Page 1


Hey guys! So we are here again! Can you believe it?

Note from the Editor

Issue 8 is before you, its been a strange start to the year with what has been happening in the news but here is a bit of fiction to help you run away from it for a while. We have had some new starters, Joe my new creative editor has been busy working thought your submissions. As well as Lynn, Hayden and Andy. Welcome guys and of course Ghaz has been giving Larry the cat treats to keep him happy. I have had a new front cover designed by Will Bowsher (wbowsher.com) so thanks for a fresh look. And the wonderful Adam Ward has lent a hand with whisky when needed. I hope you enjoy the issue and find your favourites like we have. Sorry for the cat paws, Larry wanted to leave his mark. If you enjoy this issue, please consider submitting your own work for the next issue, would love to read your work. All the best! Speak in 3 months.... Megan Shipham Editor In Chief Under The Fable

2


Poetry 4 Emma Cookson, The Remains. 5 Jack Arkell, JDI. 6 Hannah Downs, (Smile). 7 Oz Hardwick, Rapunzel. 8 Adam Ward, Three Little Pigs. 9 Lou Reed Foster, Budapest- A Lock In. 10 Charlie Jones, One Night 11 Doc Wallace, Entertainment. 12 Hayden Robinson, Overhead. 13 CharlySomething, My Grandma 14 A review: Cameron Grace. 16 An Interview with the Writer.

3

Content Page

Prose 19 Chris Harris, The Box. 20 Fay Kesby, The Bastard in Law. 22 K.D. Phillips, Unseen. 24 Steve Slavin, The Prognosis 26 Max Dunbar, The Open Mic. 34 Cameron Grace, With Jenna in Mind. 42 Andrew McCallum Crawford, Retreat. 48 Andrew Velzian, Staring at Rabbits. 52 Allan Shipham, Rainy Days. 54 Andrej Panic, What about Her. 59 Larry the Cat, Writing tips.


The Remains Older we grow; lines either side of my mouth where kisses were once planted. Further apart we are, pulled back through the years by our silent heartbeats. I belonged to you once, in a field, mid-July, where houses now stand.

Emma Cookson

I pass by from time to time, and watch the families go about life through their windows.

4


JDI Even the weakest threads can suspend some weight, and the driest of rivers can re-hydrate. Some people barely weigh a hundred pounds but can pack the punch of a heavyweight. So be proud of your idiosyncrasies and don’t be swallowed by insecurities, I don’t care what anyone thinks of me, I’m ambivalent to fame and infamy. Notoriety’s never been a thing for me, always the journalist, never the interviewee. I’m sick of stitching up this tapestry, when it could be others pitching my effigy. So don’t cower from empowerment, or shower in bewilderment. Spirit is an instrument with which you’ll find encouragement.

Jack Arkell

We can’t all float like butterflies or be confidence personified, but curiosity deserves to be satisfied, and your life’s not precast, don’t let it pass you by.

5


Hannah Downs

JOE’S EDITOR’S PICK

(Smile). “smile, we have incisors to bare.” He laughs, speaking for only wolves. your lips lift begrudgingly chin dipped low words stuck close (language: closed off, fear. smile: submission.) He speaks, (flinching: see fear.) honeyed words sour against your throat: razored smiles prove difficult to devour. “but you’re so pretty and nice” He grins, conversation curdling:// cheeks: red, pooling. eyes: unkind. (cue: nervous laughter; flight response) /smiles:// appeasing. (you hate him.) you would have considered donning your own wolfish skin// trading tongue for tooth if you could have curled back your lips to eat him. we all have our little monsters/ caged to keep them quiet.// mine rattles my stomach// drums discontented melodies into my ribcage// i search my skin for signs of where the sunlight rots // and scratch at wherever it festers. // if i could id drag them out with whatever cuts// id tear them out with my own peach pitted mouth and swallow.:// red iron continuing to spill.

6


Rapunzel Rapunzel waits at the tower block window, listening through traffic for an echo of hooves, a sigh of hope. There are webs on the frame, smuts on the sill, and the latches are loose, escutcheons chipped and rusted. But the city sky blooms rose shot with silver, filigreed by twisted, sweating smiths. Her mother has wound her in wishes, wrapped her in fears and promises, birdsong and longing. The washing machine churns and the microwave rings, voices shriek through paper walls: a story passed through ages, as she closes her eyes, unpins her hair, and looses a pathway that only the lost may tread.

Oz Hardwick

7


Three little pigs When we left our sty we didn’t build, we lined up snorting in council offices and held pens in our trotters. The first of us rents a drawer in a cabinet, stacked high above the cracked concrete, over kebab shops and off licences, and the walls bulge and spit with the sounds of headboards banging against the plasterboard. Saturdays, he looks from the window, to polystyrene trays skating the road, loose cigarette ends slip between slabs. The second of us has a room. And hides in a pizza-box-fort, not knowing the name of the boar in the kitchen.

Adam Ward

They pass each other in halls, exchanging curt snorts and smiles, queuing up to the bathroom. He has scratched his name, on the swill-containers, and milk and stashes treats underneath his bed. I knew nothing as I left Sow’s teat, built my sty within borrowed stone, and let the world shuffle past the windows. I knew the wolf would come, not with saliva dripped fangs, nor fur, nor yellow eyes. He visits every day, in his brown envelopes, in a polka dotted tie – In a council jacket. There’s no huff and no puff, he has a key to get in, we met him when he smiled like a sloth, and paid him for shelter.

8


Budapest- A Lock In With CCTV switched off and the cash in the till counted, we slip fifty euros across the bar. Drinks are now free but my mouth is too dry for beer. I take a Coke and the fight starts. By the fifth round they’re sitting right behind us. They know we’re tourists. Tourists have money. We don’t speak their language but some things don’t need translating.

Lou Reed Foster

We go to the toilet and shove our cash into our pants, leaving a few small notes in our shirt pockets. Back at the bar we ask to pop out for a smoke and on the count of three we run barely bending our legs to avoid paper cuts.

9


HAYDEN’S EDITOR’S PICK

One Night (For Isobel Giles) Who knew one night could be so full of love, So full of warmth like the summer night air? Of laughter and smiles, of secrets shared In whispers, laid bare like a night full of love. Who knew one night could be so full of love, And seeping with sweetness like the morning sun? Enough to make the heart race, the mind run, Like blood in my veins on a night full of love.

Charlie Jones

Who knew one night could be so full of love? So full of love and never happen again. So full of love, and then end.

10


Entertainment Where is fun? Where is funny? I look back on a sea of blue. Wondering how i got here. Talk torn tiger of tremulous eye what happened to your wizardry at night? When did you cease to come around; leave me juxtaposed in grief for sound. I tried helping others, I really did. Most people are petty, stupid, selfish, and think only of themselves, The good ones carve out their own existence, and don’t want to risk having you/me as a friend... the unknown is scary and mostly not good. Ever notice? Everyone looks at themselves as the good guy! If they murder people occasionally, their dogma sees their actions as serving a greater purpose or a divine command.

Doc Wallace

The misery they create is not their own. They see pain, anguish, suffering with eyes plugged into a stone heart while they think their Deity smiles upon them. Then there are the sadists... Then there are the masochists... A brain so complex as ours can break and others won’t notice. Until it’s too late. So I now look for fun. Where is the funny? It’s long overdue!

11


Overheard was he like ‘ha ha ha’ bad example get a lot of process with celery so tired in the day ten till half four i won’t get in for ten make it for two that’s pushing it

Hayden Robinson

privilege of parents get out of bed then kicked all over the place no school no bus importance in people’s faces i see now you can’t blame me if you can’t do it whether they can stand being so close to me writing about writing next week

oh right

the roy fisher okay da de de doe do reshelved in the library

12


My Grandma

GHAZAL’S EDITOR’S PICK

My grandma sometimes gets muddled, forgets what she has to say... We could chat about the same thing at least 6 times a day. My grandma sometimes gets muddled, forgets what she’s talking about... Please just stay calm dad it’s not helpful when you shout. My grandma sometimes gets muddled, this comes with extra stress. Whatever comes out of her mouth next... well that’s just anyone’s guess.

CharlySomething

My grandma sometimes gets muddled and then she starts to fuss. She rolls her eyes and tuts at me when I tell her there’s no rush. My grandma sometimes gets muddled, secretly it makes me sad. Though I still love her dearly, she’s not the friend I once had.

13


A Review : Those Dearly Dead Things

Cameron Grace? Or Cameron Grave? A review of Dearly Dead Things By Bethany McTrustery I have been following the work of Cameron Grace for a long time, and not just because he’s my best friend. No, it’s because he has this horrible tendency to make you fall in love with a character...and then kill that character off. Usually in a way that leaves you mourning. It’s hard enough to do in a novel, let alone in short stories. But Cameron has always had a knack for it. If the title Dearly Dead Things doesn’t give something away.... well, there’s nothing I can do to help with that. Yes lads. This is a majestic collection where most of the stories feature death, despair, and general misery (sometimes all three). And if that doesn’t quite sell it for you (understandable really), then you should read it for the fact that there is a beautiful sentiment within the stories. Dearly Dead Things takes it’s time to seriously consider the nature of humanity. From ‘Novum’, a science fiction that explores the idea of creationism and reaching for divinity, to ‘For Better. For Worse’, which actually made my cold heart feel something – there is a grain of truth that needs to be spoken in each of them.

Grace does not stray away from the darkest corners of this world. He lives there. Taking in broken men and twisted women, paedophiles and blackmailers, murderers and monsters. He looks closely at those we’d like to ignore, and does something almost unforgivable. He makes them human. In ‘Old Man Tree’ he shows us child abuse, he shines a light on it, laying it out clearly so we cannot shy away. With ‘Silent Movie’, there is a young girl collecting videos of what looks like abuse, rather than rough sex she begged for, with the intention of blackmail. And ‘Ghosts in ‘The Alice’’ is a masterpiece, looking at Jack the Ripper in a way that I have never seen before.

14


‘Last Candles’ is a touching story about a grandmother’s relationship with her grandson. It’s about one mistake that unstitches four lives. This story should come with a warning simply because the amount of emotion you go through in twenty pages is unparalleled. It’s beautiful, achingly tragic, and astounding to watch unfold. ‘An Hour for Meg’ is a stream of consciousness. But not like Mrs Dalloway or Ulysses, no. This is the mind of the author. If you wanted to get to know Grace, here is your opportunity. He took an hour and wrote everything in his head, it’s an imprint of his thought processes and is one of the most interesting things I’ve read. These two stories shine for me, but the sheer variety of this collection means that you will find gold. There is guaranteed to be at least one story you connect with.

Dearly Dead Things will be released by GenZ Publishing on May 19th, keep your eyes peeled! Cameron Grace can be found on Facebook, twitter, and Instagram why not tweet him with a story idea? He does love a challenge. Grace has a story featured in these pages (page 34), writes for My Student Style, and has a collection of poetry, Wood to Burn, published with GenZ. He also is an Avenged Sevenfold headbanger, Palahniuk fan, but doesn’t really rate long walks on the beach. On an ending point: Cameron Grace is well worth a read. If you like the story in these pages, we strongly suggest you purchase his book! fb.me/CameronGraceWriter https://twitter.com/CamGraceWrites

15

A Review : Those Dearly Dead Things

But there are two stories that shone. ‘Last Candles’ and ‘An Hour for Meg’.


An Interview with the writer

Those Dearly Dead Moments: An interview with Cameron Grace Cameron Grace is no stranger to Under The Fable, in fact we have become quite good friends since Under The Fable was first produced. In almost every issue you can find a story or a poem of his between the covers. It is fair to say that he has covered a variety of topics in his work, ranging from analytical Science Fiction, to observational realism. May 19th 2017, sees the second Cameron Grace book hit the shops. The first being a poetry collection entitled Wood to Burn. Most of which Cameron brought on the last Under The Fable tour with him. So let us set the scene. Cameron Grace doesn’t look like an Author at all. He looks like he is about to go on stage with a metal band. He looks anything other than writerly in his sleeveless black t-shirt, leather wrist straps and baggy jeans (complete with decorative chains). Pouring from his laptop is some noise that he assures me is actually music (I will take his word for it). Cameron has never been the sort to pose for artistic Author headshots in front of a ridiculously large library, he swaps his glasses for a touch of eyeliner, and sports his tattoos proudly. It seemed to me to be a good place to start. I have to ask, is your image a deliberate choice? Ummm, yes and no. I mean, I am obviously aware of how I dress, and I know that I don’t fit the model of how people expect a writer to look. I look at pictures of other writers, all presented beautifully, looking educated and intelligent, and I think to present myself in that way would be misleading. I know this will sound strange coming from a writer with a pseudonym, but I want to be seen as honestly as possible. I am comfortable in this skin, and it is from this skin that I write. I can only see life from my own vantage point, and from my own experiences, and I think my image ought to reflect that. I took a long time to become comfortable in my skin, and I think that should be an important place to start for me as Cameron Grace. Anyway, who needs a library and books to pose in front of, when you have a mouldy old cellar? It seems dark imagery is certainly a trope of yours, the front cover of Those Dearly Dead Things is certainly in keeping with that. I am glad you think so. To be honest, the front cover for Those Dearly Dead Things became quite a saga. After talking with GenZ publishing the first two designs were rejected. I must admit Morissa from GenZ has been brilliant around this area. In the end I enlisted Meg-Anne’s Moments to take another trip to my cellar. It was all done tastefully though, I wasn’t even in the room. The photographer set herself up a blanket in my cellar, put her camera on tripods and took the pictures. I feel that this cover brings something to the book that other covers just didn’t. That is to say, it seems to be more human, which is an important thing to display about the stories within the book. I didn’t even get a flash of nipple. Oh what it is to be a writer. The stories certainly have a tinge of darkness to them, where do you get your inspiration from? That is a difficult one. The stories have dark themes yes, but I try to deliver them all from a human position. There is humour there, and there are snippets of conversation

16


that I have heard in real life sometimes. Music is a big inspiration to me, always has been. Sometimes a song will come on, I may have heard it before, it might be brand new track, but something will catch my ear. It often isn’t the words, or the theme. It might be a guitar lick, it might be a singular line that I pick up on. But I find myself playing the song over again and again, and my mind layers images and ideas on top of each other. Usually I can’t get stop listening to the song until I fully formed the story or poem. Which makes listening to music with me an annoying experience. Do you return to your own work to read it? What is your favourite?

