Sunday, 19 June 2022

Wandsworth Carers Series 2022: 'Flip flops' by Anita

This piece is part of our 2022 Community Flash Series showcasing new writing by the Wandsworth Carers Centre Writers Group. You can read more about the background to this project in our introduction to this series, find out more about Wandsworth Carers Centre on their website, and find them on Twitter @CarerWandeworth.

 

Flip flops

by Anita


So this story isn’t about me.

It’s a normal March day, not really sunny and with those grey rain clouds. I’m bundled up against potential weather: black jeans, black puffa jacket, the blue scarf my mum knitted.

It’s the first day I’d felt like walking after the lumbar puncture. I don’t usually start with that, I mention the giant Co-op cake I’m carrying.

I’m walking home through the park, my legs are just starting to get tired, but I keep going. A man brushes past me, almost sends the cake flying. He’s wearing black-framed glasses, a faded blue tracksuit with the bottoms cut off, and dirty black plastic flip-flops. He’s just had his dark-brown hair cut, cos he had those red bumps you get if they razor.

Next thing, this other man’s yelling something, and he’s running. He’s blonde, wearing Saturday afternoon clothes. You know, jeans and a crumpled Homer Simpson t-shirt.

The conversation goes like this:

“Stop him!”

“Whaaat?” I clutch the cake tighter.

“That guy, stop him. He tried to break into my car!”

Running-man looks me over, and I know what he sees. A tall, Asian bloke, muscly enough to be handy. What I used to be. He doesn’t see I can’t help him, but enough strangers know my business. Those muscles don’t always work now. Luckily, my mouth does.

“Mate, I’ve got cake.” Gesture with my chin, in case he’s missed it. “But he’s just there, by the swings. You’ll catch him, no problem.”

And he is still there, you know, shuffling, not even half-way through the park. Not much faster than me now. The worst getaway in the history of crime. He edges down the slope to the sand-pit, and running-man is off. I never see either of them again.

It’s a good story, isn’t it? It’s got everything: action, suspense, cake. I tell it a lot. It helps pass the time with blood tests, in waiting-rooms, bored or nervous, listening for “Hello Iqbal, we’ve got your results.”

I don’t usually explain the cake, because if you’re ever going to buy a carrot cake bigger than your head, it’ll be after you’ve seen a neurologist. It’s a normal reaction, whatever that means.

Everyone sides with the running man, his actions don’t need explaining. But I can’t remember his face.

Sometimes I need an ending, and running-man catches up. Traps him between two parked cars and calls the police. Or punches him, right in the gut. Flip-flop man never gets away.

I could draw you a picture of flip-flop man, down to those bumps on his neck. With his ragged unravelling tracksuit and doomed way of responding to a crisis. Would I have chased him, before?

I see him now, slowly, slowly, shuffling away from his fate. Did he have a plan?

Does he think he’s going to win?

I hope the ending wasn't too painful.

 

 

Wandsworth Carers Series 2022: 'Loneliness' by Jaycee

This piece is part of our 2022 Community Flash Series showcasing new writing by the Wandsworth Carers Centre Writers Group. You can read more about the background to this project in our introduction to this series, find out more about Wandsworth Carers Centre on their website, and find them on Twitter @CarerWandeworth.

 

Loneliness

by Jaycee

 

They say “no man is an island”, maybe it’s more of a truth to say everyman is his own island. How often it is in the depths of loneliness, that we reach a deeper understanding of what is truly needed in order to nurture ourselves fully? There can be no clearer truth than to look in the mirror and see the reflection standing in front of us. How often are we looking on the outside for our needs to be fulfilled? when the things we seek the most can so easily be sourced from within. Often it is the things we seek most from others that holds a clue to the things we deny most for ourselves.

It’s a sour pill to swallow, feeling on the outskirts, invisible and alone even if surrounded by physically people or in a group. To hear the Soul, scream out to be seen and heard and to belong has been a common thread throughout my life. Yet where I have felt it the most has been in my role as an unpaid carer where I’ve struggled most with the empty void of loneliness. Somehow, it felt easier to cocoon myself in a bubble of self-protection, rather than face the risk of not fitting, being seen and not heard, judged or misunderstood. So, I kept myself to myself and purposely cut myself off.  It was only when I enquired within?  I realised that it was “I” who was casting the finger of judgement towards myself. “Could it be that the situation I was in, was mirroring my internal environment?”

I wanted to be included, yet how much of myself was I including in the world around me? How present, curious, proactive was “I” being? How often I was I picking up the phone and reaching out? Was it that I felt so disconnected to myself that I lacked confidence and felt resistance connecting with others?  If this was so then surely it was “I” who held the key to the solution.  

I wanted to be acknowledged. Yet how much was “I” acknowledging my strengths, qualities, successes? I wanted to be heard? Yet was “I” really listening to myself? my needs, my desires, my boundaries. I wanted to be seen, yet what was the self-image “I” was creating? I want to be loved? Yet in what ways was “I” creating a loving relationship with myself?

The formula was simple - change the way I think, change the way I feel. And do it with a full heart. When the heart is full it gives and receives unconditionally, without expectations or the need for validation from external sources. And so, the answer came “think love, give love, be love” Love is nourishing, kind and forgiving, where love exists there can be no fear. The homework now, was to put it in practice. 

Wandsworth Carers Series 2022: 'Summer 1981' by George

This piece is part of our 2022 Community Flash Series showcasing new writing by the Wandsworth Carers Centre Writers Group. You can read more about the background to this project in our introduction to this series, find out more about Wandsworth Carers Centre on their website, and find them on Twitter @CarerWandeworth.

 

Summer 1981

by George


Summer in Riakia, a small village outside Katerini in Northern Greece (near Thessaloniki) in 1981 was both blissful and idyllic. The days were long and sunny, but tempered by the gentle breeze rolling and strolling from the multitude of mountains surrounding the peaceful and sedate village. My uncle was a sheep farmer, and I helped him with his flock on a daily basis. We also harvested the hazelnut trees, an event made more memorable by my mother's frantic, frenetic, frenzied dance (due to being stung several times inside her blouse).

The other reasons for these memories being firmly entrenched in my mind were the cafe society of men drinking strong Greek coffee, playing both backgammon and with their komoboli; and, the cold bitter nights made comfortable by heaps of hand-woven blankets being plied high on my bed.

However, the most enduring memory was the food- simple, rustic, nutritious. For 2 whole months, I literally lived off 4 staple foods: hot, fresh, crusty, delicious, home-made bread; scrumptious, juicy, mouth-watering watermelon sold for 10 drachmas a piece; shop-bought strawberry thick-set natural Greek yoghurt — a pure taste of Heaven. So much so that I would lick the inside of both the lid and the pot. However, the piece de resistance was number four, home-made (by my aunt) Greek feta. It was tangy, salty, zesty. You could almost taste the sheep and the goat. It was to die for literally.

Speaking of which, it was the Summer of no meat. I had become a voluntary or involuntarily vegetarian depending on your viewpoint. The only time that I ate meat was to celebrate the huge country-wide festival of 15th August (the Assumption of the Virgin Mary) when copious amounts of pork and pitta bread did pass my lips. 

Oh, how I long for those unforgettable days and nights of Summer 1981. The memories will have to suffice.

Wandsworth Carers Series 2022: 'When The Light Fades' by Veronica

This piece is part of our 2022 Community Flash Series showcasing new writing by the Wandsworth Carers Centre Writers Group. You can read more about the background to this project in our introduction to this series, find out more about Wandsworth Carers Centre on their website, and find them on Twitter @CarerWandeworth.

 

When the Light Fades

by Veronica


In Bed Six lies the Sleeping Princess,
At her side, in Bed Five, is the Duchess with loyal Duke.
Each night when the ward lights dim
And sounds are dampened, apart from
The constant beep of the drips
A transformation begins.
While sleep escapes me
And weariness drives over me,
Holy pictures appear,
Visions from a childhood prayer book,
Icons from a richly embroidered tapestry.

The Princess, with her head gently tilted to one side,
Propped up with pillow clouds,
Dozes in a morphine mist whilst
The biting pain is briefly swept away
Her frail hand hovering over the Mercy Button.
The Duchess tightly clutches Duke,
His stuffing peeping through the seams,
Careworn, wear worn, comforting.
She rests, motionless on her back
With her mouth wide open
Ready to call
“Will somebody help me please”
So softly that nobody hears....

Wandsworth Carers Series 2022: 'Who Cares about Unpaid Carers' by Charlie

This piece is part of our 2022 Community Flash Series showcasing new writing by the Wandsworth Carers Centre Writers Group. You can read more about the background to this project in our introduction to this series, find out more about Wandsworth Carers Centre on their website, and find them on Twitter @CarerWandeworth.

 

Who Cares about Unpaid Carers
by Charlie


My mum raised me in a very loving joyful and kind way.
Now she is 89 and has dementia, it's my turn to care her for which I feel honoured privileged and blessed to be able to repay.

To keep mum safe I have left my job as a paid care support worker so now I am an unpaid care worker. My hours have doubled and duties increased. The government does not contribute to my pension and no paid holidays.

What I'm learning about this caring role is the work is invisible to and unrecognised by the government.
This is reflected in the carers allowance of 69.90 a week which if worked out as 35 hours a week is 2 pounds an hour. The reality is I do much longer hours so it works out even less is spent.

I get 2 pounds an hour for being an advocate, defender, protector and care provider, looking after my mum's health and welfare with empathy, compassion and candour.

As this cost-of-living crisis hits I am being forced to use my savings.
Having to cut back on food, holidays and other things.

I don’t understand why when the chancellor announced a cost-of-living support package, Carers Allowance was excluded from the benefits listed as qualifying for the £650 payments. This lack of humanity, and dignity fills me with rage.

My mum worked for many years in a south London hospital as a psychiatric nurse caring for the most vulnerable in our community.

In return the government pays me 2 pounds an hour as the amount they have calculated to give back and show they don’t value or recognise her contribution when she worked on those difficult wards with such kindness and generosity.

I am grateful to all the unpaid carers you are a special group making life more pleasant and joyful for our older generation.

