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Showing posts from June, 2018

And.... breathe!

And... that's all folks.

The flood is over for another issue, and you can flop about on the sand, gasping for breath, and waiting for the waters to return.

For now, thank you for reading.

Until next time...

'Ten Reasons to Write' by Dorothy Rice

It’s more socially acceptable than talking or muttering to yourself.

If you write with a pen, pencil or quill, or alternate hands on the computer keys, it leaves one hand free for the candy bowl.

Your family and friends will label you the, “quiet, serious” type. When called upon to join in on a conversation you’d rather not be part of, you can look up and say, “Oh excuse me, did you say something?” eyelids fluttering as if you’d just emerged from a fugue state.

You will be amazed how quickly this catches on. In no time at all, others will be making excuses for you. You won’t even need to open your mouth. “Oh never mind her,” your sister, friend or colleague will say, “she’s a writer.”

After awhile, you may not need to talk at all. Said sister, friend or colleague will do your parts for you, while you happily scribble away, perhaps offering the occasional distracted nod, so you aren’t taken for anti-social or rude.

Snacks are not an interruption to the creative process, as they might b…

'Solo for Two' by Barbara Renel

She drags her suitcase away from the bottom of the escalator and sits on it. She watches the metal stairs unfolding, disappearing, backs of heads going up to the Main Line station, faces coming down – an elaborate choreography of avoidance as people, pushchairs, bags, shoes, criss-cross in front of her, left to right, right to left, Victoria, District and Circle Lines, blue, green, yellow routes, exiting, entering.
            The clasps of her suitcase unsnap. Inside, a black leather case, battered, curved. She takes out the violin, tightens the bow and waits for his introduction. She imagines the opening broken chords of his piano, chords that will gently ascend, descend, support her melody. And she plays their song, their story.
            There’s an Egyptian limestone statue in the British Museum, two seated figures, a man and a woman, their clothing androgynous, height distinguishing one from the other. She’s holding one of his hands with both of hers. They are looking straight …

'An Unexpected Fall of Snow' by John Holland

She stands in the darkness of the back garden wearing her red water-proof coat and green wellingtons. Underneath only her nightgown. It is 4 am and the garden has a covering of snow. Something she was not expecting when she left her husband sleeping. She has two carefully folded white sheets under her arm. A green plastic petrol can in one hand and a pair of scissors in the other. She feels the cold wind like a sharp slap on her face; a bitterness cutting into her legs, through her nightgown. Making her body tense. Her hands rigid.  She thinks she has never seen snow this white, this luminous. Never seen the garden so beautiful. Or desolate. Like a secret world. For what the night does not hide, the snow does, flattening, folding itself around contours. Trees stand like silent witnesses. Huge white hands pleading to the dark sky. She looks at her footprints that make plain the short journey she has taken from the house. Her tracks defiling the covering of snow. If it does not snow agai…

'The Unexpected Trade' by Nicole J. Simms

While looking in all directions, Travis darted down the street with his baseball bat gripped in his hand. He knew he shouldn’t be out here, but he was tired of living like this; he needed a reminder of how life was before it all ended – a time where you could walk down the street without the fear of someone jumping out at you and trying to devour your flesh. Travis held his side as he reached the row of shops before him. He checked behind him for any oncoming attackers, and on seeing that he remained alone, he then stepped towards the shop in the middle and stopped. His attention focused on the gold coloured words ‘R Cuts’ that shimmered against the black base of the shop sign. ‘Phew, I’ve made it,’ he said. He pushed open the shop door. The door creaked – the only sound to alert the occupants of his presence. He stepped inside and observed his surroundings. A solitary hairdressing sink with an accompanying chair was to his left, a single chair in front of a wall mirror was to his right…

'A Lexical Guide To The Bulldog Breed' by James Burr

I sit in the pub, the flames of the fire reflected in the curves of my glass, glaring at the young man, spiky hair thick with gel, year-old Aston Villa top hanging off his thin spotty frame.  I can hear his voice from my seat, at the other end of the pub.      "Caned", he says.      "Drunk."      "Inebriated."  He smiles.      "Intoxicated".      "Pissed."      "Cabbaged"      "Pie-eyed."      "Bombed".      "Plastered."      I glare across the bar at him, his loud voice making my head ache.      "Loaded."      "Merry."      "Pickled."      "Sloshed."      "Soaked."      "Well-oiled, slaughtered, lashed."  The man pauses to down his pint, his friends finding him one of the greatest wits they had ever met.      "Fuddled."      "Canned" "Mullahed."      "Half seas over."      "Tanked up."      "Stewe…

'Waiting' by Gaynor Jones

Even with a pastel cloud of candy floss obscuring her face, the woman next to me is familiar. Flecks of sugar get caught in the scattered moles on her chin as she chews.