Is there one particular piece of yours that works well being read out loud. I would like to compile a book of my performance poetry, they are created differently to those that feature in my poetry collection Wood to Burn. I can get away with more. I love performing them, in particular there are two that often get brought out in new venues. The first called ‘I can imagine’, which is a look into the future of an unrequited love, and the second is a piece called ‘You were supposed to be asleep’, which is a poetic way of justifying to your wife or girlfriend why you have been watching webcams of other women. These are obviously more jokey, and rarely (with a couple of exceptions) are embedded with my political or social views. A piece in your new book called ‘An Hour for Meg’ is obviously embedded with a lot of your own thoughts. What made you publish this? I didn’t understand this piece when I had written it. I had been to art galleries all day, and was dragged into a debate with an art enthusiast. The premise of which to me is a bit asinine, but centring on the topic that “everything is art”. In my mind, if a discarded cigarette butt is art, then the artist doesn’t exist at all. Even though I firmly believe that the text exists and the author doesn’t, it still takes an author to frame the text, as it still takes a photographer to take a picture of that discarded fag butt. But in this debate I stupidly said that if I just wrote what came into my head for an hour, it wouldn’t be considered publishable. So I did it, and I was proven wrong. What came out, seemed to be a template to understanding everything I write, and the thoughts behind my works. Not directly, but there are elements of that piece in everything I write. The disregard for language, the discourse of fragmentation and digression. I sent it to GenZ and they didn’t take it out, so it seems I lost that debate. Luckily I didn’t put any money on it. So do you have a specific routine or method when it comes to writing? I first have to find what time I can. I am studying a Masters Degree in Contemporary Literature at The University of Northampton, and working as a McNugget to support

17

An Interview with the writer

I rarely read my published works again, unless I am performing it somewhere. Once it has been accepted, edited and printed it often just sits on my shelf. I am not sure what I would suggest is my favourite to read. I used to love performing a poem called ‘I can imagine’ and have performed that in many venues, but sit and read my own work again, I think I would be drawn to a story I wrote called ‘The Flatline Booke’ which features in a selection of short stories called ‘The Smell of Suspense’ and was written mostly by the great Jeffrey M. Thompson. I think I like this the most, because it comes from a different place to most of my stories. It comes from the part of me that likes Inception, Source Code and other crazy concept films.


my children and keep me in Whisky and books. But I write a lot of notes, and when I settle down at my laptop go through these notes and at first I just write. I have an idea of what I want to achieve, and I just let go. Often these words get scrapped or changed in the editing process, or when Bethany McTrustery (a brilliant poet and writer in her own right, can also be found writing for GenZ publishing) has read through my work and laughed at my work. She needs a mention, she is a big part of my writing process, fiercely brutal editor and exceptional human being. Having a beta reader is always useful though. Always someone to point out my errors.

An Interview with the writer

So what advice have you got for young writers, and the readers of this magazine. Two things. First, develop a thick skin. You are not going to impress everyone, and in fact the better you get, the more haters you pick up. But you aren’t writing for them. Still, take what they say on board, have a look and see if they have a point. If three or four people say the same thing then there is a problem that you need to address. But allow it. Allow them to say what they want, let them have their opinions, because that means your work is being read. And you may have people pulling your work apart, but this is part of the process. Often this is a very helpful thing to read. My second piece of advice is very simple. Get a pen. Get books. It may stand to reason that you can’t be a writer unless you actually write, it also stands to reason that you can’t be a writer unless you read books. Read everything. Read Chuck Palahniuk, read Jane Austen. Read the cornflake packet, read the bus ticket. Just be reading. And there we have it. At this point, Cameron lights a cigarette and offers me some Glen Fiddich from his decanter and the conversation devolves into talking about music and films. I have enjoyed reading Those Dearly Dead Things. Pinning down my own personal favourite is difficult, Cameron Grace tends to be a diverse writer, with a mind that seems to run away at times. But I keep thinking about the story ‘For better. For worse.’ A story that talks directly to the reader, as though you are locked in a conversation with this one ordinary woman. The story builds you to expect something completely different to what you end up reading. If I were to point in the direction of any one particular story, it would be that one. So I shall leave him listening to whatever it is that will eventually turn him deaf, and drinking his Scotch (which he takes neat, in case you are ever in the position to buy him a drink), and urge you follow Cameron Grace. Buy his book, watch him perform live if you get the chance, but remember we had him here first.

18


The Box

19

MEG’S EDITOR’S PICK

Chris Harris

The Box was my home. We lived in harmony: I clapped, and it would move; The Box clapped, and I would move. Most of the time it was dark. It was always lonely. I sat on a bench. There was a bench in my box. It wasn’t there before – until it was. I liked the bench; it felt smooth, unlike the rough wood you might find on a park picnic table. Sometimes, the hardwood was uncomfortable, but it was better than the stone floor. I hated the floor. Once there was a snake. A red and black fiend it was. It did not hiss, but it would fix me with its plastic-bead-eyes and say the onomatopoeic word; “Hiss”. I looked at the serpent, and it stared back at me, its dark eyes gazing into my own. It blended into the floor, with only its red stripes glaring at me through the darkness. “Hiss?” it said, cocking its head. I cracked its skull beneath my steel-capped boots and it said “hiss” no more. The Box was mine, and mine alone. No-one else knew where my Box was, but me. Sometimes even I wasn’t sure where it was; I can’t go outside. And the Box was mine. Always mine. “You cannot leave,” The Box had said. I could hear the outside; indiscernible voices, footsteps, traffic. I thought it was raining once; I could hear something tap-tap-tapping on the sides and top. No water came through, though. Maybe it wasn’t rain. Once there was a windy day. The box trembled and fell on its side, throwing me across it. I landed, hard, on the wall...the floor...top? I wasn’t sure, but The Box would not stop moving and only the deafening whistle from outside could be heard. I was in pain; covered in bruises, scrapes and blood. Since then, I didn’t know where in The Box I stood; it was impossible to know, all the sides were identical in their coldness, their blandness and their darkness. Possibly on the port-side. It didn’t feel like starboard. The Box was kind to me; it was my friend. At night, food would come from nowhere, even if it was half-eaten, dry and cold. Obviously, The Box wanted to try some first. Sometimes I felt it didn’t need to eat, but it did. We weren’t always friends. Once, The Box clapped. I had only met The Box for an hour or so before I moved in. It was a week later when it clapped. The sides of The Box buckled inwards, before expanding outwards. There was a huge BANG, like an explosion, from outside. I looked around, my heart beating faster than it had before. The sides of The Box rushed inwards, and I threw myself to the ground, hoping that they wouldn’t crush me. They did not, but the pain of it made me wish that they did. Bones cracked and strained, maybe even broke; I don’t know, I’m not a doctor. The walls rushed out again. I breathed a sigh of relief. But then it continued. Clap. Clap. Clap. But that’s behind us now. We were fine after that. Sometimes it clapped when it was annoyed with me, but it never hurt me as much. Sometimes I clapped. I don’t think I hurt it but it shied away from the sound, the top shooting higher up for a moment, making the sound echo around The Box. I got off of the bench and crawled across The Box as part of my exercise regime. I looked back at the bench, which was not there. I ignored its absence and sat on the floor. And as I sat on the cold, hard floor, I heard a voice, clearly this time: “Spare change sir?”


Fay Kesby

The Bastard in Law My wife’s father is a bastard. I know everybody has problems with the in laws but this guy is a complete and total twat. He thinks it’s my fault, of course, because I married his daughter without his blessing. Because you know, we got married in the 18th century. I mean come on, we got married in ‘82, the sixties and free love and everything had been and gone and the man still expected his daughter to let him decide what she wanted to do with the rest (hopefully) of her life. You should see his face whenever someone says ‘feminism’, it’s like someone came up and screamed ‘cunt’ in his ear. Part of it is his age, he didn’t marry until his forties when he suddenly decided it was the right thing to do, picked out a wife – I assume from a catalogue that rated them on their cooking, cleaning and the ability of their hips to bear children – and neatly popped out two children. Well, Sarah popped out two children, I imagine Ronald was out in the corridor smoking a cigar and checking out the nurses. He should have been born fifty years earlier, I swear. I love winding him up. I know that’s mean and Jane tells me off for it all the time but I can’t help it. It’s so much fun. Sometimes I don’t even agree with what I’m saying, I just say it to piss him off. Like the time I told him I didn’t believe in countries having armies. I mean, yeah, OK, that’s great in principle but I know that it can never work. I didn’t tell him that though, I stuck to my guns so long that he went purple from the effort of not hitting me with that stupid cane he carries. Sorry, but I don’t believe for a second he really needs that thing. He doesn’t even use it right, I’ve told him a hundred times that you use it on the opposite side than the weak leg because you need to distribute your weight and...ugh, even thinking about him gets me angry. And now I have to stand here and watch for hours while he dies. Fucking brilliant. Jane is holding his hand. She looks like shit – all that eye make-up she wears is all over her face, she hasn’t slept in nearly two days. I shouldn’t still find her hot, should I? Luckily, for me and for her, she doesn’t look anything like her father. She tried to tell me to go and get some rest but I couldn’t sleep with all that noise and crying so I came back in. I might hate the pompous old git but Jane loves him and she needs my support. Her brother arrived in my absence and took my fucking chair though and now I’m here I can’t go away again and find another one, it will look like my comfort is worth more than theirs. My feet really hurt. His bed looks so comfy and there’s just enough space for me to...nah, I can’t get away with that. Last time I was in this bedroom I had snuck upstairs at a family barbecue – if you can call it a barbecue when it rains so hard that the barbecue is sitting just outside the back door and the chef is stood inside poking the burgers while everyone ponders if it’s safer to just stick to the sausage rolls. I knew I had to ask him and I was already scared of the guy, already knew he was a bastard, but I was planning on proposing to her that night so it was now or never. It wasn’t my first attempt either, I had tried to corner him in the living room away from everybody else to ask quietly but had tripped on that god-awful rug they still have down there and spilt orange Fanta down his shirt. I figured I’d give him enough time to change and slip in while he was tucking his shirt in or something and ask him. It was better this way anyway, no risk of interruption. I knocked to check he was decent before coming in and found him buttoning up cuff links. Cuff links, seriously. He had assumed I was Sarah so he was already grumpy when he saw me come in. I stumbled all over my words, made a right mess of it. He never looked away. He stared into my eyes the entire time, knowing that he was just making me more and more uncomfortable. And when I’d finished asking and told him how much I loved his daughter he just said ‘no’. He didn’t give a reason or even seem

20


21

Fay Kesby

to think about it. Just, ‘no’. I asked him why but he just brushed past me and went back to the party. I still don’t know why. Of course, I still asked her that night and she said yes. She asked if I’d asked for his blessing – later, after some well-earned post-proposal nookie – and I told her what happened. She was disappointed, but not surprised. She didn’t need his permission. She may still love the twisted, old fashioned dragon but she fell far enough from his tree to not share his beliefs about a fathers right to control his daughter. I wonder how long this will take. I know I sound like a horrible person for complaining about him dying but how would you feel having to sit around waiting for someone you hate to die while looking sad because all his relatives, some of whom you love and the rest of whom you like, are just a few feet away. He keeps going in and out, whispering nonsense when he’s conscious. Jane seems to think he’s trying to tell us something. I can’t make anything out of these whispered rants. Kind of sounds like a cat coughing up a fur ball. ‘...hrr...cah-cah-cah...huff...-cah-cah...Chris.’ Everybody’s staring at me. Why is he saying my name? He hates me as much as I hate him. More so. They’re still staring. My feet really, really hurt. ‘He wants to talk to you honey.’ ‘What? Oh, um, really?’ ‘Come, sit here.’ That chair looks good. She’s standing up, shoving it to me. How long have I been stood up now, two hours? Three? I can at least get a few minutes rest if it’s a mistake, drag it out a bit. Someone will stand and let Jane sit in their seat. She’s a woman and she’s crying. And wearing heels. Her brother will take pity. Fuck it, he can’t be wanting to start an argument, not now. He’s still making that noise they think is my name. What do I do? Take his hand? No. No way. I’ll just pull the chair forward a bit, lean over to that swollen, red, moustachioed thing he calls a face. ‘Um, it’s me, Chris, Mr Wildingham. Hello.’ He’s reaching for me. Oh God, this is one of those deathbed moments where someone realises they’ve been a shit all their lives and they try to make amends. His hands are fucking freezing. Ew and his breath is rank. It’s like a little punch to the face every time he speaks. ‘Chris -’ quiet but smelly, like the worst kind of fart. ‘Chris...you still don’t have my blessing.’ They’re all still staring. I need to leave, need to not be here. The absolute...cunt. He’s dying and he just has to get in one last jab. Now everybody expects me to tell them what he said and still be nice. He’ll probably die right now, drifting off with a smug little smile on his face, just to spite me. ‘What did he say honey? What did he say to you?’ Her voice is so shrill. Last time she sounded like that was when she thought she ran over a dog when I was teaching her to drive in my car. She was much calmer when she found out it was a carrier bag full of soiled nappies. I was not. Focus man, look at your wife’s face. Tell her you couldn’t hear, tell her it didn’t make sense, tell her the truth, just tell her something. ‘Honey?’ ‘He, uh...he gave us his blessing.’