It's an honour to give back and to every unpaid carer I see you, I value you and you give me hope in your courage to follow a selfless path of care, love and dedication.
 

Wandsworth Carers Series 2022: 'It's a Myth' by Laura

This piece is part of our 2022 Community Flash Series showcasing new writing by the Wandsworth Carers Centre Writers Group. You can read more about the background to this project in our introduction to this series, find out more about Wandsworth Carers Centre on their website, and find them on Twitter @CarerWandeworth.

 

It's a Myth

by Laura



It’s a myth, but a beautiful myth.

Walt Disney himself would be proud to portray,
The jokes that we shared, the smiles and the play
The fun and the laughter on old tattered rugs
In the flat that we shared, the kisses and hugs
Awake to a mug of both coffee and tea
Cucumbers bob in a salad cream sea
Coppery curls and a serious frown
The softest of foreheads all covered with down
Our holiday chalet, the stroll to the sand
The sun shining down as you held my hand
Naively, I played with my two little daughters
To the sounds of a bridge over troubled waters
Then had I known what the future would hold
That the warmth of the sun would turn so cold
That the fire you lit when you entered my life
Formed the blade of the steel of the very same knife
Used to stab and to wound and to blame and to shun
With the aim and the hate of a loaded gun
With sadness I dream of times that were shared
At times I wonder if you ever cared
Does a path still exist to a place we can meet -
Will this forever be a one-way street?
The pain of missing you is so very real
The liquid black eyes of a baby seal
Curly dark lashes and the trusting stare
I‘ll never forget you,  though you no longer care
The hands of mothers I’ve held at their last
The futile questions they continue to ask
The white lies I’ve fed them, they’ll turn up one day
Sometimes I hardly know what to say
As my own heart aches to know that others
Share the precious bond of daughters and mothers
The ups and downs of fast modern living
Annoyance, conflict, as well as forgiving
Shedding of selfish introspection
Merging into mature affection
Seeing us mothers for who we are
The same frightened girls who’ve made it so far
Since that’s all we are.
I hope one day your heart will grow
And maybe too, your mind will know
That the faults I have are truly real
But they’ll never match the love I feel
For my daughters who I’ll never leave
However much they make me grieve
For now, reality has to be
That a caring future cannot be
The dream of years ahead of me
With my grown up daughters, regretfully
Is a myth, it’s a myth, it’s a myth,
It’s beautiful, but a myth.

Wandsworth Carers Series 2022: 'Can you hear me?' by Megan

This piece is part of our 2022 Community Flash Series showcasing new writing by the Wandsworth Carers Centre Writers Group. You can read more about the background to this project in our introduction to this series, find out more about Wandsworth Carers Centre on their website, and find them on Twitter @CarerWandeworth.

 

Can you hear me?
by Megan

Author's note: This story is just a reminder how easy it is to forget the person we are looking after has a tale to tell and how we can lose the fact that they are trying to tell us in some way, a reminder to stop talking and just listen.


"Sal, he had his breakfast did not eat it all, he is like that sometimes. He should eat his lunch, he’ll be hungry by then."
 

"Kim, You know when they get old they don't eat much."
 

"That's true, poor thing."


Can you hear me? you are rushing me. I am trying to tell you to feed me more slowly, can't chew fast, you did not put my teeth in, they’re still smiling at me in the glass.


"Come on we have lots to do today, Bob is taking me and the kids to that new place."

"What new place?"

"You know, it was the old factory at the corner of Newmarket street, have to put on my best frock, kids don't like dressing up but they’ll have to, it says smart dress."

I remember the old factory from my first job at fifteen. I could tell you a tale or two. I remember one time...

"Come on let's get him out of bed. Come on Larry, move your feet."
 

"I think he does this on purpose, Sal."

Can you hear me? Please look at me. I am trying but my body will not follow instructions from my mind. Please, can you hear me?

I too have a tale to tell, I recall the wet cold mud, we were packed like sardines in the trenches, would have been glad for sardines then. instead we had the dead and the living all packed head to toe in the trenches, wish I could tell you but like everything else it’s now silent. But it will go with me.

Can You Hear Me?


"Come on Larry, get a move on. Try to shuffle to the end of the bed."

"Sal did I tell you about that stuck up cow from next door? Her girl’s in the family way.”

"Didn't know she was married." 

"Come on Sal, these days it's always the cart before the horse."

 

Wandsworth Carers Series 2022: 'Untitled' by Layide

This piece is part of our 2022 Community Flash Series showcasing new writing by the Wandsworth Carers Centre Writers Group. You can read more about the background to this project in our introduction to this series, find out more about Wandsworth Carers Centre on their website, and find them on Twitter @CarerWandeworth.

 

Untitled

by Layide


Yellow, orange, pink and brown
On the seafront I am down.
I love the colours, I love the sea
I love my life just being me.
I am free to do what I want today,
Why? Because it is my birthday.
They gave me these balloons,
A little skip a little run
Up in the air I am having fun
If only I could fly
Up in the sky
I am so happy with my red balloons
Can you hear the sound of the tunes?

 

Wandsworth Carers Series 2022: 'Outlook' by Cheryl

This piece is part of our 2022 Community Flash Series showcasing new writing by the Wandsworth Carers Centre Writers Group. You can read more about the background to this project in our introduction to this series, find out more about Wandsworth Carers Centre on their website, and find them on Twitter @CarerWandeworth.

 

Outlook

by Cheryl

As I gaze aimlessly through my window my vision is interrupted by tall slender but powerful huddles

A clear indication of the next stage of nature’s striking clock notifying the jubilant approach of the summer months by the bursting of tightly wrapped buds awaking and stretching into symbols of beauty, elegance, strength, resilience arising from the supportive beginnings of its ‘stems’, its ‘green leaves’, guarded by sharp obstacles providing protection and growth.

Blooms in a vibrancy of colour and direction gliding tall with their fragrant sweet smell

The jubilant arrival of summer, our half year marker to embrace & review with gratitude and thankfulness, the burst of enchanting, nourished buds into open roses

Obstacles of life symbolised by the thorns, as we push through thorny experiences; growth with elegance and grace is possible and endless.

Though paths may be thorny, take time to nourish and nurture, it is attainable and worth every little effort.  Times may hold tight like a delicate bud...but  each season brings a new spray of hope, a new beginning.

Wandsworth Carers Series 2022: 'Untitled' by Nicola

This piece is part of our 2022 Community Flash Series showcasing new writing by the Wandsworth Carers Centre Writers Group. You can read more about the background to this project in our introduction to this series, find out more about Wandsworth Carers Centre on their website, and find them on Twitter @CarerWandeworth.

 

Untitled (Excerpt)

by Nicola

 

“Fae, may I have a word?” Asked Lura.

“Of course.” The rest of the girls continued on after Fae reassured them she would be fine.

“I know you’re scared of Fire, and I wanted to know why. Yes, I have seen it, but I would like you to be able to tell me.” Fae looked the Fixie in the eyes as she made her statement.

“All my life I’ve seen what Fire can do. I have never seen a force so,”

“Destructive?” Added Lura. Fae nodded at the comment, she had hit the nail on the head.

Who would want to control something so harmful?

Fire which caused pain and fear, the same fear that she had been living with most of her life.

“Fire is only destructive without control. Take Light for instance. With the right amount of balance, it can help us see. It shines on the truth and exposes deception. In the wrong hands and with bad intentions, it will leave people in the dark forever; blind. Power in the right hands deliver good deeds. You must want self-control to be able to do better. Please Fae, do not give up. It is you and you are It.” Fae snapped her head up to the Lura. The comment had brought her back to happier times, to a time where she had both of her parents.

“My mother said something similar to me once. It was a long time ago though.”

“Well, she wasn’t wrong. The powers you were gifted are not coincidental. It would seem the Elements were ready for you before you were born. Listen to the Flame Fae, trust it.” After the words of encouragement, the Fixie of Light levitated a few inches back and disappeared in a flash bursting Light. Fae sighed as she replayed the guidance the Princess had said. Trust it.

Trust it?

To her it was easier said than done. Other than the invaders, Fae had ran from having to use her powers. As she came out of her thoughts, she turned to see fairy Sparkle Rain floating in mid-air waiting for her, which caused Fae to jump back as she grabbed her chest. The fairy hovered a few steps back to give her space, and shyly tucked a strand of multicoloured hair behind her left ear.

“Sorry, I didn’t know you were still there. I thought you had left with the others.”

“Oh no worries your Grace. If I had left, who would be here to show you to your chambers?” She replied with a shy smile. “Please, follow me.” The fairy glided past Fae and towards the metal doors. Fae followed her subconsciously, she took the chance to think about the path they had just embarked on. The power of the Elements, the prophecy and not to mention the immortal part to it all. On top of that, everyone on Earth needed their help. All the pressure started to give Fae a mild headache and rubbed her temples as she came to the door of her new room. Fairy Sparkle Rain flew forward and opened the door with minimal effort, then glided back to give room for Fae to enter.

 

Wandsworth Carers Series 2022: 'The Perfect Gift' by Jo

This piece is part of our 2022 Community Flash Series showcasing new writing by the Wandsworth Carers Centre Writers Group. You can read more about the background to this project in our introduction to this series, find out more about Wandsworth Carers Centre on their website, and find them on Twitter @CarerWandeworth.

 

The Perfect Gift

by Jo

 

She wanders around from charity shop to charity shop looking for the perfect gift: Mind, Farah, Royal Trinity Hospice, they are all so appealing to her. She rummages, she inspects, she feels — ooooo what a thrill. Every time she visits one she has to come home with something, but not just anything, it has to be that something special. Why not an ordinary gift shop? Too new, too bland, too  expensive.

