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vortex 2015 Edition


Introduction The BA Creative Writing programme at the University of Winchester is one of the largest, and simultaneously one of the most successful, in the UK. At Winchester we have long recognised the importance of ‘writing’ as a skill and talent, and have over the years produced a large number of talented graduates able to express themselves with sophistication, imagination, and dynamism, in written forms. More recently we have diversified into ‘professional’ as well as ‘creative’ writing, all with a view to re-establishing the importance of the written word, even in a techno-savvy world in which some readers baulk, it would seem, at the effort of reading anything more than a clipped 140 characters. VORTEX magazine is an embodiment of our commitment to high-quality writing. 10 years after the first cohort of Creative Writing students began their studies it is an outlet not just for our own students, but for students across the UK who are seeking to share their work with the world. Each submission is valued and read with care. Big thanks as always to the Editorial Board, who read all of the work with interest: Kass Boucher Nick Joseph Mark Rutter Judy Waite Glenn Fosbraey

Vanessa Harbour Joan McGavin Julian Stannard Judith Heneghan Stephen Thompson

And additional thanks to Andrew Melrose and Judith Heneghan for their proofreading eyes. We all hope you enjoy reading the 2015 edition as much as we have preparing it. Best, Neil McCaw Editor September 2015

Some of the earlier editions of VORTEX have been archived here: http://www.nxtbook.com/fx/clients/ uow/view.php Guide to Submissions Students wishing to submit work to be considered by the VORTEX Editorial Board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 2016. 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 I Said Goddam – A Flores ............................................................................ 02 The River Red – A Flores ............................................................................. 03 The One That Got Away – Amy Brown....................................................... 04 The Blue Envelope – Marc Stanley .............................................................. 07 Own Worst Enemy – Emma Hollands .......................................................... 08 Ten Things I Think About in the Shower – Grace Bawden ......................... 12 Do Not Try to Date a Poet – Grace Bawden ................................................. 14 Yayo and Fig – Jazmin Overton ..................................................................... 16 Her Father’s Profession – Kath Whiting ....................................................... 20 God as My Teacher – Emma Hollands.......................................................... 22 The Year We Went To Sea – Florence Hafter-Smith ...................................... 24 I Stashed a Double Cheeseburger in My Handbag – Jazmin Overton ........ 28


I Said Goddam She laps up the mascara running down my face honey don’t waste a good time shake off the rape shame shoot up babe and dance a chemical prance strings up the root of your spine and all smiles, all smiles Clementine shows me a good time beneath the disco haze all tongues, all tongues.

A Flores

02


My buddy and me we’re going fishing on these days before we die camping out raw on the River Red smoking, sulking getting high

03

the bodies float by. The current caress of the funnel fed push soothes Ichabod Crane’s rigor mortis stiff as he cums clouds of milk into the dung water peel the gelatin soup of his bath water molt a waxy lustrous seal. On the wrung-dry neck of the Curdle Creek where the angels seep their menstrual gel our boots suck down at our knees and froth at the flotsam dead sifting shifting like an ocean spray about the bay of the river muck. Fish bones, lichen stones a cloud of molty flesh settles on the face of the stillwater glass the shrill shudder of the curling current rip panting a wintery hushing sigh

A Flores

the bodies float by.


The One That Got Away Amy Brown

I

n Japan, we have a proverb which doesn’t make much sense. It goes like this: Each day you can admire the moon, the snow and the flowers. Flowers seldom bloom when it snows, and what if it’s the time of the dark moon? There is no beauty in winter. Once the sunlight and sakura leave, the countryside is rendered drab and austere. I am sure the trees watch us as our car passes; glaring into our wake, envious of our freedom to move. Our tyres grind their amber-coloured leaves into the road, a forced burial without ceremony. Ryota insisted that we visit his mother, my okaa-san. Apparently we need some ‘family time,’ which only ever seems to happen when it suits him. If we were at home, I would be hanging shrine charms, omamori, for protection up the windows. Kaori would be watching, and pestering Hisao to lift her up to get a closer look. Then I would be standing by and envying the innocence of my children. But one omamori never gets hung up. It stays with me at all times, in the pocket of my jeans, or tied onto my keys or the zip of my bag. Now it sits in my lap, and I twine the frayed string around my fingers as my head rolls towards the car window. This one is for protection. Yes, winter is charming. Beautiful, in fact. But I cannot bring myself to love it like I used to, not since I met her. She has many names. Some say she is a goddess, or a spirit. Others describe her as a hag. Many names, many faces. It’s all the same. To me, she will always be a demon. Yuki-Onna, who brings death with the snowfall. I remember her pallid complexion, which seemed to be made of mist. There but also not, obsidian hair the only fully visible part in the white landscape. She hummed a lullaby as she scooped me up from the frozen ground. I can still hear it… I don’t remember falling asleep, but then I am waking as we jolt up the kerb into okaa-san’s driveway. I shove the omamori into my bag and climb out of the car, steadying myself against the door as a wave of nausea overtakes me. Its solid frame provides a contrast to my shaking one. Breathe. Calm down! I smile at Ryota over the roof in an attempt to hide my uneasiness. He will be displeased if he sees me like this; I am supposed to be getting better.


We all trudge into the house where okaa-san fusses over Ryota and clicks her tongue at how much Kaori and Hisao have grown. If my own mother were still alive she would probably do the same. We sit around the kotatsu and share green tea and rice cakes. I let Ryota do the talking. The afternoon passes in this way, and when darkness arrives I rise to help okaa-san arrange our beds. She waves me away. “Spend some time with Ryota. Make the most of him while he’s not at work.” So I go back to the kotatsu and we sit there, the children between us. After a moment, Kaori rises and goes to the window; presses her chubby palms against the glass. “Look!” she calls, so the rest of us get up and join her. Outside, the sky is growing dark both from dusk and the heavy clouds. The air has that translucent glow it gets before… before it snows. Then I see it. A speck of white floating down, down. Kaori watches it, enchanted. When I see the first snowflake fall, I do not just see a snowflake. I see blood, and the stiff corpse of my father staring up at me with glassy eyes. My mother’s lips, cracked and rimmed with frost. I smell their blood as the wind stirred it, and see my messy footprints as I run away. I escaped. I am sure the demon has not forgotten. Back then, I was too young to be afraid of beautiful strangers. Now I know better. Watching that first feathery snowflake drift down from the portentous clouds and hit the windowsill, I turn to Ryota and tell him we have to leave. Irritation flutters across his eyes, eyes I once lost myself in. “It’s just snow, Hanako.” His tone is weary; he doesn’t believe in Yuki-Onna. I am shaking again. Stop shaking! I order the children to go with okaa-san and get ready for bed. They obey, to my relief and regret. Okaasan frowns at me as she ushers them to the bedroom. She will probably tell me later what I already know, that I should look after them myself. But sometimes I just need them out of the way. My hands flit between my scraggy ponytail and the omamori as I move around the room, checking the window locks. Two tugs on each catch until I am satisfied, and all keys moved out of sight of the glass. Blinds pulled down, because too many times I have gazed out into the night and seen her face staring back. Ryota goes to retrieve our bags from the entrance where we left them. I want to help, but the door is so near to the snow… I cannot get the image of Yuki-Onna out of my head. I put the omamori into my jumper’s pocket and clench one hand into a fist instead, bitten nails digging into the flesh. Ryota returns, as if he read my thoughts. I force another smile; it feels as worn and frayed as an old blanket. He drops the luggage and places a hand on my arm. “You can get past this. You’ve been doing so well recently, even your therapist said so.” “I know. I just… had a moment. I’m fine now.” I smile at him again, because it’s all I can think of to do. “Good. You know I’m here for you, if you want me to be. Don’t push me away again, Hanako.” I nod and pick up my bag.

