Archive for August, 2011

Even after his death he managed to cause trouble. I could see him sitting in the empty chair in the corner smiling his devilish grin and enjoying the disquiet I felt. Why did he keep appearing, why didn’t he seek his eternal rest somewhere nice, this time of year Venice is nice. I remember sitting outside a café near the Rialto bridge people watching, with him smoking and drinking his malt whisky that cost a fortune.

He kept appearing at the most inappropriate moments, like when I was just about to orgasm with my latest lover. He wasn’t my husband he was my first lover so he had no right to haunt me.

It wasn’t my fault that he’d fell into the canal, maybe I was a bit late in calling the emergency services but I had tried to catch hold of his arm before he disappeared under the grimy waters. The police had appealed for the Australian woman who had made the emergency call to come forward and even though I say it myself I’ve always been good at accents.

I heard his wife was really upset and I sympathise with her loss. I’m pleased she received a big pay out from the insurance company. If he’d done what he’d threatened, leave her and live with me, she would have been in financial strife and I would have been stifled.

I catch up with his replacement, a nice man that makes me laugh, we link arms and I make sure we never walk along the canal path. Maybe I’ll plan a mountain walk or white water rafting. I see my dead lover watching me and I smile, I think he will walk beside me for ever.

Words: 287

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Reginald had been given the book as a birthday present. He had wanted a motorbike. Father declared it the greatest gift one could receive on becoming a Man. Reginald smiled politely.

He listened as Father recounted how he too had been given a book by his Father. And likewise his Father by his. And so on, as far back as anyone could remember. Judging from the number of books, that was a long time indeed.

That evening Reginald had sat at Father’s bureau and dipped the nib into the pot.

The First question. His favourite colour. Blue, he committed to history in black ink, the colour of his football team. Father had taken him since he was a child.

Second question. Favourite football team. Simple. He wondered if it had been planned that way.

On he continued, through page after page of questions.

Questions about politics, questions about music, questions about love, even questions about questions. If there were any topics left uncovered, Reginald certainly didn’t know about them.

In the forty years since he first held the soft leather cover in his hands, embossed, like his Father’s, with his monogram, he had lugged it everywhere he went.

It was now cracked, dry and faded, but it still served him well, as Father had promised it would.

Forty years without a single wasted thought. Forty years of surety.

No, Reginald had committed thoughts to paper four decades earlier. Quite whose thoughts they were had been forgotten generations ago.

As his son slept his final night as a child, Reginald lay awake.

He wanted to answer this question himself but years of relying on the book had left him unequipped.

He climbed out of bed, unclasped the cover and turned to the final page.

There, in his youthful handwriting, he read what he had written so many years before.

As he tied the bow around the soft leather cover, Reginald wished with all his being he had written No.

Words: 328

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Lucy looked down at the headstone and wished she could have sent flowers.

“Henry Smith, 62. He made us all look up.”

She smiled.

“Husband to Katy, Father to Lucy and Aaron.”

She could have cried.

Lucy had spent her life listening to stories of far off nebulae and second moons. She’d been a rebellious Starbuck to his kindly Adama as they watched old sci-fi and built rocket ships.

Had there ever been a father / daughter team up in sci-fi? She couldn’t recall; her memory was sluggish but she knew they’d hoped one day to be that team, speeding their way to the stars, fuelled by arguments and misunderstandings on a mission to reach strange planets and inevitable reconciliation.

It was a childish dream, and now so far away.

Space begins sixty-two miles out but the furthest they’d ever reached, with their kit rockets, wouldn’t get them to the nearest MacDonald’s. Henry told stories about Icarus and claimed it for their genre. He encouraged her, enthusing on how each launch would take them further and bring them closer. As the years went by, this encouragement seemed to become more for him than her.

“One day we’ll put a hamster in. Then your baby brother, just to be sure. Then our adventure can start.”

Her last test was scheduled for a Saturday and, distracted by memory, Henry had left his little girl priming the launch, not noticing she had long grown out of believing space was the only frontier.

After a late Friday night and with rocket fuel cocktails slowing her down, Lucy made that one simple mistake which sent parts of her and the rocket up into the sky, leaving Henry holding a useless trigger.

In the twenty years between Lucy’s death and his own Henry continued to look up, hoping to find the star his daughter had reached but knowing that in the countless drift of interstellar matter it was all too easy to become lost.

Words: 325

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The hall walls are stained with nicotine long after the smoking ban; the low ceiling darkens the room and the narrow windows barely help. By day brownies, cubs, zumba, tea dances, toddler groups and the occasional blood drive take turns inhabiting the space. Weekends and evenings the building buzzes with birthday parties, weddings, christenings and jumble sales. But tonight feels different, fizzing, filled with expectation, it’s the first Friday of the month; disco night.

At the far end of the room, engrossed in each other, Brown Cords and Plum Suede Mini sway gently to “MacArthur Park” and forget where they are; she leaning on his thigh, him rubbing slowly, rhythmically, against her. Later tonight, for the very first time, they’ll tangle messily up in one another on her bedroom floor.

Moss Green Slacks patrols the dance floor, as usual, waiting to clamp down on any funny business he thinks he sees. He’s joined by Fawn Slacks, as well as neat and serviceable Mauve and Russet Calf-Length Kilts – their kilt pins just catching under the lethargic disco lights.

