An anthology of short stories and poems from a range of young writers.
To all of the writer’s for their time, patience, talent, enthusiasm and entrusting me with their work.
Restless came into being one rainy afternoon as I was editing and proofing a close friends manuscript’s. His talent shone through in every piece, and yet there are very few publishing outlets through which young writers‘ can showcase their work. There are a number of excellent literary periodicals (Ambit, Purple Journal), but these can often be quite elitist and are difficult for inexperienced writers to break into. For a short time Kyle Hugall’s free zine Le Monstre aimed to democratise and provide a platform for ‘underground’ literature, however, it disappeared a few years ago. Fortunately, since its demise, literature and poetry has become ‘cool’ again and the work of Popshot and Clinic Presents are providing a great, accessible platform for young writers’ and artists’ to publish and perform their work. This anthology ties into this current resurgence, while also offering an alternative book format for authors and poets to publish their work. Of course the internet is a great equaliser, and has proved very useful for independent creative activity, allowing work to be published and shared with ease. Nonetheless, we are so swamped with the digital and saturated with blogs, that it is just as hard for the talent to shine through and be discovered.
Restless is my attempt at addressing this. So passionately do I believe in the writing talents of these people, that I vowed I would produce a platform to get their writing into people’s hands and heads, while also hopefully attracting new writers into the fore. Helen Randall
Confessions - Luke Shaw Death by Water - Gabriel Duckels Dandelions - Andrew Parkes Ghosts and Crows - Bob Cassidy Silence - Anon Dead Poet Song - Gabriel Duckels Sweetly - Nina Bahadur Fragmented - Alice Davies You are talking - Olly Todd Reverb - Miriam Nash List of Power Stations - Jen Calleja Oh Marilyn - Gabriel Duckels So Special - Luke Shaw Always Eve - Sophie Corser Peter Pan - Andrew Parkes Reptile Boy - Gabriel Duckels Untitled - Mindy Nettles Meandering Thoughts of the Hopelessly Alone - Rob Smith Waiting - Nina Bahadur Listen: - Gabriel Duckels Education - Hannah Levene July Morning in Tower Hamlets - Gabriel Duckels Autumn - Ben McKay 6,775,235,741 - MJH Milner Athenaeum - Anon Shriek - Gabriel Duckels Touch but never dare to speak - Alice Davies Breathe Heavy - Gabriel Duckels A wise woman always told me - Nina Bahadur
02 03 07 08 09 11 16 17 21 23 24 30 31 33 37 38 42 43 47 48 51 56 57 61 63 70 71 75 77
Conversations in Darkness - Ben McKay ABC Suburbia - Chris Harrison In spite of all the damage - Anon Bird/Cage - Flora Baker Under the Weather - Rob Fred Parker How Softly We Bash Against Nothing - Hannah Levene Misfit - Xenobe Purvis The Third Day - Helen Randall The Crossing (How) - F M J Botham 02 / 06 / 2010 - Olly Todd Postcards from Iran - Aimee Bea Ballinger See me leap - Xenobe Purvis The Last Poems Poet - Helen Randall Block: 5am - Sophie Corser If the shoe fits - Aimee Bea Ballinger Pickling Jars - Flora Baker Every Living Substance Destroyed - Helen Randall Infidelities - Anon Foolish Heart - Gabriel Duckels The Promise - Kyle Hugall Smoke, Monochrome & All of the Above - Cal Doyle Detritus - Flora Baker The Makings of a New Poem - Andrew Parkes Tower - Olly Todd Mother - Xenobe Purvis Things I never got to know - F M J Botham After - Andrew Parkes
78 86 104 107 108 109 111 116 121 123 124 125 130 133 135 137 138 144 151 152 153 158 159 161 162 167 169
Contributors Thanks Colophon
173 176 177
Some books are made for the young. They are not foreshortened to reach the young, nor made prurient with special attention to the habits and strategies of youth. But these books speak particularly well to how it feels to be young and restless, and be faced with the imminent desperation of fullgrown adulthood. The assembled stories and poems, by a range of emerging young writers, vary in style and technique, but each provides a glimpse into the preoccupations, concerns and motifs of the young and restless. They are by no means literary masterpieces, (nor am I a critic or revered voice on the matter), but each piece demands attention and lingers with the reader. Some seem easy to read, some hard, some donâ€™t even seem like stories or poems at all. Some seem to read themselves, while others must be examined from every aspect, evading understanding. Some we can escape into, others we feel we must escape from. They are written simply, intricately, with declared or concealed feeling, with sentences freighted with adjectives and modifiers of every sort. They are endearing in their naivety, honesty and the adolescent nervousness and awkwardness concealed by the prose. The language seems to proceed entirely from the urgency of utterance; where poetic licence is everything, and incident and the accumulation that goes with narrative are by-products, not ends in themselves. By nature stories and poems are language-made hallucinations, fabrications that persuade us to believe in them for the duration. Thus the mood of the work is what seduces and enthrals rather than direct narrative. The trajectory is intuitive, not laboured.
As with most vignettes the anthology presents a set of blurred snapshots of a particular moment or character, from which you must take what you can. Literary voice is silent - it is us as the reader that must embellish and decorate the concealed conditions, driving the characters or language. Another prominent feature of the collected work is that the voices from the ferment of the Twentieth Century are potent sources. The writers have soaked up the styles and techniques of the literary habits (well known and otherwise), before them. From the hint of E.E Cummings poem Dive for Dreams in Sophie Corserâ€™s All About Eve, to Gabriel Duckelsâ€™ Dead Poet Song, they have absorbed the fiction methods of the past and added their own hunches, instincts, desires, fears, cravings and artfulness. As various as the intentions and methods of storytelling are here, what unites all the work, is a restless drive to matter, to mean something, make feeling where there was none. These stories and poems seek permanent residence within a reader. They strive to become an emotional or intellectual cargo that might accompany us wherever we go. Stories conspire not to be forgotten; they scheme to outlast their moment, stirring us towards revelation. So delve into the psychopathology, melodrama, linguistic hyperbole, philophobia, loneliness, and the confusion, emotional upheaval and all consuming heartbreak of the young & Restless.
My name is not important, let’s not get hung up on the minor details here. I like routine, I like to eat breakfast at 7:30, shower at 8 and so on. When I finish a meal, I lay the knife and fork down with the knife on the right, facing inwards. There are many nights on which I can not sleep, but the Doctor’s never once said ‘insomniac’. It used to be that I would just lie back, gazing at the spiral patterns of the ceiling, willing my mind to slow to a stop. This was futile. Now I prefer to utilise my nights, but every now and then it all becomes too much and I desperately need to relax. Recently, I’ve found a place that I find extremely comforting, the only trouble is getting there. Every nine or ten days I wash my clothes. A few months ago my machine packed in so I go to my nearest launderette, ‘Jennys’, which is open 24 hours, so I can go in the early hours of the morning (usually around 3 or 4). Most nights Jenny’s son watches the place. He’s a nice guy, but not very bright. He’s worked his mum’s shop since he finished school. Still, he’s easy to talk to and the first few times I went, I developed a rapport with him. Since then, he’s come to like and trust me so that when I go in I say; “I can watch the place for a couple of hours, go stretch your legs.” I always take a book in there. I don’t know where he goes, but, once I am alone and my drying is on, I climb into the empty machine next to mine and I sit there for half an hour, feeling the warmth and vibrations lulling me to a state of rest.
DEATH BY WATER
The boats came in: the sun sank like a smashed egg across the horizon. I watched from the house; the strange tiny people across the bay, the red and gold bunting fluttering in the wind, the cigarette-stained old women down at the beach cafe snapping sandwich boards closed and winding down the shutters. I could hear the wind whisper and the sea sigh; the honk of the seagulls; the guttural groan of the motorboats drawing in; the crackle of the trees and the thin tin rattle of discarded crisp packets and Coca-Cola cans blown across the promenade by the summer air. I heard other things. I heard things that were never there: my hands, clasped around the gate of the balcony, with its peeling white paint stained by sunshine, touched instead the same anonymous faces and chairs I had touched drunk, hysterical and stumbling through Kit’s living room a month before. I felt the cool evening sun pour down across my face: but when my bottom lip fell, I tasted your mouth. And so this is where I find myself now: after smashing in two, they packed my bags and put me on a train bound for the west. “Margot’s nice house, David,” my mother said to me, “the garden, the sea right there out your window, none of these distractions.” Was that conversation only a week ago? I’m not sure how or if I replied, but her open hands that had once held me to her breast beguiled me; I agreed to go. I was exhausted by myself. I felt contrived and calculating on that red sofa: a lovesick ghost of my mother’s son, a risk, a weak stereotype of the angry young man. Of course she had no idea of the immediate causes of my (so-called) breakdown, and, awkward brute that I am, I had no deeprooted yearning to tell her. I was fine - I was no Dylan Klebold, no Sylvia
DEATH BY WATER — GABRIEL DUCKELS
Plath, I had no talent for arson or death or poetry. I felt embarrassed by my delusions, by my vomit on the bathroom floor, by the mud on my clothes and the empty days I slept through. At night-time I became my own creature: by daylight I shrank underneath blankets and couldn’t cry. Cornwall so far offered little of the “revitalising sunshine” my mother had promised - as July died, so had the hot weather. Although colder than the shiny smiles of the TV weather forecasters had assured me it would be, it was a clear day. I had a window seat on the train, and after Somerset’s sweeping hills there was a gasp of deep forest, and suddenly the sea. My chariot sped across the Devonshire coastline, and I was its mascot. Not the red-faced businessmen taking up two seats or the hurricane of families. Out of the window the dark green sea lay before me, separated only by half an inch of greasy glass. I felt anxious and afraid. I realised why my mother had sent me here: the ocean was watching me now. I arrived at Falmouth train station and found Margot’s white Ford Fiesta in the car park. The journey was successful already; I felt numb. The long hours continued by the clatter of the wheels against the beaten tracks, the drunken sway of the carriage, divided only by another unknown station in another unfamiliar county. I imagine there were bags under my eyes and goosebumps on my arms as I stood there, shivering slightly. I had been to the house before, but not with these eyes. As we drove down the winding country lanes, Margot making small talk and the radio filling in the pauses, her home became Manderlay to me, gaunt and imposing; and then it was Bedlam, (my) screams echoing against the ocean waves. Thus Margot steered us through another village of steep hills and stone terraced houses, and I daydreamed of electroshock therapy and Maxim de Winter. Of course the house was not a prison or an asylum - a detached house on the outskirts of its village; gaunt on the cliff-side, but friendly with its red bricks and blossoming garden. Lost in thought, I did not notice the sea’s scowl turn a darker shade of blue. Softly, softly, the wind had grown irritable, tearing its invisible hands through my hair and rattling the ferns and brackens that clung to the cliffside like feathered molluscs. Putting you out of my mind (although you are never really gone) I watched the casual change creep across the evening. A great shadow settled over the bay; and glancing down from the balcony
DEATH BY WATER — GABRIEL DUCKELS
I saw the three remaining women from the beach cafe stood together by the shore, as still as statues and looking out at the ocean. And although I hadn’t noticed the giddy noise of children (it is lost and blurred amongst the arcade machine jangle and the incessant buzz of the beach cafe grills) yet now that it was nowhere to be heard, it became terrifyingly loud. One of the women felt in her apron and pulled out a packet of cigarettes (silver packaging; Sterling Kingsize?) as she lit it, the lady next to her gasped and raised her hand to the sea. Squinting down from my viewpoint from Margot’s balcony, I followed her sallow-skinned arm: and looking across the bay I saw, in the shadowed distance, a fuzz of white. I lit a Marlboro after checking Margot was not nearby to tut in disapproval, and, holding the cigarette between my teeth, pulled on a jacket, tripping over the sun-lounger as I did so. Wincing, I got to my feet and looked back towards the sea. Closer came the white fuzz: larger, fizzing, sparkling red; a jewel-encrusted sea creature gliding towards us. But it was a motorboat: and the jewels were red flashing lights. I overheard snatches of the women below’s conversation:
“...in the water...” “...that Oliver...” “...the parents, Maud...”
Divers appeared on the motorboats like crows. They were inhuman as aliens in their wetsuits and goggles. Something was wrong, I knew now. I could hear the sea now, deafening in my ear-drums; and there was something triumphant in its cacophony, something hideous and terrible in its monster call. I was dizzy. The ocean was inside my head, the icy water flooded the cage. My hands were damp, and my clammy palms fell to my side. For a second all I could see was the evening sky in its vivid hues of violet and grey; but the arcade machine below began to jangle its tune: and then my eyes were shut and my cigarette fell to the ground. Sirens snapped across the bay and the seagulls began to shriek. Eyes snapping open, I saw an ambulance van clatter across the promenade: and another car behind it. Somewhere somebody screamed. The door of the ambulance slid open with a sharp click, a stretcher appeared, and - shakily lighting another cigarette - I heard a woman’s voice,
DEATH BY WATER — GABRIEL DUCKELS
“Get him on the stretcher! Hold him steady. Easy. Do we have a name for him?”
Without looking I knew the sea had spat him out. I knew the acid-green paramedics held a dead thing in their arms. His name was Oliver Lee until yesterday: now he’s a photograph, a headline, a selling point. I’d never seen a dead body before.
They hang inverted pendulums in a grassy sky, swaying aesthetic as if to frustrate the inevitable; I count in clusters, whispers clocking the day until numbers cease – moments articulate in white ephemera. On reflection though my breaths don’t tally, the pronounced twelve at odds with the morning. The blown head hangs unveiled, a compound eye blinded by emptiness – the future now unnameable at its finish. But I need to (re)name the passing, confirm its encroach, so pick another, counting the feathers of a whole new moment.
GHOSTS AND CROWS
A crow flew past me. Close and fast. The breath from her wing Smelled of roosts and Broken roofs And ghosts in Forgotten rooms Where love was made And children played. But not these days.
Flying home that night The crow dropped a feather At my door. Was it for luck, or love, Or something else? Something I donâ€™t know Anymore?
You end up in his hotel room; because you can’t hold your breath long enough until the night is over. You break against the wall and sob because you want something you can’t have. For once, you were lonelier and more fragile than usual, standing in front of him as he looked at you and made you this thing that you try not to be. Because it doesn’t mean anything if you’re not at home, everybody knows that; because his wife’s not here and you were a sucker for his confession of loneliness. You blame yourself for the betrayal behind his kisses - in the elevator, in the hallway and on his door and the floor - even if you’re too old for this shit. You’re too old for his games, but that doesn’t seem to bother you tonight. It strikes you that the creak of the bedsprings and the shade of the walls here seem so appropriate for inappropriate behaviour. You assume the puns in your mouth and he kisses them with alcohol, his silence making you understand why he’s in charge of the words. Always the words with him, for you it’s the sounds. The bed creaks again and you laugh nervously and say something meaningless, which he catches with a dark gaze; you try to listen to his moves and feel the guilt that leaks from his fingers. You stupidly ask, in a semi-playful tone, if he remembers telling you that it only hurts if you get caught.
SILENCE — ANON
He kisses you; hard on the mouth, and knocks the sentiment out of you with the muffled claim that it’s harder to do this when you babble out anecdotes from god knows how long ago. And there’s that silence again, but it’s not as embarrassing as it had been when you were younger, or actually like it was just a half hour ago, when you clumsily took off his pants and it seemed like the sleaziest thing to do. It occurs to you that maybe you shouldn’t mention that. And you stare at the ceiling and count the stains, trying to let go of the guilt and the history, and you find yourself drowning in him on the most uncomfortable bed in the middle of nowhere, it’s somewhat peaceful. Dirty language rolls off your tongue like all the things you’ve been avoiding in public, and he likes it – loves it – you tell him to fuck, to go harder, and oh baby yes yes yes; you listen to lust in his moves. And you hide your pleasure in a whisper as you die seven times and come to life eight, with that shudder you hate and the man you borrowed from another woman. You listen carefully for signs of regret in the kisses he trails on your lips and your face and your neck, until you can’t hear anything anymore. You hope it’s a good sign.
DEAD POET SONG
I am cheating on him with dead poets, twelve-fingered women who drink their gin neat. These ugly women of magic and liberation. These wild women who crawl into ovens, crawl into cars, crawl into rivers with their coat-pockets full of rocks.
These women are trapped in sepia and the desperate shriek of the boiling kettle. Green-eyed and restless I spot them:
I saw Anne at the hospital, I saw Stevie at the seaside, I saw Sylvia across the moor, a silhouette.
And then I saw myself in the Devil’s arms, dancing.
They are hiding in my diaries. They are hiding in my language. And I know those men who stood over you, the de Winter’s and the Rhett Butler’s: more a pack of black shadows than they were husbands or fathers;
I have seen that man, and I have been that man.
DEAD POET SONG — GABRIEL DUCKELS
I am sorry, Sylvia. I do not mean to patronise or fraternise with ghosts, but I am young and sycophantic, fresh and eager for the neurotic, and tonight I am cross-legged on the floor, a little drunk, my sisters’ books spread out around me. So this drink’s on me:
We can put music on and dance your dances, bloody our fingertips with blackberries from your garden, smoke your American cigarettes, drink your gin, bourbon, vodka, talk about our parents and Daphne’s back from Egypt.
Your pages are damp from spilt drinks and steam, and your words belong to the last century now. Today the politicians are stuffed monkeys. We are snarling and eating our young.
And Sylvia, Emily, Anne: I know you would take me dancing.
Familiar they stand, those looks, although withered by time (that troubling, insufficient beast) are framed in the present, in our moments together, coupled in fear for the enveloped promise as it dissipates, and with hope for the additional years, much to learn from like the young ones they were.
Do you remember? We spoke, sweetly. Words fell out about the people Iâ€™d kissed, the pillows I smelled, the places I was sick. And you smoked out the details. My pomegranate shampoo, red rain-boots in the back of the car, your hands signing every word in the rented room. Now, your space is hollow â€“ my mouth is shut. The longer I hold my breath, the more I disappear. And I count bites, I count drinks, I count beats, my legs give way on the stairs.
He would later remember it in fragments. A dream sequence viewed through a broken mirror; pieces cracked and sharp. Glass creating a brightness, an edge of the surreal: The way the clock ticked too loudly, its husky â€˜clickâ€™ outlining the seconds, freezing them in time as the room seemed to float into stasis. The way the traffic outside faded away, the purr of engines and the blare of horns sinking into the murky asphalt of the road. The world had turned to quicksand. The way his breath had hung in the air, damp clouds that he was sure he should have been able to see despite the warmth of the apartment. Breath, the passing of oxygen into his lungs, the expelling of carbon dioxide, had become a focus, a presence in the room.
He would later remember it in fragments, images flashing in a slideshow with no soundtrack but the inevitable passage of time and the ongoing process of life. ****
FRAGMENTED — ALICE DAVIES
It was 9 ‘o’ clock on a Friday night, and it seemed like the rain would never stop. Liquid trails blurred the windows and swam across the windscreen as the wipers futilely fought against the downpour. A car horn shrieked to the right as a pedestrian darted across the road towards the shelter of the buildings lining the pavement. The world was drowning and taking them with it. The air was oppressive within the car, stony silence appearing much louder than the crash of water around them. Eyes darting between her and the road, he tried to study her, tried to see into the murky orbs of blue that hid in the shadows; tried to find a spark in her eyes that would tell him it was alright. The eyes turned away to gaze unseeing out the window, as he tried to see through the water in his eyes to navigate through the rain outside. **** He parked as close to her apartment as possible. Killing the engine, he opened the car door. The rain had slowed, the sheets from earlier fading into steady drips that ran as rivulets down his already tear damp cheeks. Half carrying, half supporting, he helped her into the warmth of her home. Tea was made in silence, not a word passing between them as teabags were put in cups and water was boiled. She curled under a blanket on the couch and stared into nothingness. Vacant stares were becoming achingly familiar. Two steaming cups were placed on the coffee table, and he settled beside her. She was the first to speak. “Please leave.” “What?” “You heard me. Go.” “I’m not leaving.” Reaching out to her. One hand on her head, fingers in her hair. Red hair, hair like fire. But the woman was ash. “You need someone to look after you.” Please, let me look after you. “Please leave. GO!”
