UNDER THE FABLE ISSUE 2 31/08/15
A Little Note From The Editor
Thank you for returning to our wonderful magazine â&#x20AC;&#x201C; we hope you enjoyed our first issue so much that you want to come back and do it all again. Weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve had a very busy month touring and promoting the issue (check out our review of the Snobar MK show) and have, once again, been thoroughly impressed with the quality of submissions sent to us. Peace out, enjoy your day and bonus marks to anyone who noticed my grammatical error in the last issue. Bravo you, truly bravo.
The Contents: Poetry: 3-18 Articles: 19-24 Prose: 24-72
A Poem By Larry The Cat
Words are meaningless My muse flew out the windowThat was my dinner. Inspiration has come Close the curtains and lock the doors My madness begins. My name is Larry I have a passion for words and, of course, dead birds.
Beach-combing By Elizabeth Gibson
You are like a shell. I have people who are flowers or leaves. You are a shell. Tough, fragile. Opaque yet with a million echoes. You sing the sound of the sea. In your cotton turquoise dress you radiate all that the ocean is; your brown eyes are like rock pool rocks shiny, smooth, clear, wetted and dried again. Your hair could be compared to sand except it isnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t, itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s just your hair, your hair, your hair. Hints of silver beginning to tarnish the gold. Searching for silver among the grains of sand. The job of an optimistic beachcomber. Or just one who loves beauty. The job of many years. Rubies and sapphires and emeralds may glow within. Or maybe, as I hope, there is just a shell, as you would think. Not empty but filled With song, with song, with song.
2015 By John Hulede
My phone says the year is 2015. But these days feel a lot like 1965. As a child, my parents taught me the words black, educated, and well behaved were all synonymous. I think that's why I'm still alive but sometimes my friends say I act white...
Merseyside Blitz By Jennifer Byrne
“single worst incident of the war” – Winston Churchill. I.
vor fünfundsiebzig jahre I saw the city I knew so well crumble before me what is portrayed in black and white I saw in vivid colour Ich sah fünfzig überfälle in drei monaten when the bombs appeared and shelters became people’s homes with houses darkened and street lights invisible the bombers estimate when to drop I saw families haul possessions to the During Road shelter from their smoke filled houses mothers carry babies over their shoulder Mr. Bear falls from a girls grip they settle in the shelter where they assumed they were safe
they wait for the bombs to stop I watched them anxiously play games unaware
hopscotch cops and robbers
I saw the bricks begin to collapse parents soothed their children alles in ordnung they exchange guilty glances behind their backs
I saw panic spread as fires broke across the shelter and loved ones watch them drown in the blaze their screams
claimed einhundert und sechsundsechzig körper zu asche I saw a flask roll down the road tarnished with Arthur’s tears II. vor vierundsiebzig jahre Ich sah eine sieben nächte angriff a military ship caught fire the weapons
caused a massive explosion destroying the entire dock vier getötet Bianca street hit acht getötet Robert Barwise neunundfünfzig Walter Pendlebury zweiundfünfzig James Montgomery Mumford fünfzig John Robert Kelly zweiunddreißig Irene Ann Johnson sechsundzwanzig Harry William Swinton siebzehn Betty Mumford fünfzehn Margaret Jean Mumford zwölf
vquatsch I saw Stanley Road targeted the locals escape to the co-op shelter stealing supplies along the way the shelter – cluttered Papa Cooke working on the docks heard the raid and crawls through the underground tunnels to find his family against all reason gott sei dank I watched the Cooke’s escape to King Dicks shelter where they saw the co-op explode einhundertundachtzig leichen begraben vierzig unbekannt vergessen I saw Ash Street serve as a memorial natürlich tourists pass a giant rock using it as a seat no respect I saw homes scattered across the concrete
the vacant eyes of the Jones’s picking up the loose bricks their third child crushed beneath the rubble after running back to get that toy I saw the Brookes’s huddled in the corner children on their laps and hands over their ears as the fire licks their skin clean I saw Papa Robinson working in the engine room
working in the engine room preparing a ship for departure the boiler sizzled his body like a chip fryer I saw the families devastated
"I see the damage done by the enemy attacks, but I also see ... the spirit of an unconquered people" â&#x20AC;&#x201C; Winston Churchill.
Heol y Bont Pond By Jodie Kay Ashdown The Coryton train at the end of the garden peels and slices; the smell of the worm-plump compost bakes and ferments in the sun.
Beyond the veg patch and past the trellis we lie, belly down and elbow deep in the paved-in pond. Fat with toasted teacakes and smoked haddock we cup frog spawn and coral water boatmen, knot the pond weed and watch forbidden gravel, sink to the dark at the bottom. Later, with wild strawberry lip-stain weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll take in the scent of hot house tomatoes and thick greenhouse air. We'll be back, a week or so later, to see the dots have grown legs and now twitch and toil in their globes.
Behind us, the train sounds its horn. The faces through its windows like tadpoles behind glass.
It’s like… By Jasmine Heydari It’s like: having an intense aerobic session without any breaks from the moment you wake up - till the moment you go to bed. It’s like: Somewhere, a kitchen tap is leaking and drops of water hit and smash that old metallic sink - making their special sound
It’s like: quietly becoming the water drop disappearing down the drains only to be reborn the same day.
POEM By Michael Enevoldsen
The mediterranian rose Sleeping in the breeze By the cypress tree Where the morning bird conceives its song In the soft blue twilight of dawn It's melting and melting; my frozen blossoms Under the moonlight In lilyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s orange townâ&#x20AC;Ś
Alzheimer's By Kushal Poddar Snow came upon his mind. Sometimes he cannot tell one white shape from the other. He plays his old typewriter to hear his thoughts. No notion comes on the face. He stares where the reeds press each other on the roll of darkness. I place evening before him, curls of heat rising from it, watch if he remembers to sip and sigh. His hands hold something tight. I sigh and sip.
Some people don’t know what it’s like By Emily Foster (Inspired by ‘Some People’ by Rita Ann Higgins) Some people don’t know what it’s like: to lose the remote control, see it at the other side of the room and, have to get up to fetch it. To not get phone signal in the master bedroom, so you can’t check your messages in the morning.
To have to share the train into London, with a hundred other people and so many school children. Some people don’t know what it’s like: to forget the gardener’s name, and avoid him all day, to escape conversation. To not have WiFi, that stretches all the way to the bathroom on the third floor. To have the builders put in, double-hung windows, when you specifically asked for transom. Some people don’t know what it’s like: To have the dishwasher break, you have to do the dishes by hand.
To chip a nail the day before the big Christmas party. To have to wait in line for over five minutes just to get a latte. Some people just donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t know what itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s like.
Where have the Clear skies gone? By Afreen G Faridi
They hated clear skies when the harsh sun blazed upon them. Hiding from it in their homes and in the shade of the old fig tree. They prayed for grey skies together with the dry cracked Earth. For their thirst lay unquenched in that sliver of parched land. Rambling clouds and gusty winds blew away the dusty wrinkles. Awakening the sleepy streams and making joyous playgrounds in puddles. They loved the billowing clouds so much so that they made them anew. Even when the skies were clear and the wind was fast asleep.
The rivulets ran again raging forth in red froth. The puddles were as muddy where toddlers lay in breathless sleep. The Earth lay parched even as it rained bombs metal rockets- hate The fiery wind blew away the wrinkles charring away the flesh to bone. What is this new season called? when the Levanter has forsaken them. The season of fire and smoke when Aged endure and Children die.
Is this the Promised Land they sought after walking through parted waters? Is this the day they woke to from stinging whips and broken backs? Are these the blessed flock who once shared dried bread and bitter herbs? Is this the dream they dreamt for their children? When sturdy homes would crumble into dusty graves.
The Child By Joanna Hughes Full now, wash up, story, the washing, bed. Can I have a dric? Wash up, bed. Story, washing, bed. I dote what en more Wash up, bed. Story. I ‘dot’ wot to go bed! Bed, story, wash up, work! Can I sleep in yor bed plees? Work, story, bed. Wash up, story, bed. Bed, story, wash up story, story wash up Work! Work! Story, bed Good nite mummy I luv you.
The Simplest of Things By Adam Ward Donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t build a palace with marble and gold. Begin with the music that feathers the breeze, or the bicycle-bell of a wine glass toast. Knead clay made of warm days on the grass, and the suns lemon-light massaging your face A clammy clench of hands on a picnic blanket. Let the foundations sit upon Sunday lunches, the crescendo of Christmas crackers, the falling cadence of a goodnight kiss. Decorate the hall with the smell of burnt toast, paint the walls with rouge cheeked grandchildren as they pour sand from their shoes. Furnish the room with morning-breath kisses, the bubble wrap clatter of rain against the window, and the sky spit lightning you watch from a veiled room. Tile the kitchen with the sizzle of a camera flash, laminate the floor with the glossy prints, plaster the red-eye to your walls. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s not the ring on my finger that matters. but the circular band that my lips make, when I shape the words: I do.
Our Poetry Adventure So to celebrate our second issue we made the decision that we should go on a miniature tour of poetry open mic nights around the UK, hosting the nights in various venues, including Parnwell Community Centre in Peterborough, The Castle Hotel in Manchester, and The Adventure Bar in Covent Garden. Our first show, however, was in the SnoBar in Milton Keynes Xscape (you know, the giant building that looks like a weird shell?) The venue was stunning, a lovely little lounge-like bar with phenomenal views of the snow slope behind us (so if you were bored of the poetry, you could watch snowboarders and skiers fall on their arses and struggle to get back up) with a friendly barman named Nick. Our first open mic act was Rob, a sixteen year old who rocked up on a skateboard, and was, by far, the coolest performer of the night. Though nervous, Rob performed brilliantly, reading a variety of poems that he’s been writing since he was four years old, an impressive feat, considering the quality of his work. Next up was Melanie Limb, a lecturer from Northampton who oozed confidence as she read from her mobile phone, keeping the audience’s eyes firmly on her, and not on the various snowboarders behind her. Reading poetry which tackled relationships and mental illness, she touched on some heart-wrenching topics, but still managed to juggle entertainment with a strong message. And all this from a Geography lecturer? Who would have thought. Next was our very own donning the baseball cap as he recently shaved his head to support Macmillan charity. As always, he was the first poet to drop and f-bomb (and an even more dramatic c-bomb) bringing the Corby wherever he goes, as Adam tends to. His set was as entertaining as always, reading Ten Things I want To Say To You and How to Read Bennet spectacularly.