Lemon Double-layered Pleated Chiffon sashays into the room at exactly the moment she should. They turn; all the other Skirts envy her poise and sophistication. Scarlet Lace Pencil threatens to turn a violent shade of jade; she’d unsubtly captivated the Trousers until now. Wow, she’s something else; she’s giving a masterclass in how to arrive at a party. Her hem catches the breeze and billows out slightly, making all the Trousers stand to attention. It’s the Trousers and Skirts Disco, but any Trousers will tell you it’s really all about the Skirts.

A whisper runs from wall to wall, something’s up outside. A clique of Skinny Jeans gathers under the sparse streetlamps. The rest of the room knows they are only here for a rumble, to start something; they have their own event, last Saturday of every month. But this is disco night, strictly a Trouser and Skirt event. No jeans allowed, yeah?

Words: 330

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It was meant to be a fresh start, but they destroyed the four-poster the first time they took to it. They’d stopped to laugh guiltily, then carried on. Marianne assumed it was fixable.

​The bed remains but supported by brinks instead of legs. An early game of catch destroyed the mantelpiece and a stray foot kicked a hole in the corner of the bathroom door. They tiptoe around the house, careful not to disturb the riddled wood.

​Mike is away talking to the bank and Marianne sits on the living room floor as she peels the wallpaper like skin. All she finds is dust and another layer of dried paper. She goes deeper, and finds more layers, and eventually, wood. She tries to stick the paper back.

The house is not beside other houses, it sits alone at the end of a short path with a big wooden gate. It was their fresh start. Only the gate was still solid.

​Marianne sits among the paper fragments and runs her fingers across the floorboards. Up close, very close, you can see the holes, like a sponge, but you can’t spot the beasties. She tries, but whatever is destroying their home is invisible to her.

​The man who gave them the news was matter of fact but embarrassed, like a doctor. Over the phone, before he’d come out, he’d said it was unlikely their problem was structural – or as bad as they seemed to think. He wandered round the house as they stood in the kitchen, gripping glasses of water, but when he was done he apologised.

​They called out another man and spent hours online, thinking there must be an alternative solution. Everyone said the same thing.

​Mike comes home with the bad news and they go back to their lopsided bed. Afterwards, she lies on his chest and tries to lose herself in the skoosh of his breath, but her ears are filled with the sounds of tiny, hungry mouths.

Words: 330

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Alexander said guard the church. I guard the church.

Next to the church stands a thicket of wintery trees, petrified, trunks silvered with what looks like ash from the war.

The church is half built. Until Alexander told me to guard the church, kids with spindly legs climbed the stonework in dirty school shoes, bed sheets bundled under arms. Bunching the sheets like parachutes, they jumped from the walls. They mouthed machine gun noises as they fell, mimed blood bursting from chests, and they laughed and laughed. They had no respect because they had no fathers.

Now I guard the church because Alexander told me to guard the church. The sun burns a hole in the blue above then blazes the horizon. The trees in permanent winter ignore the seasons, although in moonlight, the grey trunks writhe. I bite a piece of my lip and let the flesh play around my tongue.

I have a visitor, the first since the children left. A vagabond pulls a trap laden with empty bird cages up the road towards me. He wears two thick coats and hums an operatic tune. Alexander did not tell me to expect him. When he sees my rifle, he smiles crookedly and shouts “Der Vogelfänger bin ich, ja”, slurring his clumsy German with a Leningrad accent.

“I am the bird catcher.”

The stranger and I exchange unbroken stares. His features are unclear from this distance but he does not move and I cannot leave the church. Minutes, months, decades pass. Caterpillars crawl the trunks in the thicket, laying a shroud of silk over the bark. They carry the winter with them. The vagabond stands dead-eyed and ashen and his skin creeps with shapes under the moon. I wait for him to move, for the children to return, for someone to carry on building the church. I wait for sundown, for a new war, for this season to be over, for something to live again.

I wait for Alexander.

Words: 330

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Cigarettes, oases of time by the box-crush machine. Killing quiet evenings playing staff-room-fashion-show. Driving round after the late shift, singing Fairytale of New York like Kirsty and Shane. Enjoying swearing at each other. Turning twenty, hoping all our dreams come true.

New decade: you move to an office. We fall out. Fight. Use every insult except those in the song. You try stand-up. Once. Then you say, due to work and the baby, you can’t carry on.

Early nineties, two in two years: nappies and puréed veggies. Watching their faces. Exploring. Discovering new things. Setting a Christmas tradition, I sing as Kirsty-like as possible. Turkey-aroma filled house. You peel the sprouts. I built my dreams around you.

December 2000: familiar auburn-framed face on the news. I ring you but you’re ringing me. Is it possible? Kirsty killed by a speedboat in Mexico? We play her songs constantly, making lists of those we’d rather were dead. This Christmas my voice breaks on rivers of gold.

The boys form a band. You provide garage, money and lifts. They attempt Fairytale, so bad you sing a comedy version but I’m pretending I’m Kirsty, waiting to come in on They’ve got cars big as bars.

Shane’s bar room interviews, surrounded by drinks. His ‘I wrote that song’, mutley-laugh and not-quite-there eyes. She’s dead and he’s half-dead. We laugh. Our boys, joining in, roll their eyes at our Happy Christmas your arse.

Holidays or after a night out: you bring up that time you tried stand up saying, by now, you could’ve been on TV. You could have been someone. I don’t mention I could’ve too: jewellery designer, rock climber, live in New York …

Well so could anyone.

A cold Christmas Eve: that song in all the shops. Don’t have the day together anymore. The boys have lunch with me. See you and her later.

This was our life. Our Christmas. Won’t see another one. While the turkey cooks, I don’t play that song.

Words: 330

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