Page 1

vortex 2009 Edition


Introduction After a great deal of hard work by the Editorial Board (listed below), the 2009 edition of VORTEX, the University of Winchester student writing magazine, is again upon us. It has been a particularly lengthy job this year in whittling down the huge number of entries to what is a compact, beautifully formed edition, containing some very impressive work indeed. VORTEX is now supersized, running to 48 pages, and yet still the competition for inclusion remains fierce. To all those students whose work did not quite make it, please don’t be unduly downhearted – there is a lot of work of high quality that we have had to refuse, simply because other work was just a tiny bit more accomplished, developed, or daring. And with more than 300 students studying writing at Winchester from undergraduate through to PhD levels the competition promises to remain healthy in future years – which is how I like it. This year’s magazine is noteworthy for the fact that (for the first time) we accepted submissions from students at other UK universities. This work was considered alongside all of the work submitted by Winchester students, and I made sure that (to ensure fair play) the Editorial Board had no idea which was which. Happily, two poems made it through the rigorous selection process, and you will find them herein. I hope this encourages other students from other universities to submit their work for consideration to be included in the 2010 edition. Repeated thanks to the Editorial Board; at pressured times in the academic year they were diligent and thorough, and it is much appreciated. Especial appreciation (again) to Judith Anderson, whose name would (if VORTEX had the facility) appear in neon lights.

Editorial Board Judith Anderson Amanda Boulter Carole Burns Joan McGavin Andrew Melrose Mark Rutter Julian Stannard Judy Waite

Guide to Submissions Students from the University of Winchester 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 2010. All work should be double-spaced, in 12 font, and should be no longer than 3000 words. Students from outside the University of Winchester should send all submissions to Neil McCaw (Neil.Mccaw@winchester. ac.uk) by March 31st 2010, and be sure to put their NAME and INSTITUTION in the header of each page of their work. Failure to do so will mean that the submitted work will not be considered. All work should be double-spaced, in 12 font, and should be no longer than 3000 words (prose), no more than 10 pages (script), or no greater than 4 poems.

Enjoy, Neil McCaw Editor

For further information about VORTEX contact the Editor, Neil McCaw, at the above address.


Contents page 02...

Evelyn Mackintosh, ‘The Rescue’

page 06...

Claire Gradidge, ‘50s Child’

page 07...

Dannica Hertz, ‘Pheasants’

page 08...

David Owen, ‘Bananaman’

page 09...

Katy King, ‘Little Colin’

page 10...

Fiona Boyle, ‘Players’

page 11...

Jacky Tarleton, ‘Pink Blancmange’

page 12...

Jacky Tarleton, ‘Coil Pot’

page 13...

Rebecca Whitefoot, ‘Blue’

page 14...

Jemima Lewis, ‘Goddisgoode’

page 15...

Jemima Lewis, ‘He Turned His Bed Upside Down Yesterday...’

page 16...

Jemima Lewis, ‘Thackray vs Thackray’

page 17...

Mel Morton, ‘Perspective’

page 22...

Jaimé Henley, ‘Prologorithm’

page 23...

Jayne Entwistle, ‘Sent Via Hermes’

page 24...

Beatrice Murphy, ‘Adjudication’

page 32...

Jon Gander, ‘Moving House’

page 33...

Jon Gander, ‘Elements’

page 34...

Joy Allen, ‘Knife Birth’

page 35...

Sharon Wigley, ‘Room Mates’

page 36...

Katy King, ‘Pills’

page 37...

Matt Cook, ‘Today My Watch Strap Snapped’

page 38...

Michael Duffy, ‘Born Outside Belfast I’

page 39...

Michael Duffy, ‘Born Outside Belfast II’

page 40...

Jimmy Broomfield, ‘Are You Coming Home...?’

page 42...

Paul Barney, ‘Aloft’

page 43...

Stephanie Kotara, ‘Andrew Lloyd Webber, A Double Dactyl’

page 44...

Jemima Lewis, ‘Other Tongues’


The

Rescue Evelyn Mackintosh

‘I am a pirate of books,’ he said. ‘I sail the seas of literature for words and pillage them. Make them my own.’ The reader put down the book. She understood what she had to do. She picked up her pencil and began to scribble.

~ Chapter One ~ A pick-up with a bruised bumper creaks slowly into the yard. A young girl stands watching. Her shirt clings to her back. A tear of sweat trickles from brow to lip, leaving a trail in the dust as it gathers momentum. She catches it with her tongue and wipes her forehead with the back of her hand. The truck’s bumper sticker screams out at her. THE ROAD TO HELL IS PAVED WITH REPUBLICANS. Daddy will hate that. The screen door squeaks and slams shut, announcing her father’s arrival. The girl cringes as the heavy boots stomp down the porch steps, crunching in the dirt behind her. She doesn’t turn around. Her father barks hello as the strangers climb out of the van. A woman clutches an infant to her chest. A man approaches the girl and her father, cap in hand. He is dressed in overalls which aren’t much cleaner than her clothes. Eventually the stranger clears his throat. The baby gurgles, and its mother hushes it. ‘Good day, mister. I’m here about the position advertised in the Gazette. Me, I’m as hard a worker as you’ll ever find. This is my wife. She can work for her keep. She’s a great cook. And she keeps house too.’ The girl senses her father behind her, like a guard dog. He stares at the strange family. He sees their old truck. Ever-watchful Daddy. He forces a grin. She swears she can hear his lips cracking as they catch on his front teeth. ‘Why don’t you all come onto the porch out of this heat? My daughter will get you folks some lemonade and we can talk some more.’ The man grunts a reply and follows him up onto the porch. The woman follows him. By the time the girl returns with the tray, the family has settled on the porch. Her father is inside, looking for some paperwork, yet she carries the tray with shaking hands. She sets it down and slowly pours out the lemonade. She looks up as the baby gurgles again. ‘I’m Emily. But people call me Em.’ The woman smiles at her. ‘Glad to meet you. I’m Anna and this is John and baby Kate.’ Kate and Anna have blue eyes to match. They come from out of state. The baby stares back at Emily and Emily smiles quickly. Just for a moment. She wonders where her father is. She wonders where she is. Where she’s going.

02


03

‘Would you like to hold her?’ Emily breathes in the baby smell. Talcum powder and sweet, milky breath. ‘Hey she likes you. You’re a natural!’ Anna’s teeth are surprisingly white. When she smiles Emily would like to run to her, to sit on her lap, breathe in her scent. Her mother smell. Emily smiles back but when her father comes onto the porch she quickly returns the baby and busies herself with the glasses on the tray. John is fairly tall but he is dwarfed by Emily’s father. And when he pleads for work she is reminded of a man she once saw, on a rare trip to the city. He stood there, cap in hand and begged her father for money, food, anything. Daddy flipped him a quarter and told him to get. Emily notices a familiar edge to John’s voice. He doesn’t look hungry but he is certainly desperate. He seems kind. That is a rare thing. She hopes her father has missed the bumper sticker. And the hunting rifle. Emily’s father has never hit her in the face. She thinks this is on purpose. Everything he does he does for a carefully calculated reason. The bruises cover her midriff and shoulders. And occasionally her thighs, depending on how drunk he is. That night he is sober. He holds her hair while he stuffs a cloth into her mouth. It wouldn’t do for the newly hired help to hear her cries. No sir. Not that their objections would have any effect. They know better than to criticise the hand that feeds them. A father’s duty was his business and his alone. His god given Reader, please forgive me for this rude interruption but I couldn’t wait another sentence to introduce myself. My name is Samir. I am twenty eight years old. I live in Bombay, currently known as Mumbai, but no one over the age of ten calls it by its new name. I am employed as a typesetter. I copy original books and make bootleg copies. English books. Expensive bestsellers. My boss, Mr Akash, sells these pirate books at markets in Colaba. And he also has a team of kids who patrol the roads, tapping on car windows at traffic lights, selling the books to tourists in the back of taxis. Mr Askash thinks I’m stupid. Pig ignorant. But I can read English. And although I don’t understand everything that comes my way, I always copy some of the material to read and translate later. Because I am a self-taught man. Mr Akash thinks I’m stupid because I make mistakes. Big mistakes with the copying. For instance sometimes half a book will be scanned and then I’ll go for a piss and come back and start scanning an entirely different book into the computer. Or leave out a middle section. What a hideous trick! Poor readers! But if you knew the fun I’ve had, I think you’d understand. Just think, reader! Fourteen hours a day in a windowless room in front of a tin can PC that often breaks down. And I have lost thousands of precious words to power cuts. Beautiful words. Unspellable words. Clever words like scrutiny and mishap and ultrasound. I copy these words out by hand and keep them in a special book. My little treasures. These words roll off my tongue and into my fingertips like precious stones. Most of the time I copy rubbish. Boring items. Take this story you’re reading, for example. You’ll see what I mean. Where is the action? She was only a child and yet Emily had grown up years ago. Wised up to the facts of life. That mostly you suffered. After the death of her mother it didn’t get worse. Or better. I took that bit out. What soppy rubbish! But today none of this is important. I was telling you about me. About my life. Let me tell you reader, it can be as dull as (do you say?) dishwater. I hate it. And I love it. Mr Akash believes that all of his print boys are ignorant and stupid with no education. That is my secret. I am the only Bombay Bootlegger who can read English. And so you can understand why a man of my intellect would be bored by this occupation. But also enlightened. I have a multitude of literature at my fingertips, available to ingest at all hours of the day. But the monotony is slowly killing my will to read. So I amuse myself. Emily’s life will be rudely interrupted by a few sentences pilfered