Sam the Poet (formerly know as Sam Upton) was next, and, after trudging across half of Milton Keynes to get there, we were very excited to see his set. He wins the category of most-bearded performer, and also most bairded perfomer (damn I’m proud of that pun) – as he was recently voted the Baird of Northampton. It was easy to see why, the soft spoken, easy going poet treated us to a fantastic set, and his experience on the road
really took the front seat, captivating every set of eyes and ears for the whole time he was up there. Headlining the show was, of course, the fabulous, the illustrious, the dangerous…me. Gareth Davey. I did what I do, went up there, tried some new things out. Some worked – bringing up my friend who doesn’t shut up about speaking Spanish and getting him to speak Spanish – and some didn’t; getting the crowd to repeat and he’ll burn in response to my poem, in a sinister voice. Which Adam took to mean, sound as girly as possible. My highlight was the poem Weinachtsfrieten Treve De Noel my own take on a war poem, during which I got everyone to light a digital candle for those that passed in the war.
All in all, it was a brilliant night and one repeated in style around the country! Photos by our brilliant Meg Shipman, words by Gareth Davey
Interview With An Author: Eva Holland I have stopped assuming that the most interesting thing about a writer is the work they produce. Last interview I did took me to a café in Lancashire, to meet a gritty crime writer that had a secret passion for Marvel comics. Preparing for the second publication of Under The Fable, I found myself on a sofa in ‘The Brewery Tap’ Peterborough, laptop on an oak table, fingers poised over a laptop, hoping that I could type as fast as I could listen. Who was I interviewing? Eva Holland. A debutant novelist, who spends most of her life in a lucky dressing gown. I don’t think I ever imagined myself writing that sentence. The Daughter’ Secret has recently hit the shops, and received with a healthy measure of success. So when I phoned Eva Holland, I was speaking to a bubbly woman, with her head still in the clouds after publishing her first novel with Orion books. The Daughter’s Secret was published thanks to Good Housekeeping running a novel competition. Eva came across the magazine when she was already 10’000 words into the novel, thinking: “that sounds right up my alley”. Quoting Shakespeare, Eva remarked that winning a publishing deal with Orion was “the stuff that dreams are made of”.
Naturally I was curious, how exactly did Eva react to winning the competition? Did she release a little squeal? Down a bottle of champagne? “I was very surprised that I won. They rang me on loudspeaker. At the time I was working on the novel, and expected it to be a carpet fitter on the phone. I can’t remember what I said, I sort of garbled some words” Eva joked, barely able to stop herself from laughing. “I had a massive opportunity, and had to do my best by the novel.” I think things started to happen very fast for Eva from here. “I had a tight deadline to hit, and took six months from my PR job to write the book.” After meeting with her editor at ‘Orion’ Eva raced home to spend the next few months frantically writing in her dressing gown. “My husband bought me a new dressing gown, but I don’t wear it because the old one is lucky, it has magical powers.” So sat in her dressing gown, poring over her novel, did the idea of being published create any anxiety? “In the process of writing I tried not to think about it actually being published. I believed in the novel before the competition happened, and I wanted to keep my vision intact. I didn’t want
to be swayed by the thought of other people reading it. Thinking like that can shift your focus and introduce other voices into the mix.” I couldn’t help but remark at this juncture the power of her narrative, the voice of Rosalind in The Daughter’s Secret, was masterfully distinct. How much research did it take to create a character like Rosalind with all her anxieties? The answer is very little. “I am one of the world’s worriers, I am an anxious person, so I worry about things like drowning in the bath. So looked very much into myself, and exaggerated it. I think that people who have vivid imaginations, like most writers, can invent almost anything to worry about.” The first time anyone, including her family and friends, read her first draft was when it was sent to her editor at ‘Orion’. “It took me about two hours to finally send the email.” After talking for about two hours about various bits they might change or strengthen Eva could only reflect: “I was worried about the editing process, but actually was really enjoyable.” Eva recounts various periods when her editing team said things like “Remember when Rosalind did this. It was exhilarating.” So now, The Daughter’s Secret is in the shops to buy, what is happening for Eva Holland? “I am taking time to write my difficult second novel. I am working on a first draft at the moment, which I tend to do quite quickly. Sort of emptying the system.” The experience of releasing her novel has taught her various things. “For a start, I know whatever I write now, people are going to read it,” and success has warped the perspective of this humble author who remarks quite seriously, “I have to challenge myself.” I could have chatted to Eva all day, it was nice to hear an author so humbled by the experience, and who laughed so readily. But I couldn’t hang up until I had some serious ground-breaking advice for all the budding writers and interested readers subscribing to Under The Fable. “I think when someone reads a good book, it makes them want to go and read another book. I would say, make sure what you finish what you start. I think you can get yourself into a sort of spiral of despair by not finishing. When you have finished, you have a novel, which is more than you had before. If unfinished it is just words on a page. People can be easily discouraged comparing their first drafts to other novels. That way madness lies. Never be scared to get right back to the beginning. Start again with a blank piece of paper, for about two per cent of the words from the first
draft make it into the second. I have read your last publication of Under The Fable (shameless self-promotion) and notice that there is a lot of flash fiction. I started writing flash fiction too, so just do what you are already doing.â&#x20AC;?
The Blank White Landscape – Review of Eva Holland’s The Daughter’s Secret In a time where the media is occupied by the damage left by ‘Operation Yewtree’, there has never been a better time to discuss who we entrust with the care of our children. From stage left, enter Eva Holland. The Daughter’s Secret occupies a very relevant space in contemporary society, asking the question: what happens to the families dealing with the loss of childhood innocence? When Stephanie, barely fifteen, ran away with her geography teacher, a family found itself torn and under scrutiny. Now, six years later, Nathan Temperley is granted early parole, and the memory of the entire ordeal threatens to come crashing back into this ordinary family’s world. Rosalind, the mother, takes the call and is forced to confront the events that led her family to the point of breaking. We are treated to the inner machinations of an anxious mother, as the book takes us through eleven days of waiting for Nathan Temperley’s release. Rosalind is a complex and rich narrator for this story. She struggles with anxiety, and complex interpersonal relationships. Indeed her own promiscuity causes her to analyse her seemingly comfortable family unit. We begin the story with Rosalind in the most comfortable state she has been in for a long time. Undertaking a degree, ready to appear in a small exhibition, things seem to be quite settled for Rosalind. Throughout the eleven days, Rosalind appears to unravel, her anxieties pouring back, and dominating the narratives construction.
Eva’s characterisation, at least as far as Rosalind is concerned, is nothing short of exemplary. It brings to mind Colin Wall, in J.K.Rowlings The Casual Vacancy, only written with a good deal more understanding, panache, and subtlety. The reader cannot help but connect with Rosalind. A very human woman, who on one page makes you smile, and frustrates you on the next. Whilst she tries to understand her daughter, her husband, and Cam (a fellow mature student with whom she is teetering on the brink of an affair) Rosalind tries her best to protect Stephanie from the impending release. But although the reader would never be forced to doubt Rosalind as a character, and every word feels like it belongs to her, the books is not without its flaws.
The novel meanders through eleven days of waiting, and sometimes nothing of significance happens for pages. Although it is interesting to watch Rosalind’s character develop, this can’t be said for some of the characters around her. Freddy doesn’t impact the plot at all, and Cam and Dan seem to be little more than two dimensional constructions. However these are minor points, and they do serve to provide some conflict within the plot. For the most part though, this book is a triumph. It slips in between the cracks left by the mainstream media, and concentrates on the aftermath of abuse victims and gives their families a voice. In a big way this highlights the marginality of those left to pick up the pieces after the cruelty of the world has torn them apart. If you are a fan of writers such as Debbie Howells, or Laura Elliot, then book a day off work. Put that kettle on. Are you wearing your most comfortable slippers? Good. Then sit back and enjoy the world Eva Holland has created for you.
Eden By Bethany McTrustery
Eden ‘I think I’m going to strike.’ I rub the fabric of my skirt. ‘What do you think?’ ‘I don’t think you should.’ His fingers whiten around the cufflinks he’s removing. ‘Why not?’ He sighs and looks at the flowered wallpaper like it holds the secrets to the universe. ‘I said,’ his voice is low, ‘that I don’t think you should.’ ‘Why?’ ‘Dammit, Lil. I’m your husband.’ ‘And I’m your wife.’ I shake my head. ‘And I think striking is the right thing to do.’ His eyes clenched shut, wrinkles gripping his face and warping like a circus mirror. ‘No.’ ‘Just give me one reason.’ I step up to him. ‘Why not?’ He inhaled sharply. ‘I don’t need a reason. I said no.’ ‘I think it’s the right thing to do. I’ve been part of the NHS for a few years now. The pay should be higher. I’m striking.’ I nod, shoulderlength hair tickling past my neck. He turned away and ran his fingers through his hair, ruffling it out of place. ‘Why do you even ask?’ He breathed. ‘What?’ ‘You always ask. Then disregard my advice.’ ‘It’s never advice.’ I furrow my eyebrows. ‘It’s always an order.’ ‘Then you should obey. You married me.’ ‘And what’s that got to do with anything?’ He looks down at me. ‘Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto–’ ‘I read the Bible, Adam. I know what it says.’ ‘Then why do you never submit?’ His hands flail up; teeth bared and spit shining on his lips. ‘We live in a modern world Adam.’ My throat tightens at this well-rehearsed argument. ‘There is no need for–’ ‘Order? Faith? What is there no need for, Lilith?’ I purse my lips. ‘I am your wife. Not your slave.’ ‘You should respect me.’ ‘I do.’
‘Then why do you disobey?’ He pinches the bridge of his nose. ‘Because my opinion matters as much as yours does.’ He choked on a laugh. He narrowed his eyes. ‘Who’s been filling your head with such nonsense?’ ‘It’s not nonsense. Women are equal. We have a female prime minister.’ His nostrils flare and he grits his teeth. ‘Go to bed.’ He clips his words like a bird’s wings. ‘No.’ ‘Lilith.’ It comes out as a growl. ‘You are neither my master nor my father. I choose when I go to bed.’ ‘Lilith, so help me God–’ ‘Crying out to Him never does anything.’ My lip curls. ‘Apparently not. You’re still here.’ ‘You’re pathetic.’ I laugh. ‘I spend my days washing blood off my hands for nothing and here you are complaining because your wife “won’t obey you”.’ I mimic him, words coming out high-pitched and whiney. ‘Well, you always know where the solicitors are.’ ‘What?’ His crow wing eyebrows lurched down. ‘If you have that much of a problem with me, get a divorce.’ I spelt it out for him. Rage lit like a match catching gas. ‘Are you a whore as well as a bitch?’ Hands reaching for me as I stumble back. ‘What century are you in? It’s the 70’s not the 1800’s.’ I spat at him. His hands froze midair like a puppet paused in motion. ‘There are new laws.’ Hands drop to his sides, strings cut. ‘They aren’t Biblical.’ He swats them aside like pipe smoke. ‘And it’s Biblical to threaten someone?’ eye his hands. ‘If you are that displeased, divorce me.’ ‘That is not an option.’ He trailed a thumb over his lower lip. ‘Do you love me?’ The question leaps from my mouth. ‘Lilith…’ A breath. ‘No Adam, what’s changed so much that you can’t bear to look at me anymore? What’s changed so much that you respond to divorce with doctrine?’ The silence stretches between us like a spider’s web. ‘Do I shame you that much?’ I whisper. ‘I–’ He swallows down his words and turns from me, refusing to meet my eyes. ‘You don’t shame me.’ ‘Then why don’t you love me anymore?’