K. D. Phillips

LYNN’S EDITOR’S PICK

Unseen Cutting through the kennel stench of nervous and excited urine‚ looking deep into every cage‚ he looks for the perfect dog. Not to save its life‚ but for the dog to save his. All these thrown-away pets, discarded into a prison of cacophonous barking for help and attention.Young pups with too much energy and too little training‚ old dogs with big vet bills‚ and of course there’s the ones that are too ugly to be loved. *** It was more than a dog’s lifetime ago that he met Violet. They met in a pub. Violet had bumped him on her way to the bar, and he’d spilled drink all down himself. His shirt, clinging-wet cold. “Watch where you’re going!” he said. She didn’t look directly at him as she replied, “Sorry.” It took him longer than it should to realize she was carrying something like a white collapsible tent pole. “I’m so sorry,” he said, “I wasn’t thinking, let me buy you a drink.” They sat, chatted, drank and a friendship was born. The running joke he always said to Violet was to “watch where she was going,” or “watch what she was doing.” When he’d say, “Nice to see you,” she’d respond to him, “I wish I could say the same.” But the fun sarcastic tone was always drenched in melancholy . . . The truth in jest. Drenched in melancholy . . . The truth in jest. He her feel human. Everyone else treated her like a child, or an invalid. He gave her the dignity of being treated with indignity. When they had a movie night, he would wear a blindfold and they would verbally fill in the visual parts themselves. They ruined every classic film with the gut-bursting laughter that only comes with deep friendship. *** Violet had had a near miss one day. An idiot driver zooming around came so fast and close that the gust of air following him blew Violet over. When she got home and told her best friend, he was a tangle of abysmal emotions. He insisted and made steps to get her a guide dog. The day she got the dog, she called him Lucky. A calm Labrador, a working dog, not a pet. So, of course when her best friend arrived, he tried his best to baby the dog. Crouched down kissing, mwah, mwah, mwah, it’s roles reversed as he’s virtually dry humping this dog. Lucky’s sat static, but his front paws are penguin marching with excitement—enjoying the very best kind of animal abuse. “Stop it,” says Violet, “you’ll undo all those years of training, he’s not a pet.” Lucky raises his nose straight up in the air, to look askew and upside-down at Violet, and speaks with eloquent silence. *** Time stretches out like smiles on the faces of Violet and her two best friends. Like they say, dogs and their owners start to look alike after a while. And Lucky had started to lose his sight in his old age. Violet refused to get rid, or get a new dog. He’s looked after her, now it’s her turn to look after him. With a little help from her best human friend. But Violet got really sick, really fast. She ended up bed-ridden. The sunken appearance of well-preserved mummified remains trapped under an oxygen mask is all that remained. Her best friend sits holding her hand all day, and soaks Lucky with tears all night. She tells him that she’s scared. He tells her not to be. He tells her that death is

22


no different from before you were born; no pain, no fear. She tells him that she doesn’t want to be alone when it happens, that she wants him to hold her hand, so she doesn’t feel alone. He tells her he’ll be with her no matter what. *** She asks him to bring Lucky to the hospital tomorrow. He agrees, but he’ll have to sneak Lucky in. Only guide dogs are allowed in the hospital, and Lucky is now only a guide dog because he has to be guided. The same harness Lucky used to pull and push Violet around, was now used to pull and push Lucky around. But the harness was perfect camouflage, no one questions a dog in a high visibility vest.

*** After a year as long as the frown on his and Lookie’s faces‚ Lookie decided to go and see Violet. And this lonely broken heart of a man has lost his last link to Violet. He’s set on filling the void. The kennel attendant looks bemused by his choice, saying‚ “That one’s blind in one eye.” The man with the empty heart that needs filling looks at this little‚ trembling‚ half-blind terrier that’s stood with one foot in its food bowl‚ and says‚ “It’s the broken ones that can show you how to fix yourself.”

23

K. D. Phillips

*** It’s too late. Too late for the phone to ring. It’s the hospital. A nurse of some sort tells him that Violet has taken a turn, and he needs to come now. He carries Lucky from the flat to the taxi in unthinking haste. He’s pushing Lucky’s harness through the hospital’s main doors. Pushing through corridors, much longer than they seemed before. The lift takes so long, he’s hurting his finger stabbing at the button. Once the lift arrives, he’s in such a rush to get out of it, he forces the doors as they start to open. Lucky slams his face into the partially-open elevator door, shakes it off, and even though hes as they start tLucky looks straight into his guide-human’s eyes, and shows an expression, a compendium of reproach. *** He and Lucky were too late. They wouldn’t see Violet again. He crouches down hugging the dog and sobs uncontrollably, so hard he’s blinded by the salted stinging blur from so many tears. Now that he’ll never see her again, he realises how blind he’s been. All this time he couldn’t see how much he loved her, and now she’s gone. She’ll never know how he feels, she’ll never hear him say . . . I love you. It’s funny how you notice things in moments of grief. It’s while he and the dog are pressing necks together, chins on each other’s shoulders, that he sees light shine and flicker off the name tag on Lucky’s collar. He looks closer; he’d never given this item a second thought before, but the light catching his attention made him read it. That same fun sarcasm with a twist of melancholy, the engraved name reads, ‘Lookie’. He coughs a laugh through the sadness and tears. That night, it was hard to say who walked who home.


Steve Slavin

The Prognosis When we’re dying, we can’t pack a suitcase. As they say, “You can’t take it with you.” Let’s consider a somewhat less drastic decision. If you had to give up every person or thing in your life but one, what or what would that be? For me, the answer to that question was a no-brainer. When we got home from the doctor’s office, Robert needed to lie down for a while. I made some tea, but Robert didn’t want any. I sat at the edge of the bed, and reflexively placed his hand on his forehead. “You know, Craig, you don’t get a fever just from visiting the doctor.” I smiled. “Well, I’m certainly glad to see that you haven’t lost your sense of humor.” “No, not at all. They say you keep it right up to the end.” “Please, Robert. Spare me the melodramatics.” “Fine!” “Can we have a serious conversation?” “So, talk.” “You heard what the doctor said. If the lump is malignant, she’ll operate, and then she’ll do more tests. That’s not exactly a death sentence.” “No, but then, in a couple of weeks, we’ll be back in her office, and she’ll tell us a few cells were found in my lymph nodes. And then ….” “Yeah, I know. You’ll need chemo and radiation.” I waited, but Robert didn’t reply. He had a far-off look. Finally, he rolled over to one side to face me more directly. “I don’t think I can go through that again.” “Are you saying that that wasn’t as much fun for you as it was for me?” This got a smile. “I know I’m over-reacting. Maybe they can just cut out the tumor and that will be the end of it. But this time I’m expecting the worst.” “No, the worst – the absolute worst, was the third time.” “Agreed. But in retrospect, had I known how awful the treatment would be, I think I would have chosen to die instead.” “Maybe. But that was before they prescribed medical marijuana.” That got a chuckle out of him. “Seriously, Robert – and I am being selfish about this …” “Yeah, I know: You never want to lose me.” “Well, I’m glad to hear that even you listen some of the time.” Robert didn’t answer. When I noticed his regular breathing, I got up, tiptoed out of the room, and shut the door. An hour later, I found myself lying on the couch in the living room, a book on my chest. It had grown dark outside, and I could hear the rush hour traffic. I thought about how Robert and I had met at a ridiculous dinner party in Brooklyn Heights. I couldn’t remember who invited me, but after a few glasses of wine, it felt like we all had become great friends. We decided to drive across the bridge into Manhattan. There was a piano bar on Grove Street in the Village, called The Five Oaks. Anyone could go in there and sing his heart out. No matter how good or bad you were, everyone applauded. You could walk in alone, with another guy, or maybe with a whole party of friendly people – and you would feel right at home. Robert was with someone else, but he and I had been staring at each other all evening. When his date went to the bathroom, he slipped me his phone number. As I took it, I squeezed his hand and he blew me a kiss.

24


That was thirty-seven years ago. Who knows? We might have saved each other lives. We had met just when AIDS was beginning to reach epidemic proportions. We lost dozens of friends, but like other monogamous couples, we were spared. We had our fights, but who didn’t? I wondered if Robert intuited something – something that even the doctor couldn’t know. Maybe this time he would not be able to dodge the bullet. Perhaps he was just tired of trying. I tried to picture life without him. Would I expect him to be there when I got home? Would I imagine crawling into bed with him – and waking up in the morning expecting to see his face? Just then, I heard the toilet flush, and then Robert’s feet padding down the hall. He looked a lot better. He was even smiling. A week later his doctor operated. After she finished, and Robert’s chest was stitched up, she asked me to join them in the recovery room. She explained that because he was coming out of sedation, he might not remember everything she said. The entire tumor did not need to be removed – just the malignant part. So, while Robert lay on the operating table, slices of tissue were sent to the hospital’s pathology lab. That’s why the operation took almost four hours. While she was confident that they had gotten everything, the lymph node test would be crucial. If no cancer cells were found, we would be home free. A few weeks later, it was time for the test. That morning, I had a revelation. Did it really matter how the test came out? Would Robert get a new lease on life, or perhaps a conditional death sentence? Would we be able to go back to how things were, or would we see our life together coming to an end? It was just then that I realized an important truth. One day, the end will come. But in the here and now, while we still have each other, we have everything that life could offer.

Steve Slavin

25


The Open Mic Setup Ray Perrinelli had an eggtimer in his hand and a gong by his side. The timer was almost out and he wondered why he didn’t bang the gong. He wasn’t enjoying the act, a big outdoors-intellectual type man who was reading a list poem called ‘People I Don’t Like’:

Max Dunbar

People who leave the top… off the milk People who watch… reality TV People who… read the Daily Mail People who vote… Tory…. The expected and dutiful laughter off the base of each punchline annoyed Ray almost as much as the poem itself. Ray thought: what would my ‘People I Don’t Like’ poem look like? Landlords. Teachers. Editors. Performance poets. People who make arbitrary judgements about others, based on political and consumer preference. Finally the poet finished up, and turned his head Ray’s way: one more? Ray shook his head and banged the gong. The poet stayed on the stage for more brief and dutiful applause and then lowered himself into the crowd. Ray walked onstage. ‘Wow, that just kept going, didn’t it? Give it up for Michael Harpwood, everyone, a man who sits at home making long lists of people he doesn’t like.’ Some laughter, and more applause, giving Ray time to check out his set list and intro cards, which were already a disordered mess. Who was he supposed to have on now? Fuck it. ‘I think we’re all in a mood for some mega punk rockness, so please give a grand Overshare welcome to Calamity Kendal!’ Calamity Kendal bounced on stage and plugged in her electric guitar. ‘Hey everybody!’ ‘Also, I want to get her on quick before she gets too wrecked to perform.’ Laughter. ‘Normally, that’s a joke.’ More laughter. Calamity Kendal slapped his arm a little too hard. ‘Enjoy!’ Ray headed into his curtained-off alcove at the side of the stage. Calamity Kendal strung out the opening chords of her classic number, ‘Come On Fuck My Life’. Half-shadowed in the alcove, Ray gazed out into the room. He had no idea why, but the open mic had become a thing. Most open mic crowds consisted of open micers and their friends, but the back room was crowded with tables and chairs, people at the back had to stand. He had pulled in a crowd, but it did not ease his spirits. The back room was on a slight slope towards the stage, giving the night a claustrophobic, hemmed-in feel. The interior was standard South London pub: grey, dank and raw done in wood and lino. The windows were small and high, and exits had been blocked by open micers setting up flatpack stalls with stacks of self published novels and collections. He noticed that the cables that snaked the floor were chewed and almost burned out in places. If this place goes up, Ray thought, death will come as a welcome guest. The egg timer ran down, but he let Calamity Kendal thrash through her finale. Then he banged the gong and went back onstage, applauding. ‘Well, that’s what we all needed,’ Ray said. ‘Like a cocaine enema.’ Laughter. ‘Oh, you’ve tried that, have you?’ Ray asked the audience. ‘I think this gentleman knows what I’m talking about?’ He