from A Guide to Biomedical Engineering and Physics At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University. Or Today a child was killed in the street. The car that hit him was heading for the supermarket near the motorway. The man that hit the child is fifty one years old, with dirty fingernails. He stops at service stations for lunch on a regular basis. He loves Ginster pasties and sausage rolls. He eats packaged food delivered by articulated lorries, served in wannabe gastro pubs. I found that on the Internet. A creative writing website. Can you believe it? And then I inserted it into various Harvard textbooks. But although it may appear like sacrilege to you it is another form of art. My art. How can I destroy a story if it is already written and preserved elsewhere? I am merely reorganising one man’s truth to form my own. I hurt no one. And the amusement and pleasure gained from this exercise justifies the misdemeanour. I have no remorse. I am shame-less. Let the fun continue. Back to your story, the one that you’ve purchased for, let’s say £5.99, or is it as much as £7.99 these days? I can’t keep track. But for 200 rupees you could get a perfect imitation - ok the paper is floppy and the ink eventually rubs off, but the story remains the same. Unless I’ve tinkered with it. Just go down to the lush, green Oval Maiden where you will see a bearded book vendor by the name of Mr Bishnu. He sells Mr Akash’s books. One of the lowest of the low, he inhabits the bottom rung of the book piracy food chain. At least he gets to talk to people. I get paid more, however. Us book pirates have a well-oiled system. Mr Akash has no office, makes only cash transactions and leaves no invoice. It is very clever. I wish I had thought of it first. Then I wouldn’t be stuck in this room day after day. Enough complaining, Samir. What of Emily, you ask? Why do you want to know? She doesn’t exist. I exist. I’m here. Ask me anything. I have another secret. It is particularly sneaky. Sometimes I feel like an extra cheeky bugger and I change sentences. I cut and I paste. No one notices. You may have realised by now, at this stage of the story, that there are no proof readers for my lovely creations. Now l They go to the library in town. Once a month. On Anna’s day off. Em has never been to a library. Kate can’t come because it needs to be absolutely silent in there. The fans whirr and the window blinds rattle. Those are the only sounds Em notices as they stand at the desk. And the sound the stamp makes on the book. The scrape of the pages as they are turned over by a multitude of readers. Pencils scribbling. Em drinks it in. The peace of silence. She feels lighter.Then there are the books. Hundreds of thousands covering two floors of shelves upon shelves. Their colourful spines hypnotise her. They checker the walls in an uneven pattern. She walks forward and pulls a book off the shelf at random. It is heavy. Hard-backed. She relishes its weight, the rough texture of its spine and cover. She sits down at a desk, opens the book and begins to read You helped her with the housekeeping after school and as soon as you could, you went straight to the baby’s room and took her into your arms and held her close. Her mother was pleased to have the help; the company was appreciated even if you were only a child. You were a female companion and a great comfort. The past few months’ journey had been dark and your light nature warmed the weary strangers. You were a godsend. Em slams the book shut. The noise echoes around her. A reader behind her coughs, pointedly. She opens the book again. This time much further on.

04


One afternoon he emerges from the bathroom to find you sobbing in the hall. You crouch, leaning against the wall. You cradle your head in your hands. Your fingers clutch at your hair. He reaches down to touch your shoulders. Gently talking to you. Saying your name. ‘What’s the matter?’ You don’t answer him.You flinched when he touched you. ‘Want me to get your daddy for you?’ You run into the bathroom and lock it behind you. He calls out to you to open the door. But you can’t. You can’t tell anyone. You wash the snot and tears off your face. Brush your hair back into its ponytail. Force a smile. Inhale, exhale. And open the door. Em can’t breathe. The words stare up at her. In black and white. This is real. This book is real. This hasn’t happened. Yet. She flicks over the pages, frantically. She reads on Returning home in the taxi you think about him. His sparsely covered, fuzzy head, your trembling hands as you held him, exhausted but joyful. His fat bottom lip and wondering, wandering blue eyes. Like Anna’s. Like Kate’s. Who are you? Where are the words which you will utter one day? What will you say? No name, no voice, no words. Splayed, frond-like fingers which move in reflexive patterns. His hands karate chop the air, as if warding off undesirable what are you doing? These are imagined scenarios involving make-believe characters. Why waste your time on them? They have no control; they are imprisoned by the words on the page. I am not free either. I sit here day after day, sometimes through the night, if Mr Akash wills it. To meet deadlines. Sometimes he decides not to print certain books. Not popular enough. No vendor will buy them. Then all my work goes to waste. I copy books never to be read. These characters have less freedom than I do, however. At some point their story ends but they aren’t consulted. They don’t choose the time or the place. At least I can end mine. ‘Oh but it’s all so perfectly timed, so well-thought out’ you cry. It’s ok we know what’s going to happen. But I won’t spoil the ending for you. I guess you’ll just have to buy a copy from a bookshop like everyone else. I don’t think Mr Akash will print this one, anyway. But it’s not up to me so Emily is in the pickup truck. Where is it? When she finds the rifle she struggles to lift it. Come on! Quickly! It’s heavy but she’s strong enough. She finds the cartridges in a box, stowed in the glove compartment. She walks towards the house and The reader breathes a sigh of relief. It is almost over. She looks at what she has just written: A pick-up with a bruised bumper creaks slowly into the yard. A young girl stands watching. Her shirt clings to her back. A tear of sweat trickles from brow to lip, leaving a trail in the dust as it gathers momentum. She catches it with her tongue and wipes her forehead with the back of her hand. The truck’s bumper sticker screams out at her. THE ROAD TO HELL IS PAVED WITH REPUBLICANS. Daddy will hate that.

05


50s child

Claire Gradidge

Moth Mo th her e nak ked ed only on ly oone ne ttab ab boo o fu urrth t er e fath fa ther er

don’ do n’tt go the here ree.

Neve Ne ver saaw th hem e kiss neve neve ne v r saaw th them em ttou o ch heaard he ard th t em m once in tthe he nigght calllled ca d oout ut iss som o ethhing ngg w wro r ng ro

stil st i l make kess me b blu lush sh..

Shee al Sh alwa ways y llik iked ed ssoa oap, p my mum my um. Lily ooff th thee va vall lley ey cll ve ca clov carn rnat nat a io ion, n, lave la v nd ve nder er. Chri r ssttma ri m s prres e ents s e ke sh kept ptt in a cu cupb pbooa oard oard d neeveer us used ed ed. d

Couldn Coul Co dn’t ’t b bru r sh her h hai airr coul co u dn n’t pla layy hair ha irdr dres essse sers ers rs didn di dn’tt lik ke to b bee to touc uche uc hed he d

06

touc to uchy uc hy

Beed ba bath th hin i g my ym mothe h r he soft so ft flesh lik ikee my own n accid sswe acid weeaatt maakkees my y eeye yess rru ye un. un.


07

Pheasants clear their throats in the fields,

Dannica Hertz

burnt red against the grey stubble, break the silence; the suit with a cold in a train carriage, first thing on a weekday morning. The compartment full of bitterness; here’s to jobs that pay the rent, here’s to the demise of the tax man. Every day this secret toast proposed along the rattling train.

Cock fights out in the fields.

Run over territories overlapped;

Hens peer for the choicest grain.

postmen house to house,

Inspectors of surface detail

cold calling wood to wood.

glide through the fields in grey and russet.

In the still evening when the wind drops,

Outwit foxes, dodge loan sharks.

wait for a reply, a returning challenge.

Self-dependant, alone

Strut; lawyers before the court,

in the lee of a boundary hedge.

plumage agleam at the thought of victory,

Wear power ties, proud;

thundering out a list of facts into the

the brightest boys in the wood

listening cube,

Win contracts, dapper females,

sergeant majors in the misted fields,

speckled and unassuming.

first thing on a weekday morning.

Shouting from the rooftops in hushed tones ‘Help me.’ Turning ideas of existence ‘Help me.’


Bananaman

08

David Owen Thei Th eirr fi firs r t mi m st stak akee

wass to wa t ref efus usee my m app p li pp l caati tion to choore reog o ra r ph tthe he ope peni ning ngg ceremon o y of thee Lon ndo d n Ol O ym mpi pics c.

I pr prop opos posed e to re repl plac acee fire rewo w rkss with wi th rea eams m of mu m lt ltii co c loour ured ed d han nki k es es aan nd liigh ghtt th he to torc rch rc h w th a d wi dov ove an ov and d saauccep epaan. an. A ma man n wo woul u d pu pull ll a rrab bbi b t from from a hatt.

Wh hittee-gl glov oved ed, th the he IO IOC C ar arri rive v d by m ve min inii-bu bus. s. ‘D ‘Do D yo you th hin nk ab abou outt de deat ath? th?’’ th they ey assk ked,, sccru utini nizi z ngg the b boo ooks kshe helf lf dus ustt on n the h ir finge gert r ip ips. s.