‘I can’t… I didn’t know then.’ He still doesn’t look at me. ‘Know what?’ Anger laces its fingers around my voice. ‘You were so…timid when I met you. You only wanted to help people. Nursing was the onl- the only thing that mattered to you. I thought it would change. That we could…’ ‘Could what?’ ‘Settle down.’ And finally, finally, he looks at me. Tears slipping down his cheeks like rain on glass. ‘I want children Lil’.’ ‘But –you said – you told me,’ the words stumble like drunkards. ‘I know. I know what I told you. But I was wrong. I dream about it.’ The confession parted from his lips like the Red Sea. ‘Dream about what?’ I bite my lip. ‘Being a father.’ It was soft. ‘Do you think I’d deny you? Don’t you think I want children too? But we can’t Adam. I can’t.’ ‘I know, dammit, I know.’ ‘That’s why you hate me? Because I can’t give you children?’ ‘I don’t hate you.’ The lines on his face relaxed their grip. ‘I still love you, I think.’ ‘You think?’ ‘Why should it matter? You were pushing for divorce not ten minutes ago.’ ‘I want to do what’s right. I want you to be happy.’ ‘Then why do you disobey me?’ Exasperated. Swirling to look at me. ‘Because I want to be happy too. Is that such a crime?’ He faced away from me. Shirt rising and falling with each hitching breath. ‘Do you want happiness more than a husband?’ ‘What sort of question is that?’ I scowled. ‘A reasonable one. If you can’t gain happiness from obeying your husband. You are not deserving of a husband.’ ‘What sort of logic is that?’ My hands grip my head. ‘I shouldn’t have to obey you! I can make independent choices. I don’t need you.’ ‘Yes. With your pay, I’m sure you could live alone.’ He scoffed. ‘So you stay with me out of some twisted pity? ‘ ‘No. I stay because you couldn’t cope alone!’ ‘Why ever not?’ I can feel my cheeks heating up. ‘You’re a woman. Women don’t do well on their own.’
‘You are impossible.’ I exclaim. ‘I can do just as well as you.’ This time he does hit me. A swooping backhand that sends me on the floor like a sack of bricks. ‘You will learn to respect me.’ He stands over me. ‘No, Adam. I really don’t think I will.’
Killing Time GJ Hart
Killing Time He understood how people could disappear, people had legs, people could run. But the house, the swimming pool, the Vergogna Phryne in marble and bronze... He closed his eyes. He strolled out, past the variegating beds, past the vast sycamore and on down to the wooden jetty cut between river birch. He stood at the waterâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s edge, breathing in breeze scented like warm skin. From the kitchen he could hear Sharon singing and mixing Long Island teas. When he opened his eyes he saw the jumble of gardens, barely delineated by broken fencing and littered with filth. The pissheads by the phone box fighting over last night's fried chicken. All set beneath tower blocks like upended pill trays, their panes patched with cardboard and hung with bath towels. He turned from the window back to his room. His new home. A space so small it barely contained itself. On becoming its tenant he had found himself contracted into a perverse drudgery and enumerated with nothing but suffocation and foul dreams. To reach his desk he must close the cupboard. To close the cupboard he must fold the bed. To fold the bed he must place the chair upon the fridge being careful not to upend the kettle boiling inches from the sofa. He sat down at his desk and poked the button on the computer. The old tower groaned, woke and he began to type. One year had passed since Thomasâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s fame had flared into infamy. Now only the embers of notoriety remained. The theatre tours and the daytime TV bookings were all distant memories. He had quickly found himself blacklisted, ghosted. Wiped away like snot. The book was all he had left. The only thing he felt he was still allowed to do. He just hoped his name resonated enough to sell it. The book, titled 'Killing Time' saw a return to what Thomas did best: manipulating and exploiting the weak, the sick and the grief stricken. Loosely defined as self-help, the book made big claims, purporting to offer methods to sooth the souls of those tortured by the passage of time. But more than this, extract them from its movement entirely. Like all bad ideas, it had come to him while drinking. Now sober, Thomas considered it so ridiculous he could hardly bring himself to write it. Nothing more than a poorly disguised compendium of riddles, puzzles and word games. Simple tricks to occupy the mind mixed with lumbering self-hypnosis and sprinkled with salacious anecdotes involving unnamed celebrities. It had no more power to extract the reader from the ebb and flow of time than any book ever written. He forced his fingers onto the keys and continued to type.
*** His driver opened the car door and Thomas stepped out onto the pavement. He stopped briefly to sign autographs then disappeared through the stage door. A stage manager led him down a narrow passage-way to his dressing room "Full house tonight." "Good. Good." "Half an hour till curtain up" she said opening the door. Once alone, he stripped naked and stood in front of the floor length mirror. He leant forward into the mirror and smiled a smile he saved only for himself. He showered and dressed, then sat drinking and snorting until the small speaker on the far wall crackled, summoning him to the stage. He licked up the last of the coke and left. The house lights dimmed and thick drapes parted to reveal Thomas isolated in a single, white spot. A cymbal crashed and he raised his head. Another crash and his arm rose slowly, his fingertips nibbling at the ether. “Hello Sir. How are you this evening?” He said, pointing at a man in the third row. The man folded his arms, barricading himself behind a tight smile. “Have you had a close family member recently pass?” said Thomas. “Look, before you start," said the man in an awkward, aggressive tone. “I think you should know, I only came here with someone else, I don't actually believe...” “I don't blame you, Sir,” interrupted Thomas, “it is incredible isn’t it. I imagine you drove here. Past shops and houses and signs you've seen a million times. Normal things. And now here you are and things aren't normal any more. Will you allow me the chance to change your mind, sir?” “Go ahead,” the man replied. “An older man is coming through. You were very close. He was ill, terribly , terribly ill.” "Of course he was ill, that’s why he died.” “Your father, he's telling me he's your father.” “And who else would it be?" Thomas smiled humbly. The man smiled too, sensing he had Thomas rattled. "Why don’t you tell me something you couldn’t know, something interesting?” He paused. “Tell me his middle name.”
Thomas backed away, almost cowering. “OK, OK, well..yes..,” he whispered, “his middle name,” his voice trailed off. A murmur spread through the audience. Thomas looked down, visibly trembling. “His. Middle. Name…his...middle...name.... Montgomery, his middle name was Montgomery!” The man’s face froze. “Am I right sir?” "Ye..yes, you are,” he spluttering “Perhaps you need more. Let me see. What’s that?” Thomas bent, as if listening. “He was married, married to Jennifer, your mother, he's telling me he loved her very much. He still does.” Moisture began forming on the man's brow. “Ask me more, he's eager to talk,” continued Thomas. The man composed himself. Then all at once began throwing out question after question. Thomas whirled about the stage answered each and every one: The New Forest, black onyx, a Vauxhall Viva, 42 years, a white orchid... The man fell back, breathing hard, his shirt stained with sweat. The audience erupted in applause. Thomas batted it away, feigning embarrassment, but he knew, knew what he had done. After the gig, Thomas was high and determined to get higher. His PA had already procured whisky and cocaine and left them tucked discreetly away in his dressing room. Thomas bolted them down, then hungry for more, stumbled out into the night. He found a bar on the high street and took a table in the corner. He'd been sitting only a few minutes when he was approached by a young woman. Her name was Juliet, she’d been at his show and was a huge fan. She asked him for his autograph. "If I can buy you drink," he replied. Two hours later, after many, many more they set off back to his hotel room. When Thomas woke the next morning, Juliet was gone. He dressed, took two paracetamol and made a perfunctory attempt to tidy the hotel room. Juliet never crossed his mind again. Not until he answered his phone at five a.m. the following Sunday His PA was sobbing on the other end of the line. “Just how drunk were you that night?” “Which night?” Replied Thomas, laughing. “There’s a story,” she said, between sharp intakes of breath. Thomas relaxed and smiled.
“Just another silly story,” he said “No,” she said. “It’s more, much more.” Over the next five minutes Thomas listened as she read the tabloid story: Juliet, an undercover reporter, had videoed their evening together. The drinking, the drug taking. But worse, had videoed him explaining his processes. How he gleaned information from ticket sales. How this information was relayed to him live on stage via a tiny earpiece. How he'd been tipped off months in advance that a stooge from the Sceptic Society would be attending the show. How he'd hired a private detective to find out all he could about him. Thomas replaced the receiver slowly. Walked through to his study and poured a drink. *** Thomas leant back. The book save for editing was finished. His back ached and he straightened, rubbing hard at his sides. His knees hurt too. More than hurt, they burned. So much so, he looked down to check they weren’t actually on fire. His mouth tasted foul. He shuffled his chair round to the basin and picked up his toothbrush. As he brushed he turned to the small mirror at his side. He dropped the toothbrush. The piss yellow eyes, the hair, the skin were not his. Nebulous wisps, white as Cirrostratus floated above a face gouged like ploughed field. He began to tremble and whimper, pawing at the glass and the mask contained within it. Who had done this? How? He pulled at the skin with hands he commanded but we're not his. He turned them slowly, two rakes of bone, the veins undulating back and forth gently as sails. Like a sink hole, he felt something give. He moaned as his trousers filled. He rubbed hard at his eyes and stumbled to the window. The tower blocks were gone, replaced by row upon row of small, neat houses. Their manicured gardens overflowing with lisanthius and hydrangeas He sank to his knees, pushed himself beneath his desk and closed his eyes. He began feeling his way toward the sycamore. He could hear Sharon calling him in for drinks. From the lake, the sound of mooring rings clinking in the wind, and the breeze like warm skin.
