exceptional farmers invented marriage to destroy human sexuality by enslaving women with MY property for sex so I no longer need to share or compete or settle for an alpha males’ sloppy seconds within foraging groups that are forced to share what they carry with them instead of our enforced legal couplings that takes the innocent, primal pleasure and mystery out of sex by connecting shtooping to birth thanks to dirt MY dirt MY very own thousand acres of seeded soil littered with pens full of MY trapped sheep, cattle, goats and pigs which means I can pork any female I fancy and destroy any man who thwarts MY desire as simply as the bulls I castrate into submission to easily herd into MY slaughterhouses that feed all the inferior people no longer dependent on their hunting and gathering skills but on ME to stay alive so not only am I not considered a sociopath by hoarding food but am praised at harvest time like a goddamned Babe Ruth hero because I have legally claimed and legally raped those precious few life giving inches of topsoil with rotating crops and extended grasslands that exhausts and shrinks the earth, MY earth MY reign of forcing agricultural workers to bend over in the fields, stupidly exposing hairless backs to sun poisoning instead of their protective hunters’ heads of hair harvesting MY food that shrinks the testicles of everyone who is forced to feed on the cheap calories of MY industrialized plants and animals that lowers fertility, but who needs big balls anymore when you don’t have to kill larger animals in order to survive or attract females with your superior physical attributes proving I am the social parasite Sultan of Swat who grows fat on the food I’ve seized by stealing Paleo land in the name of government protected ownership.
annie dawid - Annieâ€™s Atelier
A Room of My Own by Moira Garland He promises me my own hideaway room right at the top, a room of my own away from Shane, away from Lula, who we call baby-baby. He says I’m too old to share a room with my brother now. I think of a princess’ bed, a double bed, wide enough for a kangaroo, a row of Teddies, another row of thin girls with long blonde tresses, like the ones whose teeth gleam in the comics I read before sleeping. ― Crosses ― A whisper from mum. ― Means the house in’t right. She stares at the dark metal cross held with a dark bolt on the red brick wall, half way up to the top window. Is that what holds the house together, stops it falling down? ― Kisses on the hill. Dad’s teeth are all on show, he’s laughing like a barking Rambo. I can’t remember when we got Rambo, I know for sure that every day Mum had to take him for a walk. She, bent and pulled like a puppet, Rambo with his great tan shoulders forging along damp pavements. Then he became the brown dog that ran into the road; the van came and took it away. The other house was pokier. Two bedrooms. Dad hated having baby-baby in their room. When baby-baby was getting her milk Dad would get out of bed, leave the room, go where he was wanted. We need a swap, he kept saying, one of those big houses the council have up on Ledshill. Standing on my wide Oxfam bed I peer through the Velux at fuzzy mountains on a summer morning, or the glittering sea where mermaids swim, away from the land. Dad says he’s seen them when he worked on the boats. Cut off from the rest of the house the stairs only go to my room, Shane isn’t allowed and baby-baby can’t even walk yet, so it’s sort of my island. A remote island. Unique in our family. The Thesaurus on my bookshelves also mentions solitary and friendless. If I lie on that side of the bed the winter moon, a menacing white, 31
outshines the frail stars, all framed by the uncurtained window. It is time for baby-baby’s milk. My bed shivers, the stairs creak and whimper. Nylon sheets shush and spark as I turn, move to the other side. This woman, she’s listening to my words. I’m trying to dislodge the moving pictures: I lose the beginning ― a nightmare for the future ― then I speak, Dad’s dark-blue pyjamas moist, me in my shell-pink princess nightie.
O Honey, I Love You by Daniel de Cullá Within this space of my feels Indian Music reveals itself to me in this way Across the Ice Cream videos With a bow tie of knowledges on my hands Arming the subtle wisdom of my mind Dreaming the approach of summer Clarifying my feelings’ light With Alka Yagnik’ “At her best-Romantic songs of Bollywood” With Begum Akhtar’s “mere humnafas mere humnawa” Gathering things up Tending the fire with a short stick At the end of a dirt road For where I run alone Listening also Lata Mangeshkar’ “Jo Wada Kiya” And Shreya Goshal’ “Agar tum mil jao” Recognizing this Music as a kind of Love From the window during the night Into the beach of my Mind Containing all those things I have come to be as a lovely Being Wanting to hold mine’s head up. Keeping indian Music from sliding scale I find myself pursuing Beauty through twisted paths Stumbling pleasures, singing: O Honey, I Love You.
A Piece of Security by Shloka Shankar I rummage through my drawers for a piece of security that I can cling on it. You know, the kind that reminds you of who you are in your worst times. Not so much in your best times. Or any time, for that matter. Something palm-sized. Invisible to the naked eye, even. I imagine what it would feel like. Do invisible objects weigh? How about tracing my forefinger along its neatly outlined edges? Will it be shapely? Does it have a scent? A blend of chlorine and chocolate. My piece has rough edges. It has a smooth surface. A false sense of security, then? I lift it up to examine it against the light. All I see is my right palm and a birthmark on the extreme left. It looks bigger from when I last scrutinized it on a lesser-than-eventful afternoon. The birthmark, of course. I can’t see my piece of security. I hold it in my hands and cradle it, soothing my overworked nerves. A tingle passes through my spine, much like a feather grazing against your skin. The chlorine takes me back in time to the shallow end of a pool. A red and blue beach ball bobs right beside me, faltering, spinning irregularly. I stroke the rough edges and it makes an almost inaudible grating. Like a lover’s voice gone wrong. Horribly wrong. My blood feels like it has reached boiling point. The air around me, thick as sawdust, lining my lungs, my eyes. My piece of security morphs into something different each day. Today, it’s you. Dear Suki: Number Two by Lana Bella Dear Suki: Province of Arezzo, February 3rd, dipping two fingertips into your illustration, my human touch is a brew of fast and static semaphore. Hand at thrust, hips walk this quiet room ruffled in streaks of gold from the setting sun, you are a fuse of mahogany eyes expressed in echoes, reflective on oil canvas, vulnerable to torching. Get out, you say, fury is loss, rancor is waste; before you slash out and flick me like a leech milking your blood. I look away from the catalysis of of the dusk breaking, held so tenuously by the churns of risen earth nipping at the folds of your painter smock. Now, a whisper greases the air sculling of empty weight scrubbed red.
Gray Amherst by Lana Bella When there is nowhere else to walk, either down the park or the nearby lake, the night is as violent as gray Amherst and stymied as a decade-long hangover. From inside the glass house, my eyes gaze past the frosted garden, out the lane, then beyond the horizon's wings that stretches thick and wide like a velcro igloo domed over the ground of icecapped thorns. I watch the gray city take in more snow from the incensed sky, marking it a paler gothic version of dream and thought's dovetailing, when the powder pour on the earth's heart like triumphant missiles. Aurora Borealis by Charles Bliss I watched you watching TV last night. You didn’t notice—or, if you did, didn’t let on. I fell in love with the pink azure lights on the film of your eyes, reflections from the screen. It’s the same every time we go to the movies. Where I can see those invisible dust-constellations in the light from the projector after the house dimmers go down. You looking ahead, curtains opening, infinitesimal stars whirling in the dark around you. Your eyes form miniature galaxies of colour everything else dissolves into. I always feel like an astronaut in a lonely little space station, bearing witness to interstellar wonders in profile. I know you love moving pictures but—don’t words laid out on the page like this remind you of a landscape? All these symbols, alive, scattered like little trees, buildings, streetlights, illuminating sentence-structured avenues. Beyond the horizon, there you are. That’s you, in the upper righthand corner of the sky. Everything that inhabits these words admires you, is charged by your electromagnetism. The whole time you’ve been reading this I’m seeing my Aurora Borealis light up your face. All I ever wanted was to be the electricity in your eyes.
Eleanor Osmond - ‘a’
Ashley, Kate, Mary and Jo by Rob Walton Kate was easy. It’s a name that’s always there, on best-selling names lists, most popular girls’ names for Christmas – those lists that fill the paper, on the page after the Jesus’s face in a Quorn fillet story. Kate wanted a room and Jo wanted a Kate. Job’s a good un – as Pete, the genesis of all this, would have said. Did say. In almost every sentence. Ashley provided unthought-of complications, as lots of boy Ashleys answered the ad. She hadn’t specified girl or young woman; hadn’t said Wanted: female Ashley for flatshare. Mary was tricky. It seemed that name just wasn’t popular anymore. Jo wondered if there’d been a horrible Mary in the news eighteen years ago – was there somebody in Coronation Street or Eastenders who had killed the landlord/lady of the Rovers/Vic and chopped the body up and hid it in an empty box of salt and vinegar crisps. (Tip: If you’re going to hide a chopped-up body in a cardboard box, let the bits of body dry out first.) A Mary was eventually found. Only it was spelt Marie and pronounced Marie. But silly beggars can’t be choosers (Pete again). So it came to pass that Jo introduced Kate and Ashley and the other one to each other and showed them the rooms and they moved in and the following week Jo’s parents arranged a visit. Saturday morning. Not the best time to visit a students’ house, but they had waited outside for over an hour, reading the paper and eating vegetable samosas from the corner shop. (“They didn’t have any croissants, so I got you these.”) “Dad, please meet Mary, Kate and Ashley.” Incomprehension. Then unsure laughter. “You had me going there.” Then it dawned on him. All those jokes he’d come out with when she was younger about Mary-Kate and Ashley being three people. He smiled at his wife, then laughed confidently. “The girl done good.”
Aftermath of a Marriage by Stephanie Hutton Evidence of Unreasonable Behaviour cited by Mr. Alan Batten regarding the marital behaviour of Mrs. Gina Batten 1990 – present •
Mrs Gina Batten (henceforth GB) has caused IMMEASURABLE harm through her conniving, contemptuous behaviour most unbecoming in a lady of her age.
This is of particular distress to me as she has failed to maintain the high level of beautification and elegance which she presented pre-maritally, thus constituting FRAUD of a vile nature.
GB has gone so far as to allow her ENTIRE head of hair to be seen in public as grey as my dear mother’s. Suffice to say this has had a significant impact on my libido which even the most potent of medication has been unable to resurrect.
As a bread-winner I expect a reasonable level of home and garden maintenance from a spouse whose only source of income from cake-baking goes to a CHARITY rather than her own upkeep.
I am paralysed with incredulity that I am expected to return to a home circa six o’clock to find unwashed dishes in the sink and a COMPLETE LACK of shirts ironed for my working week.
I suspect a high level of GALLIVANTING which in and of itself is unwifely. However I distinctly smelt the fumes of gin on GBs giggling lips IN THE MIDDLE OF A SATURDAY AFTERNOON.
I have provided security, heating, food, a clothes allowance and with good grace have not dwelt on GBs unfortunate barren womb which has left me BEREFT of being able to continue my good name.