Tele Te levi visi sion ion n has a exi xile led d maagi g cciian ns, s expo ex pooseed mooun u te t ba b nks nk ks an nd sl slei e ght gh h off han nd. d.

I ex expl plai pl aine n d too the hem m how ho w I’ I’d d ne n veer ma make ke m my y foortun ne in oil il. When Wh en n I’m gon o e, h hys yste teri r caal It I al a ia ian n mo m ther th he s will wi ll not see e my fa face ce in bu burn rntt ci ciab abat atta taa b bre read ad. Th hei e r se second nd m mis ista take ke

waas to t p pryy intto my m sec eccreet id iden ntiityy as B Ban ananam man an, di d sp spen nsi sing n my haalf l -h heaart rted ed b bra rand nd of ffru ruit it-b based ed justi tice ce t at th a no on onee ca c re ress too remem e be b r. r


Little Colin Colin liked term-time. He liked the playground most of all. He especially liked the brightly coloured snakes and ladders that were spray painted in kaleidoscopic brilliance on the finely ground gravel. ‘Lots of cuts and scrapes,’ hissed a nasty voice in his head. Colin liked the summer time best. Grey trousers were replaced by grey shorts or those blue and white checked dresses with the shiny buttons. It meant lots of bare legs, skinned knees and tears. Colin liked the bushes on the other side of the playground. The green mesh fence had gaps big enough for him to peer through, his face pressed against the cold wire. He liked the bushes because no one could see what he was doing. No, when Colin was in the bushes by the playground, no one could see him – not the children, not the teachers, not the nosy neighbours. He was invisible. Colin didn’t like half-term. Colin was too conspicuous at the park, at the playground, at the cinema. Colin didn’t have the bushes to hide in. He often carried Haribo and plasters, ready to rush over and play doctor - a bumped head, a gravelscraped knee, a bruised bottom. Colin liked the internet. He liked the free websites with the flashing boxes that kept popping up like little nipples when he clicked the ‘x’ icon. Colin liked the children best. He liked watching their faces as they were touched by men like him. Colin liked to pretend he was one of them. Colin liked children. He liked young boys most of all. Their little bodies that resembled new-born puppies; all pink and hairless and squealing.

Katy King

09


{

Players

Fiona Boyle

10

Among the crowd in the interval a stranger scans the bar and his keen eyes catch mine as yours used to do; his hands are wrapped round a glass of whisky - honey coloured as the chair in your study where you sat smoking Player’s Number 10 ash falling from a black cigarette holder.

Smoke curled in the air like mist rising when we banged the sides of our saddles to keep the cub in the copse, as hounds bayed for its blood all those years ago.

I can hear your hard dry cough like the machine gun fire facing you in ‘44 that did for you in the end. Rat-tat-tat it went as you sat smoking too much, drinking too much turning the pages of PD James, page after page after page…


Pink

Blancmange Fay promised pink blancmange; standing on the street corner in her shabby fur coat ghosted with her mother’s perfume she grasped my wrist pulled me from my playmates.

Leaning towers of dirty plates tottered in Fay’s chipped sink. As I washed pans and dishes tears dripped from my eyes breaking the rainbows of grease on the water, while through the smeary window pane the children in the lane continued with their game.

Jacky Tarleton

11


Coil Pot ‘Those dreams in which we dream of clay are by turns struggle or defeat in the effort to create, form, deform, or mould’ - Gaston Bachelard, from Water and Dreams

A wooden peg in each hand pulls the wire taut, slides it smoothly through the slab of wet, grey cheese, dust and water, earth to earth.

Jacky Tarleton Each week he drapes a wet cloth over it carries it to the store room to wait. All day he thinks of the growing coil pot; clay worms slither through his dreams. Come Saturday he is first through the door,

Palms cupped round the cold leaden lump

a fist of sponge in grey water,

slam it down on the bench again and again, hurling it to the marble top.

fingers flamingo-coloured from rubbing gritty clay. Pot fired he spends hours with stoneware glazes -

He has peered over the kitchen table, watching his mother roll pastry for a pie. Now he rolls his own flat circle.

brushing on swirls of Crystal Rose, pouring inside glossy Dolomite, dripping Geoff Brown Red and Canada Green. He has spent all term

Both splayed palms rock to and fro forming long grey worms, coiling them round the base.

(while the others made masses of gee-gaws) building his creation, massive and round: his own Greek amphora,

One wet finger smoothes the cracks. He rolls and coils and strokes watching the pot rise from the bench.

for his mother. The Christmas class comes: his coil pot still warm in his hands, from the final firing, he turns in the doorway …


A man in his Y fronts squats down to pick up a cereal bowl as my train glides towards London Waterloo. My lasting memory will be of his arse. I do not like this time. I do not fit here. Bring back the chug, chug, chug, so that I can run across the platform and tell you that I love you. I love you in stockings and curls, in matt lipstick and clutch bags. Take away this Wonderbra and plastic shot glass, give me a Chardonnay and we will jive, not grind, into the night to the swing band. I will write to you every day with a black ink pen and you’ll reply by telegram. I do not like this time.

Rebecca Whitefoot


Goddisgoode ‘…in Chaucer’s England [it was] one of the names for yeast ‘bicause it cometh of the grete grace of God’.’ Elizabeth David, English Bread and Yeast Cookery

The flour is soft as cashmere between my fingers as I crimp in the salt and measure twoand-a-half teaspoons of grey-cream pellets,

imagining the controversy perched in each grain as the first crackings of a fault line running down the text, across London, between us.

Yet I cannot help but rejoice at the sight of the inflated tea towel, the smell of soured air condensing in fragrant lumps about the house,

and the final instant when several flakes of butter yield, slipping into the spaces puffed there by hundreds of last, yeasty breaths!

Jemima Lewis

14


‘He turned his bed upside down yesterday…’

4 15

… his mother’s voice swept out in a sigh. ‘Alright love, I’ll be home tomorrow.’ Dad sounded far off, a tiny man in a bucket. He heard the click as the phone docked.

Back in his bedroom he surveyed the ship. The bed was on its side (not upside down like she’d said), beach towels were draped over three dining room chairs,

festooned with ivy, the closest thing he’d found to seaweed. The floor inside the captain’s quarters was strewn with gold a jewellery box spilled its treasure.

It had been the perfect place to bring Lucy, her nimble fingers rippling pinkly like the fronds of a sea anemone, sending delicious shivers up and down his legs.

Jemima Lewis


Thackray vs. Thackray

Jemima Lewis

first on court our breath is a fine spray in the freezing air slapping my thighs red as we warm up to the metronomic pop of the ball against tightened strings going tic - toc

-

tic

-

toc

-

tic

till I’m the one who fires it out of play and even then he pings it back chasing down every ball like our yellow dog careering into the river after another wayward throw that should’ve been left to drown

halfway through we stop by the umpire’s chair and I gulp icy lumps of water ignoring him as he shows me how to carve the air in perfect s-shapes the floodlight dancing lambent in a shock of dandelion hair

then in the final rally I play a backhand slice that’s dropping short he charges to the net and stays crouching poised to volley as his lower abdomen flexes up and down the way a wasp prepares to sting not expecting my topspin forehand which he turns to see just skim the line and back to me with both arms stretching high in joy his racket clattering to the floor as if nothing could have pleased him more

16

in the car going home I can hardly eat the bacon sandwich trembling in my hands


Perspective Mel Morton Her room was dark, but it was not dark enough. Shadows flickered upon white emulsion walls. A streak of sunlight had evaded the blackout curtains and she was powerless against this glimmer of light. Her day was in motion; it could not be stopped. One. And two. And three. And four. She rubbed gloved fingers against her drooping eyes and glanced around at the narrow bed, the washbasin, the worn sofa, alert to their presence. And five. Ignore them. This was what they wanted. And six. Her chest tightened as if an anaconda had coiled its length around her body, trying to extract all remaining life from its prey. Her breath came in short, rasping gasps against the screeching silence. And seven… seven. And… eight. Air battled to reach her lungs, stinging as it inched through her bronchial passages. If only, if only she could have stood and moved across to the window to straighten the heavy black material when the sun rose earlier. But it had not been possible. Far too risky being so close to the light. And nine. The shadows had loitered, biding their time. Now they could smell her weakening; could taste her fear. And ten. What harm if she looked for a few seconds; checked just once? It would calm her. No, too dangerous. And eleven. And twelve. What if she… No. Dr Entwistle said last Friday she must not give in. ‘Recovery will take time, Isabelle and you need to fight the panic attacks.’ He didn’t know what he was asking her to do. Dr Entwistle did not understand the power, the devious ways of the shadows. No one could. Andrew certainly had not and they had been married for twenty years. In that time he had never understood them or even believed they existed. In the end, he had simply divorced her and married someone else.