FRAGMENTED — ALICE DAVIES
And for a second, just a second, there was a spark in her eyes again, and she was mad at him for ditching her. He’d always thought that spark burned like a sun. Now, it seemed to flare and falter, a match-stick held in the wind. He left. **** Outside, in the car, he rested his head against the steering wheel, and tried to push air past the barrier of unshed tears and stomach acid in his throat. He tried to cry. He couldn’t. He knew he shouldn’t leave her. Knew that if he walked away now he might never see her again. But when he closed his eyes he saw flames, passion so fierce he thought it would blind him. He saw the woman he’d loved. And part of him… part of him wanted it to be over, wanted that blinding vision to forever be burned upon his retinas, and never erased by another vacant stare, another heaping of ash across the bed of bones that was her body. He wanted that fire to seep through his blood forever more. He drove away, and didn’t look back. He would later remember it in fragments, but today it was a blur of memory. Despite the finality that had settled upon him, he had called her the next day. She hadn’t answered. He had gone to her apartment. She hadn’t answered. The now familiar sense of dread had crushed his chest as he opened the door. There had been no one there. Just an empty apartment, and the glassy blur of memory, one last token of devotion, sitting on the kitchen table. Darling, I’ll be in touch. X. And all he could think was that if she was getting back at him for all he’d ever done, her timing sucked. ****
FRAGMENTED — ALICE DAVIES
Days passed quickly, yet hours dragged. Time moved onwards, the passing weeks seeming synonymous with each tick of the clock that he had heard the night he left. He’d spoken to her mother, but she claimed she didn’t know where she was. She was lying. He was glad; he didn’t want her to be alone. He imagined her near the beach, even considered searching for her somewhere near the coast. Maybe a beach house. She would be staring at the ocean with a smile that showed she was thinking of him. But he never searched, even though he knew she’d be near by. He never searched, because she didn’t want him to. He let her go, but his phone was always by his side and he checked it was working every five minutes. She was never ‘in touch.’ **** He remembered the last night in fragments. The way the traffic had quietened outside as the bile had choked his throat. The way the clock had seemed inordinately loud as her laughter had faded to silence. The way her eyes had shone with passion and rage and a thousand days of mindless conversations. This moment, too, would later be distilled into sections. He’d see it in flashes of the mundane, of the tangible. The way the sunlight cut across his window in a perfect 45 degree angle. The way that her mother had tilted her head the slightest bit to the right as she handed him the letter. The way the envelope had a slight crease by its left corner. He would later remember it with the vision of red hair and fire imprinted forever on his mind. But now, this moment is as liquid as the rain on that last night, and his tears aren’t precise or tangible. Because, in this moment, the fire is truly out.
YOU ARE TALKING
You are talking here about the need and the obstacle, the objective and the technique. I am bathed, I have wine but not your body. The stile is the night buses I would have to take to your party and my lack of cash for their fare. So I suggest you take a taxi to me. I am sieved and sluiced. You to where I am. I sieve, sluice, tell you this. To pause the wine in my throat – Gravity. Affection – The story of a childhood dog told with a tear. Tear and tear… escape up the hill while blue the sky Later it’s lighter these days so why Not through the Croagh’s clouds climb and try To see what about those lost hawks cry As the last of the gold sun fades and dies Be my baby, my baby tonight.
YOU ARE TALKING — OLLY TODD
Affection – My sexiest is about to cry. And understanding – Bloodshot eyes. To nail the scenes we read – A star in nature mangled in the brutal saltwash tone-poems of colour. Tone-poems of colour – No orchestra. For you to read this page and this face – hopeless optimism. It shan’t work it shan’t simply. Affection – Paradise on your fingers. Your love – Mother you by being motherless (objective & technique) or – (need and obstacle)… To receive from you the love I’d have wanted – being motherless. Court you – Meddle in cyclones, take up, ascend to your storm
REVERB â€” OR WHAT YOU DONâ€™T RECALL
how it felt to hate your mother to twist and wrench your navel hand her the stub Skunk Anansie yelling everything you want to yell in reverb your veins taut strings how hunger is a weapon your barbed wire fence, alsatian inside you so much air you hardly need to breathe you sit in vaulted rooms an apple bite the first sign of asbestos your tongue curling the corners of a mouth you never really liked thinking even bad love must be better than nothing
LIST OF POWER STATIONS
I wake up at 5.30 in Watt, California and take a 20 minute shower immediately: twelve minutes for the shower, eight minutes for ‘other activity’. Staying in bed with my wife once I’m awake is no longer an option; it’s just not fair on her. I have breakfast and focus on every slow chew, no rushing. The radio and the television have to stay off. Sounds and fast moving images encroach on my movements. Fingers start tapping, knee starts bouncing. Deciding to stay collected keeps me my job. There are bad days, and bad days make me late. Dressing can, understandably, get me excited. If I don’t dress quickly enough the material makes my skin sensitive. The moment I feel I’m losing control I try to quickly undress again. I do not wish to sweat in my fresh shirt before I’ve left home, and the sooner I preempt that I’m starting to slip, the sooner I can finish, redress and leave. A few times in the past I’ve lied to myself that I can hold on until I can get into work, complete dressing, wet and comb my hair, lean over to tie my shoes by the front door with extreme difficulty. Straightening up creates a pull, my eyes close, my forehead moistens. Blankly, sternly, I stroll along the corridor, lay out my jacket, shirt and trousers on the couch and go to the bathroom. I sit on the toilet seat, tap on my thigh with my right hand, and jack off with the left. Just before I cum, I stand and turn to do it in the sink. Wash self, wash hands, re-comb hair, redress, rush from the house. I hate rushing, but denial spoils your plans. That first poor decision to not accept an unstoppable event sets off a car crash. Running to the bus causes a new friction to start and the ride will be excruciating. I’ll want to touch. Once I even placed my briefcase on my lap and ran a fingertip up and down my zipper. I could barely stand up for my stop. After that I’ll have to storm up
LIST OF POWER STATIONS — JEN CALLEJA
the drive to the building, avoid good morning professor at every turn, go to my office, lean against the unlockable door and throb into a handkerchief. Could be twice more before I’ve even had a coffee. If I don’t rush I can normally focus my mind away from the tingling in my crotch for the journey and enjoy the walk into the university, pick up a newspaper in the shop, pick up my mail, brew a pot and learn the news while I gently begin to allow my arousal. For years the arrangement has been that I don’t give or supervise a lecture until past ten o’clock. It’s a measure that I greatly appreciate. Most of my colleagues understand my build-up routine. Rumination, notation, ejaculation, meditation. After greetings, I begin speaking at the lectern clearly, full of hope. ‘Government deregulation and failed regulation of the commercial and investment banking industries were important contributors to the subprime mortgage crisis,’ I’ll say, followed by ‘these included allowing the self-regulation of Wall Street’s investment banks and the failed regulation of Wall Street rating agencies, which were responsible for incorrectly rating some $3.2 trillion dollars of subprime mortgage-backed securities’. A few years ago I’d be able to go on for at least half an hour, but these days I have to sit down after a few sentences. They provided me with a chair; I cross my legs and stare ahead. After a time the students barely registered the transition. At the end of lectures no one asks questions, they know to email them. I remain seated as students come up, nod and smile, pass me their papers and leave quietly. They probably guess that I head to the store cupboard to crouch and get off just to be able to walk out the hall straight. I stopped eating lunches in the cafeteria and now keep to my office. It’s not an oral fixation thing, it’s so I can phone my wife at the Devina Opera House where she is a Composer in Residence while I eat the salad or sandwich or cold lasagna that she’s prepared for me. Eating and calling is like taking a tranquillizer, it means there’s no thought process space left for my dick. After lunch I usually take one-on-ones with the student body. These are done in fifteen minute spurts, and we leave the door open to reassure them, as well as myself, that I will not be doing anything rhythmic save for sharpening my pencil. Of course I have jacked off under the desk during meetings, but never with students, only longer occasions with other members of faculty. My oldest colleagues, my friends,
LIST OF POWER STATIONS — JEN CALLEJA
know that long periods of time without release can create a tension that is almost an agony. As the conversation progresses I start to mumble, my chin dips, and my eyelids loll, inexplicably, kindly, they direct their words and looks away from me without a pause, and silently allow me to tick-tock in my underwear. By the time I’m home I am exhausted, sticky all over. I wash while my wife plays me new recordings. They soothe me. We sit and eat dinner, side by side, to warm her up to my presence. The moment we finish eating we have sex; I love spending time with her in the evenings, and feel immeasurably guilty if I have to leave her to masturbate. She knows this, understands I love her, dinner is foreplay, shoulders and knees softly rubbing is foreplay. We lie on the floor and I try to hold back that yelp of urgency while she undresses. I cup her face in my hands, look only at her eyes, nod and smile while I try and fuck her in a consistent way at least. The evening is spent relaxing or working together in the lounge. She sits on the floor effortlessly curling note tails, while I sit apart from her on the sofa reading journals, covering my heat with my laptop. In those hours I want to cry, I want to scream. I want to tie a dog leash around my wife’s throat and drag her upstairs. I want more than one bathroom break. I want to sit naked, stare at the television, dribble down my chin, dribble into my hand. At bedtime we brush our teeth while she touches me, this is the time she likes to enjoy me, and then we make love and laugh, work out the weekend, and I quietly pray that I’ll fall straight to sleep around her so she knows how I feel when I’m only warm and not hot.
My twisted romantic side strews the path with soft rose petals and promises that can’t be kept. Everything does not always turn out happily ever after. In fact, it never does. Because life never ends until death. And things are always changing. I don’t know of anyone who thinks of death as ‘happily ever after’. Or anyone who can halt the progress of time and stop change from occurring.
Oh Marilyn, I saw you in a city I do not know, vivid and genuine, thighs, hips and shoulder blades.
Oh Marilyn, I saw you dancing in and out of hotel rooms, his bruises on your neck.
Oh Marilyn, I saw you repeating your lines, and tearing out your hair; a timebomb.
And oh Marilyn, I saw you beneath the streetlight, beatified,
And I saw your ugly dreams, your devilâ€™s lisp, babyfaced and gagging for it, the big men with their big cigars, thirty minutes for a bit part, thirty minutes for the whole wide world, starting with Beverley Hills.
You’ve gone off to a world of nothingness, sailed to where the sun never rises and never sets because it was never there to begin with. You live on a boat of dreams with your music and your thoughts and nothing else, and none of those really exists; not even the round suitcase you held in your hand when you left. You like to think that this is what happened, that it’s what people think of you now, that you are magical and unique and do your thing, and maybe you’ll sort yourself out now. (Fat chance.) Maybe you are a racist and a controversial artist and a punk rocker and a Jew and a lousy friend and whatever everyone says you are, but not really, no. And maybe you’re an ephemeron and a paradox and written in iambic verse and ugh, maybe. You’re a metaphor now, kiddo, for what happens to the losers; you’ve disappeared, up and vanished into thin air. That’s what happens to the unemployed and anti-socialists. They never become anything – they become nothing. You listen to the same vinyl you bought god knows how long ago, over and over again, and you smile a little smile, because at least you’ve succeeded in doing that: you are the ultimate loser, with a stupid name and so full of alcohol and drugs and that song that keeps playing itself over and over again in your mind until you can’t stand it anymore; you’re just space, and that’s how you’ve planned it all along; being a waste of nonexistent space. 31
SO SPECIAL — LUKE SHAW
(You’re not even fooling yourself with that one.) Alcohol drizzles from the half-empty bottle onto your jeans until it lands, tinkling and tapping, spilling on the cold floor and making it even stickier than it was to begin with. And maybe you’re not a loser because you didn’t have much to lose – that song is all you need, and it doesn’t let you go for a fucking minute. (You’re not a punk, she’s just angry.) It’s nice to think that Dad and step-mother still miss you; that he can’t stand living alone with that horrible woman; that maybe Chris doesn’t have another roommate and is still stuck doing the same crappy job for obnoxious people. To hope she doesn’t have a new best friend and still gazes longingly at the memories of your shared time, that maybe nobody gets her like you do. Like you did. To think that maybe Emma thinks of you from time to time, or has a sharp pain in her back to forever remind her of you. Your eyes close then, eyelashes and eyelids protecting your vision from this sunless existence, and you’re really just an egomaniac for thinking that the world has the decency to change when you leave it. (I’d rather be the devil, to be that woman man, I’d rather be the devil, to be that woman man. Aw, nothin’ but the devil, changed my baby’s mind, was nothin’ but the devil, changed my baby’s mind.) If you could just make that goddamn song stop, you could get some decent sleep. You analyse it in your head and count the words, breaking the song into parts and lines and scattered words all over your subconscious until it is forever meaningless, however sentimental and constantly playing in your mind, like a `75 with a tight crack. (That was a particularly sad joke, but it worked back then.) You like to think that you’re so special, but you don’t even know where the hell you are.
Sophie Corser And even then, I knew it already. Standing at the window and looking at the grey I saw girls with long brown hair carrying black umbrellas picking their way through the rain and a barely grown man shielding his pretty head with the London Paper. Barely-Grown stopped in a doorway to roll a cigarette and was entreated to roll one more for an old man with white hair and piano key teeth. He handed it over, taking in the old dandy’s white suit, red polka dot neckerchief and sopping shoes. Old-Dandy lit his bad roll-up and continued up the street to a café, where he sat smiling at girls with long brown hair and black umbrellas as they scuttled by. I watched as two young things screamed as a black cab drove through a puddle and drenched their boots, ignored by a boy and a girl on bicycles who rode past together and talked to each other over the rain, wet through. It was the sort of grey that can penetrate houses and heads, the grey that the city was famous for. It had been able to achieve that superior dullness of light for a hundred years. Wake early to the grey and the day stretches out before you, never ending and miserable, wake late in the day and the grey can make you feel it’s all slipping away, and Doom with whitest hands is neatening each crease of life until it is flat and blank. I found it hard not to think of six months ago, when she had agreed to live with me. Eve had, the week before, told me that she loved me. That I was the first and only, the always, more than just some boyfriend. I’d believed her, and I believed myself as I said the same words. We found a small flat on our favourite street, one large room, a kitchen of sorts in one corner, and
ALWAYS EVE — SOPHIE CORSER
windows all along one side. A small bathroom adjoining, and that was the flat. We had a double bed given to us by a friend, and nothing else. We spent our first week with just that bed, boxes piled on one side of the room: we needed nothing more than the bed; it was the dining table, the sofa, the desk for her work. On our first night in the flat, when the curtainless room was dark and she thought I was asleep, she sat up and swung her legs round onto the floor and smoked a cigarette unhurriedly, sitting perfectly upright. I watched, unsuspected. I like the curve of her waist, her birds nest hair. She had been sitting on that bed, back to the window framing the grey sky. There are so many nice ways for a bed to be decrepit. Ours had been one of the nicest, most beautiful mess for that first week of living together. The first set of sheets we had bought had a hole in them. As Eve lit a cigarette I’d kissed the inside of her leg, a few inches above the knee, and she had dropped the still burning cigarette, burning a perfectly circular hole in the crumpled white sheets. A few weeks ago we used that set of sheets again, but suddenly the hole was not funny. Eve said she hated how disgusting we could be. And she left. She took my oldest white shirt but left everything else, all our joint belongings, mismatched bits and bobs decorating the room. From the creased white sheets on the bed another memory crept out. The first thing she had pinned to the blank walls. It was a piece of fabric that she’d found in a handbag that had belonged to her grandma. ‘It must have torn off her dress while she was dancing,’ Eve said. And she’d even left that behind. On the bedside table, next to a cup of tea in a grey mug, that I had made three days before, I could imagine the note that surely must lie there. ‘I can’t forgive you this time.’
‘Leave me alone, I’m thinking.’ ‘About what?’ ‘The thing is, I don’t even know’
Standard Eve. She was evasive to the point of a rejection most of the time. Punctuated very briefly with honesty, though even her honesty was often cynical, cruel almost. ‘I’m trying to figure out what it is that I love about you, and I can’t.’ At moments like that I found myself hating her. And when she got too much, too many ‘why-are-you-looking-at-me’s, of course I reacted.
ALWAYS EVE — SOPHIE CORSER
Followed by teary apologies, hugs and tender kisses, an hour in bed where I made her feel like a queen. I knew that her friends told her that I was trouble, but when I saw the funny look in her eyes when she was scared, or shocked, or both, like Patricia in A Bout de Souffle, I knew that I didn’t hate her, and when I apologised for my reaction she knew that I loved her more than anyone could. Perhaps the night before was my worst reaction yet… Eve came home late; she had been out drinking further up the road that we lived on. I knew where, she always went to the same bar. Right at the end of the street, a tiny hole of a place, where drinks where quite cheap and the walls were covered in shambolic, bohemian and mostly terrible posters, paintings and wall hangings. The owner was a tall and apparently handsome (I never understood how) Sri Lankan with rings on his fingers and a chain nestled in his chest hair who paid his staff four pounds an hour in cash. Eve and her friends went there every day the summer we first met. She’d gone out and I hadn’t wanted her to. I stood at the window from midnight onwards, watching the street. Several false alarms. It seemed every girl with long brown hair and a grey coat had decided to walk under my window that night. Finally I saw her. It always strikes me how ridiculous it is to mistake anyone for Eve. No one else walks like her. She walks as if she is completely unaware of anyone and everything, a confident walk that would be strutting if it weren’t patently obvious that she has no idea how amazing she looks. She has been wearing the same grey coat ever since I met her, and her hair has always been long, dull brown and home trimmed, resting two thirds of the way down her back. I spotted her that night from right down the road, she was on the phone and had on a blue dress that I’d begrudgingly helped her pick out. I hate that it takes her so long to dress when she is only seeing her friends. Why should she try and impress them? When she got near enough to see my head at the window I moved, sat on the bed, and listened to the steps up the stairs and the key in the door, her swearing as the key got stuck, as always, and the usual kick to get the door open. ‘Wouldn’t you rather it was hard to open than didn’t lock at all?’ I had said when we first moved in, thinking of the questionable middle aged man who lived down stairs, thin as a rake with grey skin, who’s ‘doctor’ visited at all hours.
ALWAYS EVE — SOPHIE CORSER
She came in, took of her coat and tried to light a cigarette. I could tell she was already scared; she could never light a cigarette when scared. On the third match she did it. I pretended to read, pointedly, as she got a glass of water and undressed. She did that to try and pacify me, as if a glimpse of her perfect little breasts before she put on the T-shirt that she slept in would make me forget that I had told her not to go out. It didn’t. If anything the sight of her pale naked body made me more angry, because it was mine, it should be mine, no one else should be allowed to see it. Oh God, I hope I was wrong, I hope no one else has seen it. I don’t want anyone else to know about the small dark mole on her hip, or the scars on her knees and arms. How could they love them as I do? No one else could know why she has those scars, they are our secret. I looked at her over my book. She was wearing nice underwear. Why was she wearing those knickers? For someone else, someone else who wouldn’t know her as I do, who wouldn’t know off by heart all her clothes, all her scars and blemishes, and know that they were her nicest knickers. That scrap of pale grey silk was Othello’s handkerchief. The usual physical desire that her body would set off in me turned to physical rage, the idea of her with another, kissing another’s ears the way she should only kiss mine. I wondered whether she made the same noises with another, whether he could make her moan and shake the way I could. Did she arch her back with him, kiss his collar bone when it was over, nestled on his shoulder with one hand stroking him, tell him in her moment of weakness that she loved him, that everything would always be as it was? She left in the morning, wearing a pair of dark sunglasses to cover the bruising, though the cut on her lip was still visible. She told me she was going to get milk, and only took her purse. Three hours later I knew she’d been lying. Staring at our crumpled bed I noticed how small it looked, when the night before it had felt huge, the gap between our curled up bodies on each side of it turning into a mile wide chasm. I felt a compulsion, stepped over the blue dress crumpled on the floor, and without thinking I stooped through the grey morning light and kissed the pillow, where our heads lay and were.
PETER PAN Andrew Parkes
Trapped I see myself reflected in the boy at the window, also in the lure of language, before losing his shadow and becoming someone else.
The fictions aggressive, desperate. Volatile rhythms: flying, fighting pirates, falling in love – margins littered with selves like milk-teeth.
Pages coarse with lines of flight like the hand behind them. A shift in form made real by this pretension: a man who never grew up.
The play is now just that – eyes cobwebbed, blue mist in the early morning; locked, in signs of youth, a weathered pretence
I see everywhere, outside these pages in each of us.
*Poem commissioned by Clinic in response to the 2nd track from Talons’ debut album.
REPTILE BOY Gabriel Duckels
Denim Skin and Reptile Boy, tangled up in black clouds and a hundred dead cigarettes.
Reptile Boy played piano, until his fingers slipped off the keys.