When the music starts, her body tenses.

‘It looks fast, but they’ll be OK. Is it your granddaughter you’re waiting for?’

‘My daughter.’

I can’t see anyone older than six on the carousel.

‘I watched her get on it. But I never saw her get off.’

 My skin prickles as I realise who she is.

‘I - I’m sorry. I saw her in the paper.’

We all did. Years ago. She was the story of the decade - until she wasn’t.

‘She climbed up on that horse, right there. But I never saw her get off.’

 The girl with the chestnut hair and moon-blue eyes beamed out from posters and milk cartons for years. Ubiquitous. Then she faded into background news, for everyone but this woman.

‘Today’s her birthday’.

‘Do you come back every year?’

She turns to me, chewing the now barren wooden stick between yellowed teeth.

‘I come back every day.’

She tosses the…

'Jasmine And The Darklit Corner' by Ashling Dennehy

I wanted to plant Jasmine in our garden.

I imagined us reading on the patio, surrounded by its scent on summer evenings, after the tang of barbequed food and cedar smoke has wafted away.

Jasmin draws bees and good fortune, keeps away jealousy and midges. It was the scent of my teenage years, when things seemed infinitely more urgent and I would smoke on the flat roof outside my bedroom window at dawn. I'd come back peaceful, smelling of its perfume instead of rancid ash.

But our garden faces the wrong way and our house blocks the light needed for what I want.

I went with my husband's suggestion. After he told me that my Jasmine would grow twisted and ugly outside of full sunlight, he kept right on talking until I was encircled by disenchanting options. I nodded and asked questions about pruning but I have long since forgotten the answers.

Now, we have Clematis. It grows like weeds, stretching out grasping tendrils that, when unable to find purchase, pull at me as I walk to the…

'Off the Peg' by Debbie Taggio

A grubby hand punches through the open window of my musty-smelling estate demanding money;  his arm hairs tickle my nose and my eye follows his pointed finger along a muddy track to a youth wearing an oversized radioactive green hi-viz gillet.  The youth beckons me onwards, stopping me with a Native American How, indicating my trading spot for the next four hours.



Mourning my Sunday paper lie-in, I unload a horde of essential-at-the-time junk onto the dewy grass and fight with the bent legs of my dad’s saggy pasting table to display my dusty bargains.  Professional car-booters rootle through my unwanted chattels with black-Friday style abandon, firing questions at me like a Guantanamo Bay interrogation:

'Jewellery?'

'Designer bags?'

‘Porcelain?’

‘Gold.’

Yes, and I’ve put them in a special box along with the Faberge Egg over there, marked MUG.

‘How much for Alanis Morrisette, luv?’

‘CD’s? 50p.... luv.’  I say, getting the hang of the lingo.

Rummaging around in his jeans …

'The things we call signs today' by Elaine Dillon

When the ground was hard in winter, you’d tell me the birds couldn’t get to the worms. You drizzled a tap over the stale end of a loaf, tearing beak-sized chunks, and I made it my job to carry the bowl down the garden. The brittle blades squeaked, bending under my feet. I inched forwards, following the long plumes of my own breath, your corduroy knees at one elbow.

Heavy wingbeats and burbling coos signalled the arrival of the pigeons on the telephone lines, their fat bodies sagging the cables.

"Greedy birds,” you'd say, as we watched the robins hopping round the outskirts, searching for a gap amongst the plump, cobalt feathers.

