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vortex 2014 Edition


Introduction In 2012 the BA Creative Writing programme at the University of Winchester was voted ‘No. 1’ within the UK in the National Student Survey. In 2014 that feat was repeated – an appropriate reflection of the hard work the teaching team puts into making the student experience at Winchester as dynamic and rewarding as possible. A key element of this student experience, for more than 10 years, has been VORTEX magazine – a publication dedicated to disseminating the highest quality student work submitted during each year. This might be prose, poetry or script, but in all cases is accomplished and imaginative, produced by students at a key formative stage of their own development as creative practitioners. The 2014 edition has been underpinned by the work of the Editorial Board, who read all of the submissions carefully and diligently. My thanks, thus, to: Kass Boucher Vanessa Harbour Nick Joseph Joan McGavin Mark Rutter Julian Stannard Judy Waite I hope everyone who reads the edition is as enchanted with its mix of energy and passion as we have all been. Best, Neil McCaw Editor September 2014

If you would like to check out the VORTEX archive for previous editions, dive right in: http://www.nxtbook.com/fx/clients/ uow/view.php Guide to Submissions Students wishing to submit work to be considered by the VORTEX Editorial Board should send all submissions to Neil McCaw (Neil.Mccaw@winchester.ac.uk) by 30th April 2015. All work should ideally be paginated, double-spaced, and in 12 font; prose should be no longer than 2500 words, poetry should be no more than 50 lines (or 4 discrete poems). For further information about VORTEX contact the Editor, Neil McCaw, at the above address.


Contents The Other Swan Queen – Amelia Bull......................................................... 02 Electric Howl – Lorna Dicken ....................................................................... 06 Pull Out – A Flores ....................................................................................... 07 Buying Razors – A Flores ............................................................................. 08 I Remember Her by Five Points – Abigail Mailer ....................................... 10 Half Life – Connie Jenkins-Teague .................................................................. 11 The Missing Children – Amy Adams ........................................................... 12 Pissing Grounds – Ryan Carrier ................................................................... 16 An intimate moment with John Green – Lorna Dicken............................... 17 The Magic of Freedom – Rachael Richardson .............................................. 19 Anaphylactic Fallopian Tubes – Jazmin Overton ......................................... 24 Epiglottis – Jazmin Overton ........................................................................... 25 e – May Wallis ............................................................................................... 26 To W.W. – Wendy Irvine ................................................................................ 29


Amelia Bull

T

he lake was a beautiful prison. No one could contest that; not even us, the poor creatures trapped there. In daylight, the water reflected the surrounding pine trees as though they had been captured in shattered glass. Resting snugly in between a circle of hills, the lake looked as if a giant had reached down, scooped out a hollow in the earth and filled it with water. The landscape was quiet and natural, the woodlands filled only with the soft noises of animals at work. It was the sort of place that people dreaded because they knew that there were no people there, christening it ‘Lost’, ‘Forbidden’, or ‘Enchanted’. No matter what time of year it was, no matter the weather, there were always white swans on that lake.

*


The water might have looked lovely in the daylight, but it was the middle of the night when the prince from far away over the hills came down to hunt the swans. Which meant that in the dark the lake was black as raven feathers, with white slices of the moon rippling on its surface. The water was louder too at night, each wave a distinct breath. We watched the prince creep around the edge of the trees, and we saw the crossbow that he cradled to his chest. We knew that our bright feathers would catch the moonlight, making us targets in the darkness. He could see nothing but us, and was striving to feel his way and to listen. He found a place on the lakeshore that satisfied him. The golden clasps on his tunic glittered and clinked softly as he drew the string back and fitted an arrow into place. The other swans began to duck their heads in fear. I stretched my wings out and shook them, but I couldn’t lift myself out of the water. I couldn’t fly away. The man had his crossbow up and ready, and he was pointing at the largest of us, the most beautiful. She glided towards him over the lake. She was not fearless, but she knew how to stop him. She was Odette, the Swan Queen. The prince still hadn’t shot his crossbow. He hesitated, confused, as Odette stepped up on land. The transformation was immediate. In one flowing motion, her wings arched upward and her spindly legs lengthened into a sweep of hips, thighs and calves. Her feathers fell from her skin like drops of rain and her beak clattered to the ground. Odette the Swan Queen stood as a human woman before the prince, tall and white and naked. The prince lowered his crossbow, staring. ‘My God—!’ Queen Odette had been a swan for a long time, and barely knew what clothes were any longer. If she ever took to the land, she wore only her skin and let her gold hair fall wet and loose around her shoulders. Putting his crossbow aside, the prince slipped his own cloak from his shoulders and held it out for her. ‘Thank you.’ She wound the material around her body. She wore it better than most women could wear a ball gown. With the crossbow safely laid down, I began to move closer. The other swans followed me, all curious. No one had ever stumbled across us before. Our approach did not go unnoticed by the prince, who glanced at us, perhaps thinking that we would all turn into naked women. He only had one cloak, and I felt a sting of jealousy that I wasn’t the one wearing it. Odette was always loved best. ‘Who are you?’ he asked. Odette bowed her lovely head. Her damp hair tumbled across her forehead. ‘We are captives,’ she said.

* I was not always this way. Once, so long ago I can barely remember it, I was a princess. I wore expensive silk gowns and painted my lips red like cherries. I was still young when my father, the king of a small province, held a grand ball. It was the first I had ever attended. The bright music, the colourful gowns and the smell of roasted meats and sweet cakes all had my head spinning. I had spent months learning all of the dances, and yet I was too shy to take a single step. At the far end of the hall, away from the dancers, I rested my back against the stone wall and watched them.