Motorway lights are Lollypop Boulevard: the hum of the night, one car speeding, with a huge world ahead; two boys ride one car speeding.
Beyond the windscreen thereâ€™s red sky and sin. One car speeding down the boulevard: the horizon spills everywhere.
Two boys ride one car speeding. Towards a city that does not know their names. Behind them, the dark mountains from which they came.
Reptile boy used to go down to the sea, bare feet in the sand, bare chest in the air. Cliffs fell to their knees there.
We are discontinuous beings, individuals who perish in isolation in the midst of an incomprehensible adventure, but we yearn for our lost continuity. We find the state of affairs that binds us to our random and ephemeral individuality hard to bear.
With every unit of passion I envy what you have.
This light movement of spinning skirts and apple cheeks.
Then in repose asking questions ,which even un-answered, will leave you with no lasting grief.
Knowledge that a phone call garners an undamaged response of focused ears, no cracked lilt, of broken vows.
I envy and covet, but am happy to watch you hold youth and clutch, tightly then, knowing for you what exists. I hold my weight in greater silence.
MEANDERING THOUGHTS OF THE HOPELESSLY ALONE
I. She stands by the mirror. Her reflection is the same as always, dark clothes, dark circles around red rimmed eyes, hair falling across her cheek, yet she is different, changed. Too much loss, the fading hope of redeeming herself; all is taking its toll. Tears brim behind drooping lashes. Composure is a shroud, a blanket that she wraps around the remnants of her hopes, death’s shadow shutting out the hurts as it chills the veins. She’s tired, tired of the lost years, the lost warmth of a friend or lover’s hold, tired of loss. She has her hope and, in that, she is made whole. That is enough. That is everything. The silence she keeps is isolating. They don’t understand. She’s not sure if she does either. Whatever her reasons, no matter how noble, how true, those left on the sidelines are hurt, ever left in the darkness as she wanders the tunnels of knowledge. She can’t tell these companions these thoughts, can’t speak the words aloud. He doesn’t understand the secrets or the lies, doesn’t understand her distance. He cares, though. That is enough. That is everything.
MEANDERING THOUGHTS — ROB SMITH
II. History. The ticking of time through the ages of deception, the knowledge of the past wrapping itself around the subconscious of the present to be carried forward into the future. The point not to redeem the dead, but to inspire the living. History was hollow, something over with, done. Past tense, no longer important. History matters. It is all she has left. III. Ice on the ground and ice in her veins, the warmth of those around her could not permeate her body, could not warm her blood. Like a caged animal, nose pressed against the window pane, she watches the fires of life pass her by. City buildings and endless streets, people living and loving in the crisp air. It is cold for March. A man and a woman sit on a park bench near the edge of the lake. His arm draped loosely over her shoulders, their breath hanging between them in cotton wool clouds as they whisper together. The man smiles and bends to kiss the woman. Simple, touching; excruciating. IV. Home sweet home. That’s what they’d said. It used to be true. Her flat used to be a refuge from the uncertainty of the outside world. Now, pain and confusion fill the space, blowing through the partially open window as menacingly as the cold air. She shivers. They fuss around her, boiling the kettle and hunting for tea bags. Cushions are fluffed and shoes are removed. They speak occasionally, monosyllabic words catching in her throat before forcing their way out between cracking lips. She can’t speak, can’t feel. The cold has numbed her insides, its icy tendrils seeking out her most hidden parts and filling them with its chilled love.
MEANDERING THOUGHTS — ROB SMITH
It is late and she is at last alone, the darkness outside more fitting to her mood than the light cast from the inconsiderate street lamp. She closes the curtains against its onslaught. Inside the shower, she stands, head bent and fiery needles raining onto her reddening flesh in a staccato rhythm. The heat of the shower burns her skin but will not warm her, the steam fills the room with a misty presence, fogging the mirrors as it fogs her eyes. She can’t see. She doesn’t want to. When the water turns cold, she climbs from the shower, blindly reaching for her robe. Wrapping the warm material around her, she begins to dry her hair, the roar of the blow drier silencing the roar in her ears. Her hair dances in the air like fire, its flames licking at her face in a distorted halo. She wants it to consume her. Lights turned out, the darkness eerily comforting, she makes her way to bed, the warm comforter engulfing her small frame. Burying her head beneath the covers, she tries to hibernate, to disappear within the warm material and never resurface. Like a little girl seeking comfort from a beloved bear, she clings to the pillow, anchoring herself to the present. V. Mornings came and went, bringing with them a mirage of shadows and the warmth of sunlight. Spring bloomed outside. The days lost numbers, the thoughts lost grace; she existed, her body moving forward, yet she lacked purpose, direction. Silence echoes within the chasm of her self imposed quarantine; she is afraid to let anyone close: lies are contagious. She is broken, her mind and heart lying around her feet in jagged pieces that threaten to tear at her soles, her soul, threaten to trip her as she attempts to stumble along this path. She sits on the sofa, head bent and breaths deep and even. She feels like she’s suffocating. In and out, in and out, she thinks; her mind full of the mundane and shying from the profound. The soft tap at the door brings her back to the present, back to the future.
MEANDERING THOUGHTS — ROB SMITH
VI. “I’m going home.” To what? She has no home. Her arms are empty and her heart is breaking. She has no home. The journey there is quiet. The fires of life passing by as she traces her steps back. The midnight blackened streets seem to scream with excitement, the night-time crowds filling the pavements with raucous noise as bars and clubs turn out. The outside world is alive. She’s not sure if she is. Next mornings arrive in the blinks of sunrises, her tired eyes weary yet ever reverent of the glory of the new days. She has her hopes. They keep her alive.
is terrible. I pick lint from my dress, I ﬁle my nails. My horoscope tells me “You feel like you are peeling. You are still there underneath.” For ﬁfty-ﬁve minutes at 350°, I bake coming-home pie. I play it by ear with pecans, a nectarine, and the hold music at American Airlines. The tongues of bells lick me awake each morning. I look for signs in vapour trails that cross and fade. I scrub the house with Brillo pads, I keep the windows open. I don’t want you to smell the musk of rotten fruit; to understand how I am limited by loving.
I have swam through seas of egg yolk and sleep-dust, dragged my feet across the dry red ground as the sky sneers as the sun beats down, yes, I have tasted most revenges (cold, worthless, justified, or cruel) and some nights killed a bird with bare hands because I could (because I should) all to feel its hot clean blood upon my sharp pink bones.
I have lived through mundane atrocities, have walked dark cities alone, sobbed out loud on crowded trains, taken pleasure in feeding crooked angels cyanide.
I have bitten fingers, sliced worms, eaten ice cream and ice-skated. Darling, I have been that unfed creature eating at your elbow.
I have told you my life story in photographs and small talk, poured coffee and smiled nicely, paid the bill and walked you home.
LISTEN — GABRIEL DUCKELS
I have been the man who shakes hands too hard, I have given money to the beggar who snatched your wallet. I have shown you the bones of me, our clothes tangled together on your floor and then I was the beggar too.
But not when you’re my temple, and not when my head hurts and I can’t sleep. Nor when the stars crowd the sky and our hands cup the moon, or when the angels hide their faces, and my feet turn into fins.
Not when the dark seawater rises up I forget that I have been your darker sins too. I forget that I have worn her rings too, I forget that I have torn her things too, clawed her necklaces, smashed her jewels, my face a torn photograph now, on her floor.
LISTEN â€” GABRIEL DUCKELS
Birds sing songs for streetlights and boarded-up shops, lonely insomniacs and sleeping dogs. I have been the flutter of their wings too â€“ I have been the midnight snow, falling softly, softly. I have lived in theme parks and tree trunks, loved at street-corners, I have bit the peach, smelt fire and raised my hands to an unwelcome sunrise.
I have been your rotten fruit. I have been in your mouth too. I have chimed your molars and clattered down your canines, and I have sat in your belly and stained all your secrets.
I have been that cigarette burning between your lips. I have been that lost duckling, I have been that homeless housefly, been that biting dog, that feral child. I wanted it, I wanted it, I wanted it.
The hermaphroditic license to lie, when all truth of body is born into difference and you constitute the unintelligible. They make sense to me, the incessant lies, when truth flits away with education. But I am not bitter. The antithesis in fact. Sweeter than Iâ€™ve ever been. My blood stream is filtering pineapple chunk syrup into my cum to make it taste nice. Education for educations sake makes education for education sake seem so futile. How about education for the sake of survival? For the sake of the will to live? For the sake of realisation that living isnâ€™t everything,
EDUCATION â€” HANNAH LEVENE
that though survival might be called an instinct isnâ€™t it more interesting to question whether it is fear or hunger that keeps us alive? not what we must do in order to survive, not what success is not what success is not what success is. for something other than success because success is a pain in the arse. it makes the struggle so retrospective. retroactive in fact; actively affecting the struggle to become an upwards one instead of what you thought it was at the time; just a struggle.
Looking up makes me vulnerable. I have the potential to lose my sense of place and the comfort provided by the repetition of the pavement. I have the potential to lock eyes with a stranger, a strange stranger, and my experiences have unluckily been more detrimental than worthwhile. I am afraid of the obvious â€“ the terrifying and demoralizing â€“ and also, the consequential, the results of potentially nerve-wracking, gut-wrenching situations of the heart in flux.
JULY MORNING IN TOWER HAMLETS
Bang goes my trust tonight daybreak comes and steals the stars.
Outside his room the city stirs the rumble of trains and cars.
No more will his hands linger, or his fingers take me under.
Outside his room the city stirs and in my heart, the thunder.
Another summer, further rain: heâ€™s never quite forgotten.
Outside his room the city stirs I think my heart has rotten.
Bang goes the daydreams now and thus the cloudy skies -
I suppose I shanâ€™t be more than bones so long as I am alive.
I sit at my desk by the window and watch the world that happens in the park across the street; and I think that autumn is the falling asleep of the world: a definite unavoidable ending. Spring is the beginning and autumn is the end, and the hours between are lost in unremembered thoughts until dusk creeps in around me and the street lamps light up to hide the park from my sight. The bear on my desk watches my reflection in the blackened glass; he is waiting and will always be waiting. I think that he looks sad. Is it ridiculous that I imagine he has emotions? I was going to throw him away at first. I held him out over the bin but my hand wouldnâ€™t let go. He just used to watch me when I would lie down to sleep. Now he is always in there with me. I clutch him tightly to my chest, and when I burrow deeply into the dark duvet and press my face into the pillow I can feel the tiny thing that I cannot see, cradled in my arms. The buses rumble down my street with their autumn sound; the distant sounds from the street press uncomfortably close to my ears and the phone in the hallway rings. The machine bleeps before I hear my own voice speaking to somebody who is not there; the strange voice that is mine promises to call back soon but I am bored of counting the beeps. The doorbell rings too, but there are no voices there. The sun always rises after I do, illuminating the bright colours of autumn as it falls outside my window. Autumn is the end and spring is the
AUTUMN — BEN MCKAY
beginning. I find autumn more beautiful: the crunch of those colours under my feet on a crisp day as the world around me falls slowly to sleep; the last delicate glimmers of life drifting away in a final tiny yawn. My whole world has piled up around me in this small blue room, unread books stacked between the desk and the bed, empty papers and full boxes of pens. So much has been left un-started; I cannot lift myself to begin. It is all I can do to simply get up and walk through the park across the street, where children play in the colours, throwing the dead leaves up into the air with delighted cries, shrieks and giggles. Dogs run pass me; lycra suited runners do the same. Cyclists and skaters fill the pathways. Buggies and prams roll on by, pushed by people that I do not see, and then back to the desk by my window where I watch as the world falls away. ***
I found out I was going to be a father in the autumn. That winter was colder than anything I’ve ever known. But in the spring I wasn’t a father; there was no child; there was only the view of the park from my window, and when I walked through it there was nothing crisp and the colours didn’t crunch. On the desk beside the bear sits a photograph of my family. I often put it face down so that they can’t watch me sitting here, wasting my life away with my single thought; the only real thing that I could have left behind me vanished so quickly that I hardly even knew it was there. The world changes and autumn dissolves into winter. My mother’s voice called out from the machine in the hallway and echoed around the flat. She called my name over and over and I could hear the tears in her voice. She called back each time the machine cut her off. Again and again she called, but I couldn’t pick up the phone. ***
I knew it was Christmas Eve when I woke up. I didn’t know how I knew it: I couldn’t remember the last time that I had checked the date, but I knew what day it was. The day passed much like any other but just before midnight I heard a key unlocking my door. My mum was now the only other person who had a key to my flat, and I heard her voice calling my name from
AUTUMN — BEN MCKAY
the door, her feet on the floorboards in the hallway, her putting boxes down in the living room and the rustling around as she straightened up the room. Then she knocked on the door of the small blue bedroom and she came in. She didn’t say anything, but just sat on the bed beside me and looked into my face; her eyes taking in the shadow of the beard that her son still couldn’t really grow. “Merry Christmas,” she whispered eventually and ruffled my hair. “I have a present for you in the living room.” “Thanks,” I muttered back. “I’ll get it later.” She narrowed her eyes a little and then got up and left the room; the sound of feet on the floorboards sounded unnatural to me. Then she came back cuddling a small mass of black fur that wriggled in her arms. “I know you’re not really supposed to give these for Christmas, but I thought this was a special case.” She placed the puppy gently down on the bed and watched as it nosed excitedly around me. “I know how much you always wanted one when you were little. Merry Christmas,” she said again. “Merry Christmas,” I replied, and reached out to scratch the puppy’s ears. “Thanks, mum.” “You’re welcome.” She sat down at the desk and watched me messing with the puppy for a while. “When did you last have something proper to eat?” “I don’t know; a few days ago.” My mum shook her head and gave me the look that only a mother can. “Well, you sort out a place for him and I’ll get started on dinner.” “I don’t think there’s anything in the fridge.” “Do you think I didn’t guess that before I came round?” “Thanks,” I said again. “No problem. Now, for god’s sake, would you take a shower and open a window in here? It’s disgusting and no fit place for a puppy to live, never mind my son! You’re going to have to look after him if you want him to stay. If I find out that you don’t treat him properly - food, walks, baths and all the rest - then I’ll take him back, you hear?” “Yes, mum.” “Good. Now while you’re in there, think of a name for him.” She ruffled my hair and turned out of the room again.
AUTUMN â€” BEN MCKAY
The puppy was rustling and nosing round the bed still, heâ€™d managed to get under the duvet and was nuzzling around the bear. I picked it up and looked at his sad face for a moment before I sat him back on the desk and then turned to look at the mass of black fur that was bouncing around the bed. I lifted him up and cuddled him towards my face; he was warm and pressed his wet nose against my cheek and licked me; I felt myself smile and then left the room and put him in the basket by the door while I showered. ***
I walk with Barney in the park in the autumn; the colours fall around us and crunch under our feet. He bounds through the leaves, leaping up as giggling children throw them into the air for him and I smile. He barks at cyclists and runners and sits with his tail thumping on the ground as strangers scratch his ears. We head back to my warm flat and to my study, where he sits on my feet under my desk as I write by the window overlooking the park. When dusk starts to turn the room grey, I close the shutters and turn on the lights before my friends come round, as so often happens these days: endless nights of films, wine and conversation. And when I go to bed, I look up at the shelf where the bear now sits, looking happily down at me, and I sleep almost contentedly again.
What choice of words Or mix of memory Could be conjured upon you? Sugar-pie, Moon-beam, Sweet-cheeks? Not even predictive texting agrees with me. Would you have me remember that your skin smells Like play-dough? Your brittle hair, such a glad Contrast to your soft face.
And then you mean the world to me. My worst quality shines through Even now Emotionally stupid. You, somehow, A Mythical Other You, A sovereign sex.
6,775,235,741 â€” MJH MILNER
I look at how we talk, how we attempt And guess what The Other means, We both intertwine and combine, Become parabolic prophasis, reborn in ambiguity. It takes a moment Before I remember my solitude, Or decide once more, Unclench my fists, Feel the hot irons of tension release. Itâ€™s not self aware. It has no self. That love is no commodity? And If I would do my best, If only I always remembered That it was my own electrical impulses I adored? That those best suited to love Would choose themselves first?
And as I remember, the Earth has gone full revolution Twenty one times already, Whilst six billion, seven hundred and seventy five million, two hundred and thirty five thousand, seven hundred and forty one eyes stare back, into the gaze of the Burning desolation of the sun, Celestial bodies who coexist with each other On a small planet, In the middle of nowhere, Dearest lovers, bigger still than all of it.
She’d always been an open book. Words, phrases, ideas, inspirations, tattooed her skin, visible to those granted access to her collection. Her aspiration was emblazoned on her forehead, drawing him in at their first meeting. The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. theme continued, with ‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter’ on her left cheek, and ‘The ultimate measure of a man...’ covering her neck and collar bones. A past First Lady adorned her other cheek, ‘No one can make you feel inferior without your consent’. Around her right ankle an ode to her father, ‘A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops’; ‘Each time a girl opens a book and reads a womanless history, she learns she is worth less’ on her left. ‘The fear of freedom is strong within us’ traced a scar running the length of her lower leg. Virginia Woolf lived on her right wrist with ‘For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.’ He’d laughed at ‘I am woman’ circling her nipples, wondering who she thought she had to convince. He tasted ‘Hear me roar’ on her tongue. He agreed completely with the written warning ‘Dangerous when wet’ in capital letters just above her auburn curls. Echoes of previous lovers littered her body. Insipid proclamations faded into fine white lines on her flesh, barely legible and catalogued for oblivion. A select few were preserved, Blake’s ‘Exuberance is Beauty’ on her hip and
ATHENAEUM — ANON
‘The nakedness of woman is the work of God’ across the top of her backside. Maya Angelou covered the small of her back in ornate script, proclaiming ‘I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.’ He’d added to her tome over the years. In a scotch-induced delirium, he’d inscribed the lyrics to Peggy Lee’s ‘Fever’ down her impossibly long right inner thigh. She’d smiled indulgently and shaken her head as he’d attempted to serenade her. They’d slammed into each other with quiet desperation the night before she left for her self-imposed exile to LA. He should have know she’d walk away. ‘Sometimes I wonder if men and women really suit each other. Perhaps they should live next door and just visit now and then,’ written in bold on her left hand should have been enough to warn him. Lying next to her sleeping form, he’d felt the need to mark her in some way. To make her remember him, them; to change her mind. All he could think of was part of a verse of a Joan Baez song his sister had played ad nauseam after her first breakup. In the dark, he’d scratched the lyrics into her left inner thigh: ‘And we haven’t got too much in common Except that we’re so much alike And I hate it for though You’re a big part of me But our time is passing us by.’ She was gone by morning, leaving only a blank piece of paper and a pen. A number of years later, he’d watched as she’d walked towards him. Her skirt had clung to her legs, offering a glimpse of the parchment. His songs were still there. Lying on top of threadbare sheets in the Everytown Motel, he’d retraced his parting message, as her eyes demanded to know why they were doing this again and her body replied, “Who cares?” Moving within her, the last verse was recalled. In a cursive script, he’d completed the song:
ATHENAEUM — ANON
‘But cast us adrift And cross a few stars And I’m good for one more try.’ Diffuse light spread across the bed at dawn. He’d lowered the covers until the entire length of her body was submerged in the glow. Starting at the top of her neck, his lips had trailed down her spine. She’d muttered threats into the pillow, turning into soft sighs as he reached the small of her back. He never told her about the words he’d burnt into the hollows at the back of her knees with the first direct rays that struck her skin. She wouldn’t want to hear them. In a plush hotel room in New York City, he’d written her birthday message in the shadows of her breasts. Lying back against the pillows, one hand in the curls at the back of his neck, she’d asked what it was about. He’d replied, “You”. She ran her foot over his calf and with that voice he never could resist, told him to read it to her. hand in the curls at the back of his neck, she’d asked what it was about. He’d replied, “You”. She ran her foot over his calf and with that voice he never could resist, told him to read it to her.
“To me, fair friend, you never can be old; For as you were when first your eye I eyed, Such seems your beauty still.” He’d waited a breath before looking up at her. She was biting her lip, her face uncertain how to react until their eyes met. A small grin broke free and her words trembled slightly, “So, I’m your friend?” He’d pursed his lips and tilted his head. “Possibly.” Her hand stroked his cheek and she’d commanded, “Come here,” before whispering “Thank you,” against his mouth. He never asked about the additions and alterations to her text over the years.