With Jenna In Mind Adam C Ward
With Jenna In Mind Hell is still overburdened, I must stand and wait in line – David Draiman (2005) I was left for dead. In this hallway. On the floor. Centre stage, before an auditorium of family portraits and a dropped teddy bear. Everything seems louder now, the echo of footsteps down the hall, the thud of the front door closing. Even my breath tries to conquer the sound waves left by my daughter. I still expect her to bound into the hallway, arms outstretched – Daaadeee. Jenna was still at that awkward stage, where her feet seemed too heavy for her legs. Forced forward by the will to give her dad a hug, knowing that I would catch her. We were left for dead. Right here in this hallway. There is a red arc on the wall. Thick at the bottom, almost black, tracing a line to the ceiling. A burgundy handprint hovers just above the skirting board, flecks of crimson dotting the wall. The crust of arterial spray clings to the wall, and Jenna is still wondering what she had done wrong. I can’t linger here, and I won’t return. Just saying farewell to my poltergeists and leaving them to their memories. I pick up the teddy bear and put it on the telephone table, next to the picture of Jenna paddling in Salou. The door slams as I leave again, back to the Peugeot with the scratch on the side door, and the gun in the glove box.
**Earlier** How was I considered evil? I find myself in a room, the ceiling flickers as though sheathed in flame. Crowded. Like maggots in a fisherman’s tub. One man’s elbow rests on my shoulder. Another kneels on the floor, head pressed to my crotch. My face is pushed between shoulder blades enveloped in denim. I can’t breathe. Dead air. A thick coppery smell. Sweat. And something else gnawing at the back of my throat. I look up to the ceiling. -NextI don’t recognise the voice. The rasping shriek somewhere in front of me, past the roiling bodies. The crowd stepped forward. A metre. Maybe two. The man kneeling at my crotch disappears underfoot. As his head fell back to the floor, he looked up at me. His mouth moved – help me. His eyes were missing, two black wells staring. Worms of red trailed his cheeks. He had wept blood. – Help me. I was pushed, stepping over his face. The elbow at my shoulder collided with my neck.
‘Please watch your…’ I wish I hadn’t looked. He is a broken marionette. His head lolling as though his neck was a thin wire. His jaw held his mouth in a silent gasp, eyes wide and bloodshot. Only his eyebrows moved. Convulsing. Like dying caterpillars. -NextWe move again, something pushing me from the behind. I could feel the imprint of bony fingers clawing between by shoulder blades. My involuntary shudder pushes me forward, past the denim jacket. I see the walls for the first time. Red stone. Each brick moved, as if something was pushing against a thin membrane beneath the surface. Shapes of hands, feet, open mouths. A scream sticks itself in my throat. -NextI see where I am going. I see the oaken desk. The pen. The veiny hand holding it aloft, the long black fingernails, the ragged claret sleeve. I hear the shuffling of feet around me. Feel the bodies writhing. Giving me room. -NextThe voice severs the quiet gathering around me. My feet do not move. I cannot lift my legs. Two nicotine yellow eyes glow from above the poised pen. Just staring at me. -I said next**6 years ago** Unreliable eyewitness – circumstantial evidence – not guilty. The gavel had barely begun its descent before I was on my feet. The three men in the docks were smiling, shaking hands. Partners in crime – getting away with murder. I threw a full bottle of water at them. ‘They are guilty. Fucking guilty.’ -Mr Davies‘I will fucking kill you. Murderers.’ -Mr Davies please ca…‘Fucking murdering cunts’ -yourself‘You’re dead. You are fucking dead.’ -Davies you must sit‘I will fucking find you.’ Arms linked under my armpits. I kicked out. Trying to headbutt the policemen. But I was travelling out of the court. The fucking cunt with the scar on his head was smiling, straightening his tie. Clapping the ginger one on the back. The bald one backed away from the
the other two, and sat back down. His eyes to the floor. ‘I will fucking kill you.’ A door slammed in front of me. The arms let me go and three policemen stepped back. -Calm down Mr. Davies. Don’t end the day in a cell. Won’t do you no good – The tall policeman had stepped forward. There wasn’t a smile on his face. I remembered him. I remembered him. He was the one with coffee, with the soft brown eyes. He was a friend. Was a friend. Beyond the court room door lay justice, and he was standing between me and…oh god Jenna. Justice had failed. Circumstantial evidence. Unreliable eyewitness. I saw them. I saw them. Yes, I was fading into a warm black sleep at the time. But I would recognise them anywhere. My fists clenched. Circumstantial evidence. My fists relaxed. Unreliable eyewitness. Not guilty. I lunged at the tall policeman. I did no damage, no real damage anyway. Except the broken pinky I suffered when punching the doorframe. Before being dragged to the floor, where the footprints of the guilty led back to freedom. I would fucking find them. **Earlier** All I’ve sacrificed, led to nothing. What do you expect of demons? Horns? No. Red skin? Not this one. Just a man, sat at a desk, a cigarette lit in his hand. His name is Adam, small in stature. Worry etched into his corrugated forehead. I am led to a room lit by violet candles. He looks at me over the rim of his thin-framed glasses, tapping on his little black laptop. ‘Si’ down Mr. Davies.’ He has an English accent, buoyant, with a Midlands lilt. I slump onto the wooden stool and face him. For a few moments he ignores me, looking down at his laptop. ‘So. You alrigh’?’ ‘Me? Am I? Where am I?’ ‘Would’ve though’ you’d’ve worked that one ou’ y’self.’ He smiles. As though I have missed a great irony. ‘Where’d you think y’are?’ I have no answer. For a moment I take a look around the room. On his desk is a prism with his name on. “Adam – Accommodation Coordinator”. ‘Adam. I’m sorry, but I don’t know how I got here.’ ‘Well, there ain’t no easy way t’describe tha’.’ He relaxes back against his chair and folded his arms. ‘You’re a difficul’ one y’know. See. Prostitutes come ‘ere, we send ‘em to a labour ward to continuously birth demons. Rapists get a small room wi’ a strong an’ lusty housemate. Oh the boss likes ‘is irony I’ll giv’im tha’. Bu’ you? Well you seen enough torture in
your life, we’re runnin’ outta imagination.’ Adam lights another cigarette, coughing a cloud back at me. ‘I don’t understand.’ ‘Y’will in good time mate. See we’ve a bit ova problem. We’re runnin’ outta space y’see. I mean, it seems almos’ everyone finds there way ‘ere nowadays. We ‘ave to change the rules a bit. So. This is wha’ I go’ f’ya.’ He smiles and blows another cloud into the air. ‘You go’ unfinished business ain’ya?’ I nod. Not because I remember anything. But because there is a little tickle at the back of my mind that recognises those words. Unfinished business. Adam smiles and turns his laptop screen to face me. **5 years ago**
The bald one had the sense to move. Last year I turned up to his house. The door was wide, curtains flapping like doves wings. But the house was deserted. It took nine months to find him again. He changed his name. I remember him. He was the coward. -that’s enough we should go-we got what we wanted-leave the girl alone-oh ChristBut he didn’t stop them, did he? He didn’t stop the ginger one’s tongue from pushing its way into my daughter’s mouth. Nor the scarred one from opening her throat with a long thin blade. Even though he cried – I’m sorry – I’m sorry – he was guilty. And he was a fucking coward. I think he changed his name to hide his shame. To run from the other two. Perhaps the other two threatened him. I don’t know. I don’t care. Mr Bald lives at the bottom of a Bells bottle, snuggled in the cocoon of a syringe. His bedsit stinks of piss and cheap deodorant. The door is yawning from its frame, no wallpaper on the walls. I call his name. No answer. I walk through the hallway, no bigger than a pantry, and into the living room to find him lying on a mattress. He was a coward. Hiding in the depths of a coma, just to escape the reality of what he had done. Of what he had let others do. I grip the handle of my knife, then I see the syringe. I walk through to his kitchen. There is no cooker here, no washing machine. Just sideboards littered with cans of soup, some opened, and a bottle of bleach. I know fuck all about drugs. I had seen trainspotting once, but that is about it. I stab the bleach bottle with the syringe and pull back the plunger.
I hoped for a show. I want to see him writhe, screaming in agony, pleading for the burn to stop. But he is too far gone when the bleach begins scouring his veins. He belches, his breath smelling of chlorine. But his eyes never open. He never says anything. He just dies. I hope Jenna isnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t watching me now.
**Earlier** Hell is still overburdened, I must stand and wait in line. I may never know for certain when will be my time I am back in the hall. The one where I was crushed within the cold macabre crowd. But they have gone, and I am here with Adam. He rolls his head on his neck, as though working out a kink. I have a chance at redemption. The terms are simple. There will be a place for me, if I cannot forget my anger. Revenge is understandable. Or so Adam says. Perhaps he genuinely understands me. But something tells me he wants me to fail. The small jagged smile on his face almost dares me to carry on. But for now, Hell is still overburdened. The room is hot, despite it being a large open space. The red bricks no longer flicker with life, and lights above me cast a cold yellow across the floor. Adam looks towards me, smile flickering between his cheeks. He opens his mouth, ready to wish me goodbye. -clear**2 years ago**
Ginger lives in a detached house. A pyramid roof, intersected with ebony beams, and two garages. It is amazing what drug money can buy you. It took a few years to find him, and even longer to find a way to get to him. He never spends a moment alone. He doesnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t deal from home, no he is far too careful for that. He distributes his drugs in packages through messengers. This is not the retail sector of the skag trade, this is the wholesale industry. Where the Mercedes are parked on drives, and negotiations are made in the honeymoon suite of the Hilton. The only way I could get to him was at his chalet in Mundesley. It is a small place, set one hundred yards from the sheer drop of a cliff. In the evening he walks out alone, leaving his daughter and girlfriend behind and looks at over the murky green sea. He doesnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t deal from here. No. He keeps this place to take holidays in, treat his daughter to candy-floss and fishes from a hired boat.