The name announced at the door was ‘Von Rothbart’. I never knew if that was his real name. He was handsome, if a little old, and had a long, slightly aquiline nose that he looked over like a hawk glaring over its beak. He fidgeted with his clothes as though they were hideously uncomfortable, and yet held himself so tall and walked so smoothly his feet scarcely seemed to touch the ground. His eyes flicked to meet mine as though he had physically felt the force of my stare. I cast my eyes down, ashamed of myself. Knowing that he was now walking towards me, I wished that I could shrink into the wall. ‘Your name?’ he said, when he was close enough. His voice was scratchy and thick with an accent I couldn’t place. He smelled musty and dirty, even though he looked clean: hair, clothes and skin. ‘Princess Odile,’ I said, and curtseyed. ‘Don’t be afraid to look at me, Princess Odile,’ he said, smiling with his lips pressed together, as if he didn’t want to show his teeth. He offered me his hand. ‘Never be afraid to look at me,’ he said, ‘and never be afraid to dance.’ I took his hand and he swept me into the dance. I stumbled at first, lost, not remembering where my feet were meant to go. Then the musicians played a familiar note and I picked it up. For a while I was biting my lip and furrowing my brow, struggling to remember, but whenever I looked at Von Rothbart, he made me smile. I danced as easily as I walked; as easily as if my feet never needed to land on the ground. The other swan princesses, and even Queen Odette, say that Von Rothbart captured them the night that he led them away from their fathers’ palaces. When oil-black feathers sprouted out of his skin and a beak grew out of his wide-open mouth, they felt their fingers turn into feathers and their feet web together. That night, when he showed them his true, grotesque, half-man half-bird form, and when he transformed them into swans and locked them to the lake forever — that was the moment that he captured them. I was captured the instant I took his hand at the ball. Von Rothbart’s feet never seemed to touch the ground, and for many years after that dance, neither did mine.

* In the morning, Von Rothbart spoke to me for the first time since he’d stolen me away. He only ever spoke to Queen Odette; only ever let her up on land. The rest of us rarely saw him, but we were often aware of his eyes on us. He liked to look at us, because we were beautiful. ‘Odile.’ His voice was the same as it had been at my father’s ball. It made me shiver from my beak down to my bones. ‘Odile, come to the shore and speak with me.’ I wanted to ignore his call: to pretend I hadn’t heard, or to swim away. Instead, I paddled over in the water, as close to him as I dared. He no longer concealed his true form from me: he wore his greasy feathers like a fancy fur coat. His yellow eyes bored into mine. ‘You saw the prince last night,’ he said. I opened my beak to reply, expecting to hear only a swan’s trumpeting cry, but at a wave of his wing I was given speech. ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘He means to steal my swans from me. I will not have it.’ Von Rothbart’s clawed toes clenched, drawing six small trenches in the dirt. ‘He will marry Odette, despite her feathers, and my spell will be broken. She has betrayed me, and she will be punished.’ I began to shiver. He may have captured us, but Von Rothbart did not hate any of us. We often heard him tell Odette that he loved us, and kept us safe in this lake. Perhaps we would miss our freedom, but we would always be young and beautiful here. The other swans and I hated him, but he had never hated us back. Now he hated Queen Odette, and for once I did not envy her.


‘If you will not help me, I will kill the prince, and Odette, and you,’ he told me. I shrank into my feathers as though I could shield myself from his wrath. He noticed, and his tone softened. ‘Do as I say, Odile, you will have Odette’s powers: you will be allowed to step up on land and shed your feathers, you will be allowed to fly freely from the lake. You will be the new Swan Queen.’ I hated Von Rothbart, but his fury was as real as his power and I knew he would do anything – give me anything – to strike at the prince. I was quiet for so long he must have thought I had lost my ability to speak again, because he gestured once more with his wing. Still trembling, I spoke. ‘What must I do?’ With a repulsive drumming, clicking sound, Von Rothbart’s grey beak retracted back into his face. The gaping hole it left behind closed up into a mouth that smiled with its lips closed. ‘Marry the prince.’

* I barely knew my human feet any more, but I forced myself to stand on them anyway. From the forest floor, a white swan watched me transform. Her wings and beak were bound. Broken and dumb, Queen Odette was a graceless creature. I stretched my wings out in front of my face and watched my fingers grow out of them. Except they were not my fingers. They were someone else’s. The hair that spilled around my face was not mine either; it was lighter in colour and softer in texture. Odette watched with despair as I took on her beautiful form. Von Rothbart inspected me like a hunter watching prey. He wore his human form like a mask, but he was not human. He was a bird, and felt no more about a girl without her clothes on than a human would about a swan with its feathers plucked. Still, his gaze made me cringe. I remembered how it had felt to dance with him at my father’s ball so long ago, and tried to dance again on my own. I tumbled through the woods without balance or direction, and everywhere I went white feathers fluttered from my skin. They turned black before they met the ground. By the time I reached the crest of the hills, I had found my legs again, and I could dance with elegance to rival even Odette’s. From here, I could see the white stone walls of the prince’s palace. Von Rothbart hurried to stand beside me. He held in one hand a dark gown, which I put on although it made my skin itch. There were a few feathers, black as oil, still on Von Rothbart’s shoulder. He brushed them away and they turned to smoke. The doorman called out names that were not really ours when we swept into the palace. At the bottom of the arching staircase stood the prince of this kingdom. He recognised me and smiled. For a moment, I was happy. Odette wasn’t the Swan Queen anymore. Odile had taken her place. Then I saw my reflection in the glass windows: Odette’s pale hair, her long, graceful figure, the curve of her smiling lips. I shuddered, suddenly cold without my feathers in this stranger’s skin. I was not Odile anymore. Odile was dead, and Odette would be the Swan Queen forever.

05


Electric Howl Lorna Dicken

I

saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by video games, they said, by movies and television and violence on the news and rap lyrics, they said, because they didn’t have any other explanations and they wouldn’t admit to themselves that something this big, something this much of a problem, could be their own fault and not the fault of the media who swore by psychological tests and answered back and didn’t listen and gave us bad role models, they said; celebrities who steered us down the wrong winding roads with no map for guidance and no sign posts to bring us back, no trail to follow home because god forbid we make our own mistakes, no, it is the fault, they said, of the Internet and the vastness of it and the dangers of talking to strangers even though strangers are more welcoming than the people in real life because they are faceless and invisible and leave behind-able and parents are not and the pressure to please them is all too real and drives us to do the things that they said were the fault of everyone else; video games, movies, television, violence on the news, rap lyrics, celebrities and the Internet and they forgot that once upon a time it was jazz, it was rock music and books, they said driving kids to drugs and violence and anti-social behaviour that got them kicked out of school and stuck in endless loops of actions that got them nowhere and made society leave them behind with their problems that were the fault of the media not caused by any fault of their own and with no discernible psychological causes other than too much media running through their electric veins.