ATHENAEUM — ANON
He didn’t query the freshly inked name ringing her navel or the stick figure drawings in the crease of her upper thigh, just above ‘Fever’. Or ‘Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens,’ which appeared suddenly on her wrist after a particularly frustrating day. He tried to soothe the scour marks partially obscuring ‘Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe,’ on her shoulder blade. He wiped ‘Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens,’ from under her eyes before it soaked in. He never said anything, worried his viewing card would be withdrawn. But now...he was willing to give it up if it meant salvaging her. Her library was sinking under the weight of her own expectations, battered by the waves and tides of reality and scrutiny.
‘I have a dream’ was distorted by worry lines. Eleanor and Martin had already suffered water damage. Jefferson continued to irritate the skin stretched over her shoulder blade. He hadn’t retraced his own inscriptions in months. All week he’d sent her notes. She’d been experimenting with them on her forearms, now resembling blotting paper. Thin jagged letters, words crossed out, interspersed with areas where the ink had bled through her skin. His own pen rested on a blank piece of paper. The well had run dry, he had nothing left to tell her. Except maybe the illuminated manuscript that existed only in the hollows at the back of her knees. Maybe it was time for those words to be given voice.
It is a mixture of blank, breathless terror and a tenderness that threatens to dissolve him every time they really touch.
I shrieked your name we walked on water through a city not quite yours yet. Blades of grass beneath my back, sun in the sky shouting heat.; and I was built to explode with you.
Footsteps snapping staccato down endless empty hallways; sometimes I swear to God these walls are falling down A hundred tiny pieces of a hundred tiny frowns smashed down from people’s mouths and heads like insects under feet, or broken glass Stuck up everywhere for boys and girls to gawp at. It’s always going to turn a building into an aching arrogant heart.
Is this a ghost talking to me?
But ghosts and memories can’t shiver in the cold like trees in the wind. They can’t lose weight, or make mistakes.
That voice is dirt on my shoulder, that voice is heaven, that voice is a million memories of the times you died in my arms.
TOUCH BUT NEVER DARE TO SPEAK
Chase Away The Enigma The man on her floor is simple; he is all kinds of surprises. He is blue eyes and golden hair, strong arms and long legs. He is clumsy and ungraceful. He calls her honey. The man on her floor is simple. He chases away the enigma. Take Me Into The Night There is a truth that she learnt a while ago; monsters come out at night. Human and inhuman, evil and good, all monsters show their faces after dark. She has learnt the midnight world, knows its contours and its taste. Just like she knows the taste of blood. Her blood as she bites her lip. His blood as she bites his shoulder, marking him as she is crushed against the wall. They reflect in the mirror, both bleeding, both with faces contorted in ecstasy. Sheâ€™d never before realised how much pleasure looks like pain. The man who sits across from her is now is blue eyes and golden hair; he is strong hands that have bruised her thighs.
TOUCH BUT NEVER DARE TO SPEAK — ALICE DAVIES
Bite My Lip, Drink From Me She remembers tenderness. The caress of a calloused finger on her cheek, the warmth of heavy sated palms on her stomach. She remembers hands in her hair, soothing, loving, then pulling. Pain welcomed, her mouth and throat filled with him, drowning with him. She remembers him above her; eyes squeezed shut, breath offered against her neck in heavy pants. Remembers the wet, warm slide of sweat and blood beneath her hands as her nails broke the skin. The man above her now is blue eyes and golden hair, is strong hands that wrap around her wrists holding them above her head as he moves with a heat that brands. The man above her now is invisible she sees only brown hair and hazel eyes. Touch But Never Dare To Speak She has acquired a taste for the cigarettes that she once abhorred. The bitter residue of smoke in her mouth. The knowledge that this will kill her if she’s not already walking dead, if she’s not shot or burned, if a psycho doesn’t slit her throat or if she doesn’t drown in a fucking waterfall of tears. The man at her side is pastel tones and warm flesh. The man beneath her skin is angles and words and more words, he is at one with the misery invading her body, part of the memories that leech of her mind. He is red and black and solid and painful. He is killing her, but it’s ok, it’s love. The man at her side is hands that won’t touch her with softness, wont wound her with gentle tenderness. The man at her side wont whisper promises he can’t keep. Bruise Me, Break My Soul Her world here is temporary. The crash of waves below, the scratch of unfamiliar stubble across her breasts, the burn of alcohol down her throat. All is temporary. Her real world, the one she must return to is fragmented. Pity, confusion, lies, ridges
TOUCH BUT NEVER DARE TO SPEAK â€” ALICE DAVIES
in her back where the bathroom tiles marked her skin as he pressed her into the wall, as he drove his pain into her beneath the showers spray. Her real world is a world that forces her to her knees. Whether held at gunpoint and waiting for that final bang, listening to him talk beside her, or feeling the cold tiles chilling her to the bone as she takes him into her mouth; either way she is on her knees. Her real world is one of pity fucks, of angry fucks, mind fucks. Scratches on his back and bruises on her wrists. Her real world is broken glass. Blurring World and Blurring Pain Before, she would wait days before allowing the tears to come. An angry word, a bitter fight or a stinging loss; all would be pushed aside until she was ready for the tears to fall. Before, he would be there with a warm embrace, a gentle presence. She relied on his strength. Now, they use each other. Bodies, not words do the talking; pain not comfort is the cure. Before, the tears would come. Now her eyes are dry, the smoke that makes them water her only release, the scotch in her hands her only painkiller. Ice rattles in the glass, moving round and round, stirring the amber liquid as the sunset stirs the sea. The world is liquid. You Said You Loved Me The last time he had broken the rules. Strong hands had turned gentle, kisses had turned soft. Moving within her with infinite tenderness. Heâ€™d watched her. And as he came he told her he loved her. The last time, sheâ€™d forgotten her coat, her bag, was barely dressed, but she left. The last time he broke the rules.
TOUCH BUT NEVER DARE TO SPEAK — ALICE DAVIES
Breathe My Breath, Tell Me Lies The man in her bed is golden hair and slackened lips, is gentle snores and silent peace. He will tell her beautiful lies. He wont hurt her with truths. The man who will meet her will take her bag, take her hand. He will say he missed her. He will take her home, see the bruises, smell the smoke, and taste the bitterness. He will mark her, claim her once more. He will consume her. He will tell her he loves her. He will consume her. Then he will kiss her. He will consume her. And there will be nothing left. Touch My Flesh I’m Dead Within Her body is cold. The body sprawled across her is hot. The man she left behind was golden hair and bright blue eyes. The man who cried when she told him of her misery is charcoal pain. She had told him with cold clipped clarity what she had done, who she’d done. He cried. The body sprawled over her is hot, but she only feels the cold. Don’t Look Back Light seeping through, veins gradually warmed. The man beside her holds her hand. He smiles. The man with brown hair and hazel eyes. She bears his mark, smells of him. She knows his angles and his taste. Just as she knows the taste of blood. It is a flavour she will treasure. Theirs is a love of loss, a union of misery. They will not know this daylight world; will not learn its contours. Gentle hands and simple words. They will forget and never look back.
I walk my cold distances, making angry creaks in the floorboards. Thinking only of dead things and stray cats and flaming suns setting into the sky, like these shadows I find below my grey eyes too many sleepless nights, too much bruised pride.
I held hands with your footsteps and you never quite shut the door; and my belly never stopped rumbling for fulfilment, for more.
So I step down the stairs of this aching house, but these days my body does not fall to the floor. No more hands clawed, eyes splintered, spitting tears.
BREATHE HEAVY â€” GABRIEL DUCKELS
You had me dancing like a dog turned rabid, twice on my knees and thrice in my grave, always clutching at those pieces of you.
I had to have them locked up shut beneath my bed, making our very own glittering skeleton, breaking quietly to dust, our own dirty stigma: bits of bone, bits of teeth, every single bit of you â€“ put away, kept out.
The sun rises ten times a second now I know what to do. The door has opened itself for me and the sky is smiling blue.
A WISE WOMAN ALWAYS TOLD ME
to say my prayers before I went to sleep (long after I stopped believing that anyone was listening). She said: nightmares come from the heart. Make sure you donâ€™t have secrets. Too bad she never explained how you share a twin extra-long with someone six-foot-one. Would mother really know best how to stack two bodies in such a space? Would she understand that sometimes we are close enough for me to feel your bad dreams crawling over me and seeping into my pores like bad river air in the morning? I wake feeling moldy and sleep again, to dream about sleeping more; suspended in warm darkness hearing your heartbeat and your blood. Letâ€™s just lie here, breathe in and out, and grow.
CONVERSATIONS IN DARKNESS
“Where are you going?” I mutter stupidly. It’s the thing that I say whenever he moves away from me. I don’t think he finds it funny. I sometimes worry that it’s just annoying, but I still do it anyway. I don’t know why. “I’m just rolling over.” “Why?” “I was too hot,” he whispers. “But you were keeping me warm.” “Sorry. Did I wake you?” “No, I was only just dropping off. I thought you were sleeping.” He says nothing but breaths deeply. I can tell there’s thinking there, so I wait. “I keep thinking about death,” he says. I say nothing for a second that stretches out around us, then: “Oh,” another pause. “What about it?” “I just keep thinking about it – when I’m going to sleep.” “Tell me what you’re thinking.” “I guess it’s just that when I go to sleep, I’m unconscious of everything else that’s going on, and I don’t believe in any sort of afterlife so I don’t believe that there’s anything that might happen afterwards.” He pauses again, maybe waiting for me to interrupt like I do in every conversation, but this time I wait for him to continue.
CONVERSATIONS IN DARKNESS — BEN MCKAY
“I mean I sometimes wish that I did believe something, but I don’t. I think that people believe stuff like that so the death thing is easier for them.” I say nothing when he pauses again, but sense that he’s waiting for me to show him that I’m at least still awake, so I make a sound in the back of my throat; a ‘yeah’ with my mouth closed. “I’m sorry,” he says quietly. “Let’s just go to sleep.” “No, keep talking.” “Maybe it’s because of where I am in my life, with where I’m at with my course, and with you, with my friends and my family. I’ve been waiting for twenty two years for my life to start – preparing for twenty two years for my life to start. I think about school and how much I hated it, about not getting into college and working that year in a shop and spending all of my money on going out and clothes and dvds, then deciding to go to college, getting in, doing what I wanted to do to prepare for what I wanted to do, and meeting you, and then getting onto my course, moving here, meeting new people, and preparing for what I’m going to do when it’s all over.” He coughs hard and the bed shakes. He coughs again and again, just like I do when I start coughing, and I fear that I’ve given him the illness that I won’t go to the doctors about, and I imagine what I’d do if he died. I’ve been reading Wuthering Heights and don’t think that Brontë got it right. I think that if he dies first I’d just dissolve; and I’d sit on his grave screaming until death came for me too. “It’s just a cough,” I always say whenever he tries to get me to make an appointment. “Yes, but it was just a cough when you started coughing a year and a half ago.” He is exasperated with me. “Will you please go to the doctor?” I always agree that I will – I’ll book an appointment and get it sorted out. I suppose that I’m scared that it’s not just a cough, that it’s TB or something. But how could it be? I’ve had all my jabs and I don’t even think that people
CONVERSATIONS IN DARKNESS — BEN MCKAY
get TB or consumption anymore, do they? I don’t know. I usually joke around and say that it’s just the plague: nothing really to worry about. People laugh the first few times they hear it. He never does. He just sighs, and I change the subject. I sit up because he does, coughing so hard that I can hear everything moving around in his chest and I rub his back. “You need to go to the doctor about that,” I say and he nods. “It’s not as bad as it sounds – I just have some phlegm that’s sitting there,” he bangs his hand on his chest. “That’s attractive,” I say. “What were you saying?” “Well it’s all been leading up to the end of the year, when I finish, and I’m supposed to get an agent and try to get a job.” “And that makes you think about dying?” “It’s just that I could go out tomorrow and get run over or something.” He taps twice on the headboard of our bed. “I would have spent twenty two years just preparing for death-” “Rather than actually living?” I finally cut in. “Exactly. And how can anyone actually prepare to die? It’s just so unfair. If I knew that there was nothing after then I could try to prepare myself for that, or even if I knew that I was going to burn in hell forever, then I’d maybe be able to do something to prepare for that. But I don’t know.” I don’t reply straight away, but squeeze his arm so he knows I’m still awake and listening. But he’s scared me, two of my big fears: the second one is that he’ll turn religious and I’ll lose him forever. “I don’t think that there’s really anything that anybody can do to prepare for death.” Useless. “Nobody knows, maybe that’s the point – if there is one.” He says nothing for long enough for me to carry on speaking. “My parents always said that this is only part of it, that we were doing something before we were here, now we’re here and when we die we’ll have something else to do too,”
CONVERSATIONS IN DARKNESS — BEN MCKAY
I tell him reluctantly, wanting to say something. “That would be nice,” he sighs. “Yeah,” I agree, “But at what cost? You just have to give up everything you are and be punished for your thoughts. I think that the best thing that you can do is just live as much as you can, do everything, see everything go everywhere and then death will just be another step into the unknown.” “I suppose,” he says. “Has this been keeping you up a lot?” “For the last few weeks, I think.” “I’m sorry. Does it scare you?” “I just keep thinking about it as I’m drifting off to sleep, because when I’m sleeping, I’m not a part of anything that’s going on. I don’t even know about anything, and I don’t dream a lot so I’m not even really aware of myself when I’m sleeping. When I’ve been dead for a long time, I’ll just be nothing; no one will remember me, and the fact that I was once here will be meaningless.” “Just think of it as a big sleep. Maybe you’ll be all warm and snug forever, dreamless in just comfortable nothingness. Maybe that’s the best that it can be.” “I suppose.” He breathes and I wait. “I’m not saying that I’d want to live forever; that’d be horrible. It just makes me sad that all of this will be over and I’ll be nothing.” “Would you really want there to be something after?” I ask. “I don’t know.” “I mean,” I laughed a little. “This is the least romantic thought ever, but I sometimes think that when we’re dead I’d want nothing more than to be with you, our thoughts, or minds, or spirits or whatever just holding onto each other, together forever; but then I think, would we not just-” “Start to bicker?” he laughed too. “Yeah, I think that we’d need other people to be there, or we’d drive each other nuts. I think that the same would happen for everybody.”
CONVERSATIONS IN DARKNESS — BEN MCKAY
“I’m sorry,” he says again. “Why?” “Because talking about death isn’t the nicest thing to do before going to sleep.” “Don’t worry. I think about it all the time, and it scares me. I don’t want to go from being something to being nothing. I don’t want to lose everything that I’ve worked for and lived through. It’s the biggest waste. But I don’t know what else to think. Everybody tells you that they are right. Everybody swears blind that they have the answers. But every answer negates the others. It seems to me that the truth of it is that we can’t know what it’s like to be dead until we can’t come back. It’s a one- way street. You can choose to go down it at any time, but apparently you can’t choose to come back, which says to me that there is nothing after. So try not to worry about it. You’re here with me and that’s evidence enough that they’re all wrong, and comfort enough for me to sleep.”
We are bred with greatness, regardless of how talented or true that sentiment may be. We are children of immense and profound love, a love that, while cherished, leads us to believe that we are profoundly loved by all, that our thoughts are valued regardless of how inconsequential, and that our personalities are ones to be understood rather than to be questioned.
A: Matilda and the Devil I. It was about the time that Matilda went away that I began to notice the presence of what I would later come to call the Devil. It had been two days since I had seen her last, and as I arrived at work the jungle drums had already begun to sound; as I walked along the corridor towards the staff room I was accosted by Jennifer. “I’m not sure if you’ve heard Peter, but the police may need to speak to you later about the disappearance of one of your students.” “Who?” She checked a piece of paper on her clip board, clearly for effect. It was obviously an act she had been performing all morning. “A year thirteen called Matilda Leigh. Wendy’s her tutor, but I understand that she took one of your classes, yes?” “Yes, that’s right.” Jennifer clearly expected more from me. “She was a good student. What happened?” “Well, from what I’ve been told, she was supposed to be staying with a friend over the weekend, but she didn’t come back when her parents were expecting her last night, and her mobile was turned off when they tried calling it. So, they called the friend, and it turns out that she didn’t stay over the weekend at all. It was arranged, apparently, but at the last minute Matilda cancelled. Well, as you can imagine, her parents started panicking and called the police.”
