A Spot of Writing Magazine: Issue 4

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WESTON WRITERS' NIGHTS

A Spot of Writing Issue No. 4 | November 2021

Fiction | Poetry

Be the Change


Contents p5

Fight or Flight? - Roy Duffield

p5

esca(r)pe/ment - Roy Duffield

p6

When We Visit Burnham-on-Sea - Dr Charlotte Barnes

p7

Giants in the Sky - Alan Browning

p9

An Unexpected Gift - Elle Spellman

p 13

Breakthrough at the Two Day Seminar of Epistemological Disasters - Colin James

p 15

The Dryden Picture House - Anna Ross

p 18

R & D - Rachel & Doris - Marie Kritikos

p 21

An Escape - Heather Flamme

p 25

Have YOU Ever - Colin Taylor

p 26

Elemental - Colin Taylor

p 27

Reminiscent Reflections On ‘Our’ First Romantic (Part Spring, and Summer) Enveloped in Nature. - Ian Preston

p 29

A Night Out in Taunton - Sean Chard

p 31

Don - Jonathan Evans

p 34

Note on Contributors

© 2021 WESTON WRITERS’ NIGHTS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. PRINTED IN THE UK.


Editor’s Note From individual daily routines and the colour of leaves on the trees, to the latest headlines and current affairs, ‘the only thing that is constant is change’ as philosopher Heraclitus observed. This issue explores the famous adage, ‘be the change you wish to see in the world’ - a mantra which feels particularly apt at a time when there seems to be a new trend every day and stories of inequality and the climate crisis dominate many of our thoughts. The writers featured in this issue unpick the concept of change and all the emotions of grief, hope and joy that come along with it, prompting us to reflect on our own ideas of this human experience. What does it mean to experience change? How do we quantify it? And, in your everyday life, how might you be the change you wish to see? Editor: Jasmin Perry hello@westonwritersnights.co.uk


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Fight or Flight? Roy Duffield It’s last orders! To advance To join the fight Now Or hold your piece Forever. This is the final call For flight… 0H... Whatever. This is the last call For help. It’s time! At the bar.

esca(r)pe/ment Roy Duffield Stopped by every escarpment. Beaten by every thicket. Moved on by every storm. Forced to change course by every river.

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but still, never still


When We Visit Burnham-on-Sea, Or: Becoming the Person My Dog Believes I Am Dr Charlotte Barnes The tide times change every day but we always catch it. I set our walks to them. He doesn’t realise, I don’t think, only wags his tail and leaps at the sound of the lead. There are times when he’ll ask to be lifted, to peer over Burnham’s sea barrier, but the beach doesn’t mean to him what it did to me at his age. That’s not to say he doesn’t love it here, too. But he doesn’t love it for the escapism; the distance from home or the sea-air that fills lungs with fresh and grit at once. The meaning of the place has changed. Somewhere between childhood – with a parent one side and dead air the other – and adulthood – with a parent calling to check I’m okay in one ear; a dog’s lead at hand. On realising this, though, I note it’s much more likely to be me that’s changed. Because the seafront still stinks of hot dogs, and putting your tongue out means you’ll pull back candy floss as though the air has been licked by the sugar of it. But I’m an older woman now than my first crisis here – as a child – and my second – as a young adult – and my third, as… Crisis is a dramatic word for change, isn’t it? There are some things you can’t go around; only through. He reminds me of that when he butts his head against the back of my legs, mid-skid along the beach where he doesn’t belong (not at this time of the year, at least). The force taps my knees apart and he continues, despite the disruption; the change in trajectory. On days when change feels more like crisis, I like to use him as a benchmark for my behaviour. That’s not to say I’ll lap at every lamppost or beg a sausage every time we visit Weston pier. But I will walk and run and improve, take breaths when I can; rub salt in my wounds so I don’t spend a lifetime ignoring them only to do something decidedly stupid at the end of it all. I will change to be the person my dog believes I am. He and I will walk every beach and collapse midway up every hill; we will conquer the downs.

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Giants in the Sky Alan Browning There are giants in the sky today They have their eye on me today The fear is growing but I may not be right I feel them, I am here within their sight I am not scared, just filled to the brim with fear The shapes are now moving, they are merging, they are surging It’s me they are seeking It’s for me they are reaching My feet to the floor are rooted I accept my body will be looted My mouth opens wide But the scream within Never reaches the outside I look around Where I was is now a space Nothing left there to embrace I’m feeling strange My body has been rearranged Now I am floating high Now I am a giant in the sky

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An Unexpected Gift Elle Spellman I never knew how it happened. How I gained my strange new ability. It could have stemmed from anything that day. Mild food poisoning, perhaps? It might have been the soup I’d heated up at work. I’d watched the Tupperware container rotate in the old communal microwave as colleagues picked at their own sandwiches, silent. I questioned the longevity of the thick, sludge-like liquid that splashed into my faded bowl, scraping out the veg that stuck stubbornly to the bottom of the container. Was it off? I ate it anyway. It could have been the weather. The bright spring sunshine had taken an unexpected turn, as if it had suddenly changed its mind. By the time I left the office, longing to feel the warmth against my face, the brightness had given way to grey. Dark clouds hovered overhead, swift and overbearing, somewhat villainous in their takeover. Of course, I’d forgotten my umbrella. Or maybe, just maybe, it was the train. Commuters and backpacks and bicycles and students all jostled for space in the stuffy carriage, with its overpowering scent of sweat and old beer and cheese crisps. I concentrated on my phone, on the message I’d sent earlier. ‘I love you! X.’ Paul had yet to reply, but I knew what would come; the usual ‘x’. One kiss, no words. He rarely used them nowadays. I glanced through the carriage window, watching the same buildings I passed each day slow into focus, shoving my phone into my pocket in readiness for the oncoming swarm of passengers. As the train made its steady approach into Temple Meads, the carriage jolted unexpectedly. People staggered, grabbing at rails and bags and each other for safety. I stumbled, my body falling forwards until my head met the luggage rack with a sickening thump. I was fine. All was fine. Just a little bruise, nothing serious. It could have been any one of those things. But these things happened every week. They were normality. Routine. I never knew how it happened. All that mattered was that it did. * The next day, it became clear at the station that something was wrong. Different. The train door opened with a hiss, revealing the swell of eager passengers ready to board. I moved forward, momentarily lost in a sea of bodies and humidity. I picked my way through the people, heading down the steps and towards the exit, to find a woman blocking my path. She was young. Professional. Polished. Like me, twenty years ago, when the spark was still there. She was talking on the phone, her other hand clutching the handle of 9