06


Pull Out Would my shriek freak you out clot your cum and make you pout? tell me Puppy tell me John fess us up Fuck would you pull out? I’m so good I’ll kill them all the pinkest puss you ever saw. Rubber up and curl inside come and see where Daddy died. Whine and purr at the climax magic. This baby doll moan makes a fuck sound tragic. Chew me up and shit me out. You didn’t say would you pull out?

07

{A Flores}


Buying Razors A Flores

{

sidewalk sizzlin’ under haze red hydrant red like corner store rosaries in bling grilled baby perm carry out bags no eatin’ tonight no eatin’ tonight the kids slouch and spit scoffing at the sun strolling up the dome of the scapular face of the sky no one reads anymore din’cha know couldn’t cha tell by the asphalt gel that the summer be gone and spilt his mud on the acid faces of the sweetie babes singin’ me Hey Na Hey Na mah gun’a weigh ya down Hey Na Hey Na Hey Na their creators on the poverty line

08

eat the enemy they need the exercise the demons are bored with nothing to scare bad pornos bad jokes bad moves bad shoes bad blood bad drugs thugs scugs wah shit her mugshot made Playboy


** FUCK OFF WE CAN’T TALK HERE ** huff

huff

bad decisions collisions revisions incisions

huff

lavender

in my brain come down on the plates and get shown around like a nice new ink

blank under seizure throw

jump sissy jump sissy jump sissy

witness my celebrate my commemorate my

jumpjumpjumpjumpjumpjumpjump

initiate my *exhale*

sissysissysissypussypussypussy

my rattle my curtain drop

WHOPPERS always go first Genie baby

my big fucking hurrah

gonna make the picture shows

my implosion proceeds

lemme fight for you I’ll win and if not they’ll gimme the chair see no loss Cause Imma win dis see?? They ain’t gonna get meh see?? they can have it when I’m gone the bones the bread the coin the kid the sheets the heat the case the con the girl – that FUCKING girl ain’t here like I thought she’d be

c o r r o s i o n

slumped up and over with them legs over tub edge padlock shotgun in those plastic gloss American mustang

Lookit me Mama I’m cyanide

curls hips lips tits thighs lies little red dress

no breath no light

kissin’ me up’n down like she almost meant it

no breath no light

pretty orange bottles in glazes of salt

no breath no light

come down on seashell walls molting

no breath no light

with the only tears I’ll be gettin’ watchin’ me

no breath no light

go under spiral eyed stars spittin’ down on my

no breath no light

Fuck Bugsy Fuck Bugsy

no breath no light

goin’ quick now Ma

no breath no light

my ticker’s hummin’ under pressure Ma these bones cement like this city Ma

no breath - - --- ----- --

--

-

*


I Remember Her by Five Points First before everything she chastises me for the first and only time in memory, for pulling the plugs behind the TV. When her sweetness turns to anger, I am not electrocuted but just as shocked. Second is last Christmas, and she can’t walk.

Grace that no-one seemed to inherit. Fifth is my suspicion. Buying ingredients for a class, a recipe that seemed important.

It’s mum and dad who have to lift her

We separate and I return with butter

from the car to the chair.

and she sweetly tells me to run along

An hour of awkward smiles, when only hers is genuine and it doesn’t seem for once so tragic. Third is the first time she forgot failing under the weight of the vacuum I am heaving down the stairs.

and get what she has just seen me drop into the basket. And the last is what I forget. Family gathers as she lies in an unfamiliar bed, eyes open turned towards the wall. I look only at those pictures of her smile.

She looks at me and smiles

We stay for twenty minutes

who is to help this poor girl out?

then I kiss her on the cheek

And I realise I don’t exist. Fourth is fresh from the oven,

they pull the plug and I say goodbye.

sweet pastry and pies and the something that was her specialty. The best of her character that she put into all of them soft and airy and gentle.

Abigail Mailer


f

Hal Li e Your electricity A symphony Oscillates across my frequency Gamma Beta Alpha You’re a sunburst supernova Dripping radioactivity All over me To paralyse Whilst you ionise Don’t speak to me of half lives

11

Connie Jenkins-Teague


[Amy Adams]

The Missing Children

T

he Missing Children had never affected Jessica Clarke before. Why should they? She was fourteen years old, living in a quaint riverside village. There was probably no place safer. Kidnappings were an issue for the police and the media, she wasn’t involved. She wasn’t supposed to take an interest, but she did. The twins, Rosie and Russell, were only six when they’d been taken from a Marks and Spencer’s store. With their springy golden curls and cherubs’ faces, they’d been the first to really catch the media’s attention. After that, every few months a new name and horror story appeared. ‘Sixteen year-old Elizabeth Spencer was taken from the club, Viper, six days ago.’ A picture of a girl with straight brown hair, a thin-hooked nose and an ugly grin filled the TV screen. ‘Elizabeth’s family, who have described her as “bright, fun and kind to all,” believe that she was at the club to stop a friend from buying cocaine. Not to take it herself, as the CCTV footage suggested. Anybody with any information regarding the disappearance is urged to contact West Mercia police. ’ Elizabeth’s picture shrank on the screen until it was part of a grid. Eighteen different faces, all of varying ages and ethnicities peered up at Jessica, their pixelated eyes boring into her. They were all dressed in red or blue school uniforms, set against bleak backgrounds. Each face wore its own awkward smile. The hairs all over Jessica’s body stood up and her stomach lurched. Before the news team could say any more, Jessica reached for the remote and turned the television off.


