Archive for September, 2012

‘Sticky teenage sentimentalism made me morbid and so I spent a lot of my younger years in graveyards. You can get away with when you are fifteen, when grief hasn’t really touched you (if you have been lucky) and the actual sorrow of other people is far less real than the flashy heartache on television. I spent hours watching funeral processions, and found the way humans love so much more fiercely in death fascinating. A dog will miss those who it outlives but adore them just the same, no more and no less. This isn’t true of people. We idolise the ones we have lost. Gravestones are visited more dutifully than the home from which the body came.

The singer Ian Curtis hurt people; his wife, his friends, himself. He upheld views that made him unpopular, particularly if he had he lived to see them through, and yet his grave is a tribute to the lasting power of his presence. His stone is marked with candle-wax and letters turned to mulch. Cigarettes, tapes, plectrums and pennies; he lacks for nothing, and wants less. It makes me wonder. Had he lived longer, grown bitter in age as artists are prone to do, would his following be so loving and romantic, so dedicated as to trudge through half a mile of unkempt headstones to visit him? Dying young is terrible, but it has certain advantages. It is both churlish and useless to hate a dead man.

The grave to the right of Curtis captures my heart. Walter, surname illegible, passed away just a week from his infamous neighbour. His grave is half-buried under tokens that are not for him. I know nothing about him but that he is ‘safe in God’s care’, and even those are the words of his successors.

One day, when a gaggle of black-eyed girls huddle around Ian’s grave, I shall walk up to them, and I will ask, are you here for Walter?’

Words: 326

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Mr. Grant stood on the bank, staring across the water. The lake was completely black; rotten and lifeless. The King of the Ducks had not lied to him in dreams; things were not well here.

‘Are you ready?’ a voice behind him croaked.

Mr. Grant turned as the creature waddled closer towards him. It couldn’t have been taller than four feet; a curious thing of man and bird. A twisted beak hung from an old man’s face, while two gnarled arms reached out from the raw patches on the side of his feathered body.

‘Are you ready?’ repeated the King of the Ducks, never taking his narrow eyes from Mr. Grant’s face.

‘What are they all doing here?’ Mr. Grant asked through a dry mouth, gesturing to the hundreds of birds – swans, geese, herons and kingfishers – silently watching from the grassy verge above the river bank.

The King of the Ducks limped next to him, resting one webbed claw on his twisted cane, before gesturing a scarred arm towards the dark lake.

‘They have come to wish you luck. They have come to pray for your success.’

Mr. Grant nodded, scanning the dark eyes of the crowd. Of course.

‘And, if I kill it, the lake will return?’ he asked.

The King of the Ducks did not reply, turning his scabbed neck to preen grey flesh with crooked human teeth.

Mr. Grant took his first steps into the water, shivering as the cold pressed up against his body. He gave one final glance towards the King of the Ducks, before submerging his head into the darkness.

The stale water made his eyes burn but, in the gloom, he could make out the dark outline of a fish – impossibly large – with a tail the length of two men.

As the pike approached, looming through the darkness, Mr. Grant could hear the gleeful, vicious quacking of the birds from the bank above the lake.

The deceiving King of the Ducks had honoured the truce for another season.

Words: 330

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The suitcase will not shut, not even with Clare’s full weight on it.

“You’ll have to leave something behind,” says Amy from her seat by the window.

Clare slips from the bed. Hands on hips, she frowns and fists her toes in the carpet. “He said to bring everything.”

“If he wanted you to bring everything, he’d have given you a bigger case.”

With a sigh, Clare flips back the lid and scratches her head. “I suppose.”

Amy stands and strolls over to the bed. “Just start again.” She upends the case. Its contents mushroom across the duvet. “Make two piles: stuff you don’t want to take, and stuff you do.”

“All right,” says Clare. She begins to scrabble through her belongings. Her jeans, her tees, her silver-sequinned pumps. Her wash-bag, her hairbrush, the butterfly hair clip her mum gave her for her birthday. “Stuff I do.”

“What about these?” asks Amy, holding up a little black dress and a bunch of lacy undies. “Didn’t he buy them for you?”

“Yeah, but they’re not really me.” Clare takes them from Amy and starts a stuff-I-don’t pile.

“And this?”

Shaking her head, Clare drops the tote bag on top of the little black dress. “That’s all that the makeup he bought me. Makes my face sweat.”

Amy continues to peel items from the bed. Clare’s nightshirt, the poncho she purchased with her first ever pay-packet, her collection of bangles and beads.

“Stuff I do,” says Clare again.

The black stilettos, the 10 denier holdups, the red-leather box with Goldsmiths branded across its lid.

“Stuff I don’t.”

Outside, a car door thunks.

“Quick,” says Amy, grabbing an armful of clothes. “He’s here. Pack! You know he hates to be kept waiting.”

Finally, Clare manages to shut the suitcase, and, after the briefest of hugs, she waves goodbye, runs to the car and leaves Amy standing there with the stuff-I-do pile still in her arms.