Robins started to visit me, after you died. Christmas cards would have us believe they are a winter bird, but they came in incongruous seasons; landing on the stone sill of my kitchen and cocking their head, peering in with one shiny eye. I wonder if you knew the legend of the robin’s red breast. It's said that he flew to Jesus, comforting Him as He …

'The Grey Man' by Emma De Vito

It was a typical Monday morning. Office workers strolled in lazily from the weekend which had left them feeling sorry for themselves. Daniel hobbled to his seat, switching on his computer which moaned about working almost as much as he did. "Nice weekend?" Gerry, the IT technician, wandered into the office and directed his predictable question to its occupants. No response. "Kettle's boiled. Do you want a top up?" A young graduate looked briefly in the direction this question had drifted in from before returning to her work.  This was Gerry Portly's life: dull, boring and depressing. The optimist in him made him believe someday, one of the many people he fixed IT related problems for would acknowledge his hard work and commitment; his dedication; his power and mastery of being able to solve most problems with 'try turning it off and on again'. Walking to his desk, Gerry froze. Over the weekend, photographs of his nephews had disappeared. His laptop gone.…

'Pernil by Christopher Gonzalez

My mom stabs coin-sized pockets into a pork shoulder. This allows vinegar to swish through the muscle fibers—like white wine in a sommelier’s mouth: in, then out again.
The vinegar is unavoidable, she says. It cleans the pork and kills all unwanted bacteria.
There are parts of myself that I know are unwanted by others, those angry men and women I see on TV. My skin is the sepia tone of a vintage photograph they’d rather keep locked away in a chest. Would they scrub the Spanish from my tongue? Perhaps they’d flense away our language, peel it back like a layer of porky fat and rub the wounds raw with salt.
I stand at my mom’s side, rolling unpeeled cloves of garlic in my palm like dice. I want to ask her if she is also afraid of those men and women. But, she’s busy. She reaches into the bowl to work the meat, and when her fingertips, too often riddled with paper cuts and random nicks, make contact with the acidic bath, they whiten.
Does it hurt? I ask.
She shrugs. I know the pain well, …

'First Author' by Jan Stinchcomb

The female octopus gets a valentine in a bottle of ruby glass. It’s from a male who’s completely unremarkable, stubbornly cream colored, never varying. Eight-legged. Forgettable. The valentine is an offer of sperm. She can’t say no.

She can’t refuse because her body tells her that death is near and she must reproduce. It’s more thanantos than eros. She is neither sentimental nor philosophical, just plain tired. She starts looking for a den. From the time she was little and unlikely to survive, she already had a den in mind. It is an ideal cave, with a dagger-rock entrance, located not far from where she was swimming when she found the valentine. Off she goes.

In the cave she shatters the bottle and little fragments of paper drift away. Her sweetheart’s penis is inside, his detachable hectocotylus, filled with sperm. She inserts the organ and fertilizes the eggs before releasing them.

Now her life begins again. Everything, all the living and surviving, the motion and evading, has been …

'Wishes on Stars' by Annmarie Miles

The closing credits rolled; the theme tune opening with power chords that would bring a tear to a Guns’n’Roses fan. They watched as she wrote with furious haste.

She was the most feared movie critic in Hollywood. Her words determined whether your premiere was attended by a cast of Hollywood’s finest, or the cast of Star Trek.

Wishes Puddlestock!

The name struck fear in the heart of every movie producer, director and pretzel vendor.



The music ended, and house lights faded up. Most of the film critics were already sipping Mai Tais on 42nd street, but not Wishes. Hunched over her pad, she guarded her words as they poured onto the page like molasses on homemade ice cream.

“She's taking too long dammit.” Ralph Ecclestein paced. A long review from Wishes was bad. Her five-star reviews were always less than ten words.

“Someone remind me to call Leonard Nimoy's agent in the morning.”

“Booking him for the premiere again boss?” Ecclestein’s assistant ventured the question; but no cohere…

'Someone to watch over' by Brian Weston

From my vantage point I have a view into your world.
Your life history. Page by page.
Every morning you are the first one awake. At 6:30 you open the back door and let the dog out. You don't like the dog. The dog doesn't like you. You are not its master.
When the morning sun is out you raise your head up into the rays.
You engulf yourself into the warmth of the sun. For a second you look. Happy.

Then chaos ensues as the rest of the house awake. In the madness you blend into the background. Invisible in your own house. But I see you.
You go to say goodbye to her. The body language speaks volumes. She recoils as you move closer. Eventually letting you kiss her on her cheek. She swats your arm away like an irritating fly as you try to affectionately touch her. You look like you have been mortally wounded. Weighed down with sadness you slouch out of the house.