26


27

Max Dunbar

pointed to Redmond Gunn, a man he despised. Gunn’s pals laughed. Ray adapted a line from The Kindly Ones: ‘I always say that showbusiness and the prostate are God’s two compensations to man for not being born a woman.’ No one laughed. ‘Over your heads?’ Ray mimed it. ‘Fair enough. We are practically in the provinces, after all. Let’s have another act!’ He shuffled an intro card. The Overshare open mic had simple rules. There were no guest acts, just open mics. If you wanted to perform, you had to fill out an intro card and give it to Tess at the bar, before the night began, and hang around long enough for Ray to introduce you on stage. He held the card so that it caught the light: like many open micers, this guy had written up an elaborate potted biography on the card, writing extra small. ‘Okay, I’m not reading all this out, we’ll be here until fucking Christmas,’ Ray said. ‘Suffice to say that this man is a new face at the Overshare, he led the Footlights at Cambridge and since graduating he’s been gigging as a comic poet at London venues and festivals, ‘fusing intelligent social observation with politically incorrect belly laughs’ and has won rave reviews from the Guardian, Time Out and the IB Times. Please put your hands together for Thomas du Cann!’ Thomas du Cann was a fresh, handsome fellow in smart casual wear. Ray stepped back into the shadows as du Cann began his set. ‘It’s great to be south of the river tonight. I have to admit, I’m really posh and my mates in Fulham always ask: Why do you bother drinking in South London? And I always say: Well, at least it’s not full of fucking Jews!’ Startled laughter. Presumably he was being ironic? Du Cann spoke direct to the crowd. ‘Any Jews in the audience tonight? Because if there are, you should all be fucking ashamed of yourselves for what you’re doing in Palestine. Ever wonder why the Jews are persecuted wherever they go? It’s because they’re all a bunch of thieving, usurious, subhuman –‘ ‘O-kay!’ Ray banged his gong and went back onstage. ‘As fascinating as this is, I’m afraid we must bring ‘Hitler Night’ to a close.’ He took the mic from du Cann and hustled him offstage. A couple of the heavier bar staff, strategically placed for this kind of eventuality, escorted the comedian out of the room, bouncer-style. ‘This is censorship!’ du Cann cried. ‘It’s a sneaky Jew trick!’ ‘Shalom, brother man,’ Ray said. The door slammed. ‘I think we all need to take a moment, so go get a drink or a smoke, and we’ll continue this cavalcade of whimsy in fifteen.’ He banged the gong. Ray knew he should never have come back to London. His job at the call centre had collapsed after the phone tariff scam, but he could have laid low, hustled in LS6 until the next opportunity had come along. Then had come the call from Si Weatherall: new city magazine launching, plenty of money, new writers needed, come down! He’d emptied his bank account to get a room and a petrol for the Volvo, only to find that the magazine had fallen over. Internet, man, the stupid degenerate had shrugged. Ray had drifted back into the public sector and that had worked for a few months, until he had crossed the Pigeon Brothers. Michael and John Pigeon were a couple of phony landlords with which the council had formed an unwise housing partnership. Hundreds of social tenants had been placed into the not-so-tender care of the Pigeon Brothers, and subsequently coerced into making fraudulent HB claims. The Pigeon Brothers had made a considerable profit from this exercise until Ray knocked it over, diverted the HB cash into his own PayPal account and, for good measure, had a friend at the Post Office add derogatory names to all the Pigeon Brothers properties. The landlords were not happy that mail was being sent addressed to ‘Scumfuck Towers,’ ‘Cockmuncher Grove,’ and ‘The Twattings’. Tess the land baron had agreed to let Ray hide out at the pub until the Pigeon Brothers stopped


Max Dunbar

looking. ‘It’s actually fortuitous,’ she told him. ‘We need a new compere for the open mic.’ Given how sick Ray had become of his duties as host, it was pleasing to know that at least some people enjoyed the night. That, at least, was what Sophia Delamere told him. She had to work to get his attention: Ray avoided speaking to people at bar breaks, because there were always last minute open micers hassling him for slots. ‘I didn’t think broadsheet critics came to this sort of thing,’ Ray said. ‘Normally we don’t, but there’s a real buzz around the Overshare since you took over as host.’ ‘A buzz? It seems more of a flat hum.’ ‘You’re too modest, Ray. Did you not see the Buzzfeed piece?’ ‘It’s the gong that makes it.’ This was a young woman with aqua plaits and glasses. ‘The eggtimer and the gong.’ ‘You know, Tess was really against that.’ Ray was getting into the conversation despite himself. ‘She said it was too abrupt, put too much pressure on the acts, but like unless you got some kind of quality control, some time limit, people will just go on.’ ‘This is Megan,’ Sophie said. ‘She’s going on at some point tonight. Be gentle with her!’ ‘Well, you know my office beehooves me to remain impartial.’ He shook the woman’s hand, which was fresh and cold. Megan caught his eye as they shook. Ray thought: I hope her poetry’s good, I can’t sleep with someone who writes bad poetry and then pretend I like the bad poetry. ‘Pontius Perrinelli,’ Megan quipped. ‘A fine joke. Do that onstage. You’ll go far.’ ‘I heard Weatherall screwed you on the magazine startup,’ Sophia said. ‘Bad luck. But Catrin and a few of the editors have come down.’ She indicated a table of smart middle aged women with trim hair and split skirts. ‘Do well tonight, you could be looking at a regular culture column. Proper money.’ ‘I’m not sure the Torygraph is ready for me, but that’s very kind,’ Ray said. ‘I hope you have a good night.’ Megan came on just after the ukulele band finished up their cover of Prodigy’s ‘Voodoo People’. Ray was diverted by her strong stockinged thighs and tight leather skirt, also by her first piece: When I was twenty-five, twenty-seven or even twenty-nine I confessed to the Devil, I feel my energy going Please grant me energy to keep me out there, living the life But the Devil’s got a smart answer ready He says, your energy’s not mine to give It’ll run down regardless, and you’ll be constantly chasing The time of energy while it shrinks, from a year, a month, an hour, a moment And I asked the Devil: but wouldn’t it be a marvellous thing To live in that one moment? The next two poems, ‘My Phone Thinks I’m In New York,’ and ‘People as GPS’ were also good. Christ, Ray thought, this one might actually be the real thing. With regret he banged the gong. He brought on another act. A man from Salford who did a long, scatological routine about performance enhancers. Bong. Now a female comic poet who relied almost entirely on chocolate analogies. Bong. Now a stand-up guy from Kent who called himself ‘Neurobanter’. Looking out into the room, Ray felt the crowd tighten.

28


He went to the bar and got another drink. Gunn was right, he was beginning to feel wrecked. The pub specialised in strong, thin beer with a brackish aftertaste. He glanced at the stage, where the PowerPoint Men had just about finished setting up. That was another thing: the technology at the pub was outdated and unreliable, so any act that relied on electrical appliances was fraught with potential breakdowns. His head had already picked up a faint pound and thwop, as though he was getting the drunk and the hangover at the same time. The PowerPoint Men got through their set – basically a bunch of slides with commentary and caption competitions – without incident. As they were packing away the gear, Ray saw Megan beckon to him, and slap an empty chair. Ray called on Conor Bissings, a maudlin regular whose stream-of-consciousness moans could be relied upon to continue interminably. He sat in the empty chair at Sophia’s table and chatted with Megan. They talked about contemporary poetry, electro, the state of the city. Beautiful clipped voice and bright green eyes behind the glasses. Ray’s headache lessened. He was lost. He became aware that Bissings had actually finished his set. Redmond looked evils at him. ‘I do apologise.’ Ray hopped back onstage. ‘I was just so captivated by Conor’s set there.’ He looked out onto a roomful of dazed expressions. ‘I can see that we’ve all

29

Max Dunbar

People were starting to leave, having performed or seen their friends perform or just weary of the whole charade. The crowd that remained were in a split drift: the seasoned middle aged open mic regulars on one side, the bouncy young hipster artists on the other. When Ray called a break, he saw that Redmond Gunn was in the middle of the older group, drinking real ale with his good-looking wife, the People I Don’t Like man, the socialist magician and some others. The room was still fairly packed and Ray had to shove at Gunn’s chair in order to get past. ‘Make way for the maestro Perrinelli!’ Gunn shifted in his chair and Ray stumbled a little. ‘Oh dear, Raymond. Have we had a few libations already?’ People who use archaic words for comic effect. ‘I’ve been drinking since noon, Redmond. It’s the only way I’ll get through your act.’ There was laughter, but it had an edge and Gunn didn’t join in. ‘Having a good night so far? Did you enjoy that goth girl? You gave her a little overtime, I think. Reckon she’ll suck your cock?’ ‘What was she like?’ asked the socialist magician. ‘Atypical,’ said Harpwood the list poet. ‘The heaving bosoms of lost love.’ ‘It wasn’t like that,’ Ray said. ‘It was a decent act. Live with it.’ ‘And they say chivalry is dead,’ said Redmond Gunn. Redmond Gunn was by far the most successful of the open mic regulars. While most of the Overshare crowd would be content to read their three-minute slots and sell stapled chapbooks until the day they died, Gunn had made his own routine into a minor cottage industry. In Ray’s view Gunn’s act was nothing special – classroom tales, T and A jokes with some bullshit revolutionary politics thrown in – but from it he had generated festival gigs, writer’s residencies and schools tour. Gunn often boasted that he was close to giving up teaching altogether, which drew the question: why did he still come to the Overshare at all? But here he was, and still talking. ‘I know it was you that ripped off the Pigeon Brothers, Ray. John Pigeon’s a mate of mine, and I can have him here in five. So you better accord me the same respect you gave that emo girl. I want to be on soon, and I want good time.’ ‘I could give you the whole night,’ Ray said, ‘and your act would still be a piece of shit.’


Max Dunbar

learned something today.’ ‘Get on with it, Perrinelli,’ called Redmond Gunn. ‘Redmond complains when I bang the gong, then when I don’t,’ Ray said. He introduced a trio called the ‘Cereal Killers’ whose act consisted of flinging cereal from multipack boxes into the crowd, while lecturing the audience on the evils of gentrification. Ray waited the timer out and then banged the gong. ‘Okay, so we can add bits of Lucky Charms and Frostie flakes all over the floor to our growing list of fire and health hazards,’ Ray said. ‘On with the next act, an Overshare regular: please give it up for Ms Shelley Render!’ Shelley Render was pushing fifty and ran the homeopathy department at the local hospital. She began a poem called ‘Salt and Sugar’: Some things you season with sugar Some things you season with salt You can’t have salt with everything You can’t have sugar with everything A fag and a brew A nice Dover sole Coffee in the morning Steak and mushroom sauce – Ray banged the gong. ‘You know the rules, Shelley. No repetition.’ ‘What are you talking about?’ Bong. ‘You did that poem last week.’ ‘No I didn’t,’ Shelley said. ‘How come I know it, then? Sugar, salt, you bang women, you bang men, you’re bisexual, we get it, honey.’ Bong. ‘You narrow-minded prick.’ Shelley Render exited the stage. ‘Stick to your potions, because I’m struggling to find the active ingredient of talent in your act.’ Ray called this after her. ‘Okay, so time for our next act.’ His finger hovered over Redmond Gunn… then switched to a group of Brixton squatter types on the far side of the room. ‘I think we could all do with some guerrilla gardening, so please welcome the Horticounterculture!’ The Horticounterculture were a group of amiable Occupy activists who owned the local organic food store. They did a lively set and threw out flowers to the crowd. After their set, Ray called another break and hit the bar. ‘How many breaks is this now, Ray?’ Tess asked. ‘You’ll never get through the lineup if you take any more.’ ‘Honey, that’s what you call in showbiz an acceptable risk.’ Ray drank off a third of the brackish beer in one swallow. Redmond Gunn wheeled him around, causing Ray to spill another third of his pint. ‘I want to be on after Peter, Ray.’ Gunn held up his mobile for effect. Over the poet’s shoulder, Ray saw that Megan was waving a flower at him. Ray tried to get over to her, but by the time he had made his way through the still substantial crowd (made worse by the various open micers waving pamphlets and rattling tins) the next act, the socialist magician, had set up for his slot and the crowd had shuffled its chairs and faced forward, expectant. Ray sat through the socialist magician (‘And that’s how the state magically transferred the deficit to working people, am I right?’) and then brought on an act he always enjoyed featuring an old man and his louche French puppet. Then a mad

30


teenager from local authority care. Bong. Megan was still waving her flower, her look at once challenging and inviting. Ray brought on a man who had recently published a novel through an ‘indie’ (meaning ‘vanity’) firm in Camberwell, another act guaranteed to go on forever. Megan inclined her head and stepped out of the fire exit. Ray scrambled over a table of Redmond Gunn ‘The Gunpowder Man’ branded merchandise to follow. Half of Gunn’s chapbooks and CDs slid to the floor. The air almost headrushed him after hours spent in the warm box of the open mic. Megan threaded a flower into his hair and told him of an afterparty on Coldharbour Lane. Then she drew her face close to his and asked if he wore contacts.