Words: 321

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Bee – Written by Dom Conlon

The day he pulled a bee, dead and bloody, from his naval David knew something was wrong.

For an hour he sat out of the way and out of the sun at the back of the garden next to the hen house and a heavy, rusted axe. Despite the pain David continued to free more bees from his fleshy hive, his fingers sticky with plump insect.

By this time his Mama, more than a little curious as to why her youngest surviving son hadn’t returned from collecting eggs, had risen from her armchair lair and stalked to the bottom of the garden with the delicacy of a cockroach long since fattened to the point of eruption. There she found David surrounded by a whole treasure chest of gold, black and red and wearing a look of greedy pleasure.

Mama, however, was not quite so pleased.

‘You dirty little shitter.’ she said, not without a touch of malice in her voice. ‘What have you done? I sent you for arse-eggs an hour ago. Feckless fuckwit, they’ll be off by now and your old Mama has nothing for her bread.’

David, blunted by her moans, looked up in surprise and held out a hand. ‘Mama, this one’s alive.’ And there it was, struggling between a bloodied finger and thumb humming so loud it made his whole body vibrate.

Mama stopped her own buzzing and looked hungrily at her son. ‘Alive, you say. Alive and busy, I say. And more inside, I say.’

David busied himself with his belly and didn’t look up again. Not even when his Mama seized the rusted axe at the bottom of her garden. Not even when she raised it above her head and drooled into the mess of bees staining the cracked flags. And certainly not even when Mama brought that axe down and split his belly wide open.

‘I’ll be having your honey, fat little boy. I’ll not have my bread going dry.’

Words: 327

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“It must be here somewhere,” Rachel muttered to herself as she pulled the car into the side of the road. She’d driven round the block and up and down Cavendish Road several times but still couldn’t find ‘Cavendish House’ a new block of apartments.

The pictures in the ad looked really nice. A modern one-bedroomed flat in a good part of town. Quiet, leafy streets, well-kept gardens, no traffic. Much better than the place she had now above a shop in the crowded, noisy town centre. But if only she could find it. She was going to miss the appointment with the agent. Foolishly her mobile phone was back at the office on her desk instead of in her bag where it should have been.

She’d looked at the map and checked she had the right post code for the satnav but still no luck. She would have to find someone to ask. Out of the car and on the street there was no-one in sight. She walked to the corner. Still no-one. Nobody in their gardens, no dog walkers, no postman delivering letters, no corner shop, no pub.

“Never mind” she thought, “I’ll just have to knock on a door and ask.”

She opened the nearest garden gate, walked up the path and rang the doorbell. She waited. No reply. She rang again, still no reply. They were probably out at work. She would try the block of flats next door. Looking at the gate she saw it was locked but there was an intercom. She jabbed at the top bell. No answer. She tried the next one.

‘Hello’, a crackly voice replied. ‘Who is it?’

‘Hello,’ said Rachel, ‘I’m lost can you help me?’

‘Click’, the intercom went dead. Whoever was there had gone.

As she walked back to her car the sunny, tree lined street was still deserted, lifeless but now silently unwelcoming. Maybe this wasn’t the place for her after all.

Words: 324

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I took a sharp intake of breath. He couldn’t be serious. I was reminded of American action films where beyond those gates meant serious trouble. I could see he was feeling my tension; a nerve was twitching under his left eye. We were driving to our dream house not Armageddon.

I felt my anger rising, why had I left the house hunting to him? I should have known by now that he was incapable of planning anything to do with our future. He dragged his feet when I planned our wedding day. He didn’t want this, he didn’t want that. We ended up with a very low key affair with just a few guests.

The jeep bumped along the rough shale, I wondered how long it would take before I could glimpse a sight of our new home. It looked like the entrance to a quarry.

Suddenly he braked.

“Come and look, they have started the footings already”

I could see the potential of our new build. It was beautiful. He explained the quarry would be filled with water. We’d have our own lake. Smiling at each other, I felt at ease.

He’ll be very happy dying here.

Words: 199

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Although it was nearing mid-spring, winter held sullenly to the early morning air. The grass was frigid with dew, and the earth bounced back restlessly; resisting being touched. My jeans are soaked said reason… None of it matters I replied, forcing the voice to retreat.

It was years since I had been here, but I was determined not to forget. The petals were pinker back then, almost as if they were flushed with excitement. Now they seemed comparatively paler and unwilling to leave their wooded home. It was easier back then. Simple, even. But now…

“Hush!” I told the voices, but this time out loud; as if the waves of sound would somehow reverberate more deeply, forcing them into silence.

A short gust of wind pushes firmly against the branch above my head, prying the white petals out from their roots. I look past them as they flurry to the ground. Why do people delight in the springtime? To me there is nothing so melancholy. New beginnings resign to inevitable endings, and I watch them falter feeling oh-so-very old in my skin.

Do you remember when it was just us? We would count the honeybees as they hovered from flower to flower. We would try to guess where they would land, but you would always win. How happy we had been, watching flowers drunk dry of their fruit.

Words: 228

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