a weekend suitcase, unaware of the people trying to step around her as she stood, oblivious. I don’t have time for this, I thought, glaring at the back of her head as she talked animatedly about an upcoming meeting and someone called Maria. All I wanted was to get home; there was stew in the slow cooker. Paul was on the late shift tomorrow. I had half a bottle of Merlot left. I wanted it to be a good night. Move, I thought angrily, wishing I had the courage to say it out loud. Just get out of my bloody way! The woman’s head spun round. Her eyes met mine. “I’m so sorry!” she said, cheeks flushed pink. Her eyes widened. “I didn’t know I was in the way.” She darted off, the little case rolling softly behind her. What a weird coincidence. * But it wasn’t. Inside the house, the air thick with the welcoming, homely scent of stew, I kicked off my shoes. Placed them between Paul’s and Anna’s, a perfect line in size order, smallest to largest. It made me think fondly of The Three Bears. Anna had outgrown that story now. Once again, Paul remained out of sight. Normality. I called up the stairs. My voice carried like a restless spirit along the landing and beneath the firmly-closed door of the spare-room-turned-study. “Paul?” No reply. I’d anticipated nothing more. This was a daily occurrence, a heady sensation of exhausted hope. I thought desperately of the wine and the stew, at the meal I thought we’d share, an evening of togetherness. Just once. Just this once. The staircase creaked as I made my way up. Standing before the study door, I concentrated on the image of Paul, and formed the words in my mind. Please come down, I thought. It sounded less desperate in my head. Please.We need to spend some time together. “Coming!” The door creaked open. Paul’s voice, unnaturally sprightly, rang through the hallway. He looked at me, his eyes bright and glassy, before thudding down the stairs with an enthusiasm I hadn’t seen in years. “I’ll get the table sorted!” Something had definitely changed. * I waited patiently, calmly, for my new power to leave, but it didn’t. Instead, it emerged like a butterfly, opening its wings to reveal its beauty.Yet I also saw its fragility; a power so useful, so rich, couldn’t possibly have been gifted to someone like me. So I used it wisely, carefully, in small doses, convinced that it would eventually ebb away to nothing. Or that if I reaped too many of its plentiful rewards, it would flutter its wings in retaliation, and leave me to land on someone new. It was never good to 10


be greedy. I still didn’t know what had made me this way so suddenly. Was I psychic? Was it something more? Was the power locked beneath the bruise left by the Great Western luggage rack, which had now faded to a soft pink? Of course, I didn’t tell anyone. Who would believe me if I did? I pictured myself in the retirement home one day. She’s at it again, they’d say, voices laden with amusement. She thinks she can control people with her mind. Nobody would believe me, would they? At work one morning, I considered telling. I peered over my monitor at my colleague Sara. Her eyes were glued to her screen as she heaped blueberries into a pot of instant porridge. The words were fully-formed and heavy in my mouth, desperate to roll out, make themselves heard. But I stopped them. I coaxed them back in with the thought of Sara’s tinkling laugh, at what she’d think, at what she’d say to the others in the kitchen. We’d never been close. Instead, I convinced Steve on the Finance desk to go out and get me a doughnut. One with pink icing and sprinkles. He placed it on my desk twenty minutes later with a wide-eyed smile, flustered and sweaty from the jog back, later bemused as to why he’d felt so compelled to do it. One thought, that’s all it took. I wasn’t going to tell. No - I was going to enjoy it. * I convinced my boss to give me a promotion. I’d not had a raise in six years, even though others rose quickly through the ranks. I sat in Mr Harper’s overly-warm office, shuffling nervously in the chair, fingers touching my white-gold wedding band. Moving it round and around, pushing it further and further up my finger, but never to the very top. I knew what I was doing was wrong, but I deserved it, didn’t I? I’d been patient, so patient, and I’d never asked, never had the confidence to. I still didn’t. So I aimed the words at him instead. Silent. I’m overworked. I do the jobs of three people. I am underappreciated. I thought hard, concentrated, aiming my mental words at his shiny forehead as if I could see them beaming through like bright, neon lights. I deserve this. I aimed those thoughts slowly at first, looking for reason in my deception, until I was firing off those reasons like bullets. My new contract was drawn up that very same day. * I stopped tantrums in their tracks with one thought; Anna no longer cried about staying up late or having to eat peas. I watched a man in a well-tailored suit stride past a homeless woman as if she meant nothing; I beamed an order into his mind, made him take the cash from his wallet, note after note. I cut queues in the coffee shop – the hour of solitude with a book and a mocha before collecting Anna from school was worth the trickery. I gave rude people their comeuppance. I watched a cyclist with no helmet stop as if he’d had a sudden epiphany before stepping off his 11


