Saturday 24 June 2017

'Today' by Julie Rea

The church smelled like wet leaves stuffed behind damp radiators; God’s sloppy breath would stink like this. I’d snuck in and sat on the edge of the very last pew. Only one other person was there, an elderly woman with pale violet hair. She crunched treacle toffees; a rosary wound so tightly around her knuckles it looked like wire. Her back bristled when I walked in. Stiffly, she got up from her knees and, with a narrow side glance, shuffled out the door. I sighed. Sunlight, as pale as fog, flooded through the high arched windows; a stringy white colour at first, deepened to a warm, dim gold by dusk. It reminded me of wheat, of the colour of my mother’s hair. I wriggled my toes, feet as cold as clay. Today is my birthday, I said aloud. For a few tense moments after, I expected a hand to grip my shoulder. I’d said it to the marble Jesus in the centre of the altar, maroon velvet curtains draped either side, downcast eyes. He was as talkative as always. There was a thin layer of dust on his ribs. As I left, I knocked over some bibles stacked by the door. I bent to pick them up, but stopped, scared they’d burn my fingers.

Although it was July, I wore a long-sleeved sweater, to cover up the silver gash which ran the length of my left forearm. The wound was scabbed over, a vivid memento of one particularly desolate night when I calmly scraped a rusted Stanley blade across my skin. It had hurt, but was more messy than painful; the blood oozed and spilled slowly from the incision, like I’d dipped my arm into a pot of gooey red paint. Shaking, I turned on both faucets at the kitchen sink, it stung like nettle rash. I wrapped my arm tightly in a yellow dishcloth and had some chocolate biscuits. I felt sedated. The next morning, without looking at the soiled knife, I shoved it in the bin.

I was hungry. There was a cafe around the corner from the church. It had a bell that went ting-a-ling when the door opened. I ate some congealed macaroni and drank warm lemonade through a pink straw, Britney Spears was playing on the radio. I watched the waitress as she went outside to smoke a cigarette. She leaned against the glass, narrow shoulders and black hair, then stubbed the butt out on the concrete ledge. She smiled as she passed me, so I left a good tip. I folded the notes into a tight square, and left it underneath the salt cellar. 

The sky was the colour of burnt copper, so I took the long way back, along a gravel path beside a canal bank that was lined with oak trees. I had wet patches under each arm by the time I got home. I didn’t bother to check for birthday cards behind the door, it’s only ever bills through the letterbox.


'Waterbabble' by Francine Witte

Swim of people in the supermarket. Faces fishing towards me, all eyes and gaping talkmouths. Their shimmery bodies squiggling through the ai...