‘The taxi will be here in any minute!’ called a high-pitched voice. Jessica glanced around the living room, catching her own reflection in the large gaudy mirror above the marble fireplace. A tiny, insipid-looking girl stared back at her, with narrowed olive-green eyes and thin cracked lips. Long, lifeless red hair framed her scowling face and a bland ill-fitting navy hoodie accentuated the bags under her eyes. Jessica turned away. The room always smelled of lavender. It was decorated to match with curtains, cushions and wall hangings of varying shades of blue and purple. Today the odour was more potent. It filled her nose and clung to her. The sick feeling in her stomach stirred. ‘Did you pack a toothbrush? Hairbrush? Toothpaste? Hand towel? Oh I knew I should have done it for you.’ A tall and thin blonde woman stood fretting in the doorway. She was wearing a hideous floral apron which already had a gravy stain on it. ‘Let her be, Emma.’ A hazel-haired man materialised at the woman’s side. He rested his hand on her shoulder and gave Jessica a sad smile. ‘I’ve packed everything,’ she said, with a discontented look at the small suitcase at her feet. ‘It’s not like it matters. It’s only a weekend.’ ‘I know that. I… it’s just in case.’ Her mother’s voice was unusually high. ‘I don’t see why I have to go anyway,’ she began for the tenth time that week. ‘I could just stay in Imogen’s room while the paint dries, or sleep down here. In fact, I’ll sleep in my room; I’ll wear a nose-peg and stay away from the walls.’ ‘Everything is boxed up. You watched your dad and I seal them yesterday. And anyway, your grandmother is looking forward to seeing you.’ ‘I don’t see why you had to do that. It’ll take forever to put everything back.’ Jessica frowned. ‘I swear you’re trying to get rid of me.’ ‘Your room hasn’t been painted in nearly ten years. It needs it,’ her mother said. ‘I liked it the way it was.’ ‘Oh, gosh.’ Her father checked his watch and shook his head. ‘The taxi will be here any minute.’ Jessica’s insides grew cold as she watched her parents exchange a worried glance. ‘And the taxi is taking me to Gran’s, right?’ She twisted the sleeves of her fleece. All three of them fell still and pale. ‘Of course it is, where else would we send you?’ her mother managed. Jessica considered voicing her doubt, but it would only sound stupid. How could you tell two very sensible people that something unidentifiable was wrong? All the proof she had was the dark and sickening sensation surging about her body. ‘Should I phone her to let her know I’m leaving?’ ‘No, no, no!’ There was a clatter as her mother knocked over a cream vase painted with lilac flowers. It smashed. ‘No darling, don’t bother, I’ll do that once you leave.’ Jessica cocked an eyebrow and bit her tongue. Something was wrong, but they already knew. ‘Oh, I hear a car; do you hear a car? Come on now Jessica, out the door, this way, that’s it.’ Her father pulled the flimsy handle of her suitcase and ushered her out of the living-room and around the smashed china.


It was overcast outside. The grass needed cutting. The neighbours’ wheelie bins needed to be moved and the road resurfaced. The smell of oncoming rain was heavy in the air. And there, parked outside their worn red-brick house, was a black taxi. A rotund man struggled out of the driver’s seat. He was balding, spotty and seemed to communicate through grunts. Without asking he seized Jessica’s case and tossed it into the boot. Jessica pivoted on the driveway and faced her parents. Their eyes were welling; they were holding hands and leaning on one another. She noticed that they couldn’t look directly at her but instead blinked at a spot just above her head. ‘I’ll never forgive you for this.’ Her eyes prickled. ‘Whatever this is, wherever you’re sending me, it’s not fair and it’s not okay.’ ‘Jess.’ Her father stepped toward her. More than anything she wanted one last embrace, but instead she moved backwards. ‘You’re going to your Gran’s and she’s going to spoil you rotten.’ ‘If it will make you feel better, I can pretend I believe you.’ Her father knelt down, his green eyes pleading with hers. ‘You’ll be back before you know it. Your room will look perfect. I’ll even help you put all your things away.’ ‘What about Imogen, doesn’t she get to say goodbye? She’s my sister. I want to see her one last time.’ Jessica felt a sting as she asked. ‘She’s gone out. You’ll see her on Sunday.’ Her mother’s voice was soft and comforting. ‘Yeah, okay. Well then, I guess I’ll see you.’ Despite herself, Jessica threw her arms around both of her parents, holding them in her tight grip. They were lying to her, she was sure of it. The taxi driver coughed impatiently and somehow they all separated. Jessica swung herself around and stormed toward the car. She didn’t look at her parents as it pulled out of the drive. Some ten minutes later, whizzing down a dual carriageway, the driver spoke to her. His voice was gritty and low. It made the fear and hurt Jessica was trying to beat away re-emerge. ‘How’d ya know ‘em was lyin’?’ Jessica tugged on her sleeves and twisted them once more. She considered what had really given them away, even in the face of their reassurance. ‘Why? Want to know how to cover all your bases next time you kidnap someone?’ Her voice was venomous. The driver laughed. ‘Nah, yer the furs I seen t’ know.’ Jessica looked up from her fraying cuffs. ‘They didn’t give me any money. Last time I checked, taxis weren’t free.’


Ryan Carrier

Pissing Grounds Aware of my breathing now - it’ll choke me out. Like a test in the Pacific, only much closer to home. Frothy innards and I love it. Shaking? Of course I am; you’re hopped up on wine yet somehow so fluent and full of grace, I, on the other hand, I’m on the table, I’m on the ground, I’m draped over the basin, and as mould creeps up the wall, I’m heaving on the toilet floor. By now you will have left, but I beg of you, wander back into my life whenever you please, at a time that suits you best. Merry Christmas; I’ll tell my friends I don’t know what went wrong, as you traipse across the clouds; my red sky at night, my groggy morning haze, the quiet drizzle that soaks me through I guess I should’ve worn a coat.