On Wednesday she finds a knot, a rope with a knot in it. ‘Ah, this knot has something unique about it’, she whispers to herself. On Thursday it’s a piece of blue glass, she holds it up to the  chink of light coming from the glass door of the shop, ‘beautiful’, she mutters, ‘just like that ring, what happened to it I wonder?’ Friday, it’s a patchwork quilt, the mosaic colours taking her back to something amorous. Saturday, a battered and frayed peacock feather, ah, she always loved the colour turquoise this was a special joy! Sunday is a leather belt, cracked and pale with wear, she strokes it with her own worn and weathered fingers, sighing and smiling a knowing smile. Monday, just by chance a tatty straw hat, she puts it on and it’s the right kind of floppy, over one eye; just how she used to wear it. Tuesday, a bouquet of dried flowers, faded and crispy, the smell long gone but no matter, in her memory there are delicate wafts of Jasmine.

These objects, she takes home and taking her time she strategically arranges on her old wobbly bookcase. Perfect! Standing back she admires her work and for a brief moment she is transported to a distant place where deep within her heart she is overcome with intense emotion.

‘Oh, mum! More junk, what is all this stuff? Rusty old belt, tatty old hat, and these dried flowers, they’re falling apart, what a mess!’

‘Well there was a reason for buying these things darling.’   

‘You mean you paid for them?’

‘Yes I did, but for the life of me I just can’t remember why.’  

They were in Bali when they tied the knot all those years ago and in bare feet on the day of their wedding. Those were their carefree days back then, free spirits as they were, hand in hand. She wore a resplendent yellow wide-brim hat - Brigitte Bardot style.  He wore the tan leather belt with the Navajo stitching she had bought him, how handsome they both looked; the epitome of ‘hippie chic’.  That something borrowed and something blue - he gave her a sapphire ring and a bystander, a tourist, had loaned her a peacock feather as part of her bridal bouquet to go with the white Jasmine flowers. It was all so perfect then, when they both said ‘I do’. And ahh later, that patchwork quilt....

Wandsworth Carers Series 2022: 'Untitled' by Margaret

This piece is part of our 2022 Community Flash Series showcasing new writing by the Wandsworth Carers Centre Writers Group. You can read more about the background to this project in our introduction to this series, find out more about Wandsworth Carers Centre on their website, and find them on Twitter @CarerWandeworth.

 

Untitled

by Margaret

At the bewitching hour of midnight the garden ornaments slowly came to life. The mischievous gnomes ran round the garden chasing the gnome on a skateboard. They all fell in a heap as they  ran so fast, but fortunately they stayed in one piece. They straightened themselves up and  looked around the group. The hedgehogs definitely outnumbered the rest. They gossiped together and said if they were real hedgehogs they would appreciate  the number of slugs that live in the garden.

Tom kitten, one of the larger ornaments sidled,  up to the fine looking Otter and talked confidently to her. The two rabbits, although large, were shy and whispered quietly to each other. They all made a circle and danced a merry jig, weaving in and out of the flower pots. Before the  morning light streaked the sky they all went back to their positions and the garden became peaceful once more.

Wandsworth Carers Series 2022: 'The Riddle of the Two Lovers' by Bernadette

This piece is part of our 2022 Community Flash Series showcasing new writing by the Wandsworth Carers Centre Writers Group. You can read more about the background to this project in our introduction to this series, find out more about Wandsworth Carers Centre on their website, and find them on Twitter @CarerWandeworth.

 

The Riddle of the Two Lovers 
 
by Bernadette

Their love is obvious, even when they are disconnected. Animosity strives when one is empty and yearning for content. When filled with content, the joy they both share can be seen. The toxic dependent nature of their collision is like opposites and similarities attracting.

Any content can bring them together. However, they have no control of the choice. They accept whatever content is given to them by their holder, as long as they can be together to experience the dynamic dimension of their love.

When in contact, their love emotions can be hot and cold. They can keep each other warm as long as the weather and their holder wills. The scenarios of hot emotions transcending to cold shows how they can become a reflection of each other. Just like human mortality and adoption of behaviours.

Such power is bestowed on their holder who controls their love life, location and span. How sad that they have to come to an end someday. They are two lovers that brighten up other lovers lives. They can keep other lovers cosy and conversing. They experience other lover's story and fight for love.

What a privilege to hear and hold on to true stories of love journeys. Unfortunately, the only sound they make is their crackling sound when they come in contact. If only they could speak and share their contribution to every lover's tale. Their merit is often unrecognised and less appreciated considering the unpredictable nature of their holder's mood, love, care, character, lifestyle and taste.

The destiny of the two lovers rests not on their own hands. They cannot choose their holder, their paths for coexisting, winning, failing, flourishing, and their destination.

At the end, their love is bittersweet.
Thank you to the two lovers, teacup and spoon.

An Introduction to Today's Community Flash Series: Revisiting Wandsworth Carers Centre Writers Group

Community Flash Series 2022

This year, for National Flash Fiction Day's Community Flash series, we're honoured to showcase the work of the writers at the Wandsworth Carers Centre Writers Group.  Over the course of the day, we'll bring you thirteen different pieces, one on the hour from 10am to 8pm.  But first, here is a little bit about Wandsworth Carers Centre and its Writing Group....

Wandsworth Carers Centre is a registered charity and limited company that has been providing support to unpaid Carers in Wandsworth since 1995. It is part of the Carers Trust network.

The vision for the Centre is a society where Carers are recognised and valued for their contribution and have choice and control that enables them to care, to stay healthy and to lead fulfilled lives.

A Carer is someone, who without payment, provides help and support to a partner, child, relative, friend or neighbour, who could not manage without their help.  This could be due to age, physical or mental illness, addiction or disability.  The term Carer should not be confused with a care-worker, or care assistant, who received payment for looking after someone. 

The Writers group aims to encourage beginner and intermediate writers to explore writing as form of finding time for themselves, and of catharsis and self-expression. The group write fiction, non-fiction and poetry, about their experiences of caring and about anything else they would like to write about.

The theme of Carers Week 2022, an annual event to celebrate unpaid Carers which took place this year between 6th-12th June, was making caring Visible, Valued and Supported. To this end, we are pleased to share these of pieces of work produced by our Writers Group.



Wandsworth Carers Centre | Supporting Our Carers

@CarerWandsworth / Twitter

You can support Wandsworth at: https://carerswandsworth.org.uk/fundraising/



Saturday, 18 June 2022

'Senescence' by Jonathan Cardew

It was midnight or a little after when the octopuses emerged from the ocean. They were doing it all along the beachfront. Suction-cupping their way away from water. Their bodies like a curtain’s hem, fluttering in the foreign air.

We picked them from the sand and watched them deflate and reinflate. Their eyes were opal. We felt them slip and slither through our palms; they were each only about five inches in diameter. You could fold them into your pocket like a handkerchief.

On the third night, there were hundreds. A gang of octopuses. We counted as many as we could and we checked for signs of injury. They were perfectly healthy, though. No reason for their mass suicide. I gave you a tissue to wipe your eyes, but you were inconsolable. And angry. I don’t know why you were angry. We’d driven all the way from Caernarfon; you staring at the castles as they slipped by, concealed mostly by hills and woods; me watching the road.

“We could save them,” you said, shining your torch into the void.

“We can’t save them all,” I said.

“We can try.”

You plucked a small one from the sand and ran with it down to the beach, holding it like a precious piece of silk. At the water’s edge, you threw it into the shallows and watched it bob in the waves.

Each undulation brought it closer to shore.

“They just come back,” I said, and you stared at me hard.

In the car, we listened to the radio. I ate a cheese sandwich, and you ate nothing.

“It’s not senescence,” I said. “They’re healthy, young even.”

In your lap, the little octopus wriggled its tentacles, one eye fixed and cloudy. Open. Completely open.


'Passing Obedience Around in a Moose Skull' by Kelli Allen

Passing Obedience Around in a Moose Skull
 
 
The women said, you can have a daughter. The women insisted, there will be a big scene. The women begged, don’t mention the snakes.
    
That’s the way it is with problems.
 
Spreading the blanket over clover changes so little, but ground can be stubborn, often swallowing its own worms back down before the mallards arrive, and sometimes after they offer their eggs as collateral for a meal needed, shared. In the afternoons, the youngest boys let their penises wag against the wind, looking up, watching for large birds. Only mothers can convince such curiosities, such brazen baby men, about shame.
 
The men said, temples of fingernails stay clean. The men boasted, these big hands break shoulders. The men hissed, there is enough in this sack to make two.
 
That’s the way it is with marriage.
 
Mating for life is a sentence without bars. Travel to the water glass and see what swims there. You should know by now—bedsides are just gutters for familiar pleasure. In the evenings, the smallest girls string clay beads into nets they will cast over their beds. The smooth roundness teaches the hair to grow slowly, the back to curl and uncurl throughout the short night. Only fathers know how to close their eyes while swimming in such a current.
 
When the town’s sleepers join hands, palms cupping palms, the lot marks one more day in a year—one more chance to listen when the chorus repeats, you can’t walk home with an empty belly.



'Who Dunnit?' by Julie Flattery

Not the tea-stained sky, dirt-patched snow, or disappearance of holiday lights, leaving endless gray days ahead, dampened our spirits that February morning when people arrived downtown, mittened and upturned-collared, to discover the bedazzling of ramshackle Railroad Avenue.

Cold came late that year in Bellingham, Washington and dug its heels in—snow pouring like powdered sugar, frosting everything, white mounds from harsh winds blocking doors and windows, holding our sans-snowplow-town hostage, causing us to batten down hatches and stay put…and put…and put until soup and games around crackling fireplaces ceased to be charming and, on that morning, we ventured out.

Drawn by shiny objects ahead, freshly steamed lattes in hand, citizens gravitated towards the spectacle to find Railroad’s barren trees wrapped with knitted scarves, a guerilla art exhibit to behold.

They stood tall and proud in their dashing ensembles, myriad patterns—seed stitch, stripes, garter stitch, drop stitch—in the loudest colors imaginable—tomato red with fuchsia, fiery orange with sunshine yellow, amethyst with turquoise—beautiful chaos dazzling those who gazed at the magic for as long as shivering bodies allowed before heading home, a bit lighter of foot and spirit, to sit again in front of the fire and make a game of who-dunnit.