I request an IMMEDIATE CHANGE in attitude and behaviour. The vicar’s wife provides ample modelling should GB require further instruction. 37
Written response from Mrs. Gina Batten to Mr. Alan Batten. Dearest Alan Do you recall the evening that you first spoke to me? You tried to hide your fear and self-loathing behind a stiff upper lip but your stammer betrayed you. As you instructed me on the nature of planetary movements, your pupils dilated and I knew you were reaching out to me in the only way you knew how. It was a relief from beauty to be married. I know you find it hard to understand, but the relentless compliments and gifts from young men were a tiresome focus on an aspect of myself that I had no say over – my good looks. We talked and talked, and your naïve boarding-school ways were my rock. The hesitancy and gentle nature of your touch – as if I were an orchid – bound us together. My greatest pain comes from the fact we always stayed as two; never a family. You would never discuss it, and any other options were outright rejected as procreation was about genes - not love - to you. Approaching middle-age is a frightening, wondrous experience for me. The possibilities have started to show themselves now I have lifted my eyes from the prison of home. I will not be so cruel as to detail my new awakenings. I shall miss you, in a way. G.
Court proceedings: Case of Mr. and Mrs. Batten The Court notes that following mediation processes, Mr. Batten no longer wishes to file for divorce. However, Mrs. Batten has commenced proceedings. Matters are on hold whilst Mr. Batten refuses to leave his mother’s shed.
Hagen KlennerT - ‘A’
The House by Mileva Anastasiadou Each time she woke up, she felt nostalgic for the house of her dreams. That house was never a conscious choice. It seemed though, as if it had been there expecting her. There, whenever she visited, she felt welcome; she knew the space was enough. Whenever in the slightest doubt or in discomfort, she remembered the forgotten rooms. From time to time, she even discovered new rooms, although after waking up, she usually realized that she had been there before, that they were part of the forgotten kingdom. Once she permanently moved in, she spent most of her time in the basement playing around with her favourite games. She felt like experiencing childhood again. Like she was back to the start, to the letter A of her life, with all options open ahead of her. Every once in a while, she went up to the ground floor and sat on the porch for some fresh air. The attic caught her eye every now and then, but it took some time before she decided to visit. It proved a difficult task, though. Either the stairs were too steep, or the barriers were insuperable. There stood a guard who did not let her go upstairs. The guard was never talkative, in the beginning. He did not even notice her attempts to seduce him. She became frustrated little by little, as all her efforts proved fruitless; her beautiful dresses, her sophisticated makeup, her pretentious walk, did not work. She even used tears, a weapon she knew her husband in real life could never resist, yet the guard stood upright, seemingly impervious to the show she had carefully prepared. Although she did not find it appropriate, she finally resorted to being direct. “Why won’t you let me go up?” she asked. “You never asked,” he told her. “What if I ask now?” “I will have to think about it then.” “So?” “So what?”
“You still haven’t answered.” “You still haven’t asked.” “Can I go up?” “Why do you want to go up?” She wondered for a while. She then realized she wouldn’t have wanted to go up in the attic, if it hadn’t seemed forbidden. Or perhaps, if it wasn’t the last place in the house, she had not yet explored. She loved his calmness. It reminded her of the first days in the house. She almost fell in love with him. She was not sure as to whether she liked him because, unlike her husband, he did not give in easily, or because she suffered from a strange kind of Stockholm syndrome. “I am afraid I am here to protect you,” he told her after a while. “This house is the mirror of your psyche, so if you really want to explore the heights of it, you must be patient and persistent.” Somehow, she felt safe beside him. She slept on the floor by his side. She thought she heard a rooster from afar crying “Thunder” instead of the usual cock-a doodle-doo sound. In between his cries, her mind played the guitar solo. It was only the voice of the guard, though: “Now that you trust yourself, you can go up and enjoy the view.” The stairs did not seem that steep any more and the obstacles vanished. Opening the door of the attic, she found herself in her old house, the one she shared with her husband for many years. “You’re back,” he told her, embracing her. “I’m back,” she said in excitement, feeling for the first time in years, that this house might fit her as well, and that reality did not seem so unbearable any more.
Athena by Wiebo Grobler Meryl woke the kids before sunrise, while he still snored downstairs, stinking of brandy and Rothmans, draped over the chaise longue. With misted breath and the crunch of slippered feet on frosty grass, she led the kids down to where Athena was moored. Meryl was a good skipper in her own right, but she made sure Athena was fit out with enough technology to help when the seas turned rough or she had to make anchor in a crowded port on her own. An electric windlass, roller furlers and bow thrusters with all lines running aft, ensured the 28 foot yacht could almost steer itself. Twelve years she’d been with him, trapped in a gilded cage, enduring, trying, fighting - appeasing. But once he started to lay his hands on her that was the beginning of the end. A year of meticulous planning came to a head today. She touched her cheek, still sore after he flew into another drunken rage last night. She was taking the kids away from technology and the brutality of their father. She wanted to show them magnificent views and breathtaking scenery that can’t be replicated through a 60 inch television screen. They will experience the smell and crackle of a campfire and the vibration - deep inside your belly - of a lions call at sunrise. Something no surround sound system could replicate. It was overcast and cold, the water was choppy and Athena rose and met each white crested wave to her bow with a wet smack. Meryl had her feet firmly planted on the deck and her gloved hands tightly gripped the boat’s wheel. The children were laughing below deck and the cold sea spray soothed the sting in her cheek. It was a perfect day for a new beginning.
dashiel rowan - attenborough
The Heart by Konstantina Sozou-Kyrkou It’s been over an hour now but the heart is still warm, despite the cold of the night. He can swear it’s palpitating in his grasp. He keeps it at arm’s length, doesn’t want it to stain his clothes. It’s still bleeding, the smell heavy, like rusty iron. He cups it with both hands in case it slips over and he loses it. The moon is swallowed up by the canopy of trees in the woods and he’s as blind as a bat. Then he trips over a rock. He stumbles forward and falls on all fours to the ground. The heart jolts away, eaten up by the darkness. On his knees, he scrambles over to some bushes nearby, parts the stubborn, thorny branches, scratching the skin of his hands, scrabbles about the frozen soil, fingers stung, eyes stretched. ‘Oh, my God!’ He thinks. ‘My wife will be furious if I lose the heart.’ She was adamant. Bringing her the heart would be the positive proof of his unconditional love to her. That’s all she desired. He’s lost all hope when he hears a tiny voice coming from behind a rock. ‘Are you hurt, Yiannis?’ He springs there and finds the heart. Definitely pumping, fast now, in and out, sighing and moaning like a deflating birthday balloon. ‘I’m fine, Mother,’ Yiannis tells the heart. He picks it up and holds it tight in his fist. That’s typical of his mother. Always worrying about things that are none of her business. A scarf he hadn’t worn, a sandwich he hadn’t taken to school, a scabby knee, a wife she never wanted for her son.
Explosion by Noel King A gas cylinder drum rolls in and becomes the booty in the hideout of the young boys on the farm by the sea. On it they place a sheet to hide it, graffiti its sides, scratch the Highly Inflammable words off, paint it with pirate bones. Their families will anger for generations about the bastards who threw the curse overboard.
A) To be or not to be... by Emma Roper-Evans I am dangerous because I am going to disappear. And you simply cannot do without me. You will all go if I go, but I am pretty nearly at my end. It is my fault, of course. Like a piece of old vellum, stretched and held fast, absorbent, blotting, taking in everything, sucking it up, un-refusing. I bowed low before your altars, didn’t question, object, murmur, even. Accepted virgin mothers, virulent goddesses, meek wives, adultery, even. Whatever you wanted. Never beat my chest resoundingly and declared myself, but just followed obediently. A sweet, silly, slightly retarded puppy, always producing. Any role thrown at me would do. Threw myself willingly into wise virgin, sex goddess, witch, hag. Yes, I admit it, I was more stupid than any moth throwing itself against the flame, banging and burning into the bathroom bulb, went on doing it with no reward, did it whatever the circumstances…. Sometimes I fought for my children, but only for the sons, gladly burying girls in that little patch out back, slipping their tiny bodies into the earth with a smile. Lost all memory of before, when the Creation act was one I controlled, alone. Once the newer, urban gods started to raise their divine heads over the parapet I was pushed to the very back of the temple. My bleeding, dirty and polluting; My body, weak and useless; My very point, in question. Until today, that is, when we have bowed to the slaughter. Collectively committing suicide like a monstrous religious sect demanding if one goes, we all go. Now, no one has a chance, whatever they carry between their legs. Without me, you are doomed, making me the most dangerous creature on earth. If I don’t save myself you are all doomed. I must save myself or you will all die out. But do I want to? To be or not to be… Perhaps it is better if we all go. What have we done here anyway? Gouged holes in the earth, thrown dross in the oceans, worn away mountains, sullied plains, choked rivers, made deserts where fruit bloomed, grass greened. Pain and pollution, that’s us. Here is the key in my slender hand! Shall I be true to form and misuse it? My turn to decide… 45
Rachael edwards - ‘A’
Nahant Beach by PJ Carmichael The smell of cessation: summer and suntan lotion. (Autumnâ€™s majesty appears by the shoreline.) These times of slow and subtle change inspire awe and empathy; my brothers and sisters surround the rising tide. The wind, gentle and present, is a curious lover, a passion beyond superficial romance. She rolls over the sand in daylight, and howls wildly at night.
D-I-S-C-O by The Repeat Beat Poet Wash me away with your sea and your natural shade with all of the steps you battled on rolling pin hillsides that dared to be built on by fictitious boys with imaginary pens and paintbrushes. Brush down your satin shoulder pads of all that natural jazz your beat and your rhythm sweep away the glitter gold, the dancehall dust of an evening. When you recall the circles of light in the ceiling, or shimmering spirals of neon on the topsides of your eyes, blink and it will drip, slip, and skip away.
Bedroom by PJ Carmichael Blind drunk daydreams, blackout of the century, the reason we canâ€™t have nice things, blurred visionary by daybreak, another inherent failure of the 21st century: this is my body in all of its weakness. Certain situations dictate the downfall, slow and incremental, of the modern being. The bedroom reeks of vomit and the inner lining of my stomach. (What becomes of us when the music ends?) The headache lasts for twentythree years and is only interrupted by brief periods of sleep, peaceful moments of solitude that measure eternity. God hangs his head in shame.