bike; I was making the world a better, safer place. I knew I could also do terrible things. The realisation didn’t escape me; I could convince someone to do anything. I teetered cautiously on the edge of rebellion, waves of temptation crashing against an otherwise calm surface. But I remembered that butterfly, my old self unfurling into something new and strangely wonderful. I didn’t want it to be taken away. I made a resolution: I would only take what I needed, what was rightfully mine. So why wasn’t I happy? * Paul. It had always been Paul. Out of everyone in the world, I hadn’t used my power on him. But I had to. Before it was too late. Quietly I entered the house. The floorboards creaked in the hallway. We still needed to get those fixed; we’d been putting it off for ages. Time. Money. All the things we didn’t have. Couldn’t have. Until now. We could have them all now. We could have the world. Paul was in his study. The faint hum of rock music softly emerged. I took a deep breath. Everything has a time limit. I knew that. My power could vanish as quickly as it arrived. I had to do this quickly. I padded towards the door. Knocked lightly. Pushed it open. “Paul?” He barely looked up from the screen. I watched him, saw that sandy hair that had started to recede, saw the hands on the keyboard as he worked, hands that had once reached eagerly for mine whenever they could. I saw the lines beneath his eyes as his gaze finally reached me. I admired the way time had treated him. As it had come for us, swiped at us, etched itself into our faces and made itself known, I had loved him even more. I looked at him as the sentence grew whole in my mind. Do you love me? Tell me the truth. Waiting, I studied his face, the features I’d known for nineteen years, as his eyes became glassy and his lips moved. Slowly, slowly, as if he was trying everything in his power to make them stop. “No,” he said finally, brightly. “I don’t think so.” With that I turned, out of one world and into another. A world where I could be free, and new. Different. Perhaps, I thought excitedly, as I bundled some of Anna’s clothes into a suitcase, this was meant to be. Maybe this gift had been meant for me after all.

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Breakthrough at the Two Day Seminar of Epistemological Disasters Colin James A number of crawling survivors. At least several, perhaps greater struggle to see around the fallen buildings. Admonishments are like crowns, they don’t protect your soon to be crushed head, so Fridays are a tough sell. As you try to run from the instinctual, your first rushed step always insist you talk it out, the mutt-mutt muttering of internal programming. Pertinently destroyed, you suddenly become aware of some steps leading down. At the bottom enough rubble has been cleared to make a right hand turn. In an adjoining room chairs are provided. A vented generator assures power. Fifteen people, you count twelve, are seated. The lecturer has turned on his laser pen. The screams from above may have blended into a barely discernible hum, the ferry to your worship having ignored the tide.

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The Dryden Picture House Anna Ross I stood behind the rusty construction fence feeling completely helpless. The whirr of drills and the low rumble as walls fell and rubble flew. It had finally happened, the old Dryden Picture House was being demolished. All those precious memories being torn away and I could do nothing but watch. I’d laughed in the Dryden, cried in the Dryden, gasped and grinned while sucking gobstoppers and loving every precious moment. It had been closed down for the better half of a year but only now, looking at the scaffolding and thick dust billowing up from the works, did it really hit home that I would never again walk through those doors and purchase a ticket. I felt beads of sweat on my forehead. It was summertime, the sun’s angry rays burning at my face. I wasn’t suited for hot climes and loved how picture houses were always cold. Usually I would have seen a dozen summer flicks by now but in fact I hadn’t been to any other picture houses recently. Somehow it felt disloyal to move on too fast. Objectively, I knew the Dryden was just stone and bricks and mortar, just chairs and large shiny screens. One of a great many others within driving distance.Yet, I felt no connection to those others. The Dryden had been on my bus route to school and I could still remember all the times I’d skived to watch movies, rather than listen to my teachers drone on about my wasted potential. Half my family had been employed there at some point or another, the Dryden was in my blood. I had worked there myself over the summers during my teenage years, serving as an usher. I had donned the stiff crimson and yellow suit working the matinée performance seven days a week. I recalled proudly marching through the aisles carrying with me a new air of authority, along with that heavy tray of buttered popcorn. “There you are,” said a familiar voice from behind me. “Your dad called me, he said you didn’t come back from work.You were supposed to be coming over for dinner.” I cringed, realising I had completely forgotten our arranged meetup. “Oh that, sorry Grandpa.” “No matter,” he said, following my previous line of sight. “I thought I might find you loitering here.” “Do you know what they’re planning to replace it with? A ‘Debenhams’,” I said, feeling a pang at the very title. “Just a place full of gawkers and posing half naked dummies staring lifelessly at whatever’s in front of them.” 15