ABC SUBURBIA — CHRIS HARRISON
“So... what do the police think happened? I mean, did she run away, or... “ Both I and Jennifer let this hang in the air between us for a moment. “I haven’t heard anything about that. Anyway, if the police do need you, I’ll let you know.” When I entered the staff room, it was ablaze with whispers; a hushed conversation held over by the sink between Andrew (mathematics), Andrew (English literature and language) and Irene (English teaching assistant); over at the coffee table in the centre of the room sat Wendy (art and design, Matilda’s tutor), surrounded by seven or eight other members of staff, including non-teaching staff like Barry (head caretaker) and Lynne (head of finance), all of whom asked questions of Wendy, and all of whom sat in awed fascination at her replies. In small town suburbia, this was clearly a big deal, and everyone in this room was wringing it for all the drama they could. They would go home tonight and tell their partners and friends all about it, this great event in their mists, in their little part of the world. One or two of them made attempts at catching my eye as I walked across the room to the kettle, and I avoided them with little sidesteps and nods of hello. This was partly due to the anger that I felt over the collective rubbernecking, and partly because I was acutely aware of the deception that needed to be maintained. I suppose one way to do it would have been to merrily join in with the rest, as if I, like them, were just another teacher of the girl, add information here, gleaming information there. However, I feared that, were I to involve myself in this way, I would let something slip, let some tiny piece of information that shouldn’t be in my possession out and into the room, and that would bring the focus of the room onto me. I already felt as though I had been found out, and was merely playing my part in an even grander deception that was staged, not in my flat or obscure little restaurants and between two people, but in some place far bigger, far scarier. And the cause of all of this was not just some girl, but a beautiful girl. Not pretty in the way that some young women are, with faces that are clumsily done up and with skirts hitched high, but beautiful. Beautiful in the way she spoke and thought, or at least in the way I presumed that she thought. Beautiful in the way she held herself and entered a room. She was beautiful in the way that she kept her secrets, and they in turn were beautiful in the way she chose to reveal them. All of which made it hard to
ABC SUBURBIA — CHRIS HARRISON
believe that, of all the men that swarmed about her, competing amongst themselves for her attentions, she picked me to be the receiver of those very same attentions. II. “I have to go home. I think I’ve got a stomach bug.” “But what about the police?” Jennifer sat behind her desk, itself situated next to the door of the head’s office. “ I’ll try and be in tomorrow. If they really need to speak to me today, I guess I could make it back in. I just really don’t feel up to teaching a class.” The room was bright, accentuated by the yellow walls, and a breeze knocked the metal slats of the blind against the window frame rhythmically. Jennifer said nothing, just sat and stared at me, judging my performance, or perhaps not. Whatever this silence meant, it was at this moment, looking back, that the Devil made its first appearance; sitting quietly in the corner of the office and in the corner of my eye, black body and green eyes, staring, and then gone. “ It that okay?” “Yes, it’s fine. I’ll sort out some cover for your classes, and I take it that if the police ask for you, I can give them your number? “ Of course.” “Okay then. You get yourself home and rest, and let me know as soon as you can if you’re coming in tomorrow.” “No problem. Thanks Jennifer.” And then gone. III. The first time that I saw her; the first lesson of a new year, the class was full of students that two months previously had to wear school uniforms and were now taking full advantage of a new freedom, with every one of them sporting obviously new purchases. Shiny new clothes polished and buffed sneakers, boots, and trainers. She was the same, I suppose. I must have seen her around the school before she became an A-level student, and in the quiet, crushed moments between us I would claim to her that I had, of course I had, but the truth of the matter is that I’d never noticed her before. Students in uniform do have a certain way of blurring into one great mass, moving as one through the corridors and playground. The impulse for the
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students to in some way customise their uniforms seemed strangely absent at the school, with only the occasional, ludicrously shortened tie or hitched up skirt, which would be quashed by certain members of the staff seemingly within moments. I could never find the will to do that. Nothing particular happened that first time; she laughed along with everyone else at my jokes designed to show the students that I was a pretty laid back guy; she copied down in to her work book at the right points the words that I spoke to the class as a whole. I suppose I may have looked in her general direction slightly more often than anywhere else in the room, but nothing that made it too obvious that she had roused my attention. And so it went on, twice a week for, say, two months or so. We would occasionally bump into each other in the corridors, or perhaps I would see her in the sixth-form common room on my way to the main office, but nothing that was in anyway abnormal. Of course, it was one of the more common occupation hazards, coming into contact on a daily basis with attractive – if not to mention officially unobtainable – girls, but it had never been a problem before. Even the more mature of the female students at the school were so aware of their age to maturity ratio that it was all but destroyed by their pathetic posturing, and the rest of the girls were just that: girls. That’s not to say that, every now and again, one might see a girl and think in ten years time... but that was as far as the thought had ever gone. Matilda on the other hand was something different; ageless would be one way to put it, but saying that would be to make her sound like a piece of interior design. What I mean to say is that she seemed to be any age she so chose; a young girl in some of her actions, a woman in some of her others. The way she seemed to look at the world appeared to be far beyond her years, and yet she apparently felt no need to reinforce this with feigned thoughtfulness, instead choosing to express herself straightforwardly. But how could I have known all of this at the time? I was no more aware of her inner machinations than those of any other student. I suppose, if I’m being truly honest, it was simply the way that she looked at me. The way she looked at me, with humour and seduction, that took me back to a time before in my vaguely remembered past. When I thought about her she would appear, not in any situation in which I had 89
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actually seen her, but in the snapshots of what felt like a slightly altered life; she was comforting me at the wake of my father instead of my mother; she was the girl I kissed at my twenty-first birthday party instead of a girl whose name I can no longer recall; she was the passenger in my car as I drove to see my brother after the birth of his first child, instead of me driving alone. Whatever you may think, I tried to act professionally. These thoughts and emotions were sucked down inside of me, and outwardly I continued being just another teacher, handing out assignments and taking them in again, marking the work, and in general guiding the students along to as good a mark as they were capable of. Matilda, though, had other ideas. IV. I arrived back at the flat a little over an hour after leaving it earlier that morning. After dropping my briefcase onto the kitchen table, I went through to the lounge, sat down on the sofa, and... nothing. Nothing at all, just a wide, blank space where thought should have been, thoughts that were now paralysed by the seething mass of the deception. A blank space where a small pulse of pride used to be, not just at the fact that I could seduce such a girl – such a woman – as Matilda Leigh, but pride at the very lie that was required to maintain our relationship. But that’s not true; it wasn’t I that seduced Matilda, but rather Matilda that seduced me. I sat on the sofa, listening to a breeze from the open window in the lounge move through the room and on into the kitchen, gently knocking the thin metal tubes of the wind-chime against each other, tinkling by the door to the fire escape. I sat on the sofa, and became overwhelmed by the feeling that the large part that I thought I played in a small story was, in fact, a small part in a larger one. And once again, I noticed the Devil. I saw it to the right in my peripheral vision, sat in the doorway to the kitchen, still, its terrible eyes staring at me. Just as before, when I turned to look, it had gone. Of course, it wasn’t I that seduced Matilda, but Matilda that seduced me. V. It was the winter of the year that I first noticed her. Typically there was no snow, but an abundance of rain and a seemingly endless, driving wind. Darkness was falling around five pm, shortening the
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use of my day to teaching alone. The sky was only ever gray or black. The usual sleepy nature of suburbia in the winter had been rudely awakened this year; the bodies of two primary school girls had been found murdered, along with the corpse of a fox, and left in one of the fields that surrounded the town. They had been found, as such things usually are, by a dog walker, who instantly reported his find to the police. This then prompted the alchemy of the crowd, who turned the tragedy of this incident into an almost unending source of drama. Due to severity of the case, the national media turned up in this little town, which added only fuel to the rumours which were flying around the playgrounds and staffroom’s, the offices and homes. Everywhere was on fire with the latest news of the case; a group of men were arrested, and then released without charge; word went around that a notorious paedophile who lived in the town was found hanged the same night as the discovery of the girls, word that was quietly forgotten after it transpired the self-same had died three years previously, and not by his own hand but of natural causes; the girls’ parents, friends and teachers gave appeals on the evening news for information, turning them, if only for the briefest of moments, into grim minor celebrities of the town. There were also rumours of a stranger sort doing the rounds, whose truthfulness was never questioned upon retelling, probably due to their strangeness; strange people seen walking the streets at night; a man, tall and lean, with the face of a fox. All of this, swirling round and around, transfixing this little town and the country as a whole, who watched on in morbid shock and awe. I left the staffroom around six pm, and walked out to the car. It was cold, and that driving wind blew against me, causing me to hurry. As I put the key into the car door to unlock it, I heard steps behind me and turned. Matilda stood there, clearly freezing cold despite her layers. “Hi, sir.” “Hello, Matilda. What are you doing out here?” “I thought that maybe you’d give me a lift home. Everyone’s gone, and according to the paper it’s not safe out.” She was smiling as she said this, and it didn’t seem to me that she was overly frightened, but at the same time, if she wasn’t worried about walking home on her own, why would she be standing here? “Whereabouts do you live?” “Ashmead Close. It’s near the Van Demons estate.” Lucky you. I made to look as if I were thinking it through for a moment, and
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while my mind was already largely made up, there was I genuine hesitation there. This wasn’t supposed to happen. “No problem.” I opened the drivers’ side door and lent across the seats to pull the handle to open the passengers’ side, and then seated myself in front of the wheel. Matilda slipped in beside me, putting her bag in the foot-well. “Ashmead Close it is then.” “You know, you might have just saved me from a child killer, sir.” “I don’t really think they would mistake you for a child, Matilda.” “No, I suppose not.” And that was that. Once I’d driven her home, seen what her home looked like, with its litter strewn front garden and broken flower pots, everything else was somewhat of a natural progression, including the first step of the deception; telling her as well arrived in the car that it was probably best if she didn’t mention to anyone that I’d brought her back. This wasn’t really necessary, as nothing that had been said or done during the journey that genuinely warranted the caution, but Matilda seemed to find it funny. “My lips are sealed, Peter.” It remained best-if-you-don’t-mention as things began getting more complicated, with us “bumping” into each other with a greater frequency, and gradually further and further away from school, and further and further into our own secret little places. I sometimes wonder if it was this part of our relationship that Matilda most enjoyed; the stealth and subterfuge, and the excitement of carrying off such a scam. Whenever she arrived – for we both arrived separately– at the chosen spot where we would be spending our time, she would be restless and flitting for the first hour or so, talking through her plans for more and more daring rendezvous’. Even after calming, the topic of escaping would still pop into the conversation. She talked of magic tricks, and pulling rabbits from black top hats. Then again, perhaps this is a false construct, and she never really spoke of these things any more than I did. It’s possible that I’ve reinforced my suspicions with half remembered themes from films or books, and that her thrill at the methods she used to get to me were entirely innocent, or at least as innocent as they could be. But still, I am sure that somewhere in the back of my mind, something dark was creeping around.
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VI. The police came to me, calling first on my phone, and then by arrangement at my flat, but the lie withstood. As far as I was aware, they had no reason to suspect me of anything. Unless somebody at the school had said something. I doubted it though. There was really only one time that we came close to being caught. The police asked me what I imagined to be fairly routine questions; What was she like? Did she seem in anyway depressed? Who were her friends? and so on. I answered these questions with the deception in mind at all times but, where I could, without deceiving; She seemed like a well
liked girl with a good many friends. She got mostly good grades, and didn’t seem depressed at all. There were one or two questions where I held back on the truth somewhat, like when the inspector asked if she’d ever mentioned anything about her home life. And the letter; I didn’t tell them about the letter. The letter in itself wouldn’t have given anything away, but it would have led to more questions, and those questions would be far harder to answer, and those answers would have far larger ramifications; Why would she give this to you? Did she ever confide in you? Were you ever close? Mister Edwards, what exactly was your relationship with Miss Leigh? VII. Matilda would sometimes stay behind after class on the pretence that she needed help with an essay or something similar, and it was in these highly measured moments that we would kiss and embrace, and fuck, one time. One time, even though it was clear that she was filled with fear of being discovered, she pressed against me and un-fastened my belt. It was with fear that she pushed me to the floor and looked down at me, not once looking away. It was quick; over in a matter of moments, and then a dash to rearrange clothing, and one moment more and the door to the room opened. It was one of the minor secretaries, looking for another member of staff. Matilda and I jumped as she came in, and our expressions must have said something to the woman, for she stood there for a fraction longer than was necessary, just looking at us, before excusing herself. After she was gone, Matilda grinned at me and gave a little laugh. “That was close, Matilda. That was too close.”
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“Don’t worry old man, I know what I’m doing.” She hugged me then, quickly, and left the room. Over the next few days I felt as though I were on high alert, and everything that was said to me by another member of staff was scrutinised afterwards for any hint that the secretary had said something, but either her suspicions were illusory to me, or she’d decided to keep quiet in case her suspicions her unfounded. Rumours of that sort can ruin a teaching career. VIII. I’d only found the letter in the half-hour before the police arrived, as I was clearing the flat of any evidence that Matilda had ever been there. Into a box went all the mementos that I’d kept lying around to remind me of her; underwear; notes that she left for me; a comb; her spare toothbrush that she left lying next to mine at the sink. Into the box went some CDs and books, and her collection of Polaroid photographs that she’d taken of random, inanimate objects; a spoon; the ceiling; a plant. A switched-off television. This last picture is the closest thing to a photograph of Matilda that I have; she stands there, silhouetted and reflected in the dark brown screen. It’s not possible to make out any of her features, not her mouth or her nose, nor her eyes, but I know that it’s her standing there, taking the picture. It was underneath this photo that I found the envelope with the letter inside. Matilda must have left it there the last time she was in the flat, as I would often look at the photos when she wasn’t around, and I would have noticed it before. All of these things went into the box, and the box in turn went under the sink, next to the bleach and spare sponges, the fate of its contents to be decided later. And it was to this box, and that photograph of the television, that I returned to after the police had gone. I took up the photo, and stood in the doorway to the lounge for what felt like hours, searching, the whole time with the sound of the wind chime ringing in my ears. I stood, searching for Matilda in that photograph, and even though I couldn’t find her, I knew she was there. IX. Breeze moved through the bedroom, the curtains billowing in and out at the open window in great red ribbons. Bright morning light filled
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the room, and from outside came the sound of birds singing, along with the occasional car driving past. I lay on my back in bed, looking at the movement of the curtains and listening to the sounds from outside. The room felt alive. I traced my eyes along the sweeping curves of the Artex spirals on the ceiling, round and around to their central, stalagmite points. I played an old game from childhood; I placed my hands over my closed eyes to prevent any light seeping through the skin of my eyelids, and stayed like this for a few moments. When I felt sure that my eyes were accustomed to the dark, I removed my hands and, for no more than half a second, looked at the brightest source of light in the room, and then quickly closed my eyes and replaced my hands over them, bringing them back to darkness. After a moment, an image of the room appeared out of the darkness, made from pink or green or blue light. It seemed as if it were coming into focus, with the edges of the windowsill and the curtains, trapped in their billow, becoming more and more defined in their strange light, and there next to me on the bed, lay Matilda, in silhouette, her head on the pillow, sleeping. After a few moments, the image would slowly defocus and appear to drift back into the darkness, and I would repeat the process, again and again, and again and again I would see, with my closed eyes, Matilda lying next to me asleep. X. I sat on the sofa, the envelope and letter in my hands. On the front of the envelope, a single line, a statement, written in Matilda’s italic handwriting, and inside a single sheet of paper with one sentence written in block capitals, in the middle of the page. And in my mind, the deceit came crashing down. As the door closed behind her on that last night, the draft it created sent the metal tubes of the wind chime tinkling against each other in spirals. XI. I’m on my own now, apart from the Devil. It creeps up on me as I’m eating or watching television or lying in bed, and whispers to me. It whispers of deceptions and deceptions within themselves. It whispers of mazes and spider webs and intricate experiments. It tells me that I am a witness to wonderful, magical things, and that I am nothing more. It tells me that all I am, all I ever will be, is a character in somebody else’s dream.
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B: Deus Ex Suburbia I’M IN THE ROOM NEXT TO HERS. DOWNSTAIRS TELEVISION. KITCHEN MOTHER, CLATTERING METAL. AND THROUGH THIS THIN WALL BETWEEN HER & I, I C A N H E A R H E R . I NOTICED her. It wasn’t hard, I just had to listen. LISTEN TO HER PLOT HERSELF TO SLEEP AT NIGHT. LITTLE WHEELS TURNING ROUND AND AROUND. POINTS BEING LINKED ON A MAP WHOSE CONTOURS WHERE KNOWN ONLY TO HER. She stood out from all the other little girls and boys, ordinary & plain >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> S H E STOOD OUT FOR THE PLANS SHE M A D E.
I was a monster. I was not a monster to the girls. They were sweet and scared. They DID NOT RECEIVE ANY UNNECESSARY pain. I had thought of making other gestures; burning down a fire station; chaining up the gates of the police car park . Tiny, little meaningless things. 96
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I almost didn’t go through with it but I needed A WAY IN . I NEEDED THE LITTLE GIRLS TO DIE SO THAT I COULD SLIP INTO EVERYONE’S MINDS . THE PEOPLE NEED THEIR MYTHS. THE GIRLS UNDERSTOOD THAT IN THEIR HEARTS. SO DID SHE. SHE U N D E R S T O O D. THE MAGIC THAT CAN BE WRUNG FROM MERELY PLACING A THOUGHT INTO SOMEBODY’S MIND , AND LETTING IT GROW. B A B B L E . B A B B L E . B A B B L E . B A B B L E. B A B B L E. B A B B L E. So much f u c k i n g babble. From everyone. From every direction. I can hear the things that they truly think. As they sit down to their ordinary breakfasts, in their ordinary kitchens, in their ordinary homes, before they make their way to their ordinary jobs. SUCH ORDINARY PEOPLE LEAD .
Obviously, there is the occasional thought of murder, but even that thought is made ordinary by the mind that makes it. There are the thoughts of murder, and adultery, and suicide, and incest, and rape, and other little fantasies in the minds of the ordinary.
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Every now and again, T
someone would act upon one of these O U G H T
IF they got away with it they would resume normality, & if caught they would be D E S T R O Y E D . Someone thinking of suicide, OR SOME OTHER FORM OF ESCAPE, does not think of magic. They do not think, in any creative way, of the ordinary people that they will leave b e h i n d , and
because b e c o m e
this they themselves O R D I N A R Y .
She was not ordinary . Her thoughts were not ordinary. That is why she stood out. She dreamt of great COILS, and clockwork, and M A Z E S . I can hear the man that she left alone. He sits with his demon and his mind swirls around, but he can only GLIMPSE AT THE
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As it should be. If he were able to see the machine clearly, she would have failed. B U T
S H E D I D N ’ T She and I were so a l i k e .
WE BOTH KNEW WHAT MAGIC WAS . WE BOTH KNEW WHERE THOSE WHO DISAPPEAR R E A L L Y G O.
Not the bottom of the river. Not some faraway place. But she didn’t consider what would come after the trick for herself. She didn’t consider the loneliness she would feel. The frustration at not being able to marvel at her own w o r k . I used to hear her all the time. She would calm me.
B U T
N O W
S H E ’ S
G O N E
A W A Y .
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C: A Glimpse of a Good Dream in a Bad Night
Then this is the proposition:
TO DISAPPEAR COMPLETELY, AND NEVER BE FOUND.
And sometimes, especially during that night, it seems as though it were twenty years ago - that no time at all had passed though thereâ€™s actually a gulf between them. A gulf filled with all the things they do not say and all the things they forget to say.
IN SPITE OF ALL THE DAMAGE
When they were younger, she drunkenly staggered outside of his apartment at 4 in the morning. He was asleep and his pillow smelled like her hair. The next day, his wife came back, and he remembered that scent. It fuelled his fantasies, and, in the end, his lack of desire.
“Do you like to draw on the windowpanes when it freezes?” They’re learning and re-learning each other. “Do you like sad movies or happy movies? Do you need a few minutes before you can get out of bed in the morning?” They’re like handicapped people who learn how to walk again, and it’s painful. Their muscles are numb, and every feeling opens up a new bruise they forgot they could feel. They hide their relationship so much it sometimes seems as though they hide it from themselves. She still forgets that she needs to pick just one side of the bed, and he forgets that he doesn’t sleep in his apartment anymore. When questioned why they aren’t taking separate cabs (“you live on two different sides of the city, it can’t be cheaper this way!”), they stammer. At night, they unfold into each other clumsily. They’re older and more afraid (she’s fiercer, he’s more sombre), their pieces don’t quite fit together. He takes out his white-out and edits their words to mean something new and she repeats it to him until he is pleased.
IN SPITE OF ALL THE DAMAGE — ANON
His fingers move over her stomach in letters, aimlessly. She tries to guess what they mean, but she never can. His fingers spell out, ‘I love you,’ and ‘I am scared’. She thinks it means, ‘I am using you as an excuse’, and ‘I’m not going to be here tomorrow.’ But he’s still there the next day. Sometimes, he brings her presents to test her patience. He brings her a book about New York and says they should go back someday. She uses it to hit him over the head and goes to not speak to him in the bathroom. What he remembers about New York won’t fit into a book; the people and the smells, that particular bakery only he knows that has the best cinnamon buns and the butcher who always pays you extra attention if he sees you know what you’re talking about, and the bar that has so many kinds of alcohol it can make your head spin. She only knows the bar, he remembers after a while of pleading with her through the door. She hates him for forgetting. What she remembers about New York is the rain that started to fall without any notice. She couldn’t see it through her own pain, her eyes halfblind as she hailed a cab. She saw it only as it fell on the windows and it felt as though she was crying. But she wasn’t. When his wife came back, he stopped saying anything to her. It was like nothing happened, except worse, because it had, and they could still remember what the other looked like naked and how it felt to be inside during the rain. That was the first night she felt the rain in her very core. They close her apartment window and listen, saying nothing. He takes her into his lap like they aren’t too old and too experienced for this shtick. They know they won’t be ready for it when thunder strikes them again, but they do it anyway.
IN SPITE OF ALL THE DAMAGE — ANON
His breath is warm on her neck and she squeezes his hand, hard. “Do you like to run away when I get too close?” They learn each other’s reflexes, the way she flinches like a deer caught in the headlights and he just gets silent and dark. They ask each other questions and never the important ones, just the little ones, but they make them important. When the sun finally shines, it’s slow and careful, tiptoeing into daylight like they do into remembrance.
BIRD / CAGE
My sister has flat eyes. I cannot see behind her irises, but they spin like thaumatropes. (One side flashes cages, the other side brown birds with soft wings.) Stretched out in the sun upon the kerb, heads bent down into apostrophes, we used to watch our legs for bruises, collecting them like polka dots. Once, she gave a jewellery party and wouldn’t take the money offered by our parents’ friends. Twists of string she cut up with safety scissors and threaded tight with glass beads the colours of our garden, then hung from the branches of the trees along our street. When she first met the ocean, my sister tried to outrace every wave. I was jealous of the way the water moved in eagerness beside her feet. My father held her shoulders as she cried between the bannisters; I sat behind my door cross-legged, back straight up against the panels. After dinner, she traced over all the creases of her face with mother’s peach lipstick and told me she was beautiful. My sister’s eyes are flat as coins on the faces of dead men. We catch each other laughing in the grass, and watch the tiny birds fall stiff like autumn leaves.
UNDER THE WEATHER
Rob Fred Parker
Unfortunately Laura is feeling under the weather and will not be able to make it out tonight. I truly hate the word unfortunately; I only ever seem to use it in the direst occasions. She asked if I would go round to her place, so at least we could spend her last night here together before she leaves for Norway again. I’m not keen on her place. I actually quite dislike leaving mine. I have built up a good synchrony with my place, we are partners complicit in a blissful nocturnal squalor. When morning arrives, I close my eyelids tightly to keep out the white nothingness, and my place does it part, holding the blinds shut and comforting me in the blanket of a constant, dull blue dusk. But Laura’s place is different. As soon as I let myself in I’m stumbling in the darkness, tangled at the ankle in a sea of shoes and their laces left by the door, and the floorboards sound every step, creaking as I creep through the hallway, towards the light escaping through the gaps in the doorframe of Laura’s bedroom. She has left the television on, sleepily snowing static that illuminates the corner of the room. For a few minutes I watch her sleep, cloaked peacefully in the blizzard. The static projects dancing patterns onto her collarbone and neck, a sloping curve which quakes with every breath. Before long the open blinds allow Morning to creep in, uninvited, daylight streaming in and flooding the whole room in its bright blankness. As I reach to close the blinds her alarm clock rings, mocking me. I rise and pick up my keys, and step into my shoes, ready to drive Laura to the airport. I suppose four months is not such a long time to be apart.