Though no one admitted to this cheerful crime of passion that never again occurred, speculations abounded—from the women who weaved at the farmer’s market, to the jolly man who swept the sidewalks sporting his own kicky scarves, to the mayor who knitted with a gaggle of men at the pub—the day arrived when everyone agreed that the mystery was part of the beauty.

As for the scarves, the icy winds picked at them until they were reduced to bits of frayed yarn, allowing glimpses of unfurling leaves that signaled spring was certain to arrive…someday.

'Moon’s Lament' by Thad DeVassie

She wrote a heartfelt poem about people on the glass marble of her Earth, those curious miniscule creatures she peered down upon during her evening galactic stroll. Reluctantly, she agreed to workshop her poem with other moons. Major edits and whole sections were cut loose like astronaut castaways into a gravity-free atmosphere. She was nervous that, in time, they would be intercepted like satellite transmissions, decoded by those adept at reading space dust. To her astonishment, other moons also had people poems of their own in the works. They should write about Martians or Mercurians, stifling heat or unbearable cold, she lamented. This depressed The Moon greatly, as she had once felt the pitter-patter of people’s tiny feet on her being many moons ago, hung on to an intimacy with man that no other moon could claim. But no moon across all the heavens believed her. Then, in a moment of waning and reclusiveness, she hid her poem beneath a few ashen footprints where it remains the only definitive moon poem, right next to a gigantic crater carved out by tears that millions read into nightly by telescope. 

Debut Flash: 'Sapphire' by Gina Dantuono

The gin exhaled into the empty glass – a misty breath full of memories from when juices joined her, having fun with all the unnecessary frills; and the days she mingled with sweet and sour bubbles, popping in and out of relationships before maturing into a steady love with a satisfying soda and lime. Until even its long companionship shriveled into ordinary. She learned to meander through the rocks, smoothing the jagged edges before their inevitable separation, finding the gem in her own name. And now content, she settles alone, comfortable in her own shape, slightly chilled, and best sipped slowly.

'Eventually, the Heart' by Meagan Johanson

Now, Emma finally gets what she wants, kneeling next to her husband in the ferns and salal. His beard catching silver in the morning light. His scar flushing pink from the cold. Warm white clouds escape from his mouth, again and again, proof of life.

She leans closer, as if they could kiss.

The night before, his eyes never leaving his phone, he’d protested her idea. “Take my banshee hunting? You’d scare away my game.” But she lifted his chin, flashed the promise of flesh. She swore to the sky she’d be quiet.

As if anticipating some sentiment, he raises a finger to his lips and points to the trees. A doe steps into the dappled light, plucking dark berries from the underbrush.

For a moment, Emma understands why he did it. The creature is beautiful. Wild and young.

An expectant rhythm climbs her throat. Some honing knot of worry.

Back home, how many times?—Had she watched him prepare the meat for the freezer. Had she envied that gaze of admiration down a muscled thigh, up the length of a neck. The careful slip under skin. The pink reveal. The teasing away of warm handfuls. Ribs. Loins. And eventually, the heart, red and rich.

He was faithful to this process, at least.

Still kneeling in the ferns, her husband raises the gun, silent and smooth, to his shoulder.

Inside her own chest, Emma’s heart strikes like a bell against bone, cocked again and again, landing wet and tangled on her tongue.

Before the gun splits the air, she opens her mouth and lifts her chin to the sky.

As if promises mattered now.

As if she could stop any of it.

'After the Equitable Dividing of the Estate of Her Mother' by Debra A. Daniel

After the Equitable Dividing of the Estate of Her Mother
UPS Delivers a Package from Her Two Sisters


  • Four hand painted thimbles of the month, namely May through August.  
  • Four bone china butterflies of the month, specifically tiger swallowtail, ruddy daggerwing, painted lady, mourning cloak.  
  • Four of the 12 place settings of Chantilly sterling, including punch ladle, cheese cleaver, and tea strainer. 
  • One size 4 platinum filigree dinner ring, two of its three diamond chips removed.  
  • Eight volumes of 1958 World Book Encyclopedia including A, Co-Cz, F, and so forth. 
  • One third of the letters written to her mother from her father while stationed in the South Pacific during World War II.  
  • The pink baby book in which there are no entries except for her name on the inside cover, most likely meant to chronicle her first year. 
  • One faux fur coat to be rotated on the first of May to second born sister who will rotate it to third born sister on the first of September, and so forth.  
  • Pages torn from the family Bible, specifically every third book namely: Genesis, Numbers, Judges, second Samuel, first Chronicles, Nehemiah, Psalms, Song of Solomon, and so forth. 
  • A packet of family photos which have been trisected—one third showing heads and shoulders, one third showing torsos and arms, and one third showing legs and feet. 
  • One memorial brass rosette from top right corner of her mother’s casket. The fourth rosette to be rotated as per schedule for faux fur coat. 
  • The sugar canister from the matching flour, sugar, coffee set, contents removed.  
  • From the lilac floral bed-in-a-bag set—the dust ruffle which she recognizes to be from the childhood bedroom that the sisters shared, one decorative pillow, one sham.

'Logophilia' by Megha Nayar

Turns out my daughter broke up with her boyfriend because his Instagram feed was “weird”.

“He clicks random signages,” she tells me over breakfast today, “billboards on highways, notices inside stores, name plates outside strangers’ homes.”

“Isn’t that – what’s the word for it – eclectic?” I ask. “Isn’t your generation all about loving the unusual and undefinable?”

“It’s not eclectic, Dad,” she drawls. “It’s not like he’s a calligrapher or something. He just likes random words of no importance.”

I feel a slight tremor in my heart.

When she’s gone, I open Google and look at my search history: synonyms of ‘smorgasbord’, etymological origins of ‘loquacious’, antonyms of ‘extrapolate’. The internet has so much damning evidence of my own curiosity. I’m drawn to words too, just not on boards.

I don’t know what the protocols for modern fathers are but hopefully it’s still cool to be a rambling logophile.

Remind me to never follow her on Instagram though.

'They Say that if You Put a Shell to Your Ear You Can Hear the Sea' by Katie Holloway

I pressed my ear into a coffee cup you left and I heard the early morning steam unfurling from the kettle as you, once again, were the one to get up and put it on. I heard the sibilant sigh of our late-night union. I heard you call me ‘love’ as you went out to work.

I cupped a block of Duplo I found under the sofa to my ear and I heard the pad of pudgy feet that used to tell me he’d finished his nap. I heard the shushing of my own lips as I calmed his tears, soothed and swaddled those wails in my arms. I heard the almost-not-there shifting of his breaths that I would check for in the night. I heard you telling me to chill, nothing would happen. I heard myself saying ‘I told you so’ through those bitter, endless tears.

I listened to the empty vodka bottle I discovered behind the toilet and I heard the constant, unanswered buzz of my vibrating phone. I heard the panicked, then wearied, messages you left when I didn’t show up to our appointments. I heard, too late, you explaining why they would help.

I put the shoe I’d dredged from the back of the wardrobe to my ear and I heard possibilities echoing inside the high heel. I heard echoes of a future conversation with you. I heard myself drawing the courage to call you, meet you, as I pulled it up as though from the centre of a whirlwind. I heard a laugh, so faint, that I thought I recognised, and all of a sudden realised it was mine.

'Pasarea Paradisului (Birds of Paradise)' by Molia Dumbleton

The Signora had always been crazy, since the day she moved into the empty apartment downstairs more than twenty years ago—but she was starting to make more sense to Nunzio now that he was going crazy too. She showed him her collection of collectibles: a pipe cleaner she called Annie Oakley’s rifle; a thumbtack she called Abe Lincoln’s hat; a fingernail she called the devil’s rib. She lifted each item daily and dusted beneath it with a single ostrich feather, which she kept curled in a cookie jar, next to the actual cookie jar, which held dog biscuits. She gave Nunzio lessons on her toy xylophone—a dozen variations on “Tu vuò fà l’Americano”—and transcribed the courtroom proceedings of the neighborhood dogs.

Nunzio liked visiting the Signora, not least because she made him marshmallow sandwiches, which his wife never did because she said they made his fingers sticky and everything he touched for the rest of the day stuck to him, until he was a visual encyclopedia of the ten things he’d done since lunchtime.

Nunzio liked to sit in the garden with the Signora now too, even though he could feel his adult children and their spouses—and his wife—tsk-tsking from the second-story windows whenever the Signora sat in his lap and held his lemonade glass to his mouth for him and whispered the Romanian words for all the garden’s flowers in his ear.
            Zambilă, she said.
                        Gălbenele.
                                    Floarea-soarelui.
                                                Pa-sa-re-a pa-ra-di-su-lu-i.

Everywhere she pointed, Nunzio could see only dandelions, and the perennial dirt patches that characterized his small, bricked-in yard—but he knew that with some faith, and time, and vision, he would be able to see the rest of them with the same clarity the Signora could:
            their delicate spindles—
                        and firework pops—
                                    and deep violet lips.

'Why Do Some Gals Get All the Breaks?' by Sharon Boyle

Apart from wanting to boss around little people, I’ve a hankering for ruby red slippers. I mean, is it too much to ask for some Technicolor™  in my grey-scale life? But Dorothy Gale, she who brings kaleidoscopic hues to all she touches, has the goddamn slippers. After house-splatting my sister too. The unfairness of her justice-dodging sits awful sore. Me: one dead sibling; Dorothy G: a dance and a prance along a yellow brick road, and some dazzling footwear.

*


I fashion my own slippers using scarlet glitter, glue, some spit and a helluva lot of spite. After a morning’s work I slide them on and check the mirror. My pretties.

Devil-dust flitters in my wake as I totter about town. I am punch-the-air bright and top-of-the-world awesome till...I stop...my mouth hanging salt-pig slack at the sight above me.

A rainbow.

A rainbow filling the sky with its oily iridescence. I swallow down bile, my mind vomiting up images of Dorothy skipping about with that raggedy dog, shabby lion, tinpot man and Mr Arsonist’s Dream.

I kick off the slippers and schlep home, melting with misery, wishing rainbows were black and white, knowing it was never about the slippers.