17


‘How,’ she’d asked, adjusting dark shades to sit high upon the bridge of her nose, ‘How am I supposed to fight them?’ And thirteen. The anaconda loosened its grip a fraction and she inhaled stale air from the room. It rushed to her head, leaving her as dizzy as if she’d downed too much champagne. Not that she’d had a drink for some time; she rarely went out. The risks now were too high to contemplate. The sun was so powerful, what with climate changes, and everyone’s skin showing the damaging effects. Blemishes and moles all over the place, and people taking silly chances with their own lives, wearing t-shirts and shorts, summer dresses with no backs to them. Builders who worked outside, wearing no protection at all. Each week, she struggled to attend her appointment with Dr Entwistle, whose practice was only six minutes and eighteen seconds from her bedsit when you walked briskly; a total of 1,136 steps, if you counted. Isabelle glanced at the alarm clock on the mantelpiece. In seventeen minutes it would be time for the next section of her day. In the meantime, there were seventeen minutes to get through… And fourteen. And fifteen. And sixteen. Her eyelids wilted. And seventeen. Seventeen had been her age when she first met Andrew. The shadows were mere background murmurs then. He’d been at the beach with friends and he teased her for being dressed in so many layers of clothes, sitting beneath an umbrella on the sunniest bank holiday of the year. He’d worn navy trunks, his shoulders red with sunburn and splattered with freckles; far too many to count. And eighteen. And nineteen. And twenty. And twenty-one. And twenty-two. They married and she began to count them, memorizing the decorative patterns on his skin. Soon she began to hate them, to fear them, believing she could see them change and develop beyond her control. ‘Of course, it’s foolish to believe we ever control such matters,’ Dr Entwistle had told her during their initial appointment. But she could, she did; she had to. Skin should be clear, and smooth and pure, and safe. And twenty-three. The appointment had been her last hope of rescuing her marriage. ‘Too little, too late,’ Andrew had said. He had moved in with his new fiancée and she had rented this room. Still, even now she could draw from memory the map of his skin; his scars, his moles, his freckles and yet… yet, she could no longer remember how his face transformed when he smiled. And twenty-four. The urge to inspect her body was increasing. Six minutes remained. When the alarm finally went off she would have one minute to collect her sunglasses from the plant stand beside the door, place them on, count to twenty and then it would be time to… Isabelle jumped, startled by the loud bang upon her door. Her heart began to thump. Her head spun, vision blurring when she leaned forward to glance at the clock. No, she wasn’t mistaken, she wasn’t. Still over five minutes to go. Why had someone banged on her door in that way? It couldn’t be Beryl; she knew to tap once, and lightly. It was bad news. It had to be. Bad, bad news. She rocked back and forth on the sofa. Pressure was building in her head. It felt as if her brain was being compressed in a vice, tighter and tighter and tighter… The knock came again. ‘Hello?’ It was a man’s voice. ‘Hello?’ he repeated. The shadows were playing tricks on her. No one knocked on her door. There was a sign which clearly requested that no one, NO ONE touch her door under any circumstance.

18


19

‘Isabelle?’ The man knew her name. This was not in her schedule. Her day was drifting from its carefully managed segments of time and that meant, that meant anything could happen. ‘Isabelle?’ the man’s voice continued. ‘I understand you don’t know me, and that you don’t accept visitors. Only Beryl sent me. I’m Simon, her son. She may have mentioned me?’ Had Beryl mentioned Simon? She couldn’t be sure. Her mind wandered when Beryl spoke. Isabelle took another look at her alarm clock. Two minutes to go until Beryl knocked to deliver her daily shopping and jug of fresh water from the kitchen. That meant in fifteen minutes she would be allowed her morning cup of tea. ‘Can you hear me?’ She rocked back and forth. ‘You’re early,’ she said. ‘Beryl comes at 10.30.’ ‘That’s what my watch says, 10.30 on the dot,’ Simon told her. ‘It’s why I knocked when I did.’ She shook her head. ‘There’s one more minute,’ she called. Ripples of nausea were coursing up from her stomach. She was going to be sick. And twenty-five. And twenty-six. And twenty-seven. ‘Isabelle, what should I do?’ ‘Knock again,’ she said. ‘Knock again.’ ‘Now?’ ‘No, not now! In forty-five seconds.’ And twenty-eight. And twenty-nine. And thirty. The alarm clock buzzed and Simon rapped his knuckles against her door once again. She rested back in the chair, closing her eyes. She was safe. It was time to stand, to move. Her legs wobbled beneath the weight of her body as she shuffled towards the door, snatched her shades, put them on and began to count. Only when she grasped the handle did she remember that Beryl would not be waiting on the other side. ‘Is there a problem?’ asked Simon eventually. ‘You’re not Beryl,’ she said. ‘No.’ ‘You… you’re not in my schedule.’ ‘I’m sorry about that, but Mum insisted I come instead of her. She fell yesterday afternoon, she’s sprained her ankle.’ No Beryl… ‘Mum wasn’t sure if you had anyone else to deliver...’ he faltered, ‘...well, your daily supplies.’ ‘But I don’t need anyone. Beryl comes.’ ‘The trouble is she won’t be able to, not for a few days.’ Isabelle frowned. ‘She has to. Beryl always comes.’ She turned, resting her back against the door, gradually allowing the rubbery muscles of her legs to give way so that she slid down into a sitting position on the floor. Beryl was always there when she needed her. She had taken care of her since she and Andrew were married, after they advertised for a housekeeper when the panic attacks began to overshadow her life. After the divorce she’d continued to come each morning at the same time without fail. ‘I don’t want to speak out of turn,’ Simon continued, ‘or distress you further.’ He coughed and waited a few seconds. ‘Only my brother and I are concerned about Mum. She’s getting on you know, and we worry it’s too much for her, taking two buses to get over to this side of


town each day.’ Isabelle rested her head upon her knees, aware of her heartbeat reverberating through her chest. She put two fingers to her neck to check her pulse. It was racing. Sweat bubbled up across her forehead. Why couldn’t he stop talking and go so that she could open the door, collect her shopping and get on with her day? And thirty-one. And thirty-two. And thirty-three. And thirty-four. And thirty-five. And… ‘She doesn’t like to mention it herself but she’s really ready to retire.’ The anaconda slithered towards her again and wound its way around her body, squeezing out any remaining breath. Her toes tingled, then her shins and her thighs, then the tingling pressure moved up through her stomach. She gasped for air, choking on the saliva that hit the back of her mouth. ‘Are you okay in there?’ Simon called. ‘Go,’ she panted. ‘What about your food and water?’ ‘Just…’ she wheezed, ‘just go.’ And… and thirty-five. And… ‘Can I call anyone? Your doctor?’ Thirty-six. It felt as if she was no longer in her own body but floating high above it. ‘Please,’ she said. andthirty-seven.andthirty-seven.andthirty-seven.andthirty-seven.andthirty-sevenand… ‘I’ll leave you then,’ said Simon, his footsteps eventually fading in to the distance. Isabelle’s legs were numb. She lay paralyzed on the floor. She was dying. Would die here, alone. She closed her eyes, allowing herself to drift downwards, surrendering herself to the shadows who cradled her within the icy warmth of their embrace, whispering to her all the while. Tears came. Years ago, she had lain on the floor with her sister, Maria. She had cried then, too; small, stifled sobs against the sound of her parents arguing in the next room. She could hear the thump of her father’s fist against the door, the wall, and her mother. ‘They’ll divorce you know,’ Maria had said. She was four years older and knew everything about life. ‘Really?’ Isabelle hadn’t known what divorce was, but Maria’s serious face told her that it was not good. ‘We’ll probably be sent to an orphanage.’ ‘What’s that?’ A home for kids with no parents. It’ll be horrid. I bet we’ll be separated from each other.’ Worry wormed its way through her young body. Maria was everything to her; she relied on her. ‘I don’t want to go,’ she said, her face crumpling. ‘Sssh… we don’t want to disturb Mummy and Daddy…’ ‘I’m scared.’ ‘You’re always scared.’ They both rested their cheeks flat against the hessian carpet and stared at one another. ‘Tell me a story, Ma…’ Maria groaned. ‘Okay, I’ve a really good one for you today. It’s about a woman who died on the toilet.’ ‘Died?’ ‘Yeah, remember last week when I pretended to die, and lay on the floor and didn’t move for an hour? Well, that’s dying, only you never move,’ she leaned her face closer, ‘ever again.’

20


‘I don’t like this story.’ Isabelle had had a nightmare after Maria died, and Mummy had shouted at her for waking Daddy. ‘It’s a funny story, you will. This woman…’ ‘What woman?’ Maria pulled a face. ‘It’s not important. Just shut up and listen. This woman is really old, she’s sort of thirty or forty-ish and has like a million freckles all over her body and she goes to the bathroom one day, sits down on the toilet -’ She stopped and sat up. ‘What happens?’ ‘She scratches a big brown freckle on her shoulder as she pees and… she dies.’ Isabelle sat upright too and pulled her knees beneath her chin. ‘She pee’d and died?’ ‘Cos she touched her big, hairy freckle,’ said Maria, ‘and now she’s dead forever. No one found her for days and she was stuck on the toilet still scratching it, only her body had turned cold and hard.’ ‘So you die if you scratch freckles?’ ‘Yep.’ ‘What if you touch by accident?’ Maria grinned. ‘You still die.’ Isabelle had glanced down at her arms and legs, at her own freckles. ‘You’d better be careful, Izzie,’ Maria laughed. ‘Really careful.’