31

Max Dunbar

Some moments later, Ray Perrinelli returned to the back room. Only after being outside did he realise how hot it was getting in here – close, they said in Yorkshire, his shirt and suit jacket moist with perspiration. Bare arms and shoulders glistened in the fading light: coats and jackets piled up on trestle tables. He was high enough from kissing Megan to finish this off. He got on stage and said: ‘Okay! It’s been another wonderful evening here at the Overshare open mic, but I can’t end the night without the last, and quite possibly the least: it’s the Gunpowder Man!’ Redmond Gunn leapt on stage and launched immediately into a routine about pub toilets that had won him a Guardian stage award. The crowd seemed to enjoy it, and Gunn broke off his routine. ‘Yeah, so all the lads on the right side of the room, when I say, break the seal, you’re gonna say –‘ Bong! Ray walked onstage. ‘Sorry, Redmond, no audience participation.’ ‘Oh, fuck off, Ray.’ Redmond appealed to the crowd. ‘Does anyone care what this guy thinks?’ There were shout outs, but not enough for the poet to ride on. It was late and many in the crowd were visibly calling cabs, discussing where to go next, making other plans. Ray said: ‘The rules are on the website, Redmond. Audience participation demeans the crowd and kills the flow of the night. If you had any balls you’d try your act at the Comedy Store.’ He banged the gong. The atmosphere in the room had chilled. People paused at the door, wondering what would happen next. Again Redmond addressed the crowd. ‘We’ve heard a lot from Mr Perrinelli tonight. Every week he’s here, gonging people off, making his little jokes and taking the piss out of people who have the courage to do what he doesn’t dare do: get on stage and try and make something of themselves.’ ‘What does a high school teacher have in common with sperm?’ Ray asked. ‘One in a million becomes a human being. What’s the difference between a high school teacher and a bucket of shit? The bucket, ladies and gentlemen!’ Gunn ignored him. ‘Why does he do this? I’ll tell you why. Because he’s a sad, bitter, failed middle class writer who abuses his position as host to bang young women.’ Ray saw Megan reach for her jacket at this point. ‘A failed writer who runs an open mic,’ said Redmond Gunn. ‘That’s what you are, Ray. And if you don’t like my act, and don’t want me on, that’s fine.’ He handed Ray the mic. Wordlessly Ray took it, his headache coming back now, filling the room. ‘I’ll get going, and leave you here, with all your mates. Bye now.’ Redmond Gunn left the stage, gesturing with his phone as he went. Ray guessed he had ten minutes max until the Pigeon Brothers arrived, that he should really have been making a quick exit in the Volvo, tanning it back to Leeds. But he still had the mic and everyone was looking at him. Even those that had been about to leave had turned frozen at the door. ‘And that concludes what may be my last performance as compere of the Overshare


Max Dunbar

Friday night open mic,’ said Ray Perrinelli. ‘We’ve heard from Redmond there, and I’m afraid that most of what he said was true. Truth is, I am a failure. While not exactly middle class, I came from a family with money. I went to college. I had opportunities. ‘When I was young I had it all worked out.’ What light remained in this room blazed at him with uncanny strength: man, how hot was it in this room! ‘I was going to do a PhD, teach in Leeds, marry some quiet literate girl, write novels, win the Booker. ‘The problem was, I crossed a couple of important people at university, and they forced me out, and ever since I’ve been bouncing around, doing crap jobs, living in rented rooms, and thinking about the fucking bien-pensant time-serving scum that cast me out. I mean, what the hell though, I’m a survivor, I grew up surrounded by violence!’ He was getting angrier and angrier now. He felt like an important part of him had gone into the light and blazed with it. ‘I recall now, when my father was locked up one time, in his early days, my fucking mother insisted that we move his brother into the house. I was seventeen by then, seventeen, doing A levels, studying for the King’s entrance exam, I could well have looked after the place on my own, I looked after plenty of things when I was a kid. But my mother says no, you have to have a man to keep an eye on you, and that man was Piss Limmy. I mean, even the name!’ Ray almost shouted this last bit: a few people in the audience (the list poet Matthew Harpwood among them) visibly flinched. ‘What does that tell you about someone where even in fucking Fazakerly they had a nickname like that?’ Ray yelled into the mic. ‘My father, much as I clashed with him, was good at what he did. Piss Limmy just rode on his tails. The house I grew up in was always tight, orderly, nothing dodgy there. In comes Piss Limmy. Within a day we had lads in the front room going through cases of White Ace, complaints from neighbours, a crate of stolen VCRs in the garage, fingerprints everywhere. And my old girl’s just like: Limmy’s important, Limmy’s your uncle, Limmy’s been with us a long time. Well fuck Pisshead Limmy!’ Ray Perrinelli roared. Tears rolled down his face with sweat. ‘I mean, I failed the fucking King’s exam, two hours sleep, I mean maybe they took one look at me and heard the Scouse accent and sent me home, but who knows?’ Tess the landlady placed a hand on his shoulder, and with that Ray was done talking. He thought again about bombing up the motorway in his old Volvo, of getting back to Hyde Park, but right now he just wanted to weep. In somebody’s arms. Payoff At the middle table, as the back room began to clear, Catrin the editor turned to Sophia Delamere and said: ‘That guy’s a genius. When can he start?’

32


Submission Call for The Ripper: vol.1

Stories of crime, mystery and suspense.

The theme is an easy one : MURDER. A murder or potential murder must take place or have occurred and be the main theme of the story. ( Please no scenes involving rape or child molestation.)

previously published. No dual submissions.

Please include up to a 100-word bio to go along with your story. Website, author’s page and email address may be included. Accepted authors can modify bio before book is published.

Floating Comma

Submissions should be between 5,000 and 10,000 words in length and must be an original story that has not been

DEADLINE for submissions is May 15th, 2017. Follow the submission guidelines on our Floating Submissions page. Email your complete story to info. floatingcomma@gmail.com subject: THE RIPPER SUBMISSION

33


With Jenna in mind

Cameron Grace

Hell is still overburdened, I must stand and wait in line – David Draiman (2005) I was left for dead. Right here in this hallway, on the floor. Centre stage, before a dark auditorium of family portraits, and a dropped teddy bear. Everything seems louder now, the echo of my footsteps down the hall, the thud of the front door closing. Even my breath tries to conquer the sound waves deserted by my daughter. I still half 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, her knees refusing to bend. Forced forward by the will to give her dad a hug, knowing that I could 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, ending in orangey dots. A small burgundy handprint hovers just above the skirting board, flecks of crimson polka dotting the magnolia wall around it. It could have been the vandalism of a toddler painting, excitably marking the house around her. Her punishment would have been temporary, the walls washed clean. But the crust of arterial spray still clings to the wall, and Jenna is still wondering what she had done wrong. I can’t linger here much longer, 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 orange as though sheathed in flame. Crowded. So very packed, 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. No air. Just a thick coppery smell. Sweat. And something else gnawing at the back of my throat. I look back up to the ceiling. -Next I 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 wide black wells staring up, like his face was locked in a permanent contorted expression of horror. Two worms of red crust trailed his cheek, as though he had wept blood. – Help me. I was pushed forward, stepping over his face. The elbow at my shoulder collided with my neck. ‘Please watch your…’ I wish I hadn’t turned to look. He is a broken marionette. His head lolling about his shoulders as though his neck was no more than a thin wire. His jaw held his mouth open in a permanent silent gasp, eyes wide and bloodshot. Only his eyebrows managed to move. Convulsing on his brow. Like dying caterpillars. -Next We move again, something pushing me from the behind. I could feel the imprint of bony hands clawing between by shoulder blades. My involuntary shudder pushes

34


me forward, past the denim jacket and into an unoccupied pocket of space. I see the walls for the first time. Red stone. Each brick moved in the light, as if something was beneath the surface pushing against a thin membrane. Shapes of hands, feet, open mouths. Black shadow trying to push through the crimson. A scream sticks itself in my throat. -Next Now I see where I am going. I see the oaken desk. I see the pen. I see 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 backwards. Giving me room. -Next The throatless voice severs the viscous quiet gathering around me. My feet do not wish to move. I cannot lift my legs. Two nicotine yellow eyes glow from above the poised pen. Just staring at me. -I said next**2008**

**Earlier**

35

Cameron Grace

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 as I started screaming. ‘They are guilty. Fucking guilty.’ -Mr Davies ‘I will fucking kill you. Murderers.’ -Mr Davies please com… ‘Fucking murdering cunts’ -yourself ‘You’re dead. You are fucking dead.’ -Davies you must sit ‘I will fucking find you.’ My scream was inhuman. Arms linked under my armpits. I kicked out. Screaming. 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 other two, and sat back down. His eyes to the floor. ‘I will fucking kill you.’ A door slammed before 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 goodThe tall policeman had stepped forward, just an inch. 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. My fists clenched again. Not guilty. I lunged forward 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. Tongue to the parquet, where the footprints of the guilty led back to freedom. I would fucking find them.


Cameron Grace

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 small wooden stool and face him. For a few moments he ignores me, looking down at his laptop with inscrutable concentration. ‘So. You alrigh’?’ ‘Me? Am I? Where am I?’ My words rush from me like a jet-stream. ‘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 am sorry, but I do not 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. I narrow my eyes, trying to fully grab the teasing idea. It hovers just out of reach. Adam smiles and turns his laptop screen to face me. **2009** The bald one had the sense to move. Last year I had turned up to his house. The door was wide open, curtains were flapping like doves wings. But the house was deserted. It took nine months to find him again. You see he has changed his name. Why? Through fear? Of me? Part of me likes to think so. But I remember him. He was the coward. -that’s enough we should go -we got what we wanted -leave the girl alone -oh Christ But he didn’t stop them did he? He didn’t stop the ginger one’s salivating 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, to shake off the terrible shadow that haunted him ever since they killed Jenna. Perhaps the other two threatened him. I don’t know. I don’t care either. I just know I found him, thanks to the internet and a couple of local kids who had seen him. –Yeah he lives just there Mr Bald lives at the bottom of a Bells bottle, snuggled in the cocoon of a

36


syringe. His bedsit stinks of old piss and cheap deodorant. The door is yawning from its frame, no wallpaper on the walls. I call his name once. No answer. I walk through the chilly hallway, no bigger than a pantry, and into the living room to find him lying on a mattress. He was just 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 blue bottle of bleach. I know fuck all about drugs, how to cook them up, how to administer them. I had seen trainspotting once, but that is about it. I have no more idea how to make him an overdose than I have about buying clothes for a five year old girl. Though I should have. I really should have. I stab the bleach bottle with the syringe and pull back the plunger. I had hoped for a show. I want to see him writhe, screaming in agony, pleading for the burn to stop. But he was too far gone when the bleach began scouring his veins. He once belches, his breath smelling of chlorine. But his eyes never open. He never says anything. He just dies. I hope Jenna isn’t watching me now. **Earlier**

**2012** 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 doesn’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. How the other half live and all that. 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 doesn’t deal from here. No. He keeps this little place to take holidays in, treat his daughter to candy-floss and fishing from a hired boat. I can taste salt. 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. Despite the crack of the revolver, nobody exits their chalet, and I

37

Cameron Grace

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 alone 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 understan dable. 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, That smile flickering between his cheeks. He opens his mouth, ready to wish me goodbye. -clear-


saunter back to the car. The road is dark by the time I reach Cromer. The old fashioned 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 brief flash of light. Then darkness.

Cameron Grace

**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 towards –come on Mr. Davies- a ball of clinical light. –Clear There 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, just 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, calling my name. 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 not-guilty-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 a hot lemon light into the water. In the photo she is smiling, as though there was an ice-cream held just behind the camera. 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

38


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

Cameron Grace

39


40

Under The Fable Tour 2016


Dates

To be Confirmed... Northampton London Stratford Leeds We are looking for more places to tour, If you can thinking of a place let us know... 41

Under The Fable Tour 2017

Booked... 1st July... The Pilgrim Pub Liverpool. 10th July... The Castle Hotel Manchester.


Andrew McCallum Crawford

ADAM’S EDITOR’S PICK

Retreat The wall was so close he could have touched it. Plasterboard painted light orange, brush marks, streaks, although you wouldn’t have noticed if you weren’t looking closely – if you weren’t examining it. Then the angle where it met the other wall, the corner. He could have touched that, too. Was this why he came here? To stare at walls and the corners they form? The sheet of paper on the desk. He had decided to do it the old way, longhand, but all he had managed was half a page. It wasn’t good. He knew the importance of making a start, and the flow of words that would inevitably follow – he wasn’t a beginner – but he couldn’t get his head into it. He couldn’t get his head into it because his head was somewhere else. His head was miles away – hundreds of them – where his body should have been. It had been fine for the first few days, but the non-existence of a phone signal was getting to him. No internet, either. He was worried. He hadn’t been at first, but now he was thinking about home – about bad things that might happen. Bad things that might be going on at this very moment. The nearest telephone was in the pub at the bottom of the hill. What if they tried to reach him during the night, when the pub was shut? In his absence. And he was absent. He wasn’t where he should have been, although he had an excuse – a poor one: he had asked to be here. The Panel had been suitably impressed by his portfolio and he was now their guest, free board and lodging for a month in the back of beyond so he could concentrate, interruption-free, on his writing. Except he hadn’t done any since he arrived; forget the half page of garbage he had scrawled, it was offensive just to look at the shape of the words, never mind read them. The other ‘Fellows’ were in the kitchen; he could hear them through the wall, laughing and talking as they prepared breakfast. Gus prised the pencil out of his fingers and went to the toilet. *

*

*

Duncan Margolyes, celebrated epigrammatist and Writer-in-Residence, was holding forth, yet again, on Circular Narrative. ‘It has to keep coming back to itself,’ he said as he looped salt illustratively onto his porridge. ‘Focus,’ he said. ‘That’s the key word. Focus.’ Gus’s knife clattered as he stabbed his kipper. ‘Although, there are other ways of going about it,’ said Duncan. He let the sentence hang. So did everyone else. Gus chewed his food. When he had worked it enough, he swallowed. ‘This is lovely,’ he said. ‘Is it a kipper?’ ‘Oh, good one!’ said Duncan. ‘Humour over breakfast. We’re talking about Circular Narrative, Gus, Circular Narrative!’ ‘Indeed you are,’ said Gus. ‘I thought this conversation finished three days ago. I thought the same two days ago, then yesterday. Seems like the talk keeps coming back to itself. To be expected, I suppose.’ He tapped the kipper with the edge of his fork. ‘Sorry for stating the obvious.’ The other Fellows made their excuses and left. Gus looked at their plates. Steam was rising from fish that hadn’t had time to be stripped. Duncan lifted a spoonful of porridge. He blew on it for a long time; he was in no hurry,