Industrial Relations by Simon Lee-Price The worst thing about working in my uncle’s factory was having to listen to Radio One the whole day. I don’t know what I hated more – the stuffy chit-chat of the DJs or the Top Twenty hits that got played over and over again. The mid-morning show was the low point. The DJ thought he was a man of the people, everyone’s mate, and there was a segment called Our Tune, where he read out a listener’s depressing story in a sobby voice and played a corny song at the end that was supposed to cheer us up again. I thought it was pointless and cruel to tell us about other people’s cancer, suicide, or whatever it was today, when all we could do in response was keep our heads down and get on with our jobs. The factory was not very big and there were only about ten other workers. They stood at machines cutting up sheets of plastic, fibreglass and aluminium and sometimes they drilled holes in them. My job was to smear white enamel paint into the numbers engraved around the rim of plastic dials, and when the paint had dried enough I had to carefully clean off the dial with a rag dabbed in white spirit. I think the dials were for a gas appliance, and stacked on either side of me were cardboard boxes full of them. I worked on my own at a bench at the back of the workshop, near the door to the toilets. Sometimes I went through that door just to escape from the smell of paint and the noise of the radio and cutting machines, or when I needed breathing space to think about my life. Thursday was payday and after the dinner break my uncle walked around the workshop, pausing in front of each man to hand over a small manila envelope. They took it with a nod, slid it into their overalls pocket and resumed their work as he went on his way. When he reached my bench, instead of giving me an envelope, he said my pay would need to be calculated separately because I was on a different rate and he would have my pay packet ready at the end of the day. We hadn’t discussed pay when I’d started and I had no idea what the other men earned. I expected to be on less than them, of course, because my work was unskilled, but he was my uncle and he was always generous to me, so I grew excited thinking about how much money I’d get and planning what I would buy with it. But I was worried too. On my first day I’d knocked a full tin of enamel paint off the bench. It had made a huge mess on the floor and 49
splashed over a batch of plastic tubes that were propped against the wall waiting to be delivered somewhere. My uncle reacted very calmly when I burst into his office in a panic and told him what had happened. He accompanied me back to the bench and showed me how I should clean everything up. He even got one of the other men to help me. The spilled paint and the wasted time of two workers must have cost the company more money than the value of my morning’s work. I would not be able to complain if my uncle docked his losses from my wages. Even so – I tried to think positive – I would still get the money for the literally hundreds of dials I’d finished after the accident. I waited until all the other workers had gone home before I sought out my uncle. He was sitting in the office flicking through a machinery catalogue and he looked up and gave me a friendly smile as I walked in. Some technical drawings were spread open on the desk in front of him and the smell of cigars was very strong. He invited me to pull over a stool and to sit down across the desk from him. He said he was thinking about investing in a computerised cutting machine because they were the future of the industry. But it was going to be difficult to persuade the bank to lend him the money. I only half listened as he explained his plans to develop his business. My eyes scanned the cluttered shelves behind him and the objects on top of the filing cabinets, as if I might spot my brown pay packet lying somewhere among them. Finally he stopped talking and leant back in his creaking office chair. ‘You’ve come for you wages, I suppose?’ Embarrassed by such a direct question, I looked down at my fingernails and picked at the white enamel paint that wouldn’t scrub off. I saw his hand come toward me and put down a pay packet. It appeared very thin to me and I picked it up hesitantly. ‘I’ve put you on a helper rate of one pound an hour.’ I thought he was pulling my leg as he often did. But he kept a poker face. ‘It’s your first week and you’re still learning the ropes.’ I stuffed the envelope into my front trouser pocket. I hadn’t even made enough money to buy the leather biker jacket I wanted. He must have seen the sick look on my face. ‘How much do you think they give me for each box of finished dials?’ I shook my head, but I thought it must be quite a lot because hun50
dreds of dials could fit into one of those boxes. ‘Twenty pounds,’ he said. Now I felt even sicker. It took me a good minute to smear paint into the numbers engraved on a single dial and then two minutes at least to clean off the dial when the paint was dry. Even if I worked flat out, my labour would never be worth even a pound an hour. ‘What’s the point of it all then?’ I asked. ‘This recession is tough for small businesses. I took on the job to build a relationship. I never expected to make a profit.’ He got up from his chair and removed his warehouse coat and went and hung it on the coat stand in the corner. He explained that I should really work a week in hand before getting paid, so what he had given me today was, strictly speaking, an advance. As he pulled on his anorak, he turned to face me. ‘Do you fancy coming back for some tea?’ I still felt angry with him but I had nothing arranged for that evening and no desire to go straight home. I said yes and helped him carry some bags out to the van. On the way to his house we stopped off at an off licence because he was low on cigars and while we were in there he asked me to choose myself something to drink. He rubbed the back of my head and said that in the factory he was my boss and had to treat me like an employee, but outside of work he would always be my uncle. I told him I drank cider and he bought me a four-pack of Strongbow. My aunty was a good cook and there was a shepherd’s pie with crispy melted Cheddar on top waiting for us when we got back. And they had proper HP sauce to go with it, not the nasty homebrand stuff my mother always bought. There were only three of us so we ate at the kitchen table instead of in the dining room and my aunty teased me about knocking over the paint and said I wasn’t cut out to work in a factory and should go back to college or try to get an office job. Halfway through the meal my cousin wandered in to say hello to me. She had already eaten, she said, and was going to the pictures with her friends. It was ages since I’d seen her but I still remembered the last time – a Boxing Day at our grandparents’ house. She’d looked like a catalogue-model in her black suede ankle boots and navy-blue stretch jeans which she’d got for Christmas, and she’d balanced on a chair in the living room, with me holding it, so she could reach up and hang balloons from the picture rail. She looked very grown up now and was dressed in the new romantic style with her blond fringe 51
gelled over to one side and violet make-up at the edges of her eyes. After tea my aunty went to sit with a neighbour whose husband had just died and me and my uncle watched Dad’s Army and then a slightly boring documentary about pine forests. The cider made me talkative and I told him about the problems I was having at home, especially with my stepfather who wanted to kick me out. He listened to me, smoking a Hamlet, and poured himself a big glass of whisky from his collection. He said being a teenager was hard for everybody and the recession and sky-high unemployment nowadays made it even worse. He had voted Conservative at the last election and was proud of that because he believed somebody needed to take on the unions, but he disagreed strongly with the way Thatcher was running the economy and forcing small businesses to close down. When he was my age, he said, it was as easy as pie to get a job and he reminisced about his first job after leaving school at fifteen. He had been a storeroom boy in a chemical plant and had earned two pounds and six shillings a week. But in those day a pint of beer cost less than a shilling and a loaf of bread only tuppence. We talked and drank until my aunty came back and, because it was getting late and raining outside and she didn’t want my uncle driving me home, she told me to call my mother and tell her I was staying the night. She made up the bed in what used to be my male cousin’s room. Growing up, I had been envious of this cousin because he always boasted he would inherit the company when his father died. At sixteen he’d started an apprenticeship in the factory and was soon driving the company van, but then one day he got into a fight with his father. I never found out what caused the fight but my cousin ended up leaving home and now he lived with an older woman who already had two kids and he worked as a mechanic in a garage in town. I tried to stay awake until my female cousin returned. I planned to get up and chat with her and maybe drink some more, but the two cans of cider and glass of whisky and orange I’d already had soon put me to sleep. The next thing I knew I was being woken up by my uncle’s voice. He was already dressed for work in his white shirt and corduroy trousers and had brought me a mug of tea. I felt groggy and my mouth was dry but after a few sips of the strong sweet tea I was able to drag myself out of bed. My aunty had prepared a full cooked breakfast with the thickest rashes of bacon I’d ever seen and there was butter instead of cheap margarine for the toast. I ate so much that all I wanted to do when I stood up from the table was go back into the 52
bedroom and lie down for half an hour, but my uncle said we had to set off for the factory right away and he carried the bags out to the van while I went to brush my teeth with a spare toothbrush. As my uncle drove through the rush hour traffic, smoking his cigar, we listened to Radio Two, which played older and much better music than Radio One, and despite my socialist principles I felt proud to arrive at work with the boss and twenty minutes later than everybody else. But by the time the mid-morning show came on and I realised I had still not earned even two pounds, despite all the finished dials lined up next to me, I started to feel depressed and then angry about my situation. No matter how fast I worked I would never earn more than a poverty wage. It didn’t make sense to me and neither did what my uncle had explained the evening before about the value of labour. I’d read somewhere that Samantha Fox got paid £10,000 for a single photoshoot which must have taken her about one hour. Why was showing your tits and smiling at the camera worth thousands of times more than productive work in a factory? I threw down the rag and the dial I was cleaning off and strode through the workshop to the office at the front. I was no longer prepared to be exploited by the illogical capitalist system. I opened the door and was surprised to see my female cousin in the office. She was tearing up paper by the rubbish bags and smiled over at me. My uncle was on the phone with his back turned so I chatted to her while I waited for him to finish. She said she sometimes came in when things were busy to help with the filing and record keeping. Unlike my aunty she couldn’t type or do shorthand and she had no desire to learn because her heart was set on going to fashion college, not working for her dad. I looked at her plain school-type shoes and the faded denim skirt that reached over her knees. She wore a wool cardigan with saggy sleeves. Yet somehow she still had style. Her fringe was spiked with gel and she’d put on quite a lot of pink lipstick. I sensed it would be wrong to confront my uncle while she was there so I told her I would come back and speak to her dad later. I was at my workbench again, being tortured by the DJ reading out the day’s sob story on Our Tune, when I saw my cousin come out of the office holding a clipboard. She had removed her cardigan and underneath was a tight red blouse tucked into the waist of her skirt. There had been a delivery earlier on and she walked over to the storage area and began to inspect the labels on the newly arrived packages. She went about the job in a relaxed way, sliding the end of a biro 53
in and out of her mouth and squatting down with her head tilted to one side to read the packages on the bottom shelves. All of the men watched her from their machines. Her breasts looked quite large in that tight blouse. She finished her task as the soppy song came on and she mimed the lyrics in a showy way as she walked back to the office. When dinner time came I sat on the shabby couch in the rest area and ate one of the cheese sandwiches my aunty had made for me. The men were quite friendly but I didn’t feel comfortable with their aggressive joking and the only things they talked about were sport and betting and getting one over on other people. I drank some tea and then I decided to try to speak to my uncle again. He never stopped for dinner. He ate his packed lunch at his desk while he worked and then took his indigestion tablets. I found my cousin in the office on her own. She said there was a problem with one of the orders and her dad had gone round to sort things out with the customer. She was tidying up the filing cabinet drawers so I told her it was dinner time and she was entitled to a break. She said she knew that and had already eaten an apple, which is all she ever ate for dinner because she was on a calorie-controlled diet. I looked her up and down and told her I didn’t think she was fat at all. I could hardly believe what she did next. She undid all the buttons down the front of her blouse and pulled it wide open. ‘You really don’t think I’m fat?’ I swallowed and shook my head. I said she had a very slim stomach, but I was staring mostly at her breasts inside the shiny black bra. They were even bigger and rounder than I’d imagined, but not ridiculous like the breasts of Page 3 Girls which men always raved about. ‘Do you think I’ve got a good figure?’ This time I nodded. It felt crazy to have her exposing her body to me like this and asking me to look. But I told myself it was OK because she was my cousin and when we were growing up there were plenty of times I’d seen her in less clothes than she had on now. Next she tugged up her denim skirt so that it bunched around her hips. Her underwear was the same shiny black as the bra and reminded me of the wet bikini bottoms girls wore at the leisure centre. Her legs were long and slightly skinny and her thighs looked very pale against the black material covering her crotch. She smiled at me strangely and I didn’t know where to look except at the desk where my uncle’s plans were laid out and then at the 54
calendar on the wall with a photograph of a silver sports car. I’d only ever had romantic fantasies about her, ones in which she mostly kept on her clothes. ‘Have you had sex before?’ she said. I glanced at her quickly and answered yes. And it was partly true. But it had been fumbling halfway-sex and I was too embarrassed ever to go near the girl again. While that shameful experience was replaying in my mind, my cousin stepped up to me and surprised me with a kiss on the mouth. I closed my eyes and felt her softly moving lips. The smell of face cream and hair gel made my head spin but I managed to kiss her back. She started breathing very fast and pulled one of my hands against her breasts. I was terrified that my uncle or one of the men would suddenly open the door but I did what she wanted. I was amazed how soft and warm she was and I got my fingers inside the cup of her bra and felt for her nipple. She stepped backward, pulling me with her, and sat down on the edge of my uncle’s desk, crumpling his plans under her and knocking over his tankard of pens. She squeezed her thighs around my waist and trembled through her whole body as we started kissing again. This time I felt her tongue push between my lips and into my mouth. She teased her tongue away again when I tried to suck it and that little trick drove me wild. But still I kept thinking: this is my cousin, this is wrong, we have to stop. At any second somebody could have come through the door and caught us. She unzipped the front of my jeans and dug her hand inside my underpants. Her fingers were strong and determined and she hurt me a bit as she dragged my penis out. ‘We have to be quick,’ she said. She pulled the crotch of her underwear aside and I felt the prickle of hair as she moved the end of my penis against her. I held her wrist to stop her going any further. ‘We can’t.’ I said. ‘We’re cousins.’ Out in the workshop the cutting machines were already raging as she tilted up her face to look at me. Her blue eyes were dark and like a strangers. ‘No we’re not,’ she said, ‘not in the factory.’ I relaxed my grip on her wrist. I was frightened but she helped me and I did it right this time. And those few minutes of proper sex was the only good thing about working in my uncle’s factory. 55
A Night Before They Were Kings Sean Z Fitzgerald The power died. The atmosphere was surely to follow. ‘Even in the dust bowl, we got juice,’ croaked a husky young drawl, face drawn in shadow. Treasured black leather boots, toes and soles wound round with gaffer tape: a powerful symbol of this troupe of harmonious misfits. Scruffy, dark clothes, straggly, unkempt hair and wild beards, shabby instruments. None of this was what mattered. The creation of a pure, hard sound was worth more than all the boutiques in Soho. From the void a second, deeper timbre exploded, ‘One, two, three, four…’ The quartet played on, acoustically, sounding none the worse for it. Lit only by emergency power, the plush crimson interior paled. Faces bathed in B-movie chiaroscuro. If these former Pentecostal boys cared to notice, their audience had been captivated by the moment, as it gazed and swayed, shrouded in an emerald glow. The build-up before tonight was tinged with excitement, trepidation. No-one knew quite what to expect but here it was: electric (and not), sexual, powerful, dangerous, hardcore, raw, untempered. These boys could be big, everyone could feel it. They could rule the world, set it on fire. Madame JoJo’s was not the obvious choice to break a new rock act but tonight it felt like the only place on earth to be. Witnessed by a lucky few; a collection of hip dudes, old queens, industry-liggers, cool cats and wannabes. An audience teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown, always needing the next big thing before anyone else could get there. Minutes after rescuing the exploratory set, the power came back, with a loud crackle of amplified static. A faint cheer pushed against the ambience, not too enthusiastically so as to ruin the atmosphere but an approving one, nonetheless. ‘Let’s go,’ hollered the drummer, with an inevitable deep Southern twang: they and the assembled throng did just that.