HOW SOFTLY WE BASH AGAINST NOTHING
how softly we bash against nothing. the soft scythe. no use for a name we bathe in more steam than water. we plan our captive nothingness and race to face our mothers DREAMING of the day our passports fit in our pockets, our wallets, make space for me in knicker drawers, lavender bagged identification drooling over 32câ€™s. we grow out of beds made above us, treating our lovers like our daughters. then shifting shifts our noses to the sky making sure we can see over our jewishness. raised voices and forgiveness on rye with salmonella traces on your gentle hands we kiss. donâ€™t do this. asparagus tips. sliced onion tears of acetic life hermaphroditic spelling of homogenous copulation, sexual beings fucking kittens with breasts and bottoms like tinkerberries. we will fuck so we will grow.
HOW SOFTLY WE BASH AGAINST NOTHING â€” HANNAH LEVENE
white wine muscles stay hot in our bowl, rice grain eyes. morning breath motions of self love. hard cocks. strong hands. uncontrollable urges we have never had want for. swap our skins contort our bodies let our wrists catch up with our minds wrench our tongues out of our mouths reach and know if not reach try and boil our food till its fried we die. tea spoons in our hands face in dinner plates. posture posses nothing of me. i am a rump. we hope we will amount to something in the eyes of nobody. nothing in the eyes of all. congratulations neighbour you are a homosapien now.
It was not only his enormous wings which distinguished Gabriel from the other children in the playground. He had golden skin, and he never bled when they pushed him over. Black blood, they conjectured, and the hints of devilry were translated from their taunting rhymes to the whispering lips of the society mothers. Gabriel lived in isolation, his eyes full of sorrow and his magnificent wings stuffed beneath his school blazer like a hunchback. In secret, his mother would measure them, tip to tip. ‘They’re the length of a killer whale!’, she would exclaim in wonder. He often wished he was a killer whale. One day a gang of boys with mottled faces and acned souls pushed him down an alley. Icarus, they called him, and singed his feathers with matches, to see if he would melt. And still Gabriel had never flown, embarrassed by his deformity. The years passed, and the town developed and built technology and waterways. But disaster was near, and the heavens opened and the dams overflowed; the town was drowning in a puddle of its own making, and the boys with matches looked on in despair (for they were now grown up with children and wives with whispering lips). The water deepened and they looked around at their uniform bodies and steel grey eyes, and knew of only one person to save them. They found Gabriel standing on a chair in his living room, with his mother in his arms, the black water throwing up debris around him. ‘Fly!’, they ordered, with panic in their hearts.
MISFIT — XENOBE PURVIS
‘Take us, and fly!’ They lifted their children to him, and paper bills, and Cuban cigars; they promised him anything. Unsteadily, he spread his wings the full length of killer whale and beat them gently. Everything was silent, but for the rhythmic movement of his wings, singed as they were. And he flew twice around the room! The silence was broken; they leapt and shouted and punched. They threw briefcases and tried to lasso him with their ties. And finally one caught hold of his ankle, and pulled him to the ground. Each man pulled him towards his family, grabbing handfuls of arm and wing and hair. Then, intoxicated by the raging water and Gabriel’s golden skin, they wrenched off his wing and held it aloft, a trophy. Soon both wings were torn and attached to a man in a suit with string; but, of course, he could not fly. And only his mother saw the colour of Gabriel’s blood, as she nursed the tender stumps which marred his golden back. Perhaps, she thought as the roaring waters sealed them under, he is no misfit after all.
She was by nature, a fiercely independent woman, who chose to handle everything by herself. From the outside she appeared to be the ever consummate professional; imperturbable, deliberate, even cool, to the uneducated outsider. However, he knew it was just a carefully erected subterfuge, a charade for those who dare come forth to affront her. For under the vigilantly honed armour of eloquence, lie the quintessence of a vulnerable, passionate, and tender individual.
THE THIRD DAY
She started smoking on a Sunday, out behind the sprawling brick mass of a Methodist church in another lifetime. So maybe she should quit on a Sunday. It might be poetic justice. If there is a God, and if He has any sense of irony at all, He might appreciate it. But that doesn’t seem likely, considering. And anyway, it isn’t going to be this Sunday. Because this is what Indian summer means to her: smoking barefoot on the tiny balcony off her bedroom in the middle of September, one long leg canted through the iron railing. The air is warm and close with the humidity that London won’t lose until winter comes to stay, camping in its grey robe along the Thames. This half-hearted stab at autumn, all flashy hues of crimson and umber, hasn’t done a thing to make breathing any easier. Tobias didn’t tell her when he came to fetch her from the infinite white skies of her homeland how hard it is to breathe in the city, how heavy the air is here. She doesn’t smoke often, so when she does the first hit of nicotine is a visceral thing: it rings in her lungs and in her ears the way the force of a train does when you stand too close to the tracks. She has always been good at games like chicken which depend on stubborn resolve and split-second timing. She is good at her job and good in bed. In fact, she doesn’t even like the taste of cigarettes, which is why she smokes menthols. She told Tobias this once and he laughed, pouring her another glass of scotch before kissing her. Afterwards, she couldn’t taste anything but him on her lips.
THE THIRD DAY — HELEN RANDALL
Their thing is, of course, never going to work. There is work to think about and his ex-wife and her ex-, well ex-somethings scattered from New York to New Delhi. The weight of all that history; they’d be crazy to even try. So they haven’t, not really. She fell into him one night with her eyes closed and her breath held; and it had been nice not to have to wake up alone. But they have never consciously tried. So it startled her to wake up one morning and get ready for work and realise, halfway out the door with her hair unbrushed and her lipstick not yet on, that something was missing from her morning. Later, in her office, going over the night’s tasks, it shocked her to realise that she missed the fine confetti of whiskers in her sink and the lingering smell of his shaving cream in her bathroom. She panicked, avoided him for the rest of that day and the whole of the next, and now it is Sunday. The third day. Maybe she should get a cat. A siamese. It will shed all the time on every available surface, and then she won’t notice a small bit more or less hair strewn around the place. And it will lie on her chest, just under her chin while she sleeps - in the same place that his arm always finds. A cat probably won’t snore. The other reason she isn’t answering the phone or listening to her messages or opening the blinds has nothing to do with Friday. It was Thursday. Thursday night, to be exact. When Tobias had almost cried on her couch. On her almost-shabby, beige Ikea couch with its clean lines, an historic event had very nearly taken place. And she was at a complete loss as to how to handle it, because in all the time she had known him, she had never seen Tobias cry. She had seen him put his fist through a wall and try to put his fist through another man’s jaw on two occasions but she had never, ever seen him cry. She is the crier in their relationship. He is the puncher. These things have a balance, an internal, haemostatic equilibrium that is crucial for the maintenance of a stability. Tobias crying would have shifted the world off its axis, as if gravity suddenly decided to push instead of pull. She knew how he felt, of course. And, in a way, she could have appreciated the physical expression of the miasma of uncertainty in which they found themselves. The Greeks were smart. They set their gods up to fail from the beginning. They gave them human flaws- shortsightedness, anger, covetousness- and nobody was surprised when they raped and pillaged and
THE THIRD DAY — HELEN RANDALL
murdered. No one got angry about the fact of wars and the death of children, because it was never supposed to go right in the first place. Men failed and it wasn’t a surprise, because even the gods were never perfect. Men failed and there were consequences, clear ones, but no one was shaken by the knowledge that men were human. They didn’t have to be reminded of that. She looks for Orion, smeared indistinctly in the hot night sky, while she lights her second cigarette. They argued here one night for two hours about how to find the North Star, triangulating from various points on the Dipper and getting languidly, gloriously drunk. She smokes quickly, drawing the flame relentlessly towards her mouth as if afraid it will burn out without her. She really doesn’t like the taste. What she likes is the physical act of it: inhale, hold, exhale. The curve of her mouth as she pushes the smoke out. The stain of grey against the dark matt underbelly of low clouds. The hundred little rituals that can develop around a slow death. The length of her fingers against the thin white shape. She doesn’t need to smoke. It’s not an addiction yet, just an occasional craving, like chocolate or bad movies. And she doesn’t need Tobias. But she could. Especially now, with summer still in the air, changes on the horizon and her birthday coming up. She could need him. The thought makes her restless, makes her skin feel too small, stirs something at the base of her neck and in her belly. She could need him. She half-expects to find him standing in her living room when she goes back in. For a man of his size, he can hide in almost any room simply by standing still, as though the rest of them had predator eyes only sensitive to motion. He is not there, of course. The room is just as she left it, the TV on low, tuned to the news because she lost the remote and doesn’t need any other channel anyway. The dialogue on dramas only makes her long for a good argument. The hum of news has become so constant in her life that she no longer hears it. Several times she and Tobias have made love on the couch with the TV on behind them because neither one heard it. They have made love with the anchors staring through them, blandly reciting the same headlines every thirty minutes, each segment taped live but seeming simply to be the same thirty minutes played over and over again down to the last twitch of the eyelid.
THE THIRD DAY — HELEN RANDALL
When he knocks she is still standing there, dazed. She opens the door without looking, having already been expecting him. His eyes are clear and he is comfortably rumpled; part of her mind is pleased that he didn’t change clothes to come see her. She steps aside to let him in and he moves slowly through the door, over toward the couch and coffee table, stopping to make sure she’s following before proceeding to sit down. “Hey” “Hey” “You weren’t answering the phone.” She shakes her head. No. “I wanted to make sure you were okay. I mean, I know you need some time to yourself, but I wanted to make sure that you were..” “Okay?” “Yeah. Okay.” “I’m fine. Really, I am. I just need to - sort through some things.” “Oh. All right then.” When she doesn’t say anything further, he moves as if to leave. “Wait” he shifts back into his seat. “I needed to be alone. To sort things out. But you don’t have to leave.” “Have you? Sorted things out?” She shrugs. “Maybe. I don’t think I really expected to come up with any answers.” “Yeah, I know,” he says. There is something deep, emphatic in his voice that she does not hear often enough. They sigh in unison and then look at each other, startled, the mood breaking, lightening. “I know,” he says. And he does. He knows and leans over cupping his hand behind her head, and he kisses her forehead lightly. She does not feel patronised, but comforted by the benediction of the gesture. She puts her hand on the side of his face, feeling the smoothness of his skin and the rasp of his stubble. “You’re tired.” She had not noticed the circles smudged under his eyes before. This close, they make his face look farther away, as though it is retreating into the uneasy absent spaces of the night.
THE THIRD DAY â€” HELEN RANDALL
She stands up and, taking his hand, pulls him up with her. Gently, she leads him towards her bedroom. Their thing, of course, is probably never going to work. History and the future are against them. But she wants to try, to go in expecting to be disappointed because they are human and often tired and too old to start over. She wants to be surprised.
THE CROSSING (HOW)
F M J Botham
Then: we were carried into spring on the back of winterâ€™s boots, numb fingers and trodden bone on young, unprepared shoots alive and suddenly not alone. We found them there in the front garden, like an overnight vagrant sleeping on his side, smelling, in the dark, of a strange, nostalgic perfume survived through the harsh crossing of winter to resume with his urgent fingers and thumbs on neighbourhood lawns anew. Life, a jostle under white skies and into damp mornings. All of the early hours
THE CROSSING (HOW) â€” F M J BOTHAM
spent listening to boiler noises and the debating of the birds. Days rough at a distant sea, with seagulls in the city. Life, also, as a yearning for something solid, that could stir the lumps of coal in the hearth beneath my heart. How, in the dawn-light, I wanted to point with you at the strangeness of everything, biting our lips at the windowpane, whispering dumb thoughts and naming the caw of the crow. How I wanted us to wonder at the way the sky, sun in hand, crosses itself every day. How, in winter, this same action is lack-lustre, fingers frozen numb and deprived of feeling, with prayers hard to muster.
Dear white harbour, nee Hvit Hafn, tattoo yourself to me like alameda after day. Let not your low sun’s blood spill to the beach and wash back with winter tides. Why not let it matt in hair so we may burn or bury it? The high west homes in this monster’s eye-white bomb blast flair must wake and gather the candled guilt of the Irish Sea mutineer. The haven will not be beaten. There is no drawing of the sorrows on Hope Hall’s surface. Yellow pinions in the white air don’t dab the run onto the waves. These are not this monster’s roads and towns. Our wind will dash its ghost well away from here.
POSTCARDS FROM IRAN Aimee Bea Ballinger
your words are hard to read now strung up, buried in boxes, backs to the wall full of soft dynamite your piano teacher handwriting deflates me, makes me cry so i don’t look for fear of smudging soft scrawls of capital letters from capital cities i had never previously heard of written with real hands and arms from the prosthetic limb district of some Turkish town you wrote that you swam in a sea that you likened to a lukewarm bath and spilt your own tears over hungry bears caged in an inner city zoo i never heard a word about Ramadan i said “all roads lead back to London” you said that they didn’t, but came home anyway.
SEE ME LEAP
Love, they say, is a many-splendoured thing. Fodder for poets and musicians for centuries; the stuff of star-crossâ€™d love stories, and Hollywood happy endings. It looked like diamonds and a box of chocolates, and probably smelled like sunshine. But she had never been in love, only watched it longingly from across the road. That is, until she met him; and here is where we start. For what is a love story without love? In the heaving breezes of March it had begun. They would go on windswept walks through the park, and eat sandwiches next to homeless men on benches. A throng of pigeons serenaded their romance, and chubby children threw stones at their shoes, cupid-like. They would laugh all day, and dream all night, and then dream all day, and laugh all night. Their lives, it seemed, had become one long funny reverie. She smelled sunshine, and her sides ached with laughter. But one day the ache spread from her sides to her chest, and she was worried. Heartburn, her doctor told her knowingly, and prescribed her antacids; but nothing in the shiny bottles he gave would heal the growing rawness of her chest. The skin was torn, and the wound grew daily deeper. She wore high-necked tops, and held his hand to ease the pain. But now she could see her lungs and her furiously beating heart, and no amount of plasters could conceal the sore. (Her knees, too, were painful, grazed from the grey pavement.) Lying in each otherâ€™s arms one morning, willing the day not to start, he noticed her blood-stained chest. Careful not to lose this, he cautioned, promising her with honest eyes and a lop-sided smile that
SEE ME LEAP â€” XENOBE PURVIS
he knew more than any doctor. Gently, he reached into her chest and took out her heart; it beat meekly in his hand, and she felt lighter. These too, he whispered winningly, placing her lungs into his busy palms. They would walk in the park, as before, but now she would throw her sandwich away, half-eaten. Late at night she would listen to him breathe deeply, wide-eyed and jealous. For now sleeping was difficult, and so was breathing. Going to the gym was embarrassing; two minutes on the treadmill and she would pant and gasp. Yet she was becoming rapidly skinnier, her diminished diet forcing the weight from her frame. She felt lighter than air, her skin the colour of flushed romance, her mouth a constant smile, and his name ever on her lips. Her knees, it is true, were still sore, her chest was gaping, and her eyes were valentine red, but she was happy. Yet she was losing her sight, and could not see what was happening before her: his walks in other parks with other girls; forgotten kisses and unspoken I love yous. It was only when he walked away, never to come back, that she saw what he saw. Looking in the mirror she watched aghast as a haggard old woman put her hands to her face. Her eyes were sunken, the fierce bruises beneath them telling the world vividly of her wakeful nights with him in her thoughts; her ribs were like knives, for she could never eat. In her chest was the murky hole, a mess of heart-shaped emptiness. Her legs were scarred, and so were her palms, cut whilst trying to stop herself from falling. And she had forgotten how to speak- except to say one name, and that was his. She sat in a crumpled heap on the street, desperately mouthing her inchoate despair. Cupids, suited and grown up, hurled shiny silver missiles at her. That day she watched him walk away, his rucksack pulsing gently with the beat of her heart and the lurch of her lungs. She wanted to call the police, or shout for help, but she could not draw the breath to speak. And so he disappeared, stealing her heart and taking her breath away with him.
They skirt around things they should be saying, unspoken questions and answers in a world where they have to read between the lines but if anyone read between their lines they would be in for a surprise.
THE LAST POEMS POET
All of the words became invisible. So he sits, trying to unearth them before he forgets they ever existed. Retrospect seems to have evaded him in his attempt to catch what others didn’t, to give a careful, measured analysis of idealism’s fallout into disappointment. He wants to go back again to see everything from a million different perspectives, and not think of that part of his life at all ever again. He pours coffee down his throat like water now. You’d think it would be alcohol, but he just wants to stay awake before everything is numb in his mind, before all of the memories wilt and die a slow, warm death. Warm like scotch, warm like blood, warm like all of the reasons he nearly had to check into a rehab centre after he no longer had his job. He likes the cold and sober now, says it’s his touch to the real world. His senses went dead as his skin got thicker, and this process of growing up, growing old, made his hair greyer than it ought to be at his age. He wants to have words before he’s unable to pronounce them. It’s nearly five in the morning and he wants his skin to prick with the electricity of inspiration, but it only vaguely shudders at the bitter caffeine rush. He can’t remember when he started dying inside, but he’d like to write about it before the devil comes to take his talent away. One last story, but he can’t think. Coffee covers his tongue black, his insides black, burning into an empty void.
THE LAST POEMS POET — HELEN RANDALL
He is burning from the inside out, until he is nothing but his own outline. Daylight permeates his vision slowly, mixing with the golden light of the overly heated lamp. There’s something about lamplight that can’t possibly compete with sunlight, so he turns off the former and stays in the relative dark. His pupils grow large, engulfing his natural dark with their sinister black. The paper is just white enough to taunt him, and his brain buzzes with a caffeine rush. He can practically feel his blood boiling, vibrating. He’s still stuck on the first sentence, hell, the first word, something good that would make the rest come easily, naturally. He’s stuck in an idealistic state of mind that’s going to get him absolutely nowhere. He tried to outline everything, wrap his mind around what he has to tell the world, and it seemed too much. He gets up slowly, his bones creaking slightly so that only he can hear. It’s too late to write. The sun is up. Light burns through the skies, but he closes the curtains and goes to sleep. After they lost and found themselves, he is still at the point of having no direction. Saturday evening finds him with his eyelids stuck together, his body an exhausted muck. The silver alarm clock flashes a neon-green 5:04, and he finds himself apathetic. He loses days, he loses count of them. He loses time that should be precious, slowly losing his own sanity. He needs a goal, and lately he’s been spending his nights losing a battle to a blank page. The page, like his mind, is empty, and he’s still surprised that he’s not used to losing anymore. It’s how a winning streak damages you so you can’t see the end of it. He’s seen the end and this is not it, it’s what comes after the end. It’s a slow death before he burns into ashes and rises again; he can’t see resurrection; he can barely see what’s outside his own window. He can’t face retrospect, their story always getting in the way of telling history as he knows it, and his fear of remembering them is bigger than his fear of forgetting her altogether.
THE LAST POEMS POET — HELEN RANDALL
He trips over his boy’s yellow toy truck on his way to the shower. The water burns his skin red, gliding from the top of his head down the rest of his naked body. After they weren’t anymore, she went to California without saying a word. He wraps a towel around his waist and brushes his teeth, not bothering to glance at the mirror as he spits spitefully at nothing specific. The green towel is soft and wet underneath his feet. He gets dressed and sits at his desk again like the masochist he’s become. There’s a package he hasn’t opened yet, from her publisher. He thinks of cutting his own skin just to see if he could literally bleed the words onto the paper. Maybe the devil had already been there when he wasn’t looking, while he was too busy with the other things to notice. Maybe he missed his chance to tell one last story and wrote a shopping list on a yellow post-it instead. His babies were teething and she packed her bags and took a plane and stayed there until he got it into his head that there was nothing to wait for. At the time, it did not occur to him that she would get tired of waiting for him to stop fucking around with his ex-wife and her problems and his problems. She left and took his words with her in a heavy leather suitcase her father bought her when she graduated college. She stole his words and used them to beat him to it. He rips the brown paper apart to reveal the smooth, white papers, tarnished with lines and lines of black words he couldn’t write on his own. There’s a note that says a simple “sorry,” and his body is old and heavy as he turns to read. His blood burns inside. He picks up his pen and puts it back down again. Her words are true and eloquent. He closes the manuscript and feels resurrection tingle at the tips of his fingers.