Calmness descends as the house empties. The house breathes a sigh of relief.
She potters about the everyday mundane that n…

'Wishing for a Wagon Wheel' by Marissa Hoffmann

I was a kid on the packed lunch table. Actually there were two packed lunch tables. There was the one where the fussy or rich kids sat. Their mothers packed brightly coloured lunch boxes, which nestled into each other. I don’t think there were many fathers packing lunches then.
On our table, aside from the girl who had an Um Bungo carton and a Wagon Wheel everyday, we all had a white sliced sandwich (Marmite or lemon curd in mine), an apple and a drink. Our mums went out to work. Mine was a nurse, mostly working nights.
My sandwich looked least nice because my mum wouldn’t cut the crusts off (it put hairs on my chest). But, for fun, I would press my sandwich together, between my index finger and thumb, multiple times, all over, until it was a really thin version of its former self. Then, I’d drink the warm lemon squash in the smelly tall blue Tupperware, wrapped in a plastic bag because it leaked.
There wasn’t any point in complaining about the smelly, sticky Tupperware, Mum had lost her…

'Sleeping Wraiths' by Christine Collinson

She trod determinedly across the rocky shore, a lantern swaying in her shaking hand. The moon shed a pale light on the sea; the tide had slipped out and only a soft wind stirred. 
Against the sky, the once majestic ship lay tipped and torn. Its tattered sails glowed like sleeping wraiths. 
All of the surviving crew had been rescued; she knew that. Yet she was curious to see, and to know, how it ended. She owed him that much. 
People spoke of a storm like none before. She had been stricken by the sound of its anger; thrashing around their cottage all through that long night.
He’d never spoken much about being at sea; perhaps he had been content out there. She gazed at the wreck through warm tears and she whispered to him, as the breeze stirred the sails into ragged, beautiful shapes.

'Two Hundred Years Ago We Would Have Been Dead By Now' by Louise Mangos

Forty years of twisting hands inside her belly, dragging at her guts for five days every month, as regular as a Swiss train. Three natural births, each round head inherited from their high-browed father, burning as they crowned, leaving their imprints on her cervix and her memory like the sear of a cattle brand. Five years of crimson flames rising from her breasts to wrap around her throat like a hungry serpent. Five years of the softening of flesh between her hips where she used to be as flat as a carpenter’s bench. Five years pressing her cheek against the cold glass of windowpanes, and grabbing menus from passing waiters to use as fans. Five years peeling herself from sodden bed sheets, and standing naked in front of the open fridge in the middle of the night. But most of all, it’s the darkness in her head, the illogical anger and inexplicable shame. She spirals down, this feeling that her life is over. He no longer looks at her with hunger in his eyes. Someone needs to catch her in …

'Saving His Pie' by Jan Elman Stout

The warden himself delivers Henry's special meal, cooked by another prisoner. Watches him eat. Henry’s request: chicken fried steak, French fries, green beans in fat back, cola, hot apple pie a la mode. He finishes the steak, fries, beans. Slurps the last sips of cola through his straw. Hears the tray scrape the metal desk as he pushes away the pie. “Not hungry?” asks the warden. “Saving it for after,” Henry says. The warden prays. Henry’s role in the botched robbery: never clear. Boom boxes, computers, sawed-off shotgun: his basement, his prints. IQ: borderline. Gurney strapped, Henry asks the warden, “Hold my hand?” The warden rubs his own hands together, takes Henry’s in his, checks the clock, nods. He's done this before. Anesthesia catches Henry. He sees steam rising from the pie, running rivers of ice cream. 


*
First published in (b)OINK; Issue 5; June 9, 2017

'Fall for Me' by Rhoda Greaves

I’m going to ask her tonight, definitely. Dad said, you’re not even twelve son, what’s next – extra pocket money for johnnies? Mum told him not to be vulgar, then smiled at me; that smile that makes me want to yank her to the knees by the hair: shout, I’m not a baby, Mum.

It’s in the sports hall like always, but this year they’ve got a proper DJ, not just one of the dads. There she is, all curled hair and sprayed-on glitter. I go to tap her shoulder, but James and Jeremy, in the opposite corner, look at me all, why are you going up to a girl? So, before she turns around, I jump on her back: mime a lasso at them one-handed. Dig my knees into her skinny hips and breathe in marshmallows. Then I’m falling forwards. I put out my hands but my landing is broken. I roll off. And her blood’s on my knees. More of it trapped in the grooves of my trainers.