21

She did, she did have to be careful. But she hadn’t been. Dr Entwistle had tried to put a stop to it and she should never have trusted him. Her mouth was dry when she swallowed, her body heavy as she gingerly moved her legs to test them. They were working again, and she slowly eased herself on to her feet and ripped off her gloves, her hands clammy as air touched skin. Adrenaline coursed through her now and in a single swift tug she pulled her roll neck jumper over her head and crouched beside her bed. She reached beneath it and pulled out her box, her mahogany security box. She took the chain from her neck and pushed the key into the lock and opened it. With careful movements she lifted out her magnifying glass, her head torch, her scissors, tweezers and nail clippers and positioned them on the bed. She removed her notebook from the base of the box and flicked through pages and pages of patterns. Charts of people’s skin; her own throughout the years, then Andrew’s, Beryl’s, Dr Entwistle’s, Maria as a child and adult and other people who had wandered in and out of her life. Isabelle turned to a fresh sheet, wiped the magnifier with her jumper, pulled down her tracksuit bottoms and inch by inch inspected and measured each freckle, each blemish, scar and mole on her body, recording the details with a diagram sketched in her notebook. Two freckles would need to be removed today. An offering to the shadows. She dabbed on tea tree oil and punctured her forearm with the nail clippers, blood spurting as she gouged layers of skin to destroy the circular brown stain; ripping it apart, removing all trace. Blood trickled along her arm and she covered it with a plaster before she began the removal of a freckle from the top of her right thigh. She breathed deeply once the surgeries were complete, and smiled. Her body was clear and smooth, pure and safe once more. She felt drained but calm as she cleared away and got dressed again in her black roll neck jumper, tracksuit bottoms, socks and cotton gloves and tugged the sheets on the single bed from their tidy corners. And then for the first time in two weeks, three days and nineteen hours she flopped down into bed, body spent, and lay still beneath the covers.


Prologorithm Jaimé Henley ‘zero n the number 0; point on a scale of measurement from which the graduations commence; lowest point; nothing, nil; adj having no measureable quantity’ – Collins English Dictionary

Statistically, two-one plus x equals first. Statistically, four years minus y equals unparalleled acclaim.

Statistically, logistical logarithms multiplying algebraic algorithms equal alchemic locus alternatively equalling x’s aliquot.

Statistically, X marks the spot. Statistically, but specifically, x equals the formulaic equivalent to an equation’s unknown solution.

Therefore, statistically, if x equals unknown, and dividing unknown equals infinitum, I equal x.

Statistically, x is 0. Statistically, x is alone.

22


via Hermes Miilk M k aand nd d honey on ney ey w wer ere th er the giift the ftss Froom th th hee good dss tha hat lo love veed u uss Beefo B f re the h y di d sa s pp ppea peaarreed th throug rouggh th ro he rriift fts! s! Milk Mi lk and n hon oney weerre th the he giift fts Compa om mpa pare red re dw wiith th tthe he snoowd wdrift wdri rift ri fs O Dem Of met eter er’s er ’s diisstr sttrres ess. s. s. Milk Mi lk k aand nd d hon o ey yw wer eree the er th he ggiifts fts ft Frroom th thee go gods dss ttha hatt lo ha lov love veeed d uss.

Jayne Entwistle


4 2 Adjudication Beatrice Murphy

Characters: Teri, Heaven’s representative Andrew, Hell’s representative Setting: A meeting room between Heaven and Hell. A neutral looking, simple office. Andrew and Teri enter through two separate doors. Teri is flipping though a file, not looking up. Teri Okay, the ballerina, the shooters and Mr Shaw are no brainers (Looks up) but – Teri is stunned. Andrew (Pause) But…? Teri (Slowly) But I think this isn’t going to be a quick meeting. A silence. Andrew Why so surprised, Teri? Teri That’s not my name. Andrew Sorry, (Reading Teri’s nametag) Ms T. (Quickly eyes her up) Do they normally give you new names up there? Teri Not usually. But under the circumstances it seemed reasonable. Andrew (Lightly sarcastic) Really? Reasonable, you say? Teri (Trying to remain business-like) Your old life doesn’t matter, and neither does your mortal body. Andrew That’s the motto they feed you? (Smirks) That’s cute – Teri It’s to make the transition feel less difficult.


Andrew (Nearly chuckling) Jesus, Pussycat. Teri Don’t say that! Andrew Sorry. I meant, for fuck’s sake, Pussycat. I know how sensitive you winged messengers can get. Teri I meant the old pet name. Andrew That’s what I used to call you... Didn’t you like it, Puss Puss? Teri Maybe we should get back to business. Andrew Maybe we should. (Short pause) Still the little hard worker…You know, Puss Puss, if this was any other time, I’d – Teri (Annoyed) Shall we discuss the fates of these new arrivals or not? Andrew Ooooo. Feisty little Pussycat… (Grins) Okay… I want two of the shooters and the ballerina. Teri She has a good record – Andrew She spent all her time lying and vomiting, she deserves a trip to Hell. Teri But she begged for forgiveness, regardless of her lapses of judgement. Andrew And I guess you’d never utter a prayer, near the end, just to save your soul, Puss Puss? Teri That isn’t the point. She has a right to a place with us, Andrew, whether you like it or not. Andrew nods slightly in disgusted resignation. Teri signs a page then turns to the next. Teri (Pause) Why not all the shooters? Why just the two? Andrew The third one was forced. Sure he didn’t like his classmates but he didn’t walk into school with the intent to gun them down. (Beat) I’m not behind this decision, by the way; it comes from the Big Guy. The boy’s heart wasn’t in it. Teri All three of them belong in Hell and you know it. They took lives. Their mortal bodies being cut down just isn’t enough. Andrew Not happening. The third boy belongs in Heaven with Grandma, and the Big Guy wants it that way. He loathes taking the ones you people toss at Him all the time. The kid couldn’t help what happened; he didn’t have a choice, it was either kill or be killed. He hasn’t a place down below. (Long pause) You used to love it when I went down below –

25

Teri Stop it. Andrew You used to itch for it –


Teri I’m not talking about this. (Pause, tries to write) It was different. Andrew No, it wasn’t. Teri (Growing frustrated) Yes it was! You changed after the baby was born. Andrew And you started seeing what’s his name – Teri We only worked together, that’s all! Andrew (Pretending to wonder) But what was his name, though? (No reply) Oh, come on, Pussycat, you know it. The guy you used to work with, what’s his name? Teri (Pause, sighs quietly) Chuck. Andrew Yeah, Chuck. He’d give you rides home in his banged up Chevy, didn’t he? (Short pause) You know…it wasn’t that far a walk from the shelter…It would have been – what? Ten, fifteen minutes? But it always took you twenty to drive. Teri He was just a work friend. Andrew Bullshit! You were – Teri (Frantic) Okay, alright! (Pause, trying to regain business-like composure) I’ll take the third boy but the other two are coming nowhere near Heaven. Andrew Deal. As for Mr Shaw, yes, definitely a no brainer. I’ll take him off your hands. Teri Fine. Andrew Okay. Teri writes in the file then signs a page. Andrew (Pause) You know who he reminds me of? (No reply) Thomas. Teri (Bitterly, not looking up) Well, you and your boss will just have to contend with Mr Shaw for eternity, so enjoy it. Teri signs another three pages. Andrew (Pause) Were you – were you just being sarcastic? (No reply, smirks) Oh you sly little thing. Perhaps I should tell Peter you’re making inappropriate comments and that you might be compromised… Teri looks up and stares at Andrew. Andrew (Smugly) I see… A silence.

26


Teri finishes writing then quietly continues looking through the file. Andrew You hear that Ted Bundy’s trying to appeal again? Teri If I may remind you, we’re not here to talk, we’re here to mediate. Andrew Sorry. Forgot my place. Excuse me. (Pause) Just thought I could give you a little gossip, that’s all. Teri I already heard. Thank you. Andrew Fine, fine. Let’s carry on with the mediation, like you said… Teri suddenly stops at a page. Teri (Pause, looks up at Andrew) You can’t be serious? Andrew Oh believe me Pussycat, I am. Deadly serious. Teri looks down at the page to reconfirm what she has read then looks up again. Teri You want the child. Andrew Absolutely. Yes I do. The little slut needs to learn her lesson. Teri She’s barely ten years old. Her death – Andrew (Slams his hand down) Fuck that! She knew exactly what she was doing. Teri But her little body – Andrew (Continuing for Teri, bored) Was flayed into several pieces then he ate her. Yes, I’ve read the file and studied the footage, Teri. Teri He raped her before he killed her, Andrew! He raped that poor little girl until her – Andrew You and your empathy, Jesus! (Pause) You know, I’ve heard some things about you, Pussycat, here and there…but now I’m thinking, maybe it’s all a load of bull. Maybe Hermit Paul was wrong, maybe you’re not so good at this…but then I hear Paul’s an accurate kinda’ guy so I don’t know. What do you think, Puss Puss? Do you think maybe Hermit Paul was just a little wrong about you? (No reply, long pause) Oh come on…You thought I was being serious? I was pulling your chain, Pussycat. Hermit Paul didn’t say anything about you. He talks up a storm these days but never about anything worthwhile. Teri looks slightly relieved.