‘I am terribly bored, sometimes it is like seeing a bad movie other days, more often, it’s like having an acute disease of the kidney’ I try walking from Liverpool Street station to Southwark Cathedral, sitting on a bench next to a nice looking stranger. We sit and read our books silently, I light his rolled cigarettes for him, and I decide that perhaps I should wade through my summer reading list by reading in appropriate places (Shakespeare next to the Globe, Donne at St Pauls, Waugh in Mayfair) to find some sort of inspiration to break the monotony. Or I decide to write a column cataloguing and mocking types of Bright Young Things in London today (example: ‘The Curtain Roadies’ – girls dressed in bust-flattening leg-lengthening outfits from American Apparel, live in flats paid for by Daddy, date members of The Horrors etc) and get it published in something. I organise the music on my iTunes, shop for the perfect highwaisted short shorts that do not create camel toe. I read Frank O’Hara and Alain de Botton even though they are not on my reading list, searching for something to make me write anything that could be something. Next I research MAs or look up flights, plan an imaginary trip to Budapest. I spend five minutes on FaceBook and give up, because no one is doing anything I couldn’t have predicted. I wait for three different boys to ring, none of whom really excite.
BLOCK: 5AM — SOPHIE CORSER
I go out, get trashed, spend a day recovering, go out, get trashed, spend a day recovering. I visit the other stragglers of my friends who decided to wait out summer in London, getting poorer and poorer, talking with more and more sincerity about finding a job, even though I quite mine because I wanted ‘more free time’. Fuck free time. I search for something that can come anywhere as close to how wonderful the opening guitar of Down By The Seaside is, or the last lines of The Garden Party by Katherine Mansfield. When someone laughs uncontrollably at a joke you’ve made, or uses the crook of your back when you are lying on your front as a pillow for his head. A kiss on the nose or an empty number eight bus at three o’clock in the morning on a Friday at the top of Brick Lane.
IF THE SHOE FITS
Aimee Bea Ballinger
I am trying to ignore the bovine groans filtering through the floor questioning nothing, little to excite or expire our perfection. little richard is howling tutti frutti into the walls, i have occupied your ears. remember a silent fuck the worst i ever had, cowering beneath our opera we have chosen several shapes. reach into the bag feel around pick one and pop it into your mouth, roll it around see if it fits spit it back into my palm
IF THE SHOE FITS — AMIEE BEA BALLINGER
i’ll pull the drawstring closed you unzip your fly now how does it taste? it tastes right, like coffee tastes right before it’s left out to go cold. ‘sixty per cent of sixteen year olds have already met the person who they will eventually marry.’ play out, until you have sufficiently risen, dust yourself in white castor sugar roll down the aisle, into the arms of a gap toothed scabby kneed nosebleed, still, if the shoe fits.
PICKLING JARS Flora Baker
He lined them up in rows according to their size and shape, the objects rough and dirtied by the soil he pulled them from. I watched the colours shift from stone to brick to crumbled ochre, shards of slate and broken terracotta laid upon the garden step, his fingers stiff with heavy concentration. The next day he progressed to little jars he found amongst the clutter of my mother’s kitchen cabinets, jars she used to pickle onions and red cabbage in the winter. Each screw top lid was popped and let loose tiny clouds of vinegar that hung above the dust upon each shelf. He took his apple pip collection and the lentils from the cupboard, sealed the lids and queued each jar politely. Later, when he’d gone to bed, I had to crouch upon the path and stare into the row of little jars, careful not to touch my son’s creations. I saw the stones and pips, the clods of earth, the leaves; and at the final three I heard the soft insistent patter of a wing, as thin as tissue paper. A butterfly against the glass, and next to this a pile of woodlice climbing on each other’s softened shells. And in the last, the upturned, enclosed body of a bee, its legs drawn in, entwined like interlocking fingers at a funeral.
EVERY LIVING SUBSTANCE DESTROYED
And after the great flood, there came life. Not a very good life, not an ideal existence, but something like it; no longer an adrenaline rush that starts at the tips of your toes and ends at the tips of your fingers, writing, typing, gesturing grandly into the air to make a point. Tobias was fifty-two years old, returned to the city that was never quite theirs. His city of London; why he moved back, he can’t really tell, it just felt right. He felt banished and this was the altered, caffeinated version of home: buildings tall enough and streets big enough for him to get lost in. He knew what he knew; some things were still the same as when he left, some things disappeared into taxicab smoke. What was in- between, stayed in-between. Every morning, he would wake up and feel nothing; he would go down to the one coffee shop he knew and buy the same coffee, the blackest black they had. He didn’t care if the coffee beans came from Italy or Colombia, just as long as it felt bitter. Sometimes, he’d visit a bookstore. Afterwards he would always go home and write feverishly, anxiously, using all the words in the world and letting nothing out. He would stick to this routine; he loved his routine. He took comfort in the thought of nothing out of the way ever happening, and his world wouldn’t shatter every week or day or hour or minute. He had the newspapers delivered right to his front door, but he rarely read them. When he did open one, he pretended not to look for her name. So he didn’t.
EVERY LIVING SUBSTANCE DESTROYED — HELEN RANDALL
Thus did Tobias, unprepared for what was coming; and the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights, and he stayed the same. At the end of all these days, she came; it wasn’t dark or sweet or scary, it was just a fact, that at a certain season you can get a cheaper plane ticket from New York City to London on the internet, and pay for it, and be on your way; that’s the kind of person she’s always been, and it petrified him into a brooding stillness. And when the land had frozen over, she called. It was December and the sky was perfectly clear behind the closed curtains of his bland apartment. She called, and the world crashed again. She was in the city for two weeks before she called. She wasn’t sure how he’d react. They met at a bookstore that she loved; her place within his territory, and he was displeased. He walked like a stranger in the streets of his home, and she felt comfortable in this store he didn’t know with the soft cushions and the cat. The cat sat in her lap, and, within him, the water prevailed. She seemed to know the map better than he did, not more in depth, just in a better way. She bought herself a chai latte and he insisted on his coffee, black. Little could move him from his principle, and yet he didn’t trust himself with her and her breeze upon him, her sunlight trying to melt down his icebergs. She put her hand on his and told him of everything she had been going through. She talked about growth and change and realisations. She looked into his eyes, and he knew he didn’t stand a chance. That didn’t stop him from trying. Rain fell down within him, but the store was warm and inviting. It was one of those book cafes, and definitely too fashionable for his taste. She used to joke and say he was the most conservative liberal she’s known, other than the drinking. She wasn’t joking now. She sounded grown, and tired, and restless; she was still packed with energy and it crawled in her veins like electricity. Or maybe it was him, he couldn’t really tell anymore. It didn’t matter. When he looked at her, his eyes darkened and deepened, and his lifeless life twisted around her words and expressions. When he looked at her, the ice turned to water; and the water was on the face of the whole earth. And Tobias felt six hundred years old when the flood of waters was upon the earth.
EVERY LIVING SUBSTANCE DESTROYED — HELEN RANDALL
He used to test her, drink after drink. He’d send forth a raven, testing her waters, waiting; he’d send forth a dove. He’d send forth his hand, reaching for hers. He had the Jewish gift of turning water into wine, and wine into guilt; when they last kissed, she didn’t melt into him. Her battles showed on her face and, beautiful as she was, it was too late, too broken, too familiar a dance to embark on at the end of all things. And the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot, and she returned unto him. They scattered to two different parts of the world, carrying the load of their sins, trying to disappear where the sins were too numerous for theirs to matter. She was good at lying, and he was good at making it sound believable. And the waters decreased continually until the tenth month: in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, were the tops of the mountains seen,She searched for their kisses in his face, that night. She searched for the alcohol that was never enough to make them uninhibited but always made it so they allowed themselves a little more. She searched for their impurities and wars. She found bitter coffee and dark, uncommunicative words in a disarray. They discussed nothing in particular, and he made sure to put a question mark at the end of everything, so their words wouldn’t dry up from off the earth. He let her see his apartment; his shelter, his dry land of Ararat. She came forth like a dove, and his heart did not spread wings. She put her hand on his face, gently. She kissed his forehead and his cheeks and his forehead again. At last, he found himself without words; and his pictures weren’t enough to distract her, and neither were his piles of books, his countless, meaningless manuscripts, his dirty dishes or his general sense of shame. She kissed him. And the waters prevailed unto Mount Ararat; they broke down his ark and left him standing there.
They really had to stop drinking in the dark. It smacked of too much melodrama. It looked bad - It reeked of troubled minds and guilty consciences.
Despite the writing on the wall. Julie left home by train on a Tuesday and didn’t look back. She found herself at his doorstep, not because it was her destination but because he had always been her refuge, and he let her in because she had always been his. The questions were there, in his eyes, but they were not spoken, and for that she was grateful. Their existence had always been verbal, in the years when she controlled his life and he thought he controlled hers, but things had changed, and she found that she welcomed this new silence, because it said more than any of their words ever had. He didn’t touch her, not at first, he just stood there with his hands stuffed in his pockets and looked at her, his eyes lingering briefly on the bag clutched nervously in her hands, and the ring that still sparkled on her finger. There was no hesitation in his step as he crossed the room to take the bag from her and place it by the door, but it was there in his eyes as he looked back up at her, and she knew that he was giving her that last little out, that last escape. But she didn’t want it, because she had already escaped, and he was what she had escaped to. When their lips met, there was no softness in it, no restraint, and when she pulled back to catch her breath, she could feel their fire dancing in the spaces between them.
INFIDELITIES — ANON
It wasn’t love that she saw in his eyes, not anymore. Love was too easy a word for it, too uncomplicated. It was passion and regret and pain and adoration and a million other things besides, but it was not love, and she tried not to let it hurt. Maybe it had never been love, not even in the beginning, all those years when they had danced around each other in a whirlwind of denial and banter. Maybe it wasn’t even love when they had found a release for their victories and losses in each other’s arms. She knew that it hadn’t been love when she had walked away from him and married someone else. Or maybe that was the only time it was love, when she was able to admit to herself that she could no longer make him happy… that maybe she never had. But here she was, in the twilight of a Tuesday evening, and none of it mattered anymore because his hands were tangled in her hair, and her lips were capturing his, and they were caught together in a rhythm that had nothing to do with memories or hopes, but only the present, only the now, only each other. There was such a familiarity to the movements, to the taste of him, and she marvelled at the fact that everything and nothing had changed between them over the years. She woke in the night and reached out to run a hand down the smooth skin of his back, committing him to a memory that was not tied to sight, not tied to the picture of his haunted eyes or unruly hair or unavoidable smirk. She tasted him on her lips as she slid from under his sheets, and she caught the brief scent of him on her clothes as she slipped into them in the darkness. As the door closed behind her, she listened for the last hint of his peaceful breathing, and when she stood on the train platform with the wind whipping her hair across her face, she could still feel the silk of him against her fingers. She left him in the darkness of a Wednesday morning. She didn’t look back.
INFIDELITIES — ANON
If only for a while He is her gate to the world, but he is also her wall, and sometimes she just needs to escape him. Each moment away from him feels stolen somehow, and she wishes most days that she never fell in love with him, because it would make this so much easier. But she does love him, and that is why her own betrayal hurts so badly. She clutches the sheets around her as she lies beside another man, and she can feel the slight vibrations of his words, but she’s far too tired to lift her head and look at his face, so she doesn’t even pretend to listen. He’s probably just trying to hear his own voice anyways, because that’s how he is. Men generally seem to be comforted by meaningless words. She discovered long ago that most words don’t have meaning, not really. So much more is said in the silences between people, the looks and the pauses, and time has taught her that sound is not a great loss. She reads more into what goes unsaid than by any words shaped by their lips, and she knows that the silence she lies in now with this man speaks volumes. They are both trying to escape, in their own ways, and she doesn’t feel used at all because she knows she’s using him just as much. She doesn’t understand, really, what he needs to free himself from, because it seems that the love he is looking for is right there outside his office every morning, but he’s probably too self-involved to see it, so she doesn’t bother trying to tell him. She knows that he doesn’t understand her need either, but the reason for her escape is not here to interpret, so she just smiles and shakes her head and answers his voiceless questions in a way that requires no words. She tries not to think of the man waiting at home for her, because it seems that even in the moments when she is without him he is a presence to her. It hadn’t been like that in the beginning, when they had started working together, because then he had been all business, and she had wondered for a while if there was any fun in him at all. But time had passed, and she had uncovered sides of him that she believed even he hadn’t known existed.
INFIDELITIES — ANON
Maybe her love of him came from the rather simple idea that she had been a part of creating the man he had become. Maybe it wasn’t really love at all, just pride, and the tiny invading notion that she owed him something. But tonight she lies with another man, and she doesn’t think of him, except in the tiny part of her mind that is constantly aware of his presence or absence. She has grown tired over these years, years of waking with him and working through the day with him and settling back into bed with him after a long day together. It is a tiredness that she fears she will never be able to escape, but this is her attempt. So she clings to another man and wonders, in that part of her mind that she tries to ignore, whether he ever feels this, this need to escape her. She doubts that he does, because there is a loyalty in him that she cannot relate to, and it saddens her because she fears she will one day break his heart without meaning to. That is a guilt she doesn’t want to have to live with. But tonight is not about him, she tells herself, and she lifts her head to discover that the man by her side is still talking into the darkness. He pauses when she looks at him, and she starts laughing, because he is after all quite a ridiculous man. “You know I’m not listening, right?” she asks, and she has learned over the years not to mind the fact that she can’t hear her own words. He gapes at her for a moment or two, but then his face splits into a grin and he mutters “Yeah, I know,” and they laugh together because maybe they are equally ridiculous. She turns to lay her head on the pillow, and as she drifts off to sleep she finds herself thinking that there may be more escape in their laughter than in their embrace. If you fear the answer. I am not that woman. You see, the way I look at it, you would probably say that I’ve now been that woman twice, but I really haven’t. The first time it didn’t mean anything, and it was a one time thing, and I was drunk. Those are three reasons that all add up to the fact that I am not that woman, not in the least. This time he’s in love with me. So obviously, it doesn’t count.
INFIDELITIES — ANON
Every woman starts out with standards. In the beginning the list is ridiculously long, filled with things like a head full of hair, and a bank account full of money, and the ability to make you laugh, and understand your moods, and cater to your every whim. As the years pass, that list gets shorter and shorter until there might as well not be a list at all. A few years ago, it got to the point where “single and interested” were pretty much my only criteria. Then, that one night, I decided that “single” wasn’t all that important either. But. I was drunk. So I’m really not that woman. I always hated that woman. You know the one, the one who thinks that the rules don’t apply to her, who imagines that the ring doesn’t really mean what people seem to think it means. It does mean that. It means off limits. It’s just that sometimes the limits are a little skewed. Anyway, that time it was a mistake. And after that night, it was one that I never intended to make again. I had very good intentions, you know. The best intentions, really. And it all would have worked out very well for me if my greatest friend in the world hadn’t decided to wait until after he was married to let me in on the fact that he’s in love with me. But he doesn’t love her. He never did, and I can’t honestly tell you why he ever married her. So that has to mean that it doesn’t count, right...right? God, I hate us both. I never meant for it to happen, you know. I was happy for him when they got married, I really was. He deserved someone like her, deserved to finally be happy with someone. The problem is, he wasn’t happy, not with her, and I never realised it until he showed up on my doorstep that night. He cried. I’d never seen him cry before, but he did then, standing dripping in my doorway as he told me that he loved me, he always had, and he had made a terrible mistake in marrying her. He asked me to forgive him, as if he had done something to hurt me, as if forcing himself to live all this time with a woman he had never loved was in some way affecting my ability to function.
INFIDELITIES — ANON
I didn’t mean to sleep with him, but what was I supposed to do when he was standing there looking so miserable and lovable and desperately in need of the love he could not find at home? He’s in love with me. And God knows I’ve been in love with him for longer than I can remember. So we’ve done nothing wrong. It doesn’t count, not really. I swear, I’m not that woman. As he slowly fell apart They almost have the same eyes, the same shade of blue, and it throws him sometimes when he wakes to find those eyes on him, either pair, because he always sees the other in them. The mornings when he wakes with her are easy and comfortable, filled with the scent of home and familiarity. She usually wakes first, because she has an internal alarm that is not dependent on caffeine, and most mornings he opens his eyes to see her watching him sleep. It’s reassuring, in a way, to wake to that kind of love every day he’s home, and most mornings find him taking her in his arms and worshipping her elegant white skin before he can even think of starting the day. The mornings with him are different. They are always in hotel rooms, never in a home, because nights when he is in his own city are spent with her. That is a rule between the two men, one of many. Those mornings never happen at home. They happen everywhere else in the country, and there is an excitement to never knowing when he is going to show up in a city. He always gives him his travel information, and there have been nights when he has lain awake in a lonely hotel room, hoping desperately for a knock at the door, only to wake in the morning sleep deprived and still alone. The nights when he does come, though, are beyond perfect, so he doesn’t begrudge him the odd night when he doesn’t show. In the beginning, he had thought that it was a choice he was willing to make. At some point along the way, a decision had become necessary and he had chosen her, because he could not imagine his life without her. They had
INFIDELITIES — ANON
stood there at the altar, him and her together, while the man in his life stood by his side and watched him bind himself irretrievably to someone else. He didn’t pretend to think that it wouldn’t hurt him, but he had been sure their friendship would survive. But then he had left, suddenly and without a word, and he had been left with a wife and a hole in his heart that she could not fill. So the decision had been changed…not reversed, but altered, and now he wakes in the mornings to one set of blue eyes or another, and he tries not to see the blind faith in hers or the betrayal in his, because he cannot stand to be the cause of such pain. She doesn’t know, and he hopes that she never will. When he proposed to her, he told her that she was everything to him, but he knows now that it was a lie, and he regrets saying it, because she is only half of his everything. The other half meets him in hotel rooms, and kisses him with an intensity that she doesn’t have, and touches him with a strength and familiarity that a lifetime with her could not bring. And when he lies in his arms in the dark, he sometimes longs for her feather light touch, for the silk of her hair running through his fingers. He is never satisfied, and at times he hates himself for it. There is infidelity on both ends, because he loves them both, and betrays one each time he is with the other. But there is a weakness in him that makes a decision impossible, and so he continues this duplicitous existence because he cannot live without either of them. So every morning he wakes to a set of blue eyes, and he thinks of the other identical eyes that are opening to find an emptiness in the bed beside them. Each morning breaks his heart a little more.
Miranda says you’re an idiot. Miranda says you’re a malicious cunt, shit on a shoe, filth. Miranda holds my hand and tells me I’m fabulous, fabulous, fabulous. She gets me drunk and sometimes it works. I hurl insults at you as if you’re in the room, swig vodka and compare your orgasm to a pig’s. But it doesn’t work: we turn out the lights and go to bed, and soon Miranda is snoring. But I lie awake, and your face appears in the ceiling. I shut my eyes and there you are still, walking towards me. You say, “David, are you gonna talk to me or am I a malicious cunt today?” You oink. I apologise, embarrassed. What hurts is that you will have no such hallucinations. We share no night-time visions. I imagine you seldom imagine me. My appearance in your dreams is rare, if at all. (Do you even dream?) I am the hungry one. I am the coward. You raced ahead; new city, new haircut, new men. Miranda says, irritated, that I need to pull myself together and move the fuck on. You’re not coming back and I should stop whining. I feel bad. She’s right, of course. Miranda has her own problems; she does not need to be consumed in mine. I have a foolish heart and you stamp and shriek in its atrium. If you’re reading this, come home.
Take comfort from my glowing soul, she said Oh hole, please let me out of this! And so With skinny arms she scooped me up and out Into the promise.
This heart was cracked an age before it turned to whole, but now itâ€™s turned to rock or stone, whichever you prefer it matters not.
Iâ€™ll never speak to you again.