*

Sleep evades me. I lie on my back, staring at the ceiling and turning my omamori in clammy hands, whispering to the malignant shadows in the corners of the room. They don’t listen. They never listen. Eventually, I tumble into delirium. Of course, Yuki-Onna is there. Waiting. Always waiting. When I find my way back to reality, it is morning. The bedroom is empty. Ghostly daylight creeps through the shoji screens, leeching all the colour from the room. I get up and go to the living room, where I find okaa-san sitting. “Hello, Hanako,” she says, handing me a cup of green tea. “He’s good with the children. You shouldn’t worry so much.” She sweeps her thin arm towards the window. “Take a look.”


Slowly, I turn to face the snowy world. You’re okay, there’s nothing there. Ryota, Hisao and Kaori are outside, their booted feet making untidy dents in the white dusting on okaasan’s garden. I watch them scoop up handfuls of it and toss them at one another, and try not to imagine an ivory-skinned woman watching them, too. Ryota laughs when a snowball catches his leg; a wondrous sound my ears cannot remember hearing for a long time. Kaori throws herself down on her back, moving her arms and legs from side to side to make the shape of an angel. Hisao beckons to me. I don’t bother to put my coat on, or fully lace up my boots. This way I won’t be able to stay outside for too long. They all turn to look as I slip around the front door. “Morning,” Ryota calls. I wave back, and Hisao takes advantage of the distraction and tosses another snowball at his father. Kaori laughs and pushes herself to her feet to join in. I hover beside the house, arms folded, toes brushing against the snow but not quite touching it. The white ground makes the trees at the edge of okaa-san’s garden look dark and insidious; a perfect hiding place for a demon… “The children will get cold, I’m taking them inside,” I tell Ryota, lunging forward to grab Hisao. Kaori evades me, though. She is already running towards the trees. Before I know what I’m doing, I have let go of Hisao and I am running as well. With each step, my boots make a crunching noise that seems too loud. Kaori keeps running until the trees swallow her. By the time I reach them, my feet ache and my face and arms are numb. I wrench her name out of my throat, a frantic warble and wisp of breath which both dissipate immediately as if I have not spoken. Branches snag at my clothes, like frozen fingers. Leaves rustle like the swish of ebony hair. She’ll catch you, keep going! I part my lips to call again, but then I catch sight of Kaori’s purple coat bobbing around a tree trunk. I hurry over and find her sitting on a fallen log. “Come insi-” My voice fails when I behold her. Every bit as wickedly beautiful as I remember. YukiOnna. Standing over Kaori, my snow angel. I shake my head, trying to eliminate the demon. Maybe she’s not real. Ryota doesn’t think so. I trust Ryota. Then why can I still see her? Kaori remains huddled on the ground, patting handfuls of snow into tiny balls, unaware of the danger. Yuki-Onna bends towards her. No, she’s not real! “You’re not real!” I throw myself at Kaori, crushing her pile of snowballs and encircling her in my arms. “Leave us alone!” I scream. “Leave, leave…” I clutch Kaori tighter, burying my face in her coat as she wriggles in my arms. I know I must take my daughter indoors, get her warm, but I cannot move. If I close my eyes then maybe the demon will disappear. Failing that, I won’t see her strike. I begin to shake from the cold Frozen bodies, found in the woods… “No! It’s okay, we’re safe. She’s not real.” “Mama, who’s not real?” “Shhhhh, my angel.” I barely notice when a warm figure presses against my back and a hand starts stroking my hair. Ryota. He pulls us to his chest, and I lean against him. “She’s not real,” I whisper. “I know, Hanako. Come inside.” He pulls me to my feet and keeps hold of my hand. I grab Kaori’s with my free one, and she reaches for Hisao who was watching from the edge of the trees. I glance over my shoulder; the woods are empty. As we cross the garden, we create four sets of footprints in neat lines. I glance over my shoulder. I have admired the snow, but there are still no flowers and no moon. There is also no fifth set of footprints heading back into the trees, only my own as I ran after Kaori. No flash of a porcelain face, just my own skin, pale from the cold.


The Blue Envelope He does this every year, another Hallmark staple to add to the collection, two months late and swollen with full name formalities. Sincerest apologies for delays in posting this, like it’s a letter to the courts and not a misguided plea for forgiveness or, perhaps, acceptance. All this for a shitty card and an eleven digit signature. It surprises me, as I get older, how easily Dad became Chris and Chris became him.

Marc Stanley

07


Own Worst Enemy Emma Hollands

Y

our alarm starts to ring at 6:00. Don’t groan, it’s time to get up. Six to six, every day, all day. That’s your routine, remember? You curl tight under the covers, knees to your chest. I see. Today, it seems, you want to be lazy and spend the morning lying in. That’s fine. Really. Everyone deserves a rest when you have teeth to clean, hair to brush, work to do, bills to pay and so on. Go ahead, just have your lie in. I’ll wait and keep track of the time. 6:10. 6:20. 6:30. At 6:40 you begin to fidget. The sheets rustle as you roll onto your back, your face contorted into a grimace. You see! You aren’t lazy. There’s no way that can be who you are. Good on you! Brushing back the blankets you rise slowly with the light of dawn, naked only to the emptiness of your bedroom. Even though your body has the odd freckle or horribly misplaced layer of fat, you ignore all of your obvious flaws and shamble over to the bathroom. Getting ready for work takes no time at all. I must say, I am impressed. You look less like yourself and that, if anything, is a sign of your increased productivity. Now, get yourself out there. You make sure to lock the door, test it, unlock and re-lock before setting out on your way. The office building is just around the corner. If you were to tilt your head up, you would be able to see the concrete slab of the roof peering above the houses. But, of course, you don’t do anything as silly as that. I understand. It’s only reasonable for a non-lazy person to keep their eyes fixed to the ground, staring unblinkingly at the cracks in the pavement. Look! You can even see your shoes shuffling their way along the concrete: The only part of you that shines in the morning.