27

Andrew (Gloating, very pleased with himself) Now see, this is interesting. I just simply imply I know things about you, and as soon as I open my mouth, you’re spooked. (Short pause) Oh dear… has Teri got a little dirt she doesn’t want Peter and Co to see? Teri (Suddenly defensive) You’re not taking the girl, Andrew.


Andrew Oh, I’m taking her, Puss Puss. I’m taking her, that’s a sure thing. Unless you have something you can save her with… Teri It doesn’t matter what dirt you have on her, you’re not taking her. Andrew What about the dirt on you, Pussycat? Teri Andrew, get back to it. Quit deflecting. Let’s talk business – Andrew No! (Beat) Actually, not now, Pussycat. We’re going to talk about you. (Pause, smells) You still smell of my blood, you know. Teri Andrew – Andrew No, Pussycat. No more talking from you. You know the rules. Teri (Trying to exert some strength) All your rules don’t apply here. Andrew Like hell they don’t! (Closing in on Teri as he speaks) Look at you, always feeling and never thinking straight. That was why I couldn’t let you get away with your sneaking around. Coming home from work with your friend Chuck; sitting in his Chevy for a while before you came in the house. Would you do it in our driveway or would you do it as he drove you home? Teri holds his gaze, not moving. Andrew (Short pause) I’d watch you with him. He was so affectionate; there was only one reason why he would be…You’d kiss our son with that mouth. (Short pause) But now… you look so proper. All dressed up in those nice clothes but still the dirty little whore I was married to. (Beat, almost towering over her) And I bet the Big Boss above knew all about it, didn’t He? Didn’t He, Teri – Teri It’s nice to be in Heaven. You don’t know what you’re missing. Andrew raises his arm to hit her but freezes. Slowly, he lowers his arm and steps back, still staring at Teri. Andrew Save her little soul then, Pussycat. What do you know that’s good enough to keep me from burning her right now? Teri (Beat) Her mother didn’t warn her about the two paths in the forest; it was down to chance she picked the wrong one. You can’t condemn her for not being told about the world’s obvious dangers. Andrew snorts. Teri There were no Bibles, and even if there were, there was no one to teach or read it to her. Andrew We’re not here to judge her on her illiteracy and lack of education, Pussycat.

28


Teri No. (Beat) Even so, she was raised to be good. Her family instilled her with basic principles and taught her to pray – Andrew But that rule can be applied to heathens like me, Pussycat, who didn’t believe in God or His word but instead believed in nothing or something else. Teri She’s innocent. Andrew She wasn’t christened. She’s known sin since she was four. Teri But how do you know if she understood it? Andrew If she was taught the non-orthodox way to live a good life, then she was taught morals. In which case, she must have known it was wrong. She must have understood what she saw because of what she did afterwards. Teri God is forgiving of those in darkness. There was no way for her or her family to change things; she didn’t bring her ignorance on herself. How could she live up to every expectation when she wasn’t aware of them? Andrew For a lawyer you don’t seem to fit the role. Teri I’m not a lawyer. It’s just my job to arbitrate and negotiate; I sort and account for all the evidence. And I’ve come to accept that even though people are flawed, they’re also redeemable, and capable of innocence and goodness. Andrew You’re clawing on sand, Puss Puss. Teri I’m just simply trying to say – Andrew You’re not being objective. Teri (Frustrated) If you would just let me – Andrew You know, the Boss got really interested when I mentioned you. Teri (Horrified) What?! Andrew He asked a lot about you… So I told Him how you dispatched me a few months ago. He liked how you sounded, Pussycat…He asked me to come up and give you a look over, see if perhaps you changed. (Smirks) Not really. (Beat) Must say…I was just a little tearful when I saw you come in. You’re still looking good…Stunning, actually. Still deadly, as ever. Teri Did you plan this? Andrew Pussycat! You should know by now that Satan works in mysterious ways.

29

Teri is finding it difficult to disguise her emotions. Andrew You know what? He’s probably watching us right now. They say they don’t watch


what goes on in here but I reckon they do, just in case someone does something bad and Peter needs to cover his back. Teri Peter would never! He wouldn’t! Andrew Oh, he does. Teri (Desperate) No! He isn’t like that! He’s kind and honest and – you would know, you met him. Andrew He refused to even see me, Teri…After you spoke to him, Peter had me sit in this room for months, waiting for my judgement. I wasn’t even given a proper meeting. So I waited around, and waited, and I went a little crazy. Then finally a note slipped out from under the door. And it said, due to the circumstances, my final fate was to burn… (Growing angry) I had to burn just because I’d raised my hand to teach you not to cross me. Teri (Desperately defensive) But you had no right. Andrew (Angry) I had to teach you your place! It was up to me to make you learn to obey the rules! I had to make you learn to not be a cheating, lying sack. I had to make sure you didn’t shame us… (Growing calmer) But you didn’t learn. You never learned. You just decided to keep crossing me. So when you called home to say you’d be late, I knew there was no other way to make you change. I force fed Thomas the bleach and held him down, and after a while, his little body stopped squirming. (Pause, taking his time) I could hear you after you got home. I kept quiet, lying on the couch, waiting for you to come to your senses but when you came downstairs, you just went and stood over by the desk…Then you got out – (Remembers) it was a letter opener – and you came running in with it and you stabbed me. You just stabbed me right in the neck, over and over again, and you were screaming “Learn your lesson. Learn your lesson”. And my blood was going everywhere, it was all over you and eventually you stopped and just stood over me, shaking. Then you went and got out my hand gun. You were crying so hard, I could hear Hell roaring through my head. (Beat) Then you put it in your mouth, and pulled the trigger. By now, Teri is crying with her face in her hands. Andrew (Pause) So innocent, Teri. Teri utters a muffled whimper in response. Andrew How can an innocent little bitch like you judge all these people everyday? Teri continues crying. Andrew (Short pause, with derision) Did you actually think that Peter offering you this job was his way of giving you more time to clean yourself up before you got to meet God? (Chuckles to himself for a while) I’m sorry to rain on your parade, Puss Puss, but that’s just not how it works. You can’t just wipe away what you did from God. He’s not stupid, Pussycat. Teri looks down at her hands that are now covered in blood. Andrew (Smirking) But then you thought you had every right to kill me, didn’t you? You

30


couldn’t even wait for God to do His job; you just had to do it yourself. (Pause) But why kill yourself, Puss Puss? (Short pause) It wasn’t out of remorse, was it…?! Oh Pussycat – Teri (Gasping) Stop. (Short pause) What is this…? Andrew (Beat) You really don’t know, do you? (Pause) You remember when you met Peter and he offered you this job? It was a test to see if you were Heaven material, Pussycat…But you failed because you took the job. You proved yourself not humble or modest. (Matter of fact) Think about it…You’re mortal, damaged goods and you’re offered a job that’s meant to be done by a saint. You should’ve known you’re not on par with the Divine…But you did see yourself that way…so Peter thought he’d test you again; he thought that during the time you did this job of judging others, you would come to judge yourself and you would repent so you would be one step closer to entering Heaven someday. Teri (Long pause) You mean…I never got into Heaven? Andrew Do you remember passing through a nice set of gates? A silence. Realisation and anguish dawn on Teri’s face. Teri (Pause) Then what’s going on? Why are you here? Andrew (Rolls his eyes, casually) You’re in Purgatory. (Short pause) And I’m…I’m just up here from the bowels of Hell to deliver you your message from Peter (Beat) and to say “Hi”. Teri (Beat) I’m being judged? Andrew Afraid so. Teri But – but I – Andrew You made choices God and His servants can’t condone! You murdered me out of revenge then afterwards regretted it! (Beat) And you thought you could replace Peter; you thought that by taking the job you’d become as respectable and great as he was. It doesn’t work that way. It never will, but the fact you tried anyway has made your fate easy – Teri (Losing control over her emotions) But it’s not fair! IT’S NOT FAIR! You killed my son, you beat me close to death and I’m going to Hell for killing you? Andrew (Short pause, smirks then casually) Tough shit. (Pulls out a folded sheet of paper from an inside pocket and tosses it at Teri) There you go. (Walks over to the door he entered by, turns back to Teri and gives her a curled lip smile) I’ll be seeing you, Puss Puss.

31

Andrew turns and exits out the door. Teri unfolds the paper and looks at it. She turns it over and then over again, searching frantically for any writing that may be on it. When she realises that the paper is empty, she is unsure whether to be relieved or stunned. Gradually she puts the paper down and smoothes it out. She looks off towards the door she came onstage through then towards the door Andrew left by. After a long pause, she looks back at the paper, sighs deeply then scrunches it up with one hand. Then, gradually, she walks towards the door Andrew used and exits through it, pulling the door closed behind her.