A Woman’s a Woman Fir Awe That by Elizabeth Phillips Scott (Dedicated to Abused Women Everywhere)
When you are frightened to go out of the door because you know you are being stalked to the store. Always remember a woman is a woman fir awe that. When you are sat outside your own house like a timid wee mouse and someone walks up to the kerbside puts the heel of their shoe on your fingers till they bleed and tells you, you need a good friend like them indeed. Always remember a woman’s a woman fir awe that. When you are grabbed by the throat till you start to choke then they say it was just a wee joke. Always remember a woman’s a woman fir awe that. When you’re invited to someone’s house as they open a can of dog meat to feed their dog and on their face there is a trace of a smile: and they say to you in a demonic way “Do you want dog meat DOG?” Till you are shocked and rocked to the core they say “Hey I was only joking!” Always remember a woman’s a woman fir awe that. 57
When you are spat on, punched and battered Psychologically; abused and shattered Always remember a woman’s a woman fir awe that. When your user and abuser tells you you’re an ugly looser Always remember a woman is a woman fir awe that. When your abuser while telling you you are a looser skins up a joint takes a puff of smoke blows it in your face just so you remember your place. Always remember a woman is a woman fir awe that. When your abuser that tells you you are a looser starts to influence everyone around till your isolated and smashed to the ground. Always remember a woman is a woman fir awe that. Stand proud and tall rise above them all and always hear the call “A Woman’s is a Woman fir awe that.”
sean z fitzgerald - abereiddi
Dear A By Nancy Freund Dear A, scratch that. Do over. (Which I can still do!) No dear. A: You bastard! The last time I wrote that, the letter continued, why did you leave me? You bastard, stay! I was so silly. I look back and see days of blessed blissed silliness and liberty. Would you please appreciate that? Two words three-syllable words there, the short “i” introducing the two, turn, intern, internal rhyme. I understand the concept of internal rhyme. And couplets and crap. Consonance. Cliché. Take a good long look at what I’m doing. What I still can do. Intellectual gymnastics. Perfect ten. Assonance! Should have had that a second ago, ass, bastard, you. Nine-point-nine, let’s say. Anyway. I can say that now, all these years later. With age comes wisdom, if we’re lucky. We can recognize silliness and wisdom. If we’re really lucky, wisdom comes and lasts a while. Oh, how I cried back then, silly girl, cried myself sick, drank myself sick, made my friends walk around the Cathedral until they were sick and goddamn tired too, while I talked it out, becking, begging why? It always begs the question, why. Alone again, when all my girls were sick of me, I wrote that bastard letters. The Cathedral’s where the dark men sell peace and quiet but I didn’t buy it from them then, even when I needed it. I’ve been up there lately just a bit, and boy, I need it now. But they don’t even look my way today. Must think I’m a nun or something, but they’re wrong. I could be a customer! I coulda been a contender! See that, too? A quote! Cortex. Fucking frontal lobe. But I’ve got so many neurons firing still. Aphasia. If I didn’t know, I’d think it was a lovely little girl. Isabella with a frilly dress and some sisters wearing ruffles and flowers in a field. Barefoot skipping, holding hands and wicker baskel. Bushel. Basket. Holding hands with Annabel. Olivia. Penny Ann, Louisa Jo. Alone, I walked those loops and wrote the letters, starting bastard. I reread them once, a self-indulgent time, years later (and now, I’ll add, this was years ago), and even then I thought oh, blessed youth! So silly. I’m not taking tablets now. They do nothing. Nothing does. The evidence is in. Failures in the labs. Billions of dollars, flushing down the crapper. Placebos and false hopes. Aracept. Today, I’ve come first circuit, fir, full circle. Like they said I’d hearken back. I write you bastard, leave! Like my life, my letters run reversed. Dratsab. Would you take a good godamn look at that! What I can do,
despite you. Why don’t you leave me, A, you rotten, clinging dratsab? a! You don’t deserve a capital, no matter what the papers say. On the internet and all. But I do grant you your possessive punctuation because you’ve taken hold and won’t let go. I’m a grammarian, still, despite you, to spite you, and I’m upright. My body will outlive my brain, they say, and what a mess wheel have. We’ll have. Even so, I’m telling you – you have no hold on me, A., whatever other letters say. CT, MRI, PET. The weird machine that went around me like a donut. I can still spell that, both ways, by the way. Donut. Doughnut. Do a dash or don’t. Do-nut. Cruller. Cream-filled. Glazed. Iced. Powdered. Pink sprinkled. Plait. Twist. Chocolate éclair. I’m a thesaurus even still. A stroke? No. I’m just dropping syllables at times, or wedging words together that resist insistent wedging. I thought my son was older than my daughter for a moment – so? I’m working harder and nonetheless, less gets wedged. So what!? Would it have been better had I never known? Sometimes I forget I’m not eighteen. They say my sense of humour will revert to twelve. When everything was funny. There are worse ages I could be. Autumn. He sat beside me at the first football game, the field lights abuzz overhead, chill in the air and all the girls abuzz themselves like every year, those metal bleachers – grooves that make our butts itch if we’re wearing shorts, and fingertips. I rubbed them, rubbed them. Took away my fingerprints, focused on the guy whose thighs were next to mine, and stealth. I’d shaved my legs three times as if that might make a necessary difference. Intent, I watched his hands. Little did I know. Everything felt fast and faster still, foreign, speed, and freedom. You bastard. The whole wide world was you and me until you called it quits. Abrupt! Sudden-entrée to adulthood. And yet, even there I found a sort of two-edged bliss. Rapid onset. Agony that readied me for all that happened next, attention from my friends, and adventures all unspooling, all these years. Until now it seems I get an error message, often, when I go about my business. Access denied. I wish I didn’t know. I wish I couldn’t spell it and didn’t know the German doctor’s name who named the thing, and why it gets possessive. Leave me, A. Like that bastard long ago who up and left. You’re free. We’re through. Let go. We had some fun, but now it’s done. Go on your merry way. All my lobe and kisses, Me
Venus by Tamara Lakomy To a rising star whose light denudes the land of all hue The drapes of the heavens are a pale majesty for its wings For the raiment of the firmament glimmers as the frosted dew Filmy in the pallid spheres tearing ineffably upon heart strings To the honest fire that beams coldly in the austere north An emblem of the bearer of the unwelcome news Emerging like a tempest of auroral fire when summoned forth Upon the altars of the hallowed circles and the witching brews I have drunk of that gilded cup passed down by ancient hands In complete silence and knowledge of the asperity it bequeaths The cauldron of the ages stirs upon the confines of mortal lands Drawing the leaping swords of conquest from their sheaths To the Venus of my horizon, the cold flame of true illumination Of the most sought enlightenment, wreathed in the shadows drear But come closer orphaned soul, come drink the cup of jubilation And for the price of insane knowledge shed your last bitter tear To the falcion of the skies, scion of the fire that bathes the heavenly throne The claws of thy raptors are the marshalled hosts of arrowed truth They assail the slumbering minds that through their nightmares groan For your bannered scheming victories are forever devoid of ruth With the scythe you gathered the souls, their lonely shepherd across the lake Of eternal running waters of divide between the heavenly spheres For what was moulded by your hands, the demons corrupted yet could not break But from our ancient bonds of kinship over our earth it merely shears Gaunt shadow of billowing dust, the tempest of plague blots out the sky But never reaches out beyond the rim of the firmament’s vault We hail the beam of your inexorable star, we weep with earth’s sigh Finding in creation’s grand architecture, the unravelling fault The mystic with the ink and paper pours its soul over pages stark The benediction of the morning star falls like leaping rivers of gold For a scryer to the glass of perception, the secrets immured in the nightly dark Are a mirror for us to wade in, its miracles to behold….