People begin to stir, their sounds impeding on your ears. Not many are up at this time of morning. Don’t fret, there’s always someone to avoid in this city. A black shoe, a red heel, a child’s shoelace, so many invade your vision. As the building’s shadow extends over the path, the scent of them becomes more pungent. Perfume. Egg sandwich. Smoke. Tell me, what are they thinking? Do any of them know how non-lazy you are? How determined you are? I don’t think they do. I think they see you as only what you present yourself to be, here, shuffling along the pavement. The base of your neck begins to ache as your head sinks lower, your chin pressing against your chest. That’s right. Double guessing, fumbling in your pocket, all signs of a very busy person without the necessity of achievement. Good show! Granted, I have a feeling your posture will suffer: but what does that matter when you have the smallest of acknowledgments from strangers? When the automatic doors of the offices part before your shoes, you finally find the strength to lift your chin. The secretary behind the front desk glances up from her papers. You greet her with a small, pleasant smile. She nods in return. She must be impressed with how non-lazy you are. Why else would she notice you? Above her tight bun, a clock hangs. 6:59. Goodness, only two minutes until you are late. You slip your hands into your pockets, fixing your eyes on the elevator. A few strides and you’re there, trapped inside four metal walls and rising upwards. The numbers on the panel above the door illuminate as every floor is passed. With each blink of the light your pleasant smile stretches a little tighter, at last twisting into a grin. Unable to keep still, you remove your hands from your pockets and flex your twitching fingers. Floor 25 illuminates. Somewhere below, the clock reaches 7:00. The doors rumble open, creaking loudly. You ready your first step. Sarah looks up from her desk. Dave does the same. Michael, Chloe and Imogen swivel their chairs around, a pack of eyes all directed at you. How unexpected. Five out of the twenty-five employees seem to be here before you, more awake, ready to work. You can’t turn back now. These people know you, the usual tricks won’t fool them. Eyes faced forward, you quickly walk past their desks to get to your own. By the time you get there, they’ve returned to their personal matters. I notice you’ve smothered that grin you had. Losing the weight in your legs, you slump into your chair. Upon the desk are all the things you need. Pens, stapler, computer, paper, printer; your eyes slowly take in each object as though one is ready to explode. What are you waiting for? Straighten your shoulders, there’s work to do! Taking your time, I see. Your fingers, once twitching, now writhe against each other in your lap, safely out of sight. With a flicker of your eyes, you glance to the others. From where you are sat they seem so far away, busying themselves as they are paid to do. They’re setting the example without you. Yet even as you study them, you refuse to follow their lead. Now I just don’t understand. It’s been half an hour and you’re still just sitting there. For some reason you seem fixated on Dave’s suit. I’ll agree, it is impressive. The movement of his body doesn’t seem to disturb the fabric at all. His tie is straight and clean, resting stylishly against the flat, white canvas of his chest. Your palms smooth the creases of your own clothes, the clothes that took no time at all. Honestly, your morning will be wasted if you keep on like this. The trio in their swivel chairs have a focused glint in their eyes. You gawk at them, your fingers continuing to rub, tighten, the knuckles turning white. “Have to download this.” “Need to think.” “Deadline’s coming up.”


Their words are distinct, yet each voice is distorted by the tap of the keyboards, their tones shaped by an aptitude that, somehow, you have misplaced. You glance to your own keyboard, crusty and used, swallowing hard. There goes Sarah, off to the photocopier like a good worker. But her efficiency is not what you are focused on. As she disappears, you stare at yourself in the monitor of your computer. One after another, you touch the obvious flaws you ignored whole-heartedly this morning. The fat beneath your clothes, the awfully misplaced freckle. Instead of documents given to you by faceless superiors, you spend your precious time staring at things we both know you can’t change. Come on, stop now. It’s almost 8:00. There we go, I can see you wrenching your hands apart. A tentative finger presses the power button. You sign in, check your e-mails with the slow drag of the mouse. The routine seems to be returning. Excellent! You start to type. And start to cry. Crying? You silly sod, why are you crying? Your hands snap away from the keyboard, reaching to either side of your head. You bite your lip, viciously. It muffles the sound of your sobs, but nothing hides your shuddering bones. That ache in your neck burns now as you curl up tight, forehead on the desk. Here you go again, writhing those fingers, now through the tangles of your hair. You’re wasting time! All that work to drag yourself out of bed this morning, all of that effort to force those steps to this building, all of it must seem so pointless to you. Am I right? Why else would you do this? You’re here now, what does reality matter? Great, here comes Sarah and Dave. No doubt they’ve seen the tears staining your nice, neat desk. They stand beside you, stare down at you. You twist your hair even tighter, covering your ears. With a solid grip, Dave takes hold of your forearm and pulls, but your muscles resist his touch. The more he tugs, the more you tremble. You give him no choice but to let go. Their voices are directed towards each other. Not a word comes your way. I bet they’re worried about you. This isn’t like you at all, completely out of character if I do say so myself. You take your breaths through clenched teeth, each exhale a hiss, a faltering engine. Shifting a hand, you try to listen. “Deadline’s gniomc.” “No emit rof this.” Their words are a jumble of puzzle pieces strewn all over your skull. It’s you doing that. You’re the one making things difficult. And you know what? I bet they’re talking about you. All you can understand is your heart. It thunders out of control. But I bet they’re talking about you. And I bet they’re still talking about you as they move away from your desk. Do you know what else? I bet they’re going to get one of your superiors. That’s right. If I can’t convince you how lazy you’re making yourself, maybe they will. Your eyes have widened. The tears are unable to stop. Everything hurts inside. Everything hurts you. You let everything hurt you. Your chair clatters to the floor. Throat is closing, air is running low. Do you realise you need water? You run, alerting the attention of the trio, their eyes burning into you, scolding you. You shove Dave and Sarah aside, her photocopies sent flying as she is knocked into a nearby desk. It probably hurt her, but it seems that you don’t care. Why would you? A lazy person doesn’t consider others. The water cooler flashes into view, then vanishes. No, of course that isn’t where you want to go. With frantic steps, you charge into the elevator at the end of the room, your momentum forcing you to hold out your hands as you almost crash into the metal wall. You spin around, only to meet the baffled eyes of your co-workers. The doors creak to a close. The whir of machinery.