“So, not all that different to before then,” Grandpa chuckled. I scowled. Maybe I wouldn’t be so bitter if I knew they were going to build something helpful to society in its place, like an emergency hospital or a state-of-theart video arcade. “It’s just that it was our picture house. We saw everything there. The Shining, Close Encounters, and Star Wars - do you remember? The queue went right down the street.” “Ah, those were the days,” he said with a nostalgic smile. “You do remember, then?” “Of course, lad. I worked at the Dryden for almost thirty years. Best work I ever had.” I frowned. “Then why aren’t you more upset? You were the senior projectionist for so long, you worked so hard and now that it’s closing down… You don’t seem to care.” When he’d broken the news to me near the end of last year I had expected him to be furious, to rant and rage the way he did about hippies or the decimal system. At the very least, I expected him to be indignant but he hadn’t seemed bothered at all. Did it really mean so little to him? He gave a barking laugh. “Is that what you really think? That I don’t care?” “Well, you didn’t exactly seem torn up about it when you told me.You said, ‘Ray, I got the word today that they’re doing away with the Dryden,’ and then carried on as if it wasn’t even big news. Will you even miss it?” He walked up close and looked me square in the eye. I was taller than him, but under that gaze I felt about two inches high. “Ray, I will miss the Dryden, far more than you know. That building meant a great deal to me.” “Well, you’ve got a funny way of showing it.” “Just because I’m not weeping does not mean I don’t care.” He closed his eyes. “I remember my first ticket-skipper, my first day as the projectionist. And you know the role it played in mine and your Nana’s life?” I felt a smile tug at my lips. I did know. Grandpa and Nana had gone to the Dryden on their very first date. It was where they shared their first kiss on a chilly November night.Years later, with the help of one of his co-workers, Grandpa had prepared what I still consider to be the coolest proposal ever; asking my Nana to come to one of the empty auditoriums and rolling a two minute ‘Will You Marry Me?’ reel whilst he went down on one knee. I’d also heard a claim that my father was conceived in the projector room but I had chosen to believe that my Uncle had just had too much to drink on that particular Christmas. “After it closed, I knew one day they would make it into something else. But you see the Dryden can’t really die for me, it’s too important. Even seeing it fall now, it’s still alive in my mind.” I looked from the dismal construction site to the far-away look in his wrinkled eyes 16


trying to understand what he meant and failing. “I still don’t get it,” I muttered moodily. “Well, you’re young. Try and think of it this way then, we had a million wonderful memories there and it would be a shame to sour them with a few bad ones at the end.” I scowled, very aware that I was being viewed as a child in this scenario and gave him a playful punch on the shoulder. Nothing too hard, not these days. “Fine, let’s go back. I’ve been living off greasy fish and chips this last week, I could do with some of mum’s cooking.” “Well don’t get too excited.Your mother had to work late, so I believe your father was in charge of burning tonight’s meal.” I nodded seriously. “So, we’re agreed we’ll stop by the Chippie on the way back.” He grinned. “I’ll grab some, you go ahead, they’re still wondering where you are.” He gave me an affectionate nudge on the back and I started down the road putting my hands in my pockets. I was halfway down the road before I looked back to see that Grandpa hadn’t headed in the opposite direction to the Chippie and was instead standing motionless right where I’d been, watching over the Dryden.

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R & D - Rachel & Doris Marie Kritikos It was another bright morning. The noise emanating from the kitchen indicated that Rachel was busy preparing the breakfast and the usual medications for the day. Doris, a petite elderly lady, appeared in the doorway, “Good morning, Rachel!” she beamed. “A very good morning to you Doris. How did you sleep?” asked Rachel. “Quite well thank you. Those pills you gave me last night, the yellow ones - weren’t they just the ticket!” replied Doris. “That is good to know, and here is your breakfast.” Rachel motioned with her hands at the kitchen table. “Oh yummy!” Doris responded, rubbing her palms together in glee. “It’s another fine day today, perfect for a walk around the garden. Would you like to do that after your breakfast?” enquired Rachel. “Of course! Don’t we do that every day?” Doris answered quizzically. “Yes, you are right, we do that every day, but it’s what you enjoy the most, and that’s always the way to start the day,” responded a grinning Rachel. Doris sat down at the gleaming marble-white kitchen table. She picked up her fork and began to tuck into the scrambled eggs that Rachel had placed in front of her. Rachel turned away and took a moment to look out of the kitchen window. She gazed at a small Robin that had popped it’s head out through the hedge before it quickly darted into a Hawthorn tree. “Hmm… Lovely, lovely!” proclaimed Doris, as she quickly finished off her eggs. “Glad you approve!” said Rachel, handing Doris a cup of tea before turning away then turning back to check Doris’ plate. Swiftly Rachel picked it up, rapidly washing it in the sink. She was efficient, kept everything looking like something out of a showhome. The countertop was sparse, with only a couple of high-end appliances in a colour scheme of white and silver. Their appearance was as if they’d never been used or even switched on before. Doris looked up at Rachel with wonderment at the speed in which she had cleaned up the kitchen. “What time is it now?” Rachel answered with a hint of authority in her voice. “It’s time for your walk!” Doris mischievously responded, “Don’t you mean OUR walk?” Rachel was a great help to Doris, never impolite, always ready to assist her and take care of her, never faltering to respond to Doris’ needs when asked. She had the look of a very tall, slim, but sturdy old-school Matron, with added steel-rimmed glasses, and constant smile. What Doris admired most in Rachel was her cheerfulness, 18


her resilience, and good manners. Rachel took Doris by the hand and led her out of the kitchen through the backdoor, into the sunny greenery of the spring garden. A butterfly fluttered in their direction, followed brazenly by a large wasp. Releasing her grip from Rachel, with a swift whip of her hand, Doris batted the insect away. “What a nuisance, get out, out!” “I thought you enjoyed the creatures in your garden?” Rachel asked. “Not all of them!” Doris proclaimed. A sparrow had perched on the small rickety wooden bench that seemed to have lived in the shady corner of the garden for eons. It caught Doris’ eye. “I like birds, naturally,” Doris explained. “They’re my favourites.” “I saw a Robin earlier, in the Hawthorn tree. Do you like Sparrows?” asked Rachel. “That’s a bird, isn’t it?” Doris said as she began to list birds one after the other. “Owls, Finches, Doves…” Rachel walked along-side Doris as she continued to name birds, followed by animals she loved, “Hedgehogs, Squirrels, Toads…” “You like living things, don’t you Doris, apart from wasps?” Rachel said, her smile never changing. Doris replied, “Yes of course. I also like you too, don’t I? My best friend!” Doris hugged Rachel, trying her best to squeeze her arms around her tall, thin companion, and almost tripping over. “That’s why I love you… umm…” Doris looked confused as she seemed to have forgotten her friend’s name. She stopped walking. Rachel stopped too. Doris continued. “You’re always by my side, you’re always around to help when I need you, always with me.” Doris hesitated then asked, “Who are you?” Rachel looked at Doris for a second and replied in a calming tone, “I’m R.A.C.HEL, your Robot Assistant, Carer and Help.” “Oh yes,” said Doris. “Of course you are.”