What happened? says Mr Miller, with a face like a father’s instead of a Head’s.

And she looks at me through the bloodied fingers at her nose. …

'Handyman' by Grant Stone

The plan was to do the place up and flip it but Mary knew that wasn't going to happen soon as she came home from work and found Reg sitting on the couch, tea towel wrapped around his fist. He'd started ripping out the old bathroom that morning. Got the ventilation grill half out before the chair slipped out from under him.

"For god's sake. There's a ladder in the shed."

"I didn't want to waste time."

He'd dripped blood right up the hallway and all over the kitchen floor. Hadn't bothered to clean it up, though the mess on the bench showed that he'd found the time to make lunch.

Mary squinted through the dried blood on his palm. "Did you clean it out at least?"

"Ran it under the tap."

"Could be infected. Could be tetanus."

"It'll be right. I just need a rest."

Flog off the first house, use that to jump up the ladder a little. Do that a couple more times and they'd be sweet. In a few years…

'Mine' by Eden Royce

Mother wears me like a skin.
            Or a coat she can put away when no longer needed. Mother shows me off, exposes me when she wants the world to see. Covers me up when she’d rather not know I’m there, like a mole or a scar on otherwise perfect flesh.  Mother takes what she wants from me. I gave you the ultimate gift. Can’t you give me a little something? Don’t I deserve it?  My perfume scents her neck. My handbag has her life in it—phone, wallet, but my lipstick, which isn’t a shade that flatters her. The color makes her teeth look translucent, unnatural, as if they could move on their own, grip and rip without her knowledge or care.  And they do. I hide as much of myself from her as I can. I opened an account at another bank, online, so I will have my own money in case I might someday get out of this town and away. Distance myself from her sharp smile, her outstretched hand. Don’t I deserve it? She comes into my room as I’m getting ready for bed, combing my hair before I put it in bra…

'Winning At Wembley' by Diane Tatlock

That's what started it. The lawn. It was in a terrible state. No clear edges, patches of daisies and dandelions. Even the moles had given up. It hadn't been cut for weeks.      'Can't you get away from watching that football for two minutes? Get out there and cut the grass?' Lucy felt like the wicked witch he was always accusing her of being.      'Gotta keep up with the action, haven't I? The boys'll be full of it when we get down the pub.' Wayne's eyes never left the screen.      'What about later, then?'      Wayne swung round. 'Look, Luce. I work all week. Need my downtime. Right?' He turned his back and resumed his shouting.      Lucy finished folding the washing. 'I work too, you know. You still expect meals on the table, clean shirts to wear, though, don't you?' She slammed the laundry basket down on the worktop.      'Oh, don't start. I don't need it.'      'Just go then. Get out. Find some…

'Inside Story' by Sandra Arnold

In the city there were too many voices. Loud. Discordant. She couldn’t make sense of them. In the daylight their clamour ensured she walked into lamp posts, forgot appointments, drifted off at traffic lights. At night she lost sleep trying to fit all the pieces together. So she left the city for the countryside. For an old house with a garden. To clear a space for herself. To listen. To think. In this place, where noise meant distant sheep and the occasional tractor rattling down the gravel road, she learned to listen differently. She learned to trust what she heard. Sometimes she’d find herself kneeling in the flower beds, gripping her trowel until her fingers turned blue, unwilling to move until she knew exactly where the dead pets were buried and the ashes of a longed-for baby; until she  understood the broken dreams of the couple whose initials were carved on the plane tree; saw the love letters burning in the bin; heard the children singing in the river before the sudden silence; w…

‘Awakening’ by Chris Drew

“It’s pronounced Err eye-va yo-coo-kill,” I say “Oriva yocokl?” he says. “Almost. You’ve got to click your tongue at the end. Like this: yo-coo-click.” “Oriva yococlick,” he says I nod, smile. He’ll never get it. “What does it mean, anyway?” he says. “Wasteland,” I say. “Makes sense.” He adjusts his scarf. His breath unfurls from his fur-lined hood and drifts away. “Remind me why we’re here again?” he says “Fifteen years. Crystal. Whatever I want, remember?” “I thought you’d choose a decanter, or champagne flutes. You know, something traditional. Something you could keep.” “How can you still not know me, after all this time?” He crosses his arms, kicks ice off his boots. The crystals scatter into countless sparkling fragments. “Maybe you’ve changed,” he says. “Maybe you haven’t,” I say. Removing a glove, I squat down and press my bare hand into the snow piled at the crater’s edge. Seven thousand feet beneath us, a lake of liquid magma lies dormant, waiting to erupt. “I’ve had enough,” he says. “Are yo…

'Question Time' by Jamie Graham

Think of your ugliest friend…

No, not her - the other one.”