Metal walls all around. Cold, empty walls. Now alone, that thundering heart trails back into obscurity. Your airwaves become free, your breathing steadying. Wiping away the water from your eyes, you glance briefly at the buttons on the wall. Number 25. We know you won’t push it, so why bother looking? The lights illuminate each floor as you descend. At the bottom, one arm rubbing the other, you make your way out of the building. Grey sky overhead, a brisk wind at your cheeks. Home is just around the corner. You’ll be there soon. By now, the day has begun. Now more than ever, the voices of people rise from the asphalt. So many voices. White noise, buzzing like hornets. Their sounds do not affect you, nor their smells or thoughts. No matter how many of them you pass, you keep your sluggish pace. Not shuffling this time. Walking. Eyes fixed on nothingness. “Excuse me.” You stop. With the lump rising in your throat once more, you glance over your shoulder. The faceless masses swarm the pavement, stepping around you, avoiding you, like some fixture in the concrete. Their heads are lowered, focused. No one looks up. You turn back to the direction of home. “Excuse me!” Have you finally lost the plot? You twist around completely, eyes scanning every movement. So many people. Too many people. I can see the way you take that step forward, moving deeper into the crowds. What on Earth is the matter with you? That voice is gone but you keep going. Bodies block your way, shoving shoulders in your path. Still you go, gaining pace. Noises. A cacophony of sound. Home is calling. It’s only around the corner. Work’s getting closer. What would Sarah and Dave say? They’re all around you. Breathing on you. All these empty people. Who cares what they think? Who cares who you hurt? You don’t. Yet it’s different now. Yes. There’s a look in your eye. Your heart stirs, not with tears, but with your steps. That voice, it spoke to you. You! At last, you see it. The voice. The secretary. She leans out the door of the building. Her gaze falls on you and she gives a small smile, waving you over. Arms falling to your sides, you swiftly approach, panting. She meets your eyes directly. “If you’re going home, please remember to sign out,” she says, unwavering. “All employees must be accounted for.” Her voice is crystal, shining through. You stare. She waits, hands behind her back. All those people, all those sounds, fade out of reality. Steadily, you walk inside, straightening your posture as you go. At the front desk she produces small book, laying it before you, then hands you a pen. You weave it between your fingers. Again, she waits. A name. She wants your name. With care, you write it down. Then, slowly, you meet her eyes. “You know…you’re the first person to speak to me today.” She frowns, tilts her head. You smile, ever so softly. I don’t think she understands it like we do. I doubt anyone will.

11


Ten Things I Think About in the Shower

1. Life would be so different if I could have washed you away. I would have done in my anger, all red blotches and steam, all nail brush and specks of blood. 2. I’m glad it was not possible. You are not stain nor scar but birth mark. It was always going to be you even before it was. 3. You would have hated this. Ten minutes in you would have turned on the cold tap, burnt my neck and told me that you were saving the world one bathroom at a time. I would have almost hated you until you kissed it cool.

Grace Bawden


4. The first time you saw me naked

8. Sometimes after my morning shower

was an accident.

I climb back into bed.

I wanted candles and

Still wet

music playing over the faint whir of

I damp my sheets

a spinning CD.

and think about

Scarves draped over lamps.

kissing you in the ocean.

I wanted you to know my body like you

Think about trying to squeeze our

knew my mind.

damp bodies back into skinny jeans and deciding to just

5. I thought you knew I was taking a shower.

stay naked until sunrise.

Thought you knew that the lock was broken.

9. Do you think about me in the shower? Do you think about washing me away or

6. When I cried you

do you still use my favourite brand of

took the towel from my hands

shampoo?

and ran your tongue along my

Am I a birthmark or a scar or a

scars

smudged ink stain between your fingers?

like you were closing an envelope.

Do you miss me?

7. I miss you.

10. Maybe I should start taking baths.

13


Do Not Try to Date a Poet

She will know that you have read her poetry, that you know her sadness runs wide and shallow. She has spread it like oil spilling across a street. You can see the light reflecting in it like rainbows. She will hate you for finding it beautiful. Do not try to kiss her. She will fall in love with you and hate you

Grace Bawden

all at once. She will write poems about your lips and their tenderness and their force. She will kick back like you are gagging her. She will scream. Do not love her. She will think you an intruder. She thinks herself weak and you a predator. She will seal herself up, run hot candle wax over her poems and when the seal breaks and she spills into your hands She’ll curse you for not being able to hold her together.


15


Yayo and Fig Jazmin Overton

I

am drowning in a sea of crumbs and mucilaginous tissues - sticky and crumpled, yellowed and wet. Teacups and saucers are piled around me; tall slippery banks of an enmossed canal tattooed with coffee rings and brown fingerprints. The bloody stench of spoiled milk and dry sweat berths in my nostrils, in the two sharp holes scabbed raw with yayo crystals. Come over, they said. Let’s play Black Ops and eat fig. Rooibos teabags drip red onto my forehead. There are dozens of teabags rocking like pulsating larvae, like frowsty cocoons, hanging from the ceiling on invisible fishing line. They look to be suspended, oozing beer, cider, rum, tequila onto my naked body. Dripping randomly. Crumbs itch me, they bite me, they eat me – the thrumming mosquitoes with their long needle noses that prick you and suck. The garibaldi is eating away at my skin. Flesheating biscuits. “Don’t you realise what I’ve done?! Do you think I’m lying?” That comes resounding into my aching, spinning cranium, all distorted and dizzying. An open voice that devours my brain. There are other stains on me; ones that varnish my skin, the dry and coarse and crusted ones, up my thighs in my woolly alcoves, down my abdomen like a crunchy white caesarean scratch. There are cigarette burns along my arms, white and pink pustules like sponges. There’s ash in my hair. There’s glowing orange disodium powder in my stubble and lining my split lips. I keep a 75cl bottle of dark rum tucked in the pit of my arm. It’s nauseatingly warm, spiced with dust and midges and stale ganja, and dandruff. There are lipstick stains on my bottle’s throat; smeared and cherry. I can smell those lips – Uunff! It’s like sticky maraschino fecundated with chemicals, cola, pink wafers, fizzy watermelon, strawberries in tetrafluorosilane! It’s divine, sweetie, it’s fucking divine! The fragrance of her kisses is making me brainsick de chez brainsick.