42


*

*

*

He lay on the bed and stared at the ceiling. Walls and ceilings. Christ, this was a waste of time. But it was his choice. He’d had to get away, and nobody had tried to talk him out of it. They were glad to see the back of him. He missed them. He doubted they felt the same. His children had started doing vanishing tricks whenever he came home; even the youngest, little Susie, who was just learning to talk, was picking up the signals from the other three. And their mother – she hadn’t even phoned to see if he arrived safely. She knew the number of the pub; he’d written it down for her, but no messages had been brought to the retreat by bicycle. That was the way he’d been told it worked. Gus hadn’t phoned, either. The further away from home, the better. It had seemed like a good idea at the time. No one had been there to see him off, certainly not his wife. He remembered the sound as he pulled the front door closed, an empty thud. He should have dumped the keys in the mailbox. And here he was. Walls and ceilings. It was like a prison. He’d put himself in it. It wasn’t a prison. He could walk out the door any time he wanted. He could take off across the fields and never come back, no one was stopping him. Solitary confinement. When he started counting the flowers on the curtains, he knew it was time to get out. *

*

*

The pub was open, a single car in the car park. He could have gone inside, but kept

43

Andrew McCallum Crawford

a dangerous man to be sure. Perhaps he was in the creative midst of another of those ditties for which he was so roundly feted. ‘I’m glad we’ve got this chance to talk alone, Gus,’ he said. ‘As long as it’s not about you-know-what, I’m up for it,’ said Gus. ‘Oh, god,’ said Duncan. ‘Don’t pay any attention to me, especially at this time of the morning. What would I know about narrative, circular or otherwise? I’m a poet for crying out loud. And not a very good one at that.’ For courtesy’s sake, Gus could have said something. Instead, he teased out another mouthful of food. ‘I’m not being modest, Gus. Whatever we do as writers, it’s never enough, is it? It’s never good enough, that’s what I’m trying to say. It’s a struggle. People come to this retreat for many reasons, not just to write. The Panel like to see a sample of work before they offer a Fellowship, but, as you know, promising to write while you’re here isn’t a condition of acceptance. How’s it going, if you don’t mind me asking?’ Gus buttered a slice of toast, a displacement activity if ever there was one, and he knew all about those. He used two sachets, slowly, trying to enjoy the scrape of metal on charred bread. Duncan placed his spoon in the bowl. ‘I’m sorry to be so intrusive,’ he said. ‘I’ll let you get on with your breakfast in peace.’ The door clicked shut. Gus looked around the kitchen. The emptiness gave him yet another reason to hate himself. He had managed to alienate everyone in the house just by being there. No, he had managed to alienate himself; that was more precise, wasn’t it? That was more focused. It was a talent, of that there was no doubt.


Andrew McCallum Crawford

walking. He didn’t know where he was headed. He didn’t even know where he was, not exactly. If you’d given him a map, he wouldn’t have been able to pinpoint anything. The track joined the main road. He crossed over and found a gap in the drystone wall. Rugged moorland as far as the eye could see. Never had he stood in grass so thick. He squatted and put his hands into it – it had the consistency of wire, springy and wet. And the silence, not even the chirp of a bird. Not a tree to be seen. It was the first time he’d been outside since he got here. Perhaps this was all he needed, to be out in the fresh air, to clear his head. He stood tall and filled his lungs, once, twice, three times. It didn’t help. He knew better than to try and kid himself. Clear his head? How could he do that, his head was crammed full of ideas, images, voices, they weren’t going anywhere. And his left shoe had sprung a leak, the sock mulching against his foot. Luckily, he had another pair of shoes with him. And countless pairs of socks. It wasn’t the first time he’d tried to live out of a suitcase; the trick was to unpack as soon as you arrived. Back in the room, the wardrobe was a sight to behold: shirts and trousers hanging stiffly and the drawers replete with rows of freshly laundered hosiery. And there was an iron in the kitchen, if he needed it; maintaining a dapper appearance wasn’t a problem. Okay, he was vain. He acknowledged it. Everything came down to his reflection and how good it looked. How else could he have abandoned his family to concentrate on his inner self, his Art? He knew he was good at making up little stories, he wasn’t the only one who thought so. But it didn’t pay. In other words, he was selfish, irresponsible. A dreamer. It hurt like hell when his wife reminded him, which she did more often than was necessary. He reached another wall. The grass was even thicker here. He had to be careful where he was putting his feet; he didn’t want to break an ankle. The stones were sharp against his palms as he climbed over. His intention, if it really was an intention, had been to keep walking away from the retreat, a straight line, but the way forward was blocked by a river. The water was completely still. It was a canal, and the towpath looked as if it had been re-laid quite recently. Why would they do that? Maybe in the summer months, this was a tourist spot full of barges taking holidaymakers from A to B, although where A and B were he had no idea. His eyes were playing tricks. The water seemed to be higher than the towpath. He threw in a handful of cinders. They scattered across the surface sooner than they should have. He found a large stone, almost a boulder, in the shrubbery and hoisted it as far as he could. It splashed down. It was as if the water was at least a foot higher than the path. The laws of physics, he tried to dredge something up from his boyhood. What was it called, optics, refraction? His boyhood was a long time ago. Sometimes it seemed like yesterday. He’d been good at science. Formulas. Formulae. He’d binned it after two years, though, when the arithmetic turned into maths. He was more interested in the concepts than the analysis, although the difference between accuracy and precision was something he would always respect. It was words he’d fallen in love with, not numbers. *

*

*

The hissing sound was growing louder. A waterfall? What did Newton have to say about man-made rivers and waterfalls? Probably not much. The land on both sides of the canal was falling away, grass and shrubs being replaced by trees. Soon only the tops were showing. About a hundred yards away the canal swept to the right, crossing a deep gorge over a series of arches. Gus immediately thought of the pub, and the phone in it. He had said goodbye to no one. He could see the river now. It was in spate, its hiss was insistent. His eyes were

44


*

*

*

He had to ring the bell on the counter. He rang it again. Eventually, a man appeared at the side of the gantry. ‘Hello,’ said Gus. He didn’t sound like himself. ‘Hello,’ said the man, all smiles. ‘Don’t tell me. You’re one of the writers up at the retreat.’ ‘I need-’ ‘I didn’t hear a car stopping. I was wondering when you’d be putting in an appearance. Not just you, you understand. All of you. What would you like?’ ‘I need to use your phone,’ said Gus. ‘Ah,’ said the man. ‘I see. No problem. Just round the corner behind you, next to the Gents.’ ‘Thanks,’ said Gus. It was a payphone. He rang the bell. The man appeared. ‘Could I break a tenner?’ said Gus. The man exhaled, his cheeks puffing. Eventually, he moved to the till. ‘Folk usually ask for change for the phone when they’re paying for their drinks,’ he said. ‘Maybe next time,’ said Gus. ‘You’re welcome,’ said the man, even though he didn’t mean it. Gus took a moment to remember the country code then hit the buttons. He checked his watch. Everyone would be home. ‘Hello?’ ‘Susie?’ ‘Daddy! Mummy, it’s Daddy!’ Muffled voices. ‘Gus?’ ‘Hey, how are you?’

45

Andrew McCallum Crawford

on his feet as cinders turned into irregular slabs, crazy paving. Then his hands were clutching the bars, as thick as clothes poles, along the side of the aqueduct. And the slabs, they seemed to be moving, even though he knew they weren’t; it was impossible. He forced himself to let go and fell to his knees, his fingers splayed on the stones. Fear. Simple and pure, so pure, because of the gap at his shoulder. He could see the angles where something had been used to prise the railings apart. This gap was large, more than large enough for a human body. He was being drawn towards it, his knees were inching. He should have been thankful, whoever had done this had saved him the trouble. He gripped metal and felt the wind in his face. He had to close his eyes against it, but he wanted to look, he wanted to see, he needed to. Hundreds of feet below, the river was coursing white over invisible rocks, the roar undulating, an angry siren. How easy would it be? He would leave it all to philosophy of a natural kind. Focus. This was why he had come. No longer an encumbrance. They wouldn’t even have to clean up the mess. Strangers would take care of that downstream. His left foot moved through the space. The sole of his shoe found the ledge on the other side. The sock inside was slippery, but he was careful. Carefully does it. ‘Daddy!’ Her voice. Behind him. As clear as life. ‘Daddy!’


Andrew McCallum Crawford

‘Are you for real? I’ve been worried sick. That number you gave me doesn’t work, you idiot.’ It was starting again. In truth, it had never stopped. He scanned the front of the phone, but there was no information on it. ‘That was the number they gave me,’ he said. ‘You should have phoned when you got there. The kids have been up the walls. Nathan-’ ‘How is everyone?’ ‘How the hell do you think they are?!’ The heap of coins in his hand. He closed his fingers till hardness dug into bone. ‘I had to take Nathan to the clinic this morning, his throat’s getting worse. He’ll be on antibiotics for the next fortnight. If you were here, you’d-’ ‘I have to go.’ ‘What do you mean you have to go? You’ve just-’ ‘Tell the kids I love them.’ ‘Daddy!’ It was Susie again. ‘Daddy, when are you coming home?’ The receiver was warm against his ear. The tiny voice coming out of it. He watched his fist push down on the cradle. *

*

*

Leaving. Nothing is easier. All you do is put one foot in front of the other. It sounded like something Margolyes would have written. Then again, how was Gus to know – Gus was no poet. He would phone for a taxi from the pub. The flight was another matter. He’d worry about that when he got to the airport. His good shoes, where were they? And socks, a dry pair, they were in the wardrobe, the bottom drawer. He was trying not to look at the desk. The piece of paper was where he’d left it. So was the packet of A4, the top ripped open. He dragged himself to the chair. The room was quiet. Silent. Not a sound from the kitchen. His pencil. A clean sheet of paper slid in front of his eyes. He tried to stop himself, but it was beyond his control. Staring at the wall. It was so close he could have touched it. It was a start. The words were soon flowing.

46


the shadows behind me The Shadows Behind Me is a new horror anthology from Floating Comma Publishing and we are looking for stories from the edge of sanity. From extreme to body, psychological to supernatural-- send us your sickest, send us your most depraved and twisted, send us your most heart wrenching scary stories you can conjure up from the deepest, darkest recesses of your mind.

The nine circles of Hell should hold no boundaries for your creation. Bring forth the beast, the blood, the banshee.

Submissions should be attached to your email, double spaced, in Times new roman 12 pt. font.

Please include up to a 100-word bio to go along with your story. Website, author’s page and email address may be included. Accepted authors can modify bio before book is published.

DEADLINE for submissions is August 31st, 2017 For more information or to make your submission send an email to: Marknye83@gmail.com adam.floatingcomma@gmail.com

Let Hell reign free. Happy hunting!

47

Floating Comma

Submissions should be between 5000 and 10,000 words in length and must be an original story that has not been previously published. No dual submissions.


Andrew Velzian

Staring at Rabbits ‘Is that him there?’ Cutting the engine, I look through the windscreen and wave my hand. ‘Mm-hm. Either that or a pretty good scarecrow.’ Lynn rolls her eyes and puts her hand the door handle. The lack of enthusiasm is something I have gotten used to; the lack of emotion to be expected. It is the absence of her smile that stings the most. Before pulling the handle, Lynn flattens her dress. Satisfied that it appears even, she lets go of the tension. ‘A rose doesn’t have to know it’s a rose to still be beautiful’ I say. She exits the car without reply. Hank returns the wave as I get out of the car. He greets Lynn at the bottom of the porch step before stooping down to stroke Sheeba. In the shade he had looked old, now, in the sunlight, and without his faded John Deere cap, he looks plain withered. Lynn and I take off our shoes, before following Hank into the sitting room. A shopping channel is selling its wares on a large plasma screen that stands prominent between a worn brown armchair with dulled wooden armrests, and a reconditioned cast iron wrangler. Opposite, on the showroom new leather sofa, perches a woman who I take to be Hanks daughter in law. Sat beside her is a boy of about ten, with a pale complexion juxtaposed by dark shadowing under his eyes from too little sleep, or maybe too big a television. As Hank brings us a bottle of beer, the woman introduces herself as Doris, and her son Kevin. She says this with no more warmth than if we had come to fix the boiler. ‘Come about the rabbits.’ says Hank, easing himself into the armchair. Kevin looks from Hank to me. Reproductions of the greats hang at irregular intervals along cream walls. Above Hank, and drawing the eye, are two framed photographs. One shows a younger Hank, smiling proudly from a new looking tractor, baby in arm. The other is of a group of men standing erect with folded arms. The sepia tone highlight the white shirts and scythed hay lying in bundles behind. ‘So,’ Doris eases a cigarette into her cigarette holder, ‘find the place alright?’ ‘Yes thanks.’ Lynn says wrapping her arms around herself. ‘Lovely and quiet, isn’t it?’ Doris murmurs agreement while repeatedly tapping ash into the empty ashtray. ‘What line of work are you in Doris? I hear so little from Paul about his friends these days.’ ‘Just now? Sales. Fragrance and perfume at the boutique in town there. It’s only part time due to Kevin you understand,’ she glances at Hank who doesn’t return the gesture. ‘but they are just so keen on having me work more hours.’ As Doris blows smoke high into the air, Lynn gives me a quick look of confusion. There is no boutique in town, just a glorified pharmacy. Retracing her thoughts, Doris continues. ‘But it’s just an impossible situation at the moment…’ draining all but the olive from her glass, Doris rises like the colour in her cheeks and asks if we want another drink. Hank looks to me and then to the floor. The kid, Kevin, just looks at me. ‘No thank you. Medication.’ Lynn smiles. ‘Must be a very satisfying place to work

48


though. Especially being held in such regard.’ Doris levels a guarded look at Lynn before returning the smile. ‘Oh, absolutely.’ Clearing his throat, with a sound like a car engine failing to start, Hank asks if we’d like to have supper with them. ‘Doris has a pan of stew on the stove.’ Doris stops on the way to the kitchen, waiting for an answer without turning. There’s a bark at the door that brings an escape from the atmosphere. We had left Sheeba outside because she wasn’t great with children. She was in fact, not great with anyone these days except Lynn. ‘A dog!’ Kevin’s smile lights up his face as he runs to the door. Lynn gets to her feet in alarm but Sheeba just wonders in, sniffs around the room and sits at her feet. Seeing Sheeba reminds me of Hanks problem, and why we are here.