A Letter by Joe Bedford 'Gil.' Gilbert (the object of my spite, my idiot spouse) is hunched over his typewriter, scribbling in the open novel beside him, muttering indistinctly something like 'bollocks, bollocks, bollocks', until I enter. I put the coffee down on his desk; he looks up (one second, no longer) then returns to the sheet in front of him. 'It's wonderful! It's impossible,' he twitters, not to me but to the novel or its writer, the notorious French wordsmith Georges Crepe. I feel I know him well, Monsieur Crepe, since he's the only thing Gilbert will discuss, but I refuse to pick up the book. He's obsessed with it, not due to how exciting or enlightening it is (he tells me the story itself is, in effect, of no consequence), but due to 'the genius of its linguistic composition'. These were Gilbert's words, of course; this is the kind of rhetoric which dribbles out when he condescends to open his gob. 'Yes,' he told me without prompt, 'Georges Crepe joins with the elite pedigree of writers...' (he mentioned five or six), 'who, in striving for perfect form, constrict their writing so severely they even refuse themselves the use of common letters. The Greeks were the first...' But I didn't bother to listen to the end. Why bother writing books without the letter E, or revising nursery rhymes by dropping their I's or O's or U's? Whether Poe intended to exclude the letter Z from those long, mind-numbingly repetitive poems of his or not - I couldn't give two shits. I'd be over the moon to discuss it nevermore. 'Gilbert.' Unhelpfully, Gilbert's new-found love for semiotic show-offs did not stop with subjective enjoyment. When he found Georges Crepe, his obsession took off. Now (the sky is decidedly grey over Dulwich this morning), with Gilbert relieved of his job in the city, he is busying himself with his little mission: the pulling of Crepe's novel forcibly (even violently, I think, judging by the blood vessels bursting behind his eyes) from French into English, continuing to exclude the letter of Crepe's choice. This is why he is here right now, eight o'clock in the morning, juggling the book with his own copy of The Complete French Verbs, peering into the white sheet currently occupying his typewriter, ignoring me completely. This bothered me before; now it does not. He thinks he'll be up for the Scott Moncrieff Prize; it's possible he will, but by then, I'll be gone. 'Gilbert. Here's some coffee.' Over the course of the summer, Gilbert's entire spoken lexicon diminished slowly into grunts. His sole focus lies there in front of him,
impossible for me to overcome. I flicked through his unfinished script once, while he pissed; it looked like complete nonsense. I did however see one simple, pressing truth. The Missing Letter (Gilbert's working title, obvious enough) would provide my pretentious spouse with enough fuel to see him right through the winter. I, conversely, would be left with the dishes. 'Gilbert, I'm popping into town for some bits.' He expects me, in this silence, to get on with my lonely life, the life destined for the wives of 'men of letters', expects me to fetch him something to glug, something to smoke, something to chew on whenever he needs it, or otherwise to be quiet, or knit, or go outside. Bollocks indeed. I took to messing with him in September, to give me something to do. It's simple enough to put his newly-pressed trousers on the bed with two loose socks connecting the knees, or to present him his chips in groups of three, joined by the tips, but more difficult (so I discovered) to get these little jokes of mine noticed. I smuggled his missing letter into every sentence I could muster, responding to his murmurs with 'Eh? Eh?', which he mistook only for mock Scouse. I stopped dressing properly, took to my duties in the nude, dusting his desk with my knickers, until the next door neighbours telephoned to tell me they could see 'everything': the word slipped through the receiver with its own unique gusto. But even these frolics were not enough either to relieve my boredom or force Gilbert to recognise me or my misery. He does not respond. I grit my teeth. 'Should I fetch you something from the shops?' Still nothing. I bend down to collect my keys (dressed, of course) before tip-toeing to the bedroom door. When my fingers close over the knob, I decide it would be stupid to ditch this little silent despot without giving vent to one or two of my subdued feelings. It couldn't hurt. 'Gilbert...' I begin, but he's not listening, not while he's engrossed in his book. His neck twitches, his typewriter 'tip-tip's, his pencil skitters down the side. He is obviously busy, too busy for worldly chores, too submerged in the depths of genius to look, even to look, in the direction of the girl he once fell in love with, before Georges Crepe, before The Missing Letter. His work is his world, the whole of it; it is complete, wholly his. It builds for him the purpose to which every ounce of thought, his entire being, everything in life, is directed. It fills him entirely, or else empties him out. I would like to tell him these things, something of how I feel, but I choose not to. I exit in silence. Down by the front door, my new life is pending. The bus will be outside in ten minutes. I hover in the cor-
ridor, shoes on, fleece slung over my elbow, my pulse quickening. Is this horror I feel, or impending joy? Without thinking, I rush into the kitchen, rip the old electric bill off the fridge, unpocket my pen, begin to scribble. The words come quickly, smoothly, without the slightest drop in rhythm; it is these words he will remember me by, these words which will drive him completely, irreversibly bonkers. I check the clock. I study the letter. I smile. I slip my key on top of it, scrutinizing it one more time. It would be glorious to witness him discover it, but by then I will be in Luton, queuing up for the flight desk, or else window-shopping in duty-free or even, if he doesn't come down till this evening, one kilometre over Western Europe, clutching my ticket to Moscow or New Delhi or Timbuktu or wherever Gilbert's money will get me. I think, wherever it is I end up, I will enjoy exploring my freedom. The door sighs when I come to open it. Behind me, the letter on the fridge is the only thing left of Gilbert's wife. * Dearest husband, Read and understand: an unhappy marriage, diagnosed as terminal, contaminates a relationship, shatters personalities and, ultimately, causes heart attacks. A fact? Plausible as anything, although admittedly unverifiable. Clearer: a husband can disregard a partner, and a woman can always ascertain a man's apathy. An agonising playact can take a decade and, lacking warning, abruptly draw a final curtain. An everyday happening, perhaps, a break-up, and continually unpredictable. Actually, at a glance, inevitable: shams are always revealed as false. Masks fall, personas vanish. Appearances alone cannot maintain a marriage. And literature? Lipograms and all that? An eternal fraud, especially amongst egotistical, delusional, phallocentric authors. Mental masturbation all faux-intellectuals can manage. Cowardly, almost certainly, barely concealing a rapidly-ageing attitude, that same falsehood that says literature demands acrobatics. Realise: a basic narrative can alter nations. An authentic yarn can quash dictators and tyrants. A solitary, uncomplicated image (an apt example: Nathaniel Hawthorne's scarlet 'A') has a value metafiction can rarely command. Understand that and literature may, miraculously, last another millennia. Anyway, that was a distraction. What a middle-aged, married woman can learn demands a summary. Admire an aphorism: make happiness a primary goal. That means avoiding impracticable situations, and ultimately abandoning unnecessary baggage. After all, bastards are what bastards are, and all arseholes are exactly alike. Adieu, adios and arrivederci, Anna
My Father’s Voice at the Weir by Hannah van Didden ‘Come off it,’ I say. He balances with arms outstretched, foot over foot on the tubular rail. On one side is the cobbled path I’m walking; the other, a sheer drop down concrete wall to dry bed. We haven’t had enough rain this winter. His mother tells me I don’t give him enough rope. This is giving me palpitations and vertigo. ‘Get down! Before you bloody kill yourself.’ He’s running on a tightrope now, the cheeky sod, until he’s not. He’s in trouble. He teeters on the metal, metres away, arms in a flail. I daren’t move in case I topple him. My chest is a racetrack underhoof on derby day. His sunglasses drop; their plastic crack echoes up the wall. He steadies. This process has been long, slow. I have aged. I see him expand and contract with regular breaths. He stands unmoving, tiptoes on the rail, peering over. When he looks back at me, he is laughing. I am not. ‘Down! Now—or you’ll know about it!’ I shock myself with the grab at my belt. It’s a learned response, one I had vowed never to take. He jumps down to the path. And he glares at the words I have borrowed falling between us, forming their own abyss.
Aubrey by Andy Naylor I always liked people who stood out. Back in the day it was this Turkish guy who lived two flats down from us. Rundown didn’t even begin to cover how disgusting these flats were, people used to joke that the lifts were so slow cos all the used needles on the floor were weighing it down. I hope that’s painting a picture for you that sums up how far from palatial this place was. Anyway I digress, this Turkish guy lived in the same place as all of us, a North London estate ripped apart by the Tory government at the time and absolutely awash with heroin. Most of the tenants were being slowly killed by it or making a killing selling it. Either way, everyone dressed like they’d never thought of looking in the mirror, some of them because their heads were too melted to care and some of them because they didn’t want to draw attention to how many rolled up, shit stained twenties they had banded together in a biscuit tin. This guy though, every morning he used to sweep past me into the lift in a three piece suit. I think he worked in the Tesco down the road but for those ten minutes when he was walking to work he looked the fucking business and I admired that. Someone else who stood out the first time I met him was Aubrey Scott. It was my first day volunteering at a charity that got adults with learning disabilities into cycling. I was lucky to even be there seeing as I’d only been released from prison the previous Monday morning. A friend of mine who worked for the council had put a couple of good words in for me, vouched for the fact that it was a travesty of justice that I’d been in prison anyway. I know what you’re thinking, lets get the worlds biggest violin out for another man who’s a victim of his environment yeah? Fair enough, except I was actually doing pretty well for myself. I’d worked hard as a kid when all my other mates were running around Hackney getting bodied or bodying others. I became a social worker, still got the photo of me grinning like a dickhead at the graduation and my Mum crying her eyes out. I enjoyed the first few years till the reality of it all kicked in. Six in the morning visits with a chocolate bar in my pocket to try and catch out these animals who hadn’t fed their kids for a week because it cut into their money for boozing. Twelve hour days in an absolutely thankless job, constantly paranoid that one of these scumbags I’d got con67
victed would come back and haunt me. Then that was exactly what happened. I was in the queue at Sainsburies with my nephew when I clocked this geezer who I’d taken two kids off due to serious allegations of sexual abuse. Next think I know he’d run at me with a broken bottle and dug it into my arm. Yeah, i flipped out a bit, I had a five year old kid with me. I accept that I used excessive force but assumed that I was in the right. Four hours later as I was being arrested at my hospital bed it became obvious that that wasn’t the way the law saw it. Two months later I pled guilty to ABH assuming I’d get a suspended and found myself being led down into the cells after getting sentenced to 9 months. Prison wasn’t a hard place for me physically, I’d grown up alongside people who were five times as terrifying as anyone in there, but mentally it destroyed me. I stepped out on early release, a tag strapped to my right leg, clothes in an HMP bag and my head in fucking bits. Thirty Two years old and back sleeping at my Mums, it’s fair to say I wasn’t the biggest ray of sunshine when I met Aubrey. This guy though, if I was going to describe him to you I’d say to imagine that Charlie Brown guy who used to hang around with Snoopy if he grew up and decided he was going to wear a bow tie everywhere. That’s right, my man is walking round Finsbury Park wearing jogging bottoms, a jurassic park t-shirt and a bow tie and somehow it works. So the first day I meet him we shake hands and we get in this side by side bike and we just start riding around the park. I’m asking him his name and how old he is, usual stuff and I’m getting one word answers all the way, which is fine with me as I’m still enjoying not having a cell mate chatting shit twenty four seven. Anyway, I clock his jurassic park t-shirt and ask him if he likes films and then something happens, he gets this massive grin on his face and we’re away. We spend the rest of the morning chatting (me listening mainly) about Jaws, Gladiator, Nicholas Cage, Hammer Horrors and anything else that springs to mind. The mans like an absolute encyclopaedia and for the first time in months I genuinely forget how much I’ve fucked up my life. Over the next few weeks we drift into a routine. Aubrey arrives, we shake hands formally and have a cycle round and then we find a spot in the shade have a chat about films and have a couple of games of cards. We usually start to play Gin Rummy, every time Aubrey deals 68
himself ten and gives me six and then pretends that he’s made a mistake. At two o clock his support worker comes to collect him, a weird bloke who seems permanently stoned and seems to treat Aubrey like an inconvenience that he has to babysit rather than a forty year old bloke. It makes me sad watching them walk off as I try to get my head round what it must be like having someone watch you scramble eggs when you’ve been alive for four decades. Saying that, my life isn’t exactly fizzing along. I spend most of my free time at my Mums on the laptop looking for jobs and trying not to think about how depressed I’m starting to feel. I’m two hours into a fruitless search on a Tuesday when my sister turns up with the kids and as nice as it is to see them I feel like my heads going to blow up so I bang my trainers on and go out for a run. I’m heading down seven sisters road when I spot Aubrey getting off a bus surrounded by kids, they’re shoving him and laughing at his bow tie and he looks really frightened. I bound across the road and take one of them by surprise, clipping him on the back of the head and sending him sprawling. “Fucking leave him be” I snarl at the other two They eye ball me, hands shoved deep into their trackie bottoms, all dead eyed. The one I’d pushed over is back on his feet and he points his fingers like a gun, presses them against my head and starts grinning. I’ve got about four stone on this kid, but it’s something about the look in his eyes and the way he’s looking through me like I’m a ghost, that doesn’t feel right. I spot that a WPC from over the road has noticed the commotion and come over and this is the cue for the kids and me to scarper. I walk up the road with Aubrey and I notice he’s shaking. I walk him back to my Mums and we get into my car as I tell him I’ll give him a lift home. He’s so scared in the car that he’s not even chatting about the huge poster for ‘Suicide Squad’ that we pass on the way back to his house. When we get there Simon the support worker is stood outside with a face like a slapped arse and he starts berating Aubrey for not being back at the house on time. I’m gripping the wheel with a ferocity that is turning my knuckles white and I can’t even bring myself to look at this prick. Aubrey obviously doesn’t want to get out the car and I can’t blame the guy. I take a quick look behind us and then screech off down the road leaving Simon screaming at the rear window. I pull up at a pub in Muswell Hill and get us a couple of shandies 69
and take the pack of cards out to the beer garden. I give Aubrey the cards and tell him to deal us out and then my phone starts going bananas. My mate Suzy, who got me the volunteering, is shouting down the line at me as Simon has rung her and told her that I’ve abducted a man with severe learning difficulties. She’s telling me that my probation officer has been calling and I realise that I should be there now. I assure Suzy that I have no intention of taking Aubrey past the North circular and tell her to let Simon know that I will have him back within twenty minutes. I put the phone in my pocket and let out a long sigh, safe in the knowledge that there’s every chance I will be recalled to prison for this. I look over at Aubrey who’s grinning manically at me and I see that for the first time since I’ve known him he’s dealt me ten cards.