Lorna Dicken

An intimate moment with John Green I met him in Amsterdam Under the orange blossoms On the bridge Over the canal And the streets were empty Which was strange And our voices broke the silence In every clichĂŠ: My words were a drizzle And his - a hurricane


Rachael Richardson

The Magic of Freedom

O

ctober 31st, 2013. New Orleans, Louisiana. A storm brewed in the distant sky as they passed through the gate into the City of the Dead. White blocks of stone rose up like crested waves in an ocean, all the whiter for the grey of the clouds above and the slush of dirt and leaves beneath their feet. The smell of warm wax and spices lingered, wafting around their shivery forms in welcome. Annalise felt her heartbeat quicken in anticipation. ‘Mamere, why we goin’ ta see the dead lady?’ The little girl tugged at the older woman’s hand, bringing her to a stop. Annalise smiled down at her granddaughter, bundled up like an Eskimo, then she stooped to kneel in front of her and tucked a stray curl back beneath her knitted cap. ‘You remember what I told you ’bout today Violette?’ ‘I wanna be called Vio, Mamere, I member telling you ’bout that!’ She stomped her foot and her glittery rain boots squelched. Annalise swallowed a laugh at the child’s wilful behaviour and gently tickled her sides, earning her a delighted squeal. ‘Oui, Vio, I do remember that. But do you remember what I said ’bout today, chile?’ Violette’s forehead creased momentarily then she nodded her head vigorously, her chin bouncing off her chest. ‘You said today was magic, ’cause it’s ’alloween.’ Annalise chuckled. ‘I did at that. And why is it that we’re going to see the dead lady today?’ she cajoled. ‘’Cause she’s magic too, you said. We can make a wish!’ ‘Exactly.’ she straightened and took a hold of Violette’s hand again. ‘This way then, Vio!’ The little girl skipped contentedly at her side as they wound through the maze of tombs and shortly came to a halt at their destination. Here the white was faded and dull, age having ravaged the stone, but mostly due to the smudge of old markings covering the front and the sides. At their feet lay a plethora of objects: flowers, coins, rotting fruit, candy, bits and pieces of junk - treasure of sorts – all the makings of offerings to support the desperate wishes the four walls would hear.


‘Oooh, kisses, Mamere! Why are there kisses? And candy!’ Violette reached out eagerly to pick up one of the items at the foot of the grave and Annalise pulled her away. ‘Non, chile. They’re not for us, they’re for Marie,’ she chided. ‘Who’s Marie?’ Violette looked decidedly put out, her bottom lip jutting forward like a stairway to her scrunched nose. ‘Why this is Marie, Vio.’ Annalise gestured at the tomb in front of them, pointing at the metal plaque adorning its surface. ‘See, here, I’ll read you what it says. “Marie Laveau – This Greek revival tomb is the reputed burial place of this notorious Voodoo Queen.”’ ‘What’s a woodoo Queen?’ ‘Voodoo is magic, chile. All these treasures are presents for Marie, so that people’s wishes will be heard.’ ‘What ’bout the kisses, Mamere?’ Violette stuck her small hand on the tomb wall, right over three bright red crosses, one of the many colourful sets that were penned across the tomb’s outer shell. ‘They’re not kisses, Vio, they’re wishes.’ Violette’s eyes grew round and she clapped her hands together excitedly. ‘Are we gonna make a wish now, Mamere?’ Annalise playfully pinched her nose. ‘We are, Vio, but not before I tell you a story.’ ‘Has it got magic in it?’ Violette’s eyes glittered and she bounced on her toes. ‘It’s got the best kind o’ magic there is, the real kind. It all started with a little girl, not much older than you…’ February 5th, 1840. New Orleans, Louisiana. The severed cat’s head sat in a pool of blood at the foot of the basement stairs. Its black fur was mangled and the eyes glazed over like milky pearls. Marie recognized it immediately, despite this. It had been brought to them in a burlap sack; no doubt some poor slave had had the pleasure of removing it from Mz Bellefleur’s doorstep after the shrieks had died down. Marie’s maman paced the floor in front of the skinny woman in question, seated regally in a rickety chair across the room; her heeled boots clicked on the hardwood and her gown made a swish and scratch noise as it swept after her, the beads catching in the worn grooves. Her big chest heaved as if she’d run a great distance, but Marie knew her maman didn’t run anywhere. No, maman was working herself up; feeling the non-existent drum beats – inhaling the spices and sweat from the bodies she imagined writhing in the after-life. Maman’s snake, Zombi, curled his black and yellow hide around her neck – every now and then he hissed in Marie’s direction, and she would stick her tongue out in retaliation. Marie never did like that reptile: always slithering its way into her maman’s affections. He made the clients skittish though, and the more nervous they got the more money Marie and her maman took that day. For femmes de colour libre they had more than most white people, even those who worked for a living – Maman said you used what God gave you to survive, and you was only poor when you forgot how to live free. ‘There’s mabouya hauntin’ you Mz Bellefleur, mabouya – vengeful spirits that seek to suck the veree life out of yo’!’ Her maman raised her tinny voice dramatically, like it was coming from a far-away place, and the seated woman started trembling. Her hands now clasped tightly in her lap, the knuckle bones like shark fins against the pretty blue silk. It never failed to work on these rich white folk, especially the women, they were all the same. Same plumed feathers trailing down from their perfectly angled hats, same jewels sparkling like beacons on their powdered chests. Same pale hands, smoother than a baby’s bottom. Mz Bellefleur was no different. Marie looked down at her own hands, brown and dusted with freckles. Callouses were forming on her fingers from all the gris-gris amulets she made in front of the fire each night. One time she asked Maman if the gris-gris really worked, but Maman said it didn’t matter, them rich white folk thought they worked and that was what counted.