'Saturday afternoon at the beach' by Rachel Smith

skid of flounder under my feet
Step careful, you warn me, watch for stonefish. You tell me you will be back soon, promise cray as fat as my arm for dinner, and then you are gone, out where blue becomes black. I move with cautious feet along the shoreline, look for fish-faced stones, back and forth along the same stretch of water until the reef is a rim of white in the darkened sky. And there are things you did not warn me of, so many things it seems. You did not tell me of currents and waves and sharp-teethed reef, how a moment of pause is the same as a decision. You did not tell me of the step between water and beach, skid of flounder under my feet, how all that seems solid and sure is not.

'#51 Bus To Chinatown' by Eliot Li

At the back of the Asian market, I pressed my face against the bullfrog tank, mound of warty bodies clumped together. I asked Mother if I could have one for a pet. Several cleaver chops later, we carried a plastic bag full of pink frog butts and legs, skin stripped, glossy little white tendons glistening.

Mother whisked through crowded Chinatown streets, me struggling behind her. We boarded the #51. We took our seats, while I caught my breath. Several stops later, an old woman stood in front of us, tapped me with her cane, and said, “Nice children give their seats to the elderly.”

I rose up, but Mother yanked me back down, my t-shirt wadded in Mother’s fist. “Don’t listen to her,” Mother said in Cantonese.

At home, she stir fried the frog legs with ginger and spring onion, in savory brown sauce. Father’s lips smacked, breathing through his mouth while he chewed, sounding like the nozzle of a vacuum cleaner pressing against upholstery.

I stared at the legs on my plate, but didn’t eat.

“There’s no place in my house for a picky boy,” Mother said.

Still I didn’t touch them, even after she slapped my face.

I wasn’t picky. And I didn’t care about Kermit and friends’ amputations. I was famished, and with Mother’s brown sauce, the legs were probably delicious.

I was mad she didn’t let me give up my seat.

*


Decades later, I’m cleaning Mother’s home after her death. Inside her desk: fake immigration documents, and a photo of the laundromat where she worked. Loose jewelry scattered between books and clothes, her rainy day fund, hidden from potential burglars.

I’m sitting on the #51 to Chinatown, to get oranges to put on my parents’ graves. I look around to see if anyone needs my seat.


Debut Flash: 'Needs A Good Clean' by Lauren Selcouth

It punched the air from my lungs; carefully wrapped, lazily hidden. Searching for something at the back of the wardrobe—naked as I came—and there it was. Two delicate cups of pure white prettiness; its beautifully neat stitching unravelling me. Cherri is her name, with a heart above the i. I traced my fingertips down the embroidery, in the same way my husband must have done. A different kind of shiver ran through me. Mine settled in a soupy wadge, not of jealousy, more an aching nostalgia.

I held the knickers against me and peered into the mirror; I looked ridiculous. Tan lines well faded, flesh well-fed, holding up this tiny T shaped hell. My hand brushed the lumpy line across my stomach, where thick blue nylon strands once kept me together—they still keep us together. I wore something similar, once. Not for him though.

An agreement, unspoken in the main. We need different things—we also need the same things. That’s why, while there is children’s laughter in this house, we'll both be here too. And all of us are happy. I wonder if she knows that?

Nothing good has ever come from tap tap tapping into someone’s online life. I did it anyway. She was as I expected; as I am not. But it’s her I’m sad for. All that painting and polishing and she still only gets the part of my husband I don’t want.

I flicked through her photos (he’s not in them), then her items for sale. I’d always wondered, what sort of person—what sort of woman—does this? Now I know: Fridge For Sale, Needs A Good Clean.

I carefully put the underwear back. He won’t be leaving me for this one.

'me and the foxes battle it out along the railway line' by Deborah Tomkins

i been here four years. a hole, a tarp, leaves for camouflage. borrowed a spade, dug deep enough for me gear and to sleep curled up like a fox. on dry nights i stick me feet out and have a stretch.

kept the spade.

we got an understandin, me and that old vixen. she don’t go past the elder tree, neither do i.

except i do, when she ain’t there.

she bit me once. i whacked her with the spade. that’s our understandin.

there’s this woman, roasts chickens, chucks em over the fence for the foxes. i hear a thud and smell a smell, and i’m there, grabbin that chicken. sometimes i get back from checkin bins and find them foxes chewin the bones. it don’t matter, if i got pizza or kentucky or chips.

sometimes it do matter.

vixen’s got her cubs. hear em squeaking in their den. they gotta eat.

i gotta eat.

that woman’s been cookin, can smell it. makes me stomach rumble. chicken comes over, hits the trees, lands on track, splat.

train’s coming. i stand up, look casual like.

vixen’s not fooled, creeps slow to the track. i stroll about like it’s nothin important. i weigh me spade in me hands. she looks at me, cat eyes givin nothin away.

train speeds up, horn blarin. vixen leaps.

train gone. vixen gone.

chicken smashed, cubs squeakin, me shocked.

lost me appetite.

scramble down, collect roast bits. poke smashed chicken into den, sharp little teeth on me fingers, don’t care.

cubs lost their ma.

sit by den, hear squeakin, feel sad.

sleep.

wake, nasty foxy smell up me nose. vixen sleepin just here.

there’s a sandwich sittin between us. beef salad. in date.

nice.

wanna stroke her.

better not.






'I Stole a Cloud From the Sky' by Mileva Anastasiadou

It was white like snow, light as a feather, and I gave it to my sister who likes being high, and she now flies like an angel, my sister is happy, away from the truth, and I’m yellow again, in my yellow shirt, a happy yellow, that shines bright.

I stole a spark from the sun.
It was bright like fire, warm like a summer day, and I gave it to mom who likes warmth, and she feels warm now, she no longer complains, mom is happy, away from all coldness around her, and I’m yellow again, I put on my yellow hat, that makes me look like a clown.

I stole an apple from the store.
It was sweet like sugar, fresh like a baby’s cry, and I gave it to dad who is sick, and he is fine now, doesn’t need meds,  he won’t die soon, dad is happy, away from doctors and stuff, and I’m yellow again, holding my yellow wand, that makes magic.

I stole a jacket from the mall.
It was bright yellow, like my shirt, my hat, my magic wand, like happiness and joy, it fitted perfectly and I looked happy, like they all cared about me and wanted me happy like I want them happy, but then the guard caught me, he’s called home but they’re busy, and I’m yellow again, dark yellow, lonely yellow, the kind of betrayed yellow no one cares about.

The guard says it will rain soon, and I’m blue now, sad, rainy blue, bright yellow has been exhausting, and I think of my sister’s cloud dissolving, mom’s spark will be gone, and dad’s apple won’t last, and they will have nothing again, like I have nothing, and maybe they’ll care then.

'Coleslaw' by Frances Hay

It was a summer of endless potluck suppers. We lived in a deconsecrated church. Bats congregated in the belfry, darting out in the dark to hunt mosquitoes.

We couldn’t afford restaurants, but we made it a matter of principle to visit the farmers’ market on the green. I’d buy a dozen ears of Butter and Sugar corn, shuck the husks in someone else’s kitchen, peek into cupboards to find a pot big enough to boil them.

Reuben made coleslaw. When his parents sold up the family farm in Ohio, he’d hung onto a cast iron Dutch oven and a sharp-edged slicer to cut up cabbages. He made coleslaw with red cabbage, shreds of purple leaves bleeding into the cooked dressing, turning paper plates magenta.  

That pink coleslaw was the best I’d ever tasted.

Reuben was the best boyfriend I ever had. The bats didn’t bother him at all. He’d watch them find their way from the poplar tree to their home space in the belfry. Echolocation, that’s what he called it.  He’d majored in zoology, but now he worked at the bank, trying to save up enough money to hitchhike to Costa Rica. He knew I’d never go there with him, and we didn’t talk about the reasons why that was. We dodged all the obstacles in our conversations. Like bats.

Some evenings, we’d drive back from whoever’s potluck we’d attended and head up to our room in the old organ loft. He’d turn on the fan and put a record on… old-timey fiddling or something by the Carter Family.

 In September, I drove north. Up there, I forgot all about fiddle tunes. I listened to the punk groups who played at CBGBs.

I still remember Reuben’s coleslaw. I can still see the flight paths of the bats.








'Seeking, 1945' by Emma Venables

I sit on the remains of a chimney and imagine we’re playing hide and seek, that I catch a glimpse of you between bombed-out walls, that the flap of a crow’s wings in the remains of the rafters might be the sound of your coat brushing brick as you assess the building’s nooks and crannies. You know I will find you, cause chaos amidst chaos: pulling doors from hinges, entering rooms long uninhabited, upturning buckets just to hear the clatter of action, of purpose.

Children laugh. I’m just another woman sat beneath a streetlight bent like an umbrella’s handle. Berlin’s riddled with us just as it’s riddled with your absence. If I step across the threshold, look up at the floor you lived on, blown open and sheltering only vermin now, will the skeleton of you and the skeleton of this building align and meld in my head, offer comfort in lieu of a body to clutch? The block warden said he saw you between two men, placid not protesting. He watched you go. You lost a shoe on your way out. He drew his finger across his throat when I asked if he’d heard anything since. Resistance, he said. I opened my mouth, feigned shock, claimed I’d barely known you, that I just wanted to return – I rummaged in my pocket and produced a pen – this. He shrugged. Best not to linger here in case they’re watching – you don’t want to be classed with the likes of her, he said. I nodded, left, didn’t come back until now.

A woman appears in the doorway, clears her throat. She calls. Helga. Helmut. I could add your name to her list – Helga, Helmut, Marta – but I know it wouldn’t draw you from the nooks and crannies.

'The Divergent Worlds of Ada Isherwood' by April Bradley

New Haven, 1994
 
Ada sits astride Ingram's slender hips and reads aloud from a book she holds at a safe distance over the bathtub's porcelain rim. Ingram makes love and cartography, charts voyages on the map of her skin with his fingertips and her words falter. Come with me, he says. But she isn't ready. She has plans, a postgrad year. Ingram stops mapping. I want us to be your plan. Give us a year, Ada. He rests a hand between her breasts, another on her hip. Ada drops the book. She rises and falls. She rises and falls, watches Ingram watching her, his pupils blown wide, taking in the light surrounding her. His hands hold her steady. A year. She agrees to a year.
 