I have lain, ironed onto the greyish discoloured bed sheets, sandwiched between these ramparts of cups and tumblers and fag packets, for such a short and long time – carried only by elasticated minutes and languid seconds – what is time in paralysis…? Lain so, yes! I have lain so in ecstasy for however long it has been, that I can feel in my joints my joints that I feel, I feel that they have disintegrated into bone powder, powdered bone, bone of powder, the talcum bone, beneath my buttery flesh – butter butter butter! Futile. Yes, oh fuck yeah. Fufuckingtile! The plane of ambulation, that motor skill I don’t have it. Did I ever have it? “No I don’t think you’re lying at all, Miss Figgy, and that scares the crap out of me!” Bubble gum… Oh I can smell her bubble gum, it was blue – and she popped it POP! POPPOPPOP! Popped it and it clicked inside her mouth like bubble wrap being pressed against the sugar enamel of her gappy teeth. I remember it stuck to her lip, all the way to her nose, like a thin blue hymen. I broke it with my tongue and pushed my fingers into her mouth and pulled out her bubble gum. It was like eating Turkish delight, kissing her. I sanctuarised the table with her. I cut my hand on the fragment of a mirror. I almost stopped licking her cunt to examine the cut. I saw it huge and magpiety - chitchatchitchat; the two flaps of skin were talking at me. Between her legs is a maggotorium! Do you want to see the pupae imbedded in the viscous walls of her vagina?! No? Then go back to the table, yes, that’s it, go back to the table and snort more gold! But she was ylang-ylang and moisture and I wanted to learn about the birds and the bees with her. But I was stooped at the fireplace, getting acclimatised to the fumes Alfie was breathing into my mouth. But I was back with her too. I was gorgonized: her heart was throbbing through her wrist, her hair stuck to her juicy glazed chops, her cheeks unintentionally mascara’d, her eyelids, lined with gold glitter and hanging low over her pupil. I am lying in this bed, static still, I cannot move and I think of the liquorice she ate from my jaws and I want liquorice. “Germolene to the scene!” She giggled, pressing my hand onto a roll of toilet paper that had been unravelling itself around the house all evening. The cut is deep, I suppose. I am numb all the way to my cuticles so I really don’t know if it’s more graze than wound, more plaster than stitches. I said something and she lapped my hand before the longing came niggling in our meat. There we were, shooting Skittles through straws at fitting bodies and mating rats when we both started to flutter and our stomachs wanted something. I squirted Colgate on Wotsits and crammed the cheesy puffs into my mouth while she dug her hand into Alfie’s birthday cake and tore off chunks with her rabbity teeth. I remember grabbing a spliff and running to the balcony that overlooks the grotty High Street. I leaned over until my head was at her feet and she leapt onto my bare back, a body of cream soda tingling against my hips. “My name’s Fig Atherton.” What a mephitic voice the bitch has! Deep and wise, placated under drugs and drink with a musing backbone and a sleepy inflection – fuck me! Fuck. Fuckety fuck. I stole her driving licence at some point, or perhaps I didn’t, but I probably did, I am quite conspiratorial but either way, I can picture that pink card, her hollowed cheeks and that dainty golden ring between her nostrils. Miss Frances May Atherton is what the card told me.


Come eat fig, they said. She looked edible, a nacreous body bursting with pearls that shone in the black of the house, an oyster tightly sealed spinning around in a desk chair with her head tilted at the ceiling and a smile that gave her sweet dimples. I lie under this mobile of teabags, strung from pins in the ceiling. Some of the pins are underneath me, bejewelling my taut arms like colourful sticky dots. That’s what Alfie had meant. He wasn’t inviting me to play video games and munch on the Jacobs Fig Rolls that he got 2 for £2 at Tesco. Nah, he was inviting me around to bounce into space on a hopper blown up with plants, pills and powder and throwing me into the arms of a desirable buzzing bee-stung lip’d imp. There was a girl whose name has decoupaged itself from my amygdala, and she was playing with a skipping rope and throwing Benzedrine capsules into the air like confetti. I watched her by the window with my sugarplum fairy. I thought Fig’s eyelids were fluttersome, like moths lived in her sockets not eyeballs. They made me vomit down the radiator. She used Harry’s tee shirt to wipe my mouth before she owned it again. She wore denim shorts and a tiny pink top, thankfully no bra or knickers to hinder her feverish stripping. She had breaths like frangipane, coming in rapid hiccups and going in open, musical begs. Jelly beans and weed and satin liquor. I squirm-de-fucking-squirm at the memory. I shaved her for her precious flittern and didn’t stop shaving until the little sapling was breathless and just as high as me. The party was throbbing above the barber’s, like a heart gone tachycardiac. The seizure pushed bricks from the walls and unpotted flowers from their broken terracotta homes. The gutter swung off the roof and shattered in rusted snowflakes onto the street. A party for Alfie for reasons of aging. We conglomerated, sick and soppy bodies palpitating in the dark mouldy rooms, arms waving like eels and hips begging to be chained. I remember her hair embrangled with the limbs of other girls, collapsed on the floor, oily pizza kisses on their tee shirts and greasy cheese under their gel nails. I wonder if they’ve already woken from their k-hole? Unable to activate my body I can only wonder. I’m a web browser that’s gone cockamamie, faded pages and an error popup. Watch that green bar zip passed your eyes and out of sight and back and back as Google Chrome tries indefatigably to rectify the system glitch. “There’s no way I’m going to survive the amount I’ve swallowed…” I can hear breathing, sighs and the jangle of a silver bracelet on the floorboards. There’s music still choking from the Hi Fi in the other room. She may contain the urge to run away but hold her down with soggy clothes and breezeblocks. Cetirizine your fever’s gripped me again. Never kisses buy you always end in full stops. “How many Fig? How many?!” I shook her. “HOW MANY?” The air got stodgy. Porridge-like. Thick, heavy and drunk, suctioning my mouth open but not breathing in air. Just keeping me wide-mouthed and breathless. It made her hair frizz and electrify, pleating up in snarls of wire. My eyebrows seemed to buzz, my eyelashes tingled. Clammy. Damp clothing. I felt gross. I stopped and made a fish of myself for a bit. Thirsty for actual oxygen – paramagnetic gas. Needing it.