I can smell the sea as it grinds against the cliff face. I lift the revolver and pull the trigger. That simple. Ginger topples over the edge towards the simmering waves. The road is dark by the time I reach Cromer. The old streetlamps bob alongside my car, winking at me through thick trees. I wonder if my heart had raced. Even a little palpitation? There was no sweat on my hands when I killed him, no second thought. Perhaps it was a good thing, and perhaps I will lament over the lives I have taken some time after Mr. Bald is bleeding out in his semi-detached house in Leicester. But not now. My hands are stubborn, refusing to shake. My breath normal. I am relaxed. Perhaps too relaxed. A car is racing towards me, headlights full beam, blinding me for a moment. I can’t make out the registration, or the make. I can hear by the engine that it is straining. It clips the curb and then it is heading towards me. My windscreen is white, my car illuminated. And then the impact. I am through the windscreen, sailing through the air and towards a weeping willow. The light brush of leaves tickles my cheek before my head finds the willow trunk. A flash of light. Then darkness. **Earlier** It’s the closing of the curtain, in the play that was my life -Clear- A brief flash of light. -Come on Mr. Davies- Then darkness. -Stay with us- Perhaps too relaxed. –Clear- And I can feel myself being pulled upwards. Adam’s grin has disappeared, the room has folded in on itself and –Clear- turned to black. I am moving upwards again–come on Mr. Davies- a ball of clinical light. –ClearThere are faces hovering over the edge of my vision. Masked, relief lighting their irises. I can hear a siren, and a blue bulb is flashing somewhere in my periphery. –He’s alive- I am not sure which of the masks had spoken, and I didn’t care. I wanted sleep, for a little while. Just for a little while. And I dreamt. I dreamt I was back in my old house. Jenna was rushing towards me giggling. The doorbell chimes behind me and I turn. But now I can see myself in the third person and I am screaming. I should not open that door. Don’t open that door. God, don’t let me open that door again. Jenna is quiet, and the door begins to creak. -Are you with us Mr. Davies?- I am in a hospital bed and the world is piecing itself back together. I awake with the words to a song on my lips. One that I hadn’t heard in many years. I almost sang as the doctor
talked – Hell is still overburdened, I must stand and wait…
**** I am standing in a driveway in Leicester. My car is parked by an embankment, half a mile behind me. The street is deserted. Only one unreliable eyewitness, and the scarred man’s gravel drive. In my pocket is the photo of Jenna paddling in a pool in Salou. I remember that holiday. This was the first afternoon of our holiday. Jenna was splashing, picking water up in her red castle bucket, and tipping it back into the pool. The sun was high in the sky, spilling lemon light into the water. The photo doesn’t capture the sound of the lapping water, or the giggle as I clicked the shutter. I am crunching up the drive, the revolver in my hand. Three bullets left. The front door opens and out stumbles the scarred man. He hasn’t seen me yet. Not until I am close enough to smell the lager on his breath. I have a brick in my hand, and he doesn’t stand a chance. He is cradling his head against the garage door. One hand waving at me, he is pleading. I am not registering his words. I can only hear the sizzle of camera flash. I see Jenna smiling from the pool. Adam smiling at me from over the desk. Scarred man smiling in the courtroom. Ginger falling from the cliff. Jenna running to me from the living room, her arms waving. And I know the choice. I know where I am going if I pull this trigger. I pull back the hammer, and take aim…
Grey Coat Samantha Wilcox
The song was melancholy; she liked it. Her mother would not increase the volume though she’d asked several times now. Their moving day was last week. Susanna did not understand why they hadn’t gone when they were supposed to. She knew only that today was a whole week later than it had been. The newspaper had told her. It wasn’t surprising though. Ever since that day everything had been moving in slow motion. She had left the local school and tried to sleep the days away. Now they were following her father’s car on a busy motorway, the removal van was behind them. She told herself that the reason that her mother was not responding was because she was concentrating. Something told her it wasn’t that. She couldn’t bring herself to speak, the drive was better than she had been expecting. Usually she would have anticipated a row with her mother. It must be hard to drive with all the clutter blocking the back window, and that clutter was Susanna’s fault. She had insisted on digging the old toys and games back out of the skip and bringing them with her. It was better they drove in silence rather than be shouted at for overfilling the car. Anthony, a brown teddy bear given to her by her Grandfather, stared out at the road behind them. His body pressed up against the back window above a mess of scrabble and monopoly boards, and scratched plastic dolls. Grass waved at Susanna from the banks as they skimmed the outside lane. She could see the morning water glisten on single blades, and she noticed how the tarmac seemed to run along with the car. She watched the streets, hills, towns and carriageways, and imagined who was there, what they did and whether they’d like her if they ever met her. And then the city was behind them. The wind had picked up as they slowed and rounded the edge of the common. Two oaks towered over their driveway. The tyres crunched on gravel as they pulled to a stop. Her mother pulled the keys out of the ignition and rested her head back against the headrest, eyes closed.. Fine, she thought, be like that. And she moved to get out of the car. She took in the sight of her new home and walked across to the front door. She was about to go inside when the door opened and her father strode
out carrying a chair above his head. He walked straight past her, his view obstructed by the chair’s base. “This was left here, it’s broken. I’ll stick it outside for now so we can get everything moved in” he called to her mother. She watched as her mother nodded and began pulling things from the boot. She was about to turn and go inside to have a look around the place when she felt eyes peering at her intently. Susannah felt suddenly as if she was naked standing there before them. She shivered. Though she managed to smile in acknowledgement, the smile was tight and didn’t seem to fit her face properly. “Hello.” The woman’s eyes crinkled. The citron voice grated. The dogs sat around her feet and nudged the door open wider. Where had they sprung from?! She darted a look sideways as she saw her parents disappear around the back of the house, boxes in hands. “They like you.” The crinkling eyes pierced her own as she stood there. “This one’s Joni, this is Su, that’s Ink, and this is Sanders” she said, gesturing to each dog in turn. Susannah swallowed, trying to work out what it was about this visitor that was getting to her so much. And what weird names were those for dogs? “M-my parents are unpacking, I’d better go and help.” She heard the words as they left her but couldn’t move or smile anymore. The crinkles unfolded themselves on the woman’s face fleetingly and she turned to leave, the dogs following reluctantly behind her. Susannah rushed inside and pushed the door closed behind her. She slumped to the floor, leaning back against the safety of the heavy wood, trying to slow the panic rising in her chest. She saw through the glass of the patio doors at the back of the house to where her mother and father were fussing over things they’d laid out on the lawn. She heard the argument about what to bring in first. Sighing, Susanna stood and walked towards the staircase. She would go and inspect the bedrooms and decide which one she wanted. Before she’d reached the first step, she felt herself grow suddenly weary. Reaching out for the banister, she lowered herself down to sit. She stared at the wood floorboards beneath her feet and felt comforted by them somehow. Then she looked up. Susanna knew it was going to happen. She didn’t know why, or how, she knew. She just knew. And when it did happen, when the dark polished beams and white pebbledash of the ceiling came falling down toward her, she forced herself to keep watching, not to move although she was shaking. The space around her seemed to close in, becoming darker with every second, and then it was crushing her until she drifted away from herself like
dust off of a beaten rug. Susannah felt her body temperature cool until her teeth began chattering, the sensation of melting ice sliding against her skin though nothing of the kind was happening. And then there she was – herself - gazing back into her eyes. Only this version of herself was different. This Susanna wore her grey coat and the scarf her mother had thrown away just days earlier. As she continued to watch, the image began to fade and swim like disturbed water. *** “Shhh, stop thudding. You should have waited to put on your shoes, silly. Here – put on your coat or you’ll catch cold when we get outside.” The boy was round eyed with excitement as he tried hard to be quieter. He grinned up at his sister; “shhh” he repeated after her, and she bit her lip to stop from laughing. *** She woke slowly to an aching in her back. Licking her lips, she turned her head to the side. The staircase spiralled up from where she lay. Susanna realised she was lying on the hard wood of the floorboards. Reaching with her fingers, she pressed their tips to the floor and heaved herself up to sitting position. The room swam momentarily. Squinting, she saw the moonlight spilling in through the glass of the patio doors. She tried to remember passing out or whatever had happened, but couldn’t. Then the girl that looked just like her, wearing her grey coat and that scarf, filled her mind, she shivered. Susanna pulled her arms around herself and buried her face into her chest. And then she was crying. Crying and crying, then choking on those tears. What kind of nightmare was that? She’d had plenty of nightmares, since it happened. But none like that. And how could her parents have just left her on the floor and gone to bed? But of course, she knew why – it was because of Tim. *** “Susanna.” Her father’s eyes were directly in front of her own, looking at her from their crouched position as she lifted her head to meet his gaze. “What happened out here?” Susanna swallowed. What had happened? Lights and sirens enlivened the bleak scene and she tried to think but found her brain fuzzy. The cooling evening air stung her tear-sodden cheeks. “Here, let me help you.” Susanna’s father wiped gently at her face, then held both her hands, his eyes on hers again, pleading with her, desperate, tears forming for her…for Tim...for them all. She found herself shaking her head, slowly, side to side. She couldn’t speak, she opened her mouth but her lips were dry, her voice would not come. She was shaking now. Her father fastened
her coat and wrapped her scarf tightly about her neck. *** Standing, she moved tentatively, almost testing out her legs. She felt so tired. But they carried her. Susanna frowned. She realised she’d eaten nothing. She wasn’t hungry though, but still. A crawling began along her spine as she considered how much her parents had neglected her. They must really hate me. Longing for their comfort, she began to walk up the staircase. I’ll find them in one of the rooms she thought. Susanna needed to talk to them to say she was sorry. Just then, a hissing sound broke through her thoughts and she looked around her, still holding the banister. As she continued to listen she made out voices, whispers maybe, not hissing after all then. She couldn’t make out where they were coming from. Holding her breath, Susanna closed her eyes, a tingling sensation overtook her and she opened her eyes. They were there. Turning her head sharply to the left, Susanna looked across to the latticed window close to the front door and there they were, eyes staring at her. There were no crinkles, no desire to be met, this time. They were focused. And they were cold. *** Tim’s hair was damp from the grass where he’d fallen. His skin didn’t look human anymore, it was too dry, too white, too grey. Susanna remembered the plaster of paris rabbit she had made from a mould at school. Her father’s arm was warm around her. Her body shook in its grip as they carried her brother away. They had been playing in the park earlier in the day. Their parents had been with them. It had been a normal weekend afternoon. They had gone home, gone through the motions of dinnertime, tv time, teeth cleaning time, before bed. It had been Tim’s idea to creep back out to play. The park was just round the corner from their house. They hadn’t been able to use the see-saw that day – too many other children had been hogging it. Tim had just wanted a go on it, just quickly. Susanna felt herself crumble within her father’s grip. I am older. I should have known better. *** “Mum! Dad!” Susanna heard her voice before she realised she was using it. Her screams curled up the stairs, and she forced her still weak legs to carry her quickly up each step, until she was at the top and bursting through the first door she found. Her father sat up abruptly, his shadow looming large in the light from the uncurtained window. He snapped on the small lamp that stood beside the bed. The room was bare but for the bed, lamp, and a mound of unpacked boxes in the far corner. Susanna waited for her breathing to slow and moved toward her father, who was staring straight at her. “Dad, I-“
‘Susanna.’ Her father spoke her name quietly, bowed his head and began to sob. Confusion and pain mingled in Susanna’s chest and she walked around the bed to where he was bent, one hand behind his head, one before him on the duvet. She sat gingerly beside him, put her arm around him and placed her right hand over his. That’s when noticed some of her toys placed on the floor beside the bed. Why had her father been looking at her toys? They stayed like that, unmoving, without speaking. Susanna sighed. She had put them through enough, she decided. She would leave. He must have been remembering how she was, a good girl, before she was naughty and took Tim out to play without permission. Gently, she left the bed and watched quietly as her father lay back down to sleep. *** “Someone came. I couldn’t s-see the f-face. There were d-dogs. They were all d-dark.” Susanna’s sobs wrenched through her body as her father’s own joined them, though he held her tight all the while. The policemen that stood before her looked at her with a mixture of pity and fatigue. She looked up at her father’s face, focused on his features through her tears and her heart broke to see his pain. ‘OK. Can you tell us what happened next, love?’ asked the most tired looking of the men. Susanna cleared her throat, wiped at her running nose before answering. ‘They p-picked him up, Tim, they p-picked him u-up. Then sort of th-threw him d-down.’ The man looked perplexed. The policemen gestured to her father, who released his hold on her and stood to speak with them. Their voices were hushed and strained. Susanna felt cold where her father’s arm had left her. Sniffing, she played it over and over again in her mind. She saw Tim’s face as they threw him down, how it paled as he fell before he even touched the ground. The funeral was held in the small church close to the park. They were supposed to have moved house already. They would go soon to start over, with their one remaining child. She had grown solemn and defiant. They knew their daughter felt responsible, no matter how they reassured her she was not. The day before the move was tense. Susanna threw every toy, everything she’d ever cared about into the skip. They were memories of playing with her brother that hurt her when she saw them. She pulled them all back out though, after crying hysterically for hours on the pavement, realising she was unable to part with them. The teddy bear her grandfather had bought her had lost an eye. Dirt and a bent nail gripped at the soft fur in the indent it had left. She had rushed inside to clean him, come hurtling
down the stairs again - they were already so late leaving. The fall. It was instant. *** Susanna opened the front door. Ten eyes bored into her like drilling wasps and she felt the scream curdling her insides before it reached her throat and erupted ugly, loud, and terrified. Nothing happened. Heart hammering through her chest, Susanna turned and screamed out for help but no answer came. She closed her eyes, accepting the nightmare that was unfolding. â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;It was you.â&#x20AC;&#x2122; The old woman nodded slowly, stepped forward, reached out her hand.