Moving House One day, in the middle of the afternoon A house decided to get up on concrete legs And wander down the road, Much to the surprise of the occupants. The children ran to the windows, enjoying the ride While the mother fretted over the eggs in the kitchen. The garden, sad on losing its friend, Took its revenge on the family cabbages Which had been planted on its face. The other houses, Seeing this blatant disregard for house rules, Tutted disapprovingly And stayed put. Especially the terraces, who hugged their neighbours, Never wanting to be moved.

Jon Gander

32


}

Elements Jon Gander

The Elements are dancing at the table. Hydrogen and Oxygen gang up on Lithium; he starts fizzing along. ‘Where’s Iron?’ Copper whines. ‘At the Magnet,’ whispers Arsenic sneakily from a corner. Magnets are the exclusive nightclubs of the metal world. Mercury doesn’t mind, he’s way too cool. Titanium just waits outside to cave Cobalt’s head in. The gases are trying to put a stop to this. Well, only the noble ones. The papers are lined with stories about Carbon, who’s made the transformation from coal to diamond. ‘Bloody nouveau riche,’ Gold retorts. Silver nods along.


Knife Birth Joy Allen

The factory where the abstraction is sold, She is the glitter of the bare gore-ruby, Rings of curled bacon slip away from it, Her face swells into a blood balloon.

Disinfectant prospers, its dominance Contaminates the tongue, the nose. Her drip is filled with white emulsion, It paints her organs to match the dĂŠcor.

Beds filled with meat roses, Their petals in the incinerator, They are living art, divine patchworks Their bones snapped into ivory sculptures.

She cries when they give her the mirror, Because her sickness is so beautiful.

34


4

Room Mates Sharon Wigley

I knew I should never have had that last drink. In fact I shouldn’t have had a drink at all as I was driving but it’s too late now and I can’t turn the clock back, though god knows I wish I could. Andy and I were singing. I only lost my concentration for a moment. Then it was over. Total darkness. Chaos everywhere. Noise, lights, mutterings, whisperings, mumblings, shoutings. I turned my head to look at Andy. He was covered in blood. A girl in a yellow dress pulled me away, urging me to follow her. I wondered why she wasn’t wearing something warmer. I tried to look back at Andy again. ‘No.’ She was adamant and pulled me further away. I heard someone mutter ‘We can’t do anything for that one mate.’ Surely he was wrong? Our first term at uni together, getting our A level results, secondary school, primary school, reception class, playgroup. Andy and I went back a long way. Best mates for as long as I can remember. I felt a rising sense of panic and wrenched myself free. It was all my fault. Without knowing where I was going I stumbled blindly into the night. It may have been hours later or it may have been days. I woke up back in the flat Andy and I had shared with no memory of how I had got there. All I could remember was my last glimpse of Andy. A sick fear began to creep through me. I remembered the party, the drink. I wondered if the police were looking for me. There was no sign of them having been to the flat. How could I face Andy’s parents? How could I face anyone? I sat down. My head began to spin. Total darkness. It was early morning when I awoke. Through the November mist, the horse chestnuts across the road pointed their arthritic fingers accusingly. A girl in a yellow dress waved to me. As I made my way to the kitchen I wondered why she wasn’t wearing something warmer.

Sitting at the table I tried to contemplate tea and toast but they seemed irrelevant. A huge knot was forming in the pit of my stomach. Then without warning the sobbing started; it was coming from Andy’s room. Someone must have come into the flat while I was asleep. Should I face them or should I hide? I slipped back into my room and slid into the old wardrobe, leaving the door slightly ajar. No one came. My head began to spin. Total darkness. It was dark when I awoke. The rain spattered accusingly. A girl in a yellow dress stood under the street lamp looking up at me. As I made my way into the kitchen I wondered why she didn’t wear something warmer. Andy sat at the table with his head in his hands, sobbing. A prickling sensation swept over my skin. I wanted to throw up. Best mates for as long as I can remember, trying to be best mates forever. The days drifted by. Sometimes Andy would be there and sometimes he wouldn’t. Sometimes crying, sometimes staring sadly out of the window, never aware that I could see him. Sometimes I would be awake and sometimes I would slip back into that total darkness. And so it continued. We shared this strange existence, Andy with his sorrow and me with my guilt. And one day I reached my hand out to touch him. My head began to spin. It was mid morning when I awoke. The distant traffic hummed accusingly. A girl in a yellow dress motioned anxiously to me. As I made my way into the kitchen I wondered why she didn’t wear something warmer. My mother sat at the table with her head in her hands, sobbing. A prickling sensation swept over my skin. I reached my hand out to touch her. She shivered slightly. Andy handed her a cup of coffee. Outside the girl in the yellow dress was holding out both hands to me and this time I followed.


Sleep in bottle form dished out with thimbles of water swallow their diagnosis listen

lamotrigine

to the sound

open wide

of sobriety

reveal

in the next room

the tears the

CJ vomits out

blood the scars

images of rape

a product

electric shocks

of psychosis you

eat away at

don’t exist

memory replaced

but in their

with effexor

mania flirting

quetiapine

with the edge free

Pills Katy King

fall into cat a to ni a

36


Today My Watch Strap Snapped

Matt Cook

Remember the watch I bought on our first date? It was 5:15pm as we left the shopping centre, 10:16pm when I sent a text message goodnight with a kiss on the end. It ticked in perfect rhythm with every stair we climbed because you were afraid of lifts. It took four years to get to the top And I don’t like heights. But the view was magnificent.

It was 9:37am when you got out of my bed for the last time. The watch didn’t lose a second on those nights I couldn’t sleep. I’m glad it didn’t show the date; I didn’t sleep for a long time. Now, I’m dreaming by 11:42pm.

Today your flight landed at 4:07am and you were met in arrivals by another man. My new watch will come by 12:00pm tomorrow or I don’t have to pay the postage.

37


Born Outside Belfast: I ‘What does your father do, you o ng ou n Engglish boy o ?’ ‘D Delivery drriver.’ (I try to loo o k co coy. y) Eaach morning n he loooks out, t und nderr the car T mak To ke su ure that no n body y dies.

Connor or curls it and d it hits a bluee van A d th An t e ground n is kick ked byy the yooun u g Leic i es e ter fan. Th he men n with just eyes e can’t find this iss str t eet Soo he caan’ n t wear a the h shi hiirt thi h s yearr. hi

‘Young English h boy. Wh W att did i your grrandd an nddad do?’ ‘A dulll office c workeer. Cat a ho h lic to t o.’ He tells me each timee he gets back from th he pu pub Abou o t some thi h ngs th that I can’t let you kno n w. w

SAZ 41 4165: the new numb m er plate. ‘D Dad, why did you change it?’ ‘Don’t ask questionss, mate.’’

Michael Duffy


W en yyou opened th Wh he door I had d to laugh I looked lik ke that when I was in Belfast. Beard outt he h ree and longg hair. Lo L oked ed d like Le L nnon. H ve you heaard Ha r tha hat ne n w Be Beat atle tl s al album m yet?

I wa w s ma m d Mi M ck. I waas on nly y you o r ag a e. T ey Th y sho h utted d at us iin n th he st streets,, and d I, I fu fuck c in ck ingg sh hou uted ba b ck k. ‘Y ‘You ou u’rre a pa p dd d y’ y Th They h y tol o d me m . I saaid d too rig ight lit ittl tle boy. y

They e off ffer e ed dm mee a me meda d l, you da u know, Mick. M ntioon in Me i disspaattcche hes. s You ur mu mum’’s br b othe h r he Fram Fr amed am e thee phootoograp ph, h but u I did i n’t want n it. H re He r . It I ’ss the h letter from the chiief of st s aff.

W nt Wa n to se s e th he bu b lllett wou und d? Or O the tattoo? D you Do o wan a t an nothe herr be beer e beffore you u go g ?

Born Outside Belfast: II Michael Duffy


Are you coming home...? Jimmy Broomfield

I walked out into the night; it was, ironically, raining. Raining, the darkest, coldest most fucking miserable kind of rain you’ve ever known. The kind that rains only in Hollywood. The rain kept me awake, the night kept me entertained and I couldn’t tell you where I walked. I do know, however, that I was half-cut and half-asleep and I somehow ended up in some god awful coffee shop. It was the perfect 3am hole; part diner, part homeless shelter; it looked, acted and smelt like a caffeinated piss-stained park bench. I sit, I order, the largest coffee they sell; it comes out perfectly matching my mood, a bucket-of-bad-for-you, all grey black, lukewarm and unhappy. I don’t know whether to sip it, or cut blocks off it and polish the table. I start to think, to wallow in self pity. I know how it started; I know where it started, where the story unfolds. I don’t know their names. But I was named in a supermarket car park. At 3am. By post-it on the side of the basket. It’s a nice, warming sort of feeling, to live your life aware that you are someone else’s son they didn’t want. As a teenager, I got interested; searched around a bit, and from a few subsequent forms, I now know that my mother was ‘unemployed’ and that my father doesn’t even know I exist. Both of them had blue eyes, both had dark brown hair. My dad was 6’3, mom was 5’7. I evened out at 6’ flat. She was 17 at the time. These things are all I know about my real parents. That was 29 and a bit years ago and now I am, for some unknown reason, walking that same road I have walked for almost my entire life, the end of another ‘glorious’ relationship. She’s a sweet enough girl, but really, I can’t get comfortable. When it comes down to it, I can’t say I really believe in all that shit. I’ve been seeing her maybe two, two and a bit years, and all my stuff happens to be in her apartment. But hey, that’s my problem, and I know what they say: ‘when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.’ I make a right libation-fuelled fucking mess and then some. There’s a couple sitting across the room from me; she’s a looker, a true looker. 5’9 of red hair and spaghetti legs. 5’9 of eyelash, carnage and salvation. She is the perfect Spanish house (glorious architecture, but you certainly wouldn’t want to live in it for too long). She’s laughing at everything he says, in just that little way, the way that says ‘show me the money and I’m yours’. And I’m blissfully aware of what ‘transactions’ are taking place in this little coffee shop at this time of night. He’s awkward, gawky and nervous, like he’s about to leave his seat and either spontaneously combust or go crashing through the wall into the jewellers across the road. She catches me staring at her; it’s unsurprising, she must get it a thousand times a day. She smiles, says ‘Hi’, he turns and, in his nervous state, starts a conversation. It turns out to be the single most inane, boring conversation I have ever had. The more he talks, the more agitated I get. I don’t care about him, her, or his god-awful little life. I’m too tired, just far too tired for this shit. Just hurry up and get laid, buddy.