His words had taken her completely by surprise. Her muscles tensed as if glued to a horror movie at the cinema. Sitting alone in the dark, feet welded to the sticky carpet, eyes on stalks, fumbling mindlessly for overpriced popcorn.

Mel had appeared out of nowhere in her mind's eye as soon as the words had spilled playfully from his thin lips. And ‘the other one’ was poor Chantelle, mainly on account of her crooked nose and lone yellow tooth.

Brian looked across the uncluttered desk, cheap veneer shining under the artificial lighting. His eyes were almost an identical shade of blue to his shirt - but the tie was slightly out of kilter with the rest of his appearance. Old-fashioned, as if liberated from an uncle’s wardrobe for his first interview and never returned.

After an awkward, funeral-like silence, he continued.

“Sales, you see, is about getting into people's minds. Everyone has at least a couple of ugly friends…

'A Couple 3' by Andre Lepine

Why can't you speak plainly? You told me you wanted to talk, with talk all caps in quotation marks like our relationship's in trouble. But now you start with a premise:

We think of the world as a series of 2s, when we really should see 3s. Believing 2 sides to every story forgets viewpoint 3, the (sometimes) objective narrator. Saying it takes 2 to tango neglects musician 3 providing a rhythm.

This feels like a lecture. Again you sit on our couch and speak around me, declaring your deep understanding of the world. What is there for me to say?

I could tell you that a number is divisible by 3 if the sum of its digits is divisible by 3. Take 24 (my age): 24 divided by 3 equals 8, while 2 plus 4 equals 6 divided by 3 equals 2. Or maybe you prefer 18 (months we've been together): 18 divided by 3 equals 6, while 1 plus 8 equals 9 divided by 3 equals 3 (there's your damn 3).

No, instead of math and science you speak about wordplay, though universal mechanics force us to percei…

'PLEASE DO NOT BEND' by Rob Walton

If it didn’t say PLEASE DO NOT BEND on the envelope, she would always make a point of bending, creasing, folding if possible. Her ‘bad back’, wear and tear between the fourth and fifth vertebrae, meant that the folding sometimes hurt. But it was worth it.
Parcels could be shoved through the letter boxes, with the possibility of the brown paper tearing, with a smile on her lips, with the muttered, “I’ll give you eBay”.
She thought of herself as Gretel, wrestling control from her incompetent brother, when she left a trail of red elastic bands on paths, roads, occasionally garden gates. She would sometimes try to make it look accidental, haphazard, random if you will. She had absorbed the strange looks when people saw her practising in the sorting office.
Perhaps her favourite was keeping items in her bag if people looked out of windows expectantly.  “No, sorry, Mr Noris, nothing today.”  Going round the corner, “And there’ll be nothing for you tomorrow either.”
On her last round, on her las…

'Ankles' by Susmita Bhattacharya

The day cousin Liz told me I had fat ankles I started hating myself. I was ten and she was fifteen. And she had kissed very boy on her street. There she was, balancing perfectly in her stilettos, her honey tanned legs glowing in the soft evening light. She shimmered, all gold and white and pink while I took in her loveliness. My eyes swept from the swell of her bosom to the curve of her hips, down the length of her legs stopping to look at the beauty of those perfect ankles. Her words buzzed around me like wasps, stinging me with their cruelty. Always the subject of ridicule: the shape of my body, the heaviness of my walk. I watched her giggle with the others, the bunch of flowers that she clutched in her slender hands. Her knuckles white and strained.  But I smiled. It was okay. It really was. She didn’t matter anymore. The music started and I felt his arm link through mine. We walked slowly, passing friends and family, who looked at us through teary eyes and smiles. I felt her presence…