Nemesis By Michael Crowley
Nemesis Bush nudged up against the little country town in New South Wales on three sides. It was overlooked on the north by a cliff, gum trees teetering along the edge and poking out of the rock face. As a boy Jack had ridden his bike into the bush as far as Ryan’s Swamp. When he was older he climbed to the top of the rocks and looked to the east for plumes of smoke. There was a watchtower on the edge of town, manned by the volunteer fire service dawn to dusk during spring and early summer. Bush fires were a conversation point in the town, at the bus stop and in the bar. Jack never made the fire service full time. He became a volunteer, giving up weekends. He planned to apply again. Most of his days were spent in the cement plant with grey powder spilling onto the road, then the edges of the bush and never left his hands. He lived with Sylvie in a pale green bungalow. Sylvie’s mother referred to it as ‘The Cabin’. The garden was a tennis court length of stubble but beyond that was a peppermint grove that helped them to sleep on a summer’s night. Sylvie was a few years younger than Jack, boyish with a poor complexion. Few in the town detected her expensive education on Sydney’s north shore. Her parents had moved in when her father’s internet business had taken off. By now they had expected her to be at university, not working as a nursing assistant and listening to Jack’s stories about stealing from orchards as a boy. She had made friends, frequented the bar and neighbour’s houses, changed the way she spoke and the clothes she wore. Jack’s firefighting credentials were a source of levity at the cement plant. They never let him forget he was only a weekend fireman and would shout that they could see smoke outside if someone was having a cigarette. Eh Jack, I just saw smoke coming out of someone’s arse, or, Jack are you taking Sylvie out rain dancing again tonight? For his part he didn’t talk about much else. Then came the year, the spring, when warm October winds picked up, where the drought left off and temperatures set new records. There were no clouds, no abeyance in the breezes day or night and even the men at work didn’t joke. The fires started east of town, towards the coast at Salt Ash. Six homes were lost after some power lines sparked. Then they made their way south and west. Jack always said to Sylvie that a bush fire was smart. ‘It knows what it’s doing.’ ‘Jack, it’s a fire, it doesn’t know anything.’ ‘Reacts to its environment. Faster than we do.’
Next door lived Bob and his Jack Russell that bounced and barked at flies. Bob had been in the town since it was little more than an airstrip, he was squat and confident. He liked to drink his tea at the garden fence. ‘Whatever these fires turn out to be, they won’t be worse than the ones we went through in the sixties.’ *** The next morning Jack’s phone rang at 5am. He was in his jeep and away by quarter past, heading east towards the highway. Sylvie rang his boss to say he wouldn’t be in work that day. In fact, Jack was on fire service pretty much every day for the next three weeks. He fought fires as far south as Yellow Rock and firefighters from other states came to New South Wales to help out. Things were so bad the government gave firefighters the power to evict people who wouldn’t leave their homes. Every so often a chopper would spy someone waving a hose at the edge of the bush beyond their porch unaware that the landscape behind had flames gushing through it. Even after two hundred homes had been lost Jack’s team received a radio message in the Howes Valley area. ‘Some lunatic is waving a mat and is about to be engulfed. He’s quarter of a mile south.’ The man was in vest and shorts, the rest of him coated in ash. He was flogging the ground with a rug as the trees spat flaming twigs round his feet. ‘Mate, that’s futile. You’re gonna have to leave the property right now and come with us. ‘ The chopper could be heard overhead. Jack took a step towards him and he stopped beating the ground. He put his arm on a shoulder and the man moved slowly to the fire truck. He was breathless, his face drained and they had to lift him in. ‘How long you lived there mate?’ ‘Since I retired. Sold the shop. In Auburn’. ‘You’ll get the house back. The insurance will come through. All in time. For now, we need to get you checked out.’ By the time Jack got home it was on the news that the man had died of a heart attack. He and Silvie sat under an awning, sipping peppermint tea. ‘I don’t know if we did any good at all really. The fire just seems to do what it wants.’ ‘Didn’t the Aboriginal people used to burn the bush deliberately. To allow new growth? Maybe it’s supposed to happen.’ ‘People aren’t supposed to be killed Syl.’ *** By the end of the month the worst was over and Jack was back at the plant.
His section leader asked him if he’d had a good holiday. But Jack didn’t rile. After the last month, the weekend ahead looked hollow. On the Saturday whilst Sylvie caught up with a girlfriend, he drove into the bush. He took the road he’d cycled as a boy and kept going. The radio was off and everywhere was grey and calm. There were occasional chimneystacks with contorted iron structures at their feet. A headache settled in with the smell. After an hour or so he found himself on the road where they’d picked up the man with the mat. He wondered if by some miracle the house had survived. The track to the house hadn’t been cleared and there were fallen branches to navigate, but at the other end, he could see that some of the structure had been spared. Perhaps the helicopter had dropped enough water after they’d rescued the owner. Then Jack noticed a grimy VW Polo right outside. He pulled up. ‘Hello! Somebody there?’ A mid-twenties women in rolled up overalls holding a long player record, stood up straight. ‘Do you like the Eagles?’ She had tied back blonde hair over a slender neck and a wide open smile. ‘Before or after Joe Walsh joined?’ She shrugged. ‘Dad said they could never make up their mind if they were rock or country.’ She took a step towards him. ‘Look there’s not much here if you’re looking for anything to take away.’ ‘I’m not. I’m not a looter. I’m a firefighter. We picked up your dad here. Took him to the hospital. I’m sorry.’ ‘Right. Well thanks for trying to save him. And all that.’ ‘He fought really hard. We had to haul him into the truck in the end.’ ‘Maybe he was frightened he’d have to come and live with me.’ ‘Where’s that?’ ‘Sydney. He’d been trying to get out for twenty years.’ She looked past him at the shadows, then she squatted again. ‘Say, you got any water handy?’ He turned to go to his vehicle and noticed a dingo stooped submissively in the ash. Its back was a sunny beach but its muzzle and two of its paws were charred. Its ribs lines could be seen. Jack filled his baseball cap with bottled water and the animal hobbled towards him. It was young, its tongue too big for its head. As it drank he could see how its jaws were blackened. ‘They’re not usually out this time of day.’ ‘It’s hurt’, she said. The dingo drank all the water and looked up at Jack. ‘Maybe your dad used to feed him.’
‘I doubt it. Shoot them more like.’ Jack opened his jeep and brought out the remains of a fast food breakfast. He put the box down and the dingo didn’t sniff the food before gulping it away. ‘He needs treatment.’ ‘Animal welfare won’t come into the mountains this soon after a fire.’ ‘I’d take him back to Sydney myself but I don’t think the landlord would like it.’ ‘And animal welfare would most probably put him down.’ The dingo shuffled off into the bush and lay on a fallen tree. ‘He won’t survive out here. There’s nothing left to survive on. Here, thanks for what you tried to do. Something to remember the old man by.’ She handed him the Eagles album. ‘I’ve nothing to play it on.’ ‘Neither did he.’ She wanted him to leave. He got into the jeep and drove away. At last it was beginning to rain. He wound down the windows. Oxygen began to fortify the air, the hills it touched. He eased into a long Blue Mountains bend and lying in the road, mid-way into the curve, was a dingo. He stopped. Was it the same one? He walked towards it, bringing the last of the bottled water. It drank but it wouldn’t move. He thought about the kind of men who wouldn’t drive round it, wouldn’t stop. It wasn’t going to dart into the bush at the last moment. It had surrendered itself to him. He picked up the animal and put it in the back of his jeep. When he got home he laid it under the awning but then it crawled out under the rain. Sylvie was stirred to quietness by Jack’s compassion. They fed the dingo on pork. Jack weighed up how well it could chew. ‘Jack, I don’t think we should have him inside tonight. He’s not house trained.’ ‘If we leave him outside he might wander off.’ ‘Jack, it can hardly walk.’ Sylvie was looking closely at Jack. ‘Maybe you should tie it up.’ ‘You just said he can barely walk.’ ‘People don’t know that. It’ll scare folks.’ ‘How Sylvie?’ ‘I dunno. You hear stories about dingoes.’ ‘Doing what?’ ‘Taking babies.’