49

Andrew Velzian

Hank and I had become friends over afternoon beers in The Tavern. It was a low ceilinged, low lighted place. You could imagine its scarred and sticky bar having been witness to all kinds of misery. Between lulls in conversation, Tammy Wynette or Frank Sinatra would fill the gap; accompanied by the drunks proudly lamenting that they did it Their Way, yet all ending up in the same place somehow. Hank was further on in years than me, and as my drinking and visits became more frequent, we learnt more about each other than what ball teams we supported (He liked the Sox, I liked any local team from the mid-west.), the price of gas, and what politician was the biggest hypocrite of the day (He said all of them. I said Senator George after experiencing his cuts to Medicaid). ‘Wanted to ask about your dog Paul.’ He’d said, while signalling the barman. Wanted to ask about Lynn I thought. There had been an article in the paper about how Sheeba had detected Lynn’s breast cancer. The way she had nuzzled at her chest before spinning in a circle and sitting down to whine. It wasn’t until we looked online to see if there was something wrong with the dog; that we found something wrong with Lynn. ‘Sheeba?’ ‘That her name? The thing is, I’ve got this vegetable plot. Now it doesn’t produce much, more of a hobby. Lord knows, Doris don’t make the kid eat any veg, and she’s not always around at supper time anyways. But it keeps me going you know?’ Over the months, Hank had opened up slightly. He had been, and therefore always would be a farmer. After his son’s accident, he had sold the farm that he could no longer afford nor manage by himself. He missed shooting the shit with a bloke, I think, despite a farmer’s preference for solitude. ‘Sure Hank.’ ‘It’s more to me than just vegetables.’ He faltered. ‘It’s getting my hands back in the soil you know, creating something. Now, these rabbits in the field next to our house are running rampant. I’ve built a fence, I’ve put up nets, nothing stops them from getting through.’ Hank takes a drink of beer and looks around the bar. ‘Now, that dog of yours, think it could give them a bit of a fright? Maybe catch one or two that I could leave lying around to warn the others off?’ I was struck by the emotion of this simple request, it seemed to be about more than just rabbits. ‘Yeah, course. She’s caught a few in her time, in her younger days.’ ‘Good. That’s good Paul. Bring Lynn if you, if she….’ I drank my beer.


Andrew Velzian

Doris comes back into the room and Kevin is like a different child. His previous countenance is replaced by Christmas morning glee as Sheeba walks over to him. I still had the sense of being an intruder, and feel slight relief as Hank walks me towards the back door. I hear Doris begin to detail the plans she has for an extension. Trying to catch Lynn’s eyes to give a reassuring smile, her attention is taken by her loyal companion’s sudden interest in Kevin. Hank has a decent plot for his vegetables, the contents of which seemed to have capitulated to a weary lethargy. Stopping before it, we look down in respectful silence. ‘Gets worse every year’ Says Hank pulling dead leaves off a cabbage. ‘Keeps me busy though, keeps us eating a lot of months too.’ Looking back at the house he continues ‘Ain’t a lot coming in these days neither, most times things going out and staying out.’ We watch as Kevin comes barrelling out the back door chased by a barking Sheeba. Throwing himself to the ground he shrieks in delight as Sheeba tries to nuzzle him onto his back. His is a corner house so he is afforded a little more space. There is a token gesture of a wooden fence separating his garden from a lumpen field, with a line of naked trees in the distance. Parallel to the field, and heading towards the trees runs the road to a derelict chemical plant; kept in by the remaining cast iron spears that were succumbing to rust and weather. In the centre of the field lie several mounds, their uniformity in size and dimension hint at man’s hand. The tops are scar-streaked sandy soil, punctured by the dark holes of burrows peering from the depths. Upon them, a handful of rabbits lay motionless apart from an occasional nibble. ‘Now I ain’t saying I want every darn one of them ripped to shreds, but as long as they know there’s dog about, well, that’ll do me.’ Sheeba comes to me on the second time of asking. ‘She’s not getting any younger Hank, but she’ll sure let them know she’s here. Sheeba, Rabbits! Rabbits Sheeba…! Go on. See? See the rabbits!’ The dog was at least interested enough to show indecision before galloping off after the boy, ignoring instinct. Without a bar or glass to hold onto, we stood, accompanied by the absence of the dog, staring at rabbits. ‘Rabbits getting braver as well. Don’t move when I yell, don’t flinch if I chuck a bottle at them. Kinda creepy to tell you the truth, like there’s something wrong with them.’ Looking at the cluster they do seem docile. For the time of year, they should have been playing, jumping around; a last burst of energy before dark. Also, there was no young. ‘Nice bit of land though Hank. Couple of years you been here now?’ ‘Yup. Coming on for six.’ I follow his gaze across the back yard and fields. Nodding to the path, I follow him to the front of the property. ‘Sure seems quieter than when we first moved in. Every house was bought before they were even built, dirt cheap you see. There were kids running up and down the street, neighbours popping into each other’s houses…’ To our left I could see three for sale signs. On the opposite side were the residual remains of a building site. A digger towered threateningly, like a relic from the past. A porta cabin stands weakened from misuse, and a rubble tip with wooden pallets is losing the fight against the onset of decay and the rising tide of weeds. The horizon reaches up to meet the sun, sending sentinel shadows like accusing fingers. A child’s bike lays on a lawn. Out of the houses I could see, only three had a

50


In the darkened gloom of the night I keep the car at a steady fifty, not trusting myself to go faster. I consider the radio, but do not want to break the silence that seems to be keeping the words at bay. ‘Do you think they know?’ I don’t answer. Instead, I turn to look at her. My eyes dip briefly to her irregular chest before making eye contact for the briefest of moments. I look back to the road again, my eyes restless like a lighthouse beam. ‘Sheeba was telling them, wasn’t she?’ ‘No.’ I push my foot down on the accelerator. ‘That poor boy. That poor, poor boy.’

51

Andrew Velzian

mown lawn, and all were void of flowers, plants or shrubs. Neither of the usual garden cosmetics that proud homeowners have on display either. ‘Gets lonely for the boy out here these days. God send that dog of yours, never left his side tonight. It’s been nice to see him smile again, he’s been quite poorly.’ I meet his eyes as he lights my cigarette, trying to see if there was a question there. Smoke escapes my nose as I play mental join the dots with the lawns remaining spots of green grass. Scentless air holds up something unsaid. Looking at the orphaned building material I ask Hank if he wanted to know whether they’d start building again. ‘Not really. They done some tests on the ground and that was the last we seen of them.’ With a chuckle he adds, ‘Become part of the view now. Familiar.’ I try to connect what he was, or wasn’t saying about this abandonment outside his front door. For me it would serve as a depressing reminder that things can just stop at any time. How dreams built on hope and excitement can suddenly terminate; just cease to be. I raise my head when I realise Hank has continued talking. ‘It’s an ugly sight for sure. Some might even say it’s sadder now the weeds and wildflowers have taken claim, but for an old farmer it’s good to see nature carrying on like it always does. That’s the natural state of everything; to persevere. That growth can come out of such ugliness is a good thing to be reminded of.’ Entering the house, I hear excited voices and barking. In the lounge, I see Kevin laughing, trying to get off the floor against the prodding of Sheeba’s large snout. Lynn, standing with the redundant dog lead in her hand, has not a spot of colour on her face. ‘Sheeba enough!’ I say, trying to calm her down. ‘Seems a new friendship is formed,’ remarks Hank. I look at Doris, trying to smile an apology, but she is taking in the scene with a pained expression and looks at the wall clock. ‘Sheeba! Come here now!’ I say again. She obeys this time, but not before circling herself and sitting down to whine. ‘She keeps doing that.’ Giggles Kevin. ‘She keeps doing that!’ I feel a wave of nausea about to engulf me.


Allan Shipham

Rainy Days. ‘There are two ways into the famous green room of the Theatre Royal, Boston Spa.’ ‘Are you talking to me?’ interrupted a small boy, standing close by. An old man held a single page a book open with one hand and supported the spine and hard back with the other. The book had a red paper cover that was worn and frayed at the edges. He moved his gaze down and around to face the boy, and looked at him over the top of his glasses. ‘Oh! I was just reading the opening line out loud. I haven’t heard it for such a long time.’ ‘Sorry, I thought you were talking to me. What’s a green room?’ ‘It’s the waiting area that actors go into before they go on stage.’ The blond-haired blue-eyed boy didn’t seem to comprehend the response, but continued to speak as if they were old friends. ‘Books are great aren’t they?’ He didn’t give the old man a chance to reply. ‘I’m reading Stuart Little at the moment, have you read it?’ He took out a paperback from his rucksack, and showed the front cover to the old man. ‘No, I’m not sure that I have.’ ‘It’s a about a mouse and his adventures.’ He swiftly flicked through some of the pages as he looked down at the book. ‘I got the book from my uncle. He lives in America. He gave it to me because I’m also called Stuart.’ ‘Oh, that’s interesting.’ The man released the page he was holding and closed the book. He seemed very interested in what the boy had to say. ‘I think they should make a film about it. It’s very exciting.’ Some older boys were playing chess in a study area nearby and cheered when one had beaten his opponent. There was a full, but quiet ‘Shhh!’ from several people standing nearby. The boy looked up at the old man, waiting for him to speak. ‘Maybe one day they will make a film. I’m John, nice to meet you.’ They shook hands. ‘My mum’s asking about a book at the desk, so I thought I’d have a look around.’ They both looked across the room at the information desk, and back at the book in Stuart’s hand. He smiled and put the book back in his rucksack. ‘Your book’s a bit old, isn’t it mister?’ ‘It’s a first edition. It was printed in nineteen forty-seven.’ ‘Wow, that’s ancient!’ ‘I suppose it is.’ The old man smiles in amusement. ‘What’s it about?’ asked the boy. ‘Oh, it’s just a ghost story, that’s all.’ ‘Are there real ghosts in the story?’ ‘Well, when you are older maybe you’ll read it, and find out for yourself.’ ‘I’m scared of ghosts!’ ‘It’s about some actors in an old theatre, in a place called Boston Spa,’ he added. His left hand clasped round his jaw scratching the right side of his chin. “All old theatres have ghosts!” ‘My friend said he saw a ghost, but I don’t believe him.’ There was an honest innocence about the boy, but also a genuine curiosity. ‘Can me and my mum go and see the ghosts?’ ‘It’s not a real theatre, there’s no such place as Barton Spa.’

52


I had to leave. A few years older than the boy, I had to rush back to the station to catch my train. I never did see the old man or the boy again. I often wondered who they were, and if they remembered their exchange in the library that day. I only went into the Library because it started to rain. Rainy days have been some of the most interesting days of my life.

53

Allan Shipham

‘How did they write a book about it then?’ asked the boy. ‘Most stories start with real experiences. Some authors like to bend the truth or make their story a bit more interesting. Look all around.’ He waved his hand in the direction of the shelves. ‘You seem to know a lot about writing, mister.’ The old man dropped his right hand down to his side still holding the hardback book. He looked around the shelves in the library and smiled. ‘I like to think I know a little bit about writing,’ he replied. He raised his hands and pointed at the book, he nodded as he spoke. ‘Some say this is the best piece of work this author did. Other people say that some of his other works are better.’ He tapped the book. ‘I say… You can learn a lot from the ghosts of the past.’ ‘Do you think that ghosts are real?’ ‘You’re young. You must make your own mind up, and learn from your own experiences.’ ‘It must be hard to write a whole book.’ ‘It must be hard to ride a bike, they say. It must be hard to swim, they say.’ The old man smiled and looked around once more. ‘If there’s one thing left that I would like to do, it’s to write something really beautiful.’ There was a quiet pause. We were in a library, but all the hustle and bustle seemed to freeze and conversations ceased for a moment in time. ‘You seem to know a lot about that old book, mister.’ He looked down at the tatty cover. ‘Yes… I suppose I do.’ The boy was called away by his mum. He stopped and looked back and smiled when the old man waved goodbye. The old man then looked one more time at the cover of the book and slid it back into the bookcase where it belonged. He took out a pipe from his jacket pocket, squashed the tobacco in the bowl, placed it in his mouth and made his way to the exit.