41 There’s a point in time, a finite stamp, where all the cheap women and endless cups of coffee in the world can make you fucking retch. I am suddenly aware that I am sitting here, nice and politely, smiling and lying through my teeth. Nothing could feel more agonizing, more strained, than the conversation we have with strangers at 4am. From coffee shop to nightclub the talk is hard, weary and vague. We’re acutely aware that the person we are talking to is awake because of some cocktail of drugs, alcohol or mental imbalance; it’s a fine line between conversation and all-out street fight. Nobody really gives two shits about you and your life. After the niceties, when everything that’s going to be said has been said, I look at my coffee, he looks at his woman and we carry on, avoiding eye contact. Eventually they settle into their little routine; he’s saying sweet nothings, she’s giggling attentively. The talk becomes a blur in the background and the guy serving - slim, bald, midforties but passing for a hundred and seven - pours me another cup of steaming shit and takes a walk into the back room. It doesn’t get any better than this. I take a look back at them, the two of them. Whatever the hell they are up to, it’s bizarre. They’ve swapped jobs now; he’s sitting, silent, smiling and laughing. It doesn’t matter how much or how hard I stare at these two. Whatever job she does, she’s damn good at it, because he’s not looking at me (can’t blame him) but neither is she. She’s staring straight at him, and she’s talking, and she’s smiling, and she’s laughing. And that’s when I start listening. Listening to what she’s really saying and I’m suddenly aware, I got this all wrong. There is something different about these two, something genuine. She’s telling him her life story. It starts off nice, little town, little suburb, picket fence. I’m paraphrasing, it’s bullshit. Then something happened, she moved out here with the same big dreams as every other teenage girl across the globe, she’d make movies and meet a man. He’d be big and strong and look like Gable, he’d dance her across the floor in a lovers’ waltz and for the rest of her life her heart would beat the same 3/4 time as that first song. He’d grow roses for her in their garden and every morning, he’d cut one off and give it to her. They’d have kids, three big strong boys, capable of achieving anything they wanted. They’d keep a house, the envy of all their friends, they’d have dogs, and drink wine, and live life the way it’s supposed to be lived. But now here she is, at 3am, with a stranger, drinking coffee and eating a slice of pie and he doesn’t look anything like Gable - shit, he couldn’t even pass for Gable in the dark. He stinks like shit half the time, he’s a drinker, a philanderer, an all-round asshole, and yet, that look in her eyes, he is totally hers. Seems like the gateway to his redemption is arched beneath her eyebrows. The sight of it makes me want to retch. I look down at my coffee and I feel so dejected. What were we fighting about? Why did I run? Why on earth am I sitting in a shitty assed coffee shop at 3am, spending time with the drunks? What am I so scared of? I look back up and they’re not there anymore. The couple, those two. They haven’t left, they didn’t walk, they didn’t move. They were never there. I down my last sip of boiled death, shout my thanks and leave. I walk back, back through the night, back through the rain, back through the dark. The sun is rising as I put the key in the door. I walk into the bedroom. She’s still there, she’s pissed at me, but I think we’ll work it out. My own, redheaded spaghetti-legged girl.


Aloft

}

Paul Barney

Aloft THERE ARE LOBSTERS

LO K O

The sky is full And they have

NO

WiNGs Catch


Uppi Up p ty pi yT Tup uppi pity pi ty Sir An ndr drew e L ew Llo looyd d Web ebbe berr I so mu uch en enjo jooye y d yoour ur Sttar a ligh g t Ex E pr presss. s

H sm He miled mile d when n he told me: Id deolo o oggiical, l, That Th at’s at ’ wha h t yo you n neeed ttoo be T hav To avee su ucc cces e s. es

Stephanie Kotara

43


{other tongues} j jackie your wet straw hair flat on your head and grey on your lip feet stuffed into navy booties tied with three velcro straps pulled tight-as-string-round-pork-joint toes twisting magnets together the first time we meet in this yellow-linoleum bright yellow room over lunch boxes curling smells of plastic and old sandwiches as you’re telling me your mum’s eighty this month and’s got a bad hip and i say ‘sorry’ and you say my pleasure now asking me how old’s mine and i tell you ‘fiftyone’ and your straw eyebrows spring up as you say ooooohhh…she don’t look it and my lips twitch because they’ve never met but it’s no joke apparently and later in the warm yellow swimming baths we deranged wind up toys bob round the whirlpool you glide past me blinking giant purple goggles shouting LIKE I ALWAYS SAY IF YOU CAN’T BEAT EM JOIN EM! but you’ve swum here for thirty years and now you’re sliding away from me in your wake the wreckage the confusion the derailment of the night service from thought central to phrase junction and these constant accidents of meaning because you’ve heard us trot out clichés racing so fast from the sense in our heads to its articulation that we miss the image on the way but you still want to be like us on our high speed trains yawning snoring through the journey not seeing the fields or the greener grass on the other side or the ponds where the bright crystals slide off a duck’s waxy back blindly past over hill dale cairn piled up stones left unturned by polycrates sleeping all the way there and out on the platform where we’re met with open arms relieved and understood which is all you really want just like the rest of us only there’s something wrong with the switch in your network a problem with the signal which sends you down the wrong track to the wrong station where no one on the platform recognises you so the next time over wordsearches biros cups of pale tea you turn to tell me all you need is love i don’t know where you’ve come from but decide simply to agree and you reply i’d say so thats what i’d say

44


45

Jemima Lewis

katherine we’re making lunch in front of the telly but you’d rather pick up bits of potato peel from off the carpet not the least bit interested in stirring you look at me with a rim of blue fluff round your pink lips scowling hard wriggling your other hand from out between my grip and the wooden spoon which i think is fair enough except when i come back from the loo the saucepan is upside down and corn beef hash is splodged all over the floor a grin spread across your face and i wonder to myself would you do that at eighteen months? as that’s how old the doctor says your mind is even though we celebrated your body’s twenty first year last week when you sat in your party dress in exactly the same spot hearing only la l-la la la la la l-la la la la la l-la la la la la ……. la l-la la la la because there aren’t any words in your head not even your own name knocks about inside the opalescent shell walls around your tiny broken brain but maybe instead there’s the howl of the wind and sea the ancient choric sounds of undersong beneath the surface of the learnt languages that the rest of us think we think in except we can hardly know for sure as no thought is ever the same once you’ve turned to look at it so i might very well spin round and see the words

projected in big letters onto the back of my head but that might just be my internal translation service kicking in at the last moment so i can never see if my thoughts are drafted first in english or mentalese or some other concentrated substance gloopy like pure meaning in the mind before it’s dissolved in full sentences diluted by pronouns and conjunctions in a kind of thick paint for creating mental images which must be what yours are made of unless you don’t think at all but simply smell and taste and feel like the time we were driving along in the car and i was crunching an apple steering with two fingers and squawking your favourite ballad between mouthfuls thinking you were being very quiet in the back there so at the traffic lights in the valley between two grey tower blocks i turned around expecting to see a sleeping marble effigy but instead your eyes set like two jet stones shone back at me unblinking as if i was staring into burning coals until i got so hot i had to prize my gaze away realising i’d never known love put so elementally which was something i thought about all the way home until in the driveway i turned again to find your pale face sound asleep this time like a drift of freshly fallen snow through which the word steps silently


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For further information on Vortex contact: Neil McCaw Faculty of Arts University of Winchester neil.mccaw@winchester.ac.uk

Copyright Š Vortex 2009 ISSN 1749-7191

vortex 2009 Edition

Profile for UoW Vortex

Vortex UoW 2009  

It has been a particularly lengthy job this year in whittling down the huge number of entries to what is a compact, beautifully formed editi...

Vortex UoW 2009  

It has been a particularly lengthy job this year in whittling down the huge number of entries to what is a compact, beautifully formed editi...

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