 
New Haven, 1994
 
It seemed like a good idea to pack the boxes first, then tape them. That's what Ada tells Ingram from the middle of her living room. He will hold this image of her in his memory for years. She's wearing a flannel button-down over an old Radio Head t-shirt, tangled up in a thicket of cardboard and books, drumming a tape gun against her knee. Those old jeans she was wearing when they met in Narraganset inch down her hip cock-eyed and reveal skin he had loved all summer long. Time to go? She closes a box. Yeah, heading out to Lake Erie first. Come with me? —Go with you? No. No, I don't think so. I'm going to England, and then, well, you don't really want me anyway, love. You want this time, this dream—He wants her, but he doesn't tell her. When he looks back at Ada, his lips tingling from their last kiss, she's reading a book she's supposed to be packing away.
 
 

'Ronnie O’Sullivan changed my life' by Shelley Roche-Jacques

It was after I learnt that adding the milk really slowly to a cup of tea makes it so much better.

Ronnie mentioned it in an interview from his Chigwell mansion for a lifestyle piece he was doing for the Sunday supplement.

Ronnie was right; there’s a smoothness, a gentle fusion. The milk and tea particles are in respectful dialogue instead of slamming one another.

I tried it with other things: running the hot and cold taps for a bath, winding the mantlepiece clock, pouring out Mr Jigglelump’s biscuits.

I lay on the sofa, nibbling a digestive, imaging Ronnie staring down his cue in the moment before a powerful shot.

Then I climbed inside the idea and everything eased to a more manageable pace.  

I walked down the garden path and saw the precise movement of the Cabbage White’s wings; the random motion, the rotation of the thorax.

Beyond the privet, acres of tarmac unfolding from kerb to kerb, double yellow lines unspooling to the bottom of the street.

There was the serene dance of the traffic lights, a deep thump, my graceful trajectory, a wide-angle view of the clouds. Then the low slur of a siren rolling towards me, like the cue ball off the baulk cushion coming for the pink.


'A Working Class Encounter With Grendel In the Nineteen Sixties' by Derek Routledge

One day we had to pretend at being afraid. An easy thing, given all the ‘learning’ offered up at this place. In bare feet, shorts and vest, a lot of us bare chest on a bog cold November morning, we were told the story, an offering, a bare outline of Beowulf no less.

All details laid out in a blur, but essentially carnage. And there we were told to imagine ourselves at the centre of it. Night and Day. Grendel, coming for us.

That script reading if you want to call it that without a single word put in front of us produced an eerie silence.

Suddenly we loved the cold.

We all clutched Oscars before we even moved.

Nominees for savagery, no lies only truth.

All of us knew.

Punishment in the place we’d found ourselves as children was the norm and here was a weird mirror held up.

Grendel was a beast of darkness and had to be fought and driven out of our lives. Hated by God.

That’s what he said.

Didn’t he realise, our so called ‘teacher’ what he was saying?

Apparently not.

Get ready, he said.

*

Our faces our forms waiting for it to dawn fully, moving as we froze as we were moving, whooping as instructed to whip ourselves up until the signal - Act! - and we got down to essentials. Took it to the limit. No holding back.

We acted; and he was no more – Grendel.

Gone.

A lesson taught.

Before he could hand out another.

*

After that we left this place and went out into the world and learned to love. Most of us, anyway.

There are Grendels out there, in the darkness, everybody knows that, but we’ve managed to stay in the light.

Stay in the light.

Love.



 

'Progress' by Amanda Saint

Hungry, hungry, give me food. The command grows more insistent. Three grasping, gaping mouths fill the nest. Demanding, unrelenting, impatient. Obeying their orders, the bird stretches her wings, drops, glides, floats away. Her passing shadow darkens the wood and its dwellers below. Tiny creatures freeze, afraid that the bird is looking for them, then melt with relief as she flies on by.

The landscape is familiar. The landmarks seldom change, except with the seasons. Yet today, something is different. The berry tree has gone. In its place noise, dust and machines fill a new hole in the wood. The bird wheels around fast, startled, eager to escape these confusing sights and sounds. She heads, instead, for the other berry tree. Much further to go, a more arduous trip for already tired wings to undertake but the ‘give me food’ command, it must be obeyed.

Later, on her return, the weary bird is confused once again. The landscape is no longer familiar. The landmarks have completely changed. The hole in the wood has grown into a wide, human-infected wound. The noise that so startled her earlier has died down, the dust settled, but the machines they have multiplied. The bird can’t find the nest. She circles around and around. When she does finally find it the nest is shattered on the ground amongst broken branches, scattered in the shadow of a machine. Three mouths lie silent now.


Debut Flash: 'Beyond the Fringe' by Brenda Jacobsen

A twenty-something girl has been making deliveries to the Art District on the Lower Eastside of Manhattan. Every morning, she rides her bicycle downtown with colorful paintings in her wicker basket. The drawings are filled with cobalt  skies, canary yellow sunshine and insects that look like grasshoppers. She leaves the pictures at the Whitney Museum of Art. Every evening she cycles back to the museum, inserting  the same artwork in her basket. Then she pedals uptown towards her Harlem apartment on Tranquility Street.

The  Whitney museum rejects unsolicited work, including cheap art constructed with house paint and scraps of cardboard. The girl will not relinquish her artistic dreams. She believes the distinctive compositions will hold audiences spellbound.

To the twenty-something girl, rejection means nothing.

Her five-year-old daughter creates the abstract landscapes, averaging six a day, so there is always more forthcoming.

'A Hidden Gem' by Denise Bayes

A glimmer among the detritus of discarded lettuce leaves and crisp packets.

Iris sweeps the dining room floor, stretching the brush beneath the tables. In the corridor, kids bang their way back to class.

She leans on the broom handle, crouches forward, peers closer. Picks up a shimmering turquoise stone.

Sea glass.

She remembers seeing some in a shop window on the front in Scarborough. The surface rolls, smooth across her palm.

Watches it darken to intense sapphire blue.

Iris frowns at the magical transformation.

It switches once again, clouding to opalescent white.

“Changing like the sea,” Iris thinks.

 Shakes the poetry out of her head. Bloody nonsense. It must be like those plastic fish you find in Christmas crackers, that curl in the hand.

She tosses it back amongst the rest of the rubbish.

 It begins to move. Her eyes follow the pebble crawling out of the dustpan, leaping up into her palm.  

“Hey, that’s cool.”  

The voice surprises her. Tony, standing at her side, a bulging bag of rubbish from the kids’ lunches suspended in his arms. Smoky scents of released plastic drift around him.

He stares down into her open hand.

“Isn’t it one of those tiny turtles? I saw a programme about them on telly.”

Together the pair stare as minute emerald-green flippers peek from the crimped shell edge.

The fire doors burst open into the silence. A black-draped, backpack-weighted Year Eleven lad lurches in, trainers squeaking across the empty dining room towards them.

“Hey! Have you found my stone? I must have dropped it…”

 The teenager frowns at the creature cradled in the cleaner’s hand, shakes his head.  

“Never mind,” he huffs away.

As the fire doors bounce closed behind him, Iris lifts the tiny turtle.

Holds it tight to her heart.


'"Nng" Is the Universal Sound for Lifting Something Heavy' by Sumitra Shankar

The kids are magicking everything heavy – “Nng!” they say, trying to lift feathers, pencils, the dog. I watch them, laughing, from my exhausted splay on the sofa. Seeing that the kids are occupied, the husband gestures hopefully towards the bedroom, eyebrows raised. “Nng!” I say, unable to lift myself up.

'Syrinx' by Karen Gonzalez-Videla

If she had known, she would have outlined specifics, begged her fellow nymphs to turn her into anything else. A wasp, perhaps, sting extended into blade, high-pitched hum like speakers. A flame, stronger even than the mighty phoenix, able to stop ash from rising, re-rising, birthing back the things it shouldn’t. A spike-filled mountain, unreachable, unclimbable. A stalagmite. Untouchable. She wishes they had at least filled her head with hisses. She wants to build stone, breathe stone, turn words and gazes into stone. She wants her shrieks to grow teeth.

Reeds don’t have teeth. Reeds bend, like girls who try to mumble no, girls who mean it but can’t say it, who say it but can’t persuade them. This reed still bleeds, she thinks. She winces at the half-goat, half-man’s fingers wrapped around her waist. They rip her from the ground. They turn her yet again into something she’s not. Why is it, she thinks, that even after death, I am destined to be nothing but someone else’s melody?



'Shorn' by Damhnait Monaghan

Da used to say it was Mammy’s hair that ensnared him. I still imagine that first meeting: Da pinned to the No 4 bus stand; Mammy’s long auburn hair wrapped round the length of him.

Mostly her hair posed primly in a ballerina bun, but if they were off to a do, she wore it loose with a green ribbon wound through. I sat on their bed while she brushed it one hundred times; she always left me the last ten strokes. I would stretch on tippy toes up to the top, then bend right the way down to the end. The brush would glide smooth as a selkie through water.

On a Friday, when Da came home from the pub, he’d shout from the doorway, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your long hair.” Mammy’s cheeks would turn pink and she’d say to stop with the foolishness, but she always made a big show of pulling out the hair pins and shaking her head slowly from side to side. Her hair would tumble down like that waterfall Grannie took me to in Wicklow.

“Sure everyone knows Rapunzel’s hair was golden,” I said once. Da said there was plenty of gold in Mammy’s hair if you knew where to look.

When he died we had to move in with Grannie. I miss my little bedroom with its window to the stars and Mammy never asks me to brush her hair anymore. She keeps it in a bun, tighter than the ballerina one.  

Tonight she came home with dead short hair, dark wet eyes, and one hundred pounds. “He always said there was gold in my hair,” she whispered.

I wanted to say that wasn’t what Da meant, but Grannie gave me a pound for sweets and shushed me out the door.