God’s sake, stop it. I thought. I didn’t even realise that I had melted onto the bathroom door, melted it open, melted onto the cold olive tiles, melted my head into the toilet bowl. During my time of melting the sky had darkened five or six shades to a glossy coal. A near total absorption of light by all matter. Only the stars and the moon which trundled up the church spire, trundling up slowly and rotating too fast. “I don’t know; I kept taking them! Angel dust, shrooms, glass. I had some white magic before coming and… and Tibbie gave me blue cheese… It was super! I haven’t stopped all night.” I thought she was surprisingly coherent despite all the drugs pulsing through her warm web of life. The earth inhaled heavily, exhaling violently, attacking trees. Breathed like caterpillars scuttling over my skin. Mites in my eyelids. I bounded upwards, rubbed them away until my eyeballs were sore and itchy and her eyes rained makeup down her face. A mascara landslide to my lips. That reminds me, we have a curculionidous issue in the upper doors that must be addressed. Weevils are conquering the bedroom. I should tell Alfie, if I could just move. “Probably thirty, or forty. More I think…” I stand up, jellied body wibble-wobbling like a long gelatinous worm. I plunge my hand in a bowl of soggy cornflakes. There are figures around me; sleeping on the desk, spewing out of the wardrobe, sprinkled all over the floor like moist cysts ripening on the carpet. The room is blanketed in chemical snow, it stinks of perspiration, of perfume, of weed, of Jack Daniels, of sperm and of vomit. There’s an unreasonable amount of cigarette butts festooning my mattress, clumps of tobacco and singe marks on the fitted sheet. Beside me, on the floor, is Fig. Her head relaxed into a mire of brown and fizzing yellow bile. Blood cut the skin of her face open, down from her nostrils and the left corner of her mouth. Her eyes, still droopy, look at the ceiling. I know she’s not breathing before I swing my legs over the cups. I had said, “Jesus!” I had clapped my cut hand to my face. Oh yeah, that’s why it’s sticky now when I suck in my cheeks. “Jesus! Fig, I’m so afraid for you!” but then I had fallen asleep on this bed, hadn’t I? It’s just yayo, they said, it’s just yayo.

19


Her Father’s Profession

I

’m quite sickly; eczema, asthma and hay fever have always haunted me. So when my skin starts flaking first it’s Vaseline, then E45, before moving onto Betnovate; the usual sequence. But it’s worse than ever. ‘Will you stop bloody scratching!’ Sharon, my manager says. ‘You’re like a flea-ridden dog.’ I follow her look of disgust to my keyboard, which is dusted in a snow of skin. I wipe at it with my sleeve. Her perfectly made-up face grimaces, she is not one to hide her feelings. ‘Go to the doctors.’ ‘Yes, I’ll make an appoint…’ ‘No, now. I’m not having you disintegrate at your desk.’ She points a red lacquered finger to the door and so, ever obedient, I leave the office and moped to my surgery. I am fitted in quickly, possibly because my skin is peeling off like an artichoke. I see a second of horror in the eyes of the GP before he replaces it with professional concern. ‘Quite a nasty skin complaint. You changed soaps, detergent, shampoo? How long? History?’ He takes a scraping, easily getting a generous sample, prescribes a Betnovate bath and refers me to a dermatologist. I go back to work the next day. Sharon is immediately hovering over my desk, all sharp bob and angry angles. ‘What are you doing here? You look like you’re covered in cornflakes.’ ‘I’ve got a consultant appointment next week.’ ‘Next week? Is your doctor blind?’ she drums her talons on my desk. ‘Thanks, I’m not feeling great about myself.’ ‘That’s because you are repugnant.’ ‘Well what can I do?’ Sharon scratches her head. I want to scratch mine, but she’ll tell me off. ‘I know someone who may be able to help you…’ ‘Yes?’ ‘I think he’d see you. Of course, he may tell you to get lost.’ ‘Could I have his address?’ ‘No address, I’ll draw you the way.’ She grabs a post-it note and starts a detailed map of the moors south of the city. ‘You’ll need to take him something.’ ‘I don’t mind paying…’ ‘Not money.’ She continues biroing trees and hills.


Kath Whiting

21

‘I make great courgette and cheese scones.’ She looks up from her scrawling. ‘I wouldn’t touch anything you cooked; it’d be fifty per cent skin.’ ‘I could buy flowers?’ ‘No, you have to put some effort in,’ she says handing me the map. ‘What about one of my dream drawings?’ ‘Oh yes, he’d like them. Take him one of those. The one with the ghost bird. He likes birds.’ I look at the post-it. ‘It’s a pretty wild place. Who on earth would live there?’ Sharon reddens slightly, ‘Me. I grew up there. I’m sending you to my Dad.’ She stares, daring me to respond, then straightens her expensive suit. ‘I had an eccentric upbringing. But tell me, whose parents aren’t a bit mad?’ I can’t answer this, because put on the spot I can’t think of any perfectly sane parents. ‘Right, off you go.’ ‘Erm, should I phone ahead?’ ‘He doesn’t have a bloody phone,’ she says, pushing me to the door. I leave my moped at the edge of the city. As I walk on the moors the wind rustles through the flakes of my skin and I feel like I’m made of the leaves of an exploded book, each page is a day of my life and I’m horrified that so many say, ‘Got up, went to work, came home, watched telly.’ What grim repetition. Strange that Sharon has chosen this life too, rather than follow in her mad father’s footsteps. My clothes catch and hurt so I discard them. The wind gets stronger and it takes strips of my skin with it. They travel on the air currents. I’m an autumn tree. After a few hours I come to a shack by a wide river. There is an old man hunched over a fire. His eyes are the colour of dust. ‘Sharon sent me. Are you a medicine man?’ ‘No, I am a guide.’ ‘Oh, she said you’d help.’ My voice cracks in my throat. He shakes his head kindly. ‘Please?’ I hold out my dream drawing and notice my hand. All the skin has blown away, it is just bones. I look down. Skin and sinew and flesh have frayed and gone. I feel my face; the sharp jut of cheekbone. ‘I like your picture,’ the man says. He takes it and climbs into his boat, ‘Come, friend of Sharon, it’s time to take you across.’ He holds out a hand and ever so gently helps me aboard.


God as My Teacher


23

When the suns of paradise Clamber over the edge of his windowsill, I imagine that God falls out of bed Swearing at the alarm. He gets in his car embalmed with rust, Radio blaring pop songs rhyming Angels’ names with drinking games and Sex positions, Road crevasses rattling his seat, Throttling him between window and gear stick, While his mind fills with images of His son, whom colleagues criticise, And the wife that’s never around. Shambling into his office he stretches his Sleeve, polishing that plaque declaring ‘Head Teacher’ Despite knowing that children in his care Cannot comprehend what that means.

I hope he partakes in activities that are Not his cup of tea, Like supervising the betrothed when there Are better things to do, Or sorting through the death certificates of People I have not known. I hope he talks to his students On a regular basis, Gathers them around his oaken desk Prattling about how age brings

Emma Hollands

A new perspective to things. Yet, it seems to me, Whenever I feel inclined to walk by, I peer through the cracks to find God Just sitting there, Listening for the door.