‘There aren’t any round here to take. And if were to pick up Bob’s yapping mutt that’d be fine by me.’ Sylvie walked back indoors. She imagined the dingo confined in the space, turning circles in the kitchenette. Jack tied the dingo to the tow bar of his truck, put a blanket over the animal and they went to bed without a word. He got up twice in the night to check on it and came back to bed the second time announcing that the animal had licked his hand. ‘It’s not domesticated Jack. It’s just sick.’ On Monday Jack took it to the vet who spent a lot of time looking up information on his computer. His conclusion was that it was underweight and suffering burns. He prescribed some tablets and some cream for its nose. It wasn’t much short of a hundred and eighty dollars. ‘So you’re keeping him?’ ‘For the time being. When he’s well enough I’ll take him back to where I found him. And let him go.’ ‘Course you will Jack. He can’t be domesticated. They’re wolves.’ ‘Aboriginal people domesticated them.’ ‘Aboriginal people never domesticated themselves. Christ Jack, how much will this cost us? You think that’s going to be the last of the vet’s bills? We’re supposed to be saving for a house.’ Jack took a beer from the fridge. The dingo rubbed its nose up against Sylvie’s knee. ‘You know, if you want, I can take him to animal welfare first thing tomorrow.’ ‘Maybe you should. And when are we going to do something with this place? It looks like a museum. One day we’re going to have to try and sell it.’ She couldn’t look at either of them. ‘I’ll see about doing some extra shifts at the plant.’ ‘Great. I’m working weekends as it is.’ Jack switched on the TV, began moving through the channels. ‘He needs a name.’ ‘He’s your dingo.’ ‘No Sylvie, he’s ours.’ ‘He’s gonna make us argue.’ ‘We argue anyway.’ She sat down and looked into the animal’s charged eyes. It clawed at the upholstery loosening some threads. ‘We’ll call it Nem.’ ‘What kind of name is that?’
‘Short for nemesis.’ In a few days, Nem was roaming the grounds and acquainting his hosts with his nocturnal behaviour. He was also discovering his voice, rehearsing hoarse howling each sunset. It did at least scare Bob’s Jack Russell into hiding. Jack’s father made his way a mile across town to their bungalow, one hand holding a beer the other in his pocket. ‘Don’t expect me to look after it.’ ‘Too busy dad?’ The next thing Bob was at the door. Bob knew all about dingoes and what they’d done to the town in the past. Apparently years ago, before Jack was born, the town was surrounded by them. Farmers would shoot them and hang them from fences for crows. ‘That’s a wolf you got there.’ ‘We’ll try and keep him quiet Bob.’ ‘You gonna stop a roo jumping?’ Jack would take Nem for long walks in a harness and leash in the hope he’d be tired at night. Sylvie even came home at lunch times woke Nem up and walked him. It was to no avail. ‘We might as well try to change the behaviour of a bat.’ Sylvie’s mother phoned and offered to look after him when they couldn’t. She walked him hurriedly to the house. Her mother ran her fingers over Nem’s taut ears. ‘Why don’t you bring Jack over for dinner on Friday?’ ‘Are you sure mum?’ ‘Course. We’ve not seen Jack in so long.’ ‘Can we bring Nem?’ ‘You better had.’ The same week Jack and Nem were in the local paper. The firefighter who rescued a dingo. At the cement plant someone wrote ‘Dingo Dundee’ on his locker. He took a little persuading to accept the dinner invitation. He always felt wanting in conversation but now he had a story to tell about Nem. On the Friday lunchtime Sylvie was throwing a ball to Nem as Bob was setting up the barbeque over the fence. The Jack Russell was making a noise from the other side of Bob’s conservatory window. A woman emerged and walked down Bob’s garden clutching a lemonade in one hand and her tummy in the other. ‘Hi. Bob’s my dad.’ Sylvie’s hesitated while she noticed the visitor was plainly pregnant. ‘I’m Sylvie.’
‘Rose.’ Sylvie walked over to the waist high wooden fence. ‘What kind a dog is that?’ ‘It’s not a dog, it’s a dingo.’ ‘Really?’ ‘Yeah. Jack saved him from a bushfire. Jack’s a firefighter.’ ‘Wow.’ ‘He was in the paper. They both were.’ Sylvie was wondering where the father to be was as she told Rose all about the cabin and their plans to buy a proper house. She was tossing the tennis ball in her hand but then failed to catch her own throw. The ball fell on Bob’s side. Rose was gingerly bending when Nem fiercely climbed the fence and got to the ball first. The surprise sent Rose onto her backside spilling the lemonade. She screamed. Bob ran over and helped his daughter to her feet. Sylvie gripped Nem’s collar. ‘He’s alright, just being friendly, that’s all.’ ‘You can’t tame that. When are you gonna learn.’ Bob led Rose in doors as Nem howled for Sylvie to throw his ball. *** They ate barbecued prawns and barramundi on the patio. A mynah drank from the fountain at the end of the cropped lawn. Sylvia’s father wiped his hands. ‘One thing’s for sure Jack, we’re always going to need cement.’ ‘It’s where you get it from that counts. We don’t make enough. We need bigger grinders. Builders round here can get it delivered from Newcastle and still pay less.’ ‘You told the boss that?’ ‘He’s not interested. Almost ready to retire.’ ‘You should put in for his job. Help you and Sylvie get somewhere decent to live.’ Jack went to the bathroom. They left soon after leaving behind a return invitation that they argued about on the way home. Sylvie spent the rest of the week looking at recipes and on Friday Jack went to the supermarket coated in cement powder with a list of ingredients. When he pulled up Sylvie was still in her uniform. She walked up the garden to meet him, arms folded, sobbing. ‘Someone’s shot Nem.’ Jack dropped the carrier bags, rushed by her and saw Nem lying under awning covered with a towel. ‘Don’t take it off.’ She shouted.
Then Bob marched out from his kitchen straight at Jack. ‘He was running around wild. Don’t bring another one round here. Not fair on the animal.’ Bob went away, but he went away slowly. Jack was perfectly still. Bob wasn’t much taller than five foot. He was pushing sixty with a waist line that was catching up. A florid man. As the moment swelled Jack realised he was staying on his side of the fence. The police came out to check Bob’s gun licence and that was it. They cancelled dinner and took Nem into the mountains and buried him by the razed house. Summer was quiet for firefighters. When the following spring came it didn’t have the appetite for another hundred fires, most of all there wasn’t the fuel. Jack, Sylvie and her dad waited by the entrance to a field half an hour west of town. Finally the lorry came and the men managed to turn in and unload the materials for a kit home. Work would start the same day and be done and dusted in three months. Initially Jack had talked about building it himself but Sylvie’s father found some builders who had put kit homes together and came up with the fee, as a loan. They’d sold the field, keeping very few possessions. The three went back to Sylvie’s parent’s house for home-made muesli and fresh fruit.
Dilora By Ghazal Irtaza
Dilora 3 April 1992 I can’t believe it, he’s still here and I have him and I know and they don’t. I see it all, I know they lied to me. They said I couldn’t but I can. A whole year today. I never did care for that weight though. I didn’t move. They don’t know yet. I was sure. Snug at home like you’re supposed to. All he needs is me. I was there, I know. They’ll never know. He’s very small, so small...tiny. I could just pull off his teeny tiny toes. He’s on the pillow. The red pillow. I like red. I like the red pillow. It holds me at night, lets me lean on it, like he did when the red pillow wasn’t there. When he lay beside me. He used to enjoy the cuddling part; he was so very gentle and the skin around his neck so soft, like when you stroke Oskar. It was like the fur on Oskar’s legs. The front two are all orange and all the rest are stripy like a bumble bee. He never liked my Oskar. I remember that. I always...Nobody ever cared for that, even though I was just me. That was a problem for them. They were trying. Always trying and being sneaky about it. But they couldn’t do it. I’m still me. I didn’t change. He never understood that part, not even they could. It doesn’t matter, I have the red pillow, Little Toes loves me as well. He can’t tell me, no not yet, but I can feel it, he’s always smiling. He’s a little fat isn’t he? His dress is getting tight; I’ll have to order some new ones. I don’t know what I did with my computer; it used to be outside the kitchen in the old house. I should get him a nice dress. I know the website. I got him a fantastic present for coming to me. I knitted him a nice red hat with a fluffy pompom, he likes it, he thinks it’s food. I also got him a name tag for his fancy clothes. I did eventually find the name. I can’t always call him Little Toes. His Toes will grow and then he won’t make sense. Desiderus, his name. Desiderus Alair. He’s gorgeous, the chubby little devil. He’s got the curly hair. It’s mine I know. He only knows me. Where else would he get it from? I’m all he needs. He smiles a lot. I haven’t understood him yet, but I can feel him and he tells me it’s okay. The others sometimes chip in. He can’t see the others yet but the others like to hold him and make him squirm so that his mouth froths. He gets tired after that.
My little Alair He makes adorable noises. I could just gather him up and squeeze him and squeeze him, till the little darling pops. I won’t of course, I need him still. I can’t, I know. It might happen again if I did. That would make them come back. They might take him. Or me. I don’t want that. I didn’t like it there before. Before when...before I don’t know. I never liked vanilla pudding. 7 April 1992 He’s got something poking out of the small pink hills in his mouth. He bites at my bits. He’s very sharp. The little monster enjoys tormenting me. After all I do for him this is what he does in return. I think his smile looks off. I can’t believe this. What’s happening? I can hear them again. They tell me it’s okay. I’ve done this before but...but... I don’t know. He’s so small yet. It was different before. He was still with me. I didn’t have Oskar. If he was still here instead of my Red pillow. I could still feel it. But he’s not. My pillow...Desiderus. My tiny Alair. My little Toes, he’s on my pillow again. He should know that’s mine. He’s been here a while. I’ve done well. I know. Nobody’s come yet. He just needs to be quiet or Mrs Parker will hear him. She should go away. I’ll tell them. She has to. Always watching. Trying. Trying like they used to. They’re so loud. I need to wash his dresses, they’re really piling up. I don’t have soap though. I can’t go out either. Little Toes would cry and scream and my brain will fuzz. No, no, no I mustn’t. I’ll order new ones. I could do that. O no! Look at what Dess has done. O the little... I must get to him. My red pillow... O the Devil... just wait till I get him... I
2 May 1992 Beeeeep, beeeeeeep, beeeeeeep, beeeeeeeeeeeep, beeeeeeeeep, beeeeeeeeeeep “Doctor?” “It’s fine, she’ll be up soon anyway.”