'Souvenirs' by Susie Aybar

It’s Wednesday morning, my aunt sits in a wheelchair in her family room. She watches Home Shopping Network for a few minutes, then gets back into bed. Her bones in her face form sharp edges, her chin triangular now.

I spent summers doing back dives at my aunt’s pool in Ontario. She’s the one who made my mom take my orange water wings off and let me swim by myself. My family drove to Canada through December blizzards for Christmas, thawing the turkey in a Buffalo, New York hotel sink once. That Christmas, my aunt made cake donuts and handknit outfits for my Cabbage Patch dolls.

Later Wednesday, my uncle goes out, picks up wipes and takeout. In a loud whisper, my aunt calls for us. Her legs dangle, twisted at the end of the California King. My sister and I find the pads beneath her, pull her up in the bed. My aunt’s legs are exposed and heavy with fluid from her ailing heart. We untangle her, cover her with the floral duvet. It smells like her old house, musty and comfortable.

I copy my sister like when she taught me to play Jacks and ride my bike on the grass. My sister lies on the bed, kisses my aunt on the forehead. Then I do it, too. My aunt talks about the cabin my cousin is building. I’m going to say something else. This is our last time talking. Though, I just think it. We leave Thursday.

Niagara Falls are still rushing in winter and the water sprays from them like it’s baptizing something. Though February is relentless ice, and parts of the falls are frozen. Snow surrounds us. It doesn’t seem right, but we buy souvenirs from Duty Free, tiny Canadian flags, red maple leaf socks.

 




'Baby, be mine' by Nora Nadjarian

He keeps texting Baby, be mine and then just Baby, or Be mine, and I keep popping packets of love hearts in my mouth, fizzy orange, pale yellow, pretty pink, Be mine, baby and then forever, and then Oh baby and Please, baby. Love and kisses. And the texts keep coming Baby, baby, forgotten me? Every night a yellow face with a heart escaping from its mouth, and Baby I dream of you, good night kisses, baby. I wake up and there’s another face with hearts coming out of its eyes, Baby, I’m thinking of you. In class I smile into my maths book, and later Baby, I can’t think of anything else, equations with hearts in my book and I’m doodling heart plus heart and I’ll probably fail but who cares and Baby, I can’t think of anything else, just you, and later, at night, Baby, what are you wearing right now? Baby, I want you so much, more love hearts and kisses, pink icing on doughnuts, a kitten with a red bow, Baby, send me a photo and later, You’re so pretty, send me another and Oh, Baby, what you do to me – I think he really loves me – and Baby, take them off and I do and Baby, send me one more, one more, and the texts and photos back and forth and You so sexy, baby, this is true love, baby, I keep popping the love hearts and I write When will we meet? and there’s another kitten, one more doughnut, a fuchsia heart, a rose, one after the other, but no words, and I type in Baby? with a question mark and it’s hanging in the air, another doughnut, one more love heart, till the packet’s empty, baby. The packet, baby, it’s empty.

'Yellow Daffodils in Mud' by Kaitlin Dawn Thomson

Every day I bathe in mud, lathering the slippery earth onto my arms. When the daffodils bloom, I immerse myself twice a day. I got the idea from my chocolate lab, Sparky. He’d dig until there was a great chasm in the once lush grass. He wagged his tail and barked until I came to see what he’d found. Once, he’d littered the ground with yellow daffodils because he trodded through my garden. It was the day after my dad passed away.

Now when the daffodils bloom, I miss Dad and Sparky. I dump the next bucket of mud over my head. It’s so fresh it’s practically steaming as I sit beside the cow trough.

He’s lost his mind, the neighbors might think as their cars crawl by. The rubberneckers.

I wave, laughing. They don’t know how good I have it.

Sparky has been gone a year.  I miss how the feller smiled when he was a pup. I treasured the scent when he rolled in the sand on a summer day because his fur smelled like the sun.

While my father was on hospice, he’d groan in pain, and Sparky ran to comfort him.  In his final days, Sparky brought my dad such peace. The kind only a faithful friend can.

When my dad died, I buried him, of course. A year later, when Sparky died, I buried him beside my father. It was then I decided I wanted to be more like Sparky, digging in the dirt, not searching for treasures, but searching for joy. Tail wagging.

The mud is what connects me to them now. It’s my special place.

If you’re my neighbor and drive by, don’t worry about me. I’m happy as can be in the mud. It’s when I’m clean you should worry.

'During the Thaw' by Evan James Sheldon

Outside it has stopped snowing. My father ashes into a Folger’s can, exhales—breath and smoke coupled, indistinguishable.

*

Once, back when he could still shovel, I saw him close his eyes, prayer moving his silent lips. He’s never spoken of it so I don’t know for sure it was prayer. It could have been lyrics. It could have been a song. Maybe there’s no difference.

*

I shovel for him now. Sweat. Ice. Slush. Powder. I rest leaning on the handle until I see he is watching. I begin again.

*

This time of year the afternoon sun will melt it all away with or without me. I told this to him once and he shook his head like I didn’t understand.

*

Everyone around here knows loss precipitates silence and distance. Everyone around here knows too much. A pitying look is worse coming from someone you know you haven’t told.

*

Your mother, he says. She hated the snow. I nod. The sun parts the clouds. I want to tell him, See! It’s only a matter of time, but he can’t take his eyes off the drifts, even as they begin to melt.

*

Damn it’s bright out.
I’m almost done here.
More snow coming tomorrow.
Always.

Debut Flash: Hiding Places by Emily Fisher

The youngest boy was hiding things in a big paint bucket behind the cherry tree in the back yard. It was April and the tree was flushed and weeping pink petals all over the corner of the yard. No one could see the bucket from the house, through the petals and the daily rain.

Everyone hid things that spring, even if it was just a face behind a book.

The father discovered the bucket the first week of May, when he was jerking the lawnmower around the trunk of the cherry tree, doing the job of an eldest son too busy with baseball practice to get his damn chores done. In the bucket, the father found a sludge of dirty water and wet blossoms, and a small collection of rusting tools pilfered from the garage.

Experiments the boy said, when an explanation was commanded. I wanted to see what would happen.

A belt makes a certain sound when it gets pulled quickly from its loops, a thwhiiiip like a snake moving fast through long, wet grass.

The father omits the flower petals when he tells the story later. His version has no pink, no softness. He omits the snake, too.

Some years later, lightning will cleave the cherry tree in two and someone will haul off both pieces one day while the children are away at school. Not much one can hide behind a stump.

'HR Leaver’s Form: “Reasons for Leaving”, Versions 1 and 2' by Michelle Christophorou

One

I dreamed last week that I came into the office and every other person was Greg. I tried to escape but, waiting by the lift, and then inside the lift, everyone else was still Greg. Even in the Fourth Floor Ladies, he was there, reflected in the mirror by the tampon machine.

I don’t know why The Mistake happened. I tell myself I was vulnerable following the moped-mugging on Horseferry Road. That I wanted to distract myself from it. That when I pulled Greg into the alleyway and kissed him after (too many) Friday night drinks, it was just an attempt to forget. That after I brought him back to my vestibule of a studio flat and realised this was not what I wanted, we climbed the ladder to my lumpy mattress anyway because it would be rude not to. That when I summoned everything my body could do to make this thing be over as quickly as possible, I gave him exactly the wrong impression.

So that first came the Juliet roses; next, his disbelief; and after that, his slow steady torment.

Maybe I meant to sabotage myself? Who was I to forge my way in the City when, in bright June daylight, youths like jackals — engines throbbing between their legs — will reach out and grab your purse, your driving licence, the keys to your door?

When I woke from my dream of multiple Gregs, I pressed snooze and pictured snowdrops in bare woods, ice-capped mountaintops, empty spaces cleansed of other people.

Then I showered, grabbed a coffee. Caught the tube to work. Sat between a soft-fleshed woman and an iron-legged manspreader. Entered the lift. Exited on the second floor.

The first person I saw was Greg.



Two

To pursue new challenges.

'You used to flip over the page...' by Sue Pearson

You used to flip over the page in your Children’s Bible so you couldn’t see the other people and animals drowning as Noah’s ark glided by, because you couldn’t believe that this was how God loved


Small feet patter across the carpet to your side of the bed. Your brain groans. It’s another Christmas late night/early morning, and street light seeps through the crack in the curtain to your eye opened to a slit. He says he’s had a bad dream so you pull back the duvet. A rush of cold air engulfs you. His small form slips into the shell-shaped curl of yours. You quickly pull the cover over making a fit-for-two clam shell and wrap your arms around him to soak up his tension. He tells a story of the beach. How the people and sea were sucked to nowhere. How the sand shifted, pulling back under his feet. He describes the wave on the horizon, as big as a mega tanker. How he ran fast and faster up onto the dunes, to the top, searching for you, high down and low up, searching all over with the wave big, and bigger, and all the sea bunched up behind. And did you know it’s a bigger-than-churches wave and a faster-than-trains wave, and your wide eyes are focussed on the back of his golden, small boy head and you see it all - from the pictures of the people engulfed as Noah’s ark glides past in your long ago Children’s Bible, to the equally unrealistic pictures on your TV just hours before; and this boy that you thought you understood exactly, describes it exactly, and leaves you frozen inside out and drenched by all his words. Even as you soothe him you are breath-stolen, lungs-heaving and brain-aching. And years later you still can’t understand how this Santa Claus, Fat Controller, Thomas the Tank Engine worshipper was engulfed by a tsunami of impossible knowledge.

'The Ride' by Amanda O'Callaghan

She took the boy with the fizzing brain to the fair, pulled him through the gate and up the stairs, where he wailed into the faces of glaring children.

The mother, who loves him, and some days wishes him dead, forces him into the seat. She walks back into the crowd with a tundra smile nine years in the freezing.

The man running the ride, sensing something, sensing nothing, pulls a lever on a tin box. The music shifts and clamours, the giant teacups turning, whirling their sherbet colours.

And the boy, riding alone in his yellow cup, the crowd waiting for the motor to cut, for him to be taken down—the boy tips his head back and laughs at the way, for once, the world spins its dizzy path to him.