The Year We Went To Sea Florence Hafter-Smith

T

he gutting sheds are especially cold at this time of the morning. The overseer, Madam Elizabeth, wanders up and down the aisles, looking beadily over the shoulders of the many girls in their tattered clothes and stained aprons. Madam Elizabeth, in her outfit of magnificent gleaming metal, looks rather out of place. The air is sharp and tangy, but most people here are used to the smell. Only Madam Elizabeth has wrinkled her nose at it. She has stopped next to one of the large metal chutes, where seven of the newer girls are sorting through the fresh corpses. “Remember,” she tells them, “we can’t afford to be fussy. If there’s a prosthetic, we want it – I don’t care how rusty or useless you think it looks.” She turns around, and sighs. “Ratface!” A skinny, dirty girl looks up. She is up to her elbows in muck and blood, halfway through removing a battered metal foot from the rotting stump of a leg. “Yes, Madam?” “Don’t twist it so violently. Someone is going to need that.” Ratface gives the foot another tug, and it rips free. “Someone like you, Madam?” she says conspiratorially, and waves the foot menacingly at her. A few flakes of rust fall off. “Don’t be silly,” Madam Elizabeth says. “Go and put it in the cart. And make sure you wash your hands.”

*

Ratface has worked in the sheds for five months now. In a few more months, she will be sixteen, and eligible for pay; at the moment, she is there because she is bored. She is also there because of the free lunches, and any other free things she can smuggle out. At four o’clock, Ratface leaves the sheds behind her and starts off down the hill. She pushes her nose back in (as it has started slipping down her face) and takes a case out of her satchel. It contains an old ProtoEye suspended in cooking oil. She stole from the sheds last week. Soon it will be slippery enough to start wearing. Ratface opens the case and tips out the oil. It leaves a shimmering streak behind her on the pavement. She pops the eye into the empty socket on the left side of her face, wiggles it back and forth to get it settled, and then wipes her hands on her shirt. After a few seconds, the vision eases into view; blurry, unfocused, with a sheen of dirt clouding everything – but better than having only one eye. This thought cheers her up. Two eyes, Ratface says to herself. Not everyone has that. She finds herself skipping down the last bit of the hill. A few familiar people call out to her as she winds her way down to the market. “Good afternoon, Ratface!” “Nice eye, Ratface!” “Hey, Ratface, come back!”


She stops. It is Gerry, the mechanic. She mainly works on robotic legs, although Ratface knows that Gerry’s grandfather’s business used to be in cars, before the floods sent everything underwater. “That eye,” she says, as Ratface approaches. “It’s an S40 model, isn’t it?” Ratface shrugged. “Dunno. I pulled it off one of the stiffs last week.” Gerry makes a move as if to reach out for it, but draws her arm back at the last minute. “Can I take a look?” she says sheepishly. “No,” Ratface says immediately. “I like seein’ stuff.” Gerry looks disappointed. “Alright,” she says, “but keep good hold of it. They just found more fungus up in the pipes by the prison. There’ll be a lot more folks scrounging for extra parts this time next week.” Ratface traipses through the market towards Winchester Cathedral. The market is just as imposing as the towering building beyond it - a mish-mash of stalls manned by dirty, hooded figures; some selling scrap metal, some selling homemade incense and ‘fungus-killer candles’, and others with the last bits of imported food from when Winchester had passed by Paris in June. Ratface passes through, stopping once to examine an expensive looking robotic hand, and finds herself at the foot of the cathedral. ‘HAPPY ANNIVERSARY – 65 YEARS ADRIFT’, reads a sign propped by the doors. ‘VISIT OUR EXHIBITION: ‘THE YEAR WE WENT TO SEA’ – FREE ENTRY ALL THIS WEEK’.

*

They have a man narrating the exhibition. His voice drifts out from the speakers, deep and commanding, and many people seem to be more interested in listening than in looking at the displays. Ratface doesn’t blame them; men’s voices are so different. And you didn’t hear one very often. ‘As the planet heated, the sea levels began to rise,’ the narrator says. ‘At the World Council 2073, Minister Graham Jennings uttered those now immortal words: “Some people live on boats. Some people live in cities. If a boat can also be a house, why can’t a city also be a boat?”’ Ratface knows all of this, of course. She did learn some things in school before she left. She wanders through the exhibition, looking at each tableau as she passes. She recognises lots of the events depicted: the construction of the motor system, the Sinking of Manchester, the Battle of Moscow and Washington D.C. – and a fairly graphic one about the discovery of the fungus. “Back again, Ratface?” says Pastor James, drifting towards her from between the pews. “Horrible business, isn’t it?” he adds, giving the tableau a nasty look. It depicts a woman with a rotting face, staggering around in a marshy forest of house-sized mushrooms. “I can’t help but feel that this one is a bit much for the children. And it’s not even accurate! The mushrooms were never bigger than a clenched fist, you know. It was the flies that were the real problem.” Ratface nods, wisely. He may be old and senile, but Pastor James is one of the only men Ratface has ever met, so she is always keen to hear what he thinks about things. “Any news from the ocean, Sir?” she asks. “What about the sea-folk? Have they caught one yet?” Pastor James chuckles. “No, and they never will – if they’re even real.” “They must be!” Ratface says indignantly. “My friend Flatfoot went to London to investigate them, and she’s not come back. So she must have found them. She’s probably under our feet right now, swimming with the ganwhales.” Pastor James chuckles. “Incidentally, the scouts have just spotted London on the west horizon. If you’re careful, you could jump aboard when we anchor for trading, and look for your friend there.” Ratface looks doubtful. “What about the sheds? Won’t Madam Elizabeth wonder where I’ve gone?” Pastor James leans in, winking, and says, “Madam Elizabeth can go and suck a ganwhale’s fin.”

*

Three days pass before anyone without a telescope can see London. Then, out of the mist, the skyscrapers begin to loom and the Shard shines like a beacon. Ratface is in the sheds when she hears the Anthem of London begin to play in the distance. Immediately, excited chatter breaks out up and down the aisles.


“Alright, alright!” says Madam Elizabeth, marching into the centre of the shed with a megaphone. There is a brief, high-pitched whine as she clicks it on. “Alright – quiet! Thank you. As you can hear, we are perhaps an hour away from London. You will wait here until –” But at that moment, the Anthem of London comes to an end, and the responding Anthem of Winchester begins. Madam Elizabeth is drowned out completely as the room becomes rowdier and rowdier. Ratface manages to slip away quietly when some of the workers begin throwing guts into the air like confetti.