‘I know jus’ the thing for you chile, jus’ the thing. Usually fifteen cent, my root gris-gris, but this… this veree rare protection mojo, it’ll cost pretty but it get rid of those there mabouya.’ Maman clicked her fingers in Marie’s direction and she knew it was her cue. Marie leapt up, catching at the handles on the metal chest in front of the fire and pretended to drag it out of the ashes. She let out a grunt for effect and fell to her knees, fumbling with the heavy padlock. Dust rose in a hushed cloud as though it hadn’t been disturbed in a great many years – that would need replacing later no doubt. She slid her hand through the narrow gap and pretended to search its depths, while really she counted how many amulets they had left and how many she would have to make to fill in the gaps. The chickens in the yard next door had been shedding, their scrawny fluff would do for the time being. Holding in a sneeze, Marie came up for air with one of the better made mojo grasped in her hand. Coughing slightly, she turned around to reveal her dirt smeared hands and the strange creation of wood shavings, pigeon feathers and twine-covered clay. Mz Bellefleur stared back at her with wide green eyes, and Marie gave her an enigmatic smile. She practised in the mirror sometimes, when Maman was busy hairdressing. ‘Here, Maman,’ she proffered the mojo like a sacred journey had been undertaken to get it. ‘This tha’ one you wanted?’ ‘Merci, boo.’ Her maman patted her hair gently, then straightened her shoulders and held out her hand to accept the payment. The elaborate tignon that bound her hair wobbled precariously. Mz Bellefleur reached into a silken purse tied about her wrist, the colour matching her fine gown, and withdrew three silver coins. She delicately lent forward, being careful to abstain from skin-on-skin contact, and dropped the nickels into Maman’s palm. Maman looked down at the offering, before jingling them about in an indication for more. ‘This is special, chile. Fifteen cent get you gris-gris, it don’t get you this gris-gris.’ Mz Bellefleur smiled thinly and reached into her purse for more coins. ‘I trust that your spells are a one-hundred percent safeguard, Ms Laveau?’ ‘Indeed, Mz Bellefleur, ain’t nobody that knows gris-gris like the Laveaus. But, you wanna take yo’ chances with the mabouya then be ma guest.’ Maman indicated the bodiless feline and Mz Bellefleur dropped four more coins into her hand for good measure. Maman dropped the amulet unceremoniously into her lap and Mz Bellefleur picked it up by the tips of her fingers, like she thought she could catch magie if her grip got any firmer. ‘Lebat will keep the mabouya away, never fear, Mz Bellefleur.’ Marie smiled up at the woman toothily. Mz Bellefleur gave her a wary glance and rose from the wooden stool in silence, smoothing out her skirts. She looked around the underground chamber, as though she hadn’t just been sitting there for upwards of ten minutes. Marie tried to see the room the way Mz Bellefleur would - cold brick walls, deep arches, threadbare rugs and shelves upon shelves of candles and glass jars, their contents an assortment of natural and unnatural objects. It was home though, to Marie. She watched Mz Bellefleur turn towards her maman and nod her head somewhat respectfully. ‘You want I should trim yo’ hair again this week, Mz Bellefleur?’ ‘Yes, Ms Laveau, my usual appointment should be fine. The ball at the Beauregard Manor promises to be a delightful affair.’ She tittered lightly. Marie watched as her maman stroked Zombi’s underbelly and Mz Bellefleur headed towards the stairs. She paused at the cat’s head and visibly trembled, hopping over it like a frog seeking its next lily-pad. After the sounds of her steps had receded into the apartments above, Marie turned to her maman and pouted. ‘Why you had to use Jolie for this one?’ Her maman shot her an irritated glance. ‘Jolie ate too much a ma food, that’s why. All these cats gotta have der’ uses one o’ these days.’


Marie sniffled, annoyed that her favourite cat had been sacrificed, and all for the sake of thirty-five cents. ‘Yo’ know Mz Bellefleur will bring in more bizness,’ Maman carried on. ‘Gotta use what God gave you, chile. How many times I gotta tell yo’ that?’ Marie shot her maman another disgruntled look. Magie wasn’t about the money, magie was about the power. That’s what all the other voudou priestesses said. God gave them their freedom, but there must be a better way for them to live it. June 23rd, 1874. New Orleans, Louisiana. Marie watched the little girl throw the cut of snake into the cauldron. It followed the traditional salt and pepper, the sacrificed cat, and the offer of a black rooster. This time the cat was old, nearing the last of its days, and the snake was sliced up, not slithering across her shoulders. Her maman would be confounded, but proud all the same. The white table-cloth to her left glowed starkly in the dead of night – weighted down by plates of okra, jambalaya and ripened fruit. A feast for the spirits she would need to call forth. Candles swayed along its border, keeping time with the cacophony of drums. ‘Mamzelle Marie chauffez ça,’ they chanted. Dozens, hundreds, thousands. Free people of colour no more – freed slaves, freed blacks – that’s what the white folk called them. Marie called them her kin. St Johns Eve celebrations brought them all together – by train, by boat, by foot for the most dedicated of all. Barrels of oil burned at the lake shore, and Marie stepped forward, sinking her bare feet into the flooded soil. Behind her, the congregation continued to throw their offering of wood to the bonfire, twigs and branches, planks and chips – the blaze of their wishes reaching higher and higher. Marie swayed to the beat, stamping her bare feet into Lake Pontchartrain, footsteps she knew better than any others echoed all around her. The water splashed up her bare legs, drenching the bottom of her guinea-blue cotton dress. At her back and to her sides, they howled with glee – no white-fichu covering the women’s overflowing bosoms, no shirts covering the men’s bare brown backs. Marie grasped a bottle of rum tightly, the cork long ago lost. She placed her thumb partially over the opening and began to spin, spraying the strong liquor over every dancer in the vicinity. They bayed at the cool feel of the liquid on their torched skin. They shook like they were possessed and shrieked out their pleasure in time with the music. Marie writhed and flowed – bells on her knees jingling uproariously, joining the clatter of jaw bone on hide, ox skulls and the thud of bare skin on dirt. The temperature rose with every stamp, with every heart-beat stammer, with every indrawn breath. ‘Iwa,’ she screamed, ‘Iwa, we invoke ye’.’ ‘Mamzelle Marie chauffez ça.’ ‘Mamzelle Marie chauffez ça.’ The drums increased, the chanting echoed through every cell of her body. Marie let go. Her skin took on a life of its own – drenched and boiled. Spun and twisted. Shaken this way and that. Burning and burnt. Shells and bells clacked, fringes swayed, legs and arms whipped about in a frenzy. ‘C’est l’amour, oui Maman, c’est l’amour.’ Around her, men and women began to strip – their skin a dozen shades of brown in the moonlight. They poured sweat and smelt of smoke. The stamping momentarily cut out as they dived into the lake, whooping with joy. Marie smiled that enigmatic smile for everyone to see, feeling the power flow around her. Feeling the magie of a united people – of Voudou and the spirit realm, side by side with their world. ‘Here is day,’ she declared, her voice rising dramatically. ‘We must welcome it with song, and go home.’