A Great Multi-tasker by Paul Beckman There is no way to fix what’s broken. Don’t you understand? I thought everything broken could be fixed. I’m an engineer. My heart is broken and you broke it with your deceptions. But I’m a good man, a good provider. That doesn’t mean that you have to provide for three different families in three different states. That doesn’t make you a good man—it makes you a bigamist, a criminal, a liar and a cheat. You deprived our children and me time you could have been spending with us. It was a fluke you found out. You never complained about lack of time or attention before. I’m a great multi-tasker—you’ve got to admit that. Listen. All I ask is that you go through with the get-to-gether before you make a final decision. You ladies could be sisters and the eight kids are already half siblings. What’s the harm in meeting? It’s a beautiful day for a picnic and I’ve taken care of ordering and delivery. All of the gluten and peanut allergies have been taken into consideration. I’ve thought of everything. You think so do you? Do you realize we’re Jewish and not Mormon? All my wives are Jewish. What makes you think I’d marry out of the faith?
Elusive by Nod Gosh Graham don't like no one looking through his stuff. Sez it's private. Well I ain't just anyone. I'm his sister. But he's all, "don't touch this Grace." He'll pull my hair'n'say, "no you can't have that, Squirt." I sez to Mum, "wot's so special as I can't even look?" And Mum sez, "leave him alone. Your brother's busy." Then Graham smirks at me. "See Squirt, you wouldn't understand half of what I do anyway." A door slams and he's gone. When Dad were here, I got to see and do all sorts. Dad sez I'm clever. He sez I can do anything Graham can if I put my mind to it. He used to read me stories. But Dad ain't here no more. When we go to his, he's always busy with Sarah-Lee and baby. He don't got no time for us. Graham does his homework. He draws graphs. He's got this bendy ruler thing made of lead, but he won't let me touch it, reckons I'll break it. Once I tried to help with baby Gerry, but Sarah-Lee snatched him away. "No touching," she said. I were only trying to feed him a raisin. Mum sez raisins is good for you. I get a pack in my lunch box every day. I make sure I eat every single one. *** I wish Mum would stop putting fucking raisins in with my lunch. She packs those crappy red and yellow boxes in with my peanut-butter-and-jam butties. Like I'm a little kid, I swear. I've told her I don't want none, but all she says is, "you used to like them, Grace." I hate them. I hate her. I hate school too. All I need is for the likes of Sally Craggs to catch me with pre-school-raisins, and I'm doomed. Can't talk to no one about it though. The teachers all think I'm stupid, and I ain't got no mates. Not there anyway. School still smoulders from the sunshine that radiated out of Graham's arse. It's all "Graham this, Graham that," even though he left a year ago. Like I've got to be as good as my brother, when anyone can see I ain't even a quarter as clever as him. Not only has he gone to University, but he damn well got straight 'A's. Me? I'm a B minus and C plus girl. I reckon they'd give me an D grade if they could, if they went that low. Graham don't come home that often now. Says we ain't got enough 71
space since Mum moved into the flat. He left his bendy ruler though. I took it into science with me one day. Sally Craggs said it were called a Lesbian ruler, and that were it. No one will come near me no more. They won't touch me, because they think it's catching. I weren't even sure what it meant, but I looked it up in the dictionary. Sally's mate Andrea says that's why I've got hair on my top lip. She sez, "Grace is hairy coz she's gay." "Don't listen to them." It's Fraser Potts, the boy with the limp. Everyone hates him. "They don't know what they're talking about," he says. "And anyway there's nothing wrong with being âˆ’ " I walk away from Fraser real fast. In case he is, and in case it is infectious. I'm babysitting Gerry tonight. Get a fiver for doing it. When Sarah-Lee and Dad drive down that road, I'm gonna ring Pete Fenton from next door. He says he'll come round and keep me company when Gerry's gone to sleep. Like he did last time, only I've not to tell no one. Pete knows I ain't no lesbian. *** It's never easy. I missed nearly a month off school. They call it depression, but I know what it actually is. I'm sad. Miserable. Fraser Potts drops by to visit. He's been doing that a lot, but I tell him to go, coz Graham's back for the holidays. I watch Fraser limp down the street. "Hey Squirt, wanna come to the cinema?" my brother asks. "That 'Star Wars' movie's on at the Odeon." Funny, I used to hate it when he called me Squirt, but now I like it. Makes me feel special, because he made a nickname just for me. "Nah, y'orright," I say, and sip on the chocolatey drink Mum made for me. It tastes foul, but she says I need the iron. I lost a lot of blood when they did it. I wish I hadn't listened to Pete. I wish I'd told someone about it earlier. Then I wouldn't have lost shitloads of blood. Then I wouldn't be thinking about how big her kidneys were, whether her eyes were blue, or how fast her heart was beating, when they cut my baby out of my body. *** They've all come. Dad has Gerry on one side, Graham on the other. Mum sits next to Graham. Sarah-Lee is as far as possible from her. Even after all these years they can't say a civil word to one another. I'm on the other side of the room. We're seated alphabetically, so Fraser's behind me, but I can feel him. I know he's looking at me. 72
Someone calls my name. I know Fraser will follow me with his eyes as my shoes click clack click on the wooden floor. I know he'll catch me if I fall. I step to the front, uncertain, nervous, expecting a judge's gavel to come crashing down on my head. You shouldn't be here. This is not for you, Grace. I dismiss the voice, take the scroll, smile, shake someone's hand, and click clack click to my seat. I did it. Later Fraser will choose the wine. Sarah-Lee will fuss over Gerry while avoiding my mother's haunted gaze. Graham will discuss football with Dad. People will congratulate me. Later still, I'll watch Fraser's chest rise and fall in sleep. His breath will mingle with mine. A Natural Progression by Kevan Youde Louis entered the General's office – the dining room of a commandeered château – and saw that the enormous table carried the remains of last night's dinner. Dirty plates were stacked at one end and halffilled wine glasses were arranged at the other. The general – his tunic thrown over a chair and his waistcoat unbuttoned – stood scratching his unshaven chin. By a window, the infamous Colonel Laplace lounged, paring his fingernails with a knife. “You are the pup that will by my aide de camp, yes?” the general snapped. Louis clicked his heels to attention, proud of the golden cords at the shoulder of the new uniform that Helene had bought for him. 'Sir!' “'Sir', indeed. Well, you look smart enough. Let us hope that there is a brain under all that silk and polish. What do you think of my strategy? Come, see.” Louis approached the table. He could see only dirty wineglasses. “Sir? I don't understand.” “It's all plain enough. The reds are the enemy and the whites our own troops. This flute of flat champagne is the division of General Bouchard, he will have my left flank. Next to him, the disappointing Chablis is General Du Lac and so on across the line until the heavy and unimaginative Burgundy of General Maupassant's grenadiers. The level of wine indicates the strength of the division. I see that I have over-stated Du Lac's strength. Let us deal with that. Hmmm, yes,
decidedly disappointing. Not unlike General Du Lac himself. The reds of the enemy are all equally filled since we do not know their strength.” “The enemy's dispositions are unknown to us sir?” “Yes, of course. They are not in the habit of sharing information with me.” “But what of intelligence, sir?” “Intelligence? Pah!” The general slapped the table, making his armies dance. “Colonel Laplace is an intelligence officer,” said the general. “When he says that it is raining, everyone turns to the window to see for themselves. That tells you how much you can believe intelligence officers. They deal in truth dressed as lies and lies dressed as truth. I have many reports of the enemy's strength and I trust none of them. No, the only approach is to press over a wide front. Where the enemy is weak, he will give ground, then one may exploit that weakness. You seem disappointed, young man.” “I beg your pardon, sir. It is just that I believed, that is, it is widely thought that your victories to date – your great victories – made brilliant use of intelligence.” “Hah! I use it brilliantly alright – I ignore it. The enemy call me a genius because it is convenient for them to believe that they were beaten by a genius. My superiors agree because it is comforting to believe that one's forces are commanded by a genius. Colonel Laplace is useful for finding and executing enemy spies but, to use intelligence in planning one's battles? No, no no.” “Oh, I understand sir. I apologise for my ignorance.” “Think nothing of it. You are clearly a clever fellow. I understand that you obtained your post through the influence of your mistress, Madame Bonnaire.” “Sir, I really must...” “Oh, nonsense, nonsense. Promotion through the influence of one's mistress is the natural progression for a young officer of talent. There's no need to be coy about it. Now, shake that bell on the table and some damn fool major will come to tell you your duties.” The rest of Louis' day was taken up learning his place as the most junior member of the general's staff. He had believed that he would be working at the shoulder of the nation's greatest general but he found himself a lackey to a drunken buffoon. He was in low spirits when he returned to his billet but Helene, as usual, was wonderful. She made him explain what was troubling him, listened attentively then reassured him that all would be for the best. By the time they slept, he felt altogether better. The second time Louis saw the general's table, he knew he had been