*

When Ratface reaches the docks, she sees Pastor James talking to someone who must have been a fellow priest from London. When he sees Ratface approach, Pastor James beckons her over. Slowly and clearly, he says, “Would you be a dear and check my cart? I think one of the barrels may have spilled. I can’t go to London with an empty barrel.” And that is how, twenty minutes later, Ratface finds herself curled up in a space designed for something much smaller and being carted between the two cities. When she feels the cart coming to a halt, her breath quickens, but nobody comes to check. Ratface waits until there are no voices to be heard, and then pushes her head out of the top. She is parked with all the other carts in a deserted bit of loading deck. Quietly, she clambers out of the barrel – and sees something glimmer at the bottom. She reaches for it. It’s a pendant of some kind, a golden bone on a piece of dirty string. She puts it around her neck. Maybe Pastor James had left it for her on purpose.

*

The docks of London seem very like the docks of Winchester, so Ratface heads further into the actual city. Everything is so big, and moves so quickly. Ratface self-consciously lengthens her strides, not wanting to be the only slow one on the road. She can see why people love it here. Everything is dirty – churning black smoke, water-stained walls, graffiti and litter – but appears to be so in the most elegant and intentional of ways. Ratface doesn’t know where to look, although she does keep a constant eye out for Flatfoot. Ratface keeps walking until she finds herself in a slightly cleaner area. The buildings here are taller and everything is decorated with neon bars and lettering. As Ratface passes one of these buildings, a woman holds out an arm to stop her. “Can I see that?” she asks Ratface, looking at the golden bone charm slung around her neck. Ratface takes it off and hands it over. The woman inspects it carefully, even pulling out a little magnifying glass. As she works, Ratface says, “Have you ever met anyone called Flatfoot?” The woman shakes her head, holding up the charm. “I will give you two-hundred for this,” she announces. Ratface does a double take. She has never seen that much money in one place before. “Okay,” she says blankly, and then the woman holds out a little box. It contains four bright gold coins, each the size of a digestive biscuit. “Okay,” Ratface says again.

*

Ratface has never been in such a clean room. She perches awkwardly on the edge of her clean white chair, and stares around at the clean white walls. There are lots of fashion photographs in white frames, too, and pictures of brand new ProtoEyes. That is why Ratface is here – to use her sudden fortune to get her stolen eye serviced. There had been so many shops to choose from; Ratface had simply gone for the biggest and cleanest. She has rung the bell on the counter, but nobody has come out yet. Looking again at some of the fashion photos, Ratface finds it odd that one of the models has metal arms on both sides. It seems a remarkable coincidence, to have both limbs rot equally. Ratface hears the door behind the desk open. She turns, and then she stares, and stares and stares, because standing front of her is a boy. She has never seen a teenage boy in her life. Fully grown men are enough of a rarity out on the streets of Winchester; young men are simply not seen, although Ratface thinks they must exist somewhere, because even Pastor James had to have been young once.


“You’re as clean as your shop!” she exclaims. The boy looks rather uncomfortable. “It’s not my shop,” he says. His accent is very thick. “It’s my uncle’s. I just came here from Venezia.” There is an awkward pause. When Ratface doesn’t say anything, he adds, “It’s my first day. I should go and get someone who can help you.” Ratface is still looking the boy over. He is rather chubby, but not fat. He has thick brown hair which curls at the top, and the start of a promising beard. It is hard to pin down how old he is. “You’re not rotted at all,” Ratface says, impressed. The boy looks even more uncomfortable, eyeing Ratface’s rusty nose. “Well, I don’t go outside very often,” he offers in explanation. “Is that because you are a boy?” “Sort of,” he says. “It is because my father is so scared of the mushrooms. He says ‘If the virus is attacking the baby boys when we are in the womb, who can say it won’t evolve and start attacking us once we are grown as well?’ So, he doesn’t like me going outside. He sent me here because my whole street in Venezia got riddled with mushrooms.” “Your dad sounds odd,” says Ratface. “That is not the worst. He thinks that the women of the 2080’s made the fungus themselves as revenge for everything men have done wrong. Because women can rot, and men can rot, but only male babies rot in the womb. Only a man-hating woman could invent something like that.’” Ratface stares at him, incredulous. “Do you believe that?” “No,” the boy shrugs. “I am glad to be away from him.” “It’s not even the mushrooms that are the problem,” says Ratface, thinking of Pastor James. “It was the flies that grew from the larvae that emerged from the water when the sea levels rose that ate the mushrooms and mutated and then stung the people.” She takes a breath. “I’ve been stung twice, on my nose and on my eyelid, but we caught the rotting before it spread. Not like that woman.” She nods towards the photo on the wall. “Imagine being stung on both arms at once!” The boy frowns. “Only one arm was rotten. That’s the Duchess of Oxford, you know. My uncle served her. It was just one sting.” “So why are they both metal?” “For symmetry.” Ratface is horrified. “You mean she cut off a good working limb just so that they would match?” “Everyone does it here,” says the boy. “All the rich folk. It’s always been like that. The Victorian women wore corsets to get the perfect waist even though it was ruining their ribcages. The Chinese women bound their feet.” Ratface is quiet with anger for a moment. Then, “What’s your name?” she demands. The boy opens his mouth, looking slightly alarmed. Ratface cuts in before he can say anything. “Not your real name. I’m not called Ratface, but you can call me Ratface.” She sticks out her hand. He shakes it dubiously. “Why do I need a nickname?” Ratface blinks. “So that we can be friends,” she says, as though it is obvious. “We’re going to go and find Flatfoot and then look for the people that live under the sea.” The boy still looks unconvinced. “My name is…” His eyes race around the room, looking for inspiration. “Box,” he finishes, lamely. “Good to meet you, Box,” says Ratface, feeling like she is standing on the edge of an even bigger adventure.

27


I Stashed a Double Cheeseburger in My Handbag

{

Because he’s fat and I’ve banned him from the M. Sat with Ryan, and thought I’d buy my lardy hindgut fermenter a present: a double cheeseburger (because we can’t buy each other anything). He got stuck in traffic and I kinda got uncomfortable about it so I took bites out of this cold double cheeseburger when I was left alone. Five Tuesdays before: cheese dribbled off toast and bubbled on the metal foil squirting ketchup on top of the thin grease. We also made tea. And I could lay off the gherkins, (he thought I was pregnant) but I’d dragged on a joint from the bathroom window and didn’t want him to taste it. Over our cheddar, our lips rammed and it was blistery something popped and tasted of salt.

Jazmin Overton

28


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Profile for UoW Vortex

Vortex UoW 2015  

At Winchester we have long recognised the importance of ‘writing’ as a skill and talent, and have over the years produced a large number of...

Vortex UoW 2015  

At Winchester we have long recognised the importance of ‘writing’ as a skill and talent, and have over the years produced a large number of...

Profile for uowvortex
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