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An Escape Heather Flamme For Greta Thunberg, and all the other outliers

Mildred could tell there was something Alma wanted to tell her that night. She was secretly glad that Alma had been last into the barn again, and that there was a sea of woolly mounds between them. Mildred, who was never quite sure she was safe in the great outdoors, was often first into the barn. She hated the collie whizzing round her heels, so always tried to anticipate home time and get herself near the head of the flock and first to the gate each night. As Mildred listened to the quiet calls of her friends and foes baa-ing their goodnights to each other, she intentionally ignored the urgent and excited bleats from Alma. She put her head down behind Maggie’s enormous behind, and closed her eyes, willing the night to descend and with it relative silence. Or, at least silence from Alma. But, as soon as dawn broke, Alma was barging her way through the groggy flock, trying to reach Mildred. Mildred could hear her coming, and closed her eyes that much more tightly. “Mildred! Mildred! Get up! They’ll be opening the barn doors soon. Let’s get out to pasture! I’ve got something to tell you.” “Go away Alma. I haven’t had my breakfast.You know I don’t want to talk until I’ve had my breakfast.” “But this is… Sort of… Well…” Alma lowered her voice and spoke in hushed tones. “Today is going to be… different.” Just then, the farmhand did open the barn doors, and a loud chorus of baas rang out at varied and clashing pitches. As the other ewes began to file out, Alma continued coaxing Mildren to move more quickly, until finally Mildred had had enough. “One word, Alma. BREAKFAST.” Alma followed her everywhere, but didn’t say a word until she was certain Mildred had had her fill of corn meal, as well as a good helping of fresh grass. “Can we talk now? Please?” pleaded Alma. “All right, what’s got you so excitable?” “Not here… Follow me.” Alma kicked up her heels and with a lively trott led Mildred to the far corner of the field, where the land dipped below a little hillock and they wouldn’t be overseen.

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“Blimey, is it all so clandestine?” Mildred felt this was not a good sign. She looked back over her shoulder. Her elasticity in venturing away from the flock was at full stretch. “You know how I’ve been wishing there was a way to explore beyond the farm?” “Well yes, but we’ve discussed this Alma. We are safe here. Protected. What would we do without the flock? And the morning feed?” “I know, I know, but look at all those pastures beyond this fence! Midred, there’s a whole world out there and we are stuck just seeing this tiny patch of it.” “Why can’t you be happy here? You have everything you need.” “I don’t have adventure. Everyday is the same. Today that changes.” Alma seemed so certain, it took Mildred a moment to collect herself and recover from a tailspin of thoughts. “How? What are you going to do, Alma?” “I’m going under this fence.” “What?” gasped Mildred. “You can’t!” “I can, and I will. Look - the fence wire just here has come away from the post. It’s a wonder I never spotted it before. All I have to do is squeeze through, and then it’s Hello Big World!” “But what about the foxes? And the vultures? They will surely spot you sleeping in a ditch somewhere out there in the open.” Mildred’s voice was choked, and she started backing away instinctively. She was scaring herself as she spoke, and there was panic in her eyes. “Oh nevermind that, I can slip back under tonight and I’ll be back in the barn with the rest of you all.” Alma was already pressing her nose through the gap, her wool snagging on the wire above. “Well I… I…. “ Mildred’s mind was an earthquake. “Just be back before teatime!” She spluttered, and then ran for the safety of the flock, leaving Alma to finish her escape attempt unwitnessed. When Alma came back that night, Mildred tried to avoid her as best she could, and when she couldn’t, she ensured she was near the more senior ewes to shield herself in the armour of their eavesdropping. From all the fire behind her eyes, Alma clearly had lots of stories to tell about her extraordinary day, but Mildred didn’t want to hear anything about it. And she definitely didn’t want to be accidentally persuaded to join these escapades. But she wasn’t a gossip, so Alma’s secret stayed locked inside her now rather more tormented mind. Over the days and weeks that followed, Alma enacted her morning escape ritual most days. Once, she got back too late after the field gate had already shut behind the others, and had to sleep out. She didn’t actually sleep much at all, too afraid of predators and it was a particularly cold night. But she told Mildred later about the twinkling lights in the sky and how beautiful they were in the vast dark sea up above. 22