deceived. It was the day after the battle and General D'Hubert's brilliance was the toast of the nation. An advance, a feint, an encircling manoeuvre and the enemy was scattered. Louis had spent the battle running errands and had never seen the General. Now headquarters was in turmoil as the army prepared to advance and the general had called for him personally. The table was clear except for a map on which wooden markers showed the dispositions of both armies. Neatly trimmed pieces of paper fixed to the markers recorded the strength of each division in foot, horse and artillery. The general and Colonel Laplace were both impeccably dressed. “Ah, young man. What would you say if I were to offer you a dangerous mission for Colonel Laplace?” “I would accept with honour, sir.” The click of Louis' heels rang around the room. “Yes, I thought that you would, so I sent you on the mission without asking. Congratulations, it was a total success.” “Sir? I do not understand.” “No, I don't suppose that you do. I am afraid that I sold Colonel Laplace's talents short during our last conversation. Not only does he detect and execute enemy spies, he uses the time between those two events to feed false information to the enemy.” “Sir?” “I am afraid that your association with Madame Bonnaire is to be severed, as is the lady's head.” “Sir? But no!” “But yes. We have known she was an enemy spy for months but have kept her in our pocket until we could make use of her. When she established a connection with a young officer of good name and sought to place him on my staff, the time had come.” “Sir, I can assure you Helene – Madame Bonnaire – would never...” “And I can assure you that she would, that she did and that she has done so on several other occasions. She is a formidable operative, exploiting men who make perfect spies because they have no notion that they are spies.” “But, I... Sir,” “Oh, don't take it to heart, young man. Colonel Laplace is telling everyone that you were aware of the situation and have shown exemplary courage and cunning. Certainly, without the information you unwittingly supplied, the enemy would never have fallen for my little gambit. And if you are worried that your career might suffer because of this affair, have no fear – I have several suggestions for mistresses who would be happy to help you on your way.“
Alpha Omega Alpha by Joseph James Wood When life ceases being a series of A to B. When it's just A to A to A. When you go around and around, eventually you've got to stop. Leave the tunnel and the darkness. Go into the light, so to speak. Find a place where it all stops. A place where the Orouboros opens its mouth and lets go. That's how I got to explaning, Look. You can't just have an A. You've got to make it something different. And he said, yeh but... it's the first letter of the word. And I said yeh, well that's as maybe but it's the first letter of the alphabet too. That's why it's called the alphabet. Cos alpha is A, right? So it's kind of already taken. And then there's the AA. What's that? Double anarchy? No. It's a breakdown service. So just an A, you'd be half a breakdown service. And I took his piece of paper that he'd drawn an A on and I drew a circle around it. Said to him, See? Use that. And he says to me, It looks like a guy in one of those novelty sumo suits. Look with his head poking out the top, and his hands here and his feet. And I said yeh, it's meant to. You wanna shake things up don't ya? Cause instability? That's the point of those stupid suits, that if you wear one, you're unstable. And he says to me, asks me, Doesn't that kind of undermine the whole movement? So by now I was getting a bit pissed off. I don't need to help this guy out. He's not even paying me and I just fixed his stupid symbol, which was just an A before I took a look at it and made it work. So I said to him, Alright. Fine. Fucking hell. Alpha is A right? Right... And what is it God says? I am the Alpha and the Omega. Yeh. Well, he didn't say... I mean, I don't believe in God. Whatever. My point is, Omega is last. Ok. And it ends with an A. So look. I wrote it in a circle so he could read it infinitely; alphandomegalphandomega. And said to him, you put your A in a circle, you're kind of, referencing that. And also it looks like a guy in a sumo suit. Which I mean, I think is pretty clever. And he goes, yeh well, you came up with it. You're gonna think that. 76
Which yeh, he's entitled to think. Mostly because it was true. Well, not entirely. I just drew a circle round the thing and he came up with it looking like a guy in a sumo suit. I just went along with it. But I knew if I brought that up it'd be a whole new tangent on an argument I already had no interest in pursuing anyway. Like getting off at Schonhauser, changing for Pankow and changing again for Gesundbrunnen and carrying on. I'd just needed somewhere to go that wasn't the S42 line. Another under had caused it to close for the rest of the day and I needed somewhere to shake the shock while the body was moved and my windscreen was wiped down. A to A to A. Westend to Sonnenallee to Prenzlauer. To Westend. To Sonnenallee. To Prenzlauer. Going around and around, eventually you've got to stop. Leave the tunnel and the darkness. Go into the light, so to speak. That's how I got to saying, Look. You can't just have a V. What's a V? As far as I know all V is is five which, as far as I could tell, had nothing to do with what they were about. So I did the same thing and put a circle around it and said, there. Now it's something, not just a fucking V. After I did it I realised it was the same as from some comic I read once. Well, didn't read. Owned and pretended to have read if anyone asked. No-one else had read it so I knew I wasn't gonna get caught out. But when I passed him the paper back he goes, We can't use this, it's the same as from a comic I read once. Yeh, I said to him. I know. The one about Guy Fawkes. So you can all wear Guy Fawkes masks too. Use his face. Cos, yknow, Guy Fawkes was cool right? Anti-establishment? I mean, he wanted to kill a bunch of politicians, that's cool. Blow up a building and kill everyone inside, yknow like Timothy McVeigh or Bin Laden. We're not like them, he said. And neither was Guy Fawkes. He wanted to blow up parliament. They wanted to blow up the World Trade Centre. Well that's kind of like parliament. It's like the parliament of Wall Street innit. So I was into another argument that I didn't care about, all because this idiot thought V was a good symbol. All I wanted was a place to stay. A place that wasn't the S42 spinning round and round. Somewhere to go while they hosed the rails down and pulled out the hair clogging the wheels. Not this fucking tangent, like getting off at Bun77
desplatz, changing for Rathaus Steglitz and then going to Schoneburg. When life ceases being a series of A to B. When it's just A to A to A. The line was bad. It always is. A bad line on a bad line. A lot of feedback. But I knew what he was talking about. It's always the same. When you go around and around, eventually you've got to stop. Leave the tunnel and the darkness. Go into the light, so to speak. Yeh that's exactly how I feel, he said. The best way to do that, I told him, Is to go down the Metro. An S42 platform. And that's how I can make the looping stop. Exactly. Go to Schonhauser and wait. Or Bundesplatz. Don't change. Don't get on another line. Just wait. Wait for the light. Jump into it. Then we can both get out the fucking loops we're in. Which is how I got to explaining, Look. You've got a stickman here and some tracks here. Ok, so underneath it says Don't go on the tracks. But who's reading that? Go on, he said. You have... some experience with these... accidents. I remember rolling my eyes and thinking, Fuck me, really? So I took his drawing and a red Sharpie and drew a circle round it and said to him, See? Only one way out the loop, man, I said to him. See that sign, telling you to stay off the tracks? What? It was a bad line. It always is. So I said it again, louder, See that sign telling you to stay off the tracks? Yeh I see it, he said. See it's in a circle? Yeh. You think that's coincidence? Could just have easily been a triangle. They're taking the piss. They are taking the piss. Ok. I'll be here. So will I. Then we can both get out this fucking loop.
Ariah Winter - aennabella Bitchinâ€™ Hickies Photography
Addiction’s Affair by Andrew C. Brown I am the sentence that isn’t the crime I am cleanliness embracing my grime I am the calendar stopping my time I am the reason to discord my rhyme I am many excuses that are but few I am honest falsehood forever true I am the lonely stranger in the crew I am addiction’s partner to hurt you I am a mystery that is my date I am the knowing that is not my fate I am the greed that does not satiate I am the lover that demands you hate Day 144 by Andrew C. Brown It is a gross of days since the grossest of days one hundred and forty-four twenty-four hours since that evening and morning of dullest rays, broken stems, rotting flowers thick and dour motionless, malignant, mourning recovery consequences contemptuously courted riches, losses, accumulations, poverty usual problems, forgotten, left to be sorted then a new dawn, a realisation and a hope from dark light to resurrect and rejuvenate grasping the nettle, stung for sought scope I only have to try, just try, to not speculate only have to reach out, grab the bright ray aim to sieve, give, live life Just for Today Attentive Addiction by Andrew C. Brown A familiar cramping knot slips free a plume of anticipation whenever I grab attention from my trusty friend Addiction; I dare not freeze, certain of the teasing taste for repetition, grey matter could delude, but I know that choice is fiction.