SMOKE, MONOCHROME & ALL OF THE ABOVE
Windowless metamorphoses beneath monochrome undoing where she laid flat out without tact nor considering the unreal aspects of perspective or even this here, this texture on her shoulder, her new-lit cigarette. If first hand you can’t see right see it again correctly before employing finger nails for obsolete taskery such as oh, say, finite religious faith systems: a belief in thereof. Or futility, or fertility, or faux-faux leather settees without armrests. An abundance of condensation rings collided upon the coffee table, venndiagrams of unease eased their way across your old Aunt’s face – this is before you even spilled the lion’s share of the lemonade all over the meringue flavoured carpet and all delegates in attendance concurred as to the tastelessness of the whole show. Kaput! Magic trick failure, beyond redemption now at your age which is six & Jesus died for it which you don’t even understand for what & giddy fits & your church face a window pane through which people could see. You swore to me this was truth, the truth, but it’s not. All that happened were casual glances. Your side decrees that everybody looked through your face for the view it had on offer – cliffs, seagulls, shipwrecks and such splendour, one real-estate-type uncle said he could sell the whole damn show; as in dress
SMOKE, MONOCHROME & ALL OF THE ABOVE — CAL DOYLE
you stealth-style into the wallpaper, deposit yourself before the window whatever house he’d be shilling and watch the value skyrocket, thus increase his sale-cut. But this is a joke of course, like his breath, hilarity in and of itself, you asked him who’s going to live in all these houses that are being built and he patted your head and laughed again left you to get yet another drink. Jesus biscuits not withstanding you said you liked the church trips, the fake holiness of the kids & the priests all pretending they cared. That this was worth it, the casual cannibalism, those gilt robes, the altar boys, the screens of smoke swung out at the end of their chains: you could taste it in dense chunks, like a structure crumbling in on itself before succumbing to the inevitable re-assembling of itself. (The crunchiness of it all.) You chewed it out anyway. The smoke affected all of your senses, all of your perceptual faculties and you were a six year old then and now you’re not, and then you could barely count them (your faculties for perception). It’s just that she is smoking and the fingertips take the chill off and you are an undensity now: all spent, all extended. Like seven heads you have is how she regards you from her sprawl: full spread, an armpit & cigarette smoke. Her glisten-skin all bespangled by the old bedside lamp, just one minimal motion & the colours bloom myriad upon her.
They donâ€™t notice the silence anymore, with the rattles in their brains and the colours in their eyes, smearing like paint on canvas in a post-modern world; can barely hear above the whispers and the irrelevant things, and a million phone calls from people they can hardly place anymore.
We used to swim at fifteen feet above braver bodies lying soft and pale among the twisted plasters and the bloated flies. We swam over coins and earrings, dissolving talcum powder, pulverised rubber. We crowded round the diversâ€™ entry points and watched the bubbles popping on the surface where pointed fingers broke the water. Silence meted out by childish exhalations as we waited. When we went back it was covered over, the thin blue carpet scattered with costume cupboard clothes and kitchen equipment. The cracked white diving blocks were stacked in a far corner; the changing rooms still stank of chlorinated sweat. We stood on top of cardboard boxes the colour of dry soil, and stamped our feet until they echoed: a cluttered floor, with nothing underneath it. Each cubicle door swung open, frozen motion, like the windows of an empty advent calendar.
THE MAKINGS OF A NEW POEM
Foucault went to hell with no sense of time, sealed in his own reused metaphor. Bentham, the bruised architect in the next cell, squints at the central tower, walls of one height, brick of a single colour; measures the mirrored distance of interminable light. The place swells with them: Borges a Braille Deadalus; finally lost at his fingerâ€™s end, Kafka, skin frothed by his own machine, tracing renewed scars: an endless redrafting.
THE MAKINGS OF A NEW POEM â€” ANDREW PARKES
Each hermetic, finished with no sense of time; in the right place on the right shelf: an ordered, desired, hell by design I find myself borrowing. But I need time my flesh and that history to make the same descent. Language is the wound we leave in the time we have which in my case is this September evening, the aching sentences irrevocably tangled in a cold reusing: this litany of borrowing.
Weekend, glittering Wells. The wind spoke through our mouths but when died down said more as we kissed on Glastonbury Tor. -Cold wet stone where bishops hung waiting for their lullabyMy mother’s ash lined wind spoke through our mouths and as she died it down out of nowhere whistled more as we kissed in the Tor’s mist. I love in this violet layer where depth will surface. Where shines the mirror, bounces three candles’ heat to your chest and you call a dance in winter’s clothes to punch the one sun’s ray out. The sun’s one ray in. As gospel as bullseyeAnything ringed is a target. As this call my daytime vigil pierced for my kin so quietly tonight may your skin sing my skin to sleep
‘Whatever else is unsure in this stinking dunghill of a world, a mother’s love is not.’ -James Joyce First, there was the sweaty, earthen beginning. Debated for centuries by men in spectacles holding leather bound encyclopaedias, the wonders of the birth remained playfully, wickedly evasive. A mind-blowing mystery, the root of all science, religion and philosophy, which had conceived the greatest minds in history, and the worst- clutched laughingly in the hands of the infant for half an instant and then released with its first sharp intake of breath. A beautiful riddle, lost in each newborn baby’s first flutter of gaping excitement as the spectrum and stench of the world uncurl its fat little fingers- and the secret floats away, to be eternally pursued by the tweed and mildew of academic minds. But I digress. The birth is merely the beginning. This particular Child is familiar to all. Even in his early characteristics could be spotted the roots of broad behaviour: he was an ardent feminist, a flamboyant homosexual, a far-right Fascist and a vegetarian. With an appearance of generic loveliness, the Child was often sumptuously cherubic; a dimpled golden hub of innocence and wonder. The Child could also be curious, testing the limits of his capacity, exploring the boundaries of life and time, the cradles in which he was confined. And the Child could be wicked. He would hide from his Mother, and then weep harrowingly, as he sat in darkness, cold and alone and self-pitying.
MOTHER — XENOBE PURVIS
In his early years the Child harboured a primal veneration for his Mother: he worshipped her. He was fascinated by her every movement; her beauty astonished him. He would look at the rocks on the ground and he would see her. He would listen to the subtle whispers of the wind and he would hear her. He worshipped her. But this zealous adoration soon began to subdue. As he grew, the intensity of his love-affair with her slackened. He became apathetic. His name was Narcissus, and he had fallen in love. He marvelled at his own creativity: for he was creative. He fashioned beautiful objects, and would stare, for days and years on end, at the tempest of colours he could create. He painted, he carved, he built, he soared. He was dazzled by his own ability. The things he created blinded him: he played with sounds and realised towering fantasias of music, and he played with words and created myriad sentences of infinite beauty. Language was his favourite playmate in those adolescent years (by then his name was Shakespeare). But for all his beauty and creativity, the Child was blinkered by the mirror he perpetually held before him. He could not see that every chapel ceiling he painted, or perfect chord he sounded, or ‘perchance to dream’ he penned, was merely a farcical imitation of the Mother who birthed him. He was ever the cygnet, the sapling, the thin and doleful violin, while she- she was the swan, the mighty oak, the philharmonic orchestra. The years passed, and nature became soaked in a rosy hue, and the Child grew Romantic and returned to the fold of his Mother’s bosom, to escape the grim barbs of the world he had created in her honey-suckle embrace. And Wordsworth- for that was his name- scorned the dreary intercourse of daily life, and eloped merrily to poeticize his Mother in Tintern Abbey and Bastille. There he dwelled, for several long and fragrant summers, delighting in the still, sad music of humanity, dreaming thirstily, and becoming an eager student of nature. Thus, his filial love flourished, as he recognized that his Mother would never betray the heart that loved her. Once again, however, the intensity of his infatuation dimmed, and he turned his sights to greater things, sickening of the clutches of her domesticity. And so he warred, brutally, for several years. His philosophies became absurd as he questioned relentlessly, and his artistry echoed his confusion. His sentences ceased to make sense, as he delighted in the harsh landscape of his newly-inked pages. He called himself Tom Eliot and he
MOTHER — XENOBE PURVIS
celebrated the bleak cesspit of modernity. But there was still sublimity in his achievements: Prufrock, a god when pitted against the desert of the later years, when the Child could no longer distinguish poetry from politics, and life assumed a grey and flaccid timbre. His Mother was becoming tired. She had watched with pride as her son had grown. She had held his chubby hand when he had first learnt to walk, had lullabied him when he feared the restless night, had nursed him, and had always fiercely loved him. But her every fibre grieved at the sight of his growing conceit. He asked for everything and she denied him nothing. He exploited her viciously, parading her, stripping her, harnessing her beautiful majesty to propel him to greater heights, where the air was so thin he could barely breathe. Yet there he hung, suspended in self-congratulatory delirium. And she hovered anxiously below, ready to catch him when he fell (for fall he would), ready with the thermos of hot chocolate and neatly squared sandwiches for when he was hungry. However, he did not return to the picnic, but soared higher: she was only a speck to him now, he no longer needed her. He was a scientist (they called him Darwin, they called him Romanes), and he knew about filial connections: umbilical cords- cut at birth, unhygienic to keep thereafter. And so, his heart (aortic pump, he reminded himself smugly) blackened remorselessly as he employed his ever-greater inventions to consolidate the distance between them. With every mechanism he created, disease he discovered, dictator he became, he pushed her away with ice-cold blood. An iron curtain stood between them. The Mother, however, did not lose hope. For, although her son was defiantly distant, malicious, smirking, cruel in his distance, she was his Mother, and she knew his heart. He thought she could not, but she saw everything: She saw him, delirious in nakedness, with flowers in his hair, cry ‘Peace!’ She saw him, in dizzying passion, kiss the girl in the white dress under the stars. She saw him stoop to shake the beggar’s hand in Putney High Street. He shouted ‘I hate you’ ten times a day, but he whispered ‘I love you’ one thousand; and she always heard him.
MOTHER — XENOBE PURVIS
But now she was growing tired. The vivid colour of her hair had faded grey with the murky smog of his behaviour. He had carved wrinkles into her beautiful flesh. He became ashamed of his growing ugliness and had pierced her eyeballs in a fit of loathing. She was blind, and she was cold. In ancient years her beauty had surpassed imagination: she was Arcadia, Eden, Utopia, Zion. Her face had prompted multitudes of poets to sigh and troops of soldiers to die, for love of her. And now? Now she was a barren Wasteland, a stinking dunghill of tarmac and empty crisp packets. Yet still she did not rebel. She placidly gave him everything she could, gifts of such poetic brilliance that would make Scheherazade weep with wonder: the soft hue of twilight, the first suspended note of dawn, the flight of the rainbow, the depths of the sea and the shimmering heat of the desert. But the Child remained adamantly foolish, preferring the roar of the M40 and the stolid black-and-white of the newspaper print to all the presents she offered him. And now the Child, too, had grown tired. Flecked with grey: from the cold lead of his eyes, to the ash of his hair, to the wan paleness of his skin and the crumpled charcoal of his suit. He remembered dourly his youthful days of vivid colour, when he had woken up to breathe greenness, smell pinkness, bathe in yellowness. But in a rage of resentment one notably unremarkable day, he had bitterly stamped out the colour, extinguished every flickering flavour that remained. ‘Fantastical’, he muttered; indecent for an upstanding banker to foster such fancies, he imagined. And do what he might, the Child could not slow the pace of time: he measured it meticulously, binding it with chimes and ticks and beeps and cogs and numbers in an endeavour to weigh it down, but still time skipped gaily on, and the Child was left with the deafening knell of each passing second. And so he was tired, and, if truth be told, a little lonely (his wife had eloped with her personal trainer, in all his perma-tanned Lycra glory). Of an evening, alone, the Child would often sit and think (curtains tightly drawnit was no longer fashionable to be seen to think): he would think about his Mother. And in his dreams, dreams of such breathtaking intensity of colour and freedom and bare-feet on grass, he would often return to his dizzy youth with her. But unfailingly, the sadistic toll of his alarm-clock would pierce his reveries, and he would don his uniform, peel away his identity, and go to work.
MOTHER — XENOBE PURVIS
‘Here we are’, the Child said to his Mother one day, as he rested on a bench in the forty-five minute lunch-break he allotted himself every day, on a patch between skyscrapers. ‘Here we are, at last, and nothing has changed’. He plucked mournfully at a blade, as he used to in his youth when he had suck’d on country pleasures, childishly- it had been one of grass then. The Mother nodded, and smiled beatifically. He knew, in his misery, that she would still do anything to make him happy. The Child said, ‘Dance’. And so the Mother, her sightless eyes glistening with beautiful reproach, began to dance. Her buxom figure, to which she had clasped her screaming infant, gasping sicklily for life, swayed rhythmically. Shorn and naked, the Mother was majestic in her dance; and the Child jeered and turned away. Across the tabloids the next day, smeared with detritus the day after, was emblazoned another unexceptional legend, of the tired City worker, disillusioned with the crumbling economy, found slumped in his lunchbreak, on a bench in the park, dead. But the fast-paced people, consumed with the latest formaldehyde sharks and internet phenomena, soon forgot. Yet his Mother (her name was Mary, Gaia, Mrs Smith from Number 16), did not.
THINGS I NEVER GOT TO KNOW
F M J Botham
Crowds of new faces that felt like old memories long unprovoked and hidden in the most obscure places. Hot nights with the bedsheets sticking to me and abstract thoughts beyond my grasp, motivated by the weather as if the expanse of the universe had transpired to alter the past by a single degree. Final goodbyes. The undisguised sadness of the final goodbye. My owness; of being me, mind and body and voice completely me. The flash of my red skin glowing with heat in a cold shower. Sweat sourness. Great love. Unreasonable hatred. The mass of the world whispering beneath my feet, the constant hum of the sound like an enormous wave or something more concrete. Rivers of icecube meltwater running down the cracks in the pavement. Small waves on an empty shore.
THINGS I NEVER GOT TO KNOW â€” F M J BOTHAM
New depths and the wonder of strangers; my own wonder, and theirs with me at their mercy, for the first time, all excitement and courtesy. Dried sand stuck to my shins. The irritation of sand and all the places it comes to rest: the dull corners of sticky cafe floors and old hallways all dark wood broken and distressed. My own throat sore with laughter, cheeks aching and the devastating brightness of a shop window reflecting the sun. Night skies with absolutely nothing in them. My hands, cracked from working in the heat and the blaze. The silent echo of lightning in a faraway place sitting right next to the horizon after the sun has gone away. Long, pale mornings with the window open as far as it will go. The feeling of my arms out of the window of a speeding car, not caring about whether anyone thinks I am indicating. Dirty drinking glasses on a rickety table. My black bare feet, resting up on a bench. Pure, idiot contentment and a strand of candyfloss tossed lightly on the breeze. Waking up on a weekday morning, with the smell of bonfire smoke clinging to the air, I thought that, perhaps, summer might be buried there under the leaves at the back of the garden, alongside all of the dead animals we once interred before my parents paved over everywhere.
In three months Iâ€™ll circle back to an empty riverside car-park, grass peeled from concrete in silent, brittle evening. Your words drifting like ringlets from your cigarettes, lint promises in my pockets. I stand where we stood, blending your architecture with mine, blurring time and trajectory like ghosts worn in video-tape.
The tragedy of the last moment is not that it will end (as we have always known this) but rather, that our predictions from the past were juvenile and naive â€” They did not come true.
Nina Bahadur • www.ninabahadur.com Nina Bahadur was born in London in 1990, and is currently an undergraduate at Princeton University. She has been writing poetry since childhood, and her work has been featured in Magma, Pomegranate Poetry, and Yes, Poetry. Her interests include photography, travel, singing, and summer nights. Flora Baker • www.florabaker.com Flora, a Peckham native, is currently in her final year of her undergraduate degree in American Literature and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. She has been writing for many years, and has been published in Streetcake, is awaiting publication in The Cadaverine and has read her poetry live on radio. Aimee Bea Ballinger • www.bloodyabichristmas.blogspot.com A member of the poetry collective Neutral Norway, Aimee Bea Ballinger is .... F M J Botham • www.fmjbotham.com F M J Botham is a writer and maker based in south-east London. He is an English Literature graduate and creator of the Encyclopaedia of Moments project. Jen Calleja • www.jencalleja.com Jen Calleja is a 24-year-old poet and short story writer. Her work has appeared in many independent publications including No.Zine, Off Modern, Shebang and Playground. She graduated with a First in Modern Literature from Goldsmiths College in 2009 and is currently studying for an MA in German Studies at UCL. Bob Cassidy • Sophie Corser • Sophie Corser is a writer based in London. An English Literature graduate, she is currently studying for an MA in Modern Literary Theory at Goldsmiths University, London. Alice Davies •
Cal Doyle • email@example.com I’m a twenty-seven year old poet from Cork in Ireland. I’ve been writing since my teens, mainly publishing criticism in various zines around the country but have only recently began submitting poetry on the encouragement of friends. Gabriel Duckels • www.ohdeepsigh.blogspot.com Originally from Basingstoke, Hampshire, Gabriel Duckels is a 19 year old writer & poet. He is currently studying BA (Hons) English with Creative Writing at Goldsmiths University, London. Chris Harrison • Kyle Hugall • Olly Todd • firstname.lastname@example.org Olly lives south of the river and his poems have appeared in Vice, Mercy and the Clinic anthologies Hannah Levene • www. smallstoriesandlittlebooks.blogspot.com A member of the Neutral Norway poetry collective, currently based down in Falmouth, Cornwall. Ben McKay • MJH Milner • www. neutralnorway.tumblr.com I currently live in Falmouth and am a grotty student. I spend all my time playing accordion and writing. I’m with the poetry collective Neutral Norway, based in Falmouth, Cornwall. Miriam Nash • www.miriamnash.com Miriam Nash accidentally became a poet during her English degree at Goldsmiths. She is currently living in Singapore, where she performs and teaches poetry in schools and works on Writing the City - an online community for new and emerging writers (http://civiclife.sg/ writingthecity/). Her first poetry pamphlet will be published this year by flipped eye.
Mindy Nettles • www.mindynettles.blogspot.com Mindy Nettles studied Fashion Communication and Promotion at the University of Middlesex, graduating in 2010. Since then she has regularly contributed work to magazines, including Station & Lovebox Festival’s magazine, as well as continuing to produce self-initiated works. She currently lives and works in London. Rob Fred Parker • www.edgewayarts.co.uk Currently based in Essex, Rob Parker writes and illustrates as much as possible. He also edits the site http://edgewaysart.co.uk/, a place for creativity and collaboration. Andrew Parkes • www.clinicpresents.com Andrew Parkes is studying for an MA in Modern Literary Theory at Goldsmiths College and is a founding member and co-editor of Clinic. His work as appeared in various Clinic publications, Mercy and Smiths. Xenobe Purvis • www.kerensaandxenobearesisters.blogspot.com Xenobe Purvis was born in Japan twenty one years ago, moving to England when she was four years old. She is currently reading English Literature at Oxford University. She leaves university this summer, and hopes to spend real life writing stories Helen Randall • www.hrtumbleblog.tumblr.com Designer, gallery assistant, aspiring publisher, bad writer, procrastination extraordinaire & ocular fiend. Luke Shaw • Luke Shaw is a lazy layabout. Rob Smith • Sometime writer currently living in London.
All of the writers for their time, patience, talent, enthusiasm and entrusting me with their work. Clinic Presents for all their support and encouraging submissions. Mark at Kopykat for humouring me. The staff at Ditto Press and Masters Bookbinding for answering all my questions and helping me produce this publication. My old colleagues at Phaidon Store — Vasilea Avramidou, Amy Honda, Adam Pulford & Flora Watters — for originally helping get this idea off the ground, their support and teaching me more about publishing and the industry in general. Plus: Camille Bodel, Justine Melford-Colegate, Gabriel Duckels, Harrie Edwards, Rowena Hewes, The staff at Kemistry, Alice Lubbock, Michael Makonnen, Garry North-Mouat, Sean Parker, Andrew Parkes, Daniel Powell, Kerensa Purvis, Barbara Randall, and everyone else on BA (Hons) Graphic Design at Camberwell College of Art — for their help, encouragement and support.
First published in 2011 Copyright ÂŠ Tumble Press 2011 All stories and poems ÂŠ 2011 of the respective writers. Copyright is reserved by the individual authors within this publication. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or any information storage or retrieval system without prior consent from both publisher and relevant writer. ISBN ISBN Designed, edited and published by Tumble Press 141 Leamore Court 1 Meath Crescent London, E2 0QQ Restless was typeset in 9/12pt Cycles Eleven & Sabon LT std, and 16/19pt, 8/11pt Lydian BT using a grid conceived with the aid of the divine rectangle and the writings of Jost Hochuli & Robin Kinross on the proportions of the book and the double-page-spread. The typography of the title is a hybrid of Nimbus Sans Novus by Max Miedinger (Stempel Studio), and a customised elegant yet quirky serif which was produced with the help of Daniel Powell. It was risograph printed by Ditto Press in London and bound by Masters Bookbinding in Reading, England. The paper stocks used are ---------, provided by --------. The cover is decorated with Bukana (Ciel) by Winter & Company and a hot foil supplied and applied by Masters Bookbinding, Reading.
Published on Apr 15, 2011