O no, the lights are on, I can’t see them though.........Oskar... where’s my tarantula gone, he was expensive... there’s something else, something’s missing, I need something...what have they taken. Where am I anyway? What’s that noise? Sounds a bit like that umm... Loooli liye lay...mmmm lay down your head and I’ll sing you a lullaby... Dess! Where’s my Little Toes!?! I need to get up, I need to.... Beepbeepbeeepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeepbe epbeepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeepb eepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeep... “Um Doctor? What’s happening?” She’s coming to, don’t panic. You might have to hold her down once she does.
Laces By Gareth Davey
Lace The bicycle’s pedals span beneath the underpass like the film spool from an old movie projector, a clicking rattle in the plastic lights. Lace removed his backpack and placed it on the ground, crouching beside it. His faded denim jacket was peeling at the elbows, pale threads dangling like a spool of thread over a swiping cat’s paw. That’s how they’d always been though, the elbows, run thin like a spider’s web, ever since he’d first put the jacket on in his Dad’s old bedroom. It fit perfectly then, when his arms were thinner. Now the seams of the jacket were pulled tight, close to tearing. As he pulled out the patrol belt, cans of spray paint instead of mace, the sound of ticking wheels filled the underpass once more, as if it was an echo of Lace’s arrival. ‘Cans,’ he said, his dark forehead wrinkling like tree bark as he glanced at her. ‘Thought you’d bailed.’ ‘Never miss you hitting,’ she said, her bike clattering onto the paved floor. ‘Oh shit.’ ‘Quiet.’ Lace pulled a finger to his chapped lips. ‘You’ll screw the piece.’ Cans’ blue eyes rolled back like bowling balls, the whites interrupted by red veins. ‘Nobody round now,’ she said. Her blonde hair looked even dirtier beneath the plastic lights, greasy like the eight ounce burgers she served each night. ‘Nobody gonna come round here.’ Lace walked towards the entrance of the underpass, staring into the dark curtain of night sky. Looming beneath the moon, the office block stood, a huge cuboid of blackened windows. He was watching a replay of his boss sitting in the board-room with the red-head receptionist, her blouse unbuttoned, straddling him. Lace had seen his wife, a nice looking short woman, a week ago. A few of the windows shone into the night, little squares of brightness like a patchwork quilt. He wondered if the boss was lying next to her now. ‘I fuckin’ hate it,’ Cans said, her chin rested on Lace’s blue denim. ‘It’s so – so ugly.’ He nodded, the thin layer of stubble scratching against her hand. ‘Is,’ he said. ‘It really is.’ He turned away, walking back towards the utility belt laid out across the floor. He pulled a piece of old cardboard from his rucksack and unfastened his first can. ‘Got new caps. Fat’n’skinny from that site I was tellin’ you about.’ Cans followed him into the lights.
‘Sick,’ she said, yellowing teeth on show. ‘Only used the thin ones. But then I ain’t half as good as you.’ Lace said nothing but shook the can and released a spray of brown paint onto the surface of the cardboard. It left an earthy smudge like he’d just smeared soil over it. ‘So what you doing anight? You got it in your piecebook?’ He reached into his bag, pulling out a grey sketchbook with a bright blue ‘L’ in bubble writing, thorny vines wrapped around its base. He handed the book to her before stepping up to the wall, the can in his hand. He ran his fingertips across the smooth wall, pausing as he touched existing tags. Bright yellow letters, spelling ‘Z-U-B’ made to represent lightning bolts. He shook his head, a sigh escaping his lips. ‘This writer is so shit,’ he muttered. ‘Zub? Zub’s a twat,’ Cans said, looking up from the book. She was sat cross legged, her dirty knee pushing against the tears in her jeans. He smiled, cheeks dimpling, and then began to move across the tag, holding the spray-can lid down, releasing a stream that smothered the bottom half of the grey stone wall in wet paint. Two thick bodies decorated the wall, joined in the centre by jagged lines, outlined with thick black lines. ‘Lookin good,’ she said, from her place on the floor. ‘Real good.’ They’d met two years ago when Lace was just starting out – he saw her going over one of his pieces, a burning forest, with a crude black tag, C-A-N-S scrawled across a pair of breasts. He’d lost it, tossing her spraypaints into the lake beside them, but when she’d burst into tears he couldn’t help himself – he wrapped his denim arms around her and took her under his wing – an accomplice. She was obscenely annoying, and regularly obnoxious, but she was company enough for his writing. And Lace found it strangely comforting to have some company as he worked. It was as though she was an audience and he was a circus act, performing his art like a trapeze act, flinging himself from underpass to underpass, just his cans of paint to help him. She watched him now, dancing across the wall like a moth hitting a light. He’d picked up two more cans now – one spraying ink-black particles and the other white, like Tippex. He worked stencil-less, colours fading into each other, not separating, but blending. Looking at it was a waterfall of brown, black and grey through thick stained glass window. The girl watched with her mouth open, the blobs of filling like chewed on tobacco, stuck in her molars. ‘That,’ she said, her filthy blue eyes shining like polished rust. ‘Is fuckin ‘mazin Lace. Shit.’ He stepped back as well, tucking the spray-cans back in the pouch, admiring the piece. In the centre, an office building stood
tallest, with windows for eyes, green tears running down the face, leading to the door that hung open, in place of a mouth. Lace had put arms on it and sprayed them black, so it embodied a suited building – a thin black tie hanging loose from his neck, finishing in the mouth of a snake, a red tongue forked at the end. The thick ground beneath was split where the building stood, it’s cartoon legs sprawling down into the jagged hole, the teeth ready to chew down on the thin grey lines, flames of brown and red rising from the entrance reaching towards the building, ready to tear it down. He scrawled LACE in the bottom right corner and stepped back. ‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘It’s pretty good.’ That was when the shout echoed through the underpass – and the man in the suit appeared. *** They were scum. That’s what Giles Coke was muttering to himself as he left the office after a twelve hour day and a three hour night with Jackie. The moon mocked him from its mantle in the sky, reminding him of a broken computer monitor. They were nothing but a pair of scum, them criminals. The guy wore a denim jacket that looked like it had been in a fight with a shredder, and the girl was clearly one of them crack-heads, the sunken cheeks, the dirty skin and hair. He wasn’t going to go over, until he saw what they were making, the LED lights shining off of the surface. His building. His fucking building. He’d been fuming, fumbling with phone to call the police when he realised that they would be gone in a minute. The guy was finished, packing up his weapons into his rucksack. So he set off at a run, his large stomach pushing against his shirt buttons, threatening to ping them off. But Giles was a fast runner – he’d been in the relay team at his running club – and though that was a couple of decades ago, he still remembered how to get across a car-park. The underpass loomed towards him as the sweat began to build beneath his armpits and across his stomach. ‘OI!’ he yelled, as the man was scooping up his bike. ‘Oi you stop right fucking there you little wankers.’ He ran the last few steps and paused in front of the wall, his mouth falling open. The two vagabonds did nothing; just stared at him with cold eyes, like they weren’t even human – judging by the abomination they’d created, they weren’t. He felt his eyes stinging as he took in the mosaic on the wall. The office block, unmistakably his, being swallowed whole by some weird earth creature. Who was this bastard? ‘You little fucker,’ he growled, stepping towards them. The guy was ready to jump onto his bike, his legs tensed, but the girl had her hand
near the pocket of her jeans, curled as if her finger was about to pull a trigger. She couldn’t afford a gun though, no way. ‘Who the fuck are you?’ He took one more step beneath the underpass and swept them over with his grey eyes. It was him. He grinned. ‘Well, if it isn’t my wee Apprentice,’ he said, his eyes manic as they glared at William, who had joined the company two or three months ago. Giles rarely saw him at work, but he recognised the dumb expression he wore on his face from the shitty cup of tea he’d received a month ago – he’d challenged him on it, and the dumb kid could only say about three words. ‘You think this is funny William? You can shove your job up your arse if you think you’re coming back mate.’ William stared back, his face like a still lake, unchanging. ‘Your job,’ he said. ‘Can ram itself up its arse. You think I want to work for nothing? Fetching tea for you suited pricks while you sit on your arse downloading porn and fiddling expenses all day long? I know why you’re still at the Office by the way – everyone knows you’re porking that ginger slag.’ How the fuck did this little twat know about that? Giles was in a predicament now. He wanted this kid to pay for his piece of shit painting. But he didn’t want news of the affair getting back to Cathy. He couldn’t afford to lose Cathy. His finger stroked the penknife in his pocket.
*** I were a ghost beneath the underpass. I were a ghost everywhere, at college, in the restaurant, in the night-club. Nobody ever saw me, for even a fuckin minute, not even when I fluttered my stumpy eyelashes for tips while I collected their plates. But Lace saw me. Not all the time but he saw me. I didn’t want to believe that he worked at that office, that dirty fuckin office that stole the night sky, wearin it like a fuckin cape. I didn’t wanna believe it for a second. But I did. I could see it in front of me when that dickhead walked in here and his little greedy eyes fell on Lace. They were the colour of money for Christ’s sake, the colour of fifty pence coins. I saw him getting closer and I saw him reach towards his pocket. I knew what he was doing when I saw the shape of the penknife and I knew damn well that Lace weren’t gonna have anything to protect himself. That’s why I came to the underpass. That’s what I were doin here. Protectin. His gasp was like a last breath under there, like all of his throat were caught up and shakin, quiverin. The Suit lunged for Lace, the pocketknife pulled out and switched open in one movement and I saw it all in slow-motion, saw the knife reach
through the air and I didn’t know what I were doing really, didn’t know I was gonna pull the knife when I pushed through, when I darted through the air towards him, the kitchen knife pulled from my pocket. I didn’t wanna use it but I had to use it ya know, I had to, or he’d have killed Lace. And Lace were everything. The knife plunged into his stomach like it was piercing a fuckin turkey. It was exactly the same, except the blood gushed quick. It was flickin’ onto me, ‘cross my face, getting in my hair and it smelt, like rust or salt or somethin. He shuddered, The Suit, shuddered like he were bein’ tasered. And then, with a gurgle of blood, he were still, a pool of blood on the underpass. I looked up at him, at Lace and saw the tears streamin’ down his face. And he were pale like snow, like he were gonna fall over, and then he did fall, because the red and blue lights streamed through the night above our heads, and the wail of the alarm were everywhere. ‘Go,’ I yelled. ‘Get away.’ And he looked at me with them big green eyes and I knew that he saw me and that were enough. That were enough. He clambered to his feet, and pulled up his bike. I nodded. And that was the last I ever saw of Lace, the bobbin head ridin’ away on that clackety bike, denim jacket turnin’ from blue to black beneath a night sky.
THANK YOU FOR READING AND GOODNIGHT