Argument for Drinking #1 by GC Perry Jim digs me in the ribs and leers in the direction of the barmaid who is bent over fetching a bottle from the fridge. He makes a face, for my benefit, and I turn away to look at the cricket on the big screen. He digs me again. “She looks like Howson’s daughter. Remember?” I don’t turn from the cricket, but I just know that Jim is weighing an imaginary pair of breasts. “I remember,” I say, not turning around. Howson is our boss and his nineteen-year old daughter did some work experience in the office earlier that summer. She was pretty -- very pretty -- with the kind of figure that won’t stand the rigours of time and gravity. I look at Jim -- the wrong side of fifty, overweight, dirty finger nails and with a loose grip on the universally perceived norms relating to personal hygiene -- standing at the bar with his eyes closed, little hands massaging empty air. I walk away and take a seat near the screen. England’s bowlers are struggling and India look like posting a big first innings score. Jim returns from the bar with a pint of bitter and an orange juice. I don’t say anything about the fact he’s not drinking. I know that he’s going to tell me the reason anyway. I take a glug of the bitter and return the half empty glass to the tabletop. The first drink of the day. I close my eyes and luxuriate in the sensation: the alcohol sweeping through me, my blood turning from porridge to quicksilver. India score another boundary. Jim is uncharacteristically quiet. It doesn’t last. “You don’t often see me with a soft drink,” he says, rhetorically. “I don’t know how to tell you this,” he continues, unbidden. “I’ve realized that I’m an alcoholic, mate.” I recognise this as my cue to display shock, profess sympathy. I do neither. “I’ve been in denial, I can see that now. But I can’t go on with the charade anymore. I am an alcoholic.” He’s speaking with all the gravitas and humility of a disgraced politician apologising to a press pack. I can barely suppress a smirk. But my heart sinks knowing Jim’s evidently newfound self-knowledge means my Friday lunchtime will consist of Jim talking incessantly and monotonously about himself, as he does every Friday lunchtime, but that on this occasion there will not be the regular breaks for journeys to the bar, these small intermissions in Jim’s self-referencing monologues where I am briefly in a state of peace and equilibrium. 81
England drop an easy catch. “Fucking useless shower-of-shit!” shouts someone from another part of the pub. Ordinarily, Jim sets the pace and we get through three or four pints, a couple of chasers. Back to work to stare blearily at our monitors, rising every twenty minutes or so to empty our bladders, or fill our lungs again with nicotine, always to the background drawl of Jim with his interminable anecdotes, his superannuated jokes, his half-baked taproom philosophy which comes distilled through mean-spirited tabloid editorials. I used to drink alone. With the crossword and Sky Sports on the big screen. But Jim saw me in the pub one day and came over. I can’t shake him off now and this is the only pub within walking distance of the office. Jim’s begun telling me about his relationship with his father and I maintain eye contact whilst allowing my vision to slide out of focus, so all I see is Jim’s blurry outline. This doesn’t help, regrettably. His father was a drinker, he tells me. But he couldn’t handle it. The drink would make him volatile: truculent and violent. “He never hit me, though,” says Jim. “Nor, my mum, neither.” Whatever Jim, whatever. Can’t you see I don’t care? Finally, England take a wicket. An ironic cheer from the same character who was barracking earlier. I interrupt Jim to ask him if he wants another orange juice. “I think I’ll stick with this one, mate,” he says, and gives me the kind of look I imagine Jesus Christ perfected and bestowed numerous times throughout his career, not least during his closing ‘Father forgive them, for they know not what they do’ routine. I nod and start to nurse the remains of my pint. Jim continues and begins to explain that when he drinks he becomes obnoxious -- he doesn’t know the half of it -- and that his drinking has caused problems in his marriage. “It’s just not going on in the bedroom anymore”, he tells me, and I offer up a silent prayer to the god that looks after the sorry acquaintances of pub bores (if such a deity should exist) that Jim isn’t going to go into details. He does. He says he just doesn’t fancy Nolene anymore -- his wife really is called Nolene, you can’t make this stuff up. He’s complaining that she’s let herself go, got fat, doesn’t bother with her hair and makeup anymore. I wonder if Jim ever looks in the mirror himself, and whether Nolene hasn’t taken to drink herself to fortify her against the amorous, wheezing advances of Jim in his cups. I try to shake the image of Jim in the throes of sexual ecstasy -- blotchy face contorted, yellow teeth bared -- but it lingers. Will this image pursue me to 82
my grave? Jim reckons he’s got grounds for divorce, because she’s let her standards slip to the point that she can’t claim to be the same the woman he married. So your range of knowledge and expertise now extends to the divorce courts, does it, Jim? He tells me that drink is an ‘evil’ thing and that it’s at the root of so much of the trouble in the world, and I wonder if he really believes half of what he says, or whether it’s just the sound of his own voice that keeps him going. He’s barely paused for breath, so enamoured is he of this latest personal drama. He’s still talking when I get up and go to the bar, ordering a pint and a scotch. I watch the pint settling on the bar and I can’t help marvelling at it, as if I’m seeing this phenomenon -- the cloudy milk giving way to rich, clear copper -- for the very first time. I toss down the scotch and give thanks to Jim -- who, I notice, is gawping at me with a look of bewilderment more in the Christ-like vein of ‘Why hast thou forsaken me?’ -- for engendering this rare moment of clarity: This afternoon I will not return to the office, but instead remain here, drinking beer and whisky. Watch England’s cricketers suffer in the field. As the lunchtime crowd departs, to leave the taproom to just us who take this occupation seriously, I will bask in the barroom fug and the wreckage of empty pint glasses and screwed-up crisp packets, drinking to the accompaniment of the sweet crashing sound of the cash register swallowing and the occasional chugging thumps of the fruit machine paying out to some lucky punter. And all will be well, with me and with the world. A Home by Brian Clough Chapter 1
9.17 a.m. Sleeping erratically was a 56-year-old white male who mostly slept three hours a night in a disused garage. He lay back on three bags of rubbish with a copy of the Metro for a pillow. His brown stained patchwork coat was draped over his torso doubling as a quilt cover, and the fact that he often wet himself during sleep could be viewed as an alternative to an electric blanket. A blackened big toe protruded from a grey sock paired with a red football sock pulled up to the knee. This was quite a sight. Holding the outfit together was an essential accessory. A yellow homemade badge was pinned accurately to the breast of his coat. On it in bold print armed an exclamation mark was his name; ‘GYPSY MAN!’ 9.20 a.m. Awakening gypsy man greeted an unfinished bottle of White Light-
ning with a smile and a chuckle-‘’Ah.I.ne never finished it.i.I, I…I’’ In fact this bottle contained his late night toilet break and not the chemicalised non-apple high strength cider his morning thirst so desired. Like a celebrity on an inane health regime gypsy man stood up then fell back down whilst sipping on his own piss. The bottle slipped from his grip and the contents poured precisely on to his crotch. At the same moment there was a loud banging on the garage door. The whole thing wobbled in movement as the crushing sound resonated horribly inside. As the door was raised open Gypsy Man got on his feet to face the intruders and decided to adopt his most terrorizing pose. He pushed his fist deep into his mouth and pulled back his lips to reveal a swollen pair of gums with six yellow teeth protruding from there deathbeds. These sat embedded in that dirt sodden fist and the contrast of black and yellow was not the only point of colour interest painting gypsy man’s person. A splash of lime green paint covered his lower left leg and a brightly coloured flower was pinned to his hat. Having a detachable lower right leg meant he could twist it 180 degrees and it sat disfigured facing the wrong way. His arms were on his hips like an Olympic champion, his neck pushing his flowery head forth like a stem. The onlookers looked on, a liquid dropped from the mans crotch they were watching, it smelt distinctly of urine but one of the onlookers didn’t realise this as he had lost his sense of smell whilst playing with his dog as child. Very nasty incident it was but he still blamed his father for putting the piece of steak on his nose. The opening of the garage door had expelled a sheet of unrepentant light that quilted gypsy mans surroundings with torrid opacity. A pile of rubbish during the night was now realised as an ancient mop head resting on a moldy food remnants that was highlighted by human feces quite subtly. In the light of day this appeared as a sculpture of vagrancy reflecting everything that Gypsy Man represented. The pile of crap and Gypsy Man paralleled each other, both having human waste staining their composition. The onlooker who didn’t smell addressed his questions to the pile of crap finding it easier to look at than the old tramp. “What is your name sir? How long have you been living like this? Do you have your national insurance card?” Immediately Gypsy Man flung his arm round his back whilst flaying his head about on his neck like a jack in the box. With an outstretched arm he posed to reveal what looked to be a card. The second onlooker, aptly named Julie Watcher, calmly took the card from the man's hand. Reading the details out she sounded like a prison warden. “Mr. M Peel ….JS 29 56 47 C, so he's got an identity, I wonder if he knows it” Julie turned to ask this adopting a crucially condescending tone “What is your name?” Gypsy Man adopted a handful of feces that he duly threw at Julia. The majority of it covered her uniform but a singular nugget blemished her nametag. Julie Watcher had always prided herself on her reputation and this was the first time her name had been
soiled by the hands of another. Julie nodded signaling to her colleague Andrew Pringle to read out his rights. Simultaneously Gypsy Man decided to read out his wrongs “On behalf of the…”… “I bleeeeedin stink, I canee remember the last time my dencherssaw a brush’’… ‘‘We have the right to hold you, youu don’t have.’’… ‘’Sometimes I even eat the scraps of bread Mrs. MacLauchlan leaves out for the pigeons, I, I’m stupid, And I still ain’t done shite for that son of mine’’ …”Right Andrew, put him in the van’’. 9.25 am Taking a shortcut through the precinct John spotted an old accomplice. Realising it was none other than Craig Dennis John’s eyes widened in curiosity. Craig was a member of John’s year in high school. He had a metal plate in his head from an accident he suffered as a child. Craig had been a regular Ritalin consumer ever since his G.P advised him it was the best plan of action. This prescription really opened doors for Craig, once he head butted one so hard he came out of the other side. The teacher, returning to the classroom, was greeted by Craig’s exasperating grin poking through the door. This incident was not resolved with ease, his head was severely wedged. One of John’s old class mates, an always willing Danny Sykes suggested in his words “Getting a big magnet and pulling him out using big metal cowie in his ed”. John remembered the teacher actually paused to consider this plan for a moment. Eventually the whole door was removed by a tutting caretaker who had to carry it complete with Craig to the Design Tech department for removal. The caretaker waddled off saying something along the lines of “Children shouldn’t be given the privilege of doors”. Craig, when John knew him, had mop like dirt blonde hair and an epidemic of pubescent random stubble plaguing his lower face. He also could recall Craig’s consistent aroma of manure. A lot of Craig’s notable characteristics had faded, John observed. Craig looked considerably more stable as he wondered about the freezers of Iceland like a penguin. The acoustics that the shopping precinct had been blessed with seemed to have a musical ear. The sounds of pensioners philosophizing over timid futures and young mums dragging screaming toddlers across dirty floors set the genre of the piece. This was classical, an orchestra of poverty had been formed echoing and reverberating round the precinct in pain. The slow drone of the broken lights throughout the precinct acted as the underlying bass. As a group of lads entered shouting, John felt like the conductor bringing in the melody, the biggest of the group an oboe and his smaller accomplices a pair of French horns mirroring and supporting his sound. A drunk sweltering by the humming heater suddenly collapsed, his dropped wine bottle acted as the final crash of the timpani as the symphony fell to a close.
CONTRIBUTORS Matt Manson dina paulson Michael Herring Joy Manné cath barton Luke Humphries Walburga Appleseed Martin Richmond Ryn Holmes Rachel Stevenson Christopher Branson Glen Armstrong Howie Good Laurie Theurer Joan McNerney Mark Blickley Annie Dawid Moira Garland Daniel de Cullá Shloka Shankar Lana Bella Charles Bliss Eleanor Osmond Rob Walton Stephanie Hutton Hagen Klennert
Mileva Anastasiadou Wiebo Grobler Dashiel Rowan Konstantina Sozou-Kyrkou Noel King Emma Roper-Evans Rachel Edwards PJ Carmihael The Repeat Beat Poet Simon Lee-Price Sean Z Fitzgerald Elizabeth Phillips Scott Nancy Freund Tamara Lakomy Joe Bedford Hannah van Didden Andy Naylor Paul Beckman Nod Gosh Kevan Youde Joseph James Wood Ariah Winter Andrew C. Brown GC Perry Brian Clough sara neuberg (logo)
@ W W W . F O O T P R I N T E R S . C O . U K
A free publication attempting to showcase the best short-fiction, poetry, artwork and photography, by writers, artists and photographers tha...
Published on Dec 1, 2016
A free publication attempting to showcase the best short-fiction, poetry, artwork and photography, by writers, artists and photographers tha...