The celebration ended with whoops and yells and smiles born out of spiritual pleasure, then the feast began. No more gris-gris in the homes of white folk. No more favoured cats in exchange for nickels and dimes. Her pocket was empty of coin, but her heart was so full she knew nobody could call her poor. They were all free – the Civil War saw to that. But never freer than in moments like this. October 31st, 2013. New Orleans, Louisiana. Annalise laughed at the astonished look on Violette’s upturned face. “All those people wen’ all that way to see Marie, Mamere?” ‘They did, chile.’ She tickled under her chin. ‘’Cause she was magic?’ ‘And she listened to their wishes.’ ‘What was they wishin’ for?’ ‘What all coloured people wished for, Vio - to live free.’ ‘But we livin’ free, Mamere, what we gonna wish for now?’ Violette frowned in concentration. ‘We can always wish for more freedom, chile, always.’ Violette nodded thoughtfully. ‘Let’s wish for more then.’ Annalise knelt to pick up a piece of soft red brick and placed it in Violette’s small hand. ‘First we got to knock on the tomb three times.’ Together they rapped their knuckles firmly against the faded stone. ‘Then we got to draw a cross, and hold our hand against it while we make our wish.’ Annalise watched Violette draw a wonky cross on a relatively blank piece of the tomb. Her tiny hand splayed across the marking and she closed her eyes tightly. ‘I wish for more freedom, Marie. Freedom for colour’ people like Mamere and me. You a woodoo Queen so you knows all ’bout freedom. My mamere said you make wishes come true, ‘cause you is magic. I wish that when I grow up, I can be magic like you.’ Annalise felt tears of pride spring to her eyes. ‘Now we gotta leave her a present, Vio.’ Violette stuck her hands into her pockets, rummaging around. She withdrew three nickels and a handful of pocket fluff. ‘This okay, Mamere?’ ‘That’s perfect, Violette Laveau, absolutely perfect.’

23


Anaphylactic Fallopian Tubes Yes, my vagina was itchy. I pictured thousands of insects, like glossy black fleas, eating me. But I decided it was fallopian anaphylaxis. There is a toaster buried somewhere up there.

* Jazmin Overton


Jazmin Overton

Epiglottis Yoon lay flat against that corrugated polyester sheet, A lukewarm sticky of malty Assam tea and sweating those saemidori flowers, a cigarette, erect and constellating in ash, between my chapped lips. She, I understood, was my sweet, peach-eyed epiglottis. The glowing membrane of a silkworm’s chrysalis, my precious tskukudani. Crystallised fructose, Lea & Perrins pupae, unfit for human consumption.

25


May Wallis

I

t’s gone. It’s a weight off my shoulders. I’m no longer hiding behind the length of my hair. It told the world I’m something that I’m not. But, what am I?

* ‘Hello darling!’ Mum calls as I close the front door. I hear the stab of her stilettos across the wooden floor. She rushes into the hall, flashing her blinding white teeth. Her smile falls when she sees my hair. ‘You don’t like it, do you?’ ‘Oh Joey, it’s not that. It’s very…very short, very boy band-esque!’ she replies. She reaches up and ruffles my hair. ‘It’s just so different.’ ‘Well that’s sort of the point,’ I say. Mum doesn’t respond. She stares at me for a second, searching my face. I can see that she’s trying to work out if I’m still the same person. ‘Let’s have some lunch,’ she says after a moment, as if to distract herself from the damage that’s been done to her little girl. I kick off my shoes and join Mum in the kitchen. I flop over the breakfast bar; the cool granite gives little relief to the prickling frustration that crawls over my skin. ‘Don’t slouch Joey,’ says Mum. ‘You look far more handsome when you stand up straight.’ I hear a note of pain in her voice. Let’s face it; lying has never been Mum’s strong point. I’m not her son and not her daughter. I’m a saughter. I’m just sorta nowhere. Nowhere near who I want to be.

* Every morning is a struggle. Wake up, stand up, look down, feel down. My head buzzes. Today’s the day that everyone will see me in all my male glory. So long Joanna! Hello Joe with an ‘e’. The ‘e’ is the most important part. Coming out as trans in a strict all-girls school meant I was treated like a victim of the bubonic plague. That’s in the past. Now it’s time for a new college, a new start, a new me. A golden opportunity to show the world who I really am. I roll out of bed and shuffle over to the mirror, surveying the work that needs to be done. I study my new hairstyle, short on the sides and roughed up into a quiff. This is how all the guys do it. Will I pass for one of the lads today? Yes I will. I lower my jaw to one side, trying to make it look more angular, more attractive. It doesn’t work. My biology betrays me. My long lashes and round rosy cheeks show me for what I really am.


My gut sinks. Mum and Dad must have been on something when they made me. The sperm and the egg clearly had different ideas about what they were making. Needless to say the war is yet to be resolved. Two of my main problems stare back at me from the mirror. Unlike most girls, I’m grateful for being blessed with mosquito bites, instead of a ripe pair of double Ds. Sadly, they are still enough to give me away. Don’t get me wrong; I love tits, just not on me. I open my drawer and fish out a pair of boxers. Standard. Then, I take out two pairs of trainer socks and my binder. Not so standard. I lift the binder up over my shoulders and pull it across my chest. I slowly fasten the zip at the front. The black spandex tightens around my ribs. It makes me feel safe and strong, as if I am zipping myself into a new skin. I fold my arms and flex my biceps. ‘Hi, name’s Joe.’ ‘You’re one fine looking tranny,’ Joanna sneers. ‘You won’t get rid of me that easily.’ When I’ve finished flat packing myself, it’s time for the battle of the bulge. I step into the boxers, pulling them up as high as I can to stop them sagging. I’ve heard some guys say that they like the sensation of swinging in the wind and often opt for the short variety of boxer. Personally, I feel I don’t have sufficient tackle to get breeze happy, so I choose the trusty trunk with a little added help. Cue the second pair of socks. From my many evenings of experimenting, I’ve learnt that thick gym socks make me look like I’m hiding a trouser snake. For some guys this may be the desired look. However, a massive bulge in the groin area makes me look like I’m trying harder than I already am. As much as I hate to admit it, size really does matter. Now the hellish days of pleated school skirts are over, I feel a sense of excitement at the prospect of being able to dress as me; the way I want to be seen. I open up the wardrobe and pull out a pair of dark jeans, a blue and white polo shirt and a navy hoody. I fasten the belt buckle as tight as I can to hold my jeans up around my skinny hips. I turn back to the mirror and sigh. Just like my jeans, I don’t quite fit. ‘Here’s my big…boy,’ says Mum as I plod downstairs into the kitchen. She hops down from her stool and hugs me. ‘Your dad said good luck for today. He had to leave early for work.’ He had to escape more like. Mum smiles at me, a sympathetic, simpering smile that makes me want to heave. ‘He finds this whole thing very difficult you know, Joey. He feels as if he’s lost his little girl.’ ‘It must be really hard for him having a he-she in his house.’ ‘Don’t be like that! This thing is difficult for all of us.’ ‘Well, this “thing” is late for college. See you later.’ I sling my bag onto my back and head for the door.