As time went on, Alma was more desperate to share her adventures with Mildred. She would seize any chance she got to sidle up to Mildred while grazing and mention something about a silage store she’d found, or how she enjoyed sleeping beside the rhyne. Mildred got more and more defiant and angry about these conversations. “Go tell someone else! I am not going to risk my life gallivanting around!” “But none of the others even realise there’s more to life than what they can see!” said Alma with pent-up incredulity. “You’re the only one that understands even a little bit.” “Well, I really don’t understand. I didn’t mind you daydreaming, but actually roaming the world? You’ve gone too far Alma. I’d rather you stopped the whole business.” “I do so want someone to come with me. Couldn’t you just try once? If you do you’ll see…” “No!! Don’t ask me again!” interrupted Mildred, with more ferocity than Alma had credited her. There was nowhere left for the conversation to go. Alma slipped out on fewer adventures after that. It saddened her to be unable to share her deep enjoyment of the larger world with a companion. She settled into a routine of waking to see what sort of day it was. Was it a day for adventure, or home comforts? On this particular spring day, the sun was shining brightly and a fair breeze blew, and the scent of newly awakened white clover drifted across the fields. This was definitely an adventure day, thought Alma. Breakfast seemed very late in coming, so she decided to have breakfast out. She squeezed under the fence as usual, the other ewes having been distracted by a large and noisy lorry arriving on the long driveway between the farm buildings. Alma headed first for the rhyne, taking care to cross the road while it was silent. She took a long drink from the cool waters. Flowing water tasted so much nicer than the stagnant stuff in their auto-fed trough in the field. She grazed beside the rhyne for an hour or so before she heard it. It was the familiar rumbling from this morning, and it was now heading in this direction. There wasn’t much cover, but she ran across the pasture to the hedge near the road, and waited for the lorry to pass. It made such a thunderous sound, she shivered a bit in irritation. But then another sound joined the cacophony, as the lorry bore down onto the few meters of the road in front of her hedge. The next few moments passed as if in slow motion. Alma first heard their disarming calls of confusion and trauma. She pressed her head against the hedgebrush to get a better view. The lorry came into sight, it’s huge cab wearing a fierce expression and a piercing gaze in its white eyes. The wagon followed, its huge metal slats forming the highest fence she’d ever seen. And from behind the slats stared the frightened faces of the ewes. Alma’s eyes darted back and forth, up and down, trying to make sense of how so many sheep could be behind that fence; they seemed to be stacked up on one 23


another like hay bales. It was a confusing scene, but their bleets were unmistakably desperate. The ewes, her friends, had been eaten by this monster, which was fleeing the scene faster than Alma’s sheep-brain could comprehend. And, she couldn’t be sure, but she thought she heard Mildred call to her as the lorry spat past leaving a shower of dust and fragments of straw in its wake. Alma froze for a moment in shock. Then she ran home. She bleeted the whole way there, calling out for anyone who might know her voice. She squeezed under the fence, shouting for Mildred. As she staggered over the hillock and surveyed the field, the full reality of the situation finally hit her. The field was empty. No ewes. No Mildred. She stood by the field gate calling plaintively until a farmhand heard and came to find her. “How’s this? Did you miss your train?” he chuckled. He got her a bit of feed and went about his work. “Oh Mildred!” moaned Alma. “Where are you?”

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Have YOU Ever Colin Taylor Have you ever wondered At the purpose of wasps, Or made faces of clouds in the sky? Have you listened to sunsets Or counted the stars, Seen your image reflected in an eye? Have you walked with a child And adjusted your pace, Understood the importance of why? Have you balanced your dreams On precarious hope, And has losing allowed you to cry? Have you ached, full of longing For the touch of a hand, Then watched as they all passed you by? Have you dared to be different Despite what they’ll say, Felt the fear but refused to comply? Have you danced in the madness Of losing yourself, Then withdrawn from her saying goodbye? Have you borne accusation Without a defence, And been able to hold your head high? Have you felt the betrayal Of time and it’s toll, And yet smiled as the years ran on by? Have you noticed how things Don’t appear as they seem, Until you are ready to try?

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Elemental Colin Taylor Alone at last Free from the maddening Wading into the river wild Thigh deep in crystal clarity Breathless to its icy melody With gentle insistence the waters bid me Let go, let go And I do, knowing that to resist Would cause the collision of stars And the closing of some inner window. Floating now, in lazy circles Buoyed by not caring Or understanding much Of the restrictive nature of things Unafraid of the rapid roar Of roaring rapids near Just being, simply and perfectly. The mountains doff their frozen caps And applaud Their echo ripples through the laughing pine Becomes the giggling I hear eddy all around.

And the flawless sky beckons the morning sun To witness my passing Aglow with fiery promise, its molten touch Warms a forgotten corner Of my awakening spirit A part I had forgotten, allowed to grow cold Without knowing. As it stretches and yawns Fragments of wonderful realign And above A profusion of dragonflies appear Their iridescence shines, for me alone And I am struck Pierced by the most beautiful sadness And realise, for the first time That as surely as the ancient rock below Supports the amber-hearted sky I am loved. I belong. I am free.