Andrej Panic

ANDY’S EDITOR’S PICK

What about Her? He barged in and went straight to the kitchen. The lights flicked on as he threw his coat over the counter and opened the cupboards, taking out a bottle of whiskey. As he poured a glass, his wife watched him. Standing in the doorway, leaning against the Frame. ‘Bad day?’ ‘Yes.’ She folded her arms, ‘Think that’s going to help?’ He looked down at the glass in his hands and stared at it. She could see his mind at work, weighing the pros and cons. He turned and looked out of the kitchen window. Too dark to see outside, but she could see him staring at his own reflection. Then finally he turned to her and shook his head. ‘No.’ He threw the whiskey into the sink and walked over to her and kissed her cheek before passing her by and moving towards the stairs. ‘I’m going to bed.’ I was planning to go for a walk, do you want to come with me?’ He stopped, turned and frowned. ‘This late?’ ‘Yeah.’ Again he paused and deliberated. ‘No, I’m tired.’ Then he carried on up the stairs, went to their bedroom, and closed the door. Most nights were not like this. Most nights he came back later. Most nights he came back silently. It was rare that they would spend time together. He always made excuses about how his work took longer than expected, about how he was given more of a workload than anyone else, about how it was unfair. Then, if they were in the living room, he would collapse on the sofa. If they were in the kitchen he would plod up the stairs, then collapse on their bed. No one lived in their house. She would spend her days away from it, and he would do the same. The only sounds that came from that place were at night, from the short lived conversations they had. She would ask how he was, or how his day went. He would say he didn’t want to talk about it, or give quick summaries. Sometimes he would say nothing at all. Putting on her shoes and coat she decided to think about lighter things. She always tried to fill her day with activities. Mostly it was people watching. She would guess what people did with their lives. Assign them personalities, accents, and personal troubles. Then, when she had crafted their imaginary personas to the point where there was nothing left, she would wish she was someone else. On her way to the park she saw one of her neighbours walking his dog. They used to have a casual friendship. She would say hello, and he would say “Hello to the lady with a thousand-yard stare.” It used to be endearing, cute even, but then she found out he only called her that because he kept forgetting her name. She doesn’t say hello anymore. When she got to the park she went to her favourite spot. It was a bench between two large oak trees. In autumn, the animals would come to gather acorns, and she would sit and watch them. But at night they would hide away in their nests and homes, leaving her alone. Burnished bronze leaves blew past her, skittering along the floor, and she imagined what it would be like to live a leaf’s life. Thousands of them growing together, basking in the summer sun, hustling together in the night, and when the time came,

54


55

Andrej Panic

falling gradually into death. Their corpses piled up for young children to jump and play in, while others would watch fondly and remark on how sweet it was. But there were no children. Just the leaves. When she tired of watching the leaves pass her by, she got up and began the walk home. The wind blows fiercer on the way back, chilling through her coat. She walked quickly and hugged herself, but it did nothing to help. When she finally reached the house, she ran to the door and went inside. She sighed and slumped against the corridor walls, tired and out of breath, with only the thought of her warm bed that finally carried her up the stairs. When she reached the room she quickly undressed and joined her husband in bed, drifting off into sleep. Her dreams were filled with images of leaves moving in and out of darkness. Swirling columns of brown and muddied gold were like curtains moving aside to reveal nothing but a black canvas. Then she woke. Most mornings she would wake up early, making him coffee and breakfast, in the hope that they would spend some time together. This morning she had finished early, so she made herself a coffee then sat down to wait for him. He was upstairs in the bathroom having a shower. The water running through the pipes above her head lulled her to sleep by the steady groan they made. She missed her husband that morning, waking up to find an empty plate and an empty cup. Unwilling to waste the day, she got dressed and drove to her art studio in the middle of the city. She always left the place in a mess, sometimes her husband complained but it was always half-hearted, as if he couldn’t care less about what he was saying. He’d make an off-handed remark like, “So you like the place messy, huh?” or “How come you never clean this place?”. She never indulged them, she just carried on painting. His visits were rare and this was her studio, not his. The last time she came here she left an unfinished painting on the easel. The canvas was completely black, with nothing else on it. It was an experiment mostly, she had tried to be expressive and abstract. Picking different colours and trying to portray a different mood, but when she came to the canvas, the only colour she used was black. Blank but dark. Empty and invisible. But that meant nothing. The only reason she hadn’t used other colours was because she wasn’t focused on what she was painting, but the sound of it. As she painted, she watched and listened to the bristles of her brush against the canvas. The dry scratching noises reminded her of the leaves she loved to watch so much. But now that she was standing and judging a black painting she decided she would paint over it. As she sat down and stared at the canvas, it felt like it was coming closer. As if it was steadily growing at the edge of her peripheral vision, threatening to pull her in and keep her there. But she ignored it and started picking out colours. First drawing lines over the black paint, then steadily moving into a trance where she wasn’t even sure what she was painting anymore. The painting was halfway finished when she heard the screech of rubber and crunching metal echo through the streets below her. Two cars were in the middle of the road, with both drivers getting out and yelling at each other. Ignoring them, she looked at her painting. The top left corner and the bottom right of the canvas are the only places she has painted. A line of black space left in the middle. In the top left, was a hospital bed with a bald woman in it. A beep monitor to her right showing a straight green line. In the bottom right was a man seemingly asleep in the backseat of a car, with only the pill bottle on the floor indicating otherwise. While she hadn’t planned to finish the painting so soon, when she thought about what to put in the middle her mind went blank. Eventually, she decided to leave


Andrej Panic

the painting as it was and call her friend Shirley. She lived a two hour drive away by the coast. The house was on the outskirts of a small seaside town, on a hill in front of a forest. Everytime she visited Shirley there was always an incense stick burning in the corner. A gentle smoke that rose behind all of their conversations. On sunny days they would sit on the porch, gazing out over the rows of houses towards the sea, while wind chimes that were made of metal, wood, and stone hung loosely along the rafters. On windy days she could hear the sounds even when they were inside. ‘Hello?’ ‘Hey Shirley, it’s me. Are you free today? I’ve got this painting I want to show you.’ ‘Hi! Yeah I should be. Come and bring it on over! Trey is visiting later and I made his favourite cherry cake, so you can have a bite.’ ‘Okay, sounds great! I’m on my way.’ As she hung up the phone it beeped and vibrated with the notification of a message. She dialled the number for the answering machine, and listened to her husband’s tinny voice through the speaker. ‘Hey hun, tried calling you at home but figured you might be here. Just wanted to let you know, I won’t be coming back tonight. Or the next either, probably. Doberman set me up to do some consulting for a firm that’s out of state. Hopper was supposed to do it but dumped the assignment on my table. Then Doberman comes by and, you know what his memory is like, he starts demanding to know why I haven’t left yet. Anyway, I won’t be coming back. Just wanted you to know. Love you.’ She grabs her things, covered the painting, and goes down to her car. The drive over to Shirley’s was quiet and the roads were mostly empty, but she didn’t feel alone. There was a black car in front of her that was going the same way she was. Occasionally she would see a dog leap up onto the back seat of the car, grinning ear to ear, hiding behind a “Baby on Board” sign. The rest of the journey she spent daydreaming about having a sign like that on the back of her car, cruelly reminding herself that some doors were closed before she even had the chance to think about opening Them. Towards the end of her drive, the black car, the dog, and the sign left her. They took a turn off into another road and she continued the last part of her journey alone. When she reached Shirley’s place, the sun was beginning to set, shedding its last light on the steps of her porch. Shirley came out to greet her, ushering her inside and out of the cold. They went into the kitchen where the cherry cake was sat on the table, having just come out of the oven. After the initial pleasantries, Shirley began to make tea and started telling stories. She was a yoga instructor and the people she taught had strange, interesting lives. There was a new Indian couple she was teaching who had dropped everything and left their families for a new life. She talked about how hey both had this vigorous youth that was really inspiring. Shirley began to say what they did for a living when she caught herself and stopped mid-sentence. ‘You’d actually like them, they’re about your age, maybe a bit younger- but, look at me rambling over here. You’re painting has been sitting in the corner this entire time! Bring it over here and let’s have a look.’ She smiled at Shirley then propped the painting up against a chair, slowly pulling off it’s cover. ‘Oh wow. That looks- is it layered?’ ‘Yes it is.’

56


57

Andrej Panic

They were both stood now, looking down at the picture. Shirley was quiet. The steam of her tea rose in front of her face, while the smoke from the incense floated behind her. ‘These are your parents.’ She nodded, not wanting to speak. Shirley sighed, sat down, and brought her hands to her lips, as if in prayer. ‘Is it bad?’ Shirley looked at her shocked, ‘What? No, sweetie. It’s not bad. I just- I don’t think it’s healthy for you to think about that callous man.’ She paused and mixed the tea she had been cradling, looking down at the water as she spoke. ‘What happened to your mother was terrible, but your father was stupid and selfish. I don’t think he thought about how you would feel. Taking his own life, so soon after all that. I just- You know what? Get your coat, I want to show you something.’ They left the house and began walking down the road towards the town. It was only two blocks before they stopped in front of a large, damp, rotted tree stump by the side of the road. ‘What’s this?’ Shirley hugged her coat before she spoke, ‘They cut down this tree a couple of weeks ago. I pass by it every time I drive to the store. It was the biggest tree in town. Really huge, you might have seen it, but it had Dutch Elm’s disease so they had to cut it down.’ ‘Why are you telling me this?’ ‘I just- I miss the tree. Every time I drive past, I always feel sort of hollow, as if I’d forgotten something. But then I remember that it’s just the tree. I can still see its branches swaying in the wind.’ Shirley paused, as if waiting for her to respond, but then continued. “Don’t let a missing tree bother you, sweetie. It’s never gonna come back and you’ll go crazy wishing for it. The tree had to come down, there’s nothing we can do about it.” They stood in silence staring at the stump. It was only after a neighbour passed by and said hello to Shirley, that she suggested they go back to the house. When they got back, Trey’s motorcycle was parked outside and they could see him through the window, eating the cherry cake. Not wanting to intrude on a mother and her son, she thanked Shirley, said her goodbyes, and left. On the drive home she passed the road where the black car had left her. She considered driving down it, seeing if she could find the car again, but dismissed it. Fanciful thoughts that led nowhere. What would she have done if she found the car? Talked to the owners? No. She would have done the same thing she does with everyone else; assigned imagined lives that couldn’t possibly exist and make herself even more miserable. That night she went out again. She made her way to a nearby highway and watched the headlights of cars drive past, disappearing into darkness. She thought about leaving him, but where would she go? She did the same thing as the Indian couple Shirley had talked about, except her family was dead, and she had picked a man who didn’t care for her. She had left her studies and her plans for the future to join her husband’s a world away. But it was her who made those choices and there’s no going back. As the next pair of headlights approached, she stood up and walked towards the road, stopping at the edge. The headlights came closer, then they passed. The next one, she thought, I’ll go for the next one. But she didn’t. Hovering at the edge of the road she couldn’t bring herself to move forward into the middle of it.


Andrej Panic

Another car passed. And another. By the fifth car she decided to quit and go home. Like the rest of her life, she hadn’t seen it through to the finish. When she got home, she went to her bedroom and found her husband asleep in bed. Crawling in next to him, she turned off her alarm. She would sleep-in. He could make his own breakfast. That night she had odd dreams. She dreamt of the black car, driven by human sized leaves. Shirley was walking the dog with Trey, both laughing as it jumped into piles of cherry-cake. Her husband was sat down in front of a dead tree stump, with a cup of tea on top. Smoke billowed behind him and when he opened his mouth there was no noise. The stump began to crack, taking the cup with it, and her husband did nothing but watch. When it seemed like the earth was about to swallow the stump whole, she woke up. Rain was pouring outside and beating against the windows. The smell of burnt toast wafted through the house. She got dressed and made her way down the stairs to find her husband in the kitchen, cooking. Ingredients were sprawled across the table. Roughly cut tomatoes, juice seeping into the wooden chopping boards. Egg shells thrown carelessly to one side, still dripping with the whites. And there he was. In the middle of it all. Scraping hopelessly at a burnt pan. ‘Good morning,’ she said, leaning in the doorway. He looked up, still holding the pan, ‘Hi! I uhh- I made breakfast.’ He gestured to the mess on the table. ‘I can see that.’ He looked around awkwardly, then pulled out a chair at the table. ‘Come! Take a seat.’ She stayed in the doorway, something about him being there was wrong. ‘Weren’t you supposed to be somewhere else?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘So why are you here?’ He looked down and scratched the back of his ear. ‘I quit my job.’ ‘What?’ ‘Well, after I left you that message, I figured I just didn’t want to do this stuff anymore. I don’t see you, I feel tired and angry all the time, and I could live without all of that. So I went back to my desk, finished off my assignments, told Doberman I’m not doing Hopper’s work anymore, and handed in my two weeks notice.’ After he finished his explanation he watched her for a response. Stood next to the battlefield of a breakfast he looked comical. She wanted to laugh. ‘So what now?’ ‘I don’t know, but can we start with breakfast?’

58


Writing tips Curled up like a soft grey blur, I’ll gently console my humble fur. I will tell a splendid tale and simultaneously perfect my purr: Listen all you little dreamers, life is like the bestest creamer; Write out all your jagged edges, conjure up some wicked spells, paint green towns and gold stained mountains, enjoy a break with toasty wedges, coax your muse and build that well, wipe a frown and watch the bowed baby fountains. Know it all and know it well, creamy milk is really swell. The moral here is do it all, see the stars and ring the bell.

Larry 59

Larry the Cat

Or be like me, the best of the best: Be a cat with 16 hours a day of rest.


Under The Fable, Issue 8  

A collection of Prose and Poetry from a variety of different writers.

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you