* I stop in front of the college. The high-rise building, with its dark windows and weather-inflicted scars, looms over me; as if it’s ready to swallow me up and spit me back out. Remember, new college, new start, new me. My palms sweat. I take out my phone and lower my head, pretending to text someone. I walk into the main entrance and attempt that wide-legged swagger that I’ve seen the other guys do. My body language says ‘just another day at college and yes ladies if you’re looking, I do have a massive knob’. But, inside I’m screaming ‘OH MY GOD! What are you doing you fucking weirdo? FYI you’re walking like you’ve shat yourself!’ I make my way over to the main hall, where a sign says ‘New Students’. The hall echoes with the hum of teenage chatter. The dingy walls are lined with gaggles of girls all on their phones, posing and giggling loudly at every lad who walks past. They don’t notice me. Fair enough, I may not be God’s gift to women just yet, but at least they don’t suspect that I’m actually one of their own.


‘Name please?’ says a squat lady from behind the admissions desk. ‘Joe Drake,’ I reply, lowering my voice. ‘Joe with an “e”. Don’t forget the “e”.’ She looks at me over the top of her glasses, searching my face. Then she smiles and nods. She’s sussed me. ‘Ok, dear,’ she replies. ‘I’ll make sure I write the “e” nice and clearly.’ It’s official. I’m a complete twat. She hands me my timetable and a welcome pack. ‘You need to head to registration with Mr. Avery in room 245.’ ‘Thanks,’ I reply, making towards the exit. ‘Joe!’ she calls. I turn around to face her. She waves me back. I walk to the desk, thinking that I’ve forgotten something. She stands up and leans in close to me. ‘Mr. Avery leads our LGBT group,’ she whispers. ‘If you were interested, I know you’d be very welcome.’ ‘Thanks,’ I mumble. ‘I’ll look into it.’ I dare not meet her eye. I head towards the door, my cheeks flaming crimson. I reach the exit and turn back to look at the woman; she’s leaning over, whispering in the ear of the man next to her. He’s looking at me and shaking his head. The bell rings. First lesson: How Not to be a Freak.

* Where the fuck is room 245? I’m lost and late. Not the new start I was hoping for. I pull the map out of my welcome pack but the stupid symbols and numbers really don’t help. I shove the pack into my bag and think about my plan of action for when I finally reach registration. Walk in, sit at the back, convince people that I have a dick, not that I am a dick. ‘Look who it is!’ someone calls from behind me. Shit! The sound of that voice makes my heart fall out of my arse. Memories of my school nemesis, Brogan Davies, aka the Devil Incarnate, come flooding back. At school, Brogan and her cronies made my life hell when I first came out. Her finest moment was slamming my head into a locker. She was permanently excluded. Her dad shipped her off to a boarding school up north. I never thought she’d end up here. I curl my fingers inside my hoody and clench my jaw. ‘Hey Joanna! I’m sorry, I mean Joe. Did you grow a pair over the summer?’ C’mon say something back. Don’t be a pussy. ‘Shut it!’ I snap, turning around to see Brogan standing a few feet away. Her hair is piled on top of her head with a large clip, most likely in an effort to hide her horns. ‘Whoa! It speaks. Looks like your balls have dropped or did you just pull them out the sock drawer?’ she shouts, looking me up and down. ‘Leave it out Brogan. Go piss someone else off for a change!’ I start to walk away. ‘You what?’ She runs up behind me and pulls on my hood. ‘You talking to me, you fucking tranny?’ I ignore her; the metal of my zip scrapes against my skin like a razor. ‘Answer me you freak!’ I say nothing. I feel her knuckles bounce off the back of my skull. Fight back! Fight like a man. But, I’m not a man am I? Not yet. As I turn to retaliate, Brogan slaps me across the face. Her false nails catch the corner of my eye. ‘Not gonna defend yourself?’ She spits at me. The globule of saliva hits me and dribbles down my cheek. I lift my arm to my face. A swift blow to my stomach causes me to fall backwards. My back cracks against the ground. ‘Not so manly now, are you?’ Brogan laughs as she kicks me in the groin. I groan, but not from the pain of her kick. An overwhelming ache grips me. I wish there were something between my legs for her to strike. Unable to escape, I close my eyes and wait for the beating, wishing I were far, far away.


To

W.W. You didn’t mention the noise – all that squealing and jostling

from the moment they poke their heads through. First it’s one and when I turn round - a whole host of them which I agree is a cheery sight, but I can’t hear myself think with their ‘Look at us! Look at us!’ They’re a touch overt for me. I’d rather have tulips, who are used to being admired, in a universe painted by Gauguin.

{ Wendy Irvine }


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Vortex UoW 2014  

In 2012 the BA Creative Writing programme at the University of Winchester was voted ‘No. 1’ within the UK in the National Student Survey. In...

Vortex UoW 2014  

In 2012 the BA Creative Writing programme at the University of Winchester was voted ‘No. 1’ within the UK in the National Student Survey. In...

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