'Aftertaste' by Susmita Bhattacharya

I surf cookery videos on YouTube. Watch how potato chips are fried. Follow the step-by-step of making hot, puffed up chapattis. I feed my cravings with my eyes only. My tongue has turned traitor. I lick my lips and swallow saliva that tastes like metal, the chemicals of pipettes and test tubes in a school chemistry lab.

On my good week, I will run to the kitchen and knead that dough. Roll into balls. Devour chapattis with melted butter. I will savour every flavour that has lived as a memory on my tongue. Melted cheese and hot tabasco sauce. Chocolate ice-cream. The familiar heat of fish curry with rice.

The next blast of Taxol shooting through my veins will strip my tongue again. Like sandpaper, they will rub till my taste buds are sore. I will stop eating. We will strike off another session from the calendar. I will return to watching cookery shows, an ice cube giving my blistering mouth relief.

You promise me the end is not far off.

If I take a sip from that cup – will you promise me that it will taste like tea? If I suck on that boiled sweet, will you promise me I’ll feel the sugar rush and nothing else? And if I chew on that piece of toast, will you promise me that it will taste – like toast?

It will not. You cannot promise me anything. Except that when it is all over, you will cook me all my favourite dishes.

If my tongue has a memory, I want not a single reminder.


'When Your Parents Take You to a Faith Healer' by Tom Walsh

After a seven-hour drive, I stretch in front of a whitewashed shotgun shack of a church on a lakeshore in northern Maine.

Lorelei Slacker stands in the doorway. I’m on guard—her severe look triggers a strong dislike.  

She’s a faith healer, a prayer hermit who gave up earthly possessions to do God’s work, to tap into the divine healing stream and cure blasphemous disease or, in my case, deformity.

Inside, the church is bare but for some pews and a lectern. Purple swim goggles hang from a nail by the door, the only splash of color.

“They’re for baptisms,” says Lorelei, who’s watching every step my 15-year-old body takes.

My parents believe she can “cure” my webbed feet, a curiosity that doesn’t bother me, but which they believe is an omen of the apocalypse they alternately fear and desire. It’s not just a little extra skin between two toes; it’s full-on webbing, like I’m part puffin. My best friends have my back, say “it’s cool,” and will slap down anyone who teases me.

My folks are timid; my growing independence frightens them. I’m no longer scared by their punishments, or their talk of eternal damnation for my choices, for the pronouns I insist on.

Indulging them occasionally makes my life easier, but the Church of God’s Healing Power proves more than I can bear. For 18 hours on Sunday, Lorelei, my parents, and assorted parishioners pray, speak in tongues, faint, and lay hands on me.

Before dawn on Monday, I swipe the purple baptism goggles, slip into the lake’s cleansing waters. I aim for lights on the far shore, strong in the faith that my God-given feet will propel me to a future of my own making.

'Detached' by Anika Carpenter

The man opposite me has been eyeing my chest since we left Euston Station. I don’t want to think about my breasts right now; I’m reading a novel. A Biologist and I, by proxy, are exploring a fish market in Norway. A halibut ‘shiny as freshly polished brogues’ is urging the Biologist to join him for dinner. She’s declining, citing deadlines. But, the Halibut’s smile is salty, and the crunch of ice as other fish are picked from trays and parcelled in paper reminds her that life is easily half lived.

Unbroken observation of my chest infects the story’s dialogue. The Halibut flounders, ‘You should be ashamed of the way you’re pressing your pretty hands against the glass of the refrigerator, trying to seduce me with your in-depth knowledge of oceanography.’

I shake my breasts loose and hand them to the man sitting opposite me. But, a few lines back into my book, there is sighing, and when I look up, there is also squeezing. I scoop up my breasts and bundle them into the overhead luggage rack. The man sitting opposite me departs at York.

By Newcastle, the Halibut and the Biologist have dived off of Skorpo Island, swayed with kelp, joined a choir of clams. By Edinburgh, they’ve decided against birthing mermaids.

Online, the train company’s lost property portal instructs me to enter the colour, size and distinct identifying features of the object/s I’ve lost. Five results pop up. None of the breasts on show are mine. Maybe mine are still in the luggage rack? Perhaps a cleaner tossed them into a rubbish cart where they’re filthy and cold, pressed up against sleazy headlines.

News comes via a mountainous postcard   ̶  ‘We’re touring Tromsø! Bounding around Bergen! Resting beneath the Northern Lights, celebrating the redirection of charged particles.’

'Tiny Town' by Will Musgrove

To make all the town’s problems small, the mayor shrank it down to the size of a poppy seed. Soon the mayor mistook the town as a garnish and ate it atop a Caesar salad, trapping the microscopic denizens inside his apathetic body. Realizing what he’d done, the mayor swallowed cyanide to secretly poison his constituents. The press would eat me alive, he thought. The mayor died a few days later, but his people survived. They went looking for a new home, navigating the mayor’s decaying veins and muscle fibers to settle in his earlobes, where they trumpet day and night, “We are still here. We are still here.”

Debut Flash: 'Sailing Off' by Alexandra Packer

Carl sailed off the Clifton Suspension Bridge in June 1970, two weeks before the salvaged steamship SS Great Britain finally came home down the Avon.

The jump guards must have already been fixed on the walkways by then because Carl got the whole film crew up the Leigh tower with him, using his neat bullshit story:

“Let's test the shot for when she passes,” he said while we grumbled about lashing winds and heavy kit. He even wrote his piece to camera, said he’d practice it up there.

I should be angry he made us watch but really, there wasn’t much to see. He was a dot before any of us could scream, smaller than the swallows swooping up above. Then gone. All that extra height, and for what?

I remember thinking, stupidly: “Why not wait? Didn't you want to see her come home?"

Back then, it felt like it should have mattered. They spent weeks diving for the scuttled dame in perilous storms. They pulled her across the sea all the way from the Falklands. Thousands came to witness her procession towards glorious resurrection.

Thousands, but not Carl. They looked for him for weeks, too. He was still down there when the hulking black wreck got dragged down the river. Still down there now.

I go to see her sometimes now that she’s been restored, all gleaming and polished stillness. I think: what good was it fixing her up if she’s just going to sit in a dry dock?

I had a dream a while back: they found Carl’s corpse and sailed it down the Avon on Brunel's old ship. We waved and cheered from the banks, welcoming him back like Christ.

'Lovers' by Vincent Anioke

I am 42 the first time I whisper those words—I love a man—hopped up on bitter bourbon, shivering eyes closed, dingy neon bar—I love a man.

I am 8 the first time I see a man naked. Friday night. Beer-sipping Papa watches NTA News with a steep forward lean, like he’s trying to disappear into the screen. Mama unshells groundnuts into a bowl on her lap, the cracks slow and tender like each nut is living, breathing, hurting.

“Tufiakwa,” Mama says, her voice crimson with sudden disgust. My gaze shifts from a carpeted battlefield of plastic velociraptors to her burning eyes to the television. A police officer with a wrinkled, important face is speaking. Behind him, two men stand bare. Their taut skins reveal the shape of bones. Bloody welts clump along their chests and shivering legs. Their blurred palms are clasped in front of their genitals. Bowed heads disguise their eyes. Lovers. Caught. Dirty Act. Mob. Mpape Motel–the officer’s words framed by grinning yellow teeth. Papa starts: wonders never cease, this is what happens when the West, all their sick shit everywhere, even at Silverbird cinema now, FedEx-wrapped Gomorrah. Mama’s shells crack faster, splintering, missile-thudding into the bowl. Strange new lines carve her face. Something has hardened in my stomach, so I close my eyes, breathing in deep to recall the scent of Friday nights: draught beer, leaking sofa foam, salt from the rising ocean of groundnuts. The smell lingers, but it no longer drifts down my throat, no longer expands in my stomach.

Later, after Papa turns off the TV, but before he ruffles my hair goodnight, he kisses Mama full on the lips. I watch how she unveils a smile’s shadow, how she grabs his waist, how she disappears into him.

'The Museum of Sheep' by Anne Summerfield

‘When I was a boy,’ my grandfather says, ‘sheep still lived high on the fells and on mountain sides. You’d see their white fleeces in the distance like puffs of fallen cloud.’
 
The wall screens display different breeds of sheep with names like ancient places. There’s a table where you can touch tufts of grubby wool and sniff them if you dare. The butchery room has red warnings but I sneak inside. Model legs of lamb look like limbs hacked from a tiny child. Grandfather finds me weeping. When I wipe my eyes, my hands smell alien, animal. 



'when love was all we knew' by Amanda Huggins

Driven ashore by a storm, the trawler lads take shelter in our cottage, dropping oilskins by the door, crowding the Aga as I pour mugs of tea.

‘Never thought I’d see you back here,’ he says. ‘London, wasn’t it? The bright city lights?’

I remember his kiss behind the science block, something malty-sweet on his breath, the heat of his skin through my school blouse.

‘Yes, London.’

I thought the city would be mine forever with her grit and spit and swagger, all art and song and high kicks, lunches at French Frank’s, drinking half-chilled wine, falling asleep on the Northern line. But she was mine for only a moment; a headlong train racing by.

And I recall her as a different city too; the school trip we took that hazy day in June, splashing through fountains in Trafalgar Square. I lost my footing and he grabbed my wrist, whispered something I barely heard, each muffled word bringing a blush to my cheek.

‘It’s good to see you again,’ he says, shaking the seawater from his hair, a single salt-drop brushing my lips like a kiss. ‘Was the pull of the sea too strong?’

I remember the herring shed behind the Anchor, his hot breath on the nape of my neck, him fumbling with the button on my jeans. And I remember the girl who snagged him fast with her unborn child, recall caring much more than I expected.

‘Something like that,’ I say, as my husband catches my eye across the room.

‘Call on me when you’re passing,’ he whispers.

And I remember, long before London, before the disappointments and the missed chances and the settling for something less, there was a time when love was all we knew.

Wandsworth Carers Series 2022: 'Flip flops' by Anita

This piece is part of our 2022 Community Flash Series showcasing new writing by the Wandsworth Carers Centre Writers Group. You can read m...