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Reminiscent Reflections On ‘Our’ First Romantic (Part Spring, and Summer) Enveloped in Nature. Ian Preston The moon, so bright, oh so bright, a new season to begin, in this moment I feel for you so much within. A part of spring and summer days that I spent with you… The beginning, your smile, that kiss, your touch, the storm of Swallows; flying as if to avoid the falling rain drops. And, high above, the House Martins seemed to be rejoicing in a ritual in the rain… Let the Summer season begin… Our First Sunrise, seen from our shared hammock, and through the cleft of Hemlock trees, the burning red and orange reflected in the white of your eyes. Your eyes fixated, enchanted, as was I, but staring upon you. The Buzzards, that Red Kite, and all those Red Kites, in the majestic Elan valley. The low flying Lapwing and Kingfisher. The majestic call of the Oystercatcher, and the Nightjar? Of the River Wye. Enchanting call of the Peregrines, wild Swimming in the presence of an Otter, the evening deer, the Monarch of the Glen espied us from that high plateau in Glen Coe. The elusive Pine Martin did, fleetingly, appear. Quarry swims, lakes, reservoirs, rivers, water falls; I feel the roar from Falloch Falls. Your Silkened soft skin, from those wild swims; in the haze of the evening sun, or beneath the thousands of stars, and that moon, so bright, oh so bright.You shivered in exhilaration, the cold, however thwarted! The love we felt warmed our bodies. Then the pursuit of an indelible lichen shaped heart, on a jagged rock; to be entwined high up on the cold granite rock bed, veiled by the clouds, our moistened bodies, glistened from the dew; you seemed but an angel to me. The Golden Eagle appeared, ephemeral, ethereal from my dreams, an immense majestic presence, heavy on my heart, entering my life, soaring like my soul, the same way you did. (Teardrops fell from your eyes). Far apart we became; the distance in reminiscence still aches, permeating my heart… I besieged Lake Windermere, swimming half way across, looked back at the valley road that I had descended from, and shouted; “I LOVE YOU,” hoping you might hear, feel my words. The moon, that bright crescent moon, reflecting off the glass surfaced, languid lake, and off the light green leaves of Monmouth trees and alighted the sky. In the same moment, we shared the visual, majestic enchantment of that bright, oh so bright, crescent moon. It felt like you were there that night, beside me, where I slept on that hillside… 27


Oh, how I love you. ‘Please be never far from me again,’ I whispered into the night. Reunited, rejoiced beneath the glare of the harvest moon and the echo of a Tawny owl. And so the Martins and Swallows had parted; with a chill in the air, with the close of our first summer. “What now?” you said. “We have the owls,” the moon beamed down upon us, witnessing, illuminating our love… ‘And the moon,’ I said… Autumn begins.

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A Night Out in Taunton Sean Chard This poem is an imagined night out in a sleep lab in Taunton, exploring the seemingly fast-paced changes we experience during sleep.

Wakefulness lifted like dust in a whirl Seduced and then robbed of feelings, he’s numb Everything cognisant clings to the knurl The element of hearing becomes the last crumb Senses suspended as the eyes slowly roll Reactions are quarantined - cut off from the whole A deep sigh whispers from his lifeless lips A living corpse twitches with hypnotic blips As ignorance lays its claim to this state Five acts to perform in eight hours straight The treasures of rich-sleep come in slow waves He sails a ghost ship, the mind’s galley slave Temperature cooling the circadian clock Caught in this vessel ’til it finds a dock A debt to repay for resisting dormir Neurones are firing but no one can hear Blinded eyes scan, play out under lids Locked in the body he sawtooths the grids Electrified hemispheres pulsing with light Unconscious action traverses the night Electrified hemispheres pulsing with light Everything cognisant clings to the knurl Unconscious action traverses the night Wakefulness lifted like dust in a whirl

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Don Jonathan Evans Don was the sort of guy you would see all the time in those days. He had long lank hair and a beard that looked as though it was stuck on and made of the sort of stuff that you use to fill sofas. Hilary and I met him just outside of Heilbron. He was leaning against a road sign on the autobahn slip road, kitbag by his side. He was hitchhiking in an aimless sort of way, I guess. “Hi,” he said, and, after a short pause while he drew on a rather large homemade cigarette. “It is good we speak English, no?” We nodded and agreed. “You live in England, ja?” “Yes, what about you?” He smiled. “Ich lebe in Deutschland.” Then, after a long pause, “It is best I go to Dusseldorf. There are many Schwefelsäure-Fabriken in Dusseldorf“. Another pause. He must have seen that I was puzzled. “Schwefelsäure-Fabriken… In English you are saying Sulphuric Acid Factories, yes?” He nodded. I was still a bit bewildered but figured that something must have gotten lost in translation. Hilary and I wandered along the road, dropped our rucksacks and stuck out our thumbs. Hitching as a couple was always easy in those days and, an hour later, we were being dropped outside the student’s union at Heidelberg University. I’d stayed there several times before on my way to and from Greece or Yugoslavia, and, on each occasion, had a fine time. True to form, the university found us a place to crash out for a couple of nights on the top floor of a grey concrete student accommodation block. It was already partially occupied by a couple of Irish guys called, believe it or not, Pat and Mick. They were delighted when I told them that I knew the ropes around there and had been invited to the opening-night of the student bar for the start of the new academic year, and even more pleased when I let them in on the fact that we had been promised free beer. We were about to head out when Don reappeared. “Is good I again meet you,” he said in his strange accent. “Where are you from? Pat asked. “Ich lebe in Deutschland but ich bin ein American.” Holy hell! This guy was an American. I would never have guessed. I figured he must either be a recent immigrant or had suffered some traumatic brain injury otherwise 31


his English would not have been so tortured. As I looked across to him, he began rolling yet another large cigarette. We spent the next three days with these guys. Don was most peculiar. Contrary to our initial impression, his first language was English but, fuelled by drugs and ignorance, he had developed a novel approach to learning German. He explained it like this: “It is best that I am forgetting all my English to learn like a baby. So, I’m not speak English for fünf months. I live in Svansea, in caravan. Ist gut, in Svansea. No one speak Englisch.” From this I deduced that Don had been on some sort of English language destruction course and, fuelled by vast quantities of drugs, it seemed to have worked pretty well. He now seemed to have reduced his native English to almost zero and was endeavouring to replace everything with new German grammar and vocabulary. “Every day it is good I have ten German words, new.” He flourished a very tattered paperback English-German dictionary and a blue notebook. He opened the latter. “Yesterday it was sulphuric acid, today it is petrol, benzin, tin plate, zinnplatte, combine harvester, grape, headroom, pound, slowcoach und syphilis. Ist gut ya?” “How do you choose which words to learn?” I asked. “Is best to do random,” he said. He opened the dictionary, closed his eyes and stabbed at the page with his biro, it landed on “cigarette lighter” – “zigarettenanzünder.” I studied Don’s revolutionary “learn a language through ignorance” technique quite closely. One night in the bar, he was engaging in conversation with a crowd of German students. I noticed that the less English Don spoke, the more I understood. The same, however, was not necessarily true of his audience. His opening gambit was always the same. Discovering that one member of his audience was from Hamburg, Don asked, “Haben si ein gross Schwefelsaure Fabriken in Hamburg?” After some initial puzzlement, came the reply “No, we don’t have a big sulphuric acid factory in Hamburg.” Undaunted Don pressed on, “Haben sie syfilis?” A young woman choked on her beer. Almost without a pause Don continued, “In Port Talbot gibt est ein Zinnplatte Fabik, Ja?” It was interesting to note that although all Don’s questions were in German the answers were invariably in English. Don was aware of this but seemed undaunted. It was shortly after an abortive conversation about combine harvesters that the Americans arrived from the nearby army base. Loud, aggressive, drunk and full of national pride they immediately got up my nose. Don, whom we had discovered was originally from Detroit, seemed particularly ill at ease. Perhaps it had something to 32


do, I reflected later, with his gnomic statement: “It is best I go to Canada in 1970.” In 1970, the Vietnam War was at its height and many young Americans opposed it and fled to Canada to avoid the draft. The American soldiers seemed to have no misgivings. After all, they were safe in Europe and were full of macho pride about what they were doing to the “VC over there.” Don became more withdrawn as the evening wore on. Eventually, he excused himself. Waving his cigarette lighter he said loudly, “Ich need Benzin für meinen zigarettenanzünder.” On his way out he put a coin into the jukebox and left as the opening bars of a Bob Dylan song kicked in. My memory of what happened next is quite hazy but I do recall the arrival of the fire engines and then the soldiers going mad. In the car park, four military vehicles were quietly smouldering. Looking around I realised that the only person missing on the scene was Don. No one was sure what happened, but they say it happened very quickly and that almost no one saw anything. In fact the only person who might have known something was a bearded hitchhiker seen at a nearby roundabout with a handwritten sign which simply said “Düsseldorf Bitte.”

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Contributors Dr Charley Barnes is an author and academic from the West Midlands. She can typically be found reading, writing, or making a break for the seaside with her dog, Benji, in tow. Instagram | @charleyblogs Twitter | @charleyblogs Website | www.charleybarneswriter. com Alan Browning lived in Weston super Mare for 51 years but now resides in South Somerset. He loves poetry. Life is about things that rhyme. Sean Chard is a graduate of the Open University, where he gained a BA in Humanities with Distinction in Creative Writing. Chard has featured in various publications including Popshot Quarterly, HereComesEveryone, The Crank, Bounds Green Book Writers and A Spot of Writing Magazine. Roy Duffield somehow managed to con a first-class degree in creative writing out of Bath Spa University, and has even had the gall to return to the scene of the crime, this time in the skin of Travel Writing lecturer. Roy volunteers as art editor over at AntiHeroin Chic and you can find some of his recent work in The London Reader, the Poetry Space Quarterly Showcase, The Dawntreader, Marble Poetry and the world’s oldest, most prestigious

publication: Instagram. Instagram | @drinking_traveller Twitter | @drinktraveller Jonathan Evans lives in Bristol and, in 2020, had his first book published by Tangent Books - The Mystery of Ernie Taylor’s Abdomen and Other Stories, tales of growing up in a northern coal mining town. He lived for several years in Australia and has just finished his second book, Rainbow, about life in a remote township beyond the rabbit proof fence. Twitter | @JonathanEvans45 Facebook | @JonathanEvansWriter Heather Flamme lives in a shoebox in North Somerset with her husband and two children. She is proud to be from a family of neuro-divergents, to be a citizen of nowhere, and to be able to grow anything edible in her allotment. Colin James has a couple of chapbooks of poetry published, including Dreams Of The Really Annoying from Writing Knights Press and A Thoroughness Not Deprived of Absurdity from Piski’s Porch Press. His book of poems, Resisting Probability, was published by Sagging Meniscus Press. Colin Taylor: “Simply put, reading and later, writing poetry saved my life.”

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Maria Kritikos has been a freelance writer for the travel and entertainment sectors, both on-line and in the international press. After spending almost 20 years working in corporate finance in the Middle East, Maria has now returned to her old hometown of Weston-super-Mare to unearth ‘old ghosts’. During her spare time, as well as short stories and biographies, Maria creates poetry using classic rhythmic forms, following in the footsteps of her grandfather the acclaimed Cypriot ‘RedVillage’ poet Vasilis. Ian Preston is an aspiring writer, with a deep passion for the classics, poetry, and good literature. He has an affinity with nature, and is currently writing a book about the connection between literature, nature and people. Anna Ross works as an Administrator and greatly enjoys reading and writing poems and stories. Her short stories have been published across a range of anthologies. Though she is noted amongst her peers for writing literature with dark underlying themes and messages she is actually a friendly person in the real world. Elle Spellman is a Bristol-based writer who is fond of the seaside, ghost stories and filling her house with too many books. When not working on a novel, Elle can often be found writing flash fiction. Twitter | @seventhelle